Airshow Safety: The View from ICAS – Audio Episode Show Notes

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!

In the wake of a difficult weekend (and, indeed, a difficult season) for the airshow community, I asked John Cudahy to sit down for a few minutes to talk about airshow safety.

John has been the president of the International Council of Air Shows, Inc. (“ICAS”) since 1997. I’ve heard him speak at the annual convention in Las Vegas for the past two years and I’m returning to Las Vegas again this December.

John is one of those people who has always been on my list of people to bring onto the show at some appropriate time. I had thoughts of bringing him on as a part of the upcoming episode encapsulating my experience attending ICAS’s Airshows 101 class at the last convention. But the events of the summer conspired to make it more important to bring John onto the show now to talk about the ICAS safety culture.

In this interview, John gives you a recap of the history of airshow safety in North America and talks fully and frankly about how the airshow community discusses, addresses, and lives with risk. He identifies the differences between airshow operations and air race operations. And he talks about safety from the standpoint of the crowd and that of the performers themselves.

One note on the audio: In the early going, John differentiates air race and air show operations, but probably misspeaks and says “air show” when he means to say “air race.” But the context makes the audio pretty clear in spite of the transposition.

The photo that leads these show notes is of ICAS member and air boss George Cline ( presenting the Airshows 101 course at the ICAS Convention in 2009. Airshows 101 is a day-long introductory course that explains the basics of airshow logistics, layout, regulatory approvals, and other important information for newer members of airshow organizers. I covered the event in 2009 and attended as a full-up paid student in 2010.

More information about ICAS is available at John’s ICAS bio is at


Production Update: Return from ICAS, T-38A, Acro Camp Soundtrack, and More

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Okay, I think my head is back from Vegas and ICAS 2010. Great convention, lots of contacts made, and lots of friends revisited.

And lots on the hot plate for the next few weeks. Don, Barry, and I go into the studio on Friday to record parts of the Acro Camp movie soundtrack. I have all of the basic tracks down, but the real magic won’t happen until we’re all together with the instruments set up and the click track begins.

And I’m close to finishing the episode covering the T-38A flight with the 9th Reconnaissance Wing at Beale AFB. With that one, it’s an embarrassment of riches because of all of the great audio and video we captured. It’s no longer an issues of having a long episode. It’s an issue of how to make it shorter and more concise.

Rod Rakic and I will also likely record Part II of the Zero-to-Hero series, covering his intensive instrument and commercial training and me covering my multi-engine rating and DC-3 type school.

And there’s B-17 footage, Huey footage, and other great eye candy still in the can that I need to edit and get out into the feed.

I cant say enough things about this audience. Truth be told, I’d do this for my own benefit even if none of you tuned in. But knowing that there are thousands of you out there who really understand this stuff and care about it makes it that much more exciting. I’ll be channeling you guys in the studio on Friday and gain over the editing desk with the T-38A episode.

Airspeed alive, fuel, oil, rotate, climb, best glide . . . Smoke on!

ICAS 2010: Sam Johnson’s Keynote

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.

I just got out of the ICAS morning keynote and announcement of the jet team schedules for upcoming shows. Although I don’t very often run stuff in the show that’s mostly or entirely other people’s comments, I couldn’t help but think that you guys would enjoy this.

They keynoter was Congressman Sam Johnson of Texas. A retired Air Force colonel, Johnson flew the F-86 Sabre in the Korean War, the F-4 Phantom in the Vietnam War, and the F-100 Super Sabre as a member of the U.S.A.F. Thunderbirds.

While flying a mission over North Vietnam, he was shot down and taken prisoner. He spent seven years in a North Vietnamese prisoner of war facility, three and half years in solitary confinement.

I love the fact that they used to start Thunderbirds demos with a sonic boom. I never knew that. I wish they’d do it again. And a lot of the other material that I heard in this presentation and otherwise made me pine for a simpler and more energetic time in aviation. I know that the current environment (regulatory, practical, and otherwise) is a lot safer and perhaps presented better in some respects. But a big part of me wonders what it would have been like covering these guys in their airshow heydays.

Bob Hoover introduced Mr. Johnson and I had the brief opportunity to meet them before things got going. Gracious and engaging, both. Genuine aviation royalty. Just another indication of how surreal it can be here at ICAS walking among legends.

ICAS 2010: Airshows 101

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I spent most of the day today in Airshows 101, a seminar that acquaints new airshow staff with many of the issues and processes associated with putting on a great airshow. Basically a day in a room with five of the nation’s best air bosses: Ralph Royce, George Cline, Larry Strain, Bill Snelgrove, and Dick Hanusa. These guys have been doing this for decades and they have something like 150 years of experience among them.

I’m chuckling at myself as I write this Sunday evening in the hotel room. I figured that a whole day would be enough to write an episode on the fly based on the information in the seminar. Yeah. Right.

The seminar is kind of like one of those highlight reels that they show Navy pilots of botched carrier landings. Lots and lots of talk about what can go wrong at an airshow. From weather to parking problems to slips and falls to raging drunks to midair collisions. It might just make you think twice about putting on an airshow. But the underlying message is that this is a doable thing with a lot of work and a lot of advance planning.

The printed materials are something like 50 pages of PowerPoint slides. And many of them are pretty dense with content. I do want to do an episode on this, but it’s not something I’m going to get done here in the hotel room. Even with more time, the best I’ll be likely to do will be to give a sense of how much stuff there is to do. But maybe that’s enough. In any case, I have a renewed respect for the people who put these things on year after year.

I also got a chance to meet up again with Jay “Face Shot” (and, more recently, “MJ”) Consalvi, one of the two Navy pilots featured in the 2008 Peyton Wilson documentary, Speed & Angels. I met Jay at Le Central last year, but I didn’t really know who he was and I hadn’t seen the film. I picked up the DVD after getting home and have since become a fan.

I tracked Jay down at the reception this evening and played fanboy for a few minutes, during which I got him to sign my DVD.

I’ll probably go orbit around the bar a few times and then hit the hay. I’m not going to be flying my desk tomorrow or Tuesday, but that doesn’t mean that it won’t be straining at its tie-downs. I’ll try to keep my body on Eastern Time and get a couple of things done in the morning before the sessions start. But then it’s back into the world of ICAS.

ICAS 2010: Le Central

There 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.

There’s a garden bistro in Paris called Le Central. It’s at the foot of a cobblestone street. A wrought-iron fence surrounds it and creates an eddy in the flow of strolling sight-seers. Not unlike a cross-section of a symmetrical wing placed in the middle of a busy thoroughfare.

If you walk by Le Central, pay attention. Listen to the bits of conversation that drift into the street. Look at the faces as they appear and disappear behind the climbing vines that embrace the place.

If you stroll into the bistro, you find that the bar is round and that the patrons circle it gradually in either direction with a kind of unpredictable Brownian motion. They greet each other loudly or softly. With embraces, with insults, with shouts. Drinks are spilled and wiped up. More are poured.

As you make your way through the milling patrons, it becomes dreamlike. You tap a man on the shoulder to ask if you can squeeze by. As he turns to let you through, he smiles and says hello. And you see that he’s CAPT Greg McWherter, Boss of the Blue Angels.

You’re embraced unexpectedly from behind and you turn to see that it’s Haley Werth, who has just lunged out from a knot of people that includes Billy and David Werth.

The gathering around the bar is a couple of people deep and the guy who hands you your beer over their heads is Randy Henderson. Mike Goulian walks by. On another occasion, you might see Scooter Yoak or Julie Clark or Aaron Tippin.

You happen to be standing next to a guy as you order another beer and you discover that he paid for it even though he doesn’t know you from a stack of hay. And even though he’s Jay, better known as “Face Shot” from Speed and Angels.

The dreamstate continues for hours. You walk among your heroes. You talk to them. They talk to you. You’re uncomfortable because you try to keep your fanboy nature contained. And you fail. But it’s okay. You’re all speaking a common language.

Time becomes fluid. It’s always early evening at Le Central. It’s as though the sky has been painted that way.

And, in fact, the sky is painted that way. Le Central, and Paris for that matter, is in Las Vegas, Nevada, the site of the annual convention of the International Council of Air Shows, or “ICAS.”

For a few days each December, everyone who is anyone in airshows gathers in Las Vegas to train, book acts, be booked, debrief the recently-completed season, and plan for the next season. The jet teams announce their schedules for the upcoming year or years. And – my favorite part – everyone touches home again.

During the season, airshow professionals are spread out across the country every weekend. They’re flying, talking, separating traffic, rigging systems, and parking cars. But, in early December, they get the chance to come together in one place. And, when a community that’s as tight-knit as the airshow community comes together after a year of being spread out across a continent, it’s a homecoming of both epic and intimate proportions.

This is my second year at the ICAS convention. I really enjoy the exhibit floor and the breakout sessions. But my favorite part, bar none, happens every evening at Le Central. I get to move in that waking dream several evenings a year. I’ve flown with a small but growing number of these people. I’ll fly with more of them as time goes on. I admire each of them mightily. And, though I’m by no means the shooter that any one of them is, I’m beginning to earn their respect as a mediator of their performances to you, the airshow faithful.

I purposely don’t record audio there. I don’t take pictures other than the distant shot that accompanies the show notes of this episode. Performers and others can relax among others of their kind and leave their public personae elsewhere. Everybody’s a fan of everybody else. There’s an unspoken declaration that you can say what’s on your mind. It’s a very special place.
I’m all about capturing these experiences and sharing them with you guys and audio, images, and video of the experience are frequently the best way to do that. But Le Central is different. I look at it like a quantum mechanical phenomenon. If you try to measure or capture it too precisely, it’ll fall out of quantum superposition and become ordinary. Erwin Schrödinger and Douglas Adams would understand ICAS.

The sky over Le Central in this version of Paris is just painted on. But that’s okay. I’m willing to suspend disbelief. I’ve stood under that sky for hours in a perpetual spring evening and stood at the elbows of my heroes. It’s one of my favorite places to be. And I’m going back there tonight.