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Taking to the skies

St. Petersburg pilots prepare to dazzle Air Fest spectators.

Published October 18, 2006

Ace biplane pilot Bryan Regan enjoyed a Denver omelette Tuesday morning, pausing to chat about the scarlet stunt squadron in town for this weekend's AirFest.

Early-morning downtown habitues might have seen or heard the Red Baron Pizza Squadron's four airplanes aloft along the waterfront. They'll be visible this week as they prepare for the aviation expo at Albert Whitted Airport Saturday and Sunday.

The pilots and a half-dozen mechanics already are in town.

The planes are likely to be up in the air during the next few days.

"(People) should see us around doing a couple of different flights," Regan said.

The squadron, an eight-pilot coast-to-coast barnstorming team since 1984, is an AirFest featured attraction. Its pilots will perform intricate maneuvers - scary-looking to the ground-bound - known by such labels as the hammerhead, the faux shizzle, hearts and the watermelon loop.

Regan, 44, is the lead pilot. He has logged about 6,000 flying hours. The faux shizzle is his favorite stunt.

"Haven't done it in awhile. It's a loop with a snap roll at the top. Kind of a twisty roll at the top," he said.

The hammerhead, by contrast, is straightforward. Actually, make that straight up and down. The pilot roars up in one of the 450-horsepower planes until he runs out of momentum. Then he plummets earthbound, head first. For what seems a long time.

The tough biplanes are Stearmans, a model renowned as trainers and often used as cropdusters after World War II. Those in the Red Baron Squadron were built between 1941 and 1943.

"Our No. 1 airplane rolled off the line Dec. 8, 1941," Sniadak said. It was the day after Pearl Harbor, which drew America into the war.

This year's AirFest is making a point of saluting the military. Aircraft from World War II and the Vietnam era will be on hand, as will various military vehicles. The Vietnam Helicopter Pilots Association of Florida will be present. And the Coast Guard is participating.

On Saturday, anchored off the Pier will be the 61-year-old SS American Victory, a merchant vessel. The ship is available for people who would like to view the air show from the water.

Tickets are $100. The ship departs Channelside in Tampa at 10 a.m., with boarding starting at 9 a.m. The return is set for 6 p.m. For information, call (813) 228-8766 or e-mail Group rates are available.

The AirFest will offer many other attractions, including an F-15 Strike Eagle demonstration, a Marine amphibious assault, skydivers, helicopter rides and music by Rendezvous. There will be a food court, vendors and, for groundlings, a classic car show.

Former F-16 pilot Jim "Fang" Maroney will perform aerobatics in a DeHavilland Super Chipmunk, a 1,500-pound airplane with a 260-horsepower engine and clipped wings.

Patty Wagstaff, the first woman to win the national aerobatic title, will perform her specialty, low-level maneuvers. She has won gold, silver and bronze medals in Olympic-level international aerobatic competition.

Wagstaff's Web site contains a variety of featured quotes, among them: "The harder you train, the luckier you get."

The one on her home page is attributed to Mark Twain:

"She was not quite what you would call refined. She was not quite what you would call unrefined. She was the kind of person who keeps a parrot."

Fast Facts

Aviation expo

What: St. Petersburg AirFest

When: Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday (10 a.m. to 4 p.m.)

Where: Albert Whitted Airport in downtown St. Petersburg. Enter at First Street S and Fifth Avenue.

Why: To benefit All Children's Hospital, Boys & Girls Clubs of the Suncoast, Family Resources, PARC.

Admission: Adults $10 advance, $15 day of show. Children 6-12, $5. Under 6, free

On-site parking: $5. (Free motorcycle parking compliments of Jim's Harley-Davidson

[Last modified October 19, 2006, 14:24:04]

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