Former Eastern pilot plans to use Jurassic Jet for airshows

 - March 28, 2007, 7:32 AM

Some four billion passengers flew in the Boeing 727 fleet before most were retired from passenger service or converted to freight haulers. But John Shearer figures that with the right livery and message he’ll seat 30 more. Shearer is approaching sponsors with a plan to take a 727-200 freighter, a type that is going cheap given obsolescence and excess capacity, and add red and blue pyrotechnics to the wings, feed live video to jumbo screens via his cockpit and wing cameras and splash a corporate logo across 153 feet of old iron.

Shearer is a former chief pilot and manager of line standards and safety for Eastern Airlines, with 20,000 hours in the Boeing trijet. After an MBA and senior roles in marketing, he is now president of Blue Side Up Productions of Chapel Hill, N.C., in addition to roles as an actor, band leader and recording artist–he’ll play the blues at airshows, if requested.

197,000-pound Business Suite

Shearer plans to return crowds to the days of three-engine airliners with a demonstration of near-aerobatic pitch-outs and climbs, high-speed passes and a short-field landing ending in a backup to show center before the freighter returns to ground work.

That work, enabled by special ground power units and a sponsor-appointed, 94-foot interior, begins with 30 first-class seats that can hold customers or media for local air tours, and while parked operate as a self-contained chalet with reception, exhibit gallery and a full galley with dining areas. At up to 40 domestic airshows, expanding
to overseas events, the “727 Main Stage” would serve as a 197,000-pound business suite equipped for product sampling, on-site demonstrations and high-tech meetings with video and electronic support.

The trade group International Council of Air Shows (ICAS) estimates that the U.S. airshow audience lags only motorsports and football as the nation’s most attended spectator event, though unlike the others airshow performers attract only about a dozen national-level sponsors. Most are local firms.

“We’ve priced the whole thing and it’s not cheap, but we envision putting about 300 hours this year on the airplane, including the ferry trips, and two to three hours of media rides.” Shearer ran the plan through the sponsorship standards firm IEG, which required three months of scrutiny and $50,000 of compliance costs to earn the IEG certificate of valuation.

“We need to provide a property in a multi-tiered sort of way,” said Shearer. “We’d arrive on a Wednesday for a weekend show, and put the 727 at the disposal of the airshow producer for air tours. We could do a recorded show with newspapers or weathermen to do a publicity buzz for the show on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, and then it goes into static display mode on Saturday. It would become a focal point because of its size and the external paint job.”

Shearer offered a hypothetical example of Sony as a title sponsor, with cosponsors Best Buy and Visa, and their respective logos on the tail, fuselage and three engines. “You’d promote this as the Sony 727 Main Stage.” He also has room for an historical, cultural or cause-related exhibit.

“During the actual performance time, you get about 15 minutes uninterrupted in the aerobatic box. We’d generate more smoke than anyone ever dreamed. We would not exceed 60 degrees, though in fact you could roll the airplane, but we don’t want to get into that with the FAA. (Maybe the following year we could. We want to tread conservatively.) It would certainly be a very exciting pass with all the slats and flaps hanging out.” Shearer added that as a check airman supervisor, “I have done just about everything you could do in a 727.”