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Assembling the Renegades
By Jim Gray, Rocky Mountain Renegades Flight Lead
March 7, 2019 - The story of the Rocky Mountain Renegades Air Show Team is much like that of many EAA homebuilders. It’s a story of aviation enthusiasts who dreamed of building their own airplanes, were bold enough to make that initial decision to plunk down the cash to order a kit, and had the perseverance to complete a machine that actually flew. Like many other homebuilders, each of us had the ultimate goal of flying our homebuilt airplanes to EAA AirVenture Oshkosh and hearing the words we had long yearned for, “Cleared to land on the green dot!”
But how do seven pilots who had never previously met each other go from their individual decisions to build an experimental airplane to an invitation to perform at AirVenture 2019 as a formation aerobatic team?
Looking back on it now, it was almost by accident that this all came together. I was flying B-747s for a living, and had just completed my RV-8, a seven-year project that earned a Lindy Award at Oshkosh in 2010. As a former Navy F-14 fighter pilot, I was on the hunt for some other formation “playmates” along the Front Range of Colorado. Simply flying my new airplane for a $100 hamburger was not going to be enough for me.
One chance meeting led to another and, before long, we had a small collection of homebuilders who were regularly flying together. But our diverse civilian and military backgrounds and experiences presented problems. Briefs and debriefs, a critical component held sacred by all good formation pilots, would elicit comments like “That’s not how we did it in the Air Force” or “I was taught to do it this way.” It had become a constant nuisance, and we needed a standard.
That’s when we got wind of an RV formation clinic regularly held in Texas. After a few calls, four of us signed up and soon we were on our way. That first clinic changed everything. It was an action-packed three-day weekend with 40 or so other RVers, all of them in pursuit of the joy and challenge of formation flying. For me, it felt like being back in a military squadron with precise procedures and standards, and even a daily flight schedule. I found many of the other pilots to be incredibly talented and accomplished. With my fighter pilot roots, I was home again, I loved it! That was also our introduction to Formation Flying, Inc., the formation organization that provides guidance for formation training, flying, and evaluation for non-warbird type aircraft. My involvement with FFI over the years eventually led to me authoring what has become the recognized national standard for FFI formation training. The popularity of these clinics is strong. Various pilot groups organize clinics around the country each year, and have provided invaluable training for many aspiring formation pilots.
After returning to Colorado and flying some local events, parades, and stadium flyovers, our group began to grow in numbers, with some incredibly motivated and talented new members joining us. When an opportunity presented itself for us to have a small part in a real air show, flying our formation maneuvers in front of an air show crowd, we jumped at it. One show, and we were hooked! Over the next several years, with plenty of 100LL consumed, our band of aviators practiced and tested for SAC (Statement of Aerobatic Competency) solo and formation aerobatic cards through ICAS, the International Council of Air Shows. With solo and formation aerobatics now incorporated, our budding act took off. Before long, we were flying air shows all over Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, Nebraska, and Kansas.
But who are these seven pilots, who somehow gravitated together, and came to realize they had so much in common? All are airline pilots, six fly for United Airlines. I am the only exception, having flown for Northwest Airlines then Delta Air Lines. Most of us were airport rats classic cases of kids who had airplanes in their blood from their earliest memories.
Steve Bergevin, eAA 456930, was flying gliders before he was old enough to drive a car. He is also a longtime EAA member, and built a spectacular Giles G-202. When he and the Renegades discovered each other, Steve had been regularly competing in IAC aerobatic contests.
Growing up, Chris Murphy, EAA 218707, practically lived at his nearest airport, and worked his way into the good graces of many local pilots, even hitching a ride to his first AirVenture in the back seat of a T-34. As a promoter, a performer, and as an air boss, Chris has been involved with all aspects of air shows for many years now, flying a beautiful yellow RV-4 that he built.
Scott Ginn, EAA 389853, who flew F-15s in the Air Force, was raised in a family of EAA members and homebuilders that include his grandfather, mother, father, and brother — all of whom have flown their homebuilts to Oshkosh. He and his brother even flew an Aeronca Champ to Oshkosh as teenagers.
Steve Cox, EAA 425218, flew RF-4s in the Kentucky Air National Guard, but has been around EAA his entire life, with strong homebuilding roots. His father was the president of their local EAA chapter, and Steve later partnered in building a beautiful RV-8.
Bob Markert, EAA 602868, another former F-15 pilot, had started an RV-8 project that had languished in neglect for several years. After a chance meeting with some members of the Renegades, he found all the motivation he needed to complete what would become the Reserve Grand Champion Kit Built at AirVenture 2016.
The final addition to the Renegades team was Tom Spratt, EAA Lifetime 1149503,an Air Force F-16 pilot and decorated combat veteran, having won the Distinguished Flying Cross in the first Gulf War. As the manager of Fleet Standards for the 747 fleet at United Airlines he knew several of the other United pilots on the team. One ride in the back seat of a Renegades airplane made him realize what he had missed since his military days. After completing his RV-8 in 2014, he has flown every performance with the Renegades since then.
Throughout our growth, we have always felt that the Renegades exemplified what EAA is all about. Effort, determination, and some very good fortune led us to this opportunity to perform at the granddaddy of all air shows. We have developed a trust and bond with each other that can only come from flying 2 feet apart for many years. It makes us all very proud, both as homebuilders and as professional airline pilots, to have been able to forge a team such as this. We are overjoyed to have been selected for our “bucket list” goal, of performing at AirVenture 2019!