As an aviator, days like this do not come around often

10:15 AM

By Dan Pimentel,
Airplanista Blog Editor

As airplanistas, we hope that our days will be filled with exciting airplanes and our nights filled with dreams to fly...more exciting airplanes. And when we earn that ticket and become a member of the aviation family, vast horizons open up and we get to enjoy almost limitless joy...the kind that comes around only a few times in our lives.

This past weekend, I felt privileged to enjoy one of those days. Before I explain the off-the-charts excitement that came my way, I need yourself to teleport back to 1961 and imagine listening to one of that year's top hits by The Shirelles. What you will hear is this:

    Mama said there'll be days like this,
    There'll be days like this Mama said
    (Mama said, mama said)

    Mama said there'll be days like this,
    There'll be days like this my Mama said
    (Mama said, mama said)

Yes, this was one of those days "Mama" was referring to, and it was one I will not soon forget. It involved a formation flight from my home field in Eugene, Oregon (KEUG) over to the Oregon coast to attend the "Wings and Wheels" show at Florence (Oregon) Municipal Airport. I was only a passenger on this round-trip, but the airplanes involved were two exquisite examples of what "experimental" kit-built airplanes can be. Here's a video of the formation flight of 2:

I departed KEUG in the extremely comfortable Oregon Aero back seat of John Stahr's RV-8 American Angel. I have written at length about this beautiful flying art gallery, but this was my first time ever to not only ride in Stahr's masterwork, but also in the back of ANY Van's RV airplane that was not a Light Sport. The second ship in this "flight of two" was Phil Groshong's composite rocket ship, a Lancair Legacy L2K.

After a bit of wrangling with ATC to get the pair on the runway, Stahr pushed the throttle forward and the Angel's tailwheel lifted in about five seconds, with the 0-360 pulling the RV off KEUG's 16L in about nine total seconds. It was clear this plane likes to fly. The Legacy was close at our six on departure.

The two ships made a graceful climb to 4,500MSL westbound, with American Angel in the lead position and Groshong keeping the Lancair in tight formation just behind our right wing. Phil has "about 1,800" hours flying formation, and was able to make the incredibly small control adjustments to keep the formation very nice. As he dipped below the Angel to our left and back again, I was in heaven, never before flying in a formation or seeing this amazing precision airmanship up close.
The plan agreed upon in the morning pre-flight briefing was to fly west along the Siuslaw River at 170 knots for the short flight to Florence, turn north to overfly the airport, square up the formation on our southbound left downwind to runway 33, turn base and final and make an pass over the show...all in a fairly tight formation.

These two pilots executed this plan flawlessly. Stahr flew the planned route, and Groshong stayed perfectly positioned at our 4 o'clock throughout all of the maneuvers.

After landing and showing the planes for a few hours, we departed back for Eugene, and this time I was in the right seat of the Lancair. The takeoff was brisk as you would expect, but the 260-knot low pass fly-by was what I will remember, with a hard left "crank and bank" up and out over the ocean as the exclamation point.

As American Angel made a nice straight path back to the barn, Phil let me take the stick of his L2K and from about 2,000 yards, I slowly eased the Lancair up towards Stahr's RV-8. Since I have zero formation time, Phil was not about to let me get close enough to trade paint, because when two John Stahr-painted ships  trade paint, it's some damn fine paint. I was allowed to work in to maybe 500 yards, far enough away to be safe but close enough to easily stay wide off American Angel's wing. What made this maneuver simple was the incredible handling of the L2K. Phil has 2,500 hours in T-38s, and when he test flew a Lancair Legacy L2K, he said it felt as close as he could find to the -38. So I didn't really move the stick to close any gap, it was more of the brain thinking move, and the airplane moving enough to keep the L2K inching its way closer to the RV-8. Phil was handling the power perfectly, and it was a real challenge just to keep at the same altitude of the other airplane. I think I did quite well for a formation rookie, but I do not expect the Blue Angels will be recruiting me any time soon.
Back at Eugene, I climbed from the L2K (after arriving with an overhead with hard left bank to downwind...of course), and it started to sink in that this was one of those days Mama told me about. Actually, in my case, it was Papa Louie, but you know...still plenty awesome.

The round trip in a pair of exquisite experimental airplanes built and flown by some of EAA's finest just proves that when it comes to sheer joy, nothing can beat a great flight with a couple of pals. When those pals own a pair of airplanes that are this fast and this gorgeous, man, that's a lot of icing on my cake.

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