- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 26, 2002

On a beautiful spring day, the airplanes are especially vivid against the backdrop of the clear blue sky. There are nine, and they are flying impossibly low and near, thundering by so close it seems a well-aimed stone could ding one.

A happy group is enjoying the performance at the Flying Circus Airshow. The show, held every warm Sunday on and above a grassy stage set near some grain silos in Bealeton, Va., has been attracting a crowd for more than 30 years.

People come to see the airplanes, of course: Stearman, Waco, Ryan, Pitts. All antique open-cockpit biplanes, World War II and pre-WWII era. People also come for the dose of sweetly corny comedy dished up during the two-or-so-hour show jokes and stunts guaranteed, at some point, to elicit a belly laugh from even the most stoic. Folks come to feel the wistful nudge of nostalgia, too.

"What we're trying to create is that once you drive in, you're back in the '30s and the '40s," says Mike King, who pilots a 1939 Waco UPF-7, a trainer built during those years. Mr. King, 33, is an American Airlines pilot by day.

"We try to make it look and feel like you're in a time warp with the period-style music, the costumes everything is geared to making people feel they are back there with us," he says.

The show is the brainchild of a retired commercial pilot who decided, some years back, to set aside an airstrip where antique-airplane owners and aficionados could gather. The Flying Circus Airshow evolved in 1971 from that group, and comprises an all-volunteer cast and crew. The pilots, nearly all current or retired commercial aviators, donate their aircraft and services to the Flying Circus even paying for their own fuel to run the planes for the show.

Mr. King's grandfather, John King, joined the air show in 1972. Now, says the younger Mr. King, four family members are among the members of a show that is a labor of love and tradition rather than a commercial enterprise.

"The show has remained unchanged for 20 or more years," he says. "We try to incorporate comedy instead of just planes buzzing around. We try to get the audience involved."

Cast members throw candy to the children and make balloon animals. Each week, they conduct a children's lottery: The winning ticket earns a ride in a Piper Cub a way to get children excited about and involved in aviation, Mr. King says.

But all this is just on the ground. A German baron on the ground (using the outhouse, by the way) is pelted from the air with 5-pound bags of flour in a simulated WWI attack. A wing-walker defies death, it seems, hanging by her ankles from the plane's wing.

Sky diver Jim Wine leaps from an airplane nearly directly overhead at 3,500 feet and spirals down, his U.S. flag billowing to the strains of the national anthem. Mr. Wine, by day a computer-network administrator at Marymount University in Arlington, says the Flying Circus cast and crew is a patriotic group.

"The focus is on God and country," he says, gathering his gear together after his drop.

Mr. Wine says he started watching the air show "from your side. I found out they had sky divers and I was determined to do it. Now I've been with the show for nine years."

Judy and Roy Robertson of Spotsylvania brought a picnic to enjoy at the Flying Circus. Their two children Brian, 15, and Amy, 7 lounged around on a red-checked blanket spread over the clover.

Amy said the wing-walking was her favorite event. Later, as the lucky recipient of the free airplane ride, she gleefully waited for the pilot to summon her.

Carol Yocum, who captains 737s for United Airlines, flies a big yellow 1941 Boeing Stearman PT-17 in the circus. She has been a cast member for more than 12 years, she says, as she pauses to sign an autograph for a child at the close of the show.

"I really enjoy preserving history," she says. "It's better that the airplanes are out flying than sitting in a museum."

Anyway, she adds, "there's something about it when you ride the freedom. You can smell the fresh-mowed grass. It's flying at its most beautiful, basic form."

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