Local pilots set to leave on ‘Wings Around America’ trip

John Billings

WOODSTOCK – From Edmund Pettus Bridge in Alabama to the Golden Gate Bridge in California, the cross-country venture — dubbed “Wings Around America” — of pilots John Billings and Nevin Showman will create a photo and video record in honor of charitable piloting.

Billings, a decorated World War II veteran, has been a volunteer pilot for Angel Flight Mid-Atlantic for 10 years and has flown more than 300 missions for patients in need of treatment from far away.

He and his co-pilot Showman will take off from the duo’s home base in Luray Caverns Airport at 9 a.m. Sunday en route to Copperhill in Tennessee to take aerial photos of the mining sites there. They plan to make a total of 26 stops around the perimeter of the country; from Louisiana to Oregon all the way up to Mackinac County in Michigan.

The weather will govern their day-to-day schedule since they’ll only fly on clear days that are prime for shooting pictures and video. Three HD cameras will be stationed on different areas of Billings’ Cessna Cutlass RG-II, recording external and internal footage as they fly. In addition, they’re bringing aboard four cameras to get photos.

With perfect conditions every day, the trip would take them 13 days at two stops per day. They’re prepared for a longer journey and Billings is keeping an eye on wildfires in Washington state that could mean poor conditions and restricted airspace.

They’ll rely on Garmin equipment for their route and weather information in a single package, but Billings himself had to plot courses that wouldn’t cut into restricted airspace.

“I have to go literally foot by foot over our route to make sure that we’re not going to penetrate one of those restricted areas,” he said.

Their trip skips over the Grand Canyon because current air restrictions limit private pilots to fly above 11,000 feet, which they decided was not worth the photos they’d get. While testing a B-24 in the service, Billings was able to fly at rim level through the Canyon.

They’ll be making four personal stops to visit Billings’ friends and family in different parts of the country. Stopping in Victorville, California, will be especially meaningful for Billings: it’s where he last landed the B-24 bomber he flew in World War II, dropping it off for storage in 1945.

But for him, there’s no one stop in particular that excites him most — it’s the entire bucket list journey.

“The destination I’m looking most forward is going to be the next one,” he said.

Showman will process and post photos from the trip on their own website every night they settle in. He said the greater mission in the cross-country trip is to raise awareness and support for volunteer pilot programs like Angel Flight.

“It’s fun to fly, period, but if you’ve got a purpose for flying it really makes it nice,” he said. “And this was such an opportunity to help bring attention to something such as charitable flying.”

So far, the duo has gained support from a handful of individual and corporate sponsors, as well as breaks on gas and rentals. Showman said that all the airports he’s contacted about landing so far have waived their landing fees.

Billings and Showman have stocked the plane with 30 Annin American flags that will travel with them and end up with donators of $250 or more. Anyone can sign up to become a “virtual passenger” and get updates about the trip, and both pilots hope to release a hardcover photo journal and blu-ray video compilation after the trip ends.

Billings will celebrate his 92nd birthday at some point on the “Wings Around America” trip on Aug. 9. Besides the publicity and furthering support for charitable flying, it’s a personal journey that he’s wanted to take for a long time.

“Don’t ever give up on those bucket lists, because actually…I just gave up on doing it,” he said.

Learn more about their trip and get updates at http://wingsaroundamerica.com/.

Contact staff writer Rachel Mahoney at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or rmahoney@nvdaily.com