Zero to Hero – Part 2

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I got together with founder and fellow CAP officer Rod Rakic to talk about accelerated flight training. Rod has done accelerated programs as a part of both his commercial and instrument training. I did my AMEL, ASES, and DC-3 (SIC) training in accelerated programs. And Rod and I are both graduates of the CAP National Emergency Services Academy’s Mission Aircrew School.

We talked about the benefits and drawbacks of accelerated and/or concentrated training and how best to take advantage of it.

Acro Camp Soundtrack Studio Session

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On Friday, Barry (“Bernie”) Sutton and Don (“Seawall”) Weaver and I went into The Soundscape Recording Studio in Royal Oak, Michigan to do some work on the soundtrack for the upcoming independent film, Acro Camp. (Check out

This is a continuation in part of the crowdsourcing of Acro Grass, the bluegrass-flavored basic theme that we’re using for the film. We walked in with two versions of the tune. The first is the same version that I put out there earlier this year for people to use as a backing track for contributions. It’s an acounstic riff in D at 116 bpm. The second is an electrified version, also in D at 106 bpm with the electric guitar mostly clean and with a 563 ms delay to sound a lot like The Edge (guitarist for U2). Lastly, I did a very basic riff in 3/4 that, if you don’t play a G# or other notes that would capture it into a specific key, lacks a tonal center and is both cool and annoying for the same reason.

I sent Don and Barry links to just the basic tracks in MP3 form the week before and let them listen to them prior to coming into the studio. Uncharacteristically, that was the extent of my actual musical performance. I didn’t play anything in the studio. The idea for the session was to capture Barry and Don’s performances.

I brought in my drum kit and Tim (the engineer) supplemented it with a nice Sabian cymbal (I want to say that it was a 16” or 18” V Crash from the Vault series – Very nice as a ride, crash, bell, or otherwise with a lot of different sounds depending on how you whack it) and his vintage floor tom.
Don brought in his keyboard kit, which consists of both a really nice fully-weighted keyboard with lots of internal voices and an external box with yet more voices. The piano sound modeling is excellent.

The session started with Don and Barry just jamming together to the acoustic version of Acro Grass. I synched up one camera run so that I can put the actual board mix together with the video and use it for an extra on the DVD. Mostly floating the camera around the room. I’ll just run it continuously and intersperse footage from the camp for the parts where I’m moving the studio camera around in between float and other shots.

Once Barry and Don did the initial jam, we went to actually recording. We did them one at a time with each of them playing ideas over the courts of one or two ten-minute takes. It took about four hours, including tech setup, to get everything down for three different basic themes.

Now the drill is for Tim to bounce everything down to individual WAV tracks and shoot them to me on a data DVD. Then I’ll take them all and listen to them to pull out the parts that I like to create a sort of library of Barry and Don’s best themes, bits, and pieces. I’ll them put those in where they seem best and come up maybe a half-dozen variants of each theme to drop into the film at appropriate times. I’ll probably also add in some guitar, mando, banjo, shuttle-pipe, and other stuff as the mood moves me.

And that’s to say nothing of the music that podcast fans have been contributing over the last few months for the original Acro Grass theme.

Bottom line, I have enough raw stuff captured now (video, audio, and music) for the entire film. All else is gravy and improvement. And it also means that I have a boatload of both audio and video editing to do if I want this thing to be released in the spring in time to do Acro Camp II, as I’ve tentatively planned.

The studio session was a complete gas. It was Barry’s first time in a studio environment. Don is an old hand at recording and has played on several album projects. Both of them really seemed to enjoy it. It was my first time in a studio session in which I didn’t actually play and just functioned as producer. Much as I like to play, it was a good experience for me just managing artists and getting good performances out of them. And Tim is quintessentially pro as always, bringing his musical sensibilities and technical expertise together to support a truly organic process.

Luck is the meeting of preparation with opportunity. Both converged in good measure at The Soundscape last night. I’m very lucky.

Production Update: Return from ICAS, T-38A, Acro Camp Soundtrack, and More

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Okay, I think my head is back from Vegas and ICAS 2010. Great convention, lots of contacts made, and lots of friends revisited.

And lots on the hot plate for the next few weeks. Don, Barry, and I go into the studio on Friday to record parts of the Acro Camp movie soundtrack. I have all of the basic tracks down, but the real magic won’t happen until we’re all together with the instruments set up and the click track begins.

And I’m close to finishing the episode covering the T-38A flight with the 9th Reconnaissance Wing at Beale AFB. With that one, it’s an embarrassment of riches because of all of the great audio and video we captured. It’s no longer an issues of having a long episode. It’s an issue of how to make it shorter and more concise.

Rod Rakic and I will also likely record Part II of the Zero-to-Hero series, covering his intensive instrument and commercial training and me covering my multi-engine rating and DC-3 type school.

And there’s B-17 footage, Huey footage, and other great eye candy still in the can that I need to edit and get out into the feed.

I cant say enough things about this audience. Truth be told, I’d do this for my own benefit even if none of you tuned in. But knowing that there are thousands of you out there who really understand this stuff and care about it makes it that much more exciting. I’ll be channeling you guys in the studio on Friday and gain over the editing desk with the T-38A episode.

Airspeed alive, fuel, oil, rotate, climb, best glide . . . Smoke on!

ICAS 2010: Barnstorming Live

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ICAS is having its first film festival. This evening, producer/writer/director Bryan Reichardt, producer/writer Paul Glenshaw, and musician Suzanne Brindamour presented the film Barnstorming in a new road-ready iteration called “Barnstorming Live.”

To crib shamelessly from the film’s website, Andrew King and Frank Pavliga “steered their planes toward a dark green plot of alfalfa on a dairy farm and landed to take some pictures, just for the fun of it. Matt Dirksen, the farmer, thought he had just seen two planes crash in his field, and went over to investigate. Andrew and Frank quickly made up a story about engine trouble. Almost immediately, they heard the approaching shouts of excitement from two young boys, and a slightly suspicious Matt himself. The past was suddenly reborn. In the old tradition, the pilots treated the boys to their first flights. Matt and his wife invited the pilots to come back someday for a home-cooked meal. The pilots returned the next year bringing a few friends with their own airplanes, and a new tradition was born.”

The film tells the story of the gathering in the context of the ninth such gathering at the Dirksens’ farm. With lots of aerial footage and an emphasis on letting the people come alive in their own words, the film captures the magic of what can happen when general aviation meets the non-aviating public.

Bryan and Paul introduced the film, Suzanne performed part of the music live, and all three did the Q&A afterward.

The film was shot over the course of four days split between two years of the event. Fortunately, the weather was nearly identical each year and, if there are continuity problems, I didn’t see them and they don’t interrupt the story.

With a film of my own allegedly in the can and much editing to do before it’s ready to go, I did more than my share of interrogating Paul and Bryan, both on the floor of the ICAS exhibit hall and at the showing. Paul in particular has been wonderfully forthcoming with the good, the bad, and the ugly.

There’s a growing network of aviation filmmakers. Much like the podsphere, these people freely share and help each other out. As Paul is quick to point out, the audience for these films will buy any decent film that comes out. The primary market is a focused and rabid group of the aviation faithful and it would be nearly impossible to saturate that market. There’s room for everyone and more than enough stories to tell.

I’ll be heading home with plenty of motivation to get Acro Camp edited. Don, Barry, and I go into the studio on Friday 17 December to record some of the music. I have everything I need to at least put together the trailer, so I think that’ll be out soon. And I’m sorely tempted to call in sick for most of January to really lower myself into the well. But that’s the kind of thing that makes one extraordinarily lucky, isn’t it? To have a big, honking, wonderful project to work on and people who want to see it when it’s done.

We already know that pilots are extraordinary people. I guess it follows that aviation filmmakers would be more of the same. It’s sure true of these folks.

ICAS 2010: Sam Johnson’s Keynote

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I just got out of the ICAS morning keynote and announcement of the jet team schedules for upcoming shows. Although I don’t very often run stuff in the show that’s mostly or entirely other people’s comments, I couldn’t help but think that you guys would enjoy this.

They keynoter was Congressman Sam Johnson of Texas. A retired Air Force colonel, Johnson flew the F-86 Sabre in the Korean War, the F-4 Phantom in the Vietnam War, and the F-100 Super Sabre as a member of the U.S.A.F. Thunderbirds.

While flying a mission over North Vietnam, he was shot down and taken prisoner. He spent seven years in a North Vietnamese prisoner of war facility, three and half years in solitary confinement.

I love the fact that they used to start Thunderbirds demos with a sonic boom. I never knew that. I wish they’d do it again. And a lot of the other material that I heard in this presentation and otherwise made me pine for a simpler and more energetic time in aviation. I know that the current environment (regulatory, practical, and otherwise) is a lot safer and perhaps presented better in some respects. But a big part of me wonders what it would have been like covering these guys in their airshow heydays.

Bob Hoover introduced Mr. Johnson and I had the brief opportunity to meet them before things got going. Gracious and engaging, both. Genuine aviation royalty. Just another indication of how surreal it can be here at ICAS walking among legends.