Screamin’ across the sky
The first time he sat behind the yoke of an airplane, Jeff Boerboon felt as if he had spent his life in the sky.
Since that maiden flight, Boerboon, 45, has developed a mastery of other aircraft, from commercial Boeings to various trick planes he has steered through the airshow circuit. But he said nothing is quite like what he’ll be flying this weekend at the 2014 Duluth Air and Aviation Expo.“The Screamin’ Sasquatch,” Boerboon announced. “It’s one-of-a-kind. There’s no instruction manual.”Cloaked in red and black paint, the grimacing face of Sasquatch emblazoned across the tail, the airplane can pull off stunts that no other aircraft can, Boerboon said. It could probably intimidate the other planes, too.“Everything from the colors to the chrome … the whole thing just turned out perfect,” Boerboon said.Built by John Klatt Airshows and sponsored by Jack Link’s Beef Jerky — the Minong-based brand that recently has become synonymous with the mythical beast thanks to an ad campaign — the Sasquatch can handle most of the usual tricks, but Boerboon said it can do one better.“I can pull up to a hover, stand there with the airplane pointed straight up, and then push the rest of the power on and climb straight up,” Boerboon said. That’s what spectators will see at the Duluth airshow this weekend.“It’s completely wild,” he said.The plane itself — modeled after a 1929 Taperwing Waco and “beefed up” with a jet engine — is less than a year old. This summer has been its first on the airshow circuit, having made stops in New York, Seattle and Detroit.John Klatt, an aerobatic pilot and the mastermind behind the Sasquatch, unveiled the plane at an airshow convention December.“From just a pile of metal and wood, to a flying airplane in 12 months,” Boerboon said. “There were some skeptics out there. There’s a reason there’s only one of them. It’s not easy.”The Sasquatch, nearly 4,000 pounds when loaded and able to reach a top speed of 250 mph while climbing, is more than a little different from the airplanes Boerboon usually flies. He pilots Boeings for a commercial airline and sends lightweight aerobatic planes darting above crowds at airshows. “They’re so different,” Boerboon said of the roughly 120 different airplanes he has flown. “It’s not as if you get them confused.”The only plane that has ever looked and acted like the Sasquatch, Klatt said, was a Waco UPF-7 flown by Jimmy Franklin, an aerobatic pilot and a prominent figure among airshow enthusiasts. Franklin and a second pilot were killed during an airshow in Canada in 2005, after their two planes collided mid-air.“I think there’s been a big void in the industry, missing him and his airplane,” Klatt said. “For us, it was kind of an honor to step up and try to fill this void, even though you can’t fill a void like that.”Klatt started work on the plane in January 2013, though he said a potential partnership with Jack Link’s wasn’t part of the plan until the building process was well underway. He reached out to the company, which was open to the idea.“It’s kind of a perfect fit,” Klatt said. “I don’t think they would have been interested in just any old airplane.”And there are few better pilots to fly the plane than Boerboon, Klatt said.“I always get tempted to jump in the airplane and fly it, like this weekend,” Klatt said. “But he’s doing such a good job with the airplane. I don’t want to steal his thunder.”One reason Boerboon said he feels comfortable in the Sasquatch is his involvement in the plane’s construction. He was a frequent observer during the building process and spent weeks testing the plane once it was ready for the air.“He’s really embedded in the DNA of this airplane,” Klatt said.Boerboon called the Sasquatch his favorite plane to fly at airshows.“This is by far the most interesting and demanding airplane that I have ever flown,” Boerboon said. “For me, I’m the luckiest guy here. I get to fly this one-of-a-kind, amazing airplane.“You’re there to entertain. It’s easy to do in an airplane like this.” Flying remains as exhilarating today as it was when he was a wide-eyed college student, Boerboon said. While in the air, one word comes to mind: “Freedom,” he said.“There are no stop signs in the sky.”