How is it that I feel so at home at Indy when this is only second year here? Part of it probably has to do with the luck I had last year in terms of the people I met. Billy and Haley and so on. Part of it might also be that I’m reaching a critical mass of acquaintances in the airshow community so that I can be reasonably assured of knowing at least a few people at any given medium-sized-or-better airshow. Folks like Indy chairman Roger Bishop, Fence Check maven Liza Eckardt, and AirPigz creator Martt Clupper.
Whatever the reason, it’s really good to feel so at home on this ramp and among these people.
And, while we’re on the subject of people, let’s talk about Roger Bishop for a minute. Roger is the Enoch Root of aviation new media and social media. At least that’s how it works in my imagination. He’s omnipresent and influential, yet modest about taking credit for the work he does.
And I really admire his management abilities. Not in a smarmy business-school sort of way. I mean that he really seems to know how to delegate and then be in the present and effective during the actual chaos. I’m not saying that his battle plans survive first contact with the enemy any more often than the battle plans of others. But be has a Zen ability to simply, well, manage.
I’m not that guy. I’m proud of the way I just talked things over with Will Hawkins during the filming of Acro Camp and then just let Will and David Allen do things as they saw fit. But I was way too obsessed with getting the in- and on-aircraft cameras and audio devices deployed, collected, and offloaded. The project probably suffered from the attendant lack of top-down observations and nudges that I could/should have made and performed. And I know that I’ve left a lot of work for myself in the editing process because, although we got all of the video and audio, I still have to do some detective work figuring out which audio goes with which video, etc.
This isn’t hero worship and, as I said before, it’s not the smarmy new-MBA buzzwordy heaping of praise into which it might otherwise degenerate. But I said it last year and I’ll say if again this year. Roger’s really on top of his projects and they seem to go as smoothly as possible without him being a walking nerve-ending. Like me.
Much to learn. But, in the meantime, it gives me a really nice airshow in which to bask for a few days.
Airshow. Remember the airshow? This is a blog post about an airshow.
This was my first full day at this year’s show. Media credentialing first thing and then an attempt at a Huey ride. Some piece of equipment on the Huey was not working to the satisfaction of the pilot and crew and they elected to scrub the morning flight. No problem. Safety first. And, in fact, I’m planning to get to the show site tomorrow at 0700 local in case they get to try it again before the airspace.
We hit the 10:00 briefing with air boss Ralph Royce. All of the performers, or their representatives, attend and get a weather briefing, talk about the airspace, identify emergency procedures, and otherwise coordinate the big and complicated ballet that is the airshow. Check out my posts from the ICAS convention in December. An air boss briefing is one of the bellwethers of how well your planning has worked out. If your ducks are single-file by then, the air boss briefing will sound a lot like the one that I attended this morning.
The media chief then slotted Airpigz’s Martt Clupper and me, among others, on a flight of the Yankee Air Museum’s B-17, Yankee Lady. The show time was 5:30, so we had plenty of time to head out and check out the airshow grounds and watch the practices.
I’m taking a slightly different approach this year. Most of the interviews I’m doing are video instead of audio and I’m focusing on aerobatics as opposed to platform and other performer-specific subjects. I got Pitts S-2C driver Billy Werth and Jelly Belly Interstate Cadet driver Kent Pietsch today, which makes three when you add A-10 East demo pilot Maj Johnnie Green. I’m thinking a lot about loading relevant parts of the interviews with these veteran performers into appropriate places in the film. Certainly, some of this material is going to make it into the podcast feed, but this is such a prime opportunity to get film of these performers that I can’t pass it up.
I have another few that I really want to capture. One is Mike Goulian. I got great footage of Mike mentally walking through his program there on the ramp and then the launch and recovery from his practice performance. Being that we used his book as the text for Acro Camp, I think it’d be great to get an interview with Mike into the film. Besides, the book kept me awake at night bed-flying some of the maneuvers and trying to develop some kind of kinesthetic sense for them. Mike owes me. Whether he knows it or not.
A very pleasant surprise at the end of the day. The ride in the B-17 turned out to be a real treat. You could be forgiven for thinking that I prefer the heavy iron. After all, I spent a fair piece of 2008 getting a DC-3/C-47 SIC type rating. And I’d love to help fly the Yankee Air Museum’s C-47 at some point. But, when I’m at an airshow, I’m usually about chasing the crank-and-bank performers that have two-seat aircraft.
But what an experience! As soon as I heard that I had a B-17 slot, I walked over and buttonholed copilot Ray Hunter and asked about camera mount spots. He was kind enough to let me crawl around the aircraft and identify some spots. When 5:30 rolled around, I showed up as early as possible and mounted a GoPro Hero above and behind the pilots, a ContourHD looking out the left window behind the left-seater, and a ContourHD looking out the front window. In addition to that, I plugged into the intercom and radio from the seat just behind Ray and had my still camera and a Panasonic HDC-SD9 in my hands. Five cameras and audio, baby!
I couldn’t see out the window when sitting and strapped in for takeoff, but could stand until we took the runway and again once we reached cruise altitude. I didn’t bring the Mac on this trip and I’m spending the next week at Camp Atterbury, Indiana for CAP Mission Aircrew School as a part of the National Emergency Services Academy, so it’ll be later this month before I get to see how the video turned out. And edit some of it and get it up as a video episode. And I can’t wait to do that. I see a video episode and a long-form audio episode coming out of this.
Shortly after takeoff, we got the okay to unstrap and roam around the aircraft. Martt Clupper got the bombardier’s seat and I joined him in the nose. The plexiglass in the nose is pretty crazed, but it’s serviceable and it was interesting to get that view out in front without having to look through a prop, as I usually do.
Can you imagine being up there in the very front of the aircraft trying to concentrate on a bombsight with nothing but some plexi between you and the flak over Germany? All I could think about was pickling and getting the hell out of there. The Americans did mostly daylight bombing and left the night bombing to the Brits. It was a brute force thing. You fly over continental Europe in broad daylight at a mere 150 knots and just hope that you’re not the one that the Messerschmitt Bf 109s decided to single out. And remember that the allies didn’t always have the P-51 Mustang to escort them. The Mustang came along late in the game. In much of the going in WWII, the B-17s were out there alone with no little friends to stave off the incoming waves of German fighters.
I also wandered back through the bomb bay to check out the rear of the aircraft. The most pleasant surprise was the open-air roof of the mid-empennage. Really weird to stick your head up and partly out of it into the 150-knott wind blast and watch Indianapolis slip below you.
The mission was to form up with several of the aerobatic performers and go do an overflight of an Indianapolis Indians game at Victory Field downtown. Airshow announcer Rob Reider was plugged into the PA at the field and ready to do commentary for the crowd. We proceeded to a lat-long waypoint and formed up from there for the pass(es).
I was back up in the cockpit for the overflight. I need to review the intercom and ATC audio to get a better idea of what happened, but I did hear us getting steering vectors over the target. I could see the 48-story Chase Tower off to the right and the Garmin 530 was showing an obstacle proximity warning during the pass. I’ve always wondered what kind of coordination went into formation join-ups and overflights and this audio is probably going to answer a lot of my questions.
On the way back, I got a chance to stand up in one of the turrets and shoot some video and stills of the other ships in the formation. It was pretty hazy out there. Solid VFR to be sure, but it had been in the 80s and muggy all day and the air wasn’t letting the pretty photons through. A good first subject for color correction when I start learning how to do that.
Probably the most interesting part from a pilot’s perspective is that it takes a lot of hands to fly this beast. Copilot Ray Hunter flew the formation pass and the return and landing. Pilot Dave Cobaugh managed the throttles in addition to command other checklist items. What I didn’t expect is that flight engineer Norm Ellickson stands behind and between the pilots for critical phases of flight and manages some of the controls on the center console. It’s a real collection of hands on the controls. Up to five hands at times. I’m guessing that I’ll be able to understand a little more from the intercom audio about the division of responsibilities. But the general sense that I got is that critical phases of flight are busy times.
The downside is that the GoPro HD Hero that I mounted above and behind the pilots is likely going to feature views of the back of Norm’s head a lot of the time. And mostly at the most interesting times. But that’s okay. Those are the kinds of things you learn as you do this in different aircraft. I pulled the camera down and re-clamped it over Ray’s left shoulder. It was a less stable mount point and the moment of shake was a lot bigger, but we’ll see how it turns out. I also shot a lot of video with the Panasonic and I don’t think that the obscuration of the Hero is going to be a problem.
What a great ride! I was torn between staying put focusing on the cockpit activity and heading to other parts of the aircraft. I think I made the right decision by wandering. IO’m pretty sure that I’ll be able to figure things out from the partial video and the complete audio. And I’ll naturally bring you both in a couple of upcoming Airspeed episodes.
As usual, it’s really late (about 1:00 a.m.) and I need to get some sleep. I pack up tomorrow morning and check out of the hotel and run to make the Huey flight. Then it’s more wandering of the grounds and the Saturday show. I bust out after the Saturday flying is complete to head to MAS, so I’ll be nomadic for most of the day.
Watch the Twitter feed (@StephenForce) and I’ll try to give occasional updates as cool things happen. And cool things happen at the Indy Airshow!