Pilot Michael Kennedy, Lt. Col USAF (ret) climbs out of the cockpit of his Vultee Bt-13 Valiant on Wednesday, May 18, 2016, after a short flight.
RUTHERFORD COUNTY — With the flip of a switch, pilot Michael P. Kennedy's World War II-era BT-13 Vultee Valiant roars to life, its distinct buzzing engine echoing across the tarmac.
"It has a unique sound, like no other World War II aircraft," said the retired Air Force lieutenant colonel, who flew into Rutherford County last week in anticipation for his high-flying performances at the upcoming Great Tennessee Air Show, set for June 4-5 at Smyrna Airport.
Built in 1942 in Nashville, the BT-13 was used by the Air Force and U.S. Navy as a training plane for cadets before they moved on to advanced aircraft, Kennedy said. More than 11,000 were manufactured in a plant that is still in operation today, he noted.
"They called it the Vultee Vibrator because it scared the cadets," Kennedy joked, referring to the loud and immense power of the 450-horsepower engine. "When I sit in this cockpit, I have no idea who sat there in World War II. But I know there were many, many hundreds of pilots that had those same controls. ... It's amazing just to realize that 70 years ago this is what they did. This was state-of-the-art back then."
Most fighter pilots in World War II trained on the BT-13. Nashville native and female aviator Cornelia Fort, who became the first female pilot to die on active duty, also flew the BT-13, he said.
“This is a part of history and I love sharing the joy of flying and also sharing the history," said Kennedy, one of nearly a dozen aeronautical acts featured at the Great Tennessee Air Show. "This is a real patriotic history aircraft. Kids go wild. They’ve never seen a big round engine airplane."
Only about 50 remain in flying condition, Kennedy said. By chance, he ran across one for sale from a man who had painstakingly restored the vintage aircraft.
"This airplane sat from 1945 to 1997. ... They took it apart and put it in a warehouse, and this gentleman found it and put it back together," Kennedy said.
The Vultee Valiant is quite a bit different than the high-tech jets Kennedy flew during his military career.
"My Air Force history started when I went to the Air Force Academy," said Kennedy, who flew the F-4 fighter jet in more than 460 combat missions over North Vietnam and Southeast Asia during three combat tours between 1968-1972, and was awarded more than 30 combat decorations and the Vietnam service medal with eight battle stars.
But the basics of being a trained fighter pilot paid off when it came to learning to maneuver the vintage aircraft.
"You have to teach your brain how to maneuver in three dimensions," he said. "I was fascinated as a kid by how people could jump off a 40-foot high dive and make their bodies do all sorts of twists and then go into the water straight. It's the same thing with a plane."
Doing the acrobatics in air, and just flying in general, is something he's dreamed of since he was a boy growing up in Wisconsin.
"(Flying has) truly been a gift," Kennedy said. "I love flying. It brings me closer to God, and it's been a blessing to me since I was a little kid."
Advance tickets are available at greattennesseeairshow.com. Advance general admission prices are $30 for adults and $15 for children. Advance box seats are $45 with Flight Line Club Advance tickets priced at $135 for adults and $75 for children (ages 4-12). Ticket buyers can make a donation to Second Harvest Food Bank of Middle Tennessee when purchasing tickets online.
All tickets must be purchased online as there will be no tickets available for purchase at the gate.
If you go
What: Great Tennessee Air Show
When: June 4-5
Where: Smyrna/Rutherford County Airport, 278 Doug Warpoole Drive, Smyrna
Prices: Advance general admission prices are $30 for adults and $15 for children; advance box seats are $45 with Flight Line Club Advance tickets priced at $135 for adults and $75 for children (ages 4-12); no tickets will be sold at the gate
Great Tennessee Air Show lineup
SMYRNA — The full performer lineup for the Great Tennessee Air Show, set for June 4-5 at Smyrna/Rutherford County Airport, includes:
• The U.S. Navy Blue Angels flight demonstration team
• U.S. Air Force F-22 Raptor demonstration team
• Breitling jet team
• Team Oracle legendary aerobatic pilot Sean D. Tucker
• GEICO Skytypers, an air show team of six vintage World War II aircraft performing precision flight maneuvers
• Jim Tobul and the "Korean War Hero" F4U-4 Corsair; Scooter Yoak in his "Quick Silver" P-51D Mustang
• Michael Kennedy in the historic Vultee BT-13 Valiant
• Special Operations Command parachute demonstration team
• Dan Buchanan in his unpowered hang glider
• U.S. Air Force honor guard
Wayne Boggs of the international reality television show "Air Boss" will serve as air boss.
Air show announcer will be award-winning broadcast journalist Rick Peterson.
The 2016 Great Tennessee Air Show will also feature multiple static displays, concessions and numerous activities for children. Named one of the "Top 10 Best Air Shows Around the World" by USA TODAY, the Great Tennessee Air Show gives the community an opportunity to experience aviation up close and personal.
Advance tickets are available at greattennesseeairshow.com. Advance general admission prices are $30 for adults and $15 for children. Advance box seats are $45 with Flight Line Club Advance tickets priced at $135 for adults and $75 for children ages 4 to 12. No tickets will be sold at the gate.
Ticket buyers can make a donation to Second Harvest Food Bank of Middle Tennessee when purchasing tickets online.
Go online to view a 360 video of reporter Nancy De Gennaro flying in the Vultee Valiant at youtube.com/watch?v=zbyhhUiEPV4. A GoPro video of her experience is available at dnj.com/videos/news/2016/05/26/84956670.