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Vintage Aircraft Tell Tales of Past and Present

Geico Skytypers make special appearance for Massapequa student and other contest winners in advance of weekend's big air show at Jones Beach.

A world moving at the speed of cyberspace collided with Long Island's aviation history on the tarmac of  Wednesday.

Pilots of the GEICO Skytypers squadron told enraptured guests the story of how vintage World War II aircraft have been transformed into high-tech communications instruments of the 21st Century.

The result was a remarkable confluence of the past and present, and a lesson in Long Island's industrial past.

"What you have here is a walk through aviation history," said Pilot Tom Daley, a veteran Skytyper, to several starry eyed visitors Wednesday. "A good portion of the planes that won your freedom were built on Long Island."

Many famed WWII fighter planes were built at Republic Airport as well as Grumman in Bethpage. The plant's original credit union grew into a regional giant, the Bethpage Federal Credit Union. Bethpage FCU has been the Jones Beach Air Show's primary sponsor now for 9 years.

"We grew up as Grumman's credit union," said President and CEO , who was on hand for yesterday's event. "It only made sense that we would support this air show and are thrilled how it has grown."

Wednesday's event was designed for winners of two Bethpage Federal Credit Union’s contests – My Very First Flight and Recognizing Our Veterans.  , including Massapequa's Christine O'Brien, got an up-close tour of the planes and in-depth conversations with the men who fly them.

The pilots operate six of the remaining 11 North American SNJ-2 planes -- commonly known as the T-6 Texan -- at altitudes of up to 10,000 feet. The T-6 Texan was a single-engine two-seater used to train U.S. and British pilots during World War II and beyond. North American, based in Southern California, produced some 17,000 T-6s, along with the famed fighter, the P-51 Mustang.

The planes are owned by Northport's Larry Arken, commanding officer of the Geico Skytypers, whose Republic-based squadron will perform at the Jones Beach Air Show Saturday and Sunday.

Arken, a captain with American Airlines, bought the planes two decades ago and started the skywriting business. Since partnering with Geico, his business has grown and his squadron flies in numerous air shows up and down the East Coast.

But these planes are more than mere relics. Flying in a tight formation (merely 250-feet apart) and equipped with onboard computers, the planes unleash coordinated puffs of smoke that form letters and messages at about 10,000 feet.

These aerial emails, like tweets in the sky, are as tall as the Empire State Building and can be seen from 30 miles away.

And yet, a close look at the planes, kept in pristine operational condition, shows just some of the obstacles faced by WWII era pilots. The cockpits are confining and devoid of most of the instrumentation considered essential by today's standards. They also have a small wheel in the tail; modern pilots need training to put these "Warbirds" down safely on a runway, pilots said.

"I'm dedicated to these old-time aircraft," said Pilot Daly. "I'm all about taking care of them and keeping them alive."

Being close-up to the planes tend to bring out the kid in the adults nearby:

"I'm an air show nerd," said Marguerite Peugeot, of Oceanside who, as a child, lived near the U.S. Naval base at Pensacola, Fla. "When ever I heard the Blue Angels fly over I'd run out of my house and watch."

She's in luck: the Blue Angels will also be on hand this weekend at Jones Beach.

And Peugeot is not alone: Some think if the weather holds, this year's Memorial Day weekend event could draw half a million people Saturday and Sunday. The credit union is optimistic about the weather and its future. Bethpage FCU avoided the pitfalls of other financial institutions since the 2008 downturn, enjoying "three record years of growth and investment," Kordeleski said.

But even Kordeleski admitted to being an aviation buff: "My favorite Grumman story is Apollo 13," he said. "It is such a great story how Grumman people helped bring those astronauts back to earth."

Massa May 26, 2012 at 10:40 AM
Awesome to have theses ww11 planes based here on Long Island. These planes are a big part of our history and to see them flying together as a squadron is always exciting. Long island aviation history is very important and should never be forgotten. This time of year it is great to see the older planes from ww11 flying overhead , like the B-17 and the B-25 bombers.

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