Jacksonville Beach FREE, with limited ability to purchase VIP viewing cabanas on Eventbrite $15-25 per person.
It’s a skyward display of epic proportions as the Sea & Sky Spectacular returns to Jacksonville Beach. The free, three-day event offers breathtaking demonstrations from many of the premiere flying teams, including the Geico Skytypers Airshow Team.
With the Blue Angels bringing the sleek, fast-flying maneuvers that make them a crowd favorite, the Geico Skytypers Team demonstration features WWII-era aircraft.
The Geico Skytypers will perform their 18-minute low-level precision flying demonstration utilizing six WWII-era SNJs on Nov 5-6 during the Jacksonville Beach Sea & Sky Airshow.
“These maneuvers were used to train military pilots during WWII and the Korean War, many of which are taught to current generation aviators,” says Steve Kapur, a team pilot and Skytypers marketing officer. “We do a lot of tight formation work. Like the Blue Angels, we fly a diamond, which is when four aircraft fly together in like a diamond shape. We demonstrate many of the formations and many of the tactics that were actually used to train the pilots in WWII and some of these things are still taught today.”
“We enjoy the flying, of course, and we’ve become like brothers, but we enjoy the people. We get to see all these great places and you meet local people and experience what their town is like.”
Nearly every Allied pilot who flew in the Second World War trained in a North American Aviation T-6 or SNJ. The GEICO Skytypers Airshow Team fly the Navy’s variant, the SNJ – a bit shorter and equipped with a larger fuel tank for its overwater mission. The 5,500-pound vintage aircraft use a 600 horsepower Pratt and Whitney 9 cylinder radial engine.
The Geico Skytypers Team begins its routine with a six-plane cross where all six aircraft break and go into directions away from the crowd then reverse and all cross within 200 feet vertically of one another at a given point at show’s center.
“We do a fan move overhead which joins into a delta of all six aircraft together and as we come at the crowd, we break into six different directions,” says Kapur. “We have a lot of fun with it. The crowds seem to like it. We enjoy the flying, of course, and we’ve become like brothers, but we enjoy the people. We get to see all these great places and you meet local people and experience what their town is like.”
Kapur is among the team members who earned the wings as a civilian. He also has his commercial pilot’s license, serves as a flight instructor, and has been a member of the team for over a decade.
Growing up, Kapur’s uncle was also a commercial pilot, traveling “across the pond” from New York to London in a 707. Kapur recalls meeting his uncle at the gates and boarding the cockpit while he completed his post-flight checklist.
“Like a lot of young kids, I wanted to fly since I was young. My uncle used to come in through Kennedy Airport and he would take me out to the plane he had just flown and we used to sit in this 707 and he would tell me about the various systems in the aircraft and run the checklist. It was a great inspiration for a young boy.”
Flying was also a family affair for Commanding Officer Larry Arken. He earned his love of flying from his father who owned a squadron. “Larry is civilian trained. He learned how to fly these airplanes darn near sitting on his dad’s knee,” says Kapur.
In 1940-1941, North American Aviation designed the SNJ as a transition trainer between basic trainers and first-line tactical aircraft. A total of 15,495 planes were manufactured training thousands of pilots across 34 countries. The planes were used as a “classroom” for the majority of the Allied pilots flying in WWII and has been recognized by various names including the T-6 Texan and the Harvard but was most often referred to as the “Pilot Maker” by crew members. While most commonly used as a trainer, the SNJ won honors in WWII and the early portion of the Korean War.
Kapur says it’s a study in contrast for the Skytypers to pilot a team of planes that were constructed before any of them were born. The planes have all been updated to reflect with state-of-the-art electronics, radar systems, color weather and moving map displays. The guns and tail hooks were also removed for safety.
“These aircraft are very interesting. They were built in 1940 and they are advanced trainers. Pilots in the second world war would step out from the biplane that was the primary trainer into the aircraft. This is a single wing so it was closer to the fighters that they would be flying but still two seats,” says Kapur. “They still flew with an instructor and they would learn some additional aerobatics and ACM, air combat maneuvering which is dog fighting. They would come aboard the boat for the first time in these aircraft. They all had tail hooks and a single gun on them so they would start the aerial gunnery in these aircraft. I like to say these are the aircraft that trained the Great Generation to fly.”