The Liberty Gazette
June 17, 2014Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely
Mike: If you were in Liberty June 7, the Saturday after the D-Day anniversary, it’s unlikely you missed hearing and seeing James Bohannon flying his AT-6 "Texan", smoke streaming as he made passes overhead of the D-Day celebrations. Events that honor veterans and involve flying appeal to James, who comes from a family of aviators. His father was a mechanic in the Air Force and worked on AT-6s and B-29s at Randolph Air Force base in San Antonio, so the airplane he brought to Liberty has special meaning for him.
North American Aviation built the AT-6, an advanced trainer for pilots in the U.S. Army Air Force, the U.S. Navy, and the British Royal Air Force. The Navy called theirs the SNJ, and the Royal Air Force named theirs the Harvard; same airframe, just different configurations. The 450-horse single engine airplane’s military training life spanned from WWII into the 1970’s and then became a popular element in air shows and aerial demonstrations, including formation flights for commemorative events. AT-6 aircraft began racing at the National Air Races after WWII, and still race at the Reno Air Races today. Depending on who you ask, there were between 15,495 and 20,110 T-6s/SNJs/Harvards built between 1938 and 1954.
Bohannon’s North American AT-6 G model was built in 1944. His particular airplane never left home turf and later joined civilian life becoming an agricultural spray plane in northern Arkansas. James has several old pictures of his beloved trainer in civil duty, and of course, he knows its history.
After a rough life as an ag plane, it was rebuilt by its then-owner, a Delta Airlines pilot named Jim. The story goes that Jim met a former Air Force pilot in Arkansas who flew T-6s in the Mosquito squadron in Korea. He had pictures so Jim-the-Delta-pilot repainted then-his T-6 in the same paint scheme and performed with it in air shows. The flying Bohannon family bought it three years ago and stables it, along with the rest of their fleet at the Skydive Houston airport in Waller.
Linda: James Bohannon grew up in Tomball with high hopes of joining the military as a pilot. But by the time he graduated from Sam Houston State University, pilots weren’t needed so he went on to find work in the oil patch. After a few years as an engineer with TRW, he began his own oilfield services company. Now he keeps his son, daughters and a nephew busy as business partners in 5JAB Inc., an oil and gas services and engineering consulting company, and Corsair Well Service & Construction, named after his favorite airplane, the Vought F-4U Corsair.
As James flew toward the parade in Liberty he spotted a spray plane and they flew in formation for a while. The ag plane pilot wouldn’t have crossed town with a load of chemicals so he broke off to tend to his business over the fields, and James headed on toward the festivities. Being mindful of the fact that airplane noise can spook horses, James was careful to stay high enough not to startle those that were part of the parade. He’s flown many fly-overs, and loves to do it to honor vets; a tip of the hat to James for taking time out to enhance Liberty’s celebration.