Mike "Bloke" Robinson of the Starfighters

These are the show notes for a video episode of Airspeed. You can watch the episode by subscribing to Airspeed through iTunes or your favorite other podcatcher or by watching the video on Vimeo by clicking above. Either way, it’s all free!
Mike “Bloke” Robinson – the Supervisor of Flying for the Starfighters – and I go back a few years. It turns out that Bloke was one of the links in a long and unlikely chain of events that culminated in my getting the Thunderbirds ride in 2008. Bloke happened to be confirming some details with the Battle Creek show’s director and mentioned that he had heard her on Airspeed in the preceding week. That apparently stick my name in her head at just the time at which the show was thinking about who might be a good alternate Thunderbirds rider. And the rest is history.
Bloke and I connected recently at ICAS in December and he was nice enough to invite me down to spend parts of the TICO Valiant Air Command airshow in Titusville, Florida in March. I spent Friday and Saturday on the ramp with The Starfighters, Heavy Metal, Scooter Yoak, Mark Sorenson, David Allen, and others.
When I could get Bloke to hold still for a few minutes (he’s an amazingly busy guy during a show, as you might imagine), he was gracious enough to do it in perfect light next to a gorgeous F-104 in front of a couple of cameras. We talked about the F-104 and his impressions of it and even went a little into acro and energy management for use in the Acro Camp movie.
Here’s the interview, along with other images from the two days at TICO.
The Starfighters use the F-104 Starfighter for suborbital flight training, flight test, threat simulation, photo chase, and – of course – airshows. The team is based at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. More information is available at www.starfighters.net.

Valiant Air Command TICO Airshow 2011

This is a regular blog post. Need show notes or links to show and video? Keep scrolling. It’s all here!

I spent Friday at the Valiant Air Command TICO airshow at the Space Coast Regional Airport in Titusville, Florida. I went primarily to meet and hang out with the Starfighters, who operate the Lockheed F-104 Starfighter. My primary objective was to shoot the F-104 and get a couple of interviews to use on Airspeed and for Acro Camp.

That meant being there most of the day with the team there on the ramp, which is actually in the aerobatic box for the show. Oh, no! Please don’t throw me in that briar patch! How ever will I cope!

So, whenever nothing was happening with the blue-and-white Century Series jet, David Allen and I shot the rest of the show in both stills and video. The only downside of shooting from the ramp was the fact that the showline is positioned so that you have to shoot up-sun. I can’t really complain about that, but it did result in most of the usable shots being of those performers with more to-and-fro (as opposed to back-and-forth) elements to their demos.

Take, for instance, this one of the Maj Mike “Cash” Maeder and Capt Steven “Buda” Bofferding tearing it up in the F-15E. Great noise and great three-dimensionality to the demo. And, although I could be mistaken, it looked to me as though there’s a lot more inversion and a lot more high-G maneuvering in this year’s routine.

Because of the aforementioned geometry of the show, the remainder of the shots are heavily weighted in favor of the Heavy Metal Jet Team, which flew its inaugural demos this weekend.

This one probably benefited from the geometry. It’s still pretty up-sun, but I don’t think that one could shoot down the length of the solo’s barrel roll from any other angle.

Among my new favorites is Mark Sorenson, who flies a Yak-55 named Titus that’s painted in tiger livery. Mark embraces the playful presentation of the airplane and he loves to show off the airplane to kids.

Dave and I helped Mark wipe down the aircraft after he returned from flying and I had a chance to talk to him at length. We met initially at ICAS in December, but the proper place to hang out with a pilot is on the ramp or in the hangar while scraping bugs off the leading edges of a pretty airplane. I’ve maintained a loose correspondence with Mark’s brother, who’s an F-15E driver at Nellis AFB. I frequently wish that my family was a little more aviation-intensive like the Sorensons.

Mark operates ground-based smoke-ring generators that put huge black smoke rings up into the box that he then flies through. I didn’t get to see the smoke rings on this occasion, but I’ve seen the video and I’ll bet that it adds a more three-dimensional feeling to his presentation. Mark doesn’t fly many shows to the north, where I am, so I doubt that I’ll get to see him fly at another show. But you never know.

More information about the Valiant Air Command TICO Airshow is available at http://www.vacwarbirds.org/.

Endeavour Rolls Out

This is a regular blog post. If you’re looking for snow notes or links to show audio or video, please keep scrolling. It’s all right here!

How many times should one try to start a blog post before giving up on erudition and just writing something that poses a grave danger of sounding like a fifth-grade book report? The number is at least three, but it’s greater than the number of tries that I ultimately made before writing this.

I normally head down to Jekyll Island, Georgia each march to visit my folks, who spend two months there each winter. About every other year, I detour to Kennedy Space Center to feed my space monster. I need to touch home there on the Cape to recharge the batteries.

I was thinking about that awhile ago and called up Mike Robinson of the Starfighters to see if he might want to drink such beer as I might buy upon passing through. Mike, ever the considerate guy that he is, suggested sliding my schedule to the left by a week to include the TICO airshow here at the Space Coast Airport. And, being that the Starfighters have a NASA connection, he allowed as how I might be able to see some of their operations there at KSC.

Say no more. I moved the dates and came down this weekend instead of last weekend.

And then, by happy chance, it happened that the roll-out of STS orbiter Endeavour for STS-134 was slated to occur this evening. Long story short, I spend a bit of this evening at the VAB watching Endeavour roll out to Pad 39A.

The launch assembly crawls out of the VAB and then hits the gas and begins to move at a more blistering mile-per-hour pace. Once it’s well and truly out of the VAB, the spotlights illuminate it and it stands out in dazzling white.

The parking lot is full of people. Most, like me, are shooting pictures, babbling like kids, or drooling. It’s going on 9:00 at night, so just about everyone on this side of the fence is here because he or she wants to be here. Everybody’s a fanboy and it shows.

STS-134 is a run to the ISS to deliver the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS) and spare parts, including two S-band communications antennas, a high-pressure gas tank, additional spare parts for Dextre and micrometeoroid debris shields.

Also, as matters stand, it’s slated to be the second to the last STS mission. Which makes it bittersweet to see it roll out. Discovery just landed from its final flight yesterday. So everyone is aware of the era ending.

I suppose that I shouldn’t be bothered as much as I am. I’ve always been the first guy to complain that the STS has given us a space pacifier that has kept the public’s mind off the fact that our manned space program hasn’t left low earth orbit since 1972.

But the STS has been the county’s flagship space program for most of the time during which I was growing up so, like it or not, the STS has a place in my heart. It’s weird to see an orbiter recede into the night like that.

There are much more profound things to say about this evening. Probably in some larger context and in more concise form. For the time being, I think it’s probably enough to acklowledge how grateful I am to the Starfighters for the access to the rollout and the chance to see the great lady up close. And to walk among a crowd of people that is just as excited as I am about being there.

Big day tomorrow here on the Space Coast. More soon!