Buckled into the only passenger seat of the custom-built experimental RV* aircraft behind pilot Mike “Kahuna” Stewart I read the “warning” sign staring at me.
Passenger Warning. This aircraft is amateur-built and does not comply with the federal safety requirements for ‘Standard Aircraft’.
Oh boy. What was I getting myself into?
I quickly realized I had gotten myself into something pretty groovy. As the kitplane, which are typically built by pilots in their garages or airplane hangars, gracefully climbed into the Punta Gorda sky I could see lush green landscape, sparkle atop the mighty Peace River and massiveness of Charlotte Harbor. I also saw the other seven planes of today’s group as we flew in formation.
No, I just didn’t see them, I was within spitting distance. (Not that I would spit. One, it’s impolite and two, spitting out a plane flying at speeds up to 200 mph would only mean I’d be spitting on myself.) I could have walked out on the wing and jumped on the wing of the next plane over. (Yeah, I’m daring but something I would not actually do at that speed.)
When flying in formation, team members can be about three feet from each other. Do you know how long three feet is? When you’re relating it to flying aircraft it’s pretty dang close.
Founded in 2002 by Mike “Kahuna” Stewart , Team RV is the world’s largest air show team with 12 kitplanes. Each plane is unique and offers a colorful display in the sky for spectators. Pilots are experienced in flying various aircraft and are from Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina. They frequently practice formation precision skills which enables them to safely fly at speeds up to 200 mph and about three feet from each other.
Up in the air with “Kahuna” felt like drifting along the air currents. He kept a watchful eye on the aircraft surrounding us with an occasional head nod or shake or hand gesture to another pilot, indicating the next maneuver.
Down on the ground I asked Kari “Slinky” Morris, Team RV spokesperson, whether this was a career or hobby for everyone involved. She said it was a “passion.”
While up in the air looking up and around I could see the passion. It was just amazing seeing these small planes fly in various formations then easily shift positions. With all the timing and precision needed, it reminded me a bit like a graceful dance routine.
I snapped quite a few photos with my camera and iPhone and shot some video but toward the end, it was time to put the cameras away and enjoy the experience. Well, I confess my iron stomach has grown weak with age. With the RV’s final sharp turn toward the Punta Gorda Airport, my stomach flipped and thankfully remained in control.
Team RV’s 15-minute performance will be a treat during this weekend’s Florida International Air Show so plan on attending either Saturday or Sunday. (Oh, heck. How about both days?) The U.S. Navy Blue Angels and Black Diamond Jet Team are just some of the other air show performers.
Buy Your Tickets Online and Save
Florida International Air Show admission is $25 for adults and $5 for children 12 years and younger. Adults can save $5 off admission when purchased online through March 23, 2012. Upgraded seating and other options are also available. Visit www.floridaairshow.com for additional information. The Punta Gorda Airport is located at 28000 Airport Road in Punta Gorda.
Gates into the Florida International Air Show open at 9 a.m. with flying beginning at 10 a.m. and ending by 4 p.m. Sunscreen and chairs are highly recommended as well as ear muffs or plugs, especially for children.
Disclosure: Thank you to Team RV and the Florida International Air Show for this opportunity. As a member of the media, I was provided with this ride but be assured, opinions are my own.
*RV is a kitplane aircraft model line named after designer Richard VanGrunsven.