A small crowd gathered Wednesday at Mc Elroy Airfield in Kremmling, drawn to the small public airport by the whirring of propellers and the sight of aircraft in the sky.
Taking to the sky were two aviators, Gary Rower of Breckenridge and Buck Roetman of Atlanta. The longtime friends arrived in Kremmling early Wednesday to sneak in a few hours of flight practice before Sunday’s celebration of Dillon Reservoir’s 50th anniversary.
Rower and Roetman were contracted by the town of Dillon to perform flybys over Lake Dillon during Sunday’s event.
“Summit County is great place to do a show,” Rower said. “The shoreline between the amphitheater and the marina provides a magnificent venue and a great backdrop.”
Rower and Roetman have been performing together for years, but come from two very different aviation backgrounds.
Rower, originally from downstate New York, began flying a Piper Cub over an apple orchard almost 40 years ago. Now an international airbus captain for Delta Airlines, logging more than 21,000 hours in the air, Rower’s love of flying first landed him in the air force where he learned to pilot an F-16. At the time he was one of less than 100 aviators worldwide trained to fly the jet.
Although he didn’t attend the U.S. Navy’s Top Gun weapons school, he earned a Top Gun award while serving in the military.
Roetman on the other hand is a civilian-trained pilot. He began flying in 1976, has logged more than 15,000 hours in the air and has flown 120 different types of aircraft, including six he built himself.
Although the two aviators come from different backgrounds, they share one thing in common, a love of power and speed.
On Sunday, Rower will pilot a 1942 Stearman, which served as a popular training plane for U.S. Army and U.S. Navy pilots during WWII. Roetman will fly a 1982 Pitts. Both planes are highly modified with 400-plus horsepower engines, more than double the power of the originally stock engines.
“That’s (the modified engines) what allows us to what we do in the high country,” Rower said. “Flying up here it’s a necessity, but flying at sea it satisfies our needs as speed junkies.”
Rower and Roetman will be joined by at least two other pilots on Sunday, one flying a North American T-28 and another flying a Russian-built Yak-52. They hope a third pilot, flying a Hawker Sea Fury, will be able to join them for the show.
A Hawker Sea Fury is a “screamin’ fast” fighter popular during the Korean War that is capable of reaching speeds in excess of 400 miles per hour, Roetman said.
“Historically, if a plane looks good, it typically flies good,” Roetman said. “The Sea Fury is one sexy piece of machinery.”
Although Rower and Roetman jump at any opportunity to fly, Sunday’s show will serve the dual purpose of previewing what’s to come for the 2014 Highest Show on Earth, scheduled for June 7 over Dillon Reservoir during National Marina Day.
“We’re just trying to get people excited for National Marina Day and the 2014 Show,” Rower said. “It’s the highest marina in North America so it’s only fitting to do a wings and water show.”
Though still about a year away, Rower said the Highest Show on Earth will feature flybys, aerobatics, water demonstrations and hopefully products show attendees will be able to demo. Rower and Roetman also are working with Denver Water on permitting to stage a race between an airplane and a boat.
Dillon Reservoir was completed in 1963 and is Denver Water’s largest reservoir. With 3,300 acres of surface and 27 miles of shoreline, it also is an important recreational amenity, with two marinas and countless activities for residents and visitors.