Veterans Flight 2015
"The Final Mission"
Although Veterans Flight 2014's formation flights were a great success, the pilots thought it was a one-time event for the simple reason we didn't believe there would be enough surviving World War II aviators to continue in the future. We were surprised by the outpouring of community support and the number of people who said, "You guys have to do it again for next year's beach air show."
In early April 2015 I sent an exploratory email to Stearman pilots asking if they were interested in flying World War II veterans again as part of the Pensacola Beach Air Show. As you'll read in Update #1, I intentionally didn't copy the veterans who flew with us in 2014 as I didn't want them to be disappointed if there wasn't sufficient interest.
The response to the email was overwhelming; 12 Stearman owners quickly committed to bring their Stearmans to Pensacola for the beach show. Because we truly believed 2015 would be the last year we would have sufficient World War II veterans, the theme for Veterans Flight 2015 became "The Final Mission."
One owner, who ironically was the youngest and an airline pilot, had a medical problem that put him in the hospital. Another airplane had a mechanical problem that kept it from making the trip, but we still ended up with 10 Stearmans, which was a tremendous increase from the Stearmans we had in 2014.
Pilots tend to make a big deal out of things, and Stearman pilots are no exception. "The Final Mission" theme made us want to do more for the veterans, as well as our pilots and supporters. We got help from three great graphic artists who donated their services and designed two T-shirts and an embroidered golf shirt that have become collectors items.
Darrel Ferguson's Embroidered Golf Shirt
Robert King's T-Shirt
Kara Ffield's T-Shirt
All the World War II veterans received a gift bag containing the shirts, a Pensacola Beach Air Show poster, as well as a bag of famous "Stearman Coffee" that is custom blended, ground and packaged by Stearman pilot Sam Hardin's father-in-law.
Burrel Sumner talks with Veterans Flight pilot Jerry Hedrick after the Centennial of Naval Aviation Air Show in May 2011
With three Stearmans Friday, and four Saturday, flight operations for Veterans Flight 2014 a verbal preflight briefing was sufficient. However, when more than ten Stearmans committed to Veterans Flight 2015, it was obvious a more formal structure was needed for safe operation.
Although Veterans Flight is an integral part of the Pensacola Beach Blue Angels Air Show, another consideration is that we are required to fly the veterans before the TFR goes into effect at 1100 as the FAA does not permit carrying passengers in waivered air space. This leaves us a small window of time to get two flights of veterans to the beach, so an Operations Plan was developed and sent to all the pilots the week before the air show.