Get ready for a duel between air and sea at this month's Fort Lauderdale Air Show

After a long hiatus, the Fort Lauderdale Air Show returned to Fort Lauderdale Beach in May 2016.


By AMBER RANDALL | South Florida Sun Sentinel | Published: November 12, 2020

Can a World War II-era plane outrace a modern-day speed boat?

It’s a thrilling battle between air and sea that viewers will witness as part of the Fort Lauderdale Air Show later this month.

An open-cockpit SNJ plane once used to train pilots during World War II will be racing at high speed just 500 feet above a 47-foot international power boat racing legend.

“The Fort Lauderdale Air Show gives the public a rare chance to witness this air-sea duel," said Steve Curtis, throttleman of the Miss GEICO boat-racing team. “The race is something we only do a couple of times each year.”

The high-speed maneuver is just as complicated — and dangerous — as it sounds.

The six-plane team of GEICO Skytypers will finish one of the most popular and visible demonstrations of the air show that includes using vapor trails to “type” giant messages in the sky that can be seen for up to 15 miles.

Then one of the pilots will dive his SNJ plane to a level just above the deck of a Miss GEICO speedboat — a maneuver that requires precision and skill from the men controlling both vessels. They must reach the same speed as quickly as possible to get the timing right for the start of the race.

The plane and boat race each other at a speed of up to 150 mph, then turn and race back in the other direction to make sure that the wind and ocean currents don’t end up deciding the winner.

“It’s a spectacle,” said Scott Colton, a managing member of the Miss GEICO boat team.

So which is the most likely victor? It depends on conditions.

The speedboat can reach a speed of up to 160 mph, so on a very calm day it usually outpaces the plane. But the plane, even at 80 years old, still has a lot of kick to it. Powered by a 550-horsepower engine, it can hit 150 mph — fast enough to win if the boat is facing rough seas.

“The liquid track has constantly changing conditions such as wave size and wind strength which greatly affect our speed and handling capability," said Miss GEICO Crew Chief Gary Stray. “With a WWII airplane screaming down out of the sky and racing so close, it feels like it could land on the deck of the boat.”

The Fort Lauderdale Air Show will be held on Nov. 21 and 22 after being postponed from its original May date due to the coronavirus pandemic. The race will take place on both days around 1:30 p.m., organizers said. Headliners for the event also include four U.S. Air Force fighter-jet teams — the F-22 Raptor, F-35 Lightning II, F-16 Viper and A-10 Thunderbolt II.

Event organizers are also taking numerous precautions to protect against the coronavirus, including increased size of the Drop Zone Beach and Flight Line Club venues, reduced number of tickets available to each venue to ensure guests can separate from other groups and a mask requirement when walking, using the restrooms or getting food.

(c)2020 the Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.)
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