The Assignment

Letter 2016-06-02

28 May 2016

C/SMSgt Nicholas Tupper, CAP

Re:       Expectations


I understand that your language arts teacher has invited you to give me an assignment.  The assignment is to tell you, in the form of a letter, who I think you are and what my expectations are for you.  This is that letter.

Simply stated, I think that you’re the Analog Kid in every way that’s important.

You’ve spent a lot of time in adult social circles and I think your radar is tuned pretty well to a wide range of social interactions. You know how to size up a situation and wade in and work well with other people. You have all different kinds of friends. You go beyond brain, athlete, basket case, princess, and criminal.

You make things with your hands. You conceive of those things with your head. You’re also good at conceiving of things that others can do with you and you’re usually hatching or working on at least a few hare-brained projects at any given time.

I think that you lack certain focus and attention to detail that could help you get where you’re going if you spent a little more time on things like organization and keeping physical spaces let cluttered.

I think that you’re doing alright at this stage.  Just remember that the better you get, the better you better get. Your time as the Analog Kid is limited.  In many ways, it is about to end.

Which leads me to the things that I expect of you. Some are instructions. Some are facts. Some are philosophical statements.  They are all, in their own ways, my expectations.

Never run out of altitude, airspeed, and ideas all at the same time.

There is no courage in facing a thing of which you are not afraid. The bravest thing you will ever do is to face a thing of which you are afraid when the only person driving you to do it is you. When you could back out without anyone else knowing. Where the dream is a just a whisker larger than the fear.

Be Fletcher Lynd Seagull. Or Jonathan or Terrence or Henry or the others. All in good measure. But mostly be Fletcher Lynd Seagull.

Speed is life.

You should go ahead and cry when you hit a rough spot or get discouraged. If it’s not worth crying about when you run into a rough spot, it wasn’t worth doing in the first place. And you shouldn’t take on projects that aren’t worth crying about if you fail.

Respect the patient and unsung competence of nurses.

Short of a guy who has actually bent your aircraft, there are vanishingly few line personnel or gas jocks who aren’t deserving of a $5 tip before you climb back into the aircraft.  Index this to the CPI and tip accordingly.

All of our eggs are in one basket and that it is a species imperative that we place live, walking homo sapiens DNA on other celestial bodies as soon as practicable. If your situation and other responsibilities permit, volunteer for Luna, Mars, or such other destination as becomes available.

We have about a billion years before Sol makes Terra uninhabitable and a few more billion years before Sol well and truly goes red giant. We need a place other than this solar system to live. Get going on that.

Homo sapiens has taken 100,000 years to get to the point where ordinary men and women can fly. It is your sacred duty to make up for as much of that lost time as you can.

Find out who the Mercury 13 were and are. Learn their story. Find one of the Mercury 13 and ask her to tell you her story.

The most important films ever made are as follows. Watch them.


Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

Apollo 13

Field of Dreams

Tim’s Vermeer

The Breakfast Club

Schindler’s List

The Shawshank Redemption


Four Weddings and a Funeral

Twelve O’Clock High


The most important 48 minutes of television ever produced is Spider (Episode V of the HBO miniseries From the Earth to the Moon). Watch it.

The most important song ever written is Defying Gravity.  You can even tell your sister I said so.

Jonathan Coulton’s A Talk with George is also very much worth your time.

Read Animal Farm and watch for its lessons throughout your life.

There is no volume at which the works of Arron Copeland or David Kneupper can be played that is too loud.

There is no music that cannot be enhanced by a trombone solo.

Understand and appreciate your time as the Analog Kid. It will be important as you become the Digital Man. You will spend much longer as the Digital Man and, accordingly, will require as much Analog Kid as you can absorb while you can.

See one, do one, teach one. Then keep teaching.

You don’t really know a subject until you’ve taught it.

Shut up, be where Lead expects you to be, and don’t hit anybody with a number lower than yours.

Fly slow enough that you don’t lose the outside wingman, but fast enough that you don’t stall the inside wingman.

Your life is made up of time. People and processes that waste your time kill you in subtle but irrevocable ways. Protect yourself. Be rude if you must.

Do not, under any circumstances, waste a moment of your life reading Catcher in the Rye.

Read at least one book each year that has been banned in a southern state.

You’re not going to read every book that’s assigned to you in school. You have a mind capable of picking up the Cliff Notes version and doing well on the tests. But, after school is done and you’re out in the world, you should make a list of the books that you shortchanged by doing this and you should go back and read them.  The Old Man and the Sea, The Great Gatsby, and Brave New World are several from my own list. But under no circumstances should you waste any time with Catcher in the Rye.

Picking a landmark on a map and then locating it out the window – in that order – is a great way to fly cross country. And that that order of operations is the worst possible way to do science.

Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.

That which can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.

When it comes to truth, there’s no such thing as no harm, no foul. Veritas! Veritas! Veritas! Pascal’s wager is for the lazy and the criminally self-deceiving.

Moderates in a wrong-headed doctrine make it okay for the extremists.

Anything worth writing should go over the head of at least 50% of any general audience. Otherwise you reduce the writing to mediocrity. An audience that must be spoon fed and refuses to learn through context is not worth writing for.

It’s okay if you don’t know something. Not knowing is thrilling! It means that there’s an opportunity to discover the truth. In any case, don’t fill the lack of knowledge with a god or a dogma. Gods and dogmas can only shrink as we learn more and others are going to find out the answers anyway. Gods of the gaps can only be as large as the gaps.  And gaps decrease in size.

If you will be walking around in any large city, keep several dollar bills in your pocket. Drop one in the hat or case of every street musician or other performer you pass. If you stop to listen or watch, drop two. It does not matter how good or bad the performance is. People who make art on the street are brave. They take their art to other people and expose their souls to the withering criticism or disregard of the world. That first dollar is for bravery. The second dollar is for love.

Memorizing the first chapter of Moby Dick and being able to quote it at social gatherings will be a valuable skill. You can measure the quality of any social gathering by the reaction you get from reciting that chapter.

A Santa suit is useful all year ‘round. This will become more obvious to you when you begin being invited to the right kind of parties.

Never miss an opportunity to walk into a drug store, gas station, or restaurant while wearing a flight suit. It does not matter that you do not require Q-tips or a fountain drink or that you are not hungry. It also does not matter that you’re not even going to, or coming from, the airport.

People deserve respect.  Ideas do not deserve respect unless they are supported by evidence and reason. When challenging an idea, structure your challenge to address the idea, not the person.

Some people will not be unable to separate a challenge to their ideas from a challenge to their person. Explain this if you have the chance, but don’t let this fact keep you from engaging in principled discourse.

With great power comes great responsibility.

Remember Bruce Wayne in The Dark Knight Returns: “This would be a good death. But not good enough.”

Always be yourself. Unless you can be Batman. Then be Batman.

Never judge a person solely by his or her appearance or vocation. Appearances and vocations are deceiving. I first met Tony Kazian in Indianapolis. He said that he was an  auto mechanic. Later in the day, I saw him walking around in orange Spandex leggings. I said at the time that that sure looked weird and wondered out loud why a guy would walk around like that. Pretty strange. It turns out that the leggings are so that the crowd can see his positioning better while he’s on the top wing of a 500 hp Super Stearman at terminal velocity on the downline of a loop in front of an airshow crowd. Turns out that not all superheroes wear the kinds of uniforms we’re used to thinking about. I was a jerk for saying what I did. Don’t be like I was that day.

Remember the Rolling Stones: You can’t always get what you want. But, if you try, sometimes you’ll find you get what you need.

Accelerate North. Decelerate South.

The only morality is the prevention and relief of suffering. Any other morality, the extent of the difference, is no morality.

Plant trees in whose shade you will never sit.

A flag or other object or symbol is never, ever as important as the propositions for which it stands.

The essence of democracy is that there are certain principles that are not subject to vote. It’s fine to roll with the majority on most matters. But the rule of the majority (what de Tocqueville called the “tyranny of the majority”) stops at things like the freedoms of thought, speech, press, and similar matters, many of which we find in the Bill of Rights.

Remember K: A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky dangerous animals and you know it.

Learn to write well. That includes spelling, punctuation, and grammar. The things that you most want will very often depend on your ability to convey important ideas in writing. Further, people will, and do, judge you for your ability to write. And those judgments are usually justified. One’s use of language, and especially the written word, is a reliable reflection of the one’s internal thought, rigor, and intelligence.

Use the Oxford comma. Do not conflate Kennedy, Stalin, and certain other persons.

The answer to life, the universe and everything is: 42. It’s perfectly okay if there is no question.

There is no question.

We’d all be a lot better off if people asked “why” a lot less and asked “how” a lot more often.  This is especially true for processes that have no discernable purpose and where ascribing a purpose is counterproductive.

Never worry that you’re not converting your opponent in an argument to your point of view. Don’t worry even if your opponent will never come around to your view. But have the argument where others can hear, see, or read it. Most often, the greatest dialectics are carried on for the benefit of the audience. Glaucon and Thrasymachus are sock puppets and that’s okay.

You are here and reading this because every single one of your ancestors for billions of years has survived and reproduced. Billions of years. No exceptions. That is both amazing and not amazing. But you have at least this much going for you.

Understand the following and be able to identify them in the wild. Avoid them yourself and don’t tolerate them from interlocutors.

Argument from ignorance

Ad hominem argument

False balance

False dilemma

The lottery fallacy

False premises

Post hoc ergo propter hoc

Moving the goalposts

Special pleading

No true Scotsman

Argument to moderation

Burden shifting

Circular reasoning

Begging the question

Naturalistic fallacy

Argument from antiquity

Red herrings

Cherry picking

The plural of “anecdote” is not “evidence.” It’s “anecdotes.”

Alternative medicine that actually works is called “medicine.”

We are living in a time during which there’s an upswing in authoritarianism. Along with that, there’s a growth in people’s willingness to accept simple and convenient answers that don’t require them to work to understand the issues. Religion is a major contributor to this trend. This is not the first time that this has happened. It won’t be the last. Fight this. Be impolite if you must. Civil society depends on it.

Make friends and make enemies. Make each justly.

I’ve been to every one of my high school reunions over the last 30 years. Things that were hair-on-fire-important in high school turn out not to matter so much. If you can, interact with people in high school the way you’d want to interact with them at your 30-year reunion.

Stick with the right thing. The moment you cave is the moment immediately before doing the right thing would have been vindicated. You don’t need to experience the feeling of having just caved when the right thing is finally vindicated.

Live a life of doing. There is a breed of men who spend their weekends watching the exploits of young men half their age in athletic contests and then spend the remainder of the week talking about them. These same men will then assume that your ability to fly, to play, to write, and to lead others to do magnificent things is a result of foolish distraction. Tolerate these men as long as you can but, occasionally, a fool will become intolerable. When he does, explain the life of doing. Explain it in powerful and precise terms. Hit him only with your words, but hit him with the coldest, most withering force you can summon.(Such force will, by then, be considerable.) Hit him so hard that he does not get back up. This is best done in the presence of his friends and children, standing at the crowd-line fence next to the aircraft that you just flew for a crows of tens of thousands.

Robert A. Heinlein put it best in The Notebooks of Lazarus Long. “A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.”

I know that this is a longer letter than you wanted. It’s almost certainly longer than your teacher wanted or expected. But it’s my letter. I hope that you understand.

May a bright and nameless vision have you longing to depart.







O-Flights, Dual Given, and the Camera Rig

Screen Shot 2016-05-08 at 5.40.23 PM

Despite some pretty iffy-looking TAFs for the surrounding areas, FOD and I showed up at Owosso yesterday to find nicely flyable weather. Overcast between 5,000 and 11,000 feet, but good visibility and the even the occasional convection that allowed 2,500-foot tows to result in flights of up to 0.5 hours.

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I had a few objectives for the day. Fly such cadets as were there for orientation flights, fly with a couple of cadet students, and test out the camera rig for shooting video aloft. All three missions accomplished.

A quick word about the camera rig. Actually, calling it a camera rig is a little overblown. It’s a first-generation GoPro attached to the sturdiest selfie stick I could find. The attachment is essentially lots of gaffer tape. Theres no housing on the camera so the form factor is as small as possible, creating very little drag. This helps in positioning the camera and also making sure that there’s no risk that any part of the rig could depart. I tested it using the car and it performed well driving at 70 mph (about the peak speed that I’d expect in the airflow outside the gilder.

After safety, the most important thing was testing angles and dangles. I quickly found the right vertical angle that would keep the telescoping pole out of the frame and also tested a couple of perspectives.

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I think that my favorite angle is straight out the window looking back. It’s the most vertiginous and it also clearly shows both cockpit seats. Right-hand turns with good landmarks in the background (like the airport here) seem to work best. A close second is the view looking forward, like the second shot in this post. The lead shot (looking back at the rear seat) is okay, but the others are better. I want to shoot some video from the front seat as well, but I was only flying cadets yesterday and I want a qualified glider pilot in the front seat to operate the camera, so those test will have to wait.

I flew three cadets on four orientation flights: Everything from Syllabus 1 to completing one cadet’s glider O-flights with Syllabi 4 and 5. Most cadets never complete all of their O-flights. It’s becoming more common in the Michigan Wing for cadets to get all of their flights, especially their five allotted glider flights.

Probably the most satisfying part was flying cadets on C missions. Two cadets are actively training to become glider pilots and I gave dual instruction to both today.  The first is a Johnson Flight Academy graduate who’s getting close to solo. He has all of the 30 flights required to solo and we’re just working on getting him to where he needs to be in order to do the solo. Flying on tow, boxing the wake, doing slack rope drills, performing all of the required maneuvers, and landing.

FOD KRNP Grass 2016-05-07

Probably the best part of the day was flying with the other cadet, namely my son, Nicholas “FOD” Tupper. He has about 12 hours of dual instruction (not counting the 20 or so hours or so flying the TG-7A as my guinea-pig student while training up for the CFI checkride) and 50 or so flights, of which nine are aerotows, including the three tows today. He flew very well on tow and all of his free-flight maneuvers looked good.

I demonstrated boxing the wake for him once on the second flight. On the third, I gave him the controls and let him try it. He flew the most perfect box I’ve ever seen flown by a student. Not that I’ve seen many as an instructor – I’ve only been a CFI for a year or so. But it was checkride-perfect. Really nice. I just sat in back with my arms crossed and watched.

On the last flight of the day for each glider, we usually land on Rwy 6/24 and get is stopped right next to the ramp, which makes it easier to get the glider back in the barn. For Rwy 6, that means landing on the last 1,000 feet or so of the runway, past the paved runway and taxiway. This helps with retrieval and also prevents hitting the pavement of the runway and taxiway, which feel like sidewalk curbs if you hit them while on the roll. FOD picked the aim point all by himself and got the landing very nicely in the grass.

I like the grass. I miss the grass. But Owosso’s grass runways are pretty short and a little shaggy, so operating from them isn’t an option. Takeoffs would be a little close to the trees at the end of the runway if we tried to launch from the grass and it’s not an option to land on the grass and then drag the gliders a half mile back to the launch point on Rwy 11 /29. No biggie, but I miss the grass.

Flying with both cadet students gave me another chance to work out my instructional technique and figure out what I’m doing. Both cadet students are flying very well, but have a lot to work on. They’re past the basics and neither is going to bend the aircraft, me, or themselves, so I got to work on figuring out how to get each to the next level. That’s a very different thing from flying early ab initio glider students (who have no idea what they’re doing) and it’s also different from flying with ASEL pilots (who know airplanes, but are mostly scared about making it back to the airport in a glider and don’t know how to use their feet).

I didn’t know anything about flying until I started flying in formation. Then I realized that I didn’t know anything about flying until I started instructing. I suspect that there are many more experiences that will cause similar epiphanies.

In the meantime, I had the kind of day that people envision when they decide to have kids. FOD was perfect in every way. Running wings, lining up a powered O-flight for himself (of which he flew nearly everything above 1,000 AGL), and flying the ASK 21 better than I’ve ever seen him fly anything before. I’m really proud of my son and I can’t wait to continue this journey.

CAP Glider Operations Pick Up the Tempo

Tupper cockpit KRNP 2016-04-23

I spent Saturday at Owosso (KRNP) doing CAP glider operations. The biggest rodeo I’ve done to date. 38 cadet O-flights and seven C flights, all among three pilots, two gliders, and a single tow plane. I flew nine of the O-flights, seven in the ASK 21 and two in the 2-32. To add complexity, the airport hosted a fly-in lunch that kept the pattern pretty busy from about 1030L to 1400L.

This was a confidence-builder for me. Yeah, I’ve done O-flights, but this was a genuine high-throughput operation trying to get all of the cadets flown in the time available. To preserve my duty day, I got into the cockpit at 1030L and flew on and off until coperations concluded around 1600L

I was looking forward to getting some dual instruction for FOD, but the main tire of the ASK 21 went flat around 1500L and wouldn’t hold air. The ASK 21 is the primary training ship, so that put an end to the instruction for the day.

I was pretty impressed by FOD’s reaction.  He had been running wings and dashing for the rope all day and could be forgiven for being disappointed about not getting to fly. I was really proud of how understanding he was. We’re going to try to get back up on 9 May and make up for lost time.

Engine-Off Approach KDET

I rarely change my Facebook cover photo. That’s mostly because it takes a pretty cool photo to displace the old one. I’ve used a shot out the front window of the TG-7A on approach to Rwy 33 at Detroit City Airport (KDET) with the prop stopped since late last year.  It’s pretty cool. It looks like the cockpit is unoccupied and one could be forgiven for thinking that it’s photoshopped except that the airspeed indicators are alive (and on speed). But I had a cadet late in the day who flew well enough that I could get out the GoPro and shoot some video. I happened to get a pretty impressive-looking sot of myself, so that went up today as the new cover page. Nice lighting, blue sky, canopy reflections, and other elements that make it a pretty cool hero shot. Now all I have to do is fly as well as the picture suggests that I do.

Next weekend, I’m off to tour Fermilab with Deadly, then it’s more glider ops the week after. This is what we do and thins is how we do it.


CAP Glider Ops – A New O-Ride Pilot Debuts

Tupper Feltun Full

Yesterday, I debuted as a cadet orientation pilot for CAP. Yeah, I’ve been a CFI and a rated CAP instructor pilot since last June, but I had only recently gotten around to getting qualified as a cadet orientation pilot.

I’m comfortable in the ASK 21, but less so in the SGS 2-32. Thus, I started out the day with three flights with Maj Chris Felton in the 2-32.  I flew in the back and had the controls for the first two, then we switched and Chris took the controls in the back for the third flight. (It’s a sign that you’re taking operations seriously when you go fly with a friend and the PIC wants the back seat. The front is too easy. There are instruments up there and it’s too easy to see the tow plane.)  I managed to bring the 2-32 to a stop in reusable condition twice, and then rode along on the third one mostly to get the sight pictures while an acknowledged master of the 2-32 flew the ship.

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After a break, I hopped in and flew three cadets. (Studiously avoiding telling the first one that she was my first until after we landed.)

The Schweizer SGS 2-32 is a 1960s-era two-place glider built like a Buick with a large main wheel in the middle, a tiny tailwheel in the back, and a skid under the nose. Although it’s most fun to fly from and to the grass, CAP frequently flies it from and to paved runways. No worries. You just have to replace the metal on the skid more often. (And, if you’re as good as CAP expects you to be as a pilot, the airport has to re-paint the centerline stripes a little more often.)

MIWIG glider operations for cadet O-rides are usually split evenly between the more modern glass ASK 21 (equipped with all wheels and no skid) and the SGS 2-32, so it’s not uncommon for a cadet to show up for a 2-32 ride after having flown in nothing but the ASK 21 for up to four flights.

On my second O-ride, I had a pretty good landing, which usually consists of initial contact by the main wheel, followed by braking and the skid making contact with the runway and the noise attendant thereto for 50-100 feet until the aircraft comes to a halt.

The cadet, who was on Flight 3 after two flights in the ASK 21, was clearly concerned. He turned around and said, “Was that supposed to happen?” We explained that the skid makes that noise and that I had not snapped off a nosewheel on the landing. I’m not sure that we was convinced. We’ll see if he shows up for Flight 4.

The thing about which I’m most pleased is the progression that I’ve managed to get. I acknowledge that I’m a baby CFI. 100 aerotows total with 55.3 hours of dual given (including the TG-7A self-launch time, which is the majority of that dual). I hit the CAP glider ops weekend right after getting my CFI and got a Form 5 as a CAP instructor pilot. But then Capt Mark Grant helped me to use a very gradual slope to increase my role.

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I started out by flying with rated pilots in the front seat. Pilots with airplane ratings but little or no glider time. Later, beginning this season, I flew in the back seat with my son, C/MSgt Nicholas “FOD” Tupper in the front as a student. A few weeks ago, I did a new Form 5 with Mark to add on the orientation pilot endorsement, as well as refreshing my pilot and instructor endorsements.

This progression allowed me to gently add responsibility and workload.  Airplane pilots flail around the sky and don’t know how to use their feet in a glider, but the IP’s role is pretty much to explain this while observing. Yes, you have to take off, fly (and/or save the front-seater’s bacon) on tow, and land the ship.  With FOD, I was a little more involved on tow and following the controls on landing.

On a cadet O-flight, it’s all about you as the orientation pilot.  You’re not going to get any help from the front seat. In fact, the front seat occupant is usually additional work and requires additional skill and bandwidth. You have to lean to one side or the other to see the instruments and/or the tow plane, explain things to the cadet, and be ready for things like the cadet hurling, getting in the way of the controls, or otherwise making your job harder.  In fact, cadets have an uncanny ability to hold their smart phones so that they perfectly block your view of the tow plane. And you’re supposed to do all of this in a way that leaves the cadet excited and looking forward to the next O-ride, as well as going on to the academy and becoming the fighter pilot that saves the free world, Mazer Rackham -style.

It’s a pretty heavy responsibility and I take it seriously.  The good news is that I flew three cadets yesterday and I felt well prepared. I think that each of them will be back for rides 2, 3, and 4 respectively. And that’s what this flying is all about.

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Thanks for Chris Felton for the picture that leads this post.


A SpaceX Rocket is Going to Land at Detroit’s River Days Airshow

April 01 Lead The Tuskegee Airmen National Historical Museum and SpaceX dropped a bombshell this morning at press conference on the Detroit waterfront. This year’s Tuskegee Airmen Detroit River Days Airshow will feature the recovery of the first stage of a Falcon 9 rocket on SpaceX’s drone ship on the Detroit River in front of an audience that could reach more than a million spectators.

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said, “There would be no SpaceX if it weren’t for the dreams that power the company and its missions. For many people, that dream starts at an airshow. What better time and place let people have a close look at what those dreams can bring?”  Musk flew to Detroit for the announcement after yesterday’s press events in Hawthorne, California surrounding the beginning of production of Tesla Motors’ Model 3.

Steve Tupper, who is in charge of the airshow, for the museum said, “I don’t think I have to tell you how excited we are about this addition to the show. Over the last four years, we’ve been bringing the show along. In 2014, we had a 500-foot waiver. Last year, we took the waiver all the way down to the surface and added aerobatic performances. We had no idea that 2016 would see a spectacle that has never occurred at any airshow before now.” April 01 Drone Ship SpaceX made headlines in December of 2015 by successfully bringing the booster stage of a Falcon 9 first stage to a soft landing at Kennedy Space Center’s Landing Zone 1. For the airshow event, SpaceX will land another Falcon 9 first stage, this time on SpaceX’s Autonomous Support Drone Ship. Musk says that the drone ship will begin its trek to Detroit in early June.  The ship is expected to arrive the week before the airshow and moor at Port Detroit. April 01 Box Map For the landing, the drone ship will take up a position in front of the River Days festival grounds near the Renaissance Center and near the middle of the Detroit River on the U.S. side of the U.S.-Canadian border. “We’ve had our issues in the past with getting the Falcon 9 first stage to land on the boat, but we think that we have things ironed out and this will be a great opportunity to demonstrate our improved capabilities,” said Musk. April 01 Falcon 9 The landing is expected to take place at 1:05 Detroit time on Friday, June 24 to kick off this year’s installment of the show. To make its date with the Detroit riverfront, the Falcon 9 rocket (called the “full thrust” version) will launch from Cape Canaveral in Florida about 12 minutes before the scheduled landing. After thrusting for nearly four minutes, the main engines will shut down. Seconds later, the first stage will separate and the second stage will fire, propelling a new Civil Air Patrol search-and-rescue satellite into a polar orbit.

The first stage will then orient itself and begin its controlled descent to the waiting drone ship on the river. “It wasn’t easy to make this happen,” says Tupper. “FAA regulations require that we keep performers at least 500 feet away from the crowd, and that includes rockets.” Although it will require additional propellant for both the rocket’s main engine and its directional thrusters, the rocket is expected to approach the drone ship from the southwest and track along the Detroit River over the Ambassador Bridge before touching down on the drone ship.

Federal Aviation Administration Aviation Safety Inspector Art Bangle described the complexities. “The museum has asked the FAA to authorize an operation involving a tube full of highly volatile fluids and gasses very close to maybe a million people in two countries and right in the middle of a navigable waterway.  Ordinarily we would ignore such a request as we would an April Fool’s Day joke. But Steve and the airshow staff are steely-eyed operators who have planned for every contingency. The FAA wouldn’t authorize them to give it a try if the FAA didn’t have full faith in that team.”

Team Tuskegee, the museum’s airshow formation team, is practicing a maneuver in which its four TG-7A motorgliders will circle the rocket stage as it descends below about 1,000 feet above the water and follow it all the way to touchdown.TG-7A over Lake with Harte Tupper says that he is excited this spectacle will have a distinctly Detroit flavor. “There are two major airshows – Thunder over Michigan and the Selfridge ANGB show – that are so close to the team’s home airport here in Detroit that we have to be careful not to bust their airspace when we go places. Despite that, they never include us in their shows. Come to think of it, they hardly ever have anybody from Michigan in their shows. So maybe, until they get their own circle-the-rocket opening, we can be as cool as they are.”

Other performers are expected to include displays of aerobatic, formation, and other flying by pilots and aircraft from southeast Michigan and Windsor, Ontario.  More than 75% of the airshow performers are from the area. Asked about the best opportunities for viewing the event, Tupper said, “Every place along the rail on either side of the river will be the best seat in the house.  Just get there early and be patient as you depart.”

The fireworks displays during the Windsor–Detroit International Freedom Festival draw about a million spectators to the riverfront every year, often causing legendary traffic snarls. Airshow organizers believe that attendance for the SpaceX landing might double that number.

SpaceX images used under Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike.