Skytypers dazzle beach crowd

By Jordan Crawford | 6/5/2013, 2:31 p.m.
Hampton Roads residents watched in awe as GEICO Skytypers performed aeronautical demonstrations.

The Virginia Beach Patriotic Festival recently had an aerobatic showcase of vintage World War II airplanes, flown by the GEICO Skytypers.

Hundreds of Hampton Roads residents watched from the beach and boardwalk in awe as the GEICO Skytypers performed low-altitude precision formation flying, and captivating aeronautical demonstrations. The jets they used were six of the 11 North American SNJ-2 airplanes remaining today.

The antique air vessels would start high in the sky, and then dive perilously close to the ocean’s surface, doing many flips, twists, and turns. Left behind would be a smoke trail mimicking the stunt that was just done. Little did they know, but these demonstrations gave viewers a first-hand glimpse at some of the air-combat tactics and maneuvers used during World War II.

Also featured in the showcase were aerobatic champion pilots John Klatt, Michael Wiskus, Julie Clark, Jason Newburg, Skip Stewart, Patty Wagstaff, and Kirby Chambliss. These distinguished aviators, flying such fighter jets as Sea Harrier F/A2s and L-39 Albatros’s, also did the same types of daring tricks.

At the end of each exhibition, most of the jets flew upside-down across the beach, and rocked their wings from side to side. This was their way of waving goodbye to the crowd. However, some pilots spoke to the crowd from their planes through their monitors, which were synchronized and hooked up to loud speakers on the ground.

Rounding out the air show, the GEICO Skytypers did what they are best known for. Fully refurbished, and equipped with computers that coordinate the release of smoke puffs in the form of large letters, the airplanes posted huge billboard messages in the sky.

During each skytyping mission, the pilots fly their planes 250 feet apart in a line side-by-side. The team types “dot-matrix-style” messages about 1,000 feet tall. These messages are up to eight miles long and can be seen from up to 15 miles away in any direction.

Each skytyped letter is executed in four seconds, seventeen seconds quicker than normal skytyping methods.

Navigating the antique aircraft requires great skill and expertise. Most of the GEICO Skytypers’ pilots attained their wings in the military and now fly for various commercial airline companies.