As Tony Manzo of Gainesville carefully boards the open-cockpit biplane, he often considers the young fighter pilots who took the same steps into the aircraft as they trained during World War II.
Those feelings of awe especially struck Manzo when he began flying two years ago as one of the Experimental Aircraft Association pilots of the B-17 “Flying Fortress,” a heavy bomber the U.S. used against Germany.
“Getting to fly with some of those people who flew (the plane), I found out I didn’t really know what really happened (in the war),” he said.
Manzo, a former Navy pilot and retired Delta Airlines pilot, is set to fly his Boeing-made P-17 Stearman over the parade route of the Paul E. Bolding American Legion Post 7’s eighth annual Memorial Day parade.
Participants will start streaming at 10 a.m. Monday down Green Street from First Baptist Church to Spring Street.
Kicking off the event, Manzo, 70, is supposed to fly the bright yellow plane at 1,000 feet or higher.
“I’m going to fly down there (beforehand) and get a run-in line. It’s a lot harder to see than what you think, especially in this thing,” Manzo said, laughing.
Seeing over the hood of the old Stearman is difficult, forcing pilots to sharply lean either to the right or left in the cockpit to see straight ahead.
“I’m going to have to pick two points I’m going to fly between because you can’t see the parade,” said Manzo, who learned to fly at 17.
And the Stearman, with its 225-horsepower engine, “is, by no means, overpowered, but you learn a lot more with an underpowered airplane than you do an overpowered one,” he said.
“This thing here, it took a lot of technique to fly. They would solo a guy in this thing in 12-15 hours. Of course, they tore a lot of them up,” Manzo said.
The plane was used in primary training for about three-fourths of Navy and Army Air Corps pilots, he said.
Manzo doesn’t know the exact history of the plane he and his sons — who are also airline pilots — bought 15 years ago in North Carolina.
“It was already restored ... reassembled from a whole bunch of different parts,” he said. “The fuselage itself was manufactured in 1942. Almost all the parts were (made) no later than 1945.”
They brought the plane to the privately owned Mountain Air Park, which sits amid hills and lush pastures south of Cleveland. The plane sits there still in a hangar.
Manzo has trotted it out onto the grassy runway to fly to different events, but this is the first time the 25-year Gainesville resident has flown it over Gainesville’s Memorial Day parade.
“I am more than happy to do it to show (appreciation for) what (veterans) went through,” Manzo said.