"How does it feel to fly in one of those things?" I asked Ernest Durbano, chairman for the first Weber State Wildcat Airshow.
"That's what you get to find out," Durbano said with a wide grin. He told his partner, Kent Mickelson, to take me up in their T-28-A. While Mickelson went to make some last-minute preparations, Durbano told me the history of the plane.The 800 horsepower T-28-A was delivered to the Air Force in 1951 for combat training. "Look at all these rivets," Durbano said. "It's built just like a tank.
"How safe is this," I asked Durbano, more than a little apprehensively.
"We all feel like this is a very safe profession," Durbano said. "I've had no engine failure in my 37 years of flying. My biggest problem is getting to and from home and the airport safely."
Durbano first flew the T-28-A in Europe while serving in the Air Force in 1951. It was always a dream of his to own one, he said. He was able to locate one in the early 1980s that had been in storage for 15 years, and had been flown little in the military.
Owning an old airplane is just like owning an antique car, Durbano said. "There's an awful lot of shining, cleaning and maintenance."
By then, Mickelson had an OK for the test flight, so he and Durbano helped me climb into the back seat of the cockpit.
As Mickelson strapped me into my seat tightly, I reassured myself I could stand the trip since it was only going to be a few minutes.
He informed me that "Wild Bill" Hunsaker was going to follow us up in a T-6 Texas, a 9-cylinder, 600-horsepower radial engine used to train fighter pilots in World War II. It was the same type of plane used in the movie "Pearl Harbor."
As we taxied down the runway with the engine roaring, I suspected we'd have a bumpy ride. I was wrong.
I was not prepared for the sheer exhilaration of flying "Oh, what a feeling!"
Mickelson had promised he'd take it nice and easy, but when we flew over Willard Bay, we made a sharp bank back toward Ogden. I saw Wild Bill tilt his wing and wave to us from the cockpit of his T-6, and I wanted to soar. I almost wished Mickelson would try one of those twirly-thingees or one of those loop-de-loops. I was hooked.
"You get a whole different perspective of the world from up here," Mickelson said. "Now you see how flying really gets in your blood. I love it."
I knew I'd never feel the same about flying, and I found it hard to contain my excitement during the show. The show, held June 18 and 19 at the Ogden Airport, was sponsored by Weber State College. All proceeds went to the scholarship fund.
Wild Bill led off with some barnstormer moves - giant loops with a roll at the top. If the airplane sustains negative "G's" the engine will quit, so doing aerobatics in the T-66 demands utmost skill and attention. More than once the crowd oohed when his engine sputtered.
The next pilot, Pat Hawley of Salt Lake City, a perky little redhead, looked like a young Amelia Earhart. She flew a DeHavilland Super Chipmunk with a 260-horse Lycoming engine, modified to sustain inverted flying. She wowed the crowd with some super-8 barrel rolls, then drew a heart in the sky for the spectators.
Steve Wolf of Athol, Idaho, gave a wild and smoky performance in his home-built Sampson, the world's loudest and smokiest plane.
The Ray-Ban Gold Aerobic team was the days' featured attraction. The four former Canadian Armed Forces pilots flew in formation out of the western sky in their black and gold Pitts S-22A biplanes, then performed some tricky maneuvers, flying within 20 feet of each other on several occasions. From the ground it appeared there would be several midair collisions. One youngster sat poised with her hands over her ears waiting for the crash.
Airplane buffs and children alike lined up before and after the performances to get an inside view of several planes and jets. On display were fighters like the F-16 Falcon, F-15 Eagle, the F-18 and two F-4's and huge cargo planes like the KC-135 (a midair fuel tanker), and the C-130 for hauling troops and equipment.
Bill Barba delighted the children as he flew, dressed like Snoopy, in a World War I replica he built from scratch. Eighty-five percent of the plane is built from original World War I SE5A parts, and details were taken from original photos that were acquired from the WWI pilot that flew this particular craft in 1918.
The plane looks like a Sopwith Camel but has one seat instead of two. He told some members of the audience that the machine gun, an original, was worth more than the plan itself.
The Ogden Sky Knights started the Wildcat Airshow each day with an aerobatic sky-diving stunt.