The skies of Grove were host to an uncommon sight Tuesday - communist block fighter planes flying in formation.
Seventy years ago it might have been a threat to national security, especially since Mayor Gary Bishop and City Manager Bruce Johnson were on board, however nowadays it is a fascinating slice of aviation history.
The Redstar Pilots were in town for the funeral of longtime Grove resident and pilot Warren James.
On Tuesday they gave rides to some of the members of the social pilots' club that James belonged to, the Quiet Birdmen, as well as city officials.
Redstar is an organization of pilots who own and fly communist block fighter planes.
“Basically it (the organization) includes anything with a red star,” explained formation lead pilot Bob Watts, or “Kilo” as he is known in Redstar circles. “We get together at formation clinics where we go out and train pilots in formation flying.”
Watts, who hails from Muskogee, is a retired Marine officer. He currently flies for United Airlines.
In the military he flew F-4s and has been flying his Nan Chang CJ-6 fighter plane, which originated in China, for about six years.
He explained that in order to be a member of Redstar, pilots must take a formal training course.
“They have to get a wing card or a lead card,” Watts said. “You have to have a year's worth of experience with the organization before you can be a lead pilot.”
Paul Batliner, or “Batman,” one of Watts' wingmen for the Grove flights, also has a military background. He has logged 5,000 hours flying C1-30s. Hailing from St. Joseph, MO, Batliner also has a Nan Chang. He currently flies for Federal Express.
Another Nan Chang pilot, Jeff Prichard, or “Fiddler,” of Wichita, has logged 2,200 hours as a civilian pilot. He purchased his Nan Chang CJ-6 four years ago.
“I really enjoy the great camaraderie with Redstar pilots,” Prichard said.
The Redstars, who fly mostly Nan Chang CJ-6s and Russian Yak 52s, attend national yearly aviation events such as the one at Oshkosh, Wisconsin, and Sun and Fun in Florida.
At times they have been known that have more than 40 fighters flying in formation.
All three pilots were happy to share their knowledge and their airplanes with members of the Quiet Birdmen.
Everyone present at the Grove Municipal Airport Tuesday agreed that Warren James had been a great part of their lives.
The Quiet Birdmen is an exclusive organization of pilots. In order to be admitted, a pilot must have completed a certain number of flight hours and crew time. Members meet once a month.