Preflight Briefing with Thunderbird 7

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These are the show notes to an audio episode. You can listen online right here by clicking:

While I’m working on the music and other elements of the summary episode for the Thunderbirds ride, I thought I’d tease you a little more. As you know, I was the alternate, but got called in to suit up in case the primary rider’s camera crew failed to show up. (You gotta love ace photographer Tim Reed, who was there for me, camera in hand and snapping away. Thanks, Tim!)

After about 45 minutes, I had caught up to the primary rider in the suit-up procedure and I joined him for the preflight briefing with the demo pilot, LtCol Rob Skelton, the Thunderbirds’ Operations Officer. Here’s audio of that briefing.

Ultimately, the primary rider’s camera crew arrived just in time and he flew that day. But the Thunderbirds were kind enough to fly me the next day. I also recorded the preflight briefing with Maj Tony Mulhare, Thunderbird 8, who flew me the next day. I’ll include parts of that briefing with the summary episode.

This briefing with LtCol Skelton has a little better audio quality than the briefing with Maj Mulhare and it makes a pretty good episode in and of itself. No flies on the briefing with Maj Mulhare – it’s just going to require a little more attention in post. I was holding the MP3 recorder for the briefing with 7, whereas I had the MP3 recorder sitting on the table further away from us for the briefing with 8.

As you’d expect from a squadron with the reputation of the Thunderbirds, the briefings were remarkably similar and that speaks very highly of the team’s standardization of procedures. You’ll be able to tell when you hear the excerpts from Maj Mulhare’s briefing in the final episode.

Stay tuned!

F-15 West Demo Team Pilot Capt Sam "Nuke" Joplin

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We interviewed Capt Sam “Nuke” Joplin of the F-15 West Demo Team on Sunday, July 6 from the Battle Creek Field of Flight Air Show and Balloon Festival.

The F-15 West Coast Demo Team is one of the seven single aircraft demonstration teams assigned to the USAF Air Combat Command. The F-15 West Team originated from Holloman AFB in New Mexico and moved to Tyndall AFB in Florida before settling at Eglin AFB in the early 1990s. The name “West Coast” has been retained for heritage purposes.

Capt Joplin spent some time talking about the return of the Eagle fleet to service after having been grounded for some time in 2007 and early 2008, as well as the operational capabilities of the aircraft, what it’s like to do heritage flights, how he received his callsign, and whether Eagle drivers read Air Force Blues.

Here’s s shot of the F-15/P-51 heritage flight on Saturday, July 5 at Battle Creek this year.

Another shot of the heritage flight as it passed over the crowd on Saturday.

More information about the F-15 West Demo Team:

More information about the USAF Air Combat Command:

Air Force Flight Careers:

Airshow Ops and a Preview of the 2008 Battle Creek Field of Flight Air Show and Balloon Festival with Barb Haluszka

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We continue the annual tradition of calling up Barb Haluszka, the executive director of the Battle Creek Field of Flight Air Show and Balloon Festival.

The show takes place at Battle Creek, Michigan (KBTL). The festivities begin on Wednesday, July 2 this year when the amusement park opens at noon and there’s a scheduled balloon ascent at 6:30 p.m. They start burning avgas and JP-8 in earnest on Friday, July 4 and keep it going for three days with such attractions as the Shockwave Jet Truck, Dacy’s Super Stearman and Wingwalking, Oliver’s DeHavilland Super Chipmunk and Skywriting, Skip Stewart’s Biplane, Herb and Ditto’s Smokin’ T-28, The Aerostars three-ship Yak flight, Bill Stein’s Edge 540, military demonstrations, an F-104, an F-15 demo, a P-51 heritage flight, and The Starfighters F-104 demo team.

And the USAF Thunderbirds are headlining the show!

If you are or were at Sun ‘N Fun this year, you probably heard me doing some of the audio production for Sun ‘N Fun Radio. That took a couple of months of preparation and, although very satisfying, was a lot of work. Today, as we do every year, we talk to someone who really knows the meaning of preparation. Barb Haluszka spearheads all aspects of putting together a major air show and has been running at or near full speed essentially since the 2007 show in preparation for this July.

We caught up with her at her office at the airport to talk about preparations for this year, including her trip to the International Council of Air Shows (or “ICAS”) convention, what goes into selecting performers, interactions with the FAA, and more. Let’s go to the interview.

[Interview audio]

I’ll be at Battle Creek again this year along with photographers and Airspeed team members Tim Reed and Dan McNew and I hope to see you there.

And, if you go to an air show this year, take a moment to think about the preparations that go into them. It may be April out there now but, for many professionals and volunteers, June, July, and August and the rest of the airshow season is just around the corner. Be sure to take a moment to thank every airshow organizer and volunteer you meet!

Check out the show’s website at!

Stay tuned to Airspeed in the coming weeks. Airspeed goes retractable this week as I start my check-out at Flight 101 this week in a Cessna 172RG. Then I’m scheduled to train for my multi-engine rating in a 1957 Apache with Traverse Air at its winter home in Cadillac, Michigan April 19-21. The extended weather forecast for this week looks good for the RG training at Pontiac, but dodgy for Cadillac next weekend. In any case, if I get up, so do you as I plug in the MP3 recorder in the back seat and take you along for the ride.

John Mohr: Energy Management in a Gorgeous Boeing Stearman PT-17

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As many of you know, I spent a long weekend at the Battle Creek Balloon Festival and Field of Flight Air Show in Battle Creek, Michigan this year.

Barb and everyone else there did a great job of selecting a really good range of performers. There was something there for everyone. I really liked every performance that I saw. There were absolutely no flies on any of the performers and everyone demonstrated the very best of what his aircraft offered. But one performer in particular made me stop and really watch closely.

Out there at air show center was a blue and gold Boeing Stearman PT-17 doing really amazing stuff.

I don’t think that most of the audience really understood what it was watching. I can’t blame anyone for being the most thrilled about the jet teams, but I realized that what I was watching was probably the best stick and rudder work of the whole air show.

The PT-17 probably has the lowest thrust-to-weight ratio of any of the aircraft in the show. It has a big Continental R670-series engine, but it’s a 1943 vintage engine that doesn’t put out a lot of horsepower and it’s hauling a really big airframe around.

It has an exclusively gravity-fed fuel system with no boost pump and, when goes inverted for too long, the engine burns whatever fuel is in the lines and then quits. The pilot then has to get right side up and stay that way until either the gravity feed system gets fuel back to the windmilling engine or he can land.

Except for the final sequence, the PT-17 did the entire show below 500 feet AGL and that included a lot at 200 AGL or lower.

For my money, it was the best demonstration of energy management I’ve ever seen. And that’s kind of cool for those of us who fly more average general aviation aircraft. I really enjoy seeing Brett Hunter and Michael Mancuso and Mike Goulian tear up the sly and those guys are cutting-edge pilots in anybody’s book. But a big part of my appreciation for their particular demonstrations has to do with the raw power of their respective aircraft.

The chances are excellent that I’ll never fly an airplane that hot. But the chances are as good as my flight in a Cessna 172 on Tuesday that I’ll fly an aircraft with a much less dramatic thrust-to-weight ratio that that will require skill and balance much further down the thrust-to-weight curve. I was in awe at how far ahead of the airplane the PT-17 pilot was and saw a great demonstration of excursions into parts of the flight envelope that are a lot more akin to what I experience.

I guess I’m saying that the Blue Angels, Mancuso, Goulian, and others fed my soul that day, but the PT-17 and its pilot taught me some things. I came away a little ashamed at how much I hate the mushy feeling of slow flight and being behind the power curve, even though I’m in an airplane of very modern design and have thousands of feet under me whenever I do it. The truth of the matter is that’s where the best of the best really shine and it’s one of the proudest maneuvers of a true stick-and-rudder pilot.

Late Sunday afternoon while waiting for a balloon slot, I hitched a ride to the ramp at Duncan with the WGVU team I met last year in the hopes of snagging an interview or two. And what should be on the ramp but that gorgeous PT-17.

I was lucky enough to meet and interview the pilot of that PT-17, John Mohr of Mohr Barnstorming.

The audio here is a little noisy. The winds were pretty high out on the field and they were tearing down the ramp at Duncan Aviation at five to 20 knots. The MicroTrack 24/96 is a great little machine, but it’s tough to gyrate around and keep it shielded from the wind. Sure, we could have done the interview in the hangar, but means ten fewer minutes standing next to a really beautiful aircraft and, given that choice, you know what I’ll choose every single time.


I need to interject from the studio here. John’s a real pro and I could have run the interview as recorded without editing, but I want you guys to hear this. Here’s a part of his performance from the previous day where he stays inverted long enough that the engine quits from fuel starvation.


Okay, back to the ramp.


John will be at Oshkosh July 23 through 29 and then he performs August 11-12 at the Bay City Air Show at Bay City, Michigan, August 18-19 at the Canada Remembers Air Show at Saskatoon, Saskatchewan and then August 25-26 at the Wichita Flight Festival at Withica, Kansas. After that, it’s on to Toronto, Terre Haute, Columbus, St. Petersburg, Randolph AFB, and Stuart, Florida. See more schedule information at

Thanks to John for taking some time to talk to us at Airspeed and thanks also to the Battle Creek Balloon Festival and Field of Flight Air Show.

Another reminder that Pod-a-Palooza is scheduled to take place at Oshkosh on Friday, July 27 at 5:30 in Forum No. 2. Time and place is subject to change up to – and even during – the event, so please be sure to check the schedules when you arrive. It’s organized by the guys at The Pilotcast. Scheduled to appear are Pilot Mike, Pilot Dan, and Pilot Kent of The Pilotcast, Jack Hodgson, Dave Higdon, and Jeb Burnside of Uncontrolled Airspace, Jason Miller of The Finer Points and The CFIcast, Private Pilot/Student Pilot Will of The Student Pilot Flight PodLog, and, of course, yours truly, Stephen Force.

Join us! It’s a chance to actually meet the voices in your head!