On Monday, March 14, 2016, I was honored to participate in a memorial fly-over for a military veteran who recently passed away. About 3 weeks prior, I had joined the local VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars). During the meeting, it was mentioned that one of the members had passed away and they were sponsoring a memorial for him on March 14th. When the VFW Commander asked “Is there any new business?”. I stood up, saluted the Commander and stated “Sir, I am a professional airshow pilot and it would be my honor to do a fly-over with smoke on at the memorial”. The Commander’s mouth literally dropped and he said “That would be wonderful”. So I worked with some of the VFW to coordinate the event. We looked for a 11:55 AM T.O.T. (time over target) with the start of the memorial inside the building at 12:00 Noon. I got out to my airplane hangar around 11:15 AM and did a pre-flight of the plane followed by adding some fuel. I had planned on being airborne at 11:45 as it is only a few minutes away to the memorial site. When I was in the run-up area prior to takeoff, it was quite a moment for me to reflect on why I was doing what I was doing.
I’ve been to many memorials in my lifetime, some more memorable than others. But what really made an impact on me were the ones where something special took place. To be honest, I don’t remember any of the speeches, but I do remember the missing man formations, the flyover with smoke on, or guitar playing with songs. I was very happy to provide something special for Frank and his memorial. With my racing type engine, loud and strong, I knew that it would be something that the attendees would never forget.
So I was airborne at 11:45 and flew about 4 miles south of our airport. I put the plane into an orbit at 1,500 feet above the ground and the throttle at about 3/4. Waiting patiently for the 11:53 AM mark when I would start the 1 minute track direct to the memorial site. During the orbiting, again I was reflecting of how awesome it is to fly. It is one of the things that I really thank God for because it is something I had dreamed about since I was 8 years old. Now I get to use this wonderful gift that was given me to enrich some other people’s lives. People that really don’t know anything about what I really do with the airplane at airshows.
As 11:53 rolled around, I brought the mixture to full, prop to full forward, and the throttle to full forward. I started heading west and dropped the plane down to 1,000 feet above the ground. As I was accelerating, I went from a 150 MPH orbit up to 210 MPH. That engine was screaming and so was I. At about 1/2 mile out from the memorial site, I threw the smoke on and held my course. Just passing the memorial, I started a hard right 360 degree turn. From the ground, they heard the propeller tips going through the speed of sound. So it is very loud. Then I made one more 180 degree turn to head the way that I came. About half way through the turn, I called the airport tower controller and requested 5,000 feet for a climb. He was aware of what I was doing and why, so he immediately approved me up to 5,000 feet. I then started my climb and from the ground’s perspective, it looked like I was an angel climbing towards heaven. For Frank, the man who passed away, it is a representation of him climbing towards heaven. I didn’t even know Frank, but it sure was an emotional moment for me. Not sure really why, but I think I could feel the emotions of those on the ground.
Frank was a member of the same VFW Post that I just joined. He was a military veteran who served his country with honor and distinction. That one day during the fly-over, it was nothing but an honor for me to honor Frank and his family. Going forward, I am planning to do more of these types of events through the Charity that I am Executive Director of called Salute-A-Vet. It’s nice to give back. It’s just a thing I’m supposed to do.