Warbirds take flight again

By Jennifer Lassiter

   Warbird SkyVentures will be offering nostalgic rides in authentic World War II planes to guests at Elizabethton Municipal Airport beginning this Friday through Memorial Day. Customers will soar over parts of Carter County and the Watauga Lake area in one of two aircrafts, a North American AT-6 and a Boeing N2S-5 Stearman.
   Warbird Sky Ventures is a barnstorming flying service which was established in 1999 by Gina Moore, chief pilot and president. Based out of Gallatin, Tenn., they travel across the country to approximately 50 locations to give customers of practically all ages a view from the sky.
   Barnstorming was started by World War pilots who needed extra money after the war and began giving lessons and rides. Back then, pilots would stay in barns overnight, hence the name "barnstorming".
   Gina Moore, who has a created a career for herself from her love of flying by starting SkyVentures five years ago, has over 6,000 hours of flight time and currently flies full-time in the North American AT-6.
   The North American AT-6 was used as the advance trainer in World War II. The AT-6 has a 600 horse power engine to push its top speed up to 240 miles an hour. Its wings span 42 feet in length and weigh around 5,900 pounds. This is the most popular ride because of it's capabilities.
   The 1942 Boeing "Stearman" piloted by Chuck Garderner will be one of the featured flights this weekend also. In its prime, the "Stearman" was used as a primary trainer for the Navy or Army Air Corps pilots. There were only 10,000 made from 1936 to 1945. After the war, 2,000 of the planes were turned into crop dusters. Today, there are only 1,000 left, and only half of those still have flight capabilities.
   The inside of the 1942 Boeing "Stearman" is constructed of steel bars, similar to the roll cage of a race car, surrounded by an canary yellow cockpit. The wings stretch 32 feet in length, and are constructed of spruce wood that is carefully wrapped in fabric and finely painted.
   The gauges inside the "Stearman" are basic compared to the control panels of today's airplanes and even the AT-6. They consist mainly of the altimeter, whiskey compass, oil and fuel gauges, tackometer and a few others.
   According to Gardner, a compass is a tool pilots use as a directional to stay on course. Historically, a compass required water to function properly, which would freeze at high altitudes. Water also tended to corrode and rust metal. To solve the freezing and crosion problem, pilots of the day used whiskey, mainly because it freezes at a lower degree than water. The compass also bobbles around during flight which makes them appear "drunk".
   Gardner's passion for flying is a family tradition. Everyone in his family is involved with flying, and, from there, he gained his "passion for WWII planes". Gardner is the most recent Stearman Pilot with Warbird Sky Ventures. Gardner also enjoys taking photos and writing articles about war birds.
   The rides are smooth and customers aren't pushed to do aerial tricks unless they want. Gardner said, "It's not the same sensation as a rollercoaster."
   People from all walks of life come to take a ride in the war birds. Many of them are veterans, historians, children, airplane buffs and more. War birds have flown with people as young as nine and as old as 92. Gardner said, " If you can climb in the cockpit we'll take you."
   This weekend walk-in's are welcome. For more information, please call (888-532-5787) or www. WarbirdSkyVentures.com.