Jim Ryan spent his childhood staring into the sky with admiration.
He wanted to be pilot, but like the planes overhead, the goal seemed out of reach.
His first air show experience made him feel even more disconnected.
“(My family) didn't have enough money to pay the gate price,” he said. “We just had to watch from the end of the runway.”
Ryan became a pilot in 1983.
“It was always a dream,” he said. “I never thought I would be able to do it.”
He credits his first father-in-law, a retired Air Force colonel, with encouraging him to make his dream a reality.
Instead, he set his eyes on the same small plane he longingly built models of as a child.
“I remember as a kid, I had a model Bonanza (airplane),” he said. “Now, I fly a real one.”
Ryan joined his mentor and the Tora crew in 1987, when he started performing in the group's re-creation of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
Like the rest of the Tora pilots, Ryan flies an American trainer plane that was converted to resemble World War II-era Japanese aircraft. The planes first were used in the 20th Century Fox film “Tora! Tora Tora!”
Ryan said she understands the air show lifestyle. If she fears for his safety as he soars across the sky at 200 mph, she doesn't show it.
“In years' past, she might have had some apprehension,” he said. “But she wouldn't say anything.”
Ryan said he is too focused on his performance to be nervous. He said the success of a Tora show depends on each individual performer, and he doesn't want to be the weak link.
Unlike other air show groups, not all of the Tora performers are pilots. Ryan said professional narration and pyrotechnics on the ground are equally as important as the action in the air.
Narrator Ken Crites said each element of the show contributes to a message of honor and remembrance.
“We hope that it will help (the audience) appreciate what the men and women of our armed services do on a daily basis,” he said.
Crites said he hopes that appreciation leads to a more developed understanding of the attack on Pearl Harbor and of World War II in general.
He said when it comes to history education, “our school system doesn't do as good of a job as some would like.” After viewing the air show, “we hope kids are entertained but educated at the same time,” he said.
Much of the responsibility to entertain depends on Pyro lead Gordon Webb, whose job it is to re-create the onslaught of explosions that rained from Japanese aircraft at Pearl Harbor.
“It's very moving,” Webb said. “We receive a great response (from the crowd).”
Crites said the pyrotechnics add to the depth of Tora's performance. With a combination of vintage aircraft, simulated bombings and informative narration, the performers offer a show that is equally appealing to all age groups, he said.
While children may enjoy the explosions and loud noises, parents and grandparents may appreciate the nostalgia of reliving a tumultuous time in American history.
“Kids really love the fireworks,” he said. “With the older folks, we sometimes see a tear or two.”
About 1,100 World War II veterans die every day, according to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs.
Crites said he hopes Tora can extend the legacy of these veterans, in addition to veterans of every other war.
Part of what makes the show so special, he said, is the fact everyone involved is an unpaid volunteer.
Crites said many of the performers and technical staff members have full-time jobs, but devote their personal time to making Tora possible.
“Performing actually costs us a lot of money,” Ryan said.
In addition to membership dues, Ryan said the pilots are responsible for the maintenance and storage of their planes.
Each performance is an expensive venture that he could choose to avoid.
But for Ryan, it's a small price to pay for the chance to do what he loves while promoting an important message.
It's a dream come true.