Blairsville is home to Don Speroni and his SNJ-6
Mr. Don Speroni, a resident of Union County since 2002, is in the process of restoring a North American SNJ-6 airplane. The SNJ-6 is a U.S. Navy version of the Air Force AT-6 Texan trainer. This type of plane was used to train most of the U.S., British, and Commonwealth military pilots from the late thirties until the late fifties. Speroni intends to restore the plane to the original Navy configuration.
The Naval Aviation Association Museum in Pensacola, Florida has been very helpful in recommending proper colors and markings for the aircraft. Don says, "The planes were painted bright yellow so that pilots could see each other while in training."
Don Speroni is a very interesting member of our community. He started taking flying lessons at a New York City seaplane base, and in 1950 at the age of 16, he soloed in a Luscombe seaplane. In 1959, he earned his private pilot's license. At this time, Speroni, along with four other men, chipped in and bought the SNJ-6. Over the years, Speroni bought out the other partners one at a time. Around this time, Speroni became involved with the Professional Race Pilots Association. As sole owner of the SNJ-6, he decided to overhaul the plane to make it race ready.
In the early 60's, there were several regional AT-6-SNJ races in the Eastern United States. Don attended these races and worked as part of the ground crew. He did everything including showing visiting aircraft where to park , serving as pylon judge, and even chief timer. Several mid-air collisions resulted in the deaths of Speroni's race pilot friends. These accidents caused him to reconsider air racing as a participant.
Speroni's plans for the SNJ-6 were now on the back burner, but his interest in WWII aviation came in handy when a request for help was published in the EAA War Bird publication from Grumman Aircraft. The company was restoring a Grumman F4F Wildcat for the Smithsonian Institute.
Speroni supplied a complete set of radios for the Grumman aircraft. This Grumman plane is now in the National Air and Space Museum in Washington , D.C. Speroni has assisted in many restorations. His work is displayed in various civilian and military museums here in the U.S. and in England .
Don says, "I had the privilege of being inside the 'Enola Gay' and a B-17C called 'Alexander the Swoose', used to help get MacArthur out of the Philippines ."
Speroni took his disassembled SNJ-6 along when he left New York and moved to Florida . In Miami , he became involved in the "Young Eagles" program. The program gives young people their first plane ride and a chance to actually take the controls.
Speroni has worked with 162 children. One of them, Ms. Jamie Day, is now a Delta co-pilot. Another of Don's Young Eagles is in the Air Force Academy.
Speroni moved the plane again in 2002 when he relocated to Blairsville. The SNJ-6 has a new home in his spacious backyard workshop. Speroni says that the SNJ-6 airplanes are very rare. It is a happy coincidence that there is another one located at the Blairsville Airport ! The restoration on Speroni's plane has been slow but carefully done. No specific time for the restoration's completion is planned.
Mr. Speroni is also involved in the Civil Air Patrol (Search Pilot), the Experimental Aircraft Association, War Birds of America , the Professional Race Pilots Association, the U.S. Air Racing Association, and the Society of Air Race Historians.