The big day finally has arrived: Art Nalls’ team has traveled to central Florida for the Sun 'n Fun International Fly-In, the season opener for major air shows.
His team quickly gets a reminder of what “major” means. When Art lands his Royal Navy Sea Harrier, there is a mixup with air traffic control, and Art is directed to park the plane in a remote corner of the airfield, away from his ground team, which temporarily loses sight of him.
It’s even worse for the team’s other pilot, Jenna Dolan, who is flying a Czech L-39. She is told there is no more room at the airfield for L-39s and is turned away. Instead, she’s forced to land at an airfield 100 miles away.
After the Harrier is towed back to them, Art’s wife and co-owner of the plane, Pat, has to keep “superfans” from getting too close until the plane is roped off.
“People have a habit of sticking things inside the nozzles,” she explains. “Yeah, they’ve stuck gum [in the nozzles], they’ve stuck Coke cans, they’ve changed babies’ diapers on the wing.”
After an FAA inspection, Art gets his turn to perform. He even pulls off a stunt that he says even the most experienced Harrier pilots “would never attempt.”
“What are the other 65-year-old people doing?” Art asks.
Still, he has plans for the Harrier’s future, one he expects will last far beyond the time when he no longer can fly the jet.