Over Memorial Day weekend, several retired jets recommissioned for training were flown at Sulphur Springs Municipal Airport to get pilots’ certifications.
Russell Armstrong, Host of the CJAA (Classic Jet Aircraft Association) Texas Jet Blast, also hosted in 2019.
Armstrong, when not hosting air training, is a certified financial planner, owning an investment practice, AIS Financial, in Commerce.
The host of this year’s CJAA Texas Jet Blast is a pilot, and an aircraft owner who hosted a similar event in 2019, but in terms of the number of air training exercises that took off, 2020 was “…pretty much a wash all across the board” due to COVID-19.
As a result, Armstrong was all too ready to get back in the air for the 2021 edition of the CJAA Texas Jet Blast. While the event is not an air show, it is training, or as Armstrong put it, formation clinics.
Up to four planes went up at a time, practicing several maneuvers and formations in the hopes of getting most of the pilots training in Sulphur Springs over the weekend wing cards.
Wing cards are documentation which shows pilots have state proficiency in flying classic jets, like the ones shown pictured. se of the wing training, Armstrong said, is that if a pilot gets their wing card, then they are qualified to fly in an air show in formation.
Over the course of the Memorial Day weekend, Armstrong flew 11 times from Thursday to Sunday.
Not only did the pilots have the formation clinics going on, but there was also an FAA approved aerobatic box at the airport.
The “low-level” box stretched anywhere from the ground to 6,000 feet up, and was about 6,000 feet long (for a frame of reference, the runway at Sulphur Springs Municipal Airport is about 5,000 feet long).
In other words, the box stretched from 1,000 feet south of the airport to 1,000 feet north of the airport, in to Lake Sulphur Springs.
The jets practiced two, three, and four-ship jet formations, as 11 jets came and went to Sulphur Springs Municipal Airport over the holiday weekend. Eight of the 11 total aircraft were Aero L-39 Albatros jets, made in former Czechoslovakia.
The frequency at which the L-39 was found over the weekend can be explained due to the fact that the Albatros jets are the most popular ex-military, civilian-owned aircraft in the country.
According to Armstrong, up to 300 Albatros jets are owned and flown by private citizens in the United States.
Armstrong said this is due to the the L-39 being extremely stable jet trainers and were used as such by Russia, Germany, Czechoslovakia, and many other countries.
One MIG-17S (Picture one, the gray aircraft numbered 1613 in blue) was flown over the weekend and was present from Thursday to Saturday, leaving for the San Marcos air show but returning later that day, and was flown and featured at the 2021 CJAA Texas Jet Blast on Sunday.
Other jets flown over the weekend were an L-139 (pictured above with the lion on its tail) that was made and shipped from the former Czechoslovakia that had an engine inside built in the United States (the only of it’s kind!), a T-33 built by Lockheed Martin (pictured below in the foreground) a Tucano A-27, and a gun-metal gray turbo prop named Valkyrie.
While several of the jets flown over Memorial Day are from Texas, Russell Armstrong said CJAA members are all over the country. Two planes were from Mobile, Alabama and one was from New York City. In fact, the aforementioned Tucano A-27 flew from Los Angeles.
Armstrong said that several pilots came over the Holiday weekend that are certified to instruct, and the CJAA 2021 Texas Jet Blast host said that many members of the CJAA are former military servicemen, coming from the USAF, the Navy, Army, and more.
While these fighter jets have been rebuilt and recommissioned for training, it is no small feat to get state certification for these particular types of jets.
“In order to fly one of these as the pilot in command,” Armstrong said, pilots have to have “a minimum of 1,000 hours as a pilot in command.”
Not only that, but pilots who wish to be found as state proficient in flying these types of jets must be instrument-rated as well.
“Those are the minimum requirements to fly these types of jets,” Armstrong said. The 2021 CJAAA Texas Jet Blast did say that there are times, such as when pilots wish to hone their skills and learn to fly in formation, where instructors will hop in the back seat and are on board in the event they need to take control of the plane.
Armstrong said this is mostly due to the fact that when flying in four-ship formation, jets are only four feet apart while still traveling about 220 knots (approximately 250 mph), and will use hand signals from the lead jet instead of talking through the onboard radio.
“It’s an exciting organization, Russell Armstrongs said about the CJAA, but admitted that “it doesn’t come without danger.”
Armstrong said that pilots, generally, feel it is more dangerous driving more to the airport than when they are actually flying, which statistically, Armstrong said, is true.
“All of the people that are flying these jets are trained,” Armstrong said, adding that “each year [pilots take] check rides to maintain proficiency.”
One of the checks that pilots do under that is the procedure for when an engine might fail. Armstrong said that this is important because when something like this may happen, the gut reaction is not to eject, but instead put the fighter down where they can to ensure the pilots’ safety, and the safety of those on the ground.
Practice, safety, and different types of procedures being practiced is crucial to flying.
For all of these reasons and more, Armstrong was all too happy to get back out in the air for this past weekend’s air training.
“People that fly,” Armstrong said, “tend to want to fly a lot.”
The CJAA 2021 Texas Jet Blast host said that this is critical due to the fact that if pilots want to fly they must stay proficient.
Armstrong said that everyone involved at CJAA were disappointed that all the shows in 2020 were cancelled due to COVID-19, so the pilot said that he was super excited everything was opening back up.
“We meet people all over the world who share the same passion [to fly],” Armstrong said.
Armstrong said he now has lifelong friends who now fly aircraft such as the ones flown over Memorial Day weekend.
“To be able to get back together with these large groups and enjoy the camaraderie,” Armstrong said, “…to share the passion [of flying], is tremendous.”
To learn more about these jets and the CJAA organization, check out classicjets.org