Herb & Ditto offer unique thrills
When the Fly Iowa 2008 air show comes to Storm Lake for the weekend of August 9-10, Air Force veteran Herb Backer and his restored 1950s-era T28C warbird, "Ditto," will be a starring attraction.
"Herb & Ditto" as the show is known in the international aerobatics performance world, offer "Smoke-Ring Aerobatics" - the big plane creating patterns with the smoke from its wingtips, and then passing through them in barnstormer style. Theirs is one of four acrobatics shows on the bill for Storm Lake.
Backer was bron in 1938, and can remember seeing the WWII fighter pilots and planes on Saturday newsreels. Years later, he would apply to become a Navy Aviation Cadet, but was rejected to to nearsightedness.
So Herb earned his wings as a private flyer, learning the intricacies of airplane mechanics and communications along the way, and eventually becoming certified as a commerical flight instructor. he served in the USAF enlisted reserve Communications Support Squadron in the 1960s, and was later recalled to active dury during the Berlin Crisis.
He has now been performing acrobatics for a dozen years.
Ditto is one of 397 T-28C's built by North American Aviation, and went into service in 1957, flying from carriers in the Gulf of Mexico. She was retired after 20 years in the air, and when Herb found her, was a "basket case." It took four years and 1,600 manhours to restore the plane, which became the first and only aircraft of its kind performing air show aerobatics. Its vortex wingtip smoke system is one of a kind in the world.
Ditto has a correct 1,425 horsepower radial prop engine, used to train Navy pilots as a transition to jets. It cruises at 200-260 mph, with a redline near 400 miles an hour.
Herb hopes to use the plane to show crowds the rotating moves of a simulated carrier takeoff as well as its aerobatics tricks such as a 360-degree aileron roll.
Herb never thought he would be spending his retirement years as an airshow pilot, but he wouldn't change it for the world. "I couldn't have dreamed of a better occupation," he said.
The air shows for Fly Iowa are scheduled Saturday, August 9, 11 a.m. and 1:30 p.m., and Sunday, August 10, 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. A night show with a glider pilot is scheduled for Saturday at 9 p.m., conditions permitting.
There will also be food, children's activities, exhibits of planes old and new as well as boats and motorcycles in keeping with the Wings, Wheels and Water theme.
There is no charge for the airshows, but a small parking fee donation is suggested to help offset costs for those who attend events at the airport.