Bandits to take first flight over Washington

Published 2:11 pm Tuesday, May 30, 2023

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The Bandit Flight Team will make their first flight over Washington during the Summer Festival on June 9 and 10. 

The Bandit Flight Team is a group of highly skilled and experienced pilots who perform flight formations at various events including North Carolina State University home football games, NASCAR events at Charlotte Motor Speedway, Martinsville Speedway, Dover Speedway as well as the Durham Bulls home games, the Raleigh Christmas Parade and Rally for the Cure. 

The team is based out of Raleigh and is composed of about 15 volunteers. One of the founding members is Cecil Boyd, a Washington native and veteran of the U.S. Army who recently moved back to the area.

Boyd shared that the Bandits started in 2009 as a smaller group of about three or four people who flew out of the Raleigh Executive Jetport in Sanford. They eventually started doing events which led to the creation of the team. They do an average of 50 events every year.

The name Bandit comes from military jargon to describe an opponent’s sudden appearance seemingly out of nowhere, Boyd explained. In a similar way, as people listen to the National Anthem during a football game, they are not expecting a flight formation of six planes above their heads until it’s happening, he continued. 

Calling themselves by a military term makes sense considering most members are former military servicemen and servicewomen who were military pilots. 

To understand how some Bandits make the transition from flying F-15 Eagle Fighter Jets to YAK 52’s and RVs, “you would have to come fly with us to understand,” Boyd said. 

Having your own plane that has smoke and performance capabilities is the first requirement to joining the Bandits, Tal Holloway, Bandit team leader said. A commercial pilot’s license and earning certification in formation flying are other requirements. 

Boyd said the biggest difference between military planes and those used by the Bandits is speed. The military planes are faster than the Bandits’ which reach speeds of 135mph, a standard flight formation speed. 

Safety is crucial when doing any formation, because not only are they flying at a high rate of speed, but the distance between the wing tip of one plane is aligned only a few inches away from the wing tip of the plane that is flying parallel, Boyd explained. 

Holloway shared that while the lead pilot guides the team during a formation, the wingmen fly in position of another airplane. “You’re not looking ahead. You’re only looking at the other guy so that you can keep a precise location around who you are following.” 

Pilots in the second and third positions keep their attention on the lead. Pilots in the fourth and fifth positions keep their attention on the pilot directly in front of them. “You can’t look around. You have to stay focused on the team member the entire time,” Holloway said. 

The pilots’ skill and experience paired with the copious amounts of training the team does has helped to keep everyone safe. On Saturday, June 10, those who attend the Summer Festival may see the bandits continue their training. 

To ensure safe flights, the Bandits have a briefing before they depart so everyone will know their position in the formation and have directions to the event. Their meetings include the ground people who help coordinate the timing of the patriotic song with the flyover. The ground crew communicates with the lead pilot to let them know when it’s time to do the flyover. 

After an event, the Bandits have a debriefing meeting to go over what went right or wrong in preparation of the next event.  

In the nearly 15 years the Bandits have flown, they’ve “never had an incident,” Boyd said. 

When asked why members of the Bandits’ team continue to do flight formations, Holloway said, “it’s pretty unique and it’s extremely challenging, but it’s fun.”

“Pilots like to fly, but when you do it in an unique setting then it makes it even more enjoyable. It’s a fun thing to do, but not everybody can do it well. It takes a lot of experience to keep it that way,” Holloway said.

Boyd said members continue to volunteer with the Bandits, because it is a way to honor veterans and those who are currently serving. The team’s motto is “flying for the flag.” 

At the Summer Festival, the Bandits will fly over the Pamlico River and cross the railroad bridge at the end of a patriotic song performed by the Embers on Friday night at 9 p.m. Their planes will be equipped with fireworks and smoke trails.