The Airspeed Virtual Airshow

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These are the show notes to an audio episode. You can listen online right here by clicking:

It’s time for Airspeed. I’m Stephen Force and I’ll be your announcer and air boss for this, the first Airspeed Virtual Airshow.

This is an airshow of the mind. Please fully engage your senses and align them with the auditory content of this broadcast for best results. Please avoid operating motor vehicles or other heavy equipment during the show unless you are certain that no sneak passes will surprise or distract you and you are sure that you are able to resist the temptation to drive at excessive speeds while listening. This means you, Ron.

The temperature is about 72 degrees Farenheit with just enough humidity to permit dramatic condensation clouds around the wing areas of the fighter jets at high angles of attack. We have sunny skies over the field with just a few white puffy cumulous clouds to allow for dramatic photographs. We have arranged for the sun to hold its position behind you and at about 30 degrees above the horizon for the duration of the show to provide for the best possible photographic opportunities during the dedication passes.

Please observe the fact that there are no snow fences between you and the runway. Please feel free to set up you chair anywhere between the parking lot and the runway, but avoid the runway itself unless you really want to get that close-up of the approaching aircraft. No security personnel are on duty today because the show is restricted to dedicated aviation nuts and we know we can count on you to police yourselves. By the way, everyone gets an orange tee shirt with “Security” stenciled on the back. Make sure that you pick up yours at the gate.

Hot dogs are just a buck at every booth and soft drinks are a buck as well with free refills all day long. Tee shirts are just five bucks at every vendor tent.

All of the show aircraft will be on the ramp behind you and available for your up-close inspection. All of the demo teams have agreed to let you into the cockpits of the respective aircraft, provided only that you make airplane noises when you’re in there.

Please keep your cameras and attention near show center at all times. Because this is an airshow of the mind, we’ve eliminated all of that waiting while the aircraft circle around for another pass. This show is all noisy passes for the entire length of the show.

Featured today are the F-16 from the Viper East Demo Team from Thunder Over Michigan at Willow Run Airport in Ypsilanti, Michigan, the F-16s of the United States Air Force Thunderbirds, the F-15 Eagle of the F-15 West Demo Team from the Battle Creek Field of Flight Air Show and Balloon Festival in Battle Creek, Michigan, the F-22 Raptor from the F-22 Raptor Demo Team from EAA AirVenture Oshkosh in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, and others.

At the conclusion of the show, you can amble to your car any time and we’ve arranged for easy exit from the grounds by means of any exit you like and all freeway on-ramps are open and flowing at posted speed limits.

Or stay around for the acoustic jam session at Firebase Airspeed just a few hundred yards away in the campground. Plenty of Leinie’s and other beverages in the big blue cooler near the tent.

And, best of all, you don’t have to leave at all! Just hit the “back” button on your player at any time to start the whole thing over. It’s that easy!

Other aviation media spend a lot of paper or electrons talking about aviation and we here at Airspeed love them for it. But c’mon. When’s the last time one of them put on an airshow just for you? Point made?

Enjoy this Airspeed Virtual Airshow. Brought to you by 100LL, JP-8, Jet-A, soda pop, beer, hot dogs, and frozen deserts sold from pushcarts on taxiways everywhere.

Thunderbirds Ride Debrief – Things I Might Have Done Differently

This is a regular blog post. If you’re looking for links to show audio or show notes, please check out the other posts.

(Check out the most recent version of the “single” of Thunderbird Groove (the September 21 version)! The underlying music will be the theme and background for the episode. This “single” version is for starting as you accelerate down the on-ramp in your car or plugging into the aux input in your Flight Design CT and cranking up as you rotate!)

As I put together the grand production that will be the summary episode for the Thunderbirds ride, I’m reviewing all of the audio and video. As I do that, a few things have occurred to me that I’d do differently or to which I’d pay more attention if I had the opportunity. In addition to possibly being entertaining to readers generally, it might also be helpful to future media riders.

Bear in mind as you read this that I’m very proud of how well I did during the ride and very, very grateful to the Thunderbirds for the opportunity. I’m not beating myself up on any of these points. But it’s always good to look back and evaluate. Heck, the jet teams themselves review and deconstruct every flight looking for improvement. Why shouldn’t I?

1. I’d ask for stick time. I was very intent on being a good guest in the cockpit and didn’t want to ask Maj Mulhare for time on the flight controls for fear that I’d put him in the position of having to say no. Having spent some more time on YouTube and other places since the ride, I’ve seen several rides during which the rider gets stick time. I wish I had asked. Especially now that I’ve had more time in the Citabria and have added to the aerobatic experience that I had before the F-16 ride. I’d love to have done a loop. I know that most of the media riders who got stick time basically did rolls and that looked like a lot of fun. But I’d love to have been able to take the stick and do a loop. With assistance from the front seat on the pull and the power setting? Of course! But I wish I’d asked for stick time. I repeat – I’m not beating myself up and in no way was the ride less than sublime. I just wish I’d asked for stick time.

2. I’d have checked the headrest position prior to takeoff. You can see me in the video on the takeoff roll realizing that my head (with helmet) is about to weigh 40 pounds and trying to figure out where to put it for the pull. The aircraft decides for me. I’d check it out upon starting taxi and lay back at about 250 KIAS on takeoff.

3. I wouldn’t have “hooked” as much early on. “Hooking” is, of course, tensing everything from your toes through your calves, thighs, butt cheeks, and abdomen and breaching in short three-second exchanges, the better to keep blood in your noggin. “Hooking” because it helps to say the word “hook” (heavy on the “k” at the end) to shut off the breath you just took and use it to tense. I think I missed out on some of the conversation with Maj Mulhare because I didn’t know what to expect in terms of gee load at various times. I basically started hooking every time the airplane gave me a hug (i.e. when the gee suit started inflating). It resulted in come of my responses sounding more tense than they needed to be. I’d have sounded a little more macho and in control if I’d have just relaxed through everything other than the nine-gee pull. Don’t get me wrong. You’re going to need to hook your head off to stay conscious during the nine-gee pull. I got down to about 20 degrees of usable vision in the center with everything else black as night and leprechauns and unicorns dancing around in that narrow little 20 degrees of what I had left. But I think that one could relax a little and only strain when told and be absolutely fine. Remember that your heart will usually keep blood in your head up to about four gees and they’re not going to hit you with more than that without a little warning.

4. The ATC radio (COM 1) turned out to be mixed very high in the overall audio loop, but I couldn’t hear it very well. I could hear Maj Mulhare well, but realized only after listening to the audio that I was talking during ATC communications and that Maj Mulhare probably couldn’t hear me very well. It’s actually probably just as well because I later realized that there was a fair amount of negotiation with Chicago Center about whether we’d be able to use the Hersey MOA and I would have freaked out at the though that we might get to the aerobatic space and not be able to maneuver. In any case, I would have asked how the audio mix was up front and whether I was balanced well with both COM radios.

5. I’d have sat up a little straighter for most of the ride. The F-16 cockpit has you reclining about 30 degrees, but you can have your head up a little more than that. It kind of makes you look more like a rag doll than you probably are if you’re reclined more than you have to be.

6. I’d have locked my shoulder straps for the whole ride. It’s true that you don’t really need them much and it’s not necessary to lock them for safety of the ride. But you do dangle a little more than is comfortable when you’re inverted in the slow roll and you get tossed around a little more than you otherwise would in the four-point- and eight-point rolls and at the end of the four-roll series. It’s dramatic and kind of cool to see me rise in my seat with the zero or slight-negative gee, but I’d rather look more like a steely-eyed fighter pilot with only my noggin whipping around. It also would have made grabbing the towel racks a little less inviting or necessary.

7. I wouldn’t have grabbed the towel racks as much as I did. The towel racks run horizontally along the longitudinal axis on either side of the lower part of the canopy. If you’ve seen the inside of an F-16D cockpit, it will me immediately obvious and unmistakable why they’re called towel racks. Nothing wrong with grabbing them. But you just don’t look as much the steely-eyed F-16 driver if you’re grabbing them. You’re clearly a passenger. If you keep your hands in your lap or on the tops of your legs, they’re off camera and it’s easier to imagine that you’re actually flying the aircraft.

8. I’d have had something witty to say at the end of the nine-gee pull to demonstrate to Maj Mulhare and the audience that I had come through conscious and happy. I actually made it through quite well and I can see mu chest rising and falling continuously with each hook all the way through. But I hadn’t come up with something to say to demonstrate it. “I’m conscious” would have seemed boring at best and defensive at worst. You’re a little busy getting ready for the pull, so you need to have something already thought up and ready to go. “Is that all you got?” might not have been appropriate, but something witty would have been nice.

I’ll probably add to this post as time goes on. I hope that this is helpful to any future media rider or to anyone trying to get further into my head to figure out what is was like. It was a singular experience and I think you’re going to like the summary episode when it comes out.

Thanks again to the USAF Thunderbirds and Maj Tony Mulhare! If the episodes so far aren’t testament to the impression that the ride made, the music and the upcoming episode (and the fact that I’m writing about it almost three months after the fact) should be. Man, what a ride!

Video from My F-16 Aerobatic Demo Flight with USAF Thunderbird No. 8, Maj Tony Mulhare

It’s here! The video from my ride in the F-16D with USAF Thunderbird No. 8, Maj Tony Mulhare.

Many thanks to Will Hawkins of Wilco Films for his video editing expertise and for spending hours he doesn’t have making this a really great production.

Stay tuned for the big summary audio episode of the show covering the ride from beginning to end in great detail. The episode will include audio from the suit-up, the briefing, the flight, and the demo the next day. It’ll be tied together by Thunderbird Groove, the original music by 7600 (the ad hoc band of aviator musicians that collaborates over the Internet) featuring me on guitars, drums, and bass, Scott Cannizzaro on guitars, keyboards, and sound design, and the mighty F-16 on noise!

Dave Allen Visits, Approaches, and I’m Good to Go at Flight 101

This is a regular blog post. Please check out the other posts if you’re looking for show notes or links to show audio.

David Allen from The Pilot’s Flight Podlog was in town on business on Tuesday, so we got together at Panera Bread for dinner and to shoot the bull. Ella joined us. Good time!

I flew with Andy Mawdsley of Flight 101 at KPTK to get checked out to fly the Cessnas there. Something line 2.2 in N9926Q hours getting familiar with the aircraft and the avionics. Most or all of the Flight 101 C-172s are equipped with Garmin 430s and the panels are a little different from what I’ve flown in the past, so I wanted to get familiar with the aircraft in addition to getting checked out to rent Flight 101’s aircraft. I had not flown an instrument approach in a C-172 since February 20 and had not flown any instrument approach at all since the multi rating on April 20 or so. I was really pleased that I ended up really flying them well. For the most part, needle departures of 1/2 deflection or less with most of the time being within two dots.

VOR-A Lapeer (D95) with the published miss and hold at MIXER, RNAV 18 KFNT, 2 x ILS 9 KFNT, VOR 9R KPTK, and ILS 9R KPTK. And that’s my six instrument approaches, intercepting and tracking courses, and holding, so I’m instrument current for the next six months!

Andy in the cockpit while being vectored outbound before the ILS 9R at KPTK. It was pretty dark and I didn’t use flash, so it’s a little blurry, but what the heck. Andy (Dr. Mawdsley!) is a pleasant guy with whom to fly. Rode me appropriately for the more prominent altitude or directional deviations and was really helpful in explaining the Garmin.

We had intermittent radio problems at KFNT and ended up switching to COM 2 after COM 1 failed during the final phases of the second the ILR 9. No biggie.

A shot of the sunset while being vectored outbound for the ILS 9R at KPTK. Not a bad shot for a guy under the hood and just holding the camera above the dash.

A shot of the flight line bracing the camera on the fence. Airports are so pretty at night! The parking lot light gives you just enough light to be able to see the aircraft and the lights from the other side of the airport are gorgeous. Nothing else looks like an airport at night.

1.4 Aerobatics and Tailwheel and Taxiing the Kids

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These are the show notes to an audio episode. You can listen online right here by clicking:

(Lead photo by Nicholas (“Cole”) Tupper.)

Got up in the Citabria yesterday for a training flight. 1.4 hours of mostly aerobatics and landings. The plan was to go out, review the maneuvers that I’ve been working on up until now, and then do some spins, sort of as a killproofing exercise.

The aerobatics worked out well. Wingovers, loops, rolls, and hammerheads. Last time, I was at the point where the loop was mine. I flew them more or less without coaching (at least after a little review and coaching on the first one or two). This time, I added the hammerhead to that category. I’m getting good vertical uplines and downlines and handling them with good energy management (e.g. I get a good amount of time in some of the more dramatic accelerative phases while still recovering in plenty of time to keep the airspeed well within the design tolerances of the aircraft). I’m really pretty proud of that.

Same with the rolls. A roll in the Citabria involves picking up energy with a dive to about 120 MPH IAS, leveling out briefly, and then burying the ailerons left. You roll 360 degrees, pulling power smoothly throughout, and then you end up wings-level on a 45-degree downline (which you maintain for awhile), and then you recover. You lose a lot of altitude (500 feet or so) pretty quickly, which was news to me when we started, but it’s actually a very elegant move. You get and then give energy in an elegant, disciplined, precise, and measured way.

Inversion tends to bother me, even when I’m on the controls, and, by the time we got to the spin part, I was pretty green.

Barry gave me a pretty good lecture and demonstration of what secondary stalls can look like in likely scenarios. Still technically under control, but oscillating toward departure from controlled flight. We did one sustained falling-leaf stall, broke it, and pulled way-nose-high into a secondary stall, which, in turn, broke more savagely and dropped a wing hard. I’m sure that the third iteration would have been even more violent and that was the point of the exercise.

Barry’s teaching is really well-structured in that he always starts out with the reason that he’s teaching what he’s teaching and, if possible, a demonstration of how the maneuver applies in actual situations.

Just when we were ready in the training sequence for the actual spins, my tummy informed me that it had had enough. Discretion is the better part of valor, even though I had a Sic-Sack in my pocket and ready to go. I’ll get the spins in later this fall.

We headed back to the airport and got in four or five three-point landings. I was really pleased with the landings this time. I think I’m finally getting over one of the bad habits that plagues tricycle-gear pilots transitioning to tailwheel. I’ve been relaxing the back pressure on the stick after touchdown in much the way a tricycle-gear pilot would do to lower the nosewheel. In a tailwheel, you want to get the tailwheel down and keep it down. It both keeps the tail from oscillating and gets the steerable tailwheel down on the ground where it’s effective. Although I ballooned the last flare pretty badly, the landing worked out well and all of the landings had much more of a feel of positive control than I had experienced before. Very nice! I think I’m getting it. I realize that wheel landings will be another matter entirely, but I’ll revel in such success as I’ve had so far.

I took Cole and Ella out to see the Citabria earlier in the day. I don’t think I’ve ever had then in a taildragger before and they really seemed to like the tandem seating. Cole is really beginning to understand how the flight controls work. I can tell because, when he moves the controls, he looks right at the relevant control surface without casting about. You can see in this picture that he’s pulling and looking back at the elevator.

Ella, starting out in the back seat, expressed a little consternation about the stick moving around, apparently unbidden, as Cole worked the controls in front. She happily rotated up front and really seemed to enjoy seeing the different cockpit configuration.

And here’s the coolest part of the day. The Citabria is owned by one of the instructors at Sutton Aviation and he leases it back to the school. He happened to be walking out on the ramp with a student and noticed me taking pictures of the kids in the Citabria. He knows that I’ve been training with Barry and I had ducked in when I arrived to make sure that it was okay to show the kids the aircraft. He also knows that I have a tailwheel endorsement from the DC-3 training, but that I’m conservative enough to come back for more training from Barry in the Citabria in order to really learn the ins and outs of conventional-gear aircraft.

“Hey, why don’t you start it up and taxi the kids around the ramp a bit? I’ll bet they’d love that.” They’d love that? I’d love that!

My wife is wonderful and has been very tolerant of my flight training. Especially considering at least one event involving an instructor during my primary training. Even when I started taking aerobatic training, she didn’t object and she listened objectively when I explained the additional margin of safety that upset recovery and related training adds to regular GA flying. Heck, I had had thought long and hard myself about it before talking about it with her.

She’s not nuts about the idea of me flying the kids just yet. She approved getting up for a helicopter flight at Oshkosh and also said that it’d be okay to take Cole along if a spot had opened up in the back of the Herpa DC-3 (although she asked a lot of questions about Dan Gryder, all of which were easy to answer). But she’s still getting comfortable with the idea of me flying Cole or Ella.

In the meantime, I honor her feelings. I take the kids to the airport regularly and we ramp-fly whatever’s on the line, but they’ve never been in a GA aircraft with the prop turning.

That’s why this was such a cool opportunity. You normally wouldn’t go through the trouble of starting up an airplane and taxiing it around if you weren’t going to fly it. It had not even occurred to me to do it. But now we had a quiet ramp in a sleepy little corner of the airport. Plenty of room to taxi around and a gorgeous little taildragger in which to do it.

He didn’t have to offer twice. “Okay, guys, get in here and let’s taxi the airplane around a little.”

Cole started jumping up and down, saying “this is so cool!”

I got them in the back seat, buckled everybody in, ran through the startup checklist, and hit the starter button. The prop turned through about 20 blades and then the engine fired to life.

I looked over my shoulder and they were both smiling from ear to ear. Any worry that either of them would be scared by the noise or uncomfortable in the airplane melted away. All of that time pressed up against the fence in the front row at airshows over the last three or four years had paid off.

I ran all of the pre-taxi checks and then eased the throttle forward. Inertia gave way and we taxied happily around the ramp. I took it slow, but delighted both them and me by adding a little throttle and inside brake to swing the tailwheel around at each turn. Then we taxied back to the starting point and whirled the tail around in a tight 180 before shutting down.

“That was the coolest two minutes of my life!” shouted Cole. And it was a pretty cool two minutes of mine, too.

I’ll get the kids up sometime. There’s no hurry, really. It’ll happen when it happens. And it’ll happen after continued demonstration of my competence, skill, and judgment as a pilot when Mary’s comfortable with the idea. But, in the meantime, it’s a really good feeling to know that the kids are excited about it and it’ll be a big thing for them when it happens.

This is how it happens, folks. This is the magic of general aviation. The smell of 100LL, the sound of an engine, and the spark of imaginations on fire. Take your kids to the airport! I’ll see you there.