Vicky Benzing performs during AFI 2017 Saturday afternoon at Arlington Municipal Airport in Arlington on July 8, 2017. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Stunt pilots deliver ‘a busy 15 minutes’ at Arlington Fly-In

ARLINGTON — The bright red biplane spiraled down toward the ground, trailing a thick corkscrew of smoke.

Thousands of eyes watched the plane as it rapidly closed the distance between it and Earth.

As they watched, an inviting voice came through the loudspeakers set up around the airport: “Hello, airshow fans! This is Will Allen broadcasting live!”

It was the biplane’s pilot.

“As I come down, I’m looking for my horn section,” he said. “Hit me with those horns!”

Up-tempo music led by a brass section played over the loudspeakers as Allen’s plane twirled, whirled, swooped and looped overhead at the Arlington Fly-In.

This year marked the 50th anniversary of the air show, which ran Thursday through Sunday. It featured aerobatic performances, flour bombing, helicopter and biplane rides, and even military vehicle parades. Thousands of people flew in for the Fly-In, parking their planes and pitching tents in the grass west of Arlington Municipal Airport.

David Baxter and his son, Dan, flew their biplanes from Scappoose in Oregon to Arlington for the air show. They both fly Stolp Starduster Too, sport planes they assembled at their homes.

“Some people go skiing, some people go fishing, some people hunt. I like custom-built planes,” Baxter said, as he stood in the shade of his airplane’s wing.

The 75-year-old especially likes his royal blue Starduster. “It’s got sex appeal — a lot of curves in the right places.”

The real lure, though, is the open sky, he said. “It’s a whole other world up there. Most people don’t even know it exists.”

He’s flown his open cockpit plane as far as Port Huron, Michigan, more than halfway across the country.

Some may say it’s risky, but “there’s risk in everything,” Baxter said. He has survived motorcycles, the Marine Corps and a few decades as a firefighter near Beaverton.

It’s not dangerous if you’re careful, he said.

That goes for aerobatic flying, as well.

Allen puts countless hours into practicing and rehearsing his performances to ensure there are no surprises, he said. He splits his time between Issaquah and Arizona, and performs in 10 to 12 air shows a year.

“You can’t be that person who puts showing off ahead of safety,” Allen said. “You see people like that once in awhile. It will get you killed.”

Aerobatic pilots might be daredevils, but they match that with iron discipline. Throughout his routines, there are certain marks — or gates — that he must hit to ensure his plane is in the right place at the right time.

“If I don’t hit a certain gate, I don’t do the maneuver. The crowd doesn’t know,” Allen said.

Fellow aerobatic pilot John Mrazek, 74, thrilled the crowd with a display in his Harvard Mark IV, the Canadian version of North American Aviation’s T-6, a propeller trainer.

“I don’t have time to get nervous,” he said. “It’s a busy 15 minutes.”

Dan Catchpole: 425-339-3454; dcatchpole@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @dcatchpole.

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