Vectren Dayton Airshow 2010 – Saturday

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I spent yesterday at the first show day of the Vectren Dayton Airshow. Probably the largest show I’ll hit this year other than Oshkosh. Really well laid out and very nice facilities for media. I’m grateful to the organizers for the access that made this a great first experience at Dayton.

As usual, I get pulled in many different directions at these things. In the best way. To a large extent, what I see from the crowd line has more to do with what other opportunities I’m covering on the field. It might take five or six shows before I get to see all of the performers that performed at any given show site. But that’s okay.

This was my first time seeing Kyle and Amanda Franklin’s wing walking act. I’ve said before that I’m not so into wing-walking. I appreciate the difficulty and skill, but – as always – my thing is chasing things that I’d like to do. I’d love to go fly that beautiful Waco JMF-7 Mystery Ship. But firmly strapped into the cockpit and cranking it around a bit.

They say that people watch NASCAR or airshows or whatever for one of two reasons: To witness the skill and performance or to see a crash or other tragedy. I’m very much about the former interest. I harbor the view that wing walking caters to the latter interest. Am I a bad airshow fan for thinking that? Am I a wuss for being conflicted about it? Would Kyle or Amanda take umbrage? (They are, by all accounts, wonderful folks and I’d sure hate to give the least offense.)

And there’s beauty in that solitary figure on top of the wing challenging the wind blast. I know it’s a team (somebody has to fly the airplane), but the image that gets me is the strange combination of vulnerability and strength in that image. I rarely blow up images that I take at airshows and hang them up in my office. But one of the images for which I’ve done that is a shot of Theresa Stokes atop Gene Soucy’s Show Cat from Selfridge three years ago. It’s really dramatic in a way that doesn’t happen with other acts. Maybe it’s that you can see the performer from head to toe. The performer is not the airplane, as is the case with the other aerobatic acts. Maybe that’s why I like Greg Koontz’s act so much. In the Clem Cleaver act, you get to see Greg out there with the airplane and he flies low with the door off, so you actually get a sense of the man as well as the machine.

Anyway, above is the best of the images of Kyle and Amanda that I was able to capture. I’m not the guy with the long lens (I shoot with a Costco special from Nikon that came with a reasonably capable 200mm zoom), so there’s a fair amount of cropping involved, but I’m pleased with this one. And it evokes that vulnerable, yet defiant thing.

Capt Ryan Corrigan of the Viper East Demo Team put the F-16 through its paces. Really nice display. And the humidity was just about right so that it wasn’t too hazy to shoot, yet the aircraft created excellent vapor on the wings when pulling Gs (which was most of the time).

The show hosted two B-17s. This is the Commemorative Air Force’s B-17F, Sentimental Journey. She has been everything from a bomber in the Pacific theatre to a photo reconnaissance platform to a fire fighting platform. The CAF Arizona Wing acquired the aircraft in 1979 and has been operating it since then.

What’s better than a C-130? An aerobatic C-130 flown by steely-eyed and slightly crazy Marines. The days of JATO launches are over, but I can’t seem to get bothered by that. It’s just stinking majestic to see this bird fly and be as nimble as it is, notwithstanding its 76,000-lb (empty) weight. Plus, a Fat Albert pass is an opportunity for us guys with the shorter lenses to actually get a better shot than the long-lensed shooters. Although I was kind of jealous of one guy who actually got the face of the rider up in the dome on top of the aircraft.

This is also the first time in years that I was close enough to the Blues to be able to see them step. In a very real sense, the demo begins a good 15 minutes prior to takeoff. They do the precision step even though 99% of the crowd can’t see it, and even when they stage across the field and almost no one can see it.

I often talk about stomping the ramp or doing the Haka prior to a flight. The Haka part is mainly in jest. (But only mainly.) But a preflight routine of almost any kind focuses you and serves as the thing that separates two-dimensional activities from the impending three-dimensional activities. And that’s a good thing. You’re about to go do something completely divergent from what our species is used to. You’re about to go and fly on behalf of those homo sapiens who lived during the 200,000 years prior to aviation. It’s serious business and it sends a chill up my spine every time. Maybe the Haka isn’t such a bad idea. Say on the ramp at KBAK for NESA MAS next year?

I also interviewed Maj Luke “Supa” Fricke, a T-38 IP from the 560th Flying Training Sqn, 12th Flying Training Wing at Randolph AFB near San Antonio, Texas. He’s an IP in the T-38C who makes other IPs for a living. He started out in the T-37 Tweet and then moved to the T-38 for advanced training. He then did a stint as a T-38 first-assignment instructor pilot (“FAIP”) before going on to fly the A-10 Thunderbolt II (the iconic “Warthog”) for 13 years before heading to Randolph to train instructors in the T-38C.

I’m going to use the footage to supplement the T-38 ride footage from the Beale AFB flight last week. We weren’t able to do a planeside interview at Beale because of the amount of noise on the ramp (not a bad thing, mind you – I adore that kind of noise). So the planeside footage of Maj Fricke will go nicely with the episode. I also got some beauty shots of the airframe to drop into the episode at strategic moments.

Maj Fricke did a great job in the interview. He was nearly perfect at working each question into his answer so none of my voice had to be in the interview. He also did a great job of stopping and restarting at logical points when the AeroShell T-6s drowned him out momentarily. (Note the T-6 smoke arc behind him in this frame grab, which was unplanned but kind of cool.) I’m guessing that he’s done this before. I hope his PAO knows what a great ambassador he or she has in Supa.

So now it’s back to the grindstone for a week and a half until Oshkosh. I’m planning to leave southeast Michigan at oh-dark-thirty the morning of Wednesday 28 July and hit the American Champion factory on the way to OSH. FOD and I should make it there late afternoon and then be on the grounds through Saturday mid-day. I’ll tweet the lat-long for Firebase Airspeed as soon as we get settled in. See you there!

Vectren Dayton Airshow 2010 – Media Day

This is a regular blog post. If you’re looking for show notes or links to show audio, they’re here on the site, just in the other posts.

I spent the day at the Vectren Dayton Airshow here in Dayton, Ohio, where, in addition to hitting the show, I’m visiting my college roommate, Jim Davis.

This is my first year hitting Dayton. I can tell you already that I like the layout and the media situation and I’m looking forward to getting out on the grounds tomorrow to see the show in full swing. The Blue Angels are headlining and I got to see the team’s practice demo. It seems to be a little longer than I remember and it has several elements that are different from last year.

I spend the early afternoon getting a ride in Flagship Detroit, the oldest fully-restored DC-3 flying today (SN 45, delivered to American Airlines in 1937.). This ‘three is owned and operated by the Flagship Detroit Foundation.

Lewis Drake and John Thatcher took Jim, me, and about a dozen other media reps out for about 0.6 to demonstrate the airplane. I flew a couple of video cameras, but the footage didn’t work very well. I mounted the Hero up on the top rear of the cockpit and a ContourHD on the flight engineer’s table. As I sat in the back looking up into the cockpit, I realized that that placement wasn’t working well, largely because the guy at the flight engineer’s seat kept lifting his still camera up directly in front of the Hero and shooting. And there was the parade of other media folks in front of the camera.

No biggie, though. I got several sequences that I’ll likely be able to use in a later episode. And I plugged in the audio recorder and captured the intercom and ATC chatter. I haven’t had the opportunity yet to listen to the audio. But I explained to Lewis what the audio recorder was as I was de-installing it from the rear headset jack. And he said something to the effect of “Oh! Did you get the landing?” Which leads me to believe that there might be some fun stuff on the tape, both there and elsewhere. Lewis was enthusiastic and fun to be around. I can’t wait to audition that audio. I might do it on the drive home.

I’m always conflicted about riding in a DC-3 or a C-47. Clearly, I love the airframe or I wouldn’t have gone all the way to Griffin and done a type rating training course in it. But I got the type rating to fly it, after all. I think I was a good passenger despite myself. As often as I make the joke about the pilots having the fish and being called upon to dash to the cockpit to land the airplane, this is one airliner that I know I can actually land. And that makes it weird somehow.

Dan Gryder’s Herpa DC-3 was perfectly serviceable and hat its own gritty freight-dog appeal. I heard Dan say in an interview once on the 25 Zulu Show that N143D greasy and oily and he kept trying to talk people out of coming to train in it, but that they kept showing up to fly it. Yeah, I’m one of those guys. And I’m (and many others are) good with that.

Flagship Detroit, on the other hand is pristine. The cockpit is clean and shiny. New(er) gages and dials and a clean panel. The Spirit harkens to a different line of history that the same airframe serves. This is the airplane that made air travel more common, even if not commonplace. It’s a different vibe. Neither better nor worse. Just different. And, for the record, I’d happily fly either of them tomorrow. Or right now, for that matter. Heck, I’m tailwheel current . . .

Randolph AFB sent a couple of T-38Cs to the show and they were flying earlier in the day. There are a couple of Vipers on the ramp, too. I met the pilots. And, of course, there’s a T-6A.

Airshows are becoming reunions of my dreams. Nodes of convergence by the gossamer functions that are these aircraft – these things that I first grew to love here on the tarmac and then pursued. Perhaps you’ve heard the line about the dog that chases cars and about what a dog like that would do if he actually caught one. In some sense, I’m that dog. And I’ve caught a few cars.

Walking around the ramp on a day like today is an opportunity to reflect on how fortunate I’ve been to experience these aircraft, how hard I need to work to come up with a great episode for the T-38 ride to justify the trust that the Air Force placed in me, and the vast chasm between my abilities and the abilities of those pilots who regularly fly these aircraft.

I mentioned at the beginning of this post that I’m visiting Jim (“Gumby”) Davis, who’s a senior desk editor at the Troy Daily News. Gumby and I roomed together for the last two and a half years that I went to Albion College. We were on 2nd East Seaton 1986-87 and then roommates in the Delt Sig house 1987-88. We spent many a sleepless night studying (or not) and once came within two hours of breaking the Delt Sig stay-awake record of 70 straight hours. Many an excellent memory is being re-lived and the deepest, darkest corners of my iPod are being plumbed for obscure stuff that I couldn’t fathom why was there until a few hours ago.

We’re hitting the show again tomorrow to see what we can see. In the meantime, though, we’re heading out for some food and a beer or three.

Video Episode – JATO Ride in Fat Albert

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I was fortunate enough to get one of the last Jet-Assisted Take-Off (“JATO”) rides in the Blue Angels’ Marine-flown C-130, Fat Albert. The JATO bottles are getting more and more scarce and it’s unlikely that there will be many more rides like this.

Really interesting ride, mostly because of the lack of outside references. I’m used to unusual attitudes, but it’s a little off to experience them when your only outside reference is an 18” window on the far side of the aircraft.

I mounted the camera just above and behind my head. You can see my WTHR ballcap in the lower right-hand corner of the frame. Query the wisdom of clamping the camera to the airframe of a JATO-boosted C-130. The jitter and vibration is really pronounced in several places. But it stabilized whenever the aircraft got to less than about 0.5G. And those were the best sequences anyway.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. The media hospitality at the Indianapolis Airshow was spectacular. I remain indebted to Roger Bishop for the up-close opportunities as the show.

Frame Grabs from the JATO Ride in the Blue Angels’ C-130, Fat Albert

This is a regular blog post. If you’re looking for show notes or links to show audio (and there’s lots of that here!), please check the other posts.

The highlight of the day was a jet-assisted takeoff (JATO) ride on the Blue Angels’ C-130, known as Fat Albert.

I shot video of the flight, as well as the briefing before and some of the interior of the aircraft.

The in-flight video is a little blurry. I clamped the camera to the rail just above my seat and pointed it at the guys on the other side of the aircraft. I wish I had thought to clamp it over on the other side to get footage of myself, but I didn’t think about it until everyone was buckled in. Notwithstanding that, the folks on the other side were just fine as subjects.
The rail vibrated pretty badly throughout (and thus did the camera vibrate), so much of the video isn’t usable. But the zero-gee parts came out fine. This frame grab is from the top of the initial JATO climb, at which the pilot pushes the aircraft nose over and floats the occupants.

At the conclusion of the flight, they bring Fat Albert to a pretty abrupt stop and open the rear cargo door simultaneously. Everybody gets tossed forward, but not as hard as you’d expect. And, when you look out the back door, you see just how little runway they used to get her down and stopped. We’re talking a couple of thousand feet here.

The entire experience lasts only 12 minutes. It seems much longer. Among the new sensations on this flight are aerobatics with only limited outside references. There’s an approx. 18” window on the opposite side of the aircraft and you can sometimes see outside references (and sometimes not). When you can see the ground, it’s very close and it’s moving at around 350 knots.

I have audio, video, and stills that I’ll be turning into a full episode soon. Just wanted to get some of this material up so that you could see it right away.

Many thanks to the Indianapolis Air Show and to Fat Albert Airlines for this spectacular ride!

Indy Airshow – Interview with Blue Angel Boss and Talking with Roger Bishop

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It’s early morning on Saturday, June 6, 2009 and I’m getting this episode out from Firebase Airspeed Indianapolis, namely the Holiday Inn Indianapolis East.

This is the third day in Indy. I arrived in the wee hours of Thursday morning.

The drive was long. Maybe a little longer because the transmission on my car is slipping in high gear and I watched the tach in cruise at highway speeds to make sure that the RPMs weren’t climbing at a constant speed over the road.

Add to that the fact that I’d just put in 4.1 Hobbs on a four-hop training flight – Scenario 3 of the Garmin G1000 transition training – about half of which (including an ILS, an RNAV, an VOR-A, and a LOC B/C) I flew partial panel. Yeah, partial panel in a G1000-equopped aircraft is almost better than full panel in any of the round-gage Cessnas I’ve flown before, but everything’s in a different place and it’s workload-intensive, at least at the beginning.

Three hours of sleep and then back at it. But that’s okay. Because, a couple of hours later, I was standing on the ramp at the FedEx facility opposite the passenger terminal of the Indianapolis International Airport with Roger Bishop. If you’ve been listening to Airspeed for long, you know that Roger is the director of the Indianapolis Air Show, held each year at the Mt. Comfort airport about 20 minutes east of Indianapolis proper. And you might have guessed by now that we were waiting for the arrival of the US Navy Blue Angels.

Like any airshow, this weekend is the culmination of months of work by hundreds of people. And this year was unique in recent years for the Indy show because the organizers pulled the date ahead more than two months to make it possible to host the Blue Angels.

As we waited, I gut-checked Roger.

[Roger Bishop audio]

He’s unflappable, as usual. There’s a lot of confidence in his manner and it’s justified.

I first met Roger last year at Podapalooza at Oshkosh. Understated for a guy who heads a pretty substantial airshow. And as knowledgeable about airshow ops as anyone else I’ve met.

We’ve kept in touch over the past few months and Roger invited me to come down to the Indy Air Show. Indy is something like five hours from where I live in north of Detroit by the time you count bio breaks, so it’s a non-trivial journey. But the dance card for the show is full of military, civilian, and vintage warbird participants and it seemed more than worth the drive.

Roger didn’t disappoint and, in fact, surprised. Halfway through the first Red Bull of the morning, my mobile phone rang and it was Roger, offering a ride to the Indianapolis airport to meet the Blue Angels as they arrived.

This show stages the Blues remotely at Indianapolis International (KIND) and the show site is about ten miles to the east at the Mt. Comfort Airport (KMQJ). Although this means that the audience at the airshow proper doesn’t get to see the Blues step, the remote staging allows the Blues a secure place to park the aircraft and conduct operations. And it’s also kind of cool that the Blues can simply have an entire half of the airport when it comes time to launch or recover the F/A-18s. The Indy organizers have arranged for a single ATC frequency for the team between Indianapolis International and Mt Comfort, so that has to be convenient for the team.

First to arrive is Fat Albert, the Blue Angels’ Marine-operated C-130 transport. Shortly thereafter, 1 through 6 arrive at the airport, performing a carrier break over the runway and then recovering the team in short order. The ground team leaps into action and begins checking over the jets, refueling them, filling the smoke oil tanks, and otherwise checking them over after the flight in.

At the appointed moment, I walk out onto the ramp to get some pictures of the aircraft and to talk to Boss, CDR Greg McWherter.

[Boss Interview]

I also get a moment to chase down Maj Nathan Miller, the lead solo, who flies the No. 5 jet. Maj. Miller grew up in Lapeer, Michigan, just north of Pontiac, where I’m based. I found out last year that he and I have a tenuous connection in that Maj. Miller’s first instructor was Barry Sutton, the guy with whom I’ve been flying aerobatics for the last year or so. I pass along Barry’s best regards and the major seems to remember Barry well. Don’t we all remember our first instructors? And, every once in awhile, we get reminded of the common strings that run through aviation.

Roger gave me a ride back to pick up my car and then it was off to the show site. Mt Comfort is ideally situated for an airshow. It’s close to the major highways, but far enough off the beaten track to allow for staging of crowds and a good ingress and egress if traffic gets backed up.

The media coverage and other operations are staged at the field’s FBO, Indy Aero. The hospitality is excellent. No matter how busy it gets, people and paper seem to meet up and move where they’re supposed to be with very little friction.

Roger and I walk a short distance to the airshow office and pick up his golf cart. Then it’s on to a tour of the grounds. The show is laid out in a more or less linear way along Runway 7/35 at Mt. Comfort. The static displays are centrally located and convenient. The vendor areas are laid out along Tent Row with the usual assemblage of food and beverage and souvenirs. I get to see show center and get an idea of where I can roam on the grounds. This is a pretty good show as far as media is concerned. I can roam right up to the taxiway at show center and hang out right there next to Rob Reider’s announcer platform. Or, further down the way, get a quiet place under a big tent with the performers and line crew.

Flightline Radio is here and will be broadcasting the announcements and other content. The equipment went up yesterday and I’ll be walking the grounds with my Flightline Radio receiver Saturday and Sunday.

Roger dropped me off back at Indy Aero and I wandered the grounds for a few more hours before heading back to the hotel to do some writing and editing. I had a bit of an issue with the hotel Internet connection, which delayed the release of this episode, but, if you’re listening now, I’ve resolved those issues.

Indy has been, hands down, the best media experience at an airshow yet. Roger has personally made every effort to make sure that I and the other media will have the opportunity to get up close and personal with the performers and the aircraft and get the word out about this gem of an airshow. I’m very grateful and I’m looking forward to doing additional coverage today and tomorrow.

I should note that I got up yesterday on two media flights. The first was with Pitts S-2C driver and local Indianapolis performer Billy Werth. This was a pretty unique thing for me. Matt Kryger of the Indianapolis Star had arranged for a photo flight and was going to shoot Billy from a Cherokee with the door taken off. The front seat of Billy’s Pitts was available and Billy’s crew offered it to me. Not being stupid, I immediately accepted and got a great flight out of it. It was the first formation flight I’ve ever done and it was cool to be in the beauty airplane, maneuvering around the photo ship. Look for pictures and audio from that flight soon.

I also spent a half hour aboard the Commemorative Air Force’s “Black Sparrow” C-47. I plugged in the recorder at the crew chief’s station in the rear of the aircraft, so I have cockpit audio of the flight, although I haven’t heard it yet.

Get out to the Indy Airshow Saturday and Sunday June 6-7, 2009 at the Mt Comfort Airport just east of Indianapolis. I’ll see you there!