Petaluma Profile: precision flyer John Posson
When the jets roar across the San Francisco Bay for Fleet Week this Friday, Saturday and Sunday afternoons, be sure to wave to the jet-black Patriots Jet Team and especially to Petaluma’s Inner Left Wingman John Posson. Flying out of Contra Costa County’s Byron Airport, the all-volunteer “civilian aerobatic formation team” flies six Czech-built L39 “Albatros” jets, and performs their precision flying display just before the U.S. Navy’s Blue Angels appear.
“I’m in my 17th season with the Patriots Team,” Posson says, “and the shows just get better and better. Our choreography doesn’t allow for any empty time, so I think we do a more interesting show than the Blues. When my thumb flips a switch on my control stick, the plane releases a trail of blue smoke, so I’m easy to spot.”
The team has eight pilots — two of whom are ex-Blue Angels and two of whom are ex-Thunderbirds — and all of them fly jets in addition to holding down day jobs.
“The team also includes an additional 30 hard-working volunteers on the road,” says Posson, who adds that education is a critical part of the team’s mission, which is funded through the non-profit Patriots Jet Team Foundation. “I love working with the kids who show up at shows,” he says. “I’m there to provide instruction and motivation to young people going into aerospace, and know several teens from the East Bay who are now pilots because of our program. The message is simple - stay in school, and keep your nose clean. The shows offer people a peek behind the curtain, and many older ones tell me that they would be flying jet planes too - if life hadn’t got in the way.”
Planes, obviously, are a big part of Posson’s life.
“I was a sky-diving instructor in college, moved to Alaska as a bush pilot, started as a flight engineer in the third seat for Hawaiian Airlines, and worked my way up to Captain with United, Posson explains. Flying out of SFO, he bought his Petaluma home in ’92. “I try hard not to drive,” Posson adds. “I’m a mountain biker and a road biker and keep two planes at the Petaluma Airport to commute to Byron. The planes help me shrink the world a bit. Ever since the wildfires, the airport has been a bustling place. In addition to private aircraft, FEDEX planes and PG&E helicopters use it as an operation center. I understand there are over 50,000 take-offs and landing here each year. For me, it’s the place I call home.”
When Posson says he loves to fly, he means all kinds of flying. With over 100 hours in a hang glider, Posson has also done 2,600 parachute jumps, and works as an instructor pilot for P-51 Mustangs.
But best of all, Posson has learned, is doing aerobatics in a jet at 500 mph.
“With your attention completely focused on another plane’s wing tip only six feet away, it’s a rush that has a purity to it …a Zen-like aspect to it as well,” Posson says. “The biggest deal is when a guy who is flying with you walks up and says ‘Good job.’ That’s the payoff.”
(Gil Mansergh can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)