By Tech. Sgt. Mike R. Smith , National Guard Bureau
/ Published October 03, 2008
OTIS AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, Mass. -- When it was parked on the flight line, the 330 horsepower, carbon-fiber Air National Guard stunt plane, with its colorful paint scheme, drew looks from passersby. But when its owner took off and barrel-rolled it with white smoke trailing, then soared high into the clouds before stalling and flipping end-over-end, careening towards the ground in a propeller-buzzing spiral, the spectators gasped, then cheered as it recovered.
The daring, highly-skilled pilot, Maj. John Klatt from the ANG's Guarding America, De¬fending Freedom Aerobatic Team, was one of many stunt pilots who flew at Otis Air National Guard Base here Aug. 24-26, which wrapped up Air Force Week-New England.
Hundreds of thousands of people turned out for air shows at Pease Air National Guard Base in New Hampshire and at Otis on Cape Cod over two August weekends and for a host of other events during the week in between. The Air Force's Thunderbirds also performed at Cape Cod. Air Force Week New England was one the ANG's major events during the Air Force's 60th anniversary celebrations this year.
"What a performance. I'd think he'd get dizzy," said Tom Miller who, with his 6-year-old son, watched Klatt perform. "You'd think the plane couldn't handle that."
For the last three years, Klatt and his Stau¬dacher S-300D - a single-prop, high perfor¬mance aerobatic plane that reaches speeds of 250 mph - has traveled to air shows across the nation promoting the ANG. He has performed in more than a dozen shows this year, and he will fly in at least 10 more before November - a full air show season.
What makes Klatt unique from other air show performers is his fulltime mission: pro¬moting the ANG. Partnering with the ANG, he and his three-man team travel to air shows much like a race car team travels from race¬track to racetrack. "This is like old-time barnstorming in a real grass roots way," said Klatt. "It's out in the community just like the barnstormers who would land and then take their airplanes up and show others the gift of flight."
Klatt dreamed of flying during his child¬hood. Now he has 23 years of flying experi¬ence and has logged more than 13,000 flight hours. "Thanks to the Air National Guard, I am living my dream," he said with a smile.
As a traditional Guardmember with the Minnesota ANG's 148th Fighter Wing, Klatt recently returned from his second combat tour flying the F-16 Fighting Falcon in Iraq. He has logged more than 1,500 hours in the F-16. He has also flown C-130 Hercules transports dur¬ing his 18 years of Guard service and deployed for worldwide operations.
It was his passion for flying, Klatt said, that led him to aerobatics. That passion led him into high-level competitions where he eventually earned top-10 national finishes and won "a lot of regional contests," he said.
"It was very expensive," said Klatt, "and it was all out of pocket, much like the guy who races at a local race track."
Klatt said that performing at air shows al¬lows him to enjoy acrobatic flying and make a living at the same time. "I'm very lucky to make a living doing what I love," said Klatt, "both as a traditional Guardsman and with this program."
Flying aerobatic maneuvers at air shows and flying F-16s are separate entities, said Klatt, but there are some similarities. Aero¬batic flying is for entertainment, he said, but flying F-16s is important to what the ANG does for the Total Force. "It's really critical [with the ANG] that you do your job 100 percent every time. It's important, as well, when flying in air shows that you do your job 100 percent for safety. So they are similar in that."
As if death-defying aerobatic maneuvers were not enough, Klatt and his operations coordinator, Tim Jarvis, and mechanic, Brian Spiro, also provide spectators with a larger air show package. That includes a 70-foot mobile recruiting station, a flight simulator and a second, two-seater stunt plane, which they fly for orientation flights with members of the community.
Klatt also narrates to the crowd as he per¬forms his aerobatic showstoppers that include flying upside down at what appears to be a few feet above the ground.
"This is the Indy car of airplanes," said Spiro, who added that maintaining the high-performance aircraft on the road is his greatest challenge. "It's a pretty unique airplane. They are no longer built, and there are only about 30 of them to begin with." Spiro worked from early in morning until late in the afternoon at Otis, ensuring both stunt panes were airworthy and ready for Klatt.
Before arriving at Otis, Jarvis ensured the aviation gas, hanger space, transportation, lodging and other logistics required were in place. It's a routine for him, he said. He also contacted the local ANG recruiters who helped set up the mobile recruiting station and flight simulator. Thousands of spectators visited the station and simulator, and many filled out the recruiters' lead forms if they thought they might be interested in signing up.
"I can't say enough about my guys and everyone else," Klatt said. "It takes a lot to make this work. Much like the Guard, it takes a team to put bombs on target. It's the same concept here."
Klatt and the aerobatic team traveled on to the Cleveland Air Show. The team was sched¬uled for shows in Brunswick, Maine, Sept. 14-16; Memphis, Tenn., Sept. 21-23; Columbus, Ohio, Sept. 27-30; Atlanta, Oct. 10-14; New Orleans, Oct. 26-28; and Jacksonville, Fla., Nov. 2-4.
"It's great to have the support of the Na¬tional Guard Bureau," said Klatt.