Updated 3:01 p.m., May 2nd–
By Mike Hazlip— Low-flying planes traveling through the skies in distinctive formation have drawn the attention of residents on the ground in Citrus Heights and surrounding areas.
The single-engine aircraft are part of a formation flying clinic organized each spring by Stan Stewart of Sacramento, who is a retired Air Force Lieutenant Colonel and owner of a 1959 Beechcraft Debonair aircraft.
Stewart’s clinic at McClellan Air Force Base is just one of several such training groups around the country, and several other formation flights are currently active at McClellan. The pilots follow FAA rules governing formation flying before taking off, and de-brief after each flight to point out areas where pilots can improve.
“Formation flying is pretty serious,” Stewart said. “We brief the flight, fill out this card, then we fly the brief. We do exactly what we said we’re going to do.”
Although the group has no formal meetings or agendas, the Stewart’s team has performed for events like memorials and parades in the past.
This year’s clinic also includes retired USAF pilot Doug Jenkins, former Lockheed Martin employee Bruce Poulton, and his brother, Doug Poulton, a retired American Airlines Captain.
All of the pilots own and operate their respective Beechcraft aircraft, the namesake for the group.
“We got an airbrush artist to create this logo,” Stewart says as he shows the design on the back of a t-shirt. “Two Bonanzas with surf boards on them, and we said hey that’s great now we’re going to call ourselves the Beech Boys.”
The flight’s path takes them from McClellan Airport to one of four practice areas over Folsom Lake and surrounding areas. Altitude and airspace restrictions from Mather and other area airports, take the aircraft over Citrus Heights, Stewart said. The group is also required to fly at elevations under 1,600 feet due to Sacramento International Airport airspace.
Stewart was drafted into the Army during the Vietnam war, but decided to join the Air Force. After leaving the service, he was recruited by a Sacramento company along with a few other former Air Force personnel. The job was short lived, he says, but he chose to remain in the area.
“After two weeks, I left,” Stewart said. “After another week, they all left. But I liked Sacramento so I’ve been here ever since.”
After participating in a formation flight of Bonanzas to Oshkosh, an annual event in Wisconsin, Stewart says he realized the need for a more formal approach to formation flight training.
“You can’t just put a big formation like this together,” he said. “So we started training and had our first clinic in Stockton in 2003 or 2004.”
Since then, Stewart’s team has been seen practicing from time-to-time in the skies over Citrus Heights.
“We appreciate your patience in us flying over and hope we don’t disturb your peace and tranquility,” Stewart said of flying over the city. “We are doing serious aviation practice and building proficiency.”