Gathering of Eagles – Willoughby – Arrival

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I spent the afternoon and part of the early evening packing and then heading to Lost Nation Airport at Willoughby, Ohio for the Gathering of Eagles airshow.  Team Tuskegee is flying the show with its three-ship TG-7A demo.  No T-6G this time.  It’s just the longwings.

I remain without a FAST card and the team’s airshow routine is now all formation all of the time, so I’m here as a ferry pilot and as team narrator.  I flew here, adding another couple of hours, more or less, of stationkeeping and keeping the formation skillset current.  And I’ll fly media or liaison flights as needed.

We’re quickly approaching the point where I think there’ll be a checkride opportunity so that I and the team’s long-suffering FNG (whom I don’t pre-date by much) can get our wingman cards and expand the number of show-capable personnel (and – for that matter – the number of FAST-card-holding glider drivers in the world) to five.

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The demo is really shaping up.  I handed over the controls to John over the Pointes for a run-through before heading to Willoughby and got to see the demo again from the No. 3 ship.  I’ve also flown 2 in three separate demos at higher altitudes for River Days.  So I’m doing everything I can to be show ready.  Probably just in time for the show season to end, but you never know.  And next year isn’t that far off.

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And it’s worth getting the formal formation qualification.  We do so much more in the box in formation and it looks so much more compelling that the old demo.  And the leapfrog landing (in which lead lands first, followed by 2 and 3, each landing over the preceding aircraft) is really compelling.  It looks like snakes mating.  But it’s utterly structured and we’ve gone to great lengths in the briefs and in practice to make it safe.

If you’ll be near Willoughby this weekend, get out to the airshow.  I’ll be wantering the grounds and getting on the mic and I’ll hope to see you there!

 

Making it Real

River Days Break

Since going for a fateful haircut in Detroit last March, I have amassed something like 112 hours in the TG-7A, about 70 hours of that in formation.  I’ve flown three airshow demos as the sole pilot of one of a team of two or four aircraft.  I’ve flown as observer in one show.

It’s not routine.  It’s never going to be truly routine.  But, having flown demos of one kind or another in practice or for airshow crowds, I have a level of comfort with a great deal of the process.  I’m a little more relaxed.  I can widen my focus a little because I have most of the core stuff under control.  I’m one of four or five guys who do this so regularly that we’re beginning to anticipate each other’s moves.

But that’s an insular community.  Very few of my other friends have any idea what goes into the planning, briefing, flying, and debriefing every flight.  They’ve never been around to see it.  And there’s always that sense that if I fly a demo in the forest and the wider community of my friends isn’t around to see it, it made no noise.  (Horrible mixing of metaphors, I know.)

But then Lindsay Shipps showed up in town.  Her parents live in Ann Arbor and it turned out that she could get to KDET early enough on Saturday to get up for an orientation flight in the mighty Terrazzo Falcon.  The team was flying demos over the Detroit riverfront for the River Days celebration.  I had flown 2 on Friday and was slated to fly the same position both Saturday and Sunday.  I scheduled the bird so that I could fly Lindsay prior the show time to fly the demo.

Lindsay showed up and we preflighted and launched.  She flew a good chunk of the ride out to Belle Isle, up the coast along the Pointes, then back down around to Belle Isle.  The TG-7A doesn’t do much that’s dramatic, but it will fly a mildly satisfying parabola.  Push for about 110 mph, pull up and set the nose high, then push over the top to achieve zero G for about two seconds.  If you’re not used to maneuvers like that, it feels really strange.  And it’s cool even if you’re an acro pilot.

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I’ll hand it to Lindsay.  She was not entirely comfortable with the ride, but agreed to the parabola and ended up loving it.  And the next one, too.

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And, perhaps more dramatic, Lindsay let me demonstrate a 180 abort back to the runway.  I hadn’t performed one for a while, so I simply did it from 400 feet instead of 350, pushed for 85 mph instead of 80 mph, and did the initial climb from a touch-and-go instead of a dead stop, the better to climb higher sooner.  It’s still dramatic-looking if you’ve never seen one and you don’t get extra credit for doing stuff any lower or slower with a first-timer aboard.  To paraphrase Ralph Royce, they’re amazed that you can return to the runway at all.  Doing it from 50 feet lower isn’t going to impress ‘em  any more.

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We landed, did the paperwork, gassed up the aircraft, and greeted the rest of the team as they arrived.  Linsday stayed around and shot pictures of the brief.

Then it was time to step.  I have to confess that I felt like I was abruptly abandoning my guest, but she’s pretty comfortable on any airport ramp and I’m sure that she understood that I had to go fly the demo.  A couple of text messages later in the day confirmed that all was cool.

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It wasn’t until I got some of Lindsay’s pictures this morning that the coolest part of the experience came home for me.  The picture in question was this one.  Click on the picture for the full-sized version.  I had just lined up next to lead and 3 was rolling up behind us.  The T-6 was preparing to roll into place behind 3.  Four guys in four aircraft, all poised to go about the business of flying in front of thousands of people.  And I was one of them.

I remember flying my favorite C-152, N94891, to Hillsdale (KJYM) from Willow Run (KYIP) in 2001 on my first solo cross-country.  I met my college buddy Jim Angus there for some coffee.  Jim helped me park the aircraft when I arrived and he got to see me climb into it and take off when we returned to the airport from breakfast.  My flying became more real at that point because one of my friends from outside the aviation community had seen me do it.  Before, aviation had been something that I practiced in isolation with acquaintances whom I only knew through aviation.  Now that Jim had actually seen me fly an airplane by myself, by flying somehow had an anchor point in my “real” life.

I know Linsday from the aviation world.  But it’s mostly as fellow media people and more as enthusiasts than operators.  We’ve flown together on Fat Albert Airlines.  We’ve crewed for an A-4.   But neither she nor any of my non-airshow acquaintances had seen me fly in airshow mode.

That picture made it apparent that someone outside the circle of performers had seen me launch with my airshow team as the sole occupant of an aircraft that was expected to fly in close formation both precisely and safely.  Just as Jim seeing me fly 891 had done for my initial flight experience, that photographic evidence of a friend’s view makes my airshow ops “real.”

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I’m continuing to write whenever I can.  I have three episodes all coming along in parallel to try to tell you this story in more detail.  From standing around on the ramp to pyro guy to narrator to performer.  I still sometimes have a hard time believing it myself, so I have to get the words just right to show you how magical this whole thing has been.  It’ll be worth the wait.  That much I know.

 

Early-Season Training Continues – Team Tuskegee and CAP Form 5

Tupper Craig TG-7A

Time has been amazingly scarce these past few months.  But that doesn’t mean that I can let the rust build up on my wings.

Last weekend, I got up with Team Tuskegee for some three-ship formation deep in the Detroit Class B.  I needed some echelon takeoff and landing experience, so I flew 2 in a phantom 4 configuration, landing and taking off abreast of lead on 21L at Detroit Metro (KDTW).  John Harte ably flew Lead and Chris Felton flew a very competent 3 (or, as he likes to be called, “Element Lead”).  We also got in some tail chasing and other more general formation work with me flying 3 and Chris as 2.

I took along Alex Craig, one of CAP’s check airmen in the Michigan Wing, with whom I’ve flown several checkrides over the years.  Alex is an ATP with thousands of hours logged, but little time in gliders or in formation.  Alex sat left seat to observe the formation work.  And, as Tim Brutsche likes to say, flying an aircraft with an empty hole is a sin.  Aviation is always best when it’s shared.

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Then, this past weekend, Alex and I switched seats and aircraft and I flew a CAP annual Form 5 stan/eval ride.  I hadn’t flown the CAP glass C-182T in maybe six months.  Needless to say, I spent a fair amount of Saturday preparing for the Sunday-morning ride.

I approached this ride with more trepidation than usual, largely on account of the rust build-up.  But I suppose that I needn’t have worried.  I goofed up the throttle work a little (one of the few cross-contamination problems that I experience between the TG-7A and the C-182T) and I managed to forget which way the glideslope indicator was supposed to move and I got fairly high on the glideslope on the ILS 27 at KFNT.

But, generally speaking, the ride went far better than I expected.  I’ve always hated landing the C-182T.  I still do.  It’s so nose-heavy.  You run out of elevator pretty quickly in that aircraft if you’re CG-forward, as you almost always are when you’re flying with two guys and 60 gal. of fuel.  The usual way to deal with that, namely keeping a little power in on the flare and flying it all the way to the runway like an airliner, isn’t an option for practice engine-out work.  So it was all attitude and airspeed on many of the landings.

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I did use one technique that I recommend to anyone who has hot hands with a C-172 but has problems with the C-182.  Put 50 lbs of something in Cargo Area B.  It moves the CG back a little and makes the landing flare a lot more controllable.

We rocked out the high airwork, did most of the landings (engine-out, soft-field, etc.) at Lapeer (D95), shot the ILS 27 and the RNAV 36 (twice) at KFNT, then flew back to Pontiac (KPTK), where I think I did my best short-field landing ever in that aircraft, getting it down and stoppable before the 1,000-foot markers.

Work and other commitments are still keeping me out of the cockpit more than I’d like to be, but I think I’ve done as good a job of getting active and proficient early in the season this year as I ever have.

 

Team Tuskegee Ramps Up Training

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Team Tuskegee has begun to ramp up its training. Element takeoffs and landings yesterday deep in the Bravo. Echelon. Tail chase. Overhead break back at Detroit City (KDET). It’s still less than a year since I first flew a TG-7A. Last march, it was all about giggles and having fun. It’s still a lot of fun.

But the standard is different this time. This is the first pre-season when I’m actively working with an airshow standard in mind. There’s nothing whatsoever wring with with working to PTS or working up to competent $100 hamburger flying. Train for your mission and for safe outcomes and I’m with you.

As for me, though, every time I take off, land or maneuver, I see a crowd line and 10,000-plus people out of the corner of my eye and I hear Ralph Royce in my headset. It’s not long now before I won’t just be imagining that crowd (or Ralph). It’ll be real. And, providing that we nail down out FAST cards and get some additional training done in time, the Tuskegee demo will be even more complex.

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Think landing at OSH is intimidating? It is. Or so I’ve heard. But what if everyone near the flightline at OSH was actually watching you instead of buying stuff and talking and not paying attention to arrivals? And what if they had all had cameras? And what if there was a guy on the PA system telling them who you are and where you live? Suddenly, even the simple act of landing an aircraft ought to become pucker-palooza.  That’s what it is to fly an air show.

But with enough of the right kind of training, it’s no more than you should reasonably expect of yourself. The airshow guys are fond of saying: “Perfection is expected. Excellence will be accepted.” They mean it. So you go out on cold February mornings, brief the flight exhaustively, fly it with everything you have, then pick it apart back at the hangar. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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We’re working hard, bundled up with extra socks and thermal undies under our flight suits. Because each of us imagines that crowd line in the snowy fields near the flight line. And we imagine you in that crowd.

Soon, the fields will be green, the barrels and stakes will go up, and you’ll actually be in that field. We’re training hard now because we know what it is to be in that crowd and we’re very conscious of that part of your dreams that you vest in us by coming to see us fly.

And every single one of us can barely believe that we get to do this.

 

 

Glider Rating – Part 2 – Audio Episode Show Notes

These are the show notes to an audio episode. You can listen to the show audio by clicking here: http://traffic.libsyn.com/airspeed/AirspeedGliderRating2.mp3. Better yet, subscribe to Airspeed through iTunes or your other favorite podcatcher. It’s all free!

This is the second part of a two-part series covering my glider rating. To bring you up to speed, in March of this year, I began training in the TG-7A motorglider to add a glider rating. In May, I soloed the aircraft for the first time. Part 1 covered events up through the solo. On to Part 2.

After the solo, things move more quickly. You’ve proven that you can operate the aircraft without the instructor aboard. Or at least that you’re so lucky that you don’t need the instructor. Same result.

Now it’s all about the checkride. It’s not as though you haven’t been preparing for the checkride since your very first flight. But now is when you think about it a lot more.

I bought Bob Wander’s commercial checkride guide. I borrowed some of John’s Harte’s materials. I looked (briefly) for commercial glider knowledge test prep software or online courses, but that was futile. I can perhaps forgive Gleim and the other test prep companies for not having a course tailored for commercial glider guys. We can’t be much of a market. So I paid for Gleim’s regular airplane commercial pilot ground school. It’s geared toward airplane pilots, but the regulatory review was bound to be helpful and I’ll probably go after the commercial for ASEL and AMEL soon anyway.

John and I started hitting the training once a week or so, usually first thing in the morning at the crack of dawn. Sunrise was coming earlier and earlier and we made it a point to turn the prop as soon after sunrise as possible on each of those flights. Mostly, we explored other parts of the glider PTS. We did stalls and slow flight and went looking for crosswinds to work on that technique. [Read more...]