Moments before 15,000 runners and walkers begin the climb up Brady Street hill Saturday morning, a squadron of four vintage aircraft will appear and descend over the crest of the hill as a tribute to the 40th anniversary of the Quad-City Times Bix 7 and to honor military men and women.
It will mark the second time a group of area pilots has provided a stunning salute to the Davenport race. Last year, thousands of runners huddled at the Bix 7 starting line were surprised by the unannounced fly-over.
The fly-over will be conducted by a squadron of T-6 Texan aircraft flown by David Mills of Moline; John Ockenfels, Swisher, Iowa; Jim Rohlf, Bennett, Iowa; and Paul Wood of Lake Forest, Ill., who will be the flight lead.
"The goal will be to be there right when the national anthem is finished," Mills said. "Depending on who is singing it, it is 1 minute, 39 seconds long.
"It all has been planned out to the very second," he said, adding that "safety is paramount."
As has been Bix 7 tradition for more than 20 years, former Quad-City radio broadcaster Jack Carey will perform "God Bless the U.S.A." and then the national anthem ahead of the race start.
With this year's Bix 7 serving as a tribute to the military, Mills said the T-6 "is a fitting plane to use because it was known as 'the pilot maker.'"
"All branches of the military trained at that time with the T-6," he said. "All the World War II pilots — and that is the Greatest Generation — trained in this airplane. They used it even into the Korean War."
Production of the T-6 began in the late 1930s, and some remained in use as advanced trainers until the 1970s, he said. The plane also is known as The Texan, SNJ or Harvard depending on the military branch using it.
"They built about 15,000 of them and 400 continue to fly today," he said, adding the remaining aircraft are all civilian-owned. "For 30 years, they were a big centerpiece in our military aviation."
He described the pilots as "four guys who occasionally get together to fly." The group has done flyovers at funerals and as tributes to aviators or military personnel, but they do not perform in airshows, he said.
The flyover is result of efforts by longtime Bix 7 volunteer Jerry Dykes. Retired from the Rock Island Arsenal and a retired U.S. Army master sergeant, he has been working about nine years to increase the military presence at the Bix 7.
"In 2006 ... I told Ed (Froehlich, race director) you ought to put a color guard in your presentation."
That year, Dykes arranged for the Davenport North High School Marine Corps ROTC to participate ... "and now we're at five color guards." Dykes said this year also will include representation by Honor Flight of the Quad-Cities and the Patriot Guard, who lead the runners up the hill.
In 2007, he arranged for a Chinook helicopter to fly over, but with budget cuts and the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, "it's very hard to get federal planes to fly over a private event." That was when Dykes reached out to Mills.
"I knew Dave was a pilot and I took a shot ... he didn't hesitate one bit," Dykes said.
Having a fly-over also was a longtime dream of Froehlich, who had seen them at other events. He credited Dykes' persistence with making it happen.
"Last year, we had three planes, and it was real dramatic," he said.
During last year's fly-over and again this year, Dykes, the Bix 7 fly-over committee chairman, also serves as ground control for the pilots — alerting them of the timing of all the activities happening at the start.
"I tell them when it is the start of the announcements, the start of the song ('God Bless the U.S.A.'), and the start of the anthem ... " The timing of each, he said, "is a feat in itself."
Dykes said Mills handles all the flight plans, including coordination with the area airport towers and an exit strategy.
"They have to have a plan in case something goes wrong," he said.
He said last year's flyover made the "crowd go crazy."
"It was well worth every bit of it," Dykes said. "People were telling me it sent chills up their spine."