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Sun, Apr 18, 2004

Aeroshell Aerobatic Team: Preserving A Heritage

By ANN Correspondent/Photographer Tyson "The Kid" Rininger

Just over the morning haze, rumbling along in a T-6 Texan, we looked over the horizon searching for multiple aircraft, smoke on. The orange groves below us cast long shadows and the lush green fields of the Florida countryside resembled patches of a random patterned quilt.

Closing in from our right rear, four additional T-6 Texans in an unmistakable paint scheme gather up in fingertip formation. With the morning light bathing the aircraft in serene colors, and props gleam the telltale lightning bolt reflection from the sun, each aircraft move to an in-trail formation aesthetically pleasing to any eye.

Since 1985, the Aeroshell Aerobatic Team has performed in front of millions of spectators throughout North America in their World War II North American Advanced Trainers. Each having an incredibly diverse background, pilots Alan Henley, Mark Henley, Steve Gustafson and Gene McNeely fly the thunderous Texans at an average of 20 shows each season. Their gently rolling maneuvers capture the audience while the blaring noise from the four radial engines force the younger spectators to cover their ears.

Lead pilot, Alan Henley has been an air show performer since 1980. Since soloing at the age of sixteen, he has flown over 90 different airplanes ranging from the Piper Cub to the P-51 Mustang. He holds FAA Type Ratings in the North American B-25, Grumman C-1, Grumman TBM, Douglas A-26, Douglas AD-4 Skyraider, Douglas DC-3, Lockheed 18, and an unlimited LOA for experimental aircraft. He is also an ICAS ACE Examiner, A&P Mechanic, and CFI.

Flying off either the right or left wing, Mark Henley has been flying air shows for about 20 years. Before joining the team he performed in a stock PT-17 Stearman, North American AT-6, and North American P-51D. Having flown over 65 different types of aircraft, Mark has type ratings in the AD4 Skyraider, Grumman TBM, Douglas DC3, and the North American B-25 Mitchell. He also holds a letter of Authorization (LOA) that covers all piston powered experimental aircraft, single and multiengine. In 1999 he obtained a CFI rating for both single and multi-engine aircraft. Mark is employed by the Henley family business, BEBCO, in Birmingham, AL. Mark is the brother of the lead pilot Alan Henley.

Flying off the other right or left wing, Steve Gustafson had accumulated over 7,000 flying hours by the age of 20 and currently holds a commercial, multi-engine instrument and a type rating in the North American B-25. He is a graduate of Sowela Technical University with an A&P license. Steve, the son of the late Merle Gustafson (Angel of Okinawa Corsair fame), started flying air shows at the age of 19 and has inherited his Dad's skill for aerobatics and formation while acquiring a competence and style all his own. Steve is also an ICAS ACE Examiner. Steve flies left and right wing for the team. Steve owns and operates his own Aerial Application business and farms in the Louisiana Delta.

Gene McNeely, slot pilot, became interested in flying in high school. He first served a tour in the Navy followed by flight instructing and crop dusting. Gene operated his own agricultural business for over twenty years as well as an air cargo service operating DC-3s and MU-2s. In addition to performing in air shows, Gene races in a T-6 at the Reno Air Races and has been finishing in the top five since 1986, taking 5th in the Gold in 1990 and 1st in the Silver in 1991.

First flown in 1938, the AT-6 Texan was one of the most widely Used aircraft in history. All Army Air Force pilots trained in AT-6's prior to graduation from flying school. The Canadian Version of the T6 was called the Harvard. The Navy version was identified as the SNJ. No matter what it is called the T6 is best known as the "Pilot Maker."

Aeroshell Aerobatic Team Specifications
Engine: 1 600 HP P&W Radial R-1340-AN-1
Wing Span: 42 ft. 0 in
Length 29 ft. 6 in
Max. T/O Weight 5,617 lbs
Max. Level Speed 212 mph
Normal Range 870 Miles
Armament Under wing attachments for light bombs and rockets.



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