Writing Progresses on Airspeed’s Behind-the-Scenes Series about Airshows

I’m bouncing back from a laptop problem that caused be to lose the in-process scripts for four Airspeed episodes.  I’m aggressively trying to re-write them so that I can get a few of these episodes out by the end of the year.  In the meantime, this little chunk of prose struck me as a tasty vignette to whet your appetite for the upcoming episodes.  Enjoy!


Mike “Kahuna” Stewart of Team RV (now known as Team Aerodynamix) once told me that you train so that you can safely fly your airshow demo while performing at 80% of your physical and mental capacity.

Airshows can be rough environments.  Sometimes you fly a long way to get there.  It’s strange airspace.  It can be different airspace every weekend.  You sleep in a strange bed in a strange hotel room.  Even when you do get to sleep, you usually have to be up and to a briefing between 8:30 and 10:00 a.m. the next day.  And, if you don’t brief, you don’t fly.

Getting places takes twice as long as it would if you knew the territory, so you’re always rushing around to get someplace and, if you’re not late, you’re way early and you sit around waiting.  Getting resources is the same way.  The gas jockey is probably working his butt off to be helpful, but he’s never around when you’re ready to gas up the aircraft.  If you’re like many airshow performers, you’re flying with minimal gas to allow maximum performance or to make the weight and balance work with your load of smoke oil.  So you have to do that lonely wait for the gas truck after every flight.

If there’s any trouble with the aircraft at a show site a long way from home, you have to figure out how to get it maintained and there might not be an easy way to do that.  Especially on a military base where the military maintainers understandably won’t touch your aircraft and where it can be difficult to get a civilian A&P onto a secure ramp – and that’s if you can get him or her through the crowd and the logistical hell of airshow ingress and egress.  Contrary to popular belief, there’s usually no magic performer-only ingress and egress to the show site so the performers can go lounge around in the air conditioning at the hotel or to get stuff to the performers if they need it.  Performers simply tend to get there earlier than you do and leave later than you do.

It’s usually hot.  Sometimes, it’s 95F or hotter with the haze of saturated, humid air.  And you’re usually wearing Nomex pajamas for at least part of the show.  You’ll probably have a hangar to stand around in, but it probably won’t be air conditioned and you’ll be exposed to a higher-than-optimal heat index the whole time you’re on or near the ramp.  You can get exhausted just standing around.  There’s usually plenty of water and other fluids on the flight line, but they sometimes run out.

And that’s to say nothing of the heat in the cockpit when you close the canopy and get ready to fly.  If it’s 95F and the sun is out, sure enough it’s going to be 120F or better the moment you close the canopy.  Have you ever sweat so much that you’ve ended up with salt stains on your flight suit?  It can happen at an airshow.

Taking a leak isn’t just taking a leak.  It’s checking the color of your urine to be sure that you’re drinking enough water.  If it’s not pretty close to clear, or if it’s been more than about an hour since the last time you went, you’re not drinking enough.

If you have time to lay down and try to get some rest, there’s usually no place to do it other than on a hangar floor with people tripping over you.  And, with a demo coming up in less than a few hours, I don’t know how anyone could actually sleep.

And you have to be looking out for your teammates, too.  Eyeballing their aircraft when you walk by to make sure that somebody with a golf cart hasn’t bent the tail.  Watching your teammates themselves for signs of dehydration, heat exhaustion, or heatstroke.

These are not optimum conditions in which to do things that require peak human performance.  Kahuna says that you should expect to be at no more than 80% of your physical and mental abilities when you fly a demo at an airshow.  Your job is to make your physical and mental abilities so that 80% is more than enough to fly the demo safely.  That’s a tall order.  But airshow pilots have to do it.



Glider Rating – Part 2 – Audio Episode Show Notes

These are the show notes to an audio episode. You can listen to the show audio by clicking here: http://traffic.libsyn.com/airspeed/AirspeedGliderRating2.mp3. Better yet, subscribe to Airspeed through iTunes or your other favorite podcatcher. It’s all free!

This is the second part of a two-part series covering my glider rating. To bring you up to speed, in March of this year, I began training in the TG-7A motorglider to add a glider rating. In May, I soloed the aircraft for the first time. Part 1 covered events up through the solo. On to Part 2.

After the solo, things move more quickly. You’ve proven that you can operate the aircraft without the instructor aboard. Or at least that you’re so lucky that you don’t need the instructor. Same result.

Now it’s all about the checkride. It’s not as though you haven’t been preparing for the checkride since your very first flight. But now is when you think about it a lot more.

I bought Bob Wander’s commercial checkride guide. I borrowed some of John’s Harte’s materials. I looked (briefly) for commercial glider knowledge test prep software or online courses, but that was futile. I can perhaps forgive Gleim and the other test prep companies for not having a course tailored for commercial glider guys. We can’t be much of a market. So I paid for Gleim’s regular airplane commercial pilot ground school. It’s geared toward airplane pilots, but the regulatory review was bound to be helpful and I’ll probably go after the commercial for ASEL and AMEL soon anyway.

John and I started hitting the training once a week or so, usually first thing in the morning at the crack of dawn. Sunrise was coming earlier and earlier and we made it a point to turn the prop as soon after sunrise as possible on each of those flights. Mostly, we explored other parts of the glider PTS. We did stalls and slow flight and went looking for crosswinds to work on that technique. [Read more...]

ICAS Convention – Wednesday

It’s Wednesday.  Although the convention goes on through tomorrow, I’m bugging out on a red-eye flight this evening.

Every day at ICAS is cool, but today is doubly so.  It’s flight suit day.  All performers are encouraged to wear their flight suits.  In years past, I have either not worn a flight suit or I have attended in CAP uniform representing CAP.  This year is a little different.  By dint of having flown a couple of shows with the Tuskegee Airmen Flight Demo Team this season, I’m an airshow performer and I get to wear my zoom bag for real.  I’ll be posting new content soon on that process but, in the meantime, it feels really good to have earned the right to wear sage green on this exhibit hall floor with these people.

I spent this morning at the Air Force and Navy/Marine Corps forums.  These are opportunities for the Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps to talk to airshow organizers and others about what it takes to get a military demo or static display and how to host them when they arrive.  It’s also an opportunity for me to get up close with the people who might ultimately be in a position to arange the kinds of media flights that Airspeed listeners have grown to expect.  I’ve had a great experience so far and have a few people to whom to send proposals, so it’ll again be a busy post-ICAS couple of weeks.

My hotel check-out time is looming, so I need to pack up and check my bags.  Then it’s off to another exhibit hall session and hanging out with my airshow bros until it’s time to head out to KLAS for the flight home.  Watch my Facebook page and my Twitter feed for more information and news from the 2012 ICAS Convention.

ICAS Convention 2012 – Tuesday Ends

My first full day of the 2012 ICAS Convention ended well.  The exhibit hall opened in the morning shortly after the jet team announcements and it was time to check out all of the new stuff for the 2013 season.

The Aerostars hosted a Redbird G1000 C-172 in their booth and I had a chance to fly around Niagara Falls, including an ill-fated attempt at a wingover abeam the falls.  With all of my airshow flying, I haven’t had the opportunity to get much instrument work in this season, so I’ve been dependent upon a Redbird unit at Solo Aviation at the Ann Arbor Municipal Airport for currency.  Both this unit and the Ann Arbor installation are great units.

Franklin’s Flying Circus brought the new Dracula: The Rise of Vacul aircraft and it’s drawing a lot of attention, taking up multiple booth spaces with lots of production value.  I love the huge control surfaces and the apparently massive engine.  This one if going to be fun to watch this season.

No ICAS convention would be complete without hanging out at Le Central (the “circle bar”) with airshow pros.  I had the chance to meet Ryan Keough in person after all these years, as well as hang out with Matt Jolley, Billy and David Werth, and Liza Eckardt.  And, of course, just sit there at the bar and watch my heroes walk by like it’s ICAS or something.  I hit the hay at 0200L and I’m not firmly on Pacific Time.  This can’t bode well for my condition upon arrival Thursday morning back in Detroit.  But it’s ICAS . . .


ICAS Opens Strong

ICAS formally kicked off this morning with a keynote by Pittsburgh Steeler and Vietnam veteran Rocky Bleier. It takes a major personality to stand in front of a room like the convention room at ICAS, but a guy with four Super Bowl rings is probably just about right.  Bleier spoke for about an hour, recounting his NFL experience, being injured in battle in Vietnam, and his path back into professional football.

John Cudahy then announced the jet team schedules for 2013 and 2014, as well as the TAC DEMO schedules for 2013. It looks like the Thunderbirds will be back at Battle Creek next year and the Thunderbirds will be flying Oshkosh!

The Blues will be at Indy next year and at Traverse City in 2014.

These are, of course, the shows that are of most interest to me. Check the team websites for appearances near you.

Probably the most interesting part about the morning session was an airshow. Yes, an airshow! Mark Leesburg and Jeff Boerboon launched radio controlled aircraft and pwned the pilots of the 1:1 -scale aircraft by flying a demo directly over the audience.

I’m heading down to the exhibit floor now to see what’s new this year. More posts as more stuff happens!