The summer of 2020 had turned into a summer of cancellations on the warbird and air show circuit, due to COVID-19 concerns and social restrictions. A few formation flying opportunities had luckily occurred for Northwest warbird pilots, notably an 11-ship VE Day flypast and a 4th of July veterans flyby.
Tom Hoag had been flying some formation in his SeaBee with Dan Barry and his Aeronca L-3, and had found the Seabee and L-3 were matched well in their speed range. OK, yes, they were equally S-L-O-W.
Tom started arranging for a simple in-trail formation session with as many L-Birds (or Liaison Birds) that he could muster. In addition, Tom contacted me about acting as a chase bird in the Nanchang, helping to shepherd the L-Birds for correct spacing and formation positioning. I contacted the Nanchang owner, and Justin agreed for the two of us to join in the 'Chang as chase and shepherd for the liaison birds.
Tom planned for two simple in-trail formation flights, allowing for the L-Bird pilots to 'get the rust out' in safe station keeping, with a planned round robin flight from Bremerton (KPWT) to Sanderson Field in Shelton (KSHN), with a stop at Shelton for a 'socially-distanced' lunch. Justin and I would help maintain flight spacing as we remained outside the main flight, while having the advantage of speed and maneuverability to position as required.
Justin and I flew the Nanchang from Paine Field to meet the group at Bremerton, and landed in strong winds conditions, which were thankfully right down runway 20. However, we noticed, as the L-Birds arrived, that while their landings looked nice and slow, their ground handling when turned into any crosswind was challenging. Tom had arrived early in his Seabee N217G as Liaison Lead, and briefed on the ramp in the wind when all three wingmen arrived. Liaison #2 was Jeff Kimball in his Aeronca L-16A N3703C, Liaison #3 was Alex Munro in his Citabria N602Z, and Liaison #4 was Dan Barry in his Aeronca L-3 N49203. The Nanchang would fly as Liaison Chase, and photo bird.
Tom briefed the round robin plan to Shelton, with a backup of a return to Bremerton if the high winds and gusts at Shelton stayed as forecast. It was fun prop-starting two of the L-birds in the gusty winds, and keeping everyone safely in their chocks until brakes were available. Once all five of us cranked, Tom led the gaggle to runway 20 for takeoffs at a 6-second interval for 500-foot spacing. Due to the L-Birds stately pace into the winds, we had no problem joining the extended trail formation and positioning ourselves for photos and spacing calls.
Tom led the L-Birds through a number of in-trail turns while proceeding generally toward Shelton, and we had a blast in the Nanchang maneuvering all the around the flight, which kept their in-trail spacing quite well, even in the somewhat turbulent conditions. As we flew closer to Shelton, a check on winds conditions confirmed that it was even more gusty and windy there, so the backup flight return to Bremerton became the primary plan.
After attempting a few in-flight videos, and capturing a few decent still photos, Justin and I departed the flight and raced back to Bremerton to cover the four L-Birds landing. It was quite a sight watching the L-Birds turn from base to final and almost come to a stop on final in the strong headwinds! Touchdown speeds looked to be around 30 knots, with everyone making early turnoffs to parking.
Tom led the debrief, again on the windy ramp, and presented each of the flight members with a commemorative 'CWB 2020 Liaison Flight' patch. Nice touch, Tom! As the winds continued to increase, we launched the three small L-Birds first to return home safely, and then launched in the SeaBee and Nanchang to our home bases.
Tom, thanks for your coordination efforts and including us as 'Liaison Chase'. Keep 'em Flying!