Shively native Lee Leet describes flying in Thunder Over Louisville

By SHANNON COGAN | WAVE 3 News

This year’s Thunder Over Louisville Air Show has more than 30 acts.

One crowd-pleaser will be put on by Louisville pilot Lee Leet.

Lee Leet
Shively native Lee Leet will be performing in his seventh Thunder Over Louisville on Saturday, piloting the Short Tucano aircraft high above the Ohio River.

Leet is one of the few pilots in the world doing carefully-choreographed maneuvers with a Short Tucano aircraft, which is a two-seat turbo prop.

“It’s like riding a roller coaster,” Leet, who grew up in Shively, said with a smile.

This is the seventh time Leet, a former Air Force pilot, will be entertaining the crowds at Thunder Over Louisville.

“Thunder is my first air show of the season,” he said. “It’s a hometown crowd, so I know a lot of the people. My wife and boys are watching, so it’s definitely special. Great way to kick off the air show season.”

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Leet offered to take me up for a ride in the Tucano. The plane will go about 300 knots, which is about 345 miles an hour. It’s the same plane used by the Royal Air Force Academy.

“Exact same plane everyone likes to note that Prince Harry and Prince William earned their RAF wings flying this plane,” Leet said.

First, Leet gave me a safety briefing and reviewed some of the maneuvers he will be doing in the air show. After strapping me in (lots of straps and fireproof gloves), we took off from Bowman Field.

It didn’t take long for me to appreciate Leet’s skills. Immediately following the first 180-degree turn, on a very windy day, I realized I hadn’t trained my body like Leet’s to be able to complete any maneuvers. After a short trip to the air show box over the Ohio River, we returned to Bowman Field.

Leet said Thunder Over Louisville is the hardest air show he will take part in all year. That’s because there are crowds filling both sides of the Ohio River, and he has to maintain a 1,500-foot distance from both sides.

In his 12-minute show, Leet will effortlessly do loops, rolls, and spins, all maneuvers you don’t often see a Tucano complete.

What is he thinking about when he’s in the air? Especially in front of so many friends and family members?

“Just thinking about what I’m doing and what to do if something goes wrong,” Leet said.

One year, just as he was about to take off for his scheduled time in Thunder Over Louisville, Leet had a fuel control problem and had to call the air boss on the radio and tell him he wasn’t going to be able to fly Thunder that day.

For Leet, flying the Tucano in air shows is a hobby. He said it’s something he enjoys doing on weekends. He doesn’t consider himself a “professional performer.”

When Leet finishes with his performance in the air show, he said the first thing he does is sit down for a big meal.

“I’m usually starving,” he laughed.

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