Veterans Flight 2015
"The Final Mission"
When we did the first formation flights in 2014, we believed Veterans Flight would be a "one time" event. While it was a great honor and wonderful experience to fly and thank these American heroes, we didn't think there would be enough surviving World War II veterans to do it again.
It wasn't long after the air show before people began asking, "Are you going to do Veterans Flight again in next year's beach air show?" When we answered, "No, we don't think there will be enough World War II veterans left to do it again," their universal response was, "We loved seeing the veterans and the Stearmans, you have to do it again next year."
Everyone who spends time around pilots knows they are an enthusiastic group that doesn't do things in moderation. Veterans Flight 2014 had been such a great event that when the possibility of doing it again in 2015 was raised, all four 2014 pilots immediately committed to bring their Stearmans back to Pensacola for Veterans Flight 2015.
Once we decided to do it again, the question became, "How do we make Veterans Flight 2015 even better than 2014?" There were several easy answers - More veterans, more Stearmans, and a theme. Because we really did believe 2015 would be the last year, "The Final Mission" was the obvious theme.
The next question was how can we make the Veterans Flight experience better? Another easy answer - "Shirts" for the veterans, our crew, sponsors and pilots. Thanks to three very talented designers, The Final Mission was commemorated by every veterans receiving two T-shirts and an embroidered golf with the artists' designs.
Darrel Ferguson - Pensacola
Kara Ffield - Pensacola
Robert King - Miami
Response from the Stearman community was overwhelming. Coming from as far away as Atlanta and northeast Louisiana, 11 Stearmans made the trip to Pensacola. During Friday and Saturday's air show they flew a total of 23 World War II veterans over a crowded Pensacola Beach. In addition to the Stearmans, 2 Robinson R44 helicopters also flew veterans, photographers and family members.
Professional cinematographers David Heroux and Chris Powell captured the Veterans Flight experience and produced two great videos. In addition to beautiful inflight footage, the two videos feature Rene Bookout's and Jennie Kinsey's interviews with many of World War II veterans who flew The Final Mission. (Both the short and long versions are available on the "Videos" page).
Bill Hudgens, owner of Pensacola Aviation Center, let Pensacola State College's PBS television station WSRE turn his office into a studio where they recorded the weekly show "Conversations With Jeff Weeks" featuring The Final Mission. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D-gzVkzClc4
Steven Stopler Photographs
Early Morning Gathering of Veterans, Families and Veterans Flight Supporters at Pensacola Aviation Center
Stearmans Taxi Out For the First Flight of the Day
Navy Stearman Instructor and Hellcat Pilot Dick Pace Was Interviewed by Rene Bookout
Navy Veteran "Cash" Barber With His Granddaughter and Great-Grandchildren
Jim Ratliff Leads Vic Syracuse, John Laughter and Carey Hardin's Stearmans to Pensacola Beach
The Stearmans Brought Back Many Memories for Pearl Harbor Survivor and Navy PBY Pilot Cass Phillips
Phil Webb (Army #42) Leads Saturday's First Flight For Takeoff On Runway 35
Stearmans Lined Up On the Flight Line Ready for the Veterans
Stearmans Ready For Takeoff
WASP Ginny Watkins Ready For Her First Veterans Flight
Pearl Harbor Survivor and Navy PBY Pilot Cass Phillips Being Interviewed By Rene Bookout
Veterans Flight Stearmans Head East Along the
Beach As Friday's Crowd Builds
Navy F6F Hellcat Pilot Frank Heule Gets A Little Help Climbing Into Charles & Peggy Tucker's 450 Stearman
Retired Delta Captain and Air Force C-130 Pilot Jim Ratliff Waits to Refuel For Saturday's Flights
Saturday's First Flight Lined Up and Ready For Takeoff
Phil Webb (Army #42) Leads Saturday's First Flight To Pensacola Beach