April 11–Pilots Rob Holland and Michael Goulian stretched their aerobatic muscles Friday morning above Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, performing barrel rolls and turns at nine times the force of gravity.
The moves look casual from the ground but in reality are anything but.
At one point, Holland flipped his single-seat plane and flew upside down, positioning himself directly over Goulian’s.
The two sped down the length of the runway, a puffy line of white smoke trailing behind them, before they separated and looped gracefully into the clouds.
Their demonstration was just a teaser at the Air Show’s rehearsal day, before crowds fill Merrit Field at MCAS for the real thing Saturday and Sunday.
The free air show features some of the best military and civilian pilots in the world, including the U.S. Navy’s Flight Demonstration Squadron, also known as the Blue Angels, all narrated by announcer Rob Reider.
As U.S. National Aerobatic Champion Patty Wagstaff took to the sky Friday, Reider explained how much the “first lady of aviation” loved turns, before she corkscrewed through the air in tight twists.
Wagstaff performs what she likes to call “hard core” aerobatics, executing maneuvers like the hammerhead stall turn, where she flies directly vertical until she loses all speed, then tips straight back down and careens toward the ground, pulling up just in time.
The move looked as though it would have made all the people at concessions lose their lunch had they been in Wagstaff’s place.
“I’m an aviation nut,” Wagstaff, a National Aviation Hall of Famer, said after her show, talking loudly to be heard over the whirring engines nearby. At 64, Wagstaff looked youthful and relaxed in a white blouse and jeans next to her German Extra 300S plane. When not performing, she lives in St. Augustine, Fla., and teaches others how to be daredevils at the Patty Wagstaff Aerobatic School.
“People will come up to me and say, ‘I learned to fly because I saw you at an air show.’ That’s pretty cool,” she said. “Plus, I say this is the only thing I’m good at.”
All the maneuvers and demonstrations at the Air Show clearly require extreme precision and skill. During the vertical landing of the AV-8B Harrier II, Reider compared the landing to “flying a helicopter, balancing a beach ball, patting your head and rubbing your stomach at the same time.”
The Harrier always practices landings over concrete, Reider added, because its engine can get nearly 1,500 degrees and would melt asphalt.
If you go to the show this weekend, keep an eye out for the F-16 Viper from Shaw Air Force Base in Sumter. It’s said to have more horsepower than the entire Indy 500.
At rehearsal, the Viper flirted with the sound barrier, gliding past at 650 mph (only half its full speed), followed by a cringe-inducing wall of noise.
The schoolchildren in attendance put their hands over their ears, or pushed their oversized ear plugs deeper into their little ears when the Viper roared by.
The Beaufort Photography Club was also in the modest crowd photographing the planes.
“But they go by too fast most of the time,” lamented club member Ellen Corbett of St. Helena Island.
Corbett has been to previous air shows to photograph planes. “It’s always wonderful to be out here,” she said.
When asked what she most wanted to photograph, Corbett didn’t hesitate:
“The Blue Angels. Always.”