This weekend, the GEICO Skytyping team performed their first Kansas City Air show at the New Century Air Center in Gardner, Kan.
Tom Daly, a pilot for the GEICO Skytyping team, has been flying with them for over 20 years and has flown all types of aircraft throughout his life including helicopters, single-wing planes, and biplanes.
“A friend of mine who’s no longer with us helped me learn to fly. I’m taking this from him, but my favorite plane to fly is the one I’m about to fly,” Daly said, referring to the World War II vintage North American SNJ-2.
Compared to skywriting, the GEICO Skytyping team uses six planes and can write up to 25 characters in under two minutes.
“Five airplanes in this particular show, we’re in V formation,” Daly said. “Three airplanes stay together and then the other two soloists go off and do their thing.”
Working with the GEICO Skytyping team, Daly has written many messages in the sky and has gone to a wide variety of events.
“We’ll go over the Forest Hills Tennis Stadium for the U.S. Open, World Series games,” Daly said. “It’s a very effective method of marketing and we can reach a couple million people at a time like a major city or a major event.”
The team usually does 40 to 50 messages on a regular Saturday afternoon, including marriage proposals, weddings, even divorces.
“We’re spreading out the messages all over town, and GEICO is a good company,” Daly said. “They supply all these airplanes for us and they do a great job going around the country just having fun.”
The Navy SNJs flown by the Skytyping team are World War II military training aircraft that hold up to 180 gallons of fuel, allowing the plane to stay in flight for more than four hours.
Over 15,000 SNJs, or T-6 Texans as the Army Air Corps referred to them, were produced for pilot training during the early years of World War II.
“All the people that flew these, this is an advanced trainer, they would go on to fly P-51 Mustangs or F4U Corsairs,” Daly said. “For many years when I first started, everywhere we would go they’d be like, ‘I flew one of those.’”
Despite the obvious risks, Daly is a confident pilot.
“People always ask, ‘do you worry?’ But you have to be at a certain spot, at a certain time, at a certain speed so you’re too busy,” Daly said.
The Skytyping planes are all equipped with bluetooth antennas that release smoke at the same time, which is how they create the characters.
“The center airplane has a tablet and it’s programmed and bluetooths out and shows the other airplanes when to emit smoke,” Daly said. “The smoke is environmentally friendly and we skytype between [9,000] and 10,000 feet in the air. You don’t see the airplanes or hear them, you just see the lines.”
For Daly, the great thing about doing air shows is seeing how the kids react and the enthusiasm in their face.
“The kids, we’ll visit schools, hospitals,” Daly said. “This girl said, ‘I want to do this dad, I think I can do this.’ One reason I like to do it is to spread the good word, take kids out here to take a look at this.”
Before Daly joined the skytyping team, he had been flying helicopters with the Nassau County Police Department in New York and worked as a Dean of the Dowling College School of Aviation in Oakdale, New York.
Daly currently serves at the Cradle of Aviation Museum as advisory counsel, Western Suffolk BOCES Aviation Program and the Islip-MacArthur Airport, as he resides in Long Island with his family.
“I retired from the police and my life’s about having fun,” Daly said. “This is real fun.”
This year’s Kansas City Air Show took flight July 3 and 4 at the New Century Air Center in Gardner, Kan.