WRITING IN SMOKE
Air team brings vintage message to Andrews air show
The whir of the engine from a World War II-era fighter plane engine is as iconic as the battles they’ve fought. One hears the hum before the plane comes into view — a sign to those on the ground of impending relief or looming disaster.
At the Andrews Air Force Show in Maryland this weekend, it will be all about fun.
The Geico SkyTypers Air Show Team — a Long Islandbased group famous for writing large messages in the sky — will join a vintage squadron of other military aircraft that will perform for an expected audience of 150,000 at FedEx Field in Hyattsville.
There is free general admission to the public and free parking on Saturday and Sunday, and the event will feature a number of planes and jets performing aerial stunts and precision flying. It’s a display of aircraft that spans all the military branches and all the nation’s air wars.
The U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds and the U.S. Army Golden Knights are slated to fly, and there will also be a performance by Toro! Toro! Toro! — which features planes from the iconic Pearl Harbor film and will re-enact scenes from that infamous day.
The Geico SkyTypers, who fly vintage North American SNJ-2 planes, will showcase military maneuvers and close-formation flying. Their demonstration will be accompanied by an on-theground narration of the history of the planes and their pilots.
The planes are small and no-nonsense. The levers and gauges are basic compared to the complicated computerized cockpits of today. Pilots are outfitted in flight suits, helmets with radios and are buoyed by life jackets and parachutes.
The cockpits have a sliding glass canopy that the pilots prefer to leave open — it makes it easier to jump out if the plane is going down, but it’s also the best way to feel the full force of the air stream and hear the power of the engine.
Flying out of Tipton Airport in Maryland on Thursday, the pilots took a spin around Annapolis, shooting out their trademark smoke, which they use to “type in the sky,” and looping around the harbor, practicing their banks and rolls in tight formation, wingtip to wingtip.
“All the maneuvers that we do and the formations we fly were taught 60 years ago to the pilots of the Greatest Generation, who flew in World War II and then in Korea,” said pilot Kevin Sinibaldi, who has been flying with the SkyTypers for at least five years.
“The most interesting thing is the fact that our predecessors and a couple of my mentors flew these airplanes,” he said.
“So we’re talking back in the ’40s and ’50s, and it’s special to me, for that reason, to be able to fly in them, to experience what they experienced,” he said.
According to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, more than 40 countries acquired around 15,000 of these planes. During World War II, pilots from the Army, Navy and British Royal Air Force trained on these planes.
The six planes acquired by the SkyTypers were made in 1941 and 1942, and they’re maintained by a staff of full-time mechanics who either have to scour for vintage parts or come up with creative solutions.
“They’re very well maintained. These are the best maintained warbirds I’ve flown in,” Mr. Sinibaldi said.
The pilots are a mix of full-time commercial pilots and retired aviators. The Andrews Air Show will be their 14th this season, having traveled to air shows up and down the East Coast.
The SkyTypers are based out of Long Island — hallowed ground in aviation history as the departure point for Charles Lindbergh’s cross-Atlantic flight to Paris in 1927 and home to the training grounds for much of America’s air force preparing for World War II.
When the SkyTypers aren’t performing in air shows, they’re a for-hire message-writing company. Pilot Tom Daly, a retired police patrol and rescue pilot, said the team can write anything customers want, ranging from declarations of love to messages of support. One customer going through a divorce had the SkyTypers write, “She got it all.”
“She got it all, except for the $8,000 he spent on the message,” Mr. Daly said.
The Geico SkyTypers Air Show team flies over Annapolis on Thursday in preparation for their performance at the Andrews Air Show set to take place over the weekend. The team flies vintage World War II-era fighter planes that were used to train pilots.
“All the maneuvers we do … were taught 60 years ago to the pilots of the Greatest Generation,” said Kevin Sinibaldi, who will fly his North American SNJ-2 fighter-training plane this weekend.