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Fearless fliers focus on loops, twists for air show's aerobatic maneuvers


Pilot Bob Davis sees the world upside down as he puts his Russian-built Sukhoi SU-29 plane through its paces.

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It's one of the simpler maneuvers aerobatic pilot Bob Davis has scribbled on index cards in squiggles and hatch marks to choreograph his Food Town Toledo Air Show act.

The nose and propeller of the Russian-built plane point slightly down, then rise smoothly to lead the Sukhoi SU-29 around a 1,000-foot diameter loop. Northwest Ohio disappears from the windshield view, replaced by blue sky. Green fields and highways reappear as the plane dives and levels on a horizontal flight.

Mid-loop, white smoke gushes out of the front exhaust pipe, flooding the cabin and leaving a trail for the crowd to see.

From the ground at the dozens of shows he does each year, the spectators appreciate Mr. Davis' flight. Hundreds of feet up, the performer may be enjoying it even more.

“Isn't this a kick?” Mr. Davis said. “This is perfect: big sky, not too hot, a little breeze for the crowd.”

The Woodstock, Ill.-based pilot is one of a dozen performers at the two-day air show at Toledo Express Airport, highlighted by the U.S. Navy Blue Angels. The five-plane team is performing locally for the first time since 1976.

The lead-off act for the show, which runs from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. today and tomorrow, is the Misty Blues, an all-women's sky diving team. Four women will parachute with 25-by-50-foot U.S. and Canadian flags, cut them loose, and mingle with the crowd, said Cindy Irish, a member of the team.

An accountant during most of the work week in Ann Arbor, Ms. Irish has been with the team for four years. She took what was once a hobby - jumping out of planes for the adrenaline rush - to a part-time business that has her parachuting in formation with her teammates who live around the country.

“It's like a huge playground up there. You can literally do anything in free fall,” she said.

The Misty Blues will jump twice during the show. Upon landing, they'll pass out stickers and sign autographs.

“It's an air show. You're out there for the crowd,” she said.

Jim Greeson, a commercial pilot who lives in Tecumseh, Mich., will fly an AT-6 in a demonstration of maneuvers fighter pilots learn during training: loops, rolls, and a combination maneuver of both.

“These are the moves that every pilot in the military learns to fly in the beginning,” he said. “My act is a tribute to the veterans of all wars.”

Spokesmen for the show's primary sponsors, the Toledo Area Chamber of Commerce and Food Town, expect 80,000 people to attend. Gates open at 8 a.m. Adult tickets can be purchased at the gate for $15.

There is a $3 discount for senior citizens, children ages 6 to 12, and members of the military who show proper identification. Children 5 and younger will be admitted free.

Mr. Davis remembers being that young and becoming fascinated with planes at the airport in Zanesville, Ohio, his hometown. By 12, he was at the airport as much as he could be.

“I'd beg rides. I'd clean the airplanes. I'd do whatever it took to go flying,” he said. Service in the U.S. Air Force brought him more experience that he eventually used as a commercial pilot. By the late 1960s, he was performing aerobatics similar to those he'll show the Toledo crowd.

He can't provide a single stand-out reason he flies: he loves tinkering with his plane, feeling the freedom in the skies, and getting the ego boost from performing for crowds and passengers.

But at heart, he said, he's still the kid at the airfield.

“I just never lost that dream,” he said.

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