A Septuagenarian Who Still Can Thrill

Air Line Pilot, March/April 2002, p. 28
A Staff Report

Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University marked its 75th anniversary in November 2001 with a weekend airshow, "Wings & Waves," at Daytona Beach, Fla., just a few blocks from the ERAU main campus.

The nation’s oldest flying school still in existence, ERAU has logged literally millions of flight hours and grown in size as well as prestige since its humble beginnings at Cincinnati’s "Sunken Lunken" Airport in 1925. Co-founders John Riddle and T. Higbee Embry trained pilots and mechanics, flew the mail, sold airplanes, and did whatever else they could to keep the school aloft.

Highlights of the airshow were the performance by the Thunderbirds and a formation fly-by featuring a P-51, F-86, and F-15.

Acquired by AVCO (the forerunner of American Airlines), the school became dormant during the Depression but, revived by the country’s entry into World War II, quickly grew into the world’s largest aviation school.

During World War II, ERAU trained more than 25,000 pilots and others for the war effort. Today, one of every four active U.S. commercial pilots is a graduate of ERAU.

One of the attendees at "Wings and Waves" was Capt. Michael Larkin (TWA, Ret.), who says that he was in the area at the behest of Lt. Col. Helmut Reda (U.S. Air Force), a graduate of ERAU and the USAF Test Pilot School.

Capt. Larkin reports, "My son, Garret, and I flew from Kansas City to Orlando on November 8 to publicize Because I Fly, a new aviation poetry anthology edited by Lt. Col. Reda, who is assigned to the United Nations Mission in Geneva, Switzerland, and could not make personal appearances on behalf of the book.

"Our host for the weekend," Capt. Larkin continues, "was Dr. Barbara Hendrickson, professor of humanities at ERAU, and her husband, Bob. They proved most gracious, as did all Embry-Riddle personnel during our brief visit.

"This trip would also make it up to my son for missing the USAF Thunderbirds and the Reno Air Race week for the first time in seven years, because of the tragedy of Sept. 11, 2001. It would also be our final flight together on TWA.

"Headquarters for the anniversary was the Adams Mark Hotel on the beach," Capt. Larkin says.

"We toured ERAU on Friday, being careful to be back at the beach for the USAF Thunderbird practice sessions at 1630 hours. Right on schedule, Lt. Col. John Venable brought his team across the hotel roof at approximately 500 feet, and the show began. We had met and chatted with him and the rest of the team—Maj. Doug Larson, Maj. John Greene, Capt. Richard Boutwell, Maj. Kevin Mastin, and Maj. Shawn Pederson—on Thursday evening."

Capt. Larkin reports that the weekend afforded many opportunities to mingle with the airshow performers and other notables: Patty Wagstaff, three-time U.S. National Aerobatic champion; Capt. Gene Soucy (Northwest) and his wingwalker, Teresa Stokes; Col. Steve Goldfein, Wing Commander, and his team from the First Fighter Wing CC, Langley Air Force Base; and Maj. Dan Blue who demonstrated the F-15.

Also flying were Capt. Dal "Snort" Snodgrass (U.S. Navy, Ret.), in an F-86E; Lee Lauderback, a 1972 ERAU grad, in a P-51 Mustang; Mike Mancuso, former member of the Northern Lights Aerobatic team; Michael Goulein, twice U.S. National Aerobatic champion; Eric Beard, 1999 ERAU grad, in a Yak named Russian Thunder; Sean D. Tucker, U.S. National advanced aerobatic champion; and Dan McClung, a former U.S. Navy aviator, in Red Eagle.

The real crowd pleaser, Capt. Larkin adds, was a tight, three-ship formation fly-by featuring the F-86, the P-51, and the F-15: "Sixty years of American air superiority in one formation!"