Finding Heaven on Earth - Formation Flying and Happiness
The residents and pilots of Spruce Creek, Florida have a saying.“For those of us fortunate to go to Heaven when we die, it is simply a lateral move.” How right they must be.The fly-in community of Spruce Creek, 7FL6, is second to no other. Genuinely welcoming and inclusive residents, a 4000 foot lighted runway, GPS approach (for those lucky residents who are granted an approach plate), 1200 homes, a countryclub, tennis courts, and a fantastic restaurant named “The Downwind” make Spruce Creek truly Heaven on Earth.
From January 9th, 2014, to January 15th, 2014, Dwane Ferguson and myself were honored to be guests of the community. As one might expect, some incredibly accomplished pilots call Spruce Creek home. There is Steve Wood, a holder of over 100 World Records dealing with aviation. Stu Morse, an accomplished aviation racer(and one hell of a lead pilot). John Mullaney, a retired dentist who still lights up like a little kid when it is time to fly. Dick Axelrod, a prominent retired attorney who was involved in the human rights and civil liberties movement of the 70’s. Tony Crawford, a wise and skilled Reno air racer, and F.A.S.T. Examiner. And of course our very own Cherokees to Oshkosh extended family, Connie and Marcia Shad, Bernie and Lolly Shaw, and Dan Garley. The list goes on and on and on.
Fergie and I both battled brutal headwinds, crazy routing around Atlanta’s airspace, active MOA’s, and hard IMC during our trek from M33 (Fergie’s home base) and our destination of 7FL6. The Shads and Shaws graciously opened up their homes to us making us instantly feel right at home.
We spent the entire first day in ground school, hosted by Connie, covering all there is to master when studying formation flying. Our presenters were several accomplished Formation and Safety Training (F.A.S.T.) card holders and members of the Valiant Air Command (VAC). The VAC is an amazing museum based at KTIX in Titusville, Florida. It houses several airworthy WWI, WWI, Korean,and Vietnam aircraft and memorabilia.
We spent the next five solid days completing numerous training flights lasting about an hour each. We covered 2-ship formation, 4-ship formation, maintaining position, line-of-sight, aspect angles, plane of motion, breaks, in trail, rejoins, hand signals, and other elements of formation flying.On one training flight, we enjoyed flying in extended trail while flying a low pass down the Kennedy Space Center runway! It was instantly clear that the folks providing us instruction were knowledgeable, respected, and continue to be passionate about flying. The training was challenging and rewarding. The rejoins required the greatest amount of practice, skill and trust. Understanding how to control your plane (including, most often, cross controlling) when the leading aircraft begins to quickly grow in size in your windshield takes substantial training, understanding of geometry (all thoseyears during school when I asked “when in the world am I going to use thisstuff” came hurdling back at me), and skill.
The training satisfied a number of goals we have with Cherokees to Oshkosh. First, it gave us the opportunity to befriend new people who enriched our lives. Second, it improved our formation skills which will measurably improve our focus on safety. Third, it allowed us the joy of satisfying our passion of flying. Fourth, while incredibly challenging, it was a ton of FUN!
As Leonardo da Vinci said, “For once you have tasted flight you will walk the earth with your eyes turned skywards, for there you have been and there you will long to return.” How right he was. For those few of us that have challenged ourselves to enjoy the privilege of flight, there are few other things we do that bring the same amount of joy, thrill, and happiness!
- -Chip Gentry(N4262)
Pictured left to right:John Mullaney, Stu Morse, Dan Garley, Chip Gentry, Connie Shad, Bernie Shaw, Tony Crawford, Dwane Ferguson.