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WATERLOO | Pilots Bryan Regan and Steve Gustafson are looking forward to their return to Thunder in the Valley air show Aug. 23-24.

Part of the reason is the people they encountered during the event's inaugural run in 2011.

"The community welcomed us pretty readily. It was nice," Regan says.

Plus the airspace the Aeroshell Aerobatic Team shreds over Black Hawk County is wide open compared to other venues.

"It's really easy to fly there. There's a lot of room," he says.

Tighter quarters mean less freedom to operate, according to Gustafson.

"What you have to do is you have to modify your show. You can't do all your maneuvers," he says.

Beyond those considerations, though, Waterloo's air show falls on the weekend after Gustafson, Regan and the team perform in Chicago. Aerial acts actually stage in Gary, Ind., making a quick, short flight to the big city to entertain. But their obligation includes events in Chicago, which means toll booths, traffic jams and a general hustle.

"It's a hectic weekend. It will be kind of nice to get out in the country again," Regan says.

Gustafson and Regan represent half of the four-airship Aeroshell Aerobatic Team. The pair stepped in three years ago after a fatal accident claimed the life of pilot Bryan Jensen, a performer scheduled to appear at Thunder in the Valley. Jensen died in August 2011 during the annual Kansas City Aviation Expo when his biplane went into a downward spiral and crashed.

"Everyone seemed to like us, so they asked us back and if they could get all four," Gustafson says.

 The other Aeroshell pilots coming to Waterloo will likely be Mark Henley and Gene McNeely.

With the four North American AT-G Texans and plenty of elbow room over Waterloo, Aeroshell can pull out all the stops. The 70-year-old aircraft, built as trainers for the U.S. Army Air Corps during World War II, will top 220 mph during dives.

Aeroshell's routine next month will resemble what folks might remember from 2011 only with twice the punch.

"With a four-ship team, of course, it looks a lot different. There's a lot more going on and it's louder -- a lot more noise," Regan says. "

"We keep a lot more going on at one time with four airplanes. There's always something happening in front of the crowd," he adds.

Down bomb bursts, cross vertical bomb bursts, diamond loops and formation barrel rolls will be part of the show, according to Gustafson.

"We do the same thing as the Blue Angels and Thunderbirds, except we do it in propeller-driven airplanes," he says.

Pilot Alan Henley founded the team, and his twin brother, Mark, is now in the lead plane. Alan Henley still guides the Aeroshell organization but can no longer fly. He was paralyzed when a chin-up bar gave way while playing with his children.

Which is why Regan, a 16-year veteran with the former Red Baron Squadron, joined Aeroshell in 2008.

"At first I was just helping out. It was not meant to be a permanent type of thing," Regan says.

Regan flies right wing these days, but early on was the lead pilot.

"All I had to do was stay in the aerobatic box and let the other guys do what they do," he says.

Gustafson soloed at 16 and began doing air shows at 19. He has more than 24,000 hours of flight time. He takes on one of the more challenging positions with Aeroshell, left wing.

"During the formations, most of the rolls and turns are coming toward me. I'm in formation, but they're rolling toward me," he says.

However, Gustafson, the only original member of Aeroshell still flying with the team, notes each of the four positions offers unique twists.

"Only a handful of pilots in the U.S. can even come close to doing what we do," he says. "The reason I can say that is I've trained them."

Flying with the Red Baron Squadron was a full-time job for Regan, but he says participating in aerobatic artistry goes beyond financial considerations. Most pilots have other jobs to supplement their income from air shows.

"It's just the thing that I do best and the most rewarding thing for me," he says.

"It is basically just doing what we love to do."

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Regional Editor for the Courier

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