WRIT­ING IN SMOKE

Air team brings vin­tage mes­sage to An­drews air show

The Washington Times Daily - - METRO - BY LAURA KELLY

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.

PHO­TO­GRAPHS BY LAURA KELLY/THE WASH­ING­TON TIMES

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.

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