Air-2-Air with the Zero Replica and Corsair

It was December 2013 and I was almost in the hangover of my previous outing with the 3G Aviation Media’s workshop with the Dixie Wing of the Commemorative Air Force at Peachtree City near Atlanta. I was chatting with Moreno “Mo” Agiuari and a wild idea came to mind and without thinking I asked him – will it be possible to go air2air with his warbirds at the Wing. We chatted on it a bit more and if things went right it would happen in December on the 22nd just before Christmas eve. I had planned for the T-6 Texan that was modified and painted as a Japanese Zero, and the F4U Corsair – two of the greatest adversaries of the Pacific theater in WW-II.

Unfortunately in December, I had to call it off due to some personal urgent situation and it was good as well since the weather was shot to hell. Flying down there would have been a waste of everything since the weather was absolute crap with rain and clouds with no sign of decreasing. Oh well, we would need to find an alternate date in the new year.

After some more conversations in January and early February we finalized on a date – 1st of March weekend would be the ideal – since they would be done with their annual inspections on the T-6 Zero Replica and Corsair as well and March timeframe gave some time for the weather to improve towards the positive side. We had couple of conference calls with Col. Jack Van Ness (owner and pilot of the T-6 Zero replica), Col. Jim Buckley (owner of the SNJ photoship), Col. Alan Armstrong (Corsair pilot) and Col. Philip Beegle (coordinator). After the last conference call it was all prayers and all fingers and toes crossed for the weather to hold – since the eastern seaboard had experienced a far worse winter weather this year with a lot of cold fronts sweeping through the area.

I would fly-in on Saturday and we will have a short briefing in the evening and then Sunday was the primary day with Monday as the backup in case rains upset our plans on Sunday – however looking from it we wont be needing Monday since Monday had more susceptibility to rains than Sunday. Accordingly I flew in. The weather at Denver was blowing snow and my next flight to Atlanta was delayed due to that. On landing at Atlanta I saw there were pretty high ceilings but by the time I made my way to the Peachtree airport, the muck had burnt off and it was wispy clouds at higher altitude. We had a brief meeting with Mo, Col. Jack Van Ness, Col. Jim Buckley, Col. Tony Stein (SNJ photo ship pilot), and Col. Chris Avery (Corsair pilot). Typical of an air2air photo mission, altitudes, speeds, location, sequencing of take offs, maneuvers, hand signals, radio calls, and Ids were discussed extensively. Flight safety, parachute, and my seat with the right cushion and other things were also covered on Saturday. With that the hop was ON – now we only needed the weather to co-operate.
Next day dawned with clear skies and a great sun rise. The plan was to meet at 1500 hrs. Had an early lunch, went through the motions in my head. Once we took off, it is just a matter of execution and no thinking of what comes next – because TIME REALLY FLIES!! I reached Falcon field and saw Tony prepping ┬áthe Corsair for the hop. Jack, Chris had also come by and we had a briefing before we actually got out and mounted the aircraft. Mo had sent out a flyer for the event – and there was quite a crowd that came by to see us fly away for the photo mission. My good friend Doug Glover had also come by for a photo mission with the B-17 Flying Fortress scheduled on Monday. He and Mo generously placed the GoPro cameras inside the SNJ to get some video from that event as well. The time came and me, Tony and Jack got into our aircraft and started the engines. We would take off one after another and head for Lake Lagrange – which had a typical landscape of the Pacific theater. It was 10 minutes flying time from FFC (Falcon Field) – the other advantage of flying over the Lake was there was Lagrange Callaway airport (LGC) nearby if some aircraft had a technical.

While enroute I started taking the shots that I needed of the T-6 Zero replica – sending Jack to formate on the left, the right, high, below the photo ship. Jack flew the Zero expertly around us.

Once when he was high off to our starboard side (right) I saw his path was intercepting the Sun (below center) – and I just hanged on with my camera and clicked as he flew right in front of it. I got lucky with the Sun flaring off right at the intersection of the engine nacelle and canopy (as seen below right).

We heard Chris take off with the Corsair after 10 minutes and the Corsair formated with our formation. SNJ was Dixie Lead, T-6 Zero Replica was Dixie-1, and the Corsair was Dixie-2. I took some shots with the two aircraft in formation. We also simulated an attack by the Corsair on the Zero replica – just like in the old days.

After that Dixie-1 broke formation returning back to FFC – while I took single ship shots of the Corsair (which became Dixie-1 when the Zero replica left). Chris parked his Corsair perfectly with the SNJ and flew a profile where he started high up and pulled up simulating a dive.

Tony was keeping time and he announced its time to head for home – and we flew in formation. It was perfect since the setting Sun was exactly behind us and I used the 10 minutes of flying time to good advantage positioning the Corsair into and around the Sun. In the process, I got some great shots of the Corsair.

Coming into FFC, Tony pulled hard left on the SNJ to start our turn for downwind giving some time for the Corsair to fly a extended downwind and base legs of the pattern. In no time, we had already landed and taxing back to the Dixie hangar. The Corsair landed behind us and taxied in as well. Engine shut-down and I got out of the SNJ. Mo and Doug were there as well. After a brief chat and word of thanks to Chris, Jack, Tony and the other volunteers at the Dixie Wing, I drove back to the hotel. Doug and I had dinner talking about aviation and photography. I went back and then started the up-hill task of sorting through the photos. I was so excited from the hop, that I did not have any inkling of time. I had my laptop in Pacific time and before I knew it, it was 0200 Eastern time – I was not feeling tired but guessed it was time to go to bed.

It was a great experience – and it was all the more awesome since I had not had so much fun in recent times :D The flying was perfect, the weather was perfect, it was more than anything I could ask for. ┬áThe entire collection of shots from the hop can be found here –

With that note, I take leave of you folks – Sayonara – until next time!!