Veterans Flight – 2022 Pensacola Beach Blue Angels Air Show

Honoring Their Service

 

Countdown #1 – 25 February 2022

Only 132 days until Friday, 8 July’s first flights

The death last Saturday of Navy F6F-5 Hellcat pilot and Veterans Flight regular Dick Pace at the age of 102 is another reminder that Americans have few remaining opportunities to honor and thank the World War II veterans whose defeat of Nazi Germany and the Japanese Empire made it possible for us to live in this great country.

 

Veterans Flight – 2022 Pensacola Beach Blue Angels Air Show is Friday, 8 July and Saturday, 9 July. Put the dates on your calendar and plan to join us at Pensacola Aviation Center as we honor these great Americans. Florida’s continuing recovery from COVID and its support for our military means larger crowds this year. If you plan to watch the show from Pensacola Beach, make your hotel reservations now.

 

Dick was the last survivor of the group of World War II veterans who flew in the first Veterans Flight during the 2014 Pensacola Beach Blue Angels Air Show. He flew in every Veterans Flights until COVID forced cancellation of the 2020 beach air show. Dick always wore his World War II Navy flight suit, which he had donated to the National Naval Aviation Museum, when he flew with Veterans Flight. (Veterans Flight owes the museum a thank-you note for graciously allowing Dick to “borrow” his flight suit every year).

 

Dick Pace was a great American, a complete gentleman, and an outstanding representative of “The Greatest Generation.” It was an honor and privilege to know him and to be his friend.

Air Group 16 Officers Aboard USS Lexington - South Pacific 1944

TBF Pilot Harry Minarik Is Far Right In The Front Row

You Can Read Harry Minarik's Story In The Veterans' Stories Section 

Countdown #1 – 21 August 2020

Only 321 days until Friday, 9 July 2021’s first flights

The Heritage Project 

Unfortunately, the increase of COVID-19 cases forced cancellation of the Pensacola Beach Blue Angels Air Show and Veterans Flight 2020. We were disappointed as 2020 marks the 75th Anniversary of America's and its allies victory in World War II and Veterans Flight was to open the air show with a formation of six Stearmans with a 100+ years old veteran in the front cockpit of each airplane. 

We appreciate the many emails we received that supported the difficult decision. We and the Santa Rosa Island Authority are working to make sure Veterans Flight and the 2021 Pensacola Beach Air Show take place as scheduled 9 & 10 July 2021.

Good ideas often arise from disappointments and this year is no exception. Rather than waiting until next July's air show, Veterans Flight and Hellcat Productions are launching The Heritage Project. Most World War II veterans are in their late 90's, so we have limited time to honor and thank these national treasures whose courage and sacrifices made it possible for us to live in this great county.

 

We also recognize the importance of educating our fellow Americans how these veterans, who are universally regarded as America's "Greatest Generation," gave up the best years of their youth to serve their country and defeat Nazi Germany and the Japanese Empire. Today's Americans of all ages owe these veterans a debt that can never be repaid.

There are only two Stearmans in the Pensacola area, so The Heritage Project will not be a quick or easy process. The need to continue "Social Distancing" means we cannot have the large gatherings of veterans and their families, sponsors, volunteers and Stearman pilots at Pensacola Aviation Center that we have had for past Veterans Flights. 

Veterans on this year's flight schedule will be scheduled for flights and interviews on specific dates and times. Prior to their flights we will ask the veterans to provide background information for interviews that will be recorded by Hellcat Productions professional videographers. After the videos are edited, we will post them on the Veterans Flight website. 

We are excited that veteran TV professional Jeff Weeks has volunteered to interview the veterans featured in The Heritage Project. Jeff has been behind a microphone or in front of a television camera since he was 15 years old and began his broadcasting career while a junior in high school.


Jeff has been a disc jockey, talk show host, television weather anchor, television and radio news reporter and anchor. In addition he has voiced many commercials and videos. He is also an accomplished speaker and emcee.

He has interviewed personalities from all walks of life, business, politics, science, arts, entertainment, literature and sports and says, "There is nothing in broadcasting I enjoy more than a long form one-on-one interview. I am naturally curious, and I love a good story."

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Jeff Weeks

Jeff hosts "Conversations With Jeff Weeks," a weekly program on Pensacola State College's Public Broadcasting station WSRE-TV, which in July 2015 featured "Veterans Flight 2015 - The Final Mission."  

https://www.pbs.org/video/conversations-jeff-weeks-roy-kinsey/

In addition to being a media star, Jeff also enjoys flying -- he is a private pilot -- working out, skiing and traveling.

Hellcat Productions  https://www.hellcat.productions/

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If you know World War II aviators, email their contact information to veteransflight@cox.net so we can invite them to participate in the Heritage Project and fly with us next July

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VETERANS FLIGHT 

2021 Pensacola Beach Air Show

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Army B-25 Pilot John Beard & Veterans Flight Pilot Phil Webb – Veterans Flight 2014

Countdown #2 – 30 December 2020

Only 191 days until Friday, 9 July 2021’s first flights

Lt. Col. John Beard – American Hero 

Received sad news this morning that Army B-25 pilot Lt. Col. John Beard (102) passed away last night. John was one of two World War II veterans (Navy pilot Dick Pace is the other) who had flown in every Veterans Flight since we began formation flights in 2014 as part of the Pensacola Beach Air Show.

 

John earned Veterans Flight’s “Lima Bravo #3” recognition in December 2018 when he celebrated his 100th birthday. Despite his age John constantly amazed us by climbing into a Stearman more easily than many of our pilots.

 

One of Veterans Flight’s missions is to educate our fellow Americans how the World War II veterans, universally regarded as America’s "Greatest Generation," gave up the best years of their youth to serve their country. By defeating Nazi Germany and the Japanese Empire they made it possible for us to live in this great country. Americans of all ages owe them a debt that can never be repaid. The attached story of John Beard’s early life and military service should be required reading for any Americans who do not appreciate that they have more opportunities in America than anywhere else in the world.

(You can read John Beard's story in the Veterans' Stories section)

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If you know World War II aviators, email their contact information to veteransflight@cox.net so we can invite them to participate in the Heritage Project and fly with us next July

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VETERANS FLIGHT 

2021 Pensacola Beach Air Show

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Veterans Flight Stearmans Over Pensacola Beach During Veterans Flight 2018

Countdown #3 – 22 January 2021

Only 167 days until Friday, 9 July 2021’s first flights

Navy PBY Pilot Ron Mason – Happy Birthday #102!! 

Wednesday afternoon I received a call from the son of Navy PBY pilot Ron Mason who told me his father was celebrating his 102nd birthday. He said when he asked his father what he wanted for his birthday his father said, “I want to go to Pensacola and fly in the Pensacola Beach Air Show.” My immediate response was, “Veterans Flight will be honored to make that happen.”

 

Ron Mason was one of six 100+ years old veterans scheduled to fly in a six Stearman formation to open last year’s Pensacola Beach Blue Angels Air Show. Unfortunately, despite the efforts of the Santa Rosa Island Authority and the Blue Angels, last year’s air show was cancelled due to COVID-19.

 

Veterans Flight learned about Ron who lives in Des Moines, Iowa when the Pensacola New Journal published an article from the Des Moines Register that featured the SKYDIVE Ron made to celebrate his 100th birthday. Reporter Shelby Fleig kindly connected Veterans Flight with Ron. The link below will take you to that story, which has photos and a video.

While COVID-19 is still a concern, Florida is one of the leaders of America’s recovery. Florida state government recognizes the importance of returning Florida’s economy to pre-virus levels. Because many older Floridians have been vaccinated and the rate of vaccinations is increasing rapidly, we are optimistic the air show will take place as scheduled July 9 & 10.

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If you know World War II aviators, please email their contact information to veteransflight@cox.net

and we will invite them to fly with us.

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VETERANS FLIGHT

2021 Pensacola Beach Air Show 

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Veterans Flight Stearmans Head to Pensacola Beach During Veterans Flight 2018

Countdown #4 – 19 February 2021

Only 139 days until Friday, 9 July 2021’s first flights

Navy F6F Hellcat Pilot Art Leach

Shortly after Countdown #3 was published I received an email from Navy Hellcat pilot Art Leach’s granddaughter letting me know Art and several members of his family will join us for Veterans Flight 2021. This is great news as Art, who will celebrate his 101st birthday in May, was one of six 100+ years old veterans who were scheduled to fly in a six Stearman formation to open last year’s Pensacola Beach Blue Angels Air Show which was cancelled due to COVID-19.

 

Art, who lives in Odell, Illinois, was attending Illinois Wesleyan College when he received a draft notice. The Navy allowed him to finish college. He graduated 8 June and was in uniform two days later. He was accepted into flight training and received his wings in May 1943.

 

The links below will take you a 2018 article about Art that was published in the Dwight, Illinois newspaper and a video of Art being interviewed at the Livingston County (Illinois) War Museum.

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COVID-19 is still a concern, but Florida is leading America’s recovery. Many older Floridians are being vaccinated and we are optimistic the air show will take place as scheduled 9 & 10 July.

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If you know World War II aviators, email their contact information to veteransflight@cox.net so we can invite them to participate in the Heritage Project and fly with us next July

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VETERANS FLIGHT 

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2021Pensacola Beach Air Show Is A GO!

Countdown #5 – 2 April 2021

Only 97 days until Friday, 9 July 2021’s first flights

Last week the Santa Rosa Island Authority hosted the “Annual Winter Visit – Blue Angels” that takes place three months before every Pensacola Beach Air Show. This year we met via Zoom, but that was due to closure of the Three Mile Bridge rather than COVID-19. The Blue Angels made it clear they are looking forward to the Pensacola Beach Air Show and putting on another great performance.

History:

 

Yesterday was the 76th anniversary of the invasion of Okinawa. The last major battle of World War II, the battle for Okinawa was the bloodiest battle of the Pacific campaign. The battle lasted three months and more than 12,000 American soldiers, sailors and Marines died. Japanese Kamikaze attacks on the invasion fleet sunk 26 ships and damaged another 168. More than 100,000 Japanese soldiers were killed.

 

America needed to capture Okinawa to provide a base for Operation Down Fall, the invasion of the Japanese Home Islands which was planned to begin in November with an amphibious landing on Kyushu, the southern most of the Home Islands. Estimates of American casualties for conquest of the Home Islands ranged from 1.7 to 4 million killed or wounded.

 

Fortunately, Japan’s unconditional surrender after atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki made Operation Down Fall unnecessary. While the morality of the use of atomic weapons can be debated, I have not met a World War II veteran who served in the Pacific who did not thank President Truman for saving his life by authorizing use of the atomic bombs.

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If you know World War II aviators, email their contact information to veteransflight@cox.net so we can invite them to participate in the Heritage Project and fly with us next July

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VETERANS FLIGHT

2021 Pensacola Beach Air Show 

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World War II Veterans and Stearman Pilots Before the First Veterans Flight In 2014

Left to Right: Bill Andrews (Navy), Earl Stockton (Army), Dick Pace (Navy), B.T. Smith (Navy),

John Johnson (Navy), Ed Williamson (Army), Roy Kinsey (Stearman Pilot), John Beard (Army),

Carey Hardin (Stearman Pilot) and Phil Webb (Stearman Pilot)

Countdown #6 – 23 April February 2021

Only 77 days until Friday, 9 July 2021’s first flights

Not Many Opportunaties Left

When the 2020 Pensacola Beach Blue Angels Air Show and Veterans Flight were cancelled due to COVID we lost the opportunity to commemorate the 75th Anniversary of victory in World War II by honoring the World War II veterans whose sacrifices made it possible for us to live in this great country.

 

The passing of veterans who have flown with us is a reminder we are losing these “National Treasures” and will not have many more opportunities to get them back in the Stearmans in which most received their initial military flight training. Of the seven veterans in the photo, only Navy F6F Hellcat pilot Dick Pace (Lima Bravo #4) is still living. Dick, who will celebrate his 102nd birthday in August, has flown in every Veterans Flight and is on the schedule to fly again this year.

 

Please join us Friday and Saturday, 9 & 10 July, at Pensacola Aviation Center and help Veterans Flight thank and honor these great Americans.

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If you know World War II aviators, email their contact information to veteransflight@cox.net so we can invite them to participate in the Heritage Project and fly with us next July

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VETERANS FLIGHT 

2021Pensacola Beach Air Show

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WCOA Radio Personality Don Parker Ready to Fly in Navy Stearman 708

Countdown #7 – 14 May 2021

Only 56 days until Friday, 9 July 2021’s first flights

A Great Friend Gone Too Soon

Today is a sad day for Veterans Flight and Pensacola. WCOA radio personality and staunch Veterans Flight supporter Don Parker lost his battle with pancreatic cancer yesterday at age 74.

 

A Vietnam era Navy veteran, Don retired from the Escambia County Sheriff’s Office in 1989 to pursue a career as an author and professional speaker. His first book, “You’re Under Arrest: I’m Not Kidding,” published in 1989, was based on his experiences as a law enforcement officer and was so well received that he was interviewed on Good Morning America and The Larry King show.

 

After authoring two more successful books Don joined WCOA (Pensacola’s first radio station founded by World War II Marine Corsair pilot Colonel J. McCarthy “Mac” Miller). Don hosted WCOA’s morning show for 28 years and always publicized Veterans Flight in the weeks leading up to the Pensacola Beach Blue Angels Air Show. He also did WCOA’s live coverage of the air show and made sure his listeners learned about the veterans we honor, our Stearmans, and Veterans Flight’s pilots.

 

Don had a wonderful, self-depreciating sense of humor and a great perspective on life. All these qualities were on display when he sat down with Veterans Flight supporter Jeff Weeks for a wonderful interview that you can access and enjoy using the YouTube link below.

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If you know World War II aviators, email their contact information to veteransflight@cox.net so we can invite them to participate in the Heritage Project and fly with us next July

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VETERANS FLIGHT

2021 Pensacola Beach Air Show 

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Early Morning Crowd on Pensacola Beach During Veterans Flight 2018

Countdown #8 – 28 May 2021

Only 42 days until Friday, 9 July 2021’s first flights

Great News - The Pensacola Bay Bridge IS Open

In what is perhaps the year’s best news for the Pensacola Beach Air Show, this morning the Pensacola Bay Bridge reopened to limited traffic after being closed since it was damaged during Hurricane Sally last September. Florida is rapidly returning to per-COVID normal. The statewide vaccination rate is high, masks are no longer required, tourists are returning to our beaches, hotels are full, and many restaurants have long waiting lines in the evenings.

As of today, twelve Stearmans and one T-34 are committed to Veterans Flight, so we should have plenty of lift capacity and the ability to make lots of “round engine” noise for what I predict will be record crowds on Pensacola Beach.

 

I thought Navy PBY pilot Ron Mason (Des Moines, Iowa) and Navy F6F pilot Art Leach (O’Dell, Illinois) would compete for greatest distance travelled recognition. However, Marine pilot Bill Diebels, (photo on right) is coming from Juneau, Alaska and will set a record for the greatest distance ever travelled to participate in Veterans Flight.

 

Compared to Ron Mason and Art Leach, both of whom have left their 100th birthdays astern, Bill Diebels is a youngster of 89. He received his Wings of Gold in early 1954 and went on to fly the FJ2 “Fury” which was the Navy/USMC version of North American Aviation’s F-86 Sabre jet. Welcome aboard Marine!

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If you know World War II aviators, email their contact information to veteransflight@cox.net so we can invite them to participate in the Heritage Project and fly with us next July

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VETERANS FLIGHT

2021 Pensacola Beach Air Show 

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Official 2021 Pensacola Beach Air Show Poster

Countdown #9 – 4 June 2021

Only 35 days until Friday, 9 July 2021’s first flights

More Good News - OFFICIAL Air Show Poster Published

Publication of the air show poster may not seem like a big deal, but the specter of COVID-19 makes 2021 anything but an ordinary year. While some parts of the country are still suffering lock downs and mask mandates, the air show poster is reassurance that Pensacola Beach and the Blue Angels are leading the recovery of Northwest Florida’s tourist economy and our return to normal life.

 

Even with the limited reopening of the Pensacola Bay Bridge, the Memorial Day weekend traffic count to Pensacola Beach was 74,023 vehicles. That number is comparable to pre-COVID years and confirms the beach has reopened for business and we can expect record crowds for this year’s Pensacola Beach Blue Angels Air Show.

 

Please join us at Pensacola Aviation Center on July 9 & 10, as we celebrate the 76th anniversary of America’s victory in World War II and thank the veterans whose sacrifices made it possible for us tor live in this great country.

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If you know World War II aviators, email their contact information to veteransflight@cox.net so we can invite them to participate in the Heritage Project and fly with us next July

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VETERANS FLIGHT

2021 Pensacola Beach Air Show 

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13 March 1945, USS Randolph (CV-15) Under Repair at Ulithi Atoll After Japanese Kamikaze Attack

Countdown #10 – 18 June 2021

Only 21 days until Friday, 9 July 2021’s first flights

Record Crowds Expected For Air Show

Memorial Day visitors to Pensacola Beach struggled as bridge traffic was restricted to one lane in each direction. Yesterday the Bay Bridge reopened to two lanes in both directions for the entire span. Based on hotel bookings and Pensacola Beach being fully open for business, record crowds are expected for this year’s Pensacola Beach Blue Angels Air Show and celebration of the Blue Angels’ 75th Anniversary.

Howard Levinson – Recent And Welcome Addition

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Howard Levinson was an Army Air Corps B-24 pilot at age 21. Now 98, he is coming from Chicago to fly with Veterans Flight. Howard is a Medinah Shriner Aviator who for years flew young burn victims and their parents for treatment at Shriners hospitals. An accomplished civilian aviator, at age 84 Howard passed the written and practical (check ride) tests required to earn an Airline Transport Pilot certificate. In 2009 he was inducted into the Illinois Aviation Hall of Fame.

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If you know World War II aviators, email their contact information to veteransflight@cox.net so we can invite them to participate in the Heritage Project and fly with us next July

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VETERANS FLIGHT

2021 Pensacola Beach Air Show 

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Navy F6F Hellcat Pilot Dick Pace Ready For His First Veterans Flight - 2014

Countdown #11 – 18 June 2021

Only 14 days until Friday, 9 July 2021’s first flights

Veteran: Dick Pace – Pensacola, Florida

Navy F6F-5 Hellcat Pilot

Sad news today as Veterans Flight learned Navy F6F Hellcat pilot Dick Pace is not physically able to fly with us this year. Dick, who was recognized as Lima Bravo #4 when he celebrated his 100th birthday in August 2019 is the only veteran who has flown in every formation Veterans Flight since they began in 2014.

 

Dick is a Pensacola native and was a senior at Dartmouth College when he signed up for the Naval Aviation Cadet program in April 1941. After graduating he completed pre-flight training in Atlanta before going to NAS Corpus Christi where he received his wings and was commissioned an Ensign in May 1942.

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Dick was such a good pilot that the Navy kept him at Corpus Christi as a primary flight instructor in N2S Stearmans. This was followed by assignment as an SNJ instructor at Corry Field, Pensacola.

In July 1944 he was ordered to NAS Daytona for Grumman F6F-5 Hellcat training, which was followed by carrier qualification in the Hellcat at NAS Glenview, Illinois. In November 1944 he was ordered to NAS Atlantic City where he joined newly formed fighter squadron VF-92.

 

After several short training cruises on the U.S.S. Croatan (CVE-25), the squadron traveled by troop ship from Alameda, California to NAS Kahuli, Maui, where it boarded the U.S.S. Breton (CVE-23) on 28 June 1945. The Breton sailed to Saipan where VF-92 conducted air strikes on the Japanese island of Rota.

After the Japanese surrendered Dick was detached from VF-92 and ordered to NAS New Orleans for release from active duty. The Navy kindly provided a four-week luxury cruise home from the Pacific aboard a tanker that transited the Panama Canal and stopped in Galveston before finally reaching New Orleans. Dick was released from active duty in October 1945. After he was detached, his old squadron boarded the USS Lexington (CV-16) and sailed to Tokyo as part of the occupation of Japan.

Dick Pace personifies “The Greatest Generation” to the extent that I frequently say, “If you look up ‘Gentleman’ in the dictionary, don’t be surprised if you find a photo of Dick Pace next to the definition.” A great supporter of Veterans Flight, he always borrows his 1940’s Navy flight suit (which still fit perfectly) from the Naval Aviation Museum to wear when he flies.

 

Dick - Veterans Flight will miss you.

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If you know World War II aviators, email their contact information to veteransflight@cox.net so we can invite them to participate in the Heritage Project and fly with us next July

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VETERANS FLIGHT

2021 Pensacola Beach Air Show 

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Art Leach, Helene Ellis, Howard Levinson, Dan Peterson, and Roy Kinsey

After Action Report #1 – 16 July 2021

Only 357 days until Friday, 8 July 2022’s first flights

Veterans Flight 2021 - A Great Success

Beginning Thursday afternoon more than 30 flights with veterans were flown over three days. These veterans included 101 years old Navy F6F pilot Art Leach from O’Dell, Illinois, and 98 years old Army B-24 pilot Howard Levinson from Glen­view, Illinois.

 

Both Art and Howard were able to fly with us thanks to the generosity of Dan Peterson who flew them to Pensacola in his TBM-700C.

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Although Art’s flight qualified him for Veterans Flight’s Lima Bravo recognition, 103 years old Pearl Harbor Survivor Frank Emond had the honor of being the senior veteran to fly this year. (Photo above shows Frank making his qualifying Lima Bravo flight with Carey Hardin during Veterans Flight 2018).

Every passing year means there are fewer living World War II veterans to honor and thank, but the support Veterans Flight received made it possible for us to bring more out of state veterans to the Pensacola Beach Air Show. This year veterans from as far away as Virginia, Illinois, and Alaska traveled to Pensaco­la to fly and we hope to increase that in the future. Please plan to join us next year on July 8 & 9 for Veterans Flight – 2022 Pensacola Beach Blue Angels Air Show.

In addition to the 11 Stearman primary trainers that came to Pensacola for Veterans Flight, 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 they flew during World War II. (For some World War II aviators, a Stearman was the first airplane in which they had ever flown). 

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T-6 Pilot Phillip Grice On The Wing Of Dave Robinson's SNJ As The Advanced Trainers Roll In On Pensacola Beach Saturday Morning. Navy 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 aviators, email their contact information to veteransflight@cox.net so we can invite them to participate in the Heritage Project and fly with us next July

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