ABILENE, Texas (KTAB/KRBC) – An Abilene group of pilots have a mission to honor military Veterans by conducting flight formations, and this particular team has gotten to do more flights recently because they say there have been more unaccompanied Veteran funerals to attend than in the past.
Steve Templeton, Gary W. Potter, Eddie Eichler, and Jeff Randall are the pilots who make up Big Country One Formation Flight Team. Aside from being pilots, they have another thing in common: A shared respect and love for our U.S. Veterans. Every Saturday, they hit the skies to make sure their skills stay sharp so they can attend a Veteran funeral whenever one comes up.
“With such a retirement community, I guess there is a lot of need for something to honor these Vets, and we do our part,” said Randall.
WATCH: KRBC’s Monica Diaz-Meek interviews KTAB/KRBC’s Annabelle Tuggle on her exclusive with the Big Country One Formation Flight Team
What many may not know is that this group does it entirely out of their pocket. With maintenance and fuel accounted for, these pilots told KTAB/KRBC each flight could cost $200 to $300.
“They invest their own time, their own money, their own resources, and that includes aviation fuel, aircraft maintenance – just things people don’t think about. These guys do this all on their own just for the love of their country and for the love of Veterans,” Jeff Clement, Abilene’s chapter club president of the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA), included.
Potter added to the conversation about costs, “We’re paying $5.29-$5.99 per gallon for aviation fuel, and we burn about 10 gallons during a trip per airplane. Our smoke oil costs $12 a gallon, and we burn about a gallon of that per flight.”
These expenses have been coming up more often because this group of pilots noticed an increase in unaccompanied Veteran funerals to attend than they have ever seen before.
“[There are] no family members. Nobody to be there for their funeral, so at the request of Veterans Affairs, we’ve made flyovers for those veterans,” Eichler added.
As pricey as fuel and upkeep gets, Potter said it’s never about the money for him and his team.
“The cost is insignificant to us. We’re doing it not because it costs, but because we love the people that we’re doing it for,” assured Potter.
Each member of this team is also a member of the EAA, and they said they fly for Veterans because they feel like there is a need.
“Why does anyone do any act of service? It’s because they care… And we get to fly while we’re doing it, so that’s always fun,” Templeton encouraged.
Weather permitting, you can catch these pilots in the skies every Saturday. If you’re interested in joining the Big Country One Formation Flight Team, they said they could always use more fliers.