The Pile of Awesome on My Desk: IFR Currency, L-39 Editing, NESA MAS Part 3, and Acro Camp Rough Cut

This is a regular blog post that updates listeners and viewers on events in the Airspeed world. Airspeed is an audio and video Internet media source that brings the best in aviation and aerospace to media devices and desktops everywhere. If you’re looking for the audio and video content, please check the other entries on the site. It’s all here! In the meantime, enjoy this update about what’s going on in Airspeed’s world.

I’m slowly getting back to the point of editing down some of this summer’s content into episodes. Airshow season here in the northern climes is essentially over, the last aerobatic contest in the area was last weekend, and things are calming down to the low roar that precedes ICAS in December.

I didn’t fly at all in September. Not for lack of trying! I had three attempts get rained or ceilinged out before finally getting up in a glass CAP C-182T on Wednesday to try to claw back some instrument proficiency. After devoting the summer to flying upside down or training for the commercial maneuvers, I had precious little time under the hood or in the clouds. I nailed down my six approaches in April and May, but they were about to fall off for currency purposes. So I launched with Capt Malek in the right seat as safety pilot and banged out four approaches in rapid succession: VOR-A 77G with the published miss and a hold, RNAV 27 77G, RNAV 19 77G, and ILS 9R KPTK. I hand-flew the VOR and ILS and let the G1000 and GFC700 handle the RNAVs. We landed about 40 minutes after sunset and, though the landing didn’t count for night currency, it was pretty darned dark.

I’ve taken to putting two cases of bottled water in the back of the C-182T when flying with just two aircrew. The CG is really far forward in the aircraft with no scanner(s) in the back, and the extra 50 lbs in Cargo Area B helps to take some of the nose-heaviness out of the equation. I love the G1000. I just don’t like to see the nose strut poking through it. The aircraft behaves sooooo much better in the flare with a slightly more aft CG!

I have an annual stan/eval ride coming up in the airplane this month, and I think I’m pretty much ready for that, pending only a little sim time to get my switchology polished.

Otherwise, I have a number of projects that I’m able to dive into.

I need to get the Hoppers promo video done. You’ll recall that I embedded with the team in July and shot two four-ship sorties with seven cameras plus audio, and then went up myself in the 3 and 4 ships to shoot hand-held video. The sky was gray and crappy for the flights, but there are enough good moments to make a primo promotional video for the team.

I need to do the last ingestion of the footage from the Acro Camp shoot at Ray in August and then get the footage of some of the crew guys out to them on a hard drive that Larry Overstreet has kindly sent to me, but that has been sitting on the desk staring at me. I also need to get David Allen’s footage to him so that he can crank out some OPA episodes.

I also need to edit the last part of the NESA MAS series and put together the huge 30,000-word single-MP3 edition, complete with an associated PDF file that will have the full text and pictures.

And, lastly, I need to finish a rough cut of the first rough cut of the first Acro Camp movie. That’s going to take some serious time. But it’s doable.

Thanks for all the downloads last month! Pretty good for the off-season and it suggests that core subscribership is up.

And I have proposals on desks at one Air Force unit and one Navy unit for jet media/orientation flights for the upcoming season of the show. As always, there’s no guarantee with respect to any flight, but the proposals are solid, you guys are a great audience, and the intrepid video, audio, and still crew is locked and loaded if and when the word comes. Airspeed changed the game in aviation new media this year with the T-38 episode. And it’s ready to continue pushing the boundaries.

But you knew that!

Making Good on a Deal

This is a regular blog post. Looking for show notes or links to show audio or video? Keep scolling or check ou the archives in the sidebar. It’s all here!

On Sunday, I went to the Battle Creek Field of Flight Airshow and Balloon Festival in the more traditional sense. I spent Friday and Saturday at Hangar 1 on the field, embedded with The Hoppers, a civilian L-39 jet team, setting up cameras, offloading video, and riding on a couple of hops in the back seat. Sunday was about hanging out with the crowd and touching base with that element of the airshow experience.

I got to see Kent Pietsch fly his Interstate Cadet from the other end of the show line. It’s closer to the staging areas for the show aircraft and it’s a different view. Kent has long captured my imagination in much the same way that Greg Koontz or John Mohr have. In the “It’s not how fast, it’s how slow” vein of classic barnstorming. Hammerheads peaking at 200 AGL. Doing a steep turn at treetop level around the TACAN station. Picking up Tom Green from the top of a camper. Really wonderful control with light wing loading and low horsepower.

Then the F-15E Strike Eagle Demo. Cash and BUDA wringing out the jet in one of the best-orchestrated and executed single ship demos I think I’ve ever seen. This was the second show at which I’ve seen them fly and second, third, and fourth time I’ve seen the 2011 demo. It just gets better every time.

About the time the Eagle landed, my iPhone buzzed. It was a text message from Don Weaver saying that Don had the Berz Flight Training Pitts at Pontiac. Don and some others were practicing for next weekend’s IAC Michigan Aerobatic Open and, if I could get there, there was a slot for me to fly.

I had enough content from the Battle Creek show. And I had even handed off in-cockpit video of the Hopper flights to the local TV station. Mission, for all practical purposes, accomplished.

I packed up, headed through the trampled grass, said goodbye to the Battle Creek media chair, and pulled out of the parking area.

The world has more than its share of aviation enthusiasts. I know. I’m one of them. And I’m as competent an enthusiast as you’ll ever meet. Climbing in, on, and around jets with hot seats. Setting cameras, knowing the angles. Troubleshooting technical issues. Being a very-low-maintenance rider who needs only the safety brief and is never a distraction in the back seat. Being a guy who has a better than average chance of being able to land the jet if the front-seater ever took a nap.

But, at the end of the day, I’m something of a poser. I post gorgeous shots of myself looking stern and competent in the back of the jet. I look good. But the fact of the matter is that my hands are in my lap or holding one or more cameras. I purposely crop the shots so almost every shot leaves the shot ambiguous as to whether I might be flying the jet.

I don’t have a problem with that. And I’ll keep doing it. No shame there. But, driving home in the car all alone with myself, it’s hard not to think about the disconnect between the guy in the pictures and who I actually am and what I actually do. It’s not guilt, exactly. But there’s a sense that I spend this time basking in the glow of others and then hope that some of that residual glow makes it into the podcast or the blog.

But this year is a little different. This is the year that I put my skills where my mouth is. On Thursday, I go to Jackson (KJXN). I’m not going to be there looking for a ride with another pilot. I’m going to Jackson to fly.

The IAC Michigan Aerobatic Open is slated for Saturday and Sunday. And there will be practice times on Thursday and Friday. One of the entrants is flying the Primary sequence in a Pitts S-2B. That guy is me.

The Primary is not complicated. You can fly it in a minute or so. 45-degree upline to level, one-turn spin, half-Cuban, loop, 180-degree aerobatic turn, and slow roll. It is by no means anything that would impress even the average airshow crowd. But I will fly it. In a box. With people watching. Some of whom will be judges.

Don and I launched in the Pitts at about 7:30. The sun was low in the sky. We turned west toward Ray Community Airport, where we’d be dropping off the aircraft after the flight. About two thirds of the way there, I cleared the area, then flew the sequence. Good spin! Stopped right where it was supposed to. Even better Cuban. The loop needed work. The aerobatic turn was pure joy, performed (as I like them) with more G than is strictly necessary. The slow roll was a train wreck (as usual). I went over the maneuvers that needed work until I was reasonably satisfied with that session. Then we proceeded to Ray and got some dinner with Rod Rakic before flying back to Pontiac in Don’s Archer.

I’ll probably have at least two more practice sessions before I fly for the judges. I’ll be ready. For now, it was a good flight and a great evening. And a step along a path that I’m only just beginning to tread.

I’m flying in the competition for a number of reasons. I’m flying for the challenge against objective measures that has drawn me to ratings and endorsements. I’m flying because it’s a perfect next step in my evolution as a pilot.

But no reason is as important as this: I’m flying because it’s no longer acceptable to be a poser. Because it is no longer enough to show up for a military media/fam flight with the manual memorized. Because it’s no longer enough to know the vocabulary and pass in conversation as one of the bros.

Because it is time to take the controls with my hands and feet and do this above a field surrounded by upturned faces.

This weekend, I go find out.

It’s just the IAC primary. No one that I admire in the airshow community will be especially impressed that I flew the Primary, even if I fly it well.

But the guy who drives back from airshows all alone in the car will want to know about it. He’ll care. And he’ll look me in the eye and know that I took up this challenge, even when I could have avoided it for any of hundreds of reasons.

That’s because I made a deal with him. If I firewall the throttle, rotate, climb, fly my ass off, and leave everything I have up there in the box, he’ll no longer have reason to think that it’s all a veneer. He’ll know that I reached up into the wind for the real thing and either caught it or tried as well as I’m capable.

There are worse deals one could make.

I’m not Kent Pietsch. I’m not Greg Koontz. I’m not Dawg, Puck, Mildred, Skids, GH, Cash, BUDA, Bloke, Slick, or Snort.

But on Sunday, I expect to be, if only in the most basic sense, a competition aerobatic pilot. And no longer a poser.

See you this weekend. I have a deal to make good on.

Battle Creek 2010 – Media Day

Yeah! It’s Battle Creek time again! The Battle Creek Field of Flight Airshow and Balloon Festival is going on now through Sunday in Battle Creek, Michigan.

I spent the day on the field (when I wasn’t up in a balloon) and shot stills and video and caught up with my friends there. And, naturally, I got a preview of the attractions this year.

Randy Harris of Bearfoot Aerobatics really flies beautifully. I think his Skybolt 300 is one of the most photogenic airplanes on the field this year. It was really catching the sun today in a way that not a lot of aircraft do (especially when you consider where the sun is when you’re facing north on a crowd line but the acro is flown along Runway 5-23 – You have very narrow angular area where the sun makes it worthwhile to shoot). The airplane puts out a lot of smoke, too, which makes the presentation even more dramatic.

The F-22 Raptor is headlining the show this year. It’s no secret that I’m a huge raptor fan and I got up close and personal with both of the specimens that were on the ramp. David “Zeke” Skalicky, Maj, USAF, is flying the Raptor this year and he put her through her paces. I can do some of that stuff in a Citabria, but I have to do it at 60 KIAS and then I have to recover from the ensuing spin. The handling is just too sweet for words. My only complaint is that the aircraft doesn’t come in a two-seat variant.

The Raptor is flying with a F-4 Phantom II for the heritage flight. I’ve never been a Phantom fan because I’ve always seen it as a misguided foray away from the core Boydian energy-maneuverability philosophy that makes this kind of flying worthwhile. The Phantom was a missiles-only ship for most of its operational service life. Only later did they add the gun. Maybe the Raptor (which is about as automated an aircraft as we have that still has a seat in it and fights BVR and drops JADAM) ) is the more proper expression of what the Phantom’s designers had in mind.

I’m hopelessly romantic about the idea that one ought to crank and bank and engage in combat where the actual maneuvers of the airplane matter. Regardless of whether the Raptor fights BVR, it can move like nothing else out there and perhaps there’s poetry in flying the Phantom in the formation – Maybe the Raptor is the redemption of the Phantom. Or maybe I’m full of crap. Either way, the Raptor is much more fun to watch than the Phantom. Even if the Phantom has two seats.

Am I over-thinking this? Come on, Steve, it’s an airshow! Enjoy yourself! Truth is, I really am enjoying myself. The formation flight is beautiful and well-executed and I’m having a great time.

I interviewed the safety officer for the demo team in front of the airplane for Airspeed and Acro Camp. It was a good interview and he was enthusiastic about the airframe. I need to get his name from his tag in the video. The team was ready to brief the demo and the captain was very kind to take a few minutes to do the interview at that point in the day. I don’t have the hardware to pull the video off the cards here in Battle Creek, so it’ll have to wait until I get back the Airspeed HQ.

Last thing about the Raptor. I know that everyone thinks that a jet team like the Thunderbirds of the Blues is necessary to anchor an airshow. And nobody loves jet teams more than I do. But I think that the F-22 is a wholly satisfying anchor demo for an airshow. For the reasons stated above and because it gives the show an opportunity to really craft the mix of other acts on the schedule. This is a really satisfying airshow with 100LL and JP-8 burners and pyro and other elements. I’m really looking forward to watching this tomorrow with a crowd pressed up against the snow fence.

The Iron Eagle Aerobatic Team was also there to play. Formation acro is just such a quantum leap from single-ship acro. And these guys get really close and match each other so nicely. It’s just a joy to watch. Satisfying prop whine, lots of smoke, and dramatic coverage of the show line. What’s not to like?

Bob Carlton demonstrated some truly beautiful stuff in his Super Salto. It’s a sailplane powered by the PBS TJ-100 jet engine that puts out 225 pounds of thrust, which is more than enough to aloow the sailplane to self-launch and makes it the only sailplane on the airshow circuit capable of performing a low-level, jet-powered airshow program. I didn’t expect to enjoy Bob’s routine as much as I did. Maybe it’s the same thing I feel when I’m watching John Mohr or Greg Koontz. Although the Super Salto has a jet engine, it’s not that powerful and I’d imagine that it requires some pretty good pilot chops and attention to energy management to make it do the things that Bob makes it do.
Get the heck out here and enjoy this show! The weather is supposed to be great, the schedule is well-rounded, and the grounds are ready to go. Adults are only $10 and kids under four feet are free!

Balloon Flight with Dale Wilson in Seventh Heaven

I didn’t expect to get up in a balloon today. Or this year, for that matter (or at least not during this particular year’s iteration of the Battle Creek Field of Flight Airshow and Balloon Festival). After all, I had a spectacular experience with Dave Emmert four years ago or so. But, then, again, the show was audio-only at that point and now I travel around with something like five HD video cameras and am getting a little better every day at editing video and making video episodes.

So I showed up this morning bleary-eyed with about two hours of sleep under my belt, intending to say hello at the media center, shoot a few pictures to back an arrival blog post, and then go sleep in the parking lot of a Starbucks for a few hours.

But, through a happy twist of chance, Dale Williams had an open slot for a flight in his balloon, Seventh Heaven (N7252W, a Firefly AX7 with about 76,000 cubic feet of envelope volume). Might I be interested? Do bears dookie in the woods? Heck, yeah!

I met Dale and his happy band of balloon chasers just outside the gate and we headed off to Emmett Township, south and east of the airport. This was a three-point target exercise where we’d launch wherever we wanted at least 2,500 meters away from the first target and then try to drop streamers on each of the three targets.

It turns out that Dale and Dave Emmert are friends and, the more I think about it, I seem to recall Dave talking about Dale during the recording of the prior episode. In any case, Dave was there on hand as we tried to figure out where would be best to launch Seventh Heaven. As before, this involves some science, some magic, some consent by landowners, some hemming, some hawing, and some BS. Various groups released small helium balloons (called “pieballs”) to try to obtain a near-realtime guess about the winds. Our group was no different and we released one and then watched it intensely.

There seemed to be consensus about where the ideal launch point would be, given the winds aloft. Many of the teams ended up along the same stretch of road where we were.

Then came the process of attempting to obtain permission from the landowners to launch from their fields and/or yards. Imagine someone knocking on your door at 0700 on a Friday and a asking permission to grow a 76,000 cubic-foot multicolored bubble on your lawn. We actually knocked on the door of the house in front of which we stopped. No answer.

I’m still surprised at the spaces in which balloon pilots will launch. The yard looked small to me, but these guys were talking about whether they could get two balloons up from the space.

I got a kick out of one team that launched before we did. They set up in someone’s front yard and the balloon actually required a lane of the road to fully inflate.

We obtained permission to launch from a recently-mown field and we were in the second wave of balloons to do so. It begins with a gasoline-powered fan to inflate the envelope (the bag that most of us think of as the “balloon”), Then you begin blasting away with a 2 million (yeah, that’s million) BTU burner and the envelope stands up pretty rapidly and is ready to fly.

I climbed in and off we went.

We spent a lot of time around 1,400 feet AGL, which is where the winds that we wanted seemed to be. Balloonists “steer” by changing altitude. As nearly as I can tell, the ideal situation for a balloonist is two wind currents at roughly 90 degrees to one another. You let the higher one push you along and then you descent into the lower transverse one (at the right moment, by the way) to hook around to the target before ascending into the higher one again to set up for the next target.

Dale prefers to be closer to the treetops. I agree with him. It’s really amazing just cruising along less than 100 feet off the canopy of trees. As I alluded earlier, this is going to be primarily a video episode and you’ll definitely get a sense of the drift from the video. Maybe mot Will Hawkins quality, but it should be pretty good.

We essentially missed the first target, but scored on the second. The third proved to be out of reach, so we began looking for a place to land.

We found it in the form of a residence off to our left. If the places in which balloonists launch surprise me, the places at which they land amaze me. But, then again, I suppose that someone brand new to airplane flight might be surprised that I can put an airplane down reliably on a runway that’s 75 feet wide. It’s all in the experience.

Dale deftly maneuvered the balloon onto the back yard of the residence. We missed the power lines, the ornamental shrubs, and everything else. A couple of bounces and we were on the ground.

You leave the balloon standing up until the crew gets there. There are several reasons for this. First, your footprint is pretty small. Second, your crew can wrangle the balloon to the ground relieving you of most of the worry about dropping the balloon onto something like the ornamental shrubs. (Or the dog. Yes, there was a dog. Or, rather, a horse shaped like a German Shepherd. Named Ozzie.) And, if there are obstructions between where the balloon is and the chase vehicle, you can just lay on the burner until the balloon is neutrally-buoyant and you can have the crew walk the balloon over fences and other stuff to reach a more suitable place to deflate it.

It turns out that we weren’t even the first balloon to set down in this yard. I guess it’s just something that comes with owning a house near Battle Creek. Ballooning is more intensive here than in most other similarly-situated geographies and the balloon festival and airshow brings in competitors and fun fliers from all other the region. Not the worst thing to have come out of the sky every once in awhile.

And, in fact, the people to whom we talked from the balloon (yeah, you can do that) seemed un-fazed by the balloon floating less than 100 feet above their heads. I even had a casual conversation with a lady in her driveway about how she could e-mail me and I’d send her the picture that I had just shot of her and her house. I got her e-mail a couple of hours later and I e-mailed her a couple of pictures in the middle of writing this post.

I have some video editing and production to do, but this ought to make for a good episode. I’m looking forward to putting it out.

Battle Creek Preview 2010

Subscribe to Airspeed through iTunes or your favorite other podcatcher. It’s all free!

These are the show notes to an audio episode. If you want to listen online, please use the direct link below.

Barb Haluszka appears for the fourth time talking about the Battle Creek Field of Flight Airshow and Balloon Festival. The show is slated for 1-4 July 2010, but that’s just around the corner when you think about the amount of planning and coordination required to put on a show like this.

The show will be without a jet team for the first time in many years and that presents interesting challenges and opportunities. That and more is on the table for this, Airspeed’s fifth year of covering the Battle Creek show.