Flying with Lima Lima

Friday, August 17, 2007

One of the attractions at the 2007 Chicago Air and Water Show will be the Lima Lima Flight Team, a six-ship civilian group that performs mostly formation aerobatics in a demonstration show that lasts nearly 20 minutes

The six planes in Lima Lima arrange themselves in various formations during demonstrations, including the six ship wedge, double arrowhead, and diamond formations. Lima Lima has also developed formations, aiming to display the potential of the T-34 Mentor, which is the type of plane the team flies.

On Thursday, members of the news media got a chance to ride along with Lima Lima. You can play the video in the upper-right area of this page to see highlights of's flight with Lima Lima pilot Gary Donovan.

Donovan said that when the club first organized, they flew four-ship formations, but that quickly grew to six planes. Donovan, an 11-year Lima Lima veteran and retired major in the Air Force Reserve, said that the team has been involved with the Chicago Air and Water Show for 20 years.

Lima Lima celebrates its 20th anniversary in 2007, but its story begins in 1975 with the formation of the Mentor Flyers, Inc. That group began as a 15-member flying club based near Naperville at Naper Aero Club Field. The Lima Lima team now features members from Florida and Ohio, as well as Illinois. Some of the Chicago-area cities the pilots represent include Downers Grove, Glen Ellyn and Naperville.

Donovan said he started to enjoy Lima Lima's style of flying as a serviceman.

"I got my first taste of formation flying in the Air Force, and really got hooked on it," said Donovan. He said that he took about a 12-year break from it as he raised his family and pursued an airline career with Delta, but eventually got back in a T-34 and "got to experience the thrill of formation flying again." He said he "got hooked all over again."

The signature T-34 Mentor of the Lima Lima team served as a primary training plane in the United States Air Force from 1953 to 1959, and the Navy began using it in 1955. The Navy presently flies a later version of the T-34. Lima Lima flies a civilianized, improved version of the original Mentor.

Lima Lima's name originated from the Federal Aviation Administration designator of their home airfield, LL-10. The planes are painted in original Navy training colors, with the exception of a signature black band on the plane's tail.

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