Happy to serve: Pagosa Springs San Juan Squadron opens parade

Photo courtesy Dave Duquemin The pilots of the Pagosa Springs San Juan Squadron take to the air for one of many flights the group provides for Pagosa Springs events.

By Craig Taylor | Pagosa Springs San Juan Squadron

The Pagosa Springs San Juan Squadron was founded in 2008 by Pagosa’s Jim Lane, Michael Arbuthnot, Ray Laird and Dave Peart. Their aim was to learn how to fly formation in a safe manner and to provide a group to fly for Pagosa Springs events, such as the Fourth of July parade and to perform Missing Man formations for veterans who have “Gone West.” 

Although Lane and Laird are no longer flying with the squadron, Arbuthnot and Peart are still flying. Lane was originally trained in formation by the Bonanzas to Oshkosh organization, which trained and organized the pilots of literally hundreds of Beechcraft Bonanza aircraft flying in mass formation to Oshkosh, Wis., during the annual Experimental Aircraft Association “AirVenture” convention held in late July. Lane passed his training to the rest of the squadron. 

The squadron now follows a rigorous training program called Formation Flying Inc. (FFI). This program, based upon Navy and Air Force formation training programs, provides guidance, qualifications and standards for civilian formation training to ensure that all pilots participating are standardized, competent and safe. The program is approved by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). 

Everyone in the squadron is a volunteer and receives no compensation for the Fourth of July parade opening. They are proud to be able to contribute to the community. For the Fourth of July parade opening, pilots from the western half of the United States came to Pagosa to participate.

The participants for the 2023 parade opening this year were:

Craig Taylor, flight lead. Taylor was a Vietnam-era attack jet pilot, flying the A7 Corsair II from various aircraft carriers in the Pacific. Following a 20-year career as a pilot of corporate jets, he and his wife, Marcie, started and ran a small engineering firm in Plano, Texas. With the good fortune of being able to sell the business, they bought the Vans RV8 aircraft pictured. They moved permanently to Pagosa Springs in 2013.

Directly behind Taylor is Tommy Ishii from Sacramento, Calif. That’s right, he flew from California in his RV8 to participate in the Fourth of July parade flight. A 10-year Air Force veteran, Ishii served as aircraft commander for the massive C5 Galaxy cargo jet flying worldwide. He now flies corporate jets for several companies and has his own aircraft management business. Ishii is a member of the West Coast Ravens aerobatic flight demonstration team, flying in airshows throughout the west coast.

And right behind Ishii is Elizabeth Reese from Grand Junction in her Vans RV4 aircraft. Reese became interested in flying after she and her husband, Travis (see below), were married. Her first airplane was a 1941 Piper J-4 Cub that she flew all around the mountains of Colorado and Montana. When the formation bug bit her, she sold the J-4 and purchased her RV4 four years ago. She started attending FFI clinics two years ago and rapidly advanced to wingman status by passing her FAA check ride. Reese and her husband, Travis, have a specialized business rehabbing old apartment buildings and converting other suitable buildings to apartments.

On Taylor’s immediate left in the photo above is Skip Thomas in his Van’s RV4. Thomas is a successful businessman who organized a legal research business while studying violin with a scholarship at the University of Southern Florida. Many have seen Thomas in music venues such as Jack Ellis’ Out on Work Release band and events at the high school. Thomas started flying with the San Juan Squadron 10 years ago when he acquired his Vans RV4 aircraft. He still spends spring and fall at his home in Florida, and ski season and summers here in Pagosa Springs. Thomas also flies a helicopter which he built from a kit.

On Thomas’ left wing is Chris Olsen from Albuquerque, N.M., flying a Vans RV. Olsen is a member of the Albuquerque Chili formation group. If you have been to the opening of the Albuquerque Balloon Festival, you have seen Olsen and the Chilis fly. Olsen is an IT expert working for Boeing Aerospace in Albuquerque. His wife, Atocha, is also a (retired) IT expert. Olsen grew up in an aviation family and his father still owns a Beechcraft Bonanza.

Farther to the left, beside Olsen, is Tim Gallagher, who has been flying with the San Juan Squadron for 10 years. A long-time pilot, Gallagher started flying his four-place 250 Comanche in formation, and later acquired the Vans RV4 for formation flight. He no longer has the four-place aircraft. Gallagher had a career as a farmer in the San Luis Valley growing malt barley for Coors brewing company, alfalfa for dairies and a used farm equipment business. He and his wife, Marsha, moved to Pagosa Springs full time in 2019. Gallagher is one of the designated flight leads for the squadron.

Trailing behind Tim is Jeff Glynn. Glynn built his aircraft, a fiberglass Cozy 3-place “canard” design. Glynn is a retired dentist from Las Vegas. He and his wife, Sharon, have had a home for years in Pagosa, but finally became a full-timers in the last year. Glynn has been flying with the squadron for two years.

On Taylor’s immediate right is Michael Arbuthnot flying his GlasAir III aircraft which he built from a kit. The project took 6,000 hours, which Arbuthnot says was his therapy from a high-stress career with Ampex, working with Hollywood studios and others around the world in the digital recording business. Arbuthnot is one of the designated flight leads in the San Juan Squadron and one of the originators of the squadron.

To Michael’s right is Travis Reese, from Grand Junction, Colo. Travis Reese is a qualified FFI flight lead and instructs formation flight at numerous formation training clinics around the USA. Travis Reese, like his wife, Elizabeth, flies a Vans RV4 aircraft. A long-time pilot and aerobatic competitor, Travis Reese discovered formation flying seven years ago. It is a delight to see them arrive together at the Pagosa Springs airport with Elizabeth Reese in perfect formation.

And on Travis’ right side is Brittney Day, from Bartlesville, Okla. She is our other long-distance traveler who came to help with the parade. Day earned her private pilot’s license just two years ago and immediately took to formation flying in her Vans RV4. She attended her first “official” FFI formation training clinic just one year ago, and is an accomplished formation pilot, having earned her Wingman Certification last October. Day is an IT programmer for Phillips Petroleum in Bartlesville.

Behind Day is Bill Sommer in his Beechcraft Bonanza. Sommer is a newcomer to the squadron, but has proven himself to be a quick learner and a very steady wingman. He also flies a blue and white aerobatic biplane called a Christian Eagle. You might see him practicing his routine just east of Chimney Rock. Sommer was an aeronautical engineer with Boeing, working on the development of the YF-23, the Boeing competitor for what became the Lockheed F-22 and other projects that he can’t talk about. Sommer retired to Pagosa Springs in 2018. He still claims that the Boeing YF-23 aircraft was better.

Flying “top cover” above the formation flight and typically out of sight of the parade are Pagosa Spring’s Mark Guenin and Krissy Rubish in Guenin’s Glasair Sportsman aircraft which he built from a kit. Because of the formation flight’s operation near the airport, Guenin and Rubish communicate with any inbound or outbound aircraft to ensure safe separation between aircraft. In addition, Rubish takes videos of the formation flight which are used to enhance the training value of post-flight debriefs. Guenin and Rubish are also avid hikers and belong to the Pagosa Springs Photography Club and Outdoor Club.

The San Juan Squadron considers it a privilege to have the opportunity to serve Pagosa Springs.