Worth looking up

Pilot Mike Bishop proudly stands next to his flying ride which is a favorite sight at the Flying Circus. Photo by Marshall Conner.

By Marshall Conner
Special to the Rappahannock News
There was a prevailing spirit of patriotism that blended well with the nostalgia for the old barnstorming days on Sunday. It was the Fourth of July and red, white and blue were the colors of the day.

With ragtime and the soundtrack to “The Right Stuff” playing over speakers, the popular local air show invited guests back to the days when daring, ground-defying exhibition aviators staged popular air shows in the 1920s.

The show evoked the rich traditions of skilled pilots and small groups of aviators that once gathered together and flew demonstrations to make a few dollars, promote aviation and entertain the crowds.

During the two-hour show there was skydiving, formation flying, wing walking, stunt flying, aerial contests of skill and a healthy dose of comedy.

One got the impression that the pilots were having just as much, if not more fun than the hundreds of delighted spectators.
After the actual show the pilots took passengers on biplane rides for a priceless life experience for an additional fee.

Husband and wife Mike and Karissa McAllister, of Fredericksburg, took the opportunity to experience a ride in pilot John Corradi’s biplane.

“It was amazing to fly with the wind blowing in your face. My favorite part occurred when we made a steep upward climb,” said Mike McAllister. “It was worth it to do ― a great experience. I wanted to keep the leather helmet and goggles.”

His wife was a bit more subdued as she untangled her hair after the flight.

“When you look forward it doesn’t seem like you’re going fast, but when you look down it certainly does,” she said with a smile. “I even saw a bird up there flying nearby.”

“Come visit us here at the Flying Circus and bring the kids,” said pilot and Rixeyville resident John Corradi. “Come take a flight with us.”

Midway through the show Jana Leigh McWhorter dazzled the crowd with a wing-walking show thousands of feet above the ground. The brave, blonde dynamo of daring who also sings the national anthem before each show is actually a flight attendant during the week for Colgan Air.

On weekends she opts for a considerably more airy approach to aviation.

“It was very touching for me to sing the national anthem today. I thought about all the servicemen and women out there who fought for this great country,” said McWhorter. “Today was very special for me.”

While wing-walking she also felt strong emotions on this Independence Day.

“Up there in the sky I get a true sense of freedom,” said McWhorter. “It’s a little piece of heaven here on earth soaring over this beautiful country.”

One of the air show’s most comical and memorable characters was Mike “Black Baron” Bishop, a character based on a German World War I pilot complete with a spiked helmet and questionable accent. He drove a strange little motorized cart, got bombed with bags of biscuit flour, and he attempted to pick up a lady while piloting an airplane.

“The Baron’s a fun character to do, I’ve enjoyed doing it for the last few years,” said Bishop as he proudly stood next to his biplane. In between descriptions of his aircraft’s capabilities he’s often asked to don the Kaiser helmet and slip into character for photos.

“Your character really makes the show fun,” remarked one appreciative fan following the show.

“Thanks, that means a lot to me,” said the Baron with a smile that emerged beneath his wonderfully villainous mustache.

Coming up on July 18, the Flying Circus will host the return of local 85-year-old legend Charlie Kulp’s Flying Farmer Routine with all benefits going to the Flying Circus Foundation’s museum fund.

“When Charlie performs all our pilots stop and watch,” said John King, President of the Flying Circus Foundation. “That will be a show to remember. We hope everyone comes out and supports our effort.”

For more information on the Flying Circus check out its Web site at flyingcircusairshow.com and learn more about upcoming events and its “magnificent pilots and their flying machines.”

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