Jamail Larkins, a 19-year-old pilot, says he's having a problem with fears of terrorism these days.
"A lot of the residents in Augusta have been scared," he said.
The culprit isn't a terrorist, though. It's the smoke trailing Mr. Larkins' single-engine plane that has residents reporting an imminent attack.
"They say it looks like I'm either getting ready to crash or they think I'm putting out some type of poison," he said.
Every time Mr. Larkins practices aerobatic maneuvers using smoke - about once a month in the Augusta area - he says local authorities get calls from concerned onlookers. He said he typically practices near Interstate 20 or Thurmond Lake in Columbia County just before an air show performance.
Rob Huffman, of Augusta Aviation, said Mr. Larkins' flights generate at least a few calls to his office every time from those concerned about terrorism, noting, "I think a lot of people are scared of anthrax."
While watching Mr. Larkins practice the maneuver Monday at Daniel Field, Mr. Huffman laughed, saying, "Yeah, we'll probably get a few calls on that one."
Buster Boshears, the director of Daniel Field, recalled how the airport got several calls concerning smoke maneuvers shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks.
"I know there are several guys here that have aerobatic airplanes," he said. "And right after 9-11, we got a lot of calls about that."
The smoke, Mr. Larkins says, is meant to wow audiences and draw attention to the moves he makes. Mr. Larkins, a Martinez resident who has attracted sponsors including Augusta Aviation and Powerserve International, said he also is the national spokesman for a new program called Careers in Aviation and is the youngest air show performer in the nation.
In the past year, he said, he's learned some important lessons about the smoke maneuver - mostly to call local authorities before doing anything.
In July 2002, after flying a CNN crew member at a show in New York, Mr. Larkins said, police confronted him concerning reports about the smoke.
"It was an interesting story that they (CNN) decided to play over and over and over again," he said, laughing.
Now, Mr. Larkins said he just wants people to enjoy the show and know he isn't a terrorist and isn't about to crash.
Mr. Huffman offered a suggestion to help Augusta-area onlookers do so.
"They've just got to realize it's basically a free air show," he said.
"I know there are several guys here that have aerobatic airplanes. And right after 9-11, we got a lot of calls about that." - Buster Boshears, the director of Daniel Field, on smoke maneuvers
Reach Preston Sparks at (706) 828-3904 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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