Hi John –
I hope you and your crew enjoyed your time in Ann Arbor this past weekend. It was one of the most memorable games in the history of the Michigan – Ohio State rivalry, and we were glad to have you a part of it. From myself and Ryan, please pass along our thanks for a job well done. Both the flyover and halftime looked great.
We look forward to working with you for future events.
University of Michigan Athletic Department
Steve “Hoss” Smith often sees the world upside down as he flies his Beech T-34 Mentor in air shows across America as a member of the six-man Lima Lima Flight Team.
The aerobatic team is scheduled to perform Friday night at the Owensboro Air Show at Owensboro-Daviess County Regional Airport and again Saturday at 1 p.m. over the downtown riverfront.
Friday’s hours are 4 to 9 p.m.
The bright yellow planes, used by the Air Force and Navy to train pilots in the 1950s, fly in precision formation — two to three feet apart — at speeds of up to 200 mph through a variety of aerobatic maneuvers.
A picture on the team’s website — http://www.limalima.com — shows the planes diving straight toward Lake Michigan with Chicago in the background.
On Thursday afternoon, the Lima Lima pilots took members of the local news media and the business community for a flight above the city to demonstrate some of the tamer moves.
Over Spencer County, Ind., they roared through a series of moves that resembled dog fights in aerial combat, soaring straight into the sky and rolling a couple of times above the Ohio River, with smoke streaming behind them.
Smith, who lives in Ellicott City, Md., graduated from the U.S. Air Force Academy in 1982 and spent the next 12 years flying F-15s and C-130s.
But, he said, “This is a lot more fun. I fly for myself now, and this is a lot of fun.”
Smith, who’s in his second year with the team, never sees the crowds that stare in awe at the team’s performance.
He flies a couple of feet off the right wing of the team leader.
“All I see is that wing,” he said. “Sometimes, I might catch a glimpse of the ground in my peripheral vision.”
The Owensboro show is the team’s fifth this year.
They usually fly 10 or 12 a year, Smith said. But the federal government’s sequestration has cut into the number of air shows by limiting the number of military aircraft that can perform.
The planes taxi down the runaway two by two and take off that way.
Once in the sky, they join up in formation and head out over the city.
“From the ground, it looks like everything up here is still,” Smith said. “But you can see we’re bouncing a lot.”
That makes precision flying even more difficult.
When Smith isn’t flying, he’s executive vice president for Survey Operations Arbitron in Columbia, Md.
Lima Lima traces its roots to the Mentor Flyers Inc., a group organized in 1975 in Naperville, Ill.
Since then, the team says it has performed for more than 100 million spectators.
The name “Lima Lima” comes from the FAA designation for Naper Aero Club field — LL-10.
“Lima” is the military word for the letter L.
Keith Lawrence, reporter for the Owensboro Messenger-Inquirer
They asked me last week if I would like to ride along in the back seat of one of the Lima Lima Flight Team’s planes while they practiced for the Owensboro Air Show. Heck, yeah! Who wouldn’t?
I’ve ridden in a hot-air balloon, an open-door Huey helicopter and a fire-spotter plane. Why not a stunt plane too?
But I wasn’t really prepared for the moment when Steve “Hoss” Smith, the pilot I was to ride with, handed me a parachute. I always assume that planes aren’t going to crash. It gives me a certain peace of mind. But a parachute? That implies that it might.
Back in 1999, during a practice session, two Lima Lima planes touched wings and one plane crashed, killing the pilot.
I didn’t know that when I was climbing into the Beech T-34 Mentor behind Smith. Anyway, Smith helped me into the parachute, which was heavier than I expected. I climbed on the wing and hoisted myself into the back seat. Then, he helped get me buckled in.
If we have to bail, he said, slide the canopy open, remove your headphones, unbuckle the seat belt, stand up, climb onto the side of the plane and jump past the wing. While the plane is plummeting to earth. Yeah, that’s gonna happen. I am really that coordinated.
Unless that plane is 10 miles up, it’s gonna be buried in a cornfield by the time I’m ready to jump. Just don’t crash, I said.
We flew over Owensboro in formation. It was about like flying in any small plane. Except you rarely look out and see another plane 10 feet away. Then, we crossed the river to Spencer County. “We’re gonna chase tail,” Smith said. I grinned. Suddenly, the plane banked sharply to the right and then went into a steep, almost vertical, climb — chasing the tail of the plane in front of it. My grin slid back to my ears and every wrinkle on my face smoothed out as the force of gravity doubled and tripled. Then, I found myself looking up at an Indiana field, the sky, an Indiana field and the sky again. A bit disorienting, to say the least. Especially when you’re trying to take notes.
I wrote something that looks like it might have come from an Egyptian pyramid. I have no idea what it’s supposed to say. Probably something like, “Wow, that was fun! Let’s do it again!”
John Rippinger acknowledges the danger.
He flies his T-34 within inches of his Lima Lima Flight Team’s five other planes during air shows. And that’s why they conduct extensive briefing and debriefing sessions before and after every show.
“We’re very, very practiced that way,” said Rippinger, 66, of Schaumburg. “We hope to be predictable, even to an extreme.”
Yet Rippinger knows there’s a danger threatening air shows that practice can’t avoid: the sequester.
The Chicago Air & Water Show lost its military acts, including F-18 fly boys and performances by the Air Force Thunderbirds and the Golden Knights U.S. Army parachute team, to federal budget cuts.
That shifts the focus to civilian acts like Lima — originally of Naperville. Their pilots will take off at the 55th annual air show on North Avenue Beach this Saturday and Sunday with 14 other civilian aerobatic and water-based performances, including the AeroShell Aerobatic Team, Sean D. Tucker & Team Oracle and the Firebird Delta Team.
Mary May of the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events said this year’s lineup of civilian flight teams should still make for an amazing show.
Rippinger thinks the Chicago Air & Water Show is a good test for these civilian acts. He said air show coordinator Rudy Malnati knows how to get the top civilian performers.
Two civilian-owned military planes will fly over crowds on Lake Michigan: a British Sea Harrier — a noisy “barn burner,” as Rippinger calls it — and an A-4 Sky Hawk.
Still, the thrills provided in the past by the Thunderbirds and the Blue Angels, flight teams that alternate appearances, have long been a highlight of the Air & Water Show.
Although the impact of the sequestration means higher demand for civilian teams in the short term, Rippinger said the lack of military acts could eventually doom air shows.
“‘Where is the air show business going next year?’ is the big question,” Rippinger said.
There’s a silver lining, as both the Thunderbirds and the Golden Knights have been cleared to resume training flights to practice for 2014’s slate of air shows.
For now, Rippinger and his “eclectic group” of Lima Lima pilots will take to the skies this weekend. He said the Lima Lima Flight Team, which started as a nonprofit organization in 1975 at the Naper Aero residential airpark, has performed all over North America.
The pilots themselves are also diverse, living all across the U.S.
“You’ll never find (any of our teammates) in the same church, club or social group,” Rippinger said. “But we all have this passion for flying. It’s a unique little fraternity we have.”
He related the flight team’s air shows to theatrical plays rather than Hollywood stunts. While their show is new to every audience, pilots hope the performance is always the same.
“It’s something you’re trying to self-perfect all the time,” Rippinger said.
An air show pilot is a special breed, Rippinger said. He or she must be willing to spend money on a plane and gas and have the talent and time to fly.
“We don’t do it for the money,” Rippinger said. “We do it because we can. You climb the mountain because you can.”