By JoAnn Laird
Special to The SUN
You may not recognize the name, but you most surely know of the San Juan Squadron. It is Pagosa’s own formation flying team.
Starting this weekend’s festivities and honored as grand marshals of this year’s Town of Pagosa Springs’ Fourth of July parade, they will not only start the parade with their first flyover at U.S. 160 and 6th Street at precisely 10 a.m. on Saturday, July 3, but as grand marshals, they will also have a presence toward the front of the parade.
Attendees will be thrilled and amazed to the skill and daring of these flying young men in their flying machines, with various types of home-built aircrafts, as they make three passes over downtown. All three passes will exhibit different formations and patterns. It may be a small town, but one might say our aviation team “rises” to the occasion.
Started in 2008 by Jim Lane, a private pilot that just had to lead the charge into skilled adventure, the initial team was Lane, Michael Arbuthnot, Ray Laird and Dave Peart. The rest is history. And what a history it has been.
Through the years, they have flown over all major veteran events, such as Veterans Day, Memorial Day, the Veteran’s Home in Monte Vista and even a Pagosa Springs High School Pirate football homecoming. They do this at their own expense, with countless hours of ground training and aerial practice. While this parade flyover will not be spending your tax dollars to see the Blue Angels or Thunderbirds, you might agree that these talented flyers are just as competent.
Two of the originators will be representing the San Juan Squadron in the parade.
Lane organized the squadron in 2008 and trained all the pilots and served as lead for the first 11 years of the Fourth of July parades. He had been flying precision formation flights for over 20 years. He has more than 4,300 hours total flying time as a civilian and served in the U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne Division. With the team, Lane flew a Beech Bonanza.
Laird has more than 10,000 hours, both nationally and internationally, flying the F-100 fighter aircraft during the Vietnam era and as a pilot for American Airlines, with ratings in the DC-6, DC-7, B-707, B-727, DC-10, B-767 and retiring as an international captain on the MD-11. With the San Juan Squadron, like Lane, Laird flew a Beech Bonanza from inception through 2013.
Closely following the grand marshal representatives will be a few of the San Juan Squadron’s most ardent fans — the wives.
Two of the original team will be flying this year.
Arbuthnot is a retired CEO of an electronics manufacturer, having received his pilot’s license in 1968 and started building his aircraft in 1988. He completed the aircraft he is flying in 1996 and has flown it for more than 3,400 hours. He and his wife have flown it across the United States many times.
Peart will be flying a candy apple red, black and gold RV-14A that he and his wife, Becky, spent 5,022 hours building in their basement. Peart is a retired Chrysler Corporation executive and a retired National Guard Special Forces Officer. They also operated a family business called Times and Vectors Inc., where they bought and sold airplanes for three decades.
Your flying team this year is led by Craig Taylor. He earned Navy Wings in February 1968 and was assigned to Attack Squadron 25 in the A7Corsair II aircraft. He flew more than 100 combat missions in Vietnam from the aircraft carrier Ticonderoga (CVA-14). After Vietnam, Taylor spent three years as an instructor pilot for naval aviators, transitioning to the A-7E aircraft. Upon retiring, he flew 20 years as a corporate pilot.
Other flying team members you will see are Tim Gallagher, Skip Thomas, Travis Reese, Jeff Glynn, Mike Rehberg, Guy Jones, Chris Nelson, Hanns Neisler and, for the first time in the history of the team, the first woman, Elizabeth Reese.
Each pilot is as diverse in training and education as the aircraft they proudly built and fly. It is quite the special group.
Look to the skies and listen at exactly 10 a.m. on July 3. You will hear them coming from the west before you see them and that sound you will hear is the sound of freedom. Wipe those tears and get ready to cheer the parade representatives.
Happy birthday, America, and thank you, San Juan Squadron, for all you do for your community.