Nostalgia is appeal that drives this aerobatic pilot

Greg Connell initially thought his flying would be limited to jaunts around local skies and perhaps an occasional trip to one of his beloved University of South Carolina Gamecocks' road games.


Things have gotten a little out-of hand, he concedes.

Today, Mr. Connell makes not only those games but also air shows, putting his Pitts biplane through its aerobatic paces. He will perform this weekend at the Boshears Skyfest.

"I think it's a character flaw for me," he said with a laugh. "I just get obsessed. I mean, if I'm playing golf, I need to play golf every day. If I'm playing music, I have to play in a band and play guitar every day.

"Once I became aware of all the things I could do flying, well, that just got away from me, too."

Mr. Connell said part of the allure of aerobatic flying was its appeal to his sense of adventure, the same sense of adventure that pulled him toward motorcycle racing as a young man.

He said it isn't the danger that draws him, but rather the necessity of avoiding danger.

"That's the rush," he said. "It's knowing that if you don't do something right, this thing will bite you."

Although Mr. Connell says he has become something of a sky addict -- going as far as moving his family to a hangar/home at Twin Lakes Airpark in Trenton, S.C. -- he has had a few enablers over the years.

His father learned to fly in the 1960s, and Mr. Connell has become friends with Gary Ward, an aerobatic pilot who flies out of Lincolnton, Ga.

His biggest influence was the man who once owned the aircraft he now flies.

"It used to be owned by Charlie Davis, a close friend -- a mentor, really," Mr. Connell said. "Unfortunately, he got sick a few years ago and died. So, really, when I started doing these air shows, it was as a tribute to him."

Although the faster, farther, harder aspect of aerobatic flying holds an appeal to Mr. Connell, he said that flying for Mr. Davis, flying in his plane and flying a biplane all hold a significance.

"I'm a nostalgic guy," he said. "I like the look of this plane. I am a biplane guy."

As tied to flying as Mr. Connell is, it has become more difficult for him. He runs a heating and air conditioning company that makes traveling during summer -- air-show season -- difficult.

He said the economics of flying is also a sharp reality.

"It's true, this is a good way to get rid of a lot of money really fast," he said. "Fuel has become a significant factor. It costs four times what it did when I started this -- $6 a gallon. At full power, I'll go through 30 gallons in an hour. You can do the math."

Still, he can't imagine stepping away from the cockpit..

"It's in the DNA," he said. "Everything you do makes you want to continue to explore, to go higher and bigger and faster. It's like your interest exponentially increases."

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