Flying is every boy’s dream, and it has been mine for a long time. I have been in planes before, and in a helicopters, but when we were invited to fly in a WWII plane – I was thrilled!
The GEICO Skytypers are the only flying unit in the world that performs at air shows typing their messages in the sky. The team fly vintage WWII planes and they are in Jacksonville for this year’s Sea & Sky Spectacular air show at Jax Beach. The team “types” messages at 10,000 feet with puffs of smoke in dot matrix-style letters. We went out to Mayport Naval Station to meet up with the team and to fly over Jacksonville. By the time we made it out to the tarmac the skies were blue and the visibility awesome. We couldn’t have asked for better weather conditions. After getting suited up and receiving a quick safety lesson, it was finally time to climb into the plane to take off. We had a group of three planes going up at the same time because we were going to fly formation.
We were ready for take off, but we had to wait for the Blue Angels who were practicing for the air show. We didn’t mind at all because we had the best seats in the house. When the Blue Angels landed, the runway was clear for take off.
The first thing that hits you when you get up in the air is literally the wind. The open cockpit makes this a completely different experience from flying in a “regular plane”. We loved it! Our camera guy Kris also loved the fact that he didn’t have to shoot through glass. We got great footage of the planes, and also of the downtown area of Jacksonville. (You can watch the story on I Know Jax on CW 17 on Saturday at 11 p.m.)
The GEICO Skytypers use six of the remaining 11 North American SNJ-2 planes left in the world to write messages at an altitude of 10,000 feet. Each World War II-era plane has been restored and equipped and with a computer that coordinates the smoke puffs from the aircraft. The six aircraft fill the sky and come from all directions, providing spectators a unique viewing experience. During skytyping missions the pilots fly 250 feet apart in a wide “line-abreast” formation. When aligned, the smoke puffs form letters as tall as the Empire State Building. Skytyping is 17 times faster than skywriting because each pilot can create a letter every four seconds. Entire messages can be as large as 6 to 8 miles wide. Messages are visible for 15 miles in each direction on a clear day.
These flying machines have been around for a while. The SNJ-2 planes served as a training plane for most of the Allied pilots flying in WWII. This aircraft is known by many names; the T-6 Texan (Army Aircorp) and the Harvard (RAF), but was most affectionately known as the “pilot maker” by crew members. The SNJ-2 also won honors in WWII and in the early portion of the Korean War. A total of 15,495 planes were manufactured training thousands of pilots across 34 different countries. Today there are only eleven SNJ-2 planes still in existence, the Geico Skytypers have six of these planes.
Maneuvering the antique aircraft requires great skill and expertise. Most of the GEICO Skytypers pilots earned their wings in the military and several currently fly for commercial airlines. In addition to skytyping, the team also performs a low-altitude, precision-formation flying routine combined with a thrilling aeronautical demonstration. You will be able to see the Geico Skytypers perform on both Saturday and Sunday at Jax Beach.
We had a great flight, and we got great footage. I think I had a silly grin on my face for hours after we landed – and I had wind noise in my ears too, but that didn’t bother me at all. Once back on the ground, Ken presented me with a special badge that is only given to visitors who have been on a formation flight with the Geico Skytypers. I think I’m going to sew that one to my leather jacket. All I need now is some cool pilot sunglasses and I’ll be ready for a dogfight.