A few miles southeast of Brownwood, the small plane with the call-sign Sharpie Four sliced through the morning sky — close enough to another plane, it seemed, for Sharpie Four’s pilot and passenger to reach out and touch.
Pilot Ron Gieleghem of Cincinnati, Ohio, stared at his oh-so-close wingmate — Sharpie Three — and made constant power changes to Sharpie Four’s 180-horsepower engine to keep his position.
Two other planes — Sharpie One and Sharpie Two — maneuvered close to Sharpie Three.
Sharpie Flight consisted of four kit-built, one- or two-seat planes known as RVs. They were among 18 RVs that landed at the Brownwood airport Friday for Saturday’s clinic on RV formation flying, put on by Stu McCurdy of Georgetown.
Some of the pilots are beginners at formation flying; others, such as Gieleghem, are veterans of formation flying and participate in McCurdy’s clinics to fly and hone their skills.
Before the first flight Saturday morning, pilots prepared to fly in four-plane formations. The pilots of each four-ship flight met in groups for pre-flight briefings. Sharpie Flight was the namesake of the flight’s leader, Dan Checkoway, who uses the individual call sign of Sharpie.
Other pilots in Sharpie Flight were known as Jarhead, Shorts, and Rhino (Gieleghem). One of the pilots in the Sharpie flight, a “newbie” to formation flying, would fly dual with a more experienced formation flyer.
Checkoway, of Cheno, Calif., went over details including radio frequencies, takeoff procedures (“two-plus-two configuration”), and the types of flying Sharpie Flight would do. He used terms such as “echelon … lazy eights in fingertips … cross-unders … pitch-out … pitch-up … rejoin …
“When you go into trail, you will be listening for Rhino to say “Four’s in,” Checkoway said. Rhino — Gieleghem — was the pilot of Sharpie Four.
A few minutes later, Sharpie flight’s pilots started their engines, closed their fighter-style bubble canopies and taxied one behind the other to the southbound runway. Side-by-side, Sharpie Three and Four raced down the runway and were airborne.
The four planes, at times, flew impossibly close together, bobbing and weaving through turbulence. Other times they spread out after making sharp, abrupt turns or climbs at intervals of a couple of seconds, then quickly joined in another close formation.
After perhaps 45 minutes in the air, Sharpie Flight returned to the Brownwood airport and landed, each plane just seconds behind the other.
“Good flight — good, safe flight,” Checkoway told the other three Sharpie pilots as they debriefed after landing.
Gieleghem didn’t have time to socialize. “I think I’m in this flight over here. I gotta go brief,” he said, heading for a another group of pilots.