By Jack DeMarco
Assignment Editor and MyFoxOrlando.com contributor
NEW SMYRNA BEACH, Fla. (WOFL FOX 35 ORLANDO) -- Cloud cover broke at the New Smyrna Beach Municipal Airport as I climbed aboard the vintage T-6 performance plane. The plane, built in 1945, was used for training during World War II. I was flying a training exercise with the Aeroshell Aerobatic Team, who will be performing shows this weekend at the New Smyrna Beach Balloon & Sky Fest.
My pilot, Steve Gustafson, is the "left wing" of this talented group of flyers who perform dangerous maneuvers in tight formations. Steve, a veteran flyer with over 40 years of experience, strapped me into my parachute and gave me instructions on what to do in case of emergency. I wasn't worried.
I trembled with excitement and a slight bit of nervousness as all four planes fired up their engines. The set of headphones was equipped with a microphone, so that my pilot could communicate with me, and it also allowed me to hear communication between the pilots and the tower.
We got the go ahead from the tower and began to taxi to the runway. This was it, we were about to get underway. We approached the runway, the planes pulled and parked in diagonal formation -- much like cars parked in a parking lot. As we were cleared for takeoff, the pilots lined up, not in single file, but in the formation they fly in, which is basically the shape of a diamond. I watched the speedometer get faster and faster, until finally, liftoff! We were off.
As we rose through air, the team slowly got closer and closer. They banked hard and headed out to sea. I've seen planes fly in tight formation before, but to be in the cockpit and watch these planes turn while being just feet from each other is amazing! At one point during the flight, I could have climbed out on the wing and stepped onto the wing of another plane! We flew so close, you could see the expression on the faces of the other passengers along for the ride.
So far, so good. We made some turns, climbed and dropped, all in formation, but what happened next, I didn't expect. They told us before the flight that we would do some rolls and loops, so I just expected to pull away from the group and get spun around. That didn't happen.
We were a few miles out over the Atlantic, when the whole team pulled the stick back and headed straight to the sky. The pilot throttled up and continued to pull back until, we were in a full loop. Steve called it a "wing over." I called it unbelievable.
We weren't done yet.
Next came a "barrel roll," which is like going in a cork screw motion while upside down. It was a wild feeling. My pilot told me we pulled about 4 G's. As we headed back to the airport, the team pulled what was called a "pitch out," which essentially is a super tight turn. We lined up in a straight line for final approach and touched down on terra firma. It was an experience I will never forget.
If you want to check out the Aeroshell Aerobatic Team and other great vintage aircraft's and amazing feats in the air, check out the NSB Balloon & Sky Fest this weekend, April 5-7, 2013.
For more information, visit their website by clicking here.
On the web: http://www.balloonandskyfest.com/2013/index.html