I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how I’m going to approach turning this weekend’s first airshow performance experience (and, frankly, this whole season) into Airspeed episode content. This is big, huge, life-event stuff for me. I’m still pretty tingly about having done it, even as I write this on the Thursday after returning. I really want to get writing, but I need to let it simmer for awhile before really writing the episodes.
So you knew that it was going to start squirting out. This afternoon, I undertook an intermediate measure. I wrote an e-mail to the cast, crew, and friends of the Acro Camp movies. Although I’m the putative mastermind and the guy behind the camera, I am very much a camper myself at heart. I only made the movies because there were no casting calls by anybody else making them that I could answer. So I made those movies myself with my friends.
I really needed to tell a core group of people what was on my mind. I needed to tell people who really get it deep in their bones. I needed to tell my tribe. So the e-mail turned into a message that one who has gone far afield to seek his fortune might write back to the tribe. To tell his fellow tribe members how different it is out in far-away lands. And how he has carried the tribe with him.
Smarmy BS? Maybe. But it’s my smarmy BS. And I’m pretty proud of it. And it’s probably not smarmy BS, either.
You’re going to get the full energy of this experience in an Airspeed episode or two soon. But, until then, I couldn’t think of a good reason not to share this with the broader Airspeed community. You guys are, after all, a part of the tribe.
Ladies and gents of the Acro Camp community:
I discovered something this weekend. A TFR is perfectly fine as long as they put it there for you and you’re in it, wings-up and burning free gas.
Long story short, I flew my first airshow this weekend in a hot box and a TFR over the waterfront at Rogers City (KPZQ) as Tuskegee 2 in a two-ship demo of TG-7A motorgliders.
I was supposed to be 3, but our No. 2 ship developed a bad mag on the way up and had to divert for MX. 3 did make it up, but the Sunday demo was cancelled for wind (bumpy as HELL for practice that morning and the gust ground-looped lead on the taxi for the second takeoff, so we knocked it off). We returned to KDET as a three-ship, but got some passes in over town before departing.
For those not in the know, the TG-7A is a motorglider with a 59.5-foot wingspan initially flown by the USAF Academy. Piper Tomahawk firewall-forward and Franken-glider behind. The academy surplused out three of them in 2003 and the Tuskegee Airmen National Historical Museum in Detroit got them to use in training kids to fly and to raise awareness about the museum and its programs. Out fleet represents fully half of the remaining flying fleet of TG-7As.
They’re yellow, they look great with big bank angles, they fly great in formation, and we can fill the sky in front of the crowd line with swooping longwings to great effect. At the conclusion of the initial part of the demo, the solo ship (that’s me) does 180-aborts back and forth in front of the crowd between 0 and 300 AGL and then recovers. The two other ships gaggle-climb to 1,000 AGL and go engine-out and glide back to recover, preferably on a taxiway right in front of the crowd.
We’re not technically aerobatic, but we bank big enough that you actually have to take the low wing’s dihedral into account to avoid the stinkeye from the FAA.
Anyway. I know that you campers came to Michigan and experienced some really new sensations in a very public way and at a rapid-fire pace. It changed every one of you in some way. It might be hard to believe, but it changed the crew who watched and filmed you, too. And the director/editor who re-lives it in his basement late at night as he watches from his perch out on the wing.
I told you during the camp that I’d never ask you to fly a camera rig that I hadn’t already flown myself. I made good on that part. But I did ask you to undergo that trial by fire of learning acro in the camp format when I hadn’t really ever had that experience and didn’t have a genuine sense for what that was like. I’m not sorry that I did that to you. In fact, I’m still kind of jealous of you. But I still threw you into a deep end in which I had little or no experience.
But you need to know that I do put my stick and rudder skills where my mouth is, even if it is a little time-delayed. I’ve only been flying these aircraft since March. I got sucked in when I realized in the middle of my second flight that I was training for the rating (these things are in the glider category, so it’s new-rating time if you want to fly them PIC). I picked up a commercial certificate with the glider rating on July 12 and got asked a couple of days later to join the team. I went from 0.2 formation (in an L-39) and no real glider time to airshow demo team member in just a few months.
When you commit to fly a show, you’re committed. The team can’t very well get a sub at the last minute. You commit or you don’t. And, if you commit, you suck it up and go fly to a high standard that involves being very close to other aircraft and constantly earning the trust of the other two guys. Even when it’s bumpy as hell. Even when you’re forced to land downwind because there’s a KC-135R blocking some other important part of the airport. Perform. Period.
I got an education. I was reactive a lot more than I was proactive. I have a lot to learn. But airmanship like the kind that Don and Barry teach translates. The pace, order, and mutual support of an IAC contest translates. The camaraderie of an Acro Camp translates. It’s all right there waiting for you when you need it.
I just wanted to let you know that you guys helped make this weekend possible. If you think that I considered not flying the show, you’re right. It would have been easy to bow out. I was a brand-new glider driver whose media reputation probably gets him more credibility that his flying skills really deserve. I was pretty goddamned scared and saw a lot of stuff that I’ve never seen before and was expected to figure out quickly. But I’ve got a little piece of each of you in my hands, feet, eyeballs, and heart. That – and lots of other stuff – made it happen.
We are a rare collection of people. We demand of ourselves the willingness and capability to do things that aren’t easy. We do them because they’re hard. And because, if there’s fear in doing a thing, we also know the fear of not doing the thing and regretting that we didn’t take on the challenge. This is who we are. This is what we do. And we will forever be different from the others among whom we move from day to day. We are amazing people, every one. And I’m insufferably proud to be a part of an intrepid band of humans who take on challenges like this.
The team is still working out some last-minute details, but, if things go as we expect and you’re in the neighborhood, stop by [airshow event and location withheld from blog post until confirmed]. I’ll be there. Flying Tuskegee 3. In the box. Wings-up. Being like you.
Invertor et vomens! Smoke on!