Video Episode: The "Hammer-Spin" Sequence from Acro Camp

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The movie is coming along! After spending most of February dealing with a bacterial infection in my leg (which, by the way, the doc says is looking great and won’t affect my fitness to fly in any way), I’m back to burning the midnight oil (and whatever else is nearby and flammable) and editing Acro Camp, Airspeed’s first feature film.

The sequence in this episode is Jim Rodriguez’s “hammer-spin” from the third day of flying at Acro Camp. Jim had just begun to get the hang of the hammerhead in the Super-D when he went up with Don in the Berz Flight Training Pitts S-2B. And he found out the exciting way that the Pitts doesn’t need anywhere near as much forward stick.

The cool thing is that he also found out that the Pitts is pretty well-behaved when you get off the power and let go of the stick. It comes right out of the spin and wants to know what else you want to go do.

There’s a lot of editing yet to be done. But I think that I have the workflows pretty well nailed down and it’s going a lot more quickly than it was this fall. We have between one and three cameras and a cockpit audio track to load in for each flight and this was the first flight that I went and put together with that workflow. It worked like a charm.

On the musical front, I just got in a treatment of Acro Grass, one of the themes that we’ve crowdsourced to Airspeed fans, from Grammy-nominated audio ace Scott Cannizzaro and it’s amazing. It’s been spewing from my iPod all day now and I think I like it better each time.

If you’re musically inclined and want to lay down some tracks for consideration for inclusion in the film’s soundtrack, there’s still time. I’m in no danger of finishing the film soon, so you probably have at least through April to get your tracks in.

I’m also working on the CAP NESA audio episode. As is obvious to anyone who knows me, the NESA experience made a big impression and I really want to capture the whole experience. Thus, the writing is taking its own sweet time. But it’ll be a characteristically epic Airspeed episode when it comes out.

More soon. Stay tuned!

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!

Acro Grass: Crowdsourcing a Piece of the Acro Camp Soundtrack

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Hi, guys. Lots going on. I’m editing material from a balloon flight, a T-38 sortie, an episode on how to hurl in an airplane, and lots of other stuff. Lots more aviation content coming your way soon. But lets take a quick detour to talk about the movie.

Unless you’ve just subscribed, you know that the movie, Acro Camp, is in post-production. We’re all awestruck by aerobatic flight. We wonder what it’d be like to fly upside down for the cheering kids.

At some point, you quit wondering, climb over the fence, and go find out. Four pilots. Two men and two women. Experience ranging from 300 hours to 12,000 hours. None of them had a tailwheel rating and none of them had flown any appreciable aerobatics. We took over a Part 61 flight school for five days this spring and those pilots flew aerobatics for the very first time. We loaded up the airplanes with HD cameras and digital audio systems and had cameras roving around the ramp and the pilot lounge to capture the entire experience. And now it’s coming to a DVD player, film festival, or side of a barn near you.

Acro Camp. Go find out.

Principal photography wrapped in May and I have something like four terabytes of content to make into a feature film. It’s Labor Day weekend 2010 as I’m recording this. If you’ve been following the Acro Camp blog at or following me on Twitter as StephenForce, you know that I’ve been engaged in a film editing orgy of stupendous proportions, wading through all of the video and audio that we shot in May. There’s amazing stuff in there, from first tailwheel flights to botched maneuvers (witness the “Immel-Spin”) to formation sorties and everything in between.

I also did one other thing this evening in the studio and I think you’re going to like the concept. Maybe even enough to participate.

The aviation podsphere is one of the most open, inviting, and collaborative places in cyberspace or any other space. Everybody who can make it sits down together twice a year to record a live episode together. Even the Aussies bend over backward to be there, even if only virtually. We often appear on each other’s shows. We get input from audience members and fans and fellow aviation enthusiasts. Sometimes, we even turn the mic over to them. Were it not for Airspeed, I wouldn’t know half of the people that I now call my best friends.

When I announced that I was going to make a movie, I had two instructors, two airplanes, and a vision. I hung my credibility out there and asked you guys to join in. Then I sat back and sweat blood until I got at least four applicants.

I needn’t have worried. I got 51 applications from all over the United States and Canada and an utter embarrassment of riches in trying to narrow down the cast to Jim, Lynda, Michelle, and Paul. People volunteered and came from California, Florida, Indiana, New Hampshire, and Michigan to handle cameras, swap cards, and cover the experience. People flew and drove from Iowa, Pennsylvania, Illinois, and other places just to hang out.

The film has been a collaborative and social enterprise from the very beginning. So I though I might try getting even more involvement from those of you whose imagination this project has captured.

How’d you like to help out with the soundtrack? Yep. That’s right. I’m going to crowdsource at least one of the grooves on the soundtrack. Here’s how it’s going to work.

As many of you know, I usually write and record groove-based music for my audio and video episodes. Same thing for the movie. Repetitive, groove-based music that sets a mood and is engaging, but rides under the action and augments it without overpowering it.

I came up with a basic theme on my Martin Backpacker guitar about six months ago and it’ll be one of the themes that I use for stuff that happens on the ground. (By the way, I’m planning to have all of the music on the ground be in 4/4 and all of the music for the aerial sequences be in 3/4 or 6/8. Thus, this is in 4/4.) I’m including a bit of the theme here in this episode so that you can listen to it. It’s just a basic illustration of the theme and it’s very imperfect. It’s not the final version and I’m almost certainly going to re-record it for the soundtrack.

It’s called Acro Grass for the moment, mainly because it has a bluegrass feel and the Martin Backpacker guitar sounds very banjo-like when I play it. It’s in the key of D major and the tempo is 116 bpm. I recorded it with the Backpacker with a DADGAD open tuning like I used in Theme from Milliways (which you heard in the First Solo episode in 2006) and The Lake Parker Arrival (which you heard in April of 2008). Both pieces have made appearances in trailers to A Pilot’s Story as well.

I’m including the theme at the end of this episode so you can hear it. If you hear something about at theme that speaks to you and you’d like to contribute, here’s what you do.

Download one of the extended versions from the show notes for this episode at I’ve posted two of them: One with a click track and one without. Each runs a little almost 12 minutes, so you’ll have plenty of time to sit and jam to it and come up with your own additions.

When you’ve come up with your contribution, record it and then send it to me in electronic form. All I need in the early going is an e-mail to with an MP3 or a link to where I can download your file and listen to it.

If I like it and want to incorporate it – or think I might – I’ll likely get in touch with you and get a permission from you to use it. Basically, you’ll represent and warrant that it’s your original work, you’ll agree to indemnify everybody associated with the project against third-party infringement claims, and you’ll grant a non-exclusive license to use your contribution in the movie, in the soundtrack CD, and otherwise. I’ll mention you in the credits and you’ll get to brag that your stuff made it into a movie.

And, if I can pull it off, I’d love to do something like put a picture of you up when your part is featured while the music plays during the credits, along with a notation of the instrument you play and what you fly. That would reveal some of the people who made the music to which the audience has been listening throughout the film.

In any case, I’m not in a position to pay for your contribution. That’s kind of why I’m calling it a contribution. I’m already about $10,000 into the project, not counting the hundreds of hours thus far. In the exceedingly unlikely event that the movie actually recoups its production costs and I can start paying people for their stuff, I might tickle your mailbox with a little something. But no promises. Don’t count on anything.

Some other notes of importance. What I’m looking for are short sequences and snippets that I can loop or otherwise incorporate into long and varied amalgams of the general tune appropriate to dropping into the film at strategic points. I’m not looking for a complete 11-minute opus that runs alongside, or incorporates, the track that I’ve provided. Don’t make a career out of it. Just bits and pieces that I can remix and assemble. Musical Lego blocks.

You don’t need to go into a fancy studio and you don’t need top be running Pro Tools to make this happen. Any reasonably good recording that’s on pitch and in time will be fine. Even if all you do is listen to the guide track in your headphones, play along while recording, and then send me the good parts, that’ll be fine. I’ll take it from there.

By the way, I got the idea from the Playing for Change videos. If you haven’t seen them, please hit YouTube and watch a few. And contribute money to Playing for Change for the work that it does. My favorite is Stand By Me. It starts with street musician Roger Ridley in Santa Monica, California and then dissolves to Grandpa Elliott and Washboard Chaz in New Orleans and then to other musicians around the world. None of them had met in person at the time, but the guys who made the videos put the parts together in post to make a cogent and beautiful presentation of the music. I want this tune to come together along those lines.

And note that each of them just listened to the guide track in their headphones and played. Use Pro Tools if you have it, but the musicians from Playing for Change did just fine without it. You can, too.

There’s no guarantee that your music will be used at all. And, if it does, I might twist and repurpose it in strange and beautiful ways, whether by adding effects, pitch-shifting it, increasing or decreasing the tempo, cutting it, augmenting it, and what have you. As with the Acro Camp campers and IPs, you’re going to have to trust me.

When you submit your stuff, do it in an electronic file. WAV is preferred. High-resolution MP3s will do in a pinch. Make it high and dry with no reverb or other effects. If there are multiple instruments, separate them one per file. Don’t send a mix unless it’s to illustrate a particular thought about placement or some other element and you’re sending the separate instrumental track as well.

The following things strike me as potentially interesting to include. (Not essential, but they’re what I’m hearing in my head when Jeb Burnside isn’t in there.) Wordless female voice, something like Enya or Cirque du Soleil. Strings like violin, viola, cello, or bass. Flute or whistle. And banjo. And, if you can make it work, trombone. Kent, this means you have to play in four sharps, but I think you can handle it.

I suppose that this is also a good time to indulge one more fantasy here at Airspeed. That fantasy is that Bela Fleck, Chris Thile, Jerry Douglas, Edgar Meyer, Mark O’Connor, Jordan Rudess, Tony Levin, John Petrucci, Mike Portnoy, Geddy Lee, Neil Peart, or Alex Lifeson listen to the show. Or that someone who knows the foregoing gods of musical motor skills listens to the show. And that one or more of them shoots some tunage my way. C’mon, guys! I’d almost take that over an opportunity to land a crippled 747 with the STS orbiter on top of it.

Anyway, here’s that theme: Acro Grass. Extended versions for use as guide tracks to record your bit:

With click track:

Without click track:

Tempo: 116 BPM
Key: D maj

The Last Pure Thing on the Radio

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I’ve been volunteering with event-based airshow radio for three years now. I’ve really enjoyed working with guys like Dave Shallbetter of Sun ‘N Fun Radio, Fareed Guyot, Mike Morgan, and others from EAA Radio at AirVenture, Erik Utter from Arlington Fly-In Radio, and Don Costanza and others from FlightLine Radio. It’s a crew of dedicated people that really understands what the radio could be if it would dare.

And I might add that the airshow stations have been great about opening their arms to podcasters. SnF Radio not only hosts the annual Gathering of Aviation Podcasters and broadcasts a couple of Uncontrolled Airspace episodes, but puts podcasters on the air right after the airshow each evening. EAA Radio has UCAP on the radio a couple of times a week and hosts Podapalooza, now entering its fourth year. Arlington Radio has been broadcasting bits of Airspeed since 2006 or 2007. Flightline Internet Radio has put podcaster promos on the air and over the Internet for years.

So last year, just before Oshkosh, I began mucking about with a tune in tribute to airshow radio. I fleshed out the tune and actually got around to recording it a few weeks ago and it’s ready to release.

It’s called The Last Pure Thing on the Radio. I recorded the basic guitar, bass, and vocals at home and then went to The Soundscape Studio in Royal Oak, Michigan to lay down the drums. Then the whole ball of wax went to audio mastermind Scott Cannizzaro in New York for the professional treatment.

Scott not only mixed the piece wonderfully, he added some musical elements of his own. And he was able to get a college acquaintance, Chris Wormer, to play slide guitar on the track. If Chris’s sound is familiar to you, you might have heard his guitar stylings with The Charlie Daniels Band.

The artist name in the MP3 metadata is 7600, an informal band made up of music enthusiasts from around the country who collaborate remotely over the Internet. I generally release 7600 songs with the band name and then the specific folks who played or contrinbuted, so almost every 7600 song will show up as a separate artist on your player, but I think it’s worth it to identify the particular humans who had a hand in the process.

I’ll post a link to an MP3 download of the song on the Airspeed website so you can download it and enjoy it for personal, non-commercial use. I hope you like it. It’s dedicated to all of the volunteers that make airshow radio happen year after year.

So, without further ado, I give you The Last Pure Thing on the Radio.

(Get your free download of The Last Pure Thing on the Radio at this link. PC users, right-click, select “save target as,” pick a place for the file, download, and enjoy!)
The Last Pure Thing on the Radio
Steve Tupper

I vaguely remember FM radio in 1968
Before The Man took it over and made it all blah-blah-blah.
And I remember watching the airplanes take off and land at Battle Creek and thinking
“Man, it’s going to take a long time to get the money and the guts to do that.”

These days, I’ve got an iPod that’s connected to my head 24/7
‘Cause the radio’s still not what Mike Agranoff dreamed it could be
And it took a long, long, long time before I got the money and the guts
But I finally put together the money and the guts. (Yeah!)

And I heard somewhere that if you walk around at Oshkosh or Lakeland or Arlington
And you take along that same little transistor radio from 1968
Somewhere in the aether, there’s magic, love, and science
And some of it’ll spill into your ears if you let it.

A couple of guys are grading landings and talking trash on the afternoon show
And Dave in pre-production is working on four hours of sleep
And somebody just stuck a mic in the face of an eight-year-old kid
Who’s talking so fast about the airplanes that I’m not sure he’s breathing right

But I listen to the radio and I hear the engines roar
Washing over me again just like it did before

It’s the last pure thing on the radio
On the air (on the air) yeah, let the music play
It’s the last pure thing on the radio
Let the radio come carry me away

Low-power AM and FM and carrier current and whatever
And temporary antennas that they roll out once a year
Sometimes it’s not easy to get a good clean signal
‘Cause there’s a hill in the way. Or a tree. Or a gum wrapper.

But it’s the voices of people who love this stuff as much as I do
And they’ve been here since the Wednesday before the show
They get paid a campsite in a soggy corner of a field somewhere
And maybe the keys to a golf cart or a scooter someday

But from dawn patrol to signoff they lean into microphones
And spill out their hearts about whatever’s coming down the taxiway
And interview the local beauty queen and whoever else is handy
And maybe get Sean Tucker to cut a liner or two

It’s like a dream where your best friends take over the airwaves
Throw out the playlist and just put on stuff that matters
And everything stops when a fighter jet come screaming through for a low pass
And there’s even dead air just then, but everybody understands.

And they listen to the radio and hear the engines roar
Rolling down the show line just like it did before

It’s the last pure thing on the radio
On the air (on the air) yeah, let the music play
It’s the last pure thing on the radio
Let the radio come carry me away


I like it at airshows when they have a VFR arrival window
And a lone 172 is crawling in on short final
‘Cause I like to stand up and hold my cap over my heart while that 172 touches down
And I know you do the same thing.

So I stand at the snow fence pumping my fist in the air
And shout for John Mohr as he makes the engine sputter upside down
With that little transistor radio sticking out my back pocket
Picking up dead air at all the right moments.

I listen to the radio and hear the engines roar
Washing over me again just like it did before

It’s the last pure thing on the radio
On the air (on the air) yeah, let the music play
It’s the last pure thing on the radio
Let the radio come carry me away

Let the radio come carry me away

MacDowell Piece Takes Shape

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Crunch time yet again! I’m applying for a residency at The MacDowell Colony, North America’s oldest artist’s colony. It’s located on 400-odd acres near Peterboro, New Hampshire. At MacDowell, they give you a studio (read: cottage, barn, or similar structure appropriate to your particular art) and between two and eight weeks to just soak in your creative juices. No phone, no pool, no pets.

A mysterious guy named Blake sneaks up to your door and leaves a picnic basket at lunch time. You head to the main house for dinner and chow down with the other artists in residence and feed off of their energies. For a really great encapsulation of the experience, check out the December 14, 2007 installment of PRI’s Studio 360 or head to the colony’s website and watch the short feature MacDowell Moments.

Anyway, I’m applying as an interdisciplinary artist to write a series of folk songs and essays imagining the first folk music of the journey to Mars and back. All composed on instruments not larger or more massive than what an actual crew member would be expected to be able to take along in his or her personal volume and mass allotment. For me, that means, travel guitar, mandolin, Ashbory bass, music box mechanism, tin whistles, xaphoon, and other small instruments.

I have to submit two pieces of my work along with the application. Sometimes Alternates Fly seems a no-brainer. The other will be a song of the kind that I intend to write there at MacDowell. The song, Eleanor Flies, finally made it into a tangible medium this weekend and I sent the tracks to Scott Cannizzaro on Sunday to mix. We’re through two mixes so far and I think Scott’s going to finalize it today. Then I burn it onto CDs, do the written parts of the application (actually, finish them – I’ve been writing pits and pieces since early 2008), and send the whole thing to Peterboro.

Shown above is Scott’s workspace for the mix. It’s kind of cool to see the whole thing as waveforms. His skills are well in excess of anything of which the music is worthy and I’m really glad to have access to his services.

I’ll post the song here and/or to the show sometime soon. Probably after the application is complete.