Indy 2011: Friday – Part 1

This is a regular blog entry. If you’re looking for show notes to a video or audio episode, just scroll around. You’re sure to find it!
Yeah, it’s my favorite time of year again. I’m a little blue as I find myself in mid-May and not out at the Aviation Station shooting a movie. I miss my Acro Camp crew more than I thought I might. But there’s nothing like an airshow to take the edge off of that particular blueness.
Indy is one of my favorite shows. This is my third year covering it. It’s at Indiana Regional Airport (formerly Mount Comfort) (KMQJ), which has excellent surroundings that offer performance lines that can accommodate almost anything you’d want to fly in the airspace. It’s reasonably accessible. Firebase Airspeed this year is at the Super 8 in Greefield, which is only a few miles to the east. But for the construction on the main highway that has things down to one lane for much of the going, it’s easy access. And I’m getting to the show around 0700 each morning, so it’s no big deal for me.
I spent most of the day shooting cameo interviews for Acro Camp. I re-shot the Billy Werth interview that I did last year (the audio was unusable) and added fellow Red Eagle Dan McClung, hang glider pilot Dan Buchanan, Super Stearman pilot Dave Dacy, and wingwalker Tony Kazian.
And I shot as much of the practice flying as I could. Most notable was Billy and Dave Werth’s Sibling Rivalry demo. Billy flies a Pitts S-2C (in which I’ve flown with him) and Dave rides a ridiculously powerful motorcycle. The act initially involved racing down the runway. But it has evolved since then.
Billy and Dave are now doing a lot of formation performing. In the lead shot to this entry, Billy heads down the runway and Dave reaches up and grabs the wing. And today, for the first time that anyone can think of, Billy flew inverted ahead of Dave and Dave was able to grab the tail of the Pitts. Pretty precise stuff on the part of both pilot and rider!

The Viper West F-16 Demo Team tore it up very nicely. Although ti wasn’t terribly hot, it was pretty humid. And that meant huge blankets of moisture cascading over the wings of the Viper at almost any positive angle of attack. The sky was pretty gray and the circumstances weren’t great for shooting either video or stills. And, let’s face it, I mostly do audio or close-up video. But the 200mm Nikon rig yields up competent images from time to time. The above wasn’t the best representation of the Viper that I’ve ever captured, but you can see the burner and there are huge clouds on the wings. Good enough for me!
Capt Garrett Dover cranked the aircraft around very convincingly. The tight-turning capability of the aircraft continues to amaze me. It just rolls over and cranks around at +9G for a full circle. You’re always sure that the Viper is going to bust the 1,500-foot line coming back around, but it never does. That’s just unbelievable pull!

I’m still chasing the Heavy Metal Jet Team for a couple of planeside interviews for Acro Camp and the podcast. I was close to Jive and Rook during the briefing in the morning, but had to leave early to interview Billy, then lost them. Heavy Metal does a lot for the Make-a-Wish Foundation and I understand that the team was engaged in taking care of some commitments along those lines. That’s fine. I still have tomorrow before heading back to Michigan.
I’m planning to ferry a Cirrus SR-22 from Pontiac down to the Carolinas for maintenance on Sunday and then drive back to Michigan on Monday. Then back to the office and my mild-mannered lawyer alter-ego until the next show. But, until then, it’s freshly-mown grass and the smell of 100LL and JP-8!

Vectren Dayton Airshow 2010 – Saturday

This is a regular blog post. Be sure to check out the other posts, many of which contain show notes and links to show audio and video.

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!

Selfridge ANGB Airshow and Open House 2009 – Day 1

This is a regular blog post. Show notes and links to show audio appear in the other posts.

I considered just posting this picture and leaving it at that. Seriously. The major and the kid sitting there in the cockpit of an F-16 and talking about whatever. This Viper was there on the ramp and they were sending little kids up the ladder (yeah, the ladder and not the air stairs) for a moment or two in the cockpit with the driver. Pretty darned cool.

Day 1 of the Selfridge Airshow and Open House is done and it went over pretty well. Overcast skies most of the day and some of the performers had to flatten out their shows, but everyone seemed to enjoy it. If traffic was any indication, attendance is up at least 30-30% this year, similar to attendance figures for other airshows all over the country.

Having gotten most of my coverage done in the days leading up to the show, I left the house around 10:30. I hit the traffic backup at M-59 and I-94 and it was two and a half hours before I got to the ramp. Holy crap! Biggest objection is that the sergeant at the single-file choke point at the entrance to parking on the ramp was letting every other car or so stop and ask questions. I think that particular practice cost about 10,000 people an hour each of their lives. A butterfly flaps its wings on the ramp and traffic crawls five miles back down the line.

Not complaining. Just an observation. If you’re going tomorrow, get there early. If you’re not at M-59 and I-94 by 12:30, you’re not going to be to the flight line in time to see the Thunderbirds. I’m more delighted than most about the attendance. But, if I go back tomorrow, I’m hitting the media window at oh-dark-thirty and then taking a nap on the ramp under an F-16 until a more civilized hour.

The Thunderbirds demo was great at usual. I think they flattened the show, but I can’t be sure. The converging maneuvers, especially by the diamond, are really breathtaking. And they’re flying in tighter formation. This is the latest in the season that I’ve seen them and they’re tight and close and spectacular.

Kind of weird hearing Maj Mulhare on the PA. I still think of his voice as issuing only from inside my helmet with a refrigerator sitting on my chest, watching the horizon appear from the top of the canopy of an F-16D. Not from PA speakers out on the ramp with all of these other people around. He’s the voice of my childhood dream fulfilled. Mine! Yeah, I know that sounds a little like something you’d see scrawled in Cheez Whiz (or worse) on the wall of the trashed hotel room after they finally apprehend the crazed stalker. It’s not that way, really. Just a little weird to hear that voice out on the ramp. Probably because I spent so much time editing that episode and, for all practical purposes, flying that flight. Thanks again, Maj Mulhare! That was a really special 1.0 ASEL, sir! It’s okay that you flew Colbert. His audience might be slightly larger than mine.

More pyro this year than I’ve seen in past seasons. Here’s a shot of the ramp with the flight line in the background.
This is a really deep show from the parking lot. It’s something like a mile (at least) from parking the car on the ramp to the show line. The parking lot is about a quarter of a mile behind me as I shoot this picture and you can see that the show line is most of a mile away. The first year I volunteered at the show (2005), I was driving a golf cart picking up mobility-impaired people at the gate and driving them to the crowd line. I was relieved in the afternoon and went on to do something else. I don’t remember seeing convoys of golf carts driving them back at the end of the show. I half expected to see their skeletons still out there in folding chairs on the crowd line when I went back to volunteer again in 2007. But all apparently ended well.

Here’s N976CP (CAPFLIGHT 2027), the Michigan Wing C-182T Nav III that I flew from Pontiac (KPTK) to Newberry (KERY), Traverse City (KTVC), and back to Pontiac this week. 6.3 hours of time toward the commercial, as well as three instrument approaches and a hold, making me instrument-current for a little longer.

That’s Capt Shawn Wyant, the commander of the Oakland Composite Squadron of Civil Air Patrol (my home squadron) in front of the aircraft at the CAP display. Capt Wyant was also the long-suffering flight release officer (FRO) for both the flight this week and a half dozen or so training flights that led to my successful Form 5 in the aircraft last month. In addition to that aircraft, we had the Gippsland, the glider, the ES trailer, and lots of other hardware on the field. A spectacular showing by CAP! Really prod to be a part of that organization.

A semi-inspiring shot of the Michigan Army National Guard CH-47 Chinook in which I flew yesterday. Shot this from the McDonald’s just before the traffic goat dip this morning. Dave Higdon is right about trying to blur the prop whenever possible. He tries to shoot around 1/100th at the fastest to be sure that he gets a nice translucent prop disc in pictures. I shot this on auto into a bright sly and the camera probably set itself to about 1/100th. And I froze the rotors.

The CH-47, beautiful in its own way, is ugly to many even when the rotors are properly blurred. It’s ugly even to those who love it when you freeze the rotors like this. I need to learn my still camera a little better to say the least.

I have a pile of work to get done and will probably miss the show tomorrow. Some of that work includes finishing Goat Groove, the music to accompany the T-6A episode. I have great new studio monitors (Polk Audios) that are clean and deliver that canoe-paddle-to-the-face effect that I love so much when doing audio. Scott Cannizzaro would disown me if he know how loud I usually like it, but my ears don’t have to be the finely-tuned instruments that his are.

Get out to the show tomorrow. And get out there early! Gates open at 8:00 a.m. and there’s plenty to see and do on the field between then and flight time. Admission and parking are free!

Second Day at Sun ‘N Fun

This is a regular blog post. If you’re looking for show notes or links to show audio, please check out the other posts.

Day two here at Sun ‘N Fun in Lakeland, Florida. We got up at 4:30 a.m. yesterday to make the flight to Orlando and didn’t get to the hotel until around 10:00, so no blog post yesterday.

But we’re back at a reasonable time tonight, so here are a few views of the day.

Rod Rakic, the mastermind behind, got to hold Sean Tucker’s pole (at least one of them) for one of the ribbon cuts at the show today. Ella and I talked our way up onto the announcer’s stand and shot this picture of the moment. That’s Rod in the orange shirt holding the near pole.

Yesterday, we hit the Splash-In at the Fantasy of Flight museum on the way to Lakepand. We hooked up with Will Hawkins and Rico Sharqawi of Wilco Films and got to help set up for Kermit Weeks’ interview for A Pilot’s Story. Ella was the stand-in for Kermit during the setup phase.

The Viper East Demo Team was there with a single-ship F-16 demonstration. I shot what I could of the demo, but this was the first time I could get really close to the announcer end of the presentation. Here, the major is handling the communications with the aircraft during the demo while the chief did the announcing.

Be sure to join me on the Sun ‘N Fun Radio porch tomorrow right after the airshow (approx. 5:30) for the very first live rendition of Airspeed! I’ll tweet as we get close to airtime. See you there!

The Airspeed Virtual Airshow

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

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

It’s time for Airspeed. I’m Stephen Force and I’ll be your announcer and air boss for this, the first Airspeed Virtual Airshow.

This is an airshow of the mind. Please fully engage your senses and align them with the auditory content of this broadcast for best results. Please avoid operating motor vehicles or other heavy equipment during the show unless you are certain that no sneak passes will surprise or distract you and you are sure that you are able to resist the temptation to drive at excessive speeds while listening. This means you, Ron.

The temperature is about 72 degrees Farenheit with just enough humidity to permit dramatic condensation clouds around the wing areas of the fighter jets at high angles of attack. We have sunny skies over the field with just a few white puffy cumulous clouds to allow for dramatic photographs. We have arranged for the sun to hold its position behind you and at about 30 degrees above the horizon for the duration of the show to provide for the best possible photographic opportunities during the dedication passes.

Please observe the fact that there are no snow fences between you and the runway. Please feel free to set up you chair anywhere between the parking lot and the runway, but avoid the runway itself unless you really want to get that close-up of the approaching aircraft. No security personnel are on duty today because the show is restricted to dedicated aviation nuts and we know we can count on you to police yourselves. By the way, everyone gets an orange tee shirt with “Security” stenciled on the back. Make sure that you pick up yours at the gate.

Hot dogs are just a buck at every booth and soft drinks are a buck as well with free refills all day long. Tee shirts are just five bucks at every vendor tent.

All of the show aircraft will be on the ramp behind you and available for your up-close inspection. All of the demo teams have agreed to let you into the cockpits of the respective aircraft, provided only that you make airplane noises when you’re in there.

Please keep your cameras and attention near show center at all times. Because this is an airshow of the mind, we’ve eliminated all of that waiting while the aircraft circle around for another pass. This show is all noisy passes for the entire length of the show.

Featured today are the F-16 from the Viper East Demo Team from Thunder Over Michigan at Willow Run Airport in Ypsilanti, Michigan, the F-16s of the United States Air Force Thunderbirds, the F-15 Eagle of the F-15 West Demo Team from the Battle Creek Field of Flight Air Show and Balloon Festival in Battle Creek, Michigan, the F-22 Raptor from the F-22 Raptor Demo Team from EAA AirVenture Oshkosh in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, and others.

At the conclusion of the show, you can amble to your car any time and we’ve arranged for easy exit from the grounds by means of any exit you like and all freeway on-ramps are open and flowing at posted speed limits.

Or stay around for the acoustic jam session at Firebase Airspeed just a few hundred yards away in the campground. Plenty of Leinie’s and other beverages in the big blue cooler near the tent.

And, best of all, you don’t have to leave at all! Just hit the “back” button on your player at any time to start the whole thing over. It’s that easy!

Other aviation media spend a lot of paper or electrons talking about aviation and we here at Airspeed love them for it. But c’mon. When’s the last time one of them put on an airshow just for you? Point made?

Enjoy this Airspeed Virtual Airshow. Brought to you by 100LL, JP-8, Jet-A, soda pop, beer, hot dogs, and frozen deserts sold from pushcarts on taxiways everywhere.