Look up in the sky. It’s a bird. It’s superman. No, it’s the Bandit Flight Team whooshing overhead.
The Bandit Flight Team is a pregame flyover team that uses precise timing to fly over a stadium just as the national anthem ends.
“The flight team got formed really during a period where the military got no funding, and they were not doing any flyovers, so there were some guys up at Sanford airport who were flying formation, and they got a call to fly by an N.C. State game,” said Bob “Spock” Ingle.
“That’s really how the Bandit Flight team started, but the team really started coalescing after 2015.”
The Bandit Flight Team consists of Ingle, Jamison “Flash” Baysden, Sam Huffstetler, Jim “Killer” Kilpatrick, Andy “Nasty” Stanaski, Greg “Hawk” Vouga, Hal Bowman, Cecil Boyd and Vince “Trunk” Tryer.
Ingle and Baysden are Wayne County residents, while the rest of the team lives across eastern North Carolina and Virginia.
Every Bandit Flight Team pilot has an Federal Aviation Administration commercial pilot’s license, special formation training and an FAA Certified Formation Card.
“Not every pilot has a military background, but all of us share the love for the flag of the United States, and that really is what keeps everybody together,” Baysden said. “The national anthem is really precious, and with a military background, it’s hard not hold a certain endearment for the national anthem and for the flag.
“Any time we get a chance to fly for the flag, it’s an honor.”
The team also features a groundcrew or “groundhogs” composed of Stephen Graham, Wanda Jackson, David Schlabch, Tom Stevens and Ingle’s daughter, Abigail.
“I kind of had an interest in the team in 2016, but I’ve officially been a part of the team since 2018. I started out as a ground coordinator, and I transitioned over in 2020 to one of the social media coordinators,” Abigail Ingle said.
Even though she was born to fly, Ingle, who hopes to become a pilot for FedEx, initially saw herself on the ground.
However, becoming a part of the Bandit Flight Team has opened her up to the freedom of flying and made her an inspiration to children who also dream of flying.
“I didn’t want to fly at all. I wanted to be a veterinarian. I was a horse trainer and did that for a while,” Ingle said. “I’m one of only two girls on the team, Miss Wanda is the other female coordinator, but we’re the only girls, and it’s really cool to have little children, little girls especially, come up and say ‘I really want to be a pilot like you.’ ”
As a ground coordinator, Ingle said her job is to ensure the flyover goes off without a hitch.
“We’re the ones coordinating the timing to make sure everyone stays on track and on time, but we also relay that message up if they need more time or something,” Ingle said. “It’s very complicated but also easy once you get into it.”
Flyovers last a little more than a few seconds, but for the pilots and groundhogs who make it happen, those few seconds are the culmination of months of teamwork and preparation.
“Nothing can happen in the air without the support of the groundhogs,” Baysden said. “Everybody shares a love for aviation, and when you find your passion in life, you go toward your passion.”
Since 2012, the Bandit Flight Team has performed flyovers at N.C. State University, Duke University, Wake Forest University, Clemson University, a Carolina Panthers football game, NASCAR races across the state, the Raleigh Christmas Parade, Rally for the Cure and Wreaths Across America.
“We try to stay in North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, but if you’re willing to pay for the fuel to get us there, we will go further, especially if it’s for a veteran,” Ingle said. “I graduated from N.C. State, so the cool thing is if you told me in 1987 that you’d be flying my airplane over your alma mater, I would have said you’re lying.”
Every flyover is unique, but Ingle said the flyover at Carter-Finley Stadium in Raleigh for the National Hockey League’s Stadium Series on Feb. 18 was something the bandits will never forget.
“The NHL game was very cool,” Ingle said. “It was at night with pyrotechnics, and they shot off fireworks and everything, and they got this huge flag down there on the ice, and the flag was the size of the rink.”
Most members of the Bandit Flight Team served in the military. Ingles is a retired lieutenant colonel, while Baysden reached the rank of major before retiring. Bowman is a retired lieutenant colonel, and Stanaski served as a fighter pilot flying the F-15E Strike Eagle.
Kilpatrick flew 257 missions in the F-100 Super Saber in the Vietnam War, has two Distinguished Flying Cross medals, 13 Air Medals, and the Vietnam Gallantry Cross, while Huffstetler flew combat missions over Iraq and Bosnia before retiring from the U.S. Air Force in 2001.
Baysden said all Bandit Flight Team pilots are skilled at flying within feet of each other and making precise calculations about the maneuvers they’ll use for flyovers.
But it still takes an abundance of teamwork and practice to pull off any flyover.
“Success is rarely built on a solo operation, so our operation really runs smooth when we have two components of it, which is the aircrew and groundhogs. Regardless of what’s going on in the air, the groundhogs keep us straight,” Baysden said.
The Bandit Flight team travels to around 55 events a year. The pilots live across North Carolina and practice at the Wayne County Executive Jetport in Pikeville.
For events, the Bandits fly out of the Raleigh Executive Airport, and they pride themselves on being reliable and consistent, Ingle said.
“Believe it or not, that puts us as the most active formation-civilian team in America,” Ingle said.
A flyover consists of four to six RV-8As or Russian Yak-52s in a delta formation, and every pilot with the Bandit Flight Team owns and maintains their airplane.
The RV-8As fly up to 220 miles per hour, while a Yak-52 can reach a top speed of 177 miles per hour, and a delta formation is a flight pattern where multiple flying objects will come together in a V to fly more efficiently.
“The RV-8A is a kit aircraft that you order from Vans, and then it comes with directions, and you can actually build it or purchase a complete aircraft from somebody else who built it,” Ingle said.
Despite the spectacle accompanying a Bandit Flight Team flyover, the team’s primary goal is not to entertain but to live up to their motto, “flying for the flag.”
“We’re a bunch of old veterans, most of us, and we’re a very patriotic group, so we realized early on that we’re doing this for the flag and to show our patriotism,” Ingle said.
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