FAST Formation Ground School

You’d have to have worked pretty hard this Sunday to beat my Sunday.  I kicked it off with the FAST formation ground school at Detroit City Airport (KDET).

The Formation and Safety Team (FAST) is a worldwide educational organization dedicated to teaching safe formation flying.  FAST is made up of 16 signatory organizations whose mission is to support education in the restoration, maintenance and flight of their members’ aircraft.  FAST does not itself promulgate standards that reach into the cockpits of the individual formation ships.  Signatory organizations take the core FAST materials and customize them to their aircraft-specific missions.

This specific session was hosted by the Tuskegee Airmen Glider Club, a club that operates three of the remaining nine Schweizer SGM 2-37 motorgliders, all surplus from the USAF Academy since 2003.  The club wants to be able to fly the gliders in formation in waivered airspace at airshows, which requires that the pilots have the appropriate FAST cards.  The ground school is the beginning of the process, so they hosted one. [Read more...]

Embedded with The Hoppers: Battle Creek 2011

If it’s Independence Day weekend, you can be pretty sure that you’ll find me in Battle Creek, Michigan for the Field of Flight Airshow and Balloon Festival.
This year is really special. Several months go, I made arrangements to embed for a couple of days as media guy with The Hoppers.
The Hoppers are a civilian L-39 formation team with members from all around the midwest. I’ve wanted for some time to rig cameras in multiple ships of a formation team and the Hoppers presented a perfect opportunity to do that.
I arrived hurt-early on Friday and spent the morning figuring out where to place cameras for the best effect. This was an ideal situation. The team flew two demo sorties on Friday and a show demo on Saturday. This allowed me to fly up to seven cameras in the aircraft to identify the best angles and wring out any technical issues, as well as get footage for both an Airspeed episode and a promo video for the team.
The team’s members come from all over the midwest. Tim “Dawg” Brutsche is a longstanding pillar of the Battle Creek show. Tim flew lead for all three demo sorties and I placed a rearward-looking camera in his cockpit, as well as a forward-facing nose cam. I also hung a couple of cameras in the back seat to catch the two and three ships and wired Tim for sound so I could capture the communications. Three other cameras placed in the other three aircraft rounded out the tech setup.
Although I ended up facing some unexpected technical issues (e.g. fogging of the cameras due to the climate control in the aircraft), I got more than I need to come up with a great video.
And, of course, it’s always good to fly the media guy. I rode along on two sorties. One around the airport practicing demo formations and the break for landing and the other further away and a lot higher to practice formation rejoins and other skills.
So I have loads of footage and I’m looking forward to really sitting down with it to put together exciting stuff for both Airspeed and the team. It’s really late (actually, it’s so late, it’s early) and I’m about to fall over. But I wanted to get these shots up.
More soon!

Airspeed Comes Up for Air

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

You might be wondering, “Where the heck is Airspeed?” And you could be forgiven for wondering that. I haven’t gotten a new episode out for some time. But it’s all going to be worthwhile. I haven’t been idle!

Unless you’ve hidden your iPod under a rock, you know that I’ve been working on the Acro Camp movie project with virtually every spare moment of time. It turns out that there’s an unreal amount of stuff to get in order for making a movie. And, being that I’m both a lawyer and persnickety about how the legal structure of a project works, I’ve had to draft virtually every document from scratch after researching the subject matter pretty thoroughly.

But the hardest, and most important, part is getting the cast selected. And we’re done with that. We announced it on the Acro Camp site today after the fourth and final cast member confirmed availability. I’m really happy with the cast and I think that everyone is darned near perfect.

By happy coincidence, we were able to hook up with camper Michelle Kole and her dad, Ed Kole, at Jackson County Reynolds Field (KJXN) for lunch today. Michelle was visiting Ed in Chicagoland and they flew Ed’s Beech V35B, N6070S to Jackson. After lunch, Don gave Michelle a demo flight in the Opt-Air-managed Cirrus SR-22 and I got my first ride in a fork-tailed doctor killer (very ably flown by Ed and, in my humble opinion, not deserving of that moniker).

We departed as a flight of two and made the first 15 miles out of Jackson in formation with Don on our wing. Then Don (or maybe Michelle – who knows?) gave us a wing waggle and peeled off to go do the demo proper. Ed and I continued on to Oakland Troy Airport (KVLL), from which I dashed back to my vehicle and returned to the office before the clients could figure out that I was gone. Except for one client in particular who wanted to know all about the flight. (My favorite kind of client.)

Anyway, with the cast selected and all heading over to to buy and read Geza Szurovy and Mike Goulian’s book, Basic Aerobatics, I can now concentrate on some of the other technical issues that I need to resolve before I feel confident about the filming.

Among the most pressing is the camera arrangement for the Pitts. Would you believe that an airplane as photogenic as the Pitts S-2B has no place in the cockpit to which to clamp a camera rig? Nowhere! It’s all business in there. I seem to recall from the photo mission with Billy Werth that I had a hard time finding a mounting spot, but I had chalked that up to the rush to get out on the photo mission. Apparently, there really isn’t anywhere to put the camera. Nowhere inside the cockpit, anyway.

So it looks like I’m going to need to put the camera outside the cockpit. That means, among other things, that I’m going to have to come up with an alternative camera setup. I went out and got a ContourHD (pictured at the beginning of this post), which gives a 135-degree view and is rated for full 1080p HD video. It’s small and it can probably handle the wind blast a little better than the Panasonics. I test-flew the unit this weekend inside the cockpit of a C-172 for video quality, breadth of view, battery life, and other considerations. I haven’t pulled the video off of it yet, but that’s on the agenda for the next few days.

It’s also becoming really apparent that I’m not going to be able to record cockpit audio with the same device that I use to record video. The Sanyo Xacti (the only camera that I have that has an audio input) is way too heavy to mount in an airplane that’s going to be pulling serious Gs. I think it’s going to be exclusively a ramp camera. So I’ll be buying at least one other MP3 recorder (probably another M-Audio MicroTrack with a 2GB flash card) and running the audio in parallel. And, because the Pitts probably has hardwired headset connectors, the campers are probably going to have to do the Pitts flights with a condenser mic taped behind their ears. (It’ll be easy to tell a cast member – Just look for the red spot behind the ear where repeated applications of gaffer tape have removed the epidermis).

Anyway, as much as I complain, these are wonderful problems to have. I love working through them. And the offers of assistance have been coming in with increasing frequency and breadth. I’m not doing this alone. In fact, this is going to be a massively parallel team effort.

Anyway, look for a couple of Airspeed episodes before the end of the month. And be assured that I wouldn’t leave you dangling if there weren’t really cool things going on.

(Like a certain ride with the US Air Force that’s approved and awaiting scheduling . . . Yeah, baby!)

Video from Lima Lima T-34 Ride at Gary Airshow

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These are the show notes to a video episode. You can watch online above or download the file from this direct link.

Here’s the video from the Lima Lima ride yesterday at the South Shore Airshow in Gary, Indiana.

Many thanks to the Lima Lima team for this ride with the only civilian six-ship formation aerobatic team in the country. More information at

Frame Grabs from Photo Mission with Billy Werth

This is a regular blog post. Looking for show notes or links to show audio? Please check out the other posts.

I got up on a photo mission with Billy Werth of Grayout Aerosports yesterday. I was front seat in Billy’s Pitts S-2C as The Indianapolis Star ’s Matt Kryger shot stills and video from the open door of a Charokee in the formation.

Really cool flight. It’s my first experience in a formation. We got close. I mean really close. But that’s what you can do with two really competent pilots. Billy and the photo platform pilot have clearly done this before and they know what angles and attitudes work best. We started out with some straight and level (despite the fronmt-seat placard in Billy’s aircraft that warns (“Intentional Straight and Level Flight Prohibited”) and then did a little inverted flight.

Billy warned me that the fuel filler cap sometimes leaked a little during sustained inverted flight and, true enough, I got a little 100LL on the inside of the windscreen. Good thing I’ve been doing the acro conditioning! I think that the acro around the photo ship along with a snoot of 100LL would have done the average media guy in.

And, when you’re in the beauty aircraft, your tolerance is kind of a limiting factor of the photo mission. You sure don’t want to hurl or have to end the flight because the photo team and the beauty pilot (and the public relations folks) are all counting on being able to do the entire flight and get all of the photos. I’m happy to say that I did it with no problem.

Matt Kryger, a staff photographer for the Indianapolis Star shot the photos and the video from the photo ship and I grabbed a few shots of him as well.

Great flight! Thanks to Billy Werth and everyone at Grayout Aerosports for the opportunity! Audio and video of this flight to come!