When I arrived at the Dayton International Airport, the pilots of these blue, white and red vintage planes greeted me with firm handshakes and smiles as they waited for the Federal Aviation Administration officers to clear the planes for flight.
I suited up in a fitted, khaki flight suit, a flotation device and a freshly painted blue helmet. The six planes, marked with numbers near the propellers, sat in a perfect line near the runway. After throwing on a parachute, I climbed onto the wing of the plane, and threw one leg into the cockpit — and then slid down into the cramped seat.
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The aircraft’s unique design elements include: a larger round rudder and a free-castering tail wheel. Each plane weighs 5,500 pounds and utilizes a 600hp Pratt and Whitney R-1340-AN-1, 9 cylinder radial engine.
In just minutes, Thomas maneuvered the aircraft onto the runway, and each plane took off within seconds of each other. With an open cockpit, the wind whipped in our faces — making it more difficult to communicate through our headsets during parts of the flight.
Dayton Daily News business writer Kara Driscoll makes a selphie photo as she files with the GEICO Skytypers on Thursday before the upcoming weekend Vectren Dayton Air Show.
On all sides of the plane, identical vintage aircraft flew just feet away from us — cruising above and below in a methodical formation practiced many times by the squadron.With blue skies, the team cruised from the airport in Vandalia to downtown Dayton. From the back of this aircraft, the movement seemed effortless — one well-practiced dance by the pilots.
As the six planes weaved in and out of each other, the downtown Dayton skyline stood out in vivid view, with the Great Miami River snaking in and out of buildings. The Montgomery County Fairgrounds and the University of Dayton popped out in contrast of rows of tiny houses.
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Toward the end of the flight, the squadron showed some of the smoke-capability of the aircraft. The planes are retrofitted to type giant messages in the sky. Flying wingtip-to-wingtip in a line-abreast formation, the lead plane sends computer signals to each of four other aircraft, synchronizing smoke releases to generate 1,000-foot-tall messages.
“People on the ground can see our messages from 15 miles away,” said Steve Kapur, the GEICO Skytypers marketing officer. “The messages appear in dot-matrix style, but on a monumental scale and 17 times faster than traditional skywriting.”
The Geico Skytypers show off their moves on Thursday. KARA DRISCOLL/STAFF
And, each letter is higher than the Empire State Building and can be formed in three to four seconds. Before landing, each plane swung up and out to get out of formation — a little taste of the quick maneuvers they’ll pull for the airshow crowds this week.
The gates for the 2017 Vectren Dayton Air Show will open at 9 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday with performances beginning at 11:30 am.