Red, white and blue will be this hippest colors on the beach for Independence Day as the fifth annual “Salute from the Shore” graces the S.C. coast.
This parade of vintage aircraft will start at about 1 p.m. from Little River and caravan south all the way to Hilton Head Island.
Every July 4 since 2010, a group of aviators have flown a fleet of planes for the hour-or-so cruise along the coast to elicit the cheer and spirit of the U.S. holiday. Everyone beachbound is encouraged to dress and decorate in, and wave, the colors of Old Glory as videographers shoot footage from the parade of aircraft for posting on the website salutefromtheshore.org.
Barry Avent, the lead pilot and flight coordinator since 2012, talked last week about the festive nature of what has become a Grand Strand and S.C. tradition for celebrating the United States’ birthday, its 238th this year. Bringing along former service personnel for rides adds another perk to piloting one of the aircraft.
The vice president of operations for Pepsi-Cola Bottling Co. of Bennettsville and a former commercial and freight airline and S.C. state pilot, Avent said this marks his third Salute from the Shore flight.
Question | How’d your affiliation with Salute from the Shore take off?
Answer | I have a collection of World War II aircraft, and I have been involved with a lot of other fliers who have World War II aircraft. When the request came to be able to fly veterans along the beach for Salute from the Shore ... I used an old C-47, which in American terms, is a DC-3, and it’s in a military configuration. ... It’s painted in D-Day colors, like it would have looked if flown in Normandy on D-Day. It was actually in England when D-Day occurred. ...
It now has only eight seats in back. It looks like it was in 1943 when it was built. ... I’ve tried to leave it as close to the original as possible. ...
A friend of mine in Columbia emailed me about flying veterans on the Fourth of July and he asked, “Would you be interested in using your C-47?” ... We were one of three or four airplanes in my first year. ... We’ll have a better pace this year than we’ve had in the past, because we’re going to schedule flights to come through at a pace so that everybody can stay not too far from one another.
Q. | How many years have you spent in cockpits?
A. | I got my license in 1982.
Q. | What was the appeal, that magnetism, of taking off on wings?
A. | It’s been an addiction my whole life, and I have a very, very patient wife, and children, who have allowed be to able to pursue this. ... I used to work for Eastern Airlines, and I worked for Northwest Airlines’ system. ... Then an opportunity came to come back to South Carolina ... and for 20 years, it’s afforded me the ability to have a fun hobby of ... aviation and history, and I like the old airplanes.
Q. | Every year, does something different stand out in memories from Salute from the Shore? Maybe a certain place or hook on the coastline?
A. | I love Cape Romain; it’s one of the neatest places on the coast of South Carolina, among many interesting places. Until you’ve flown the coast of South Carolina and seen it, you don’t realize that about half is not populated, but the other half is developed and very populated. ...
From Cherry Grove to Hilton Head Island, last year, we were amazed last year at the number of people who were on the beach with American flags. It was an honor, and it is an honor to be part of this, and we have have men and women who have served our country and are serving our country flying with us. It’s just something to relish for the rest of my life. ...
Also, everyone flying with us has an opportunity to see what the view is from the front of the airplane.
Q. | What is unique about South Carolina’s chunk along the Atlantic Ocean?
A. | We have a beautiful coastline. It doesn’t get the publicity it needs. One of the last things I got to do when I was flying planes for the state of South Carolina was that we flew the whole coast.
Q. | Just how fast does time fly by on each Salute from the Shore trip, and how tough is it to cruise slowly and steadily, covering the Palmetto State coastline?
A. | We can’t do it in an hour in the big airplanes like the faster airplanes. We’re only going 120-140 knots, so it’s about an hour and 20 minutes in my estimation, for the coastline of South Carolina is 184 nautical miles in this route we will fly. ... The coastline is actually longer, but we’ll cut Bulls Bay and Cape Romain out of it, and go by McClellanville and stay just on the inside of the wildlife preserve. ... We’ll leave from DeBordieu Colony and go east of the Georgetown County Airport, and we’ll stay west of McClellanville. We’ll stay on the other side of U.S. 17 because of the wildlife area and cut back just before the big radio towers toward Mount Pleasant. We’ll stay inland and cut back out. ...
It’s really about 195 nautical miles if you’re along the coast for the whole thing. ... It’s a pretty jagged coast. You actually start out from east to west on the north end, and by the time you get to the south end, you’re tracking pretty steadily southwest. It is not a north-south coast, it runs more east-west, or northeast to southwest.
Q. | You just returned from a family trip in Germany, flying round trip, but as a passenger. How then does getting back behind the control of your own plane feel as a refresher?
A. | It’s a much more enjoyable ride. I went out yesterday [June 23] and got on the airplane just to get my cobwebs out and get my brain back on track. Especially with an old airplane and on old engine, you have to stay on top of it all with what going’s on, and stay ahead of the game.
Q. | Is there anything else you want to tell readers?
A. | This is not about me. There are several pilots and a lot of people who are giving their time and efforts on the Fourth of July.
Q. | What is the scheduled fleet and crew of pilots confirmed, with any more who take part a bonus?
A. | We have a C-47, what I fly, with Frank Shutt; a C-45 flown by Hal Ewing; an SNJ-6 with Jim Zazas; a T-28 with Wendell Hall; a Jet Provost with Rick Mantei; a P-51 Mustang with Dr. Alex Newsom; an FG-1D Corsair with Eliot Cross; a Globe Swift with Charlie Sidesticker; another Globe Swift with Bo Mabry; a Legacy with Stan Ashley; and an SNJ-4 with Bobby Jonte.