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Time to pull those stunts again

Pilots are revved up for New Garden Airport's 37th annual benefit air show next Sunday.

Matt Chapman hopes to inspire future generations of aerobatic pilots.
Matt Chapman hopes to inspire future generations of aerobatic pilots.Read moreJOHN COSTELLO / Inquirer Staff Photographer

One of Matt Chapman's favorite aerobatic maneuvers is the "torque roll" - a full-throttle, spinning vertical climb until the plane runs out of momentum and then plummets to earth as far as 400 feet before leveling out.

After an air-show routine full of feats like the torque roll, Chapman, an American Airlines pilot who recently moved from Kennett Square to West Chester, parks his single-seat CAP-580 next to the crowd and hops out, ready to sign autographs and answer questions.

He can usually expect three staples from the younger fans: Is it scary? Is it dangerous? Do you ever throw up?

The answer to all three is "yes."

"Yes, it can be scary," he says. "Yes, it is dangerous. However, I take a lot of measures to make it as safe as possible.

"And, yes, I've thrown up - but I don't throw up anymore."

Chapman, 48, will be one of the pilots in the Colonial Flying Corps Museum's 37th annual benefit air show, scheduled for next Sunday at New Garden Airport.

He will be sharing the sky - though not at the same time - with biplanes, helicopters, hot-air balloons, and one of the biggest draws of all, an assortment of World War II-era aircraft. Among the latter will be two large B-25 Mitchell bombers; nimble planes, such as the T-6 Texan, that were used to train fighter pilots; and fighter aircraft including the FM-2 Wildcat and FG-1D Corsair.

Above a crowd of spectators, aircraft old and new will perform intricate maneuvers, trail smoke, discharge skydivers, and dip low to snag banners on hooks.

In the case of some of the old warplanes - the restored 1944 T-6 SNJ Texan piloted by Kevin Russo, for example - they will also make a lot of noise.

"People ask me why World War II planes are so cool," says airport manager Everitt duPont, who coordinates the show. "What I tell them is: When you look at a jet, you wonder, 'What makes it fly?' When you look at an airplane with a propeller, you know what makes it fly."

DuPont, whose family owned the airport before selling it to New Garden Township, was only 12 when the air show started as a far more informal affair.

"It was a small, country air show, and things were a lot simpler back then. So we had friends that came and flew aerobatics and stuff, and I'm not even sure if we had to have approval from the FAA to do it," duPont says.

Over the years, the show has grown incredibly even as some of its signature acts, such as "Flying Farmer" Roger Lehnert, have retired. Lehnert, a trained pilot, would pretend to be a passenger who, while the pilot was distracted, took control of the plane, took off, and flew clumsily over the spectators, most of whom were in on the gag.

Now in its 37th year, the air show draws thousands of people. Not only is the Federal Aviation Administration consulted now, but it also sends representatives. Still, the changes are not limited to what goes on overhead.

"There's going to be an antique-car show going on. We're going to be offering helicopter and airplane rides," duPont says. "We've got some stuff for the kids to do - a couple of moon bounces and face painting, the chance to go walk on the aircraft."

The day begins with a pancake breakfast at 9, three hours before the show is to start.

These new, festival-style additions are part of an attempt to create the feel of an outdoor picnic. The changes coincide with the township's first "New Garden Day" community gathering, which was held May 18.

"What we are considering is maybe, in the future, combining these two events - on Saturday having the activities and food at the fair, and then topping it off with the air show on Sunday," says Bob Norris, chairman of the New Garden Board of Supervisors. "That's a possibility for next year."

The township already provides financial backing to the air show, assuming some of the considerable monetary risk posed by bad weather. Washed-out air shows are essentially impossible to reschedule because of the hectic itineraries of the pilots and aircraft.

New Garden has had good fortune with its air shows, duPont says, with no major accidents. There have been a couple of rain cancellations, however, and one year the show was not held because of heavy construction at the airport. The worst incident, duPont says, occurred in the early 1980s when wind from a sudden thunderstorm damaged several airplanes.

Proceeds from this year's show will be split between the Colonial Flying Corps Museum, which is a nonprofit organization at the airport, and the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.

About 2,500 people attended last year, and DuPont says he would love to double that number this year. If things run smoothly and he's not needed on the ground, he also hopes to take one of the WWII planes up during the show.

Chapman, a former member of the U.S. Unlimited Men's Aerobatic Team, who has performed in New Garden for more than 20 years, says he believes the next great aerobatic pilot could always be in the crowd.

"That's how I got involved," he says. "It was one air-show guy that was my hero growing up. He took the time to talk to and encourage me. I feel it's a little bit of my responsibility to do the same thing."

If You Go


New Garden Airport, Newark Road south of the Route 1 Kennett Bypass at the Toughkenamon exit.


Next Sunday. Gate will open at 9 a.m. for a pancake breakfast. Airplane and helicopter rides and an antique-car show will begin at 10 a.m. The air show is scheduled to begin at noon and end at 4 p.m.


For adults, $15 at the gate or $12 in advance. (Advance tickets are available at the township building, 299 Starr Rd., Landenberg, or at the airport). For ages 7 to 12, $5 at the gate or $4 in advance. Free for ages 6 and younger. The admission fee does not include the pancake breakfast or aircraft rides.


Plenty of free parking. Four-wheel-drive vehicles may park in a special lot on the airport grounds.

For more information:

Call the airport at 610-268-2048 or visit