The Hoppers Video is In the Feed!

This is a regular blog post that updates listeners and viewers on events in the Airspeed world. Airspeed is an audio and video Internet media source that brings the best in aviation and aerospace to media devices and desktops everywhere. If you’re looking for the audio and video content, please check the other entries on the site. It’s all here! In the meantime, enjoy this update about what’s going on in Airspeed’s world.

I finally had the opportunity on Saturday to finish editing the video that I shot while embedded with The Hoppers at the Battle Creek Airshow and Balloon Festival July 1-2 this supper. The team flew seven cameras and one audio unit on each of two performance hops. And I flew in the trunk of both the No. 3 ship and the No. 4 ship on the Saturday of the show to capture shots with a hand-held unit.

The weather was pretty overcast and visibility was low on both days. For those of you who kind of like the slightly sinister effect that that weather imparts, I did it especially for you. For those who much prefer sunlight glinting off of the aircraft, I did what I could with color correction without washing out the footage or making it look as though the Easter Bunny had thrown up on it.

In any case, I think it turned out nicely. The L-39s are simply great-looking aircraft. And they fly beautifully.

More information about The Hoppers is available at

The Pile of Awesome on My Desk: IFR Currency, L-39 Editing, NESA MAS Part 3, and Acro Camp Rough Cut

This is a regular blog post that updates listeners and viewers on events in the Airspeed world. Airspeed is an audio and video Internet media source that brings the best in aviation and aerospace to media devices and desktops everywhere. If you’re looking for the audio and video content, please check the other entries on the site. It’s all here! In the meantime, enjoy this update about what’s going on in Airspeed’s world.

I’m slowly getting back to the point of editing down some of this summer’s content into episodes. Airshow season here in the northern climes is essentially over, the last aerobatic contest in the area was last weekend, and things are calming down to the low roar that precedes ICAS in December.

I didn’t fly at all in September. Not for lack of trying! I had three attempts get rained or ceilinged out before finally getting up in a glass CAP C-182T on Wednesday to try to claw back some instrument proficiency. After devoting the summer to flying upside down or training for the commercial maneuvers, I had precious little time under the hood or in the clouds. I nailed down my six approaches in April and May, but they were about to fall off for currency purposes. So I launched with Capt Malek in the right seat as safety pilot and banged out four approaches in rapid succession: VOR-A 77G with the published miss and a hold, RNAV 27 77G, RNAV 19 77G, and ILS 9R KPTK. I hand-flew the VOR and ILS and let the G1000 and GFC700 handle the RNAVs. We landed about 40 minutes after sunset and, though the landing didn’t count for night currency, it was pretty darned dark.

I’ve taken to putting two cases of bottled water in the back of the C-182T when flying with just two aircrew. The CG is really far forward in the aircraft with no scanner(s) in the back, and the extra 50 lbs in Cargo Area B helps to take some of the nose-heaviness out of the equation. I love the G1000. I just don’t like to see the nose strut poking through it. The aircraft behaves sooooo much better in the flare with a slightly more aft CG!

I have an annual stan/eval ride coming up in the airplane this month, and I think I’m pretty much ready for that, pending only a little sim time to get my switchology polished.

Otherwise, I have a number of projects that I’m able to dive into.

I need to get the Hoppers promo video done. You’ll recall that I embedded with the team in July and shot two four-ship sorties with seven cameras plus audio, and then went up myself in the 3 and 4 ships to shoot hand-held video. The sky was gray and crappy for the flights, but there are enough good moments to make a primo promotional video for the team.

I need to do the last ingestion of the footage from the Acro Camp shoot at Ray in August and then get the footage of some of the crew guys out to them on a hard drive that Larry Overstreet has kindly sent to me, but that has been sitting on the desk staring at me. I also need to get David Allen’s footage to him so that he can crank out some OPA episodes.

I also need to edit the last part of the NESA MAS series and put together the huge 30,000-word single-MP3 edition, complete with an associated PDF file that will have the full text and pictures.

And, lastly, I need to finish a rough cut of the first rough cut of the first Acro Camp movie. That’s going to take some serious time. But it’s doable.

Thanks for all the downloads last month! Pretty good for the off-season and it suggests that core subscribership is up.

And I have proposals on desks at one Air Force unit and one Navy unit for jet media/orientation flights for the upcoming season of the show. As always, there’s no guarantee with respect to any flight, but the proposals are solid, you guys are a great audience, and the intrepid video, audio, and still crew is locked and loaded if and when the word comes. Airspeed changed the game in aviation new media this year with the T-38 episode. And it’s ready to continue pushing the boundaries.

But you knew that!

Making Good on a Deal

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On Sunday, I went to the Battle Creek Field of Flight Airshow and Balloon Festival in the more traditional sense. I spent Friday and Saturday at Hangar 1 on the field, embedded with The Hoppers, a civilian L-39 jet team, setting up cameras, offloading video, and riding on a couple of hops in the back seat. Sunday was about hanging out with the crowd and touching base with that element of the airshow experience.

I got to see Kent Pietsch fly his Interstate Cadet from the other end of the show line. It’s closer to the staging areas for the show aircraft and it’s a different view. Kent has long captured my imagination in much the same way that Greg Koontz or John Mohr have. In the “It’s not how fast, it’s how slow” vein of classic barnstorming. Hammerheads peaking at 200 AGL. Doing a steep turn at treetop level around the TACAN station. Picking up Tom Green from the top of a camper. Really wonderful control with light wing loading and low horsepower.

Then the F-15E Strike Eagle Demo. Cash and BUDA wringing out the jet in one of the best-orchestrated and executed single ship demos I think I’ve ever seen. This was the second show at which I’ve seen them fly and second, third, and fourth time I’ve seen the 2011 demo. It just gets better every time.

About the time the Eagle landed, my iPhone buzzed. It was a text message from Don Weaver saying that Don had the Berz Flight Training Pitts at Pontiac. Don and some others were practicing for next weekend’s IAC Michigan Aerobatic Open and, if I could get there, there was a slot for me to fly.

I had enough content from the Battle Creek show. And I had even handed off in-cockpit video of the Hopper flights to the local TV station. Mission, for all practical purposes, accomplished.

I packed up, headed through the trampled grass, said goodbye to the Battle Creek media chair, and pulled out of the parking area.

The world has more than its share of aviation enthusiasts. I know. I’m one of them. And I’m as competent an enthusiast as you’ll ever meet. Climbing in, on, and around jets with hot seats. Setting cameras, knowing the angles. Troubleshooting technical issues. Being a very-low-maintenance rider who needs only the safety brief and is never a distraction in the back seat. Being a guy who has a better than average chance of being able to land the jet if the front-seater ever took a nap.

But, at the end of the day, I’m something of a poser. I post gorgeous shots of myself looking stern and competent in the back of the jet. I look good. But the fact of the matter is that my hands are in my lap or holding one or more cameras. I purposely crop the shots so almost every shot leaves the shot ambiguous as to whether I might be flying the jet.

I don’t have a problem with that. And I’ll keep doing it. No shame there. But, driving home in the car all alone with myself, it’s hard not to think about the disconnect between the guy in the pictures and who I actually am and what I actually do. It’s not guilt, exactly. But there’s a sense that I spend this time basking in the glow of others and then hope that some of that residual glow makes it into the podcast or the blog.

But this year is a little different. This is the year that I put my skills where my mouth is. On Thursday, I go to Jackson (KJXN). I’m not going to be there looking for a ride with another pilot. I’m going to Jackson to fly.

The IAC Michigan Aerobatic Open is slated for Saturday and Sunday. And there will be practice times on Thursday and Friday. One of the entrants is flying the Primary sequence in a Pitts S-2B. That guy is me.

The Primary is not complicated. You can fly it in a minute or so. 45-degree upline to level, one-turn spin, half-Cuban, loop, 180-degree aerobatic turn, and slow roll. It is by no means anything that would impress even the average airshow crowd. But I will fly it. In a box. With people watching. Some of whom will be judges.

Don and I launched in the Pitts at about 7:30. The sun was low in the sky. We turned west toward Ray Community Airport, where we’d be dropping off the aircraft after the flight. About two thirds of the way there, I cleared the area, then flew the sequence. Good spin! Stopped right where it was supposed to. Even better Cuban. The loop needed work. The aerobatic turn was pure joy, performed (as I like them) with more G than is strictly necessary. The slow roll was a train wreck (as usual). I went over the maneuvers that needed work until I was reasonably satisfied with that session. Then we proceeded to Ray and got some dinner with Rod Rakic before flying back to Pontiac in Don’s Archer.

I’ll probably have at least two more practice sessions before I fly for the judges. I’ll be ready. For now, it was a good flight and a great evening. And a step along a path that I’m only just beginning to tread.

I’m flying in the competition for a number of reasons. I’m flying for the challenge against objective measures that has drawn me to ratings and endorsements. I’m flying because it’s a perfect next step in my evolution as a pilot.

But no reason is as important as this: I’m flying because it’s no longer acceptable to be a poser. Because it is no longer enough to show up for a military media/fam flight with the manual memorized. Because it’s no longer enough to know the vocabulary and pass in conversation as one of the bros.

Because it is time to take the controls with my hands and feet and do this above a field surrounded by upturned faces.

This weekend, I go find out.

It’s just the IAC primary. No one that I admire in the airshow community will be especially impressed that I flew the Primary, even if I fly it well.

But the guy who drives back from airshows all alone in the car will want to know about it. He’ll care. And he’ll look me in the eye and know that I took up this challenge, even when I could have avoided it for any of hundreds of reasons.

That’s because I made a deal with him. If I firewall the throttle, rotate, climb, fly my ass off, and leave everything I have up there in the box, he’ll no longer have reason to think that it’s all a veneer. He’ll know that I reached up into the wind for the real thing and either caught it or tried as well as I’m capable.

There are worse deals one could make.

I’m not Kent Pietsch. I’m not Greg Koontz. I’m not Dawg, Puck, Mildred, Skids, GH, Cash, BUDA, Bloke, Slick, or Snort.

But on Sunday, I expect to be, if only in the most basic sense, a competition aerobatic pilot. And no longer a poser.

See you this weekend. I have a deal to make good on.

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!

C/LtCol Melanie Davis: Incentive Ride in the Mighty L-39

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We’re very fortunate here in the Michigan Wing of Civil Air Patrol for a number of reasons. One of the best is LtCol Tim Brutsche, better known to some as “Dawg,” leader of the L-39 demonstration team, The Hoppers.

Here’s why. Tim offers a ride in his L-39 to any Michigan Wing cadet who completes CAP’s Spaatz Award.

The General Carl A. Spaatz Award is the highest award in the Civil Air Patrol cadet program. Think Eagle Scout and then some. It’s awarded to cadets who successfully complete all phases of the CAP cadet program and a final checkout consisting of a comprehensive leadership and aerospace education written examination, a graded essay, and a physical fitness test. The Spaatz Award is arguably the most difficult honor to earn in the CAP cadet program. Substantially fewer than one in 1,000 CAP cadets ever earn the Spaatz award.

Cadets earning Spaatz Award are also promoted to Cadet Colonel, the highest grade obtainable in the cadet program. Upon reaching the age of 21, Cadet Colonels are eligible to transfer to the Civil Air Patrol Officer program with appointment to the grade of Captain. Cadet Colonels who voluntarily transfer to the Officer program between the ages of 18 and 21 receive the grade Senior Flight Officer.

C/LtCol Melanie Davis received her incentive ride at Battle Creek this summer during the lead-up to the Battle Creek Field of Flight Airshow and Balloon Festival. I was over at the Duncan Aviation ramp finishing up my own T-6 ride with the AeroShell Team at the time and managed to get over to Tim’s hangar to do the interview planeside with C/LtCol Davis.

I should note that the L-39 incentive ride is not a feature of CAP or of the cadet program, either in Michigan or anywhere else. It’s something that Tim offers out of his own personal commitment to seeing young people thrive in the CAP program and it’s conducted completely separately from CAP. I should also mention that there’s no particular guaranty that the offer will last for any particular time or be made available in any particular way. It’s all up to Tim and anyone with questions should direct them to him.

I think that this is a wonderful incentive. And I can’t think of a better program to which Tim might direct this particular kindness. If you haven’t yet considered joining and participating in CAP, you’re missing out!

Hey, LtCol Brutsche! You can have my oak leaves and I’ll start at C/Amn if I can have a shot at time in that beautiful jet!