On the last leg of the Road and Runway Rally, I celebrated one of the most important moments in my 10 years of piloting with rally teammate Jason Paur—opening the show at Sun ’n Fun.
Ever since I was a child, I’ve loved running to the flight line at airshows to watch the low passes and aerobatics up close, and feel my chest vibrate as the fighters and old military trainers thunder down the runway. I’ve often dreamed of doing aerobatics in a Pitts and flying with the Blue Angles. But I never dreamed that I would be the one flying a low pass that other children would point to in fascination.
Granted, I wasn’t flying a Mach 1.7 Boeing F/A-18 Hornet; I was in a light sport Remos GX puttering along at 100 knots. But to me, it felt the same.
Jason and I staged at Plant City Airport about eight miles west of Lakeland Linder Regional. As I had been briefed by Wayne Boggs, the air boss, Jason and I were wheels up by 2:30 p.m., orbiting five miles to the west of Lakeland waiting to be cleared to make the pass at 2:45 p.m. While we circled, we watched a cargo jet circle the airport preparing to release parachute jumpers. Turns out, that aircraft was waiting for our grand arrival!
Once the air boss cleared us for the low pass, confirming that AOPA’s Ian Twombly and MotorWeek’s Steve Chupnick were in place with the Smart car at the end of the runway, we began our descent. The problem was that we couldn’t see the Smart car. The car is so tiny that it fit perfectly within the circle of the “9” for Runway 9R. After spotting the car on short final, I sidestepped to the right toward the crowd, and Jason cued the car for its run.
We flew by at about 50 feet, catching up to and passing the Smart car right in front of the spectators. Three-fourths of the way down the runway, I broke off, entered a left traffic pattern, and returned for landing.
It all worked like clockwork: The air boss was friendly and accommodating (making my airshow performance debut a piece of cake); Jason’s timing to cue the car was perfect; and I had a decent landing (that’s not something I wanted to mess up in front of people). This last leg of the rally was truly a privilege and an honor, and it’s something I’ll never forget.
It’s also taught me to dream bigger. As I watched a Thunderbird make a screaming low pass over the runway, I told Jason that would be us opening the show next year. Well, maybe a few years.