The Hoppers Video is In the Feed!

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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

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!

Heavy Metal – First Impressions

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I’m spending a couple of days here on the Space Coast, mostly in and around Titusville, Florida. I arrived Wednesday night to assist David Allen with an unfortunate infestation of Leinenkugel Berry Weiss. I’m pleased to report that the fridge is now nearly Leinie’s-free. And we took care of some pesky ribeyes while we were at it.

I’m writing this at the Starbucks at Target in Titusville which, although possessed of the usual high-quality caffeinated beverages, has no WiFi. Thus, please pretend that this was posted Thursday afternoon instead of late Thursday night or early Friday morning. Not that timing is all that important usually, but I’m heading out to the Cape this evening to see them roll out Endeavour for STS-134 and I’m bound to have pictures and other assorted media to post right after this goes up.

On the way back from getting my NASA badge (let me say that again . . . On the way back from getting my NASA badge), I decided to take a swing by the Space Coast Executive Airport, the site of the Valiant Air Command TICO Airshow, which will be my first of the season. This is the first year that I’ve started the airshow season this early, but an amazingly kind offer by the Starfighters was too good to pass up. Thus, I’ll be spending the day Friday on the ramp with the performers and drooling (respectfully, mind you) on some F-104s.

I found my way to the ramp area just as the Heavy Metal Jet Team took the box for a practice flight. Heavy Metal has captured the imaginations of many, and for good reason. It’s a five-ship demo team that’s both entirely civilian and entirely sponsored. That means that the shows that don’t get a big military jet team (Thunderbirds, Blue Angels, Snowbirds, etc.) can still have a jet team as a headliner without the expense that would normally be associated with a civilian team.

Heavy Metal is a five-ship team. A lead T-33 Shooting Star/Silver Star flown by Dale “Snort” Snodgrass (but an L-39 substituted this weekend) and four L-39s flown by 1/Team Lead Jerry “Jive” Kerby, 2/Right Wing Jared “Rook” Isaacman, 3/Left wing Doug “H-Dog” Demko, and 4/Slot Sean “Stroker” Gustafson.

I shot a lot of pictures and watched the practice pretty closely. It was a rotten day to shoot airplanes. Gray overcast all around with jets pained in arctic camouflage. So these shots aren’t going to grace any posters or magazine covers (not that any of my stuff ever will – my shtick is strapping into the aircraft and emoting for the cameras and on audio).

But I think that I saw enough to make some worthwhile observations.

There’s a lot more interesting geometry to what I saw than you usually see from a civilian jet act. Most civilian jet teams usually just swing back and forth along the 1,500-foot line with formation passes. The most interesting stuff in those cases are the breaks where each of the jets in the formation takes a bit of a solo in its break before landing. Otherwise, it’s echelon passes, finger-four, line-abreast, etc. Not that I don’t love that. (I do!) But it’s kind of flat.

Heavy metal gets a lot more three-dimensional in its performances. It’s tough to do that for a number of reasons, probably the biggest of which is the fact that you’re not supposed to direct aerobatic energy at the crowd. If the aircraft goes to flinders at any given point in the show, the momentum has to be in a direction that will cause the the debris to land outside the crowd area. Think about it. Even the big sweeping dedication passes or photo passes are usually from way out behind the crowd’s flank and around in front so that the outside of the turn is toward the safe area out on the field or on the other side of the field.

But it makes a big difference if you can get some elements going toward, or away from, the crowd to beak up the monotony of the back-and forth. I’ve seen Gene Soucy, Greg Koontz, and other piston-drivers do this because they have smaller, slower aircraft. Gene can point the Show Cat right at the crowd for a few seconds and do it safely because he’s going slow enough that he can turn well before any aerobatic energy could reach the crowd if something goes amiss. It makes for dramatic shows.

Maybe it was just a practice and maybe I didn’t see the actual routine that Heavy Metal is going to fly for the crowd. And maybe it’s because I saw it from over at the terminal side of the field, which is in the box. Whatever the case, it seemed that the solo gets a lot of to-and-fro (as opposed to back-and-forth) in the performance. Much more than simple passes. And he’s working pretty hard and putting as much of that as possible into the show.

The four-ship formation element is just plain stinkin’ tight. Oh, holy crap are they tight, especially for one of the very first shows of the season. Lots of overlap. Really close formation. Well-coordinated. On at least one case I got that “hey-it’s-one-big-airplane” sensation, as illustrated in this shot as the team does an excellent imitation of Virgin Galactic’s EVE (fka WhiteKnightTwo). Hard to tell in the picture, but the four-ship hung exactly for the whole turn.

Makes me want to just give up and never look at a Pitts again, much less a Citabria. But you know that I’ll swallow my pride and try again to approximate that kind of precision. Soon.

Lastly, and probably most impressive for the crowds, the four-ship actually does formation acro in the style of the military jet teams. I’m not aware of anyone else who does that.

They’re not the Thunderbirds or the Blues. They really can’t be because they’re flying jets with a 0.37 thrust-to-weight ratio. So at least half of the usual military maneuvers are off the table. But the team does an excellent job of managing the energy that they develop and they keep it pretty close to the crowd for more of the fight time than the other teams do.

Bottom line? The airshow faithful and those who understand aerobatics and energy management are going to love watching this team. I did, even on a crappy-weather day watching a practice.

The rest of the crowd? Really, the only thing lacking is the big noise. These jets are pleasantly noisy and they smell right from just downwind, but they don’t grab you by the scruff of the neck and beat you in the chest with sound pressure.

I think that Heavy Metal has a great back story, a talented group of pilots, and great poster-appeal. They’ve also apparently been training hard and are really tight, especially this early in the season. Hey, nobody can anchor an airshow like the Thunderbirds or the Blues. But, with both of those teams stretched pretty thin over a long season, the airshow industry has long needed an impressive act to anchor those shows that don’t get the big jet teams. I think that Heavy Metal is going to very competently anchor a long list of shows and give good account of itself. I enjoyed the heck out of watching them. They’re three-dimensional, they’re pretty, and they’re tight. They can come to my town any day and I’ll go home from that airshow with the same stab-marks on my shirt from leaning into the snow fence at the crowd line.

The skies are supposed to be a lot more clear tomorrow and I’m looking forward to seeing the team tear it up again.

L-39 Driver Tim Brutsche

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These are the show notes to an audio episode. If you want to listen online, please use the direct link below.

Many of us go to airshows and love the prop-driven warbirds and the military jet team performances. But there’s a space in there that’s inhabited by a special breed of airplane and pilot. That’s the civilian-owned and operated jet warbird.

One such jet warbird is the L-39 Albatross. It’s a high-performance jet trainer developed in Czechoslovakia during the 1960s to replace the L-29. It was the first of the second-generation jet trainers, and the first turbofan-powered trainer produced.

And the pilot of one such jet warbird is Tim Brutsche, callsign “Dawg.” He has been flying for 34 years, 12 years in jets, and holds an ATP certificate and instrument rating. He has 5,800 hours flying, including 800 hours in jets ,and he is also a certified instructor pilot and a qualified lead formation pilot. He’s also a Lt Col and check airman the Kellogg Senior Squadron of the Civil Air Patrol.

I met Tim several years ago and had the opportunity to talk to him briefly on the ramp at Battle Creek over Independence Day weekend last summer after he gave C/Lt Col Melanie Davis her incentive flight for the Civil Air Patrol’s Spaatz Award. Shortly after ICAS this year, I called Tim to see if I could talk him into sharing some of his experiences flying the L-39 with the Airspeed audience and he generously obliged.

Let’s go to the interview!

[Brutsche Interview]

More information about The Hoppers, the L-39, and other people and organizations we discussed:

The Hoppers

Wikipedia Entry on the L-39

Civil Air Patrol

North American Pride Aviation

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

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

These are the show notes to an audio episode. If you want to listen online, please use the direct link below.

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!