Pull the prop through on the old warbird. “Brakes”, “throttle”, “contact”. One flip and we are on our way. After a check of lists, oil pressure, and radio, we move out into line. Don LaVoie takes the lead in his dark olive green L-3 Aeronca in its World War II colors. I pull into number 2 in my Korean War vintage silver Aeronca L-16A. Bob Mapel, our chief instructor, rides in back. Charlie Potts pulls his 1942 L-2 Taylorcraft into third position, distinctive with its large Army Air Corps star on its dark green side. Number 4 is Roger Mapel in his brown and white Citabria taildragger, a much newer version of the same Aeronca brand. A quick “thumbs up” and we pull into formation on the Zelienople, Pennsylvania, runway 35. We begin the takeoff roll at 4 second intervals.
It is late afternoon on July 5. We are participating in a Fourth of July celebration in a fly-by of Ellwood City, Pennsylvania, 30 miles north of Pittsburgh. This historic old mill town is honoring its war dead. The Moving Wall of the Vietnam Memorial is visiting the high school stadium. And if we time our fly-by just right, our flight of four warbirds will execute a “missing man formation” right over the Moving Wall just as Taps is being played.
We are a motley crew sharing in our love of flying and vintage warbirds. Don LaVoie has retired twice, the first time from the United States Air Force after 20 years flying fighters and service in Vietnam. Both he and Bob Mapel retired as Captains at US Airways flying Boeing 737s, 727s, 757s, and 747s. Don is tough with flight safety and formation discipline his mantra. He briefs every flight and gives us hell if we do not execute. Bob Mapel, our chief instructor and my GIB (guy in back), is our chief humorist. He checks us all out and will not release us until we are thoroughly trained. He owns several airplanes and is building two more. Charlie Potts is an FAA inspector certifying aircraft systems introduced by US Airways. Chuck, a man of few words, is our chief mechanic and Aeronca expert. He knows more about these old airplanes than anyone other than EAA Hall of Famer Bill Pancake.