COLUMBIA — Chip Lamb, a retired U.S. Air Force pilot, didn’t want to give up flying when he left the military.
So he joined the Trojan Phlyers, a partnership of 12 retired military and professional pilots, named for the plane they fly, the T-28 Trojan. The Phlyers will be performing for the first time in Columbia at the air show during the Memorial Day weekend.
“I had been flying an F-16, a fighter plane, in the Air Force and I wanted to do exciting flying, which I had been doing,” he said.
“It’s fun. It’s like a sport.
“In fact,” Lamb corrected himself, “it is a sport.”
Together the Phlyers own three T-28 planes that they fly in air shows across the country sometimes one, two or three at a time, performing a demanding routine of what Lamb calls “aerobatic maneuvers” — rolls, loops and combinations of both.
Columbia is a ‘big show,’ meaning all three planes will be flown for the crowd. Lamb said the group prefers flying all three planes because it makes the show much more interesting.
“It’s almost like an aerial ballet between three airplanes,” he said.
Air show organizers first heard about the Phlyers at a International Council of Airshows convention, said Nancy Fields, the air show’s media chairwoman.
“We heard they were really exciting to watch and thought it would be great for citizens of Missouri to see,” Fields said. “It’s the 20th anniversary, and we always like to bring something new to the show.”
The group formed in the early 1990s, when six retired pilots got together and decided to rebuild airplanes that had been used in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War, which had since been taken apart and put into crates.
Then someone asked why they didn’t fly the restored planes at air shows, and they’ve been flying at shows ever since the late ‘90s.
Three of the group’s pilots are certified to perform at air shows — Frank Adams, flight leader; John Sledge, wingman; and Lamb, opposing solo. Adams and Sledge are former U.S. Marine Corps pilots.
All three flew fighter planes in combat during their time in the military. According to Lamb, the T-28 is a smaller, slower and less sophisticated aircraft.
Lamb said the difference between the average plane ride and the demonstrations the Phlyers put on is like the difference between a
roller coaster and a kiddie ride.
“There’s something happening every 20 to 25 seconds, so it’s a very busy 15 to 20 minutes,” Lamb said. “It’s very demanding.”
“As we fly an air show routine, the pilots’ bodies are subjected three to four times the force of gravity as we turn, twist and roll through the sky,” Lamb said.
While in the air, the pilots are so busy concentrating on the difficult maneuvers that they hardly have time to worry about performing in front of a crowd, Lamb said.
“But before we take off, we still get butterflies in our stomach to be in front of thousands of people, and afterwards we are glad to have successfully entertained the audience,” he said.