We often say that aviation is more than pilots. We know it’s true, but it’s always nice to see it demonstrated. That was the case recently at a formation – clinic fly-in with Red Star Yak and CJ-6 pilots and several T-34 pilots at Falcon Field in Mesa, Arizona. This is an annual event and the organizer does a lot of coordination to make this an enjoyable and productive training weekend.
Falcon Warbirds hosted the event in their “new” hangar, which was built in World War II to train pilots from America and several other countries as well. It’s not just local pilots who take part in the event: several came from California, one T-34 pilot flew in from Houston, and a Yak-52 pilot came from Denver. Arrangements were made at the Arizona Golf Resort for a group rate, as they are every year, and the hotel staff were eager to make our stay pleasant.
With 15 to 20 airplanes flying 2- and 4-ship training sorties, advanced coordination with the air traffic controllers in the tower—for standardized departure and arrival procedure—made life simple for pilots and controllers alike. Several controllers took advantage of invitations to fly in the back seat and see the operation from the pilot’s perspective during event. The tower controllers were kept busy and they thoroughly enjoyed the additional activity because it had been coordinated ahead of time and they were prepared.
Two mechanics familiar with the aircraft being flown made themselves available from Thursday through Sunday, and they were kept busy. On Saturday’s first flight, a CJ-6 developed an oil leak. With the cowling removed the mechanics quickly discovered that one of the cylinders had unseated and was loose on the crankcase housing. They were able to remove the cylinder, check the bolts, replace a defective bolt and re-install the cylinder in time for the airplane to fly after lunch. Another CJ-6 was making strange noises. The mechanics found a cracked exhaust manifold and were able to repair that with a weld.
A local custom helmet maker was there for the entire weekend for repairs and to sell new helmets. A master parachute rigger spent Saturday with us to provide overnight repacking services. He briefed us on establishing a habit pattern of donning our parachute before getting in the airplane and removing it after we deplane to preclude inadvertently unbuckling the parachute in an airborne emergency egress situation before stepping over the side. He also suggested storing parachutes inside as ultraviolet rays are damaging to parachutes and packs over time.
The City of Mesa’s airport fire department stopped by with one of their engines to make sure everything was going well.
There were two professional photographers documenting the activities both on the ground and in the air.
And family members were drafted to help with the logistics, running the registration table and taking care of the catering chores, which were extensive. Each morning they provided coffee, donuts and fruit to start the day. They made another trip each day to local restaurants to bring us great lunches, and then they set up and catered the awards banquet on Saturday night.
Two Red Star standardization pilots were available to give check rides to pilots ready for their wing or flight lead checks.
There is a distinction between pilots and aviators. Pilots fly airplanes while aviators are people who love aviation. By those definitions, you don’t have to be a pilot to be an aviator; and there are some pilots (not many) who are not really aviators.
Bottom line: aviators from different sectors of the community came together to make a great weekend of formation flying. The culmination was a 16-ship mass formation fly-by at the Williams Gateway open house at the old Williams AFB east of Chandler, AZ.