Inside Airshows – Part 3: Tuskegee 3 – Audio Episode Show Notes

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These are the show notes to an audio episode. You can listen to the show audio by clicking here:  Better yet, subscribe to Airspeed through iTunes or your other favorite podcatcher. It’s all free!

If you want to understand a subculture or an experience, a great way to do that is to take an outsider and plunge him into the place you want to know about, wait awhile, then drag him back to the surface and wring him out to see how it changed him.  It’s even better if you can get the guy to wring himself out.  You begin to realize that not everybody who writes about the majesty of flight does it because he’s a fighter pilot.  Some of us write because we’re not fighter pilots.

You also need to talk about the world in its own terms, using the lexicon of the world, sometimes without explaining the vocabulary to the uninitiated, except maybe through context.  If you’re a pilot, you’ll understand most of this.  If you’re not a pilot, that’s okay, because you’ll feel a little of the strangeness of this world and you’ll put it together in context and in realtime.  Just like I did.  In some ways, you’re in for a better ride than the pilots.

There are three things you need to know about me.

First, I’m a pretty average Joe.  I’m 46.  By any reasonable estimation, my life is more than half over.  I live in the suburbs.  I have a wife and two kids.  I run the rat race every day about as well as the next guy.  You wouldn’t recognize me if you ran into me in the grocery store.

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Second, I always wanted to be an astronaut.

Third, I realized a few years ago that it was entirely up to me where between that baseline and that dream I would live each day of the rest of my life.


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Listen to this.

[ICAS hall noise.]

This is the sound of a magical zone in spacetime.  It’s a room with about 60,000 square feet of floor space.  It’s at the Paris Las Vegas Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada.  I don’t know what happens in that room for the other 361 days each year.  I’m not even sure that this room  exists for the other 361 days of the year.  But, for four days each December, it’s filled wall to wall with just about every airshow performer who’s active anywhere in the us and Canada.  This is the exhibit hall at the International Council of Air Shows annual convention.

Standing at the back of the hall facing the doors way across the room, the Thunderbirds and the other Air Force TAC DEMO and static display pilots and leadership are off to the left against the far wall.  The Blue Angels and the rest of the Navy and Marine Corps contingent are on the opposite wall.  The Snowbirds are in the middle on this side.  Sean Tucker, Mike Goulian, Skip Stewart, Patty Wagstaff, Bill Stein, Rob Holland, Billy Werth, Greg Koontz, Kent Pietsch, Andy Anderson, Bob Carlton, Gene Soucy, Scooter Yoak, Team Aerodynamix, John Klatt . . . every one of them is in this room right now.  Hanging out.  Booking next year’s appearances. Swapping stories.  Doing whatever superheroes do when they get together each year between seasons. [Read more...]

ICAS Convention – Day 2 – Part 2

Day 2 of ICAS successfully completed!

This is the first day upon which the exhibit hall was open and I spent most of the day making my way around the hall with Rico Sharqawi of Wilco Films. It can get to the point where it takes an hour to go 50 feet. In a good way. It’s running into people you know and people you’re meeting for the first time. And really connecting about their particular take on aviation and how to convey the excitement to audiences.

Rico and I are planning to do another debrief tomorrow morning. We’re finding that it’s a great idea to just empty our pockets of business cards from the day before and go over the people we met and talk about some of the synergies that we have with these folks. Or just the amazing stuff that they do. Looking forward to that.

Aaron Tippin gave a performance after the exhibit hall closed down for the day. Good performance with footage of him flying his Stearman on the big screen. Even though it was in the big ballroom, that makes for a cozy venue here at ICAS. Probably 200 people gathered around the stage in front with others hanging ou tat the tables in back.

I guess that’s just another thing about ICAS. I wandered right up to the stage several times after changing cameras and never had a problem getting there. Nobody throwing elbows. Nobody being a jerk. Everyone giving room to the guy shooting video for the big screens. Jut a great crowd.

The sessions kept going today when the exhibit hall was closed. I pretty much hung out in the halls to soak in more of the vibe of the event and to meet additional people. I’m actually in danger of running out of business cards if you can believe that.

I find that, in talking to people, they want to know about the show and about what I do as much as I want to know about them. ICAS seems to level out the interactions. Outside of ICAS, it’s the hero-fanboy relationship at the airshow fence. Here, I get the feeling that if you’ve come to the effort to come to ICAS, you must be serious. No posers here. Or at least not many. And you can stand around and have a beer with Greg Koontz or Gene Soucy or Theresa Stokes or the Misty Blues (all-woman skydiving team), or Scott Lane and the list goes on.

Jay, one of the pilots from Speed and Angels bought be a Leinie’s. Just out of the blue. It’s that kind of community. If you’re there, you’re serious about aviation and airshows. It’s just assumed.

I’m still finding that I have to explain what a podcast is, but people are interested and actually want to know. It’s really had the effect of refining my elevator pitch, if nothing else. I need to get across what I do and the audience for whom I do it. All in about 60 seconds in a crowded and exceedingly noisy room. It’s a challenge, but I think the message gets across. And it’ll ultimately benefit the whole new media community if we get the word out about the depth of the coverage that we can do.

I neglected yesterday to go over the presentation that came immediately after the new media panel. Announcer extraordinaire Rob Reider moderated and Roger Bishop served on the panel. They covered how to leverage video for the airshow experience, both for big screens on site and for distribution to remote audiences. These guys can wire and aircraft for video and sound in about an hour and set up the ground stations and production trucks to assemble the programking in a really immediate way.

It might seem simple, right? Sure, if the aircraft is only going to fly straight and level. But straight and level isn’t very exciting. If the aircraft is going to yank and bank, you need to have antennas with a line of sight to the ground systems at all times and that means antennas that aren’t blocked by the airframe itself. Suddenly, you’re talking whole new levels of complexity.

I saw the video production for the on-site presentation at the Indy Airshow this summer and it was great. You really have to involve the performers, the announcer, and everyone else to bring it off. It adds a whole new level of complexity because everyone’s now thinking about not just the pure acro visible along the crowd line, but the added elements of the video. Now the audience gets to see inside the cockpit and outside from the perspective of the performer and the aircraft. And you have to think about how to make that compelling – not just to an aviation fanboy like me, but to the average airshow attendee.

The mixing and getting to know people continued after the Aaron Tippin show. Mainly down at the bar near the elevators in the lobby, but in other places as well.

The above shot is not intended to be great art. It’s not. It’s just to give you an idea of how crowded and great things get.

I spent an hour or so up in the Air Show Aces hospitality suite. The Air Show Aces are Kent Pietsch, Gene Soucy, and Warren Pietsch with announcer Danny Clisham and wingwalker Theresa Stokes. These folks can put on a almost two hours’ worth of airshow all by themselves by combining their skills and resources to form 12 discreet acts. Unreal. You guys know how much I love Gene’s Show Cat and the noises it makes. And the rest of the acts are great, too.

The picture above gives you a good indication of what it’s like. Wall-to-wall people, most of them pilots to one extent or another, and everyone talking or shouting across the room. I saw that John Mohr had brought up two guitars (my kind of scene!) but the party was too thick to really break them out and I didn’t have enough energy left to wait until things dissipated. So I retreated to the room to edit some audio and get stuff ready for recording the show tomorrow.

Hard to believe that I have to leave at noon tomorrow to head home. Wednesday is going to be ugly. I’ll review a few deals tomorrow on the plane and try to be ready to return to normalcy, but it’s not going to be easy.

More soon from ICAS 2009!

AirVenture Oshkosh 2008 – Day 1 – Part 2

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

This shot isn’t particularly well-composed or in focus, but I think I like it. The Harrier demo is usually among the loudest at AirVenture. Here it is hovering in front of the crowd and there’s this guy with his fingers in his ears. Okay, maybe I’ve blown out my ears with too much rock and roll, but I come here for the noise. Maybe it’s that this guy visually tells the story and gives the photo the noise element that the visual aspect can’t. Anyway, I like it.

I’ve seen Gene Soucy three or four times and, much as I continue to expect that some other aircraft is going to thrill me more, Gene’s ShowCat is just phenomenal every time. I saw him perform at Battle Creek in 2006 with a 1,000-foot ceiling – one of the few acts that could or did go up that day. Flying his heart out in a machine that made really wonderful noises and that is featured on the “Shut Up and Listen to the Airplanes” episode.

I also love that he turns toward the crowd to give you angles like the ones in these pictures. And either his smoke generator is oversized or he’s flying more slowly. Either way, his smoke trail is really thick and, in good light like we had today, it’s really dramatic.

That’s Theresa Stokes on the wing. I’m not fan of wing walking. I get the willies watching someone get out there and do something that depends for the thrill on the danger of the activity. I love to watch flying because it’s beautiful and graceful and can be done safely with the right precautions. I don’t think there’s anything in the pose or anything else in wing walking that adds much to the flying. I guess the defiant gesture in the shot here is pretty dramatic . . . I’m torn.

Can I say this without anyone thinking that I’m beating up on Theresa (or Gene)? I’m not. I met Theresa two years ago and she’s really together and is very good at what she does. And she’s an accomplished visual artist, too. And wing walking is a time-honored barnstorming tradition. But wing walking just isn’t my cup of tea. Doesn’t mean I won’t have the camera out and ready whenever she’s on the wing. And doesn’t mean that I’ll never get it. Just trying to reconcile what seems to be heresy when I actually type it.

More when I can get out on the net again. Connectivity here is really awful. Haven’t been able to get on the WiFi since I’ve been here. And haven’t talked to anyone who has.

And AT&T connectivity for wireless web is awful during the day. Couldn’t even tweet for most of the day, much less check e-mail. Kent suggested that it’s all of those iPhone users who had to take the AT&T service and who then descended on Oshkosh. I don’t know. I was a Spring customer last year, but didn’t depend as much on Internet access on my prior Blackberry device.

Anyway, it’s a little frustrating to be here with all kinds of content oozing from every crevice of the grounds and not be able to get any of it out without really working at it. I guess that, if you see these posts, it’ll mean that there’s at least some means by which to connect.

More later!

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