Veterans Flight – 2023 Pensacola Beach Blue Angels Air Show
Honoring Their Service
Countdown #2 – 5 June 2023
Only 32 days until Friday, 7 July’s first flights
Veterans Flight 2015's Stearmans Ready for Takeoff for Friday's First Fight
World War II Stearman instructor Norman Cockman and pilot Roy Kinsey before the first Veterans Flight in November 2010.
Confirmations continue to come in for Veterans Flight 2023. USMC Corsair pilot Lowell “Red” Truex, Lima Bravo #7, (right) confirmed he will fly with us again this year. Red, who holds the record as the oldest USMC veteran to fly with Veterans Flight, celebrated his 101st birthday earlier this year.
Navy Corsair mechanic Margie Stone (left, center) will also join us again. Her age is classified, but Margie climbs into a Stearman more easily than some of our Veterans Flight pilots.
Pearl Harbor Survivors Frank Emond, USN, and Bill Braddock, USMC, before Veterans Flight 2018.
The loss of Pearl Harbor Survivor Frank Emond, Lima Bravo #2, (above, with Stearman pilot Carey Hardin) reminds us we have few future opportunities to honor the World War II veterans whose sacrifices made it possible for us to live in this great country. At 104, Frank was the oldest veteran to have flown with Veterans Flight.
Veterans Flight – 2023 Pensacola Beach Blue Angels Air Show is Friday, 7 July and Saturday, 8 July. Put the dates on your calendar and join us at Pensacola Aviation Center to help us honor these great Americans. Florida’s recovery from COVID and its support of our military means larger crowds this year. We start flying at 0800 both Friday and Saturday.
Blue Angels Homecoming Air Show
Returns to NAS Pensacola
Veterans, pilots, family members, volunteers and supporters gather at Pensacola Aviation Center before the flights.
World War II veterans Jerry Yellin (Army Air Corps), Cass Phillips (Navy) and Jay Carraway (Navy) during Veterans Flight 2016.
The Blue Angels Homecoming Air Show, which ends the air show season and traditionally takes place at NAS Pensacola, was cancelled in 2020 due to COVID-19. While there was a 2021 Homecoming Air Show, it was relocated to Pensacola Beach because security restrictions closed NAS Pensacola to the general public.
Thanks to the efforts of many people, and especially CAPT Terry Shashaty, Commanding Officer of NAS Pensacola, the base will be open to the general public for the air show Friday, 11 November, and Saturday, 12 November.
Although this year's air show is being held at NAS, things are not completely back to normal. In past years civilian performers and their airplanes stayed on base, but Hurricane Sally severely damaged the hangar used for civilian airplanes. That hangar has not been repaired, so civilian airplanes will again stage from Pensacola Aviation Center at Pensacola International Airport as they did last year.
The Blue Angels Homecoming Air Show is a favorite of Veterans Flight pilots. This year six of our pilots are scheduled to fly in the show. Julie Thomas is coming from Hernando, Mississippi. Father and son, Carey and Sam Hardin, are coming from Starkville, Mississippi. John Rettick, who is coming from Bloomington, Illinois will make the longest trip. Phil Webb and Roy Kinsey both live in Pensacola and will have the luxury of sleeping at home.
Julie Thomas - Navy Stearman #67
Sam Hardin - Navy Stearman #469
Roy Kinsey - Navy Stearman #708
Carey Hardin - Army Stearman #470
John Rettick - Armay Stearman #845
Phil Webb - Army Stearman #42
Veterans Flight pilots John Laughter (515), Carey Hardin (470), Vic Syracuse (719) and Sam Hardin (469) over Pensacola Beach during Veterans Flight 2018
Stearmans on the flight line waiting patiently for the first flight of veterans.
Veterans Flight pilot Phil Webb (AAC #42) leads the Stearmans out for takeoff on runway 35 at Pensacola International Airport.
CAPT Royce Williams, USN (ret.)
American Hero and Special Guest
John Mollison's Drawing of the F9F-5 Panther Flown by LT Royce Williams
We are honored that retired Navy Captain Royce Williams is coming to the homecoming air show as a special guest of NAS Pensacola, the Naval Aviation Museum Foundation, American Airlines, and Veterans Flight.
If you follow Ward Carroll’s YouTube channel, or John Mollison’s “Old Guys and Their Airplanes” website, you recognize Royce Williams’s name. If you haven’t heard of Royce Williams, but plan to attend the air show, you have an opportunity to meet a true American hero who as a young Naval Aviator distinguished himself during one of the most amazing and least known events in the history of Naval Aviation.
On 18 November 1952, LT Royce Williams was a Navy F9F Panther pilot assigned to Fighter Squadron VF-781 aboard the aircraft carrier USS Oriskany, which was part of a task force operating off the east coast of North Korea in an area south of Vladivostok, Russia. When an NSA listening post radioed a warning that a flight of four Russian MiG’s was inbound toward the task force, the Oriskany launched four F9F Panthers to intercept the MiG’s. LT Williams was leading the flight’s second element of two Panthers.
The F9F Panther was the Navy’s first carrier-based jet fighter. Although a tough product of Grumman’s legendary “Iron Works,” it was a straight wing jet better suited to a ground attack role than air to air combat against the much higher performance MiG-15.
Soon after the four Panthers took off, the pilot of the lead aircraft reported a fuel pump problem and was ordered to return to the Oriskany. Lead’s wing man returned to the carrier with him, leaving LT Williams and his wing man, a new and inexperienced member of the squadron, to deal with what they had been told were four MiG’s. They believed it would be a difficult “two vs four” encounter, but after visually spotting the MiG’s contrails LT Williams realized there were seven MiG’s, making this an almost impossible “two vs seven” fight he was unlikely to survive.
Ward Carroll's and John Mollison's interviews explain what happened during Royce Williams's encounter with the Russian MiG's, and links to their web pages are below. You will enjoy the story and be surprised it remained a secret for many years.
Ward Carroll: (45) Secrets of a Soviet MiG Killer - YouTube
John Mollison: OGTA Debrief with CAPT. Royce Williams on Vimeo
During Saturday's air show CAPT Williams will be honored by flying in a formation of six Stearmans. Joining CAPT Williams in the front cockpits of the Stearmans will be CAPT Terry Shashaty, Commanding Officer of NAS Pensacola; retired RADM Kyle Cozad, President and CEO of the Naval Aviation Museum Foundation; and John Dudley, Director of Flight Operations for American Airlines, which generously is flying CAPT Williams from San Diego to Pensacola for the air show.
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If you know World War II aviators, email their contact information to
so we can invite them to fly with us next July
2022 Pensacola Beach Blue Angels Air Show
Friday, 8 July and Saturday, 9 July
Retired Rear Admiral Kyle Cozad Presented Lima Bravo Recognitions to World War II
Navy F6F Hellcat Pilot Art Leach (Lima Bravo #6) and World War II
USMC Corsair Pilot Lowell “Red” Truex (Lima Bravo #7)
Lima Bravo #4, Frank Emond, who is 104, is Next to Admiral Cozad
Veterans Flight 2022
Was A Great Success
Although we had only eight Stearmans, two T-6/SNJ’s and one T-34 this year due to a variety of medical, business, and mechanical problems, we still flew 25 veterans, plus numerous sponsors and volunteers.
The highlight of our operations was Saturday’s five Stearman Lima Bravo flight, which was led by Veterans Flight pilot Julie Thomas. Three 100+ years old World War II veterans, plus retired Rear Admiral Kyle Cozad and photographer Steven Stopler, flew in a five Stearman formation over Pensacola Beach. In addition to new Lima Bravo recipients Art Leach and “Red” Truex, we were honored to have Pearl Harbor Survivor Frank Emond, who is 104 years old and holds the distinction of Lima Bravo #2, in the front cockpit of Navy Stearman 708 during the flight.
After the flight Admiral Cozad, President & CEO of the Naval Aviation Museum Foundation, presented Lima Bravo recognitions to World War II Navy F6F Hellcat pilot Art Leach (102), Lima Bravo #6; and World War II Marine F4U Corsair pilot Lowell “Red” Truex (100), Lima Bravo #7.
Retired Rear Admiral Kyle "kc" Cozad in the Front Cockpit of Howard Thomas's Super Stearman "Queen of Memphis" with Frank Emond, Lima Bravo #2, and Roy Kinsey in Navy Stearman #708
On Their Wing During Saturday's Lima Bravo Flight
In addition to the three Lima Bravo recipients who flew during Veterans Flight 2022, the four World War II veterans pictured below, all of whom are now deceased, earned Lima Bravo recognition by flying with Veterans Flight and celebrating their 100th birthdays. The passing of these four great Americans is a reminder we have few remaining opportunities to honor and thank the World War II veterans whose sacrifices made it possible for us to live in this great country.
Lima Bravo #1, Army B-29 Pilot Paul McClain, with Veterans Flight Pilot Carey Hardin
Lima Bravo #4, Navy F6F Hellcat Pilot Dick Pace, with Veterans Flight Pilot Roy Kinsey
Lima Bravo #3, Army B-25 Pilot John Beard,
Climbs into Phil Webb's Army Stearman
Lima Bravo #5, Navy PBY Pilot Cass Phillips, with Veterans Flight Pilot Carey Hardin
Although each passing year means there are fewer living World War II veterans to honor and thank, the support Veterans Flight receives has made it possible for us to bring more out of state veterans to the Pensacola Beach Air Show. In recent years veterans from Virginia, Illinois, and Alaska have traveled to Pensacola to fly. We are working to include more in the future, so please plan to join us July 7 & 8 for Veterans Flight – 2023 Pensacola Beach Blue Angels Air Show.
In addition to the 8 Stearman primary trainers that came to Pensacola for Veterans Flight 2022, the Stearmans were joined by 2 SNJ/T-6 advanced trainers and a T-34. This gave us an opportunity to fly veterans in the first two military airplanes many flew during World War II. (For many World War II aviators, a Stearman was the first airplane in which they had ever flown).
T-6 Pilot Phillip Grice on the Wing of Dave Robinson's SNJ as the Advanced Trainers roll in on Pensacola Beach during Veterans Flight 2021. Navy F6F Hellcat Pilot Art Leach is in the aft cockpit of the T-6 and Dan Peterson is in the aft cockpit of the SNJ. Photo was taken by Jeff Rease from Tony Diez's T-34.
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If you know World War II, Korea, or Vietnam era aviators, email their contact information to
so we can invite them to fly with us in July.