'Look, up in the air!': Barnwell airport hosts air show

Entertainment this Memorial Day weekend for Barnwell County residents was no farther than a look overhead or to the ground.

The Barnwell Regional Airport held Wings N' Wheels, a combination airplane exhibit, classic cars and antique show.

The highlight of the event was an air show that featured four planes from the 13-pilot group Team RV who flew formation stunts in their experimental, homebuilt aircraft.

Two stunt pilots, Gary Ward and Gregg Connell, also amazed the crowd of about 175 people with their aerobatic loops, barrel rolls, hammerhead turns and other airborne maneuvers.

This was the first time the airport had hosted an event of this type, said airport commissioner Cal Hoffman.

"It was a low turnout, but it was Memorial Day weekend. We might try for a different date next time. This was a time to get people to the airport and let people know what it's all about," he said.

Ward, of Wilksboro, N.C., flew in with his MX2 monoplane. Powered by a 350 horsepower Lycoming engine, Ward put it through its paces, executing upside down stalls and hammerhead turns, often disappearing into his own smoke cloud.

The plane is outfitted with a smoke canister that trails smoke so audiences can better follow the maneuvers.

A hammerhead turn is when a plane climbs vertically straight up into the sky, propelled only by the thrust of the engine. When the engine can pull the plane no higher; the pilot lets the plane drop backwards and flip or turn so the engine is once again facing the plane's direction of travel.

Ward has been performing in air shows for 15 years, he said.

Ward also taught Connell his aerobatic stunts, which Connell performed in his Pitts S-2B biplane.

Connell said he has been flying for 22 years but has only been doing air shows for about six years.

Connell, who owns a heating and cooling business, has also been a commercial pilot and has a multi-engine rating, he said.
This was the first time both Ward and Connell performed in Barnwell.

All the aerobatic stunts had to be executed within a 5,000-foot long by 3,000-foot wide and 4,250-foot high "box" in accordance to Federal Aviation Administration regulations. The airport was closed to incoming air traffic while the air show occurred, said Hoffman.

Early morning rains May 29 threatened to cancel the air show, but the rain clouds skirted the area long enough for the show to take place.

However, halfway through it, Connell and Ward wheeled their aircraft under the airport's open hangar and waited out a brief shower before continuing their stunts.

Other pilots, car and tractor enthusiasts from around the region came and set up their vehicles for the crowds to admire.

Asa Way of Denmark brought his collection of early farm engines, called hit-and-miss engines as well as an early two-cylinder gas engine from a Magtag washing machine.

"I've got the washing machine that goes with it," he said.

Way owns 13 tractors, mostly John Deere. Way worked at the former Deere tractor dealership in Denmark.

Rhonda Clayborn of Lexington bought her 1947 Farmall tractor, the "Nana-nator," in which she has competed in tractor pulls, she said.

The Nana-nator has a 3116 Caterpillar engine that can generate 185 horsepower -- enough to pull a 35,000-pound weighed sled, she said.

"Girls drive tractors too," Clayborn said.