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‘Farmersville air force’ to continue tradition of memorial day fly-over

‘Farmersville air force’ to continue tradition of memorial day fly-over

Farmersville residents have been oohed and aahed from above for many years as the California Air National Guard’s F-16 Fighting Falcons out of Fresno roared over the annual Farmersville Memorial Parade.

But those fly-overs will likely be a relic of the past if the $1.2 trillion in federal budget cuts of the sequestration are fully implemented over the next 10 years.

Which is why parade organizers have called in the reserves.

Known as the Farmersville Air Force, a group of three private planes are carrying on the tradition of fly-overs at the parade. While not really a military squadron, the lead pilot of the group does have military experience. Jeff Higgins has been a pilot for 32 years including four years in the U.S. Air Force.

“I am a flying advocate,” Higgins said. “I like to share my passion for aviation with as many people as possible. The first time you take control of an airplane is scary but something you remember for your whole life.”

Higgins said the idea to use private planes for a parade flyover was pitched to him by former Air Force mechanic Don Mason, who has long been involved with the Memorial Day Parade. Higgins, who grew up near Farmersville and has been the Farmersville Unified School District psychologist for 15 years, said he and another pilot, Kevin McPhail, first flew over the parade three years ago. Two years ago they could not get approval from the FAA because the Air National Guard was planning a flyover but never came. Last year the Farmersville Air Force returned to excite the crowd and this year their numbers are growing.

“We have added a third plane for this year’s parade,” Higgins said. “We also have air-to-ground radio this year, so we might be making a special announcement.”

Higgins said there are advantages to having smaller, slower prop planes flying overhead instead of military jets. Due to the slower air speed (140 mph versus a jet’s 250 mph), private planes will be seen by the crowd longer, can fly as low as 500 feet (compared with 3,000 feet for a jet) and are louder because of the sound of the propellers at the lower elevation.

“The engines are pretty loud so with three of us it should be pretty impressive,” Higgins said.

Higgins will be flying his Cesna 172 Super Skyhawk, nearly identical to McPhail’s Skyhawk except with a larger engine, and will be joined by Don Utten Reimer’s Beachcraft Sundowner. The three planes will make an initial pass from north to south directly over Farmersville Boulevard and then do gentle turn to the west for a second pass along the parade route. Higgins said he hopes to have as many as six private planes flying in formation with the Farmersville Air Force.

“We want to add planes but we have to do it slowly,” he said. “Flying in formation is difficult when you aren’t practicing it every day. We’ll see how it goes this year but I think this is a great tradition to add to the parade.”

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