Hagerstown takes to the air

September 07, 1997


Staff Writer

At least 2,000 spectators had the opportunity to get a feel and appreciation for the dives, spins and pressures felt by military pilots during The Great Hagerstown Air Show on Saturday.

A fleet of nostalgic warplanes took to the air late Saturday morning at the Washington County Regional Airport giving the crowd an earful of thunder from aerial engines and staged "bombings" across the airfield by a pyrotechnic team as planes passed by over the runway.

After one bombing run by the North American B-25J Mitchell warplane a huge smoke ring unraveled as it rose above the airfield.


Like many of the youngsters at the air show, Austin Behan spent much of his time crawling in and around aircraft on display, including a UH-60A Blackhawk helicopter.

Austin, 7, of Falling Waters, W.Va., said he has a toy model of the blackhawk at home.

"He's been identifying planes for us," said the aspiring pilot's mother, Mary Behan with her husband, Henry.

Kevin Kuhn, 13, of Brunswick, Md., got a first-hand experience from a pilot's perspective as he was given temporary control of a Cessna plane, he said.

Kuhn had a cool time taking a ride, including one dive by the pilot that he said caused his butt to come off the seat.

"You feel your gut going up to your throat on some of those dives," Kuhn said.

Kuhn said he wasn't ready for any of the more daring maneuvers displayed by several experienced air show pilots on Saturday.

Ned Surratt, 57, of Belair, Md., piloted his Midwing Special to hang around 1,100 feet above ground before letting it fall into a controllable spin. At times he would get as close as 200 feet to 300 feet above ground.

Climbing up the sky inverted, Surratt said he can feel as much as 3 Gs or three times his body weight of 170 pounds.

Surratt, who conducted at least two loops, was held in his open cockpit by a padded shoulder harness and lap belts.

Jack Ekl said he felt as much as 9 Gs maneuvering Bud Light's Micro Jet at speeds of up to 320 mph on Saturday.

Col. Randy Wilson didn't pilot the world's only flyable SB2C-5 Helldiver through any steep dives or loops, but said the divebomber could cause some military pilots to black out while flying.

At 14,000 feet above their targets, World War II divebombers would start slowing the plane down by deploying dive brakes and opening the wing flaps before rolling the plane on its back to look straight down at the target - probably a Japanese aircraft carrier, Wilson said.

The pilot would pull the plane's nose down into a 70-degree angle, diving down as close as possible before releasing the bomb so the pilot could adjust the plane's path to any evasive action by the targeted ship, Wilson said.

About 2,000 feet above water, the pilot would release the bomb and pull up steeply, he said. The steep climb following the dive often would cause pilots to partially black out, he said.

They would lose eyesight, but remain conscious - a warning sign that they needed to release the plane from pressure or risk blacking out completely, Wilson said.

The Helldiver wasn't as vulnerable to enemy fire from the sky as a torpedo bomber because enemy planes couldn't follow the divebomber into its steep fall, Wilson said. A gunner in the rear of the plane would defend the divebomber until the pilot was ready to dive.

The plane also has a unique look as its wings fold up to make room for more planes on aircraft carriers.

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