For most of Naperville, our view of the Millennium Carillon is on the ground, but recently I got a different perspective.
It’s an aerial view that’s not uncommon for pilot Mark Banovetz, but it can turn upside down from time to time when he’s practicing with the Lima Lima flight team.
“The first time I rode along with the team for a show I thought ‘that’s the last time I’m doing that again.’ It was very uncomfortable to be that close in the air if you’re not use to it. But eventually I got the bug and I started to train and fly with them,” explained Banovetz.
Known for their impressive flight maneuvers, the Lima Lima is the world’s only six-airplane civilian formation aerobatic team, and it started right here in Naperville at the Naper Aero Club.
“The story really starts in the mid 1970s,” said Banovetz. “A retired T-34 from the Civil Air Patrol was bought by some guys on the field here and they started a club called Mentor Flyers. Mentor Flyers was just a group of guys who owned a T-34. They painted it in Navy Pensacola colors, and from that airplane more interest was developed on the field and a couple other airplanes were purchased and before you know it guys were meeting up and flying in formation.”
By the late 1980s and early 90s, the team gained recognition and had flown in multiple air shows around the country. As some founding members retired, other pilots like Banovetz jumped in, but that doesn’t happen until every stunt is perfected.
“Now the question of when you’re ready to fly with the team? The answer to that is when the guys you fly with are convinced you’re not going to kill them. That’s pretty much the answer. People have to develop a comfort level that you’re going to be where you belong, that you’re going to be reliable and disciplined,” said Banovetz.
It’s that trust and camaraderie that make the Lima Lima something special for those involved. But what’s even more special is its place in Naperville for the past 30 years.
“I think the Lima Lima flight team is an important part of the heritage of Naperville,” added Banovetz. “Obviously the pilots are spread around now, the airplanes are spread around, it’s difficult for us to put together more than three or four airplanes for a show in the Midwest, but we still do get together and we make a point to always fly over Downtown Naperville if we have time coming back to or from a show and come do a smoke run over the field. And part of that is just kind of a salute to where Lima Lima got its start.”
And a fun fact about the flight team: the name comes from the airport identifier for Naper Aero, which is, Lima Lima-10.
Naperville News 17’s Christine Lena reports.
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