Audio Episode Show Notes: River Days Airshow 2016 – Part 1

Jack Hodgson takes the bully mic for this episode to talk about the 2016 Tuskegee Airmen Detroit River Days Airshow.

Jack and I recorded this episode June 12 or 13 and we intended to record at least one more between then and when the airshow happened June 24-26. But things happened. Jack had work things to do and took a couple of days to get me his end of the audio. By that time, I was heading to Mattoon, Illinois to be deputy commander for glider operations at CAP’s Johnson Flight Academy (at which my son, FOD, soloed at age 14 by the way – Way to go, FOD!). The day after my obligations at the academy ended, I had to be back in Detroit for performer arrivals for the show and then performances began the day after that. Long story short, notwithstanding what you hear us say in the episode, this is the only episode that we recorded prior to the show.

I’m recording this in early August 2016. I won’t keep you in suspense. The show went off without a hitch other than the usual complications and all of the aircraft and performers are reusable. But there’s good stuff to talk about, mainly those complications, which range from international border crossings to an incoming storm to wind conditions to a late-breaking FAA requirement that had me calling off the show twice in a day and then trying to save it by desperately soliciting boaters. Find out all the details about how Project Spicoli resulted in yet another great hometown airshow in Detroit by listening to the follow-up episode. Jack and I will likely record the episode this month and I’ll have it in the feed as soon after that as I can.



A SpaceX Rocket is Going to Land at Detroit’s River Days Airshow

April 01 Lead The Tuskegee Airmen National Historical Museum and SpaceX dropped a bombshell this morning at press conference on the Detroit waterfront. This year’s Tuskegee Airmen Detroit River Days Airshow will feature the recovery of the first stage of a Falcon 9 rocket on SpaceX’s drone ship on the Detroit River in front of an audience that could reach more than a million spectators.

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said, “There would be no SpaceX if it weren’t for the dreams that power the company and its missions. For many people, that dream starts at an airshow. What better time and place let people have a close look at what those dreams can bring?”  Musk flew to Detroit for the announcement after yesterday’s press events in Hawthorne, California surrounding the beginning of production of Tesla Motors’ Model 3.

Steve Tupper, who is in charge of the airshow, for the museum said, “I don’t think I have to tell you how excited we are about this addition to the show. Over the last four years, we’ve been bringing the show along. In 2014, we had a 500-foot waiver. Last year, we took the waiver all the way down to the surface and added aerobatic performances. We had no idea that 2016 would see a spectacle that has never occurred at any airshow before now.” April 01 Drone Ship SpaceX made headlines in December of 2015 by successfully bringing the booster stage of a Falcon 9 first stage to a soft landing at Kennedy Space Center’s Landing Zone 1. For the airshow event, SpaceX will land another Falcon 9 first stage, this time on SpaceX’s Autonomous Support Drone Ship. Musk says that the drone ship will begin its trek to Detroit in early June.  The ship is expected to arrive the week before the airshow and moor at Port Detroit. April 01 Box Map For the landing, the drone ship will take up a position in front of the River Days festival grounds near the Renaissance Center and near the middle of the Detroit River on the U.S. side of the U.S.-Canadian border. “We’ve had our issues in the past with getting the Falcon 9 first stage to land on the boat, but we think that we have things ironed out and this will be a great opportunity to demonstrate our improved capabilities,” said Musk. April 01 Falcon 9 The landing is expected to take place at 1:05 Detroit time on Friday, June 24 to kick off this year’s installment of the show. To make its date with the Detroit riverfront, the Falcon 9 rocket (called the “full thrust” version) will launch from Cape Canaveral in Florida about 12 minutes before the scheduled landing. After thrusting for nearly four minutes, the main engines will shut down. Seconds later, the first stage will separate and the second stage will fire, propelling a new Civil Air Patrol search-and-rescue satellite into a polar orbit.

The first stage will then orient itself and begin its controlled descent to the waiting drone ship on the river. “It wasn’t easy to make this happen,” says Tupper. “FAA regulations require that we keep performers at least 500 feet away from the crowd, and that includes rockets.” Although it will require additional propellant for both the rocket’s main engine and its directional thrusters, the rocket is expected to approach the drone ship from the southwest and track along the Detroit River over the Ambassador Bridge before touching down on the drone ship.

Federal Aviation Administration Aviation Safety Inspector Art Bangle described the complexities. “The museum has asked the FAA to authorize an operation involving a tube full of highly volatile fluids and gasses very close to maybe a million people in two countries and right in the middle of a navigable waterway.  Ordinarily we would ignore such a request as we would an April Fool’s Day joke. But Steve and the airshow staff are steely-eyed operators who have planned for every contingency. The FAA wouldn’t authorize them to give it a try if the FAA didn’t have full faith in that team.”

Team Tuskegee, the museum’s airshow formation team, is practicing a maneuver in which its four TG-7A motorgliders will circle the rocket stage as it descends below about 1,000 feet above the water and follow it all the way to touchdown.TG-7A over Lake with Harte Tupper says that he is excited this spectacle will have a distinctly Detroit flavor. “There are two major airshows – Thunder over Michigan and the Selfridge ANGB show – that are so close to the team’s home airport here in Detroit that we have to be careful not to bust their airspace when we go places. Despite that, they never include us in their shows. Come to think of it, they hardly ever have anybody from Michigan in their shows. So maybe, until they get their own circle-the-rocket opening, we can be as cool as they are.”

Other performers are expected to include displays of aerobatic, formation, and other flying by pilots and aircraft from southeast Michigan and Windsor, Ontario.  More than 75% of the airshow performers are from the area. Asked about the best opportunities for viewing the event, Tupper said, “Every place along the rail on either side of the river will be the best seat in the house.  Just get there early and be patient as you depart.”

The fireworks displays during the Windsor–Detroit International Freedom Festival draw about a million spectators to the riverfront every year, often causing legendary traffic snarls. Airshow organizers believe that attendance for the SpaceX landing might double that number.

SpaceX images used under Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike.

Audio Episode Show Notes: River Days Airshow – Part 4 – Debrief

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These are the show notes to an audio episode. You can listen to the show audio here:

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We did it!  We put on a full-up airshow over the Detroit River in some of the most challenging airspace in North America. In this episode, David Allen takes the bully mic again and Dean Greenblatt (“BIRD” during the show) joins Steve to talk about what went right, what went wrong, and what’s in store for the show next year.

Screen Shot 2015-06-27 at 4.01.28 PMHear how we put a jet, three gliders, and lots of other aircraft up in this box and managed to do it despite low weather on Saturday, communications SNAFUs, and the fact that nobody on the crew had ever put on an airshow before.  It’s an exciting story of what can happen when a dedicated crew of volunteers gathers together to turn dinosaurs into decibels.

Many thanks to Jo Hunter for the great photos!

Team Tuskegee Gets Press from AOPA

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The Tuskegee Airmen Glider Club got a nice writeup by AOPA today.  Thanks to Rod Rakic for helping to make the connection and to Benet Wilson of AOPA for helping to showcase our operations!  Check out the piece at or click the image above.

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.