Wednesday, July 30, 2008

AirVenture Oshkosh 2008 - Day 1 - Part 2

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This shot isn’t particularly well-composed or in focus, but I think I like it. The Harrier demo is usually among the loudest at AirVenture. Here it is hovering in front of the crowd and there’s this guy with his fingers in his ears. Okay, maybe I’ve blown out my ears with too much rock and roll, but I come here for the noise. Maybe it’s that this guy visually tells the story and gives the photo the noise element that the visual aspect can’t. Anyway, I like it.

I’ve seen Gene Soucy three or four times and, much as I continue to expect that some other aircraft is going to thrill me more, Gene’s ShowCat is just phenomenal every time. I saw him perform at Battle Creek in 2006 with a 1,000-foot ceiling – one of the few acts that could or did go up that day. Flying his heart out in a machine that made really wonderful noises and that is featured on the “Shut Up and Listen to the Airplanes” episode.

I also love that he turns toward the crowd to give you angles like the ones in these pictures. And either his smoke generator is oversized or he’s flying more slowly. Either way, his smoke trail is really thick and, in good light like we had today, it’s really dramatic.

That’s Theresa Stokes on the wing. I’m not fan of wing walking. I get the willies watching someone get out there and do something that depends for the thrill on the danger of the activity. I love to watch flying because it’s beautiful and graceful and can be done safely with the right precautions. I don’t think there’s anything in the pose or anything else in wing walking that adds much to the flying. I guess the defiant gesture in the shot here is pretty dramatic . . . I’m torn.

Can I say this without anyone thinking that I’m beating up on Theresa (or Gene)? I’m not. I met Theresa two years ago and she’s really together and is very good at what she does. And she’s an accomplished visual artist, too. And wing walking is a time-honored barnstorming tradition. But wing walking just isn’t my cup of tea. Doesn’t mean I won’t have the camera out and ready whenever she’s on the wing. And doesn’t mean that I’ll never get it. Just trying to reconcile what seems to be heresy when I actually type it.

More when I can get out on the net again. Connectivity here is really awful. Haven’t been able to get on the WiFi since I’ve been here. And haven’t talked to anyone who has.

And AT&T connectivity for wireless web is awful during the day. Couldn’t even tweet for most of the day, much less check e-mail. Kent suggested that it’s all of those iPhone users who had to take the AT&T service and who then descended on Oshkosh. I don’t know. I was a Spring customer last year, but didn’t depend as much on Internet access on my prior Blackberry device.

Anyway, it’s a little frustrating to be here with all kinds of content oozing from every crevice of the grounds and not be able to get any of it out without really working at it. I guess that, if you see these posts, it’ll mean that there’s at least some means by which to connect.

More later!

Follow me on Twitter as StephenForce!

And shoot me a friend request on! Beta invitations are available from I’ve already set up groups that address some of the things that you guys tell me you like best about the show, including Gooney Birds and Aviator Musicians, but it’s always better when you guys add your own thoughts, pictures, tips, and other content. Be a part of the rising tide that will give pilots and other aviation enthusiasts a genuine and authoritative community designed by pilots for pilots!

AirVenture Oshkosh 2008 - Day 1 - Part 1

This is a regular blog post. Looking for show notes or show audio? Please check out the other posts.

First full day at OSH! Every kind of people and every kind of airplane! I keep forgetting how much I love this place. I gathered and submitted three pieces for EAA Radio. One was a Dan Gryder DC-3 student talking about his type rating trip from Griffin, Georgia to Oshkosh and back. Then I got LtCol Frank Alvarez, a KC-135 driver from the Wisconsin ANG. Lastly, although it took more then four hours to coordinate, I got Bob Cardin, the man behind the extraction of Glacier Girl from her icy home of 50 years.

Cole spent most of the day taking pictures of Koala, his stuffed koala bear buddy, in nearly every aircraft on the field. It made for some slow going around the field, but he’s very into his project and I think it’s cool that he’s taking it so seriously. Here he is under a Husky floatplane doing a self-portrait.

I found out that Canon will lend you these huge lenses to go shoot the airshow. And here I thought that this guy was just making up for something. Alas, I’m a Nikon guy, mainly because that’s what Costco was pushing the week that I decided that I needed more than just a point-and-shoot for the show. It seems that about one in 50 of my shots with the 200mm lens is usable. The auto-focus just doesn’t want to lock onto airplanes, so I’m focusing manually. And I still blur the overwhelming majority of them. Not going to stop me from taking pictures, though.

Here’s a nice one that did work out. Not sure, but the rumor is that Lucas sponsors him.

I love the Super Decathlon. It’s close to the Citabria that I fly these days and it’s just so cool to see guys up there wringing gorgeous aerobatics out of the limited energy that you get with the engines in these things. There’s nothing at all wrong with hyper-tweaked engines with composite airframes, but I really appreciate what goes into these performances by airplanes that you might actually be able to rent and fly at your own local airport. Sutton Aviation has a Super-D and I’m going to get up in that as soon as Barry thinks I’m ready. The thrill here is that this is something that I can do without hitting the lottery or getting sponsors or anything else ridiculous. (And so can you!)

I had Airspeed Aerobatic Team tee shirts made up a few months ago, mostly as a lark. I actually felt a little disingenuous making them up because I wasn’t really an aerobatic enthusiast at the time. But after the July 8 session in the Citabria, I really think I like aerobatics. It gets the goosebumps going again. At the very least, you should find a qualified instructor and certified airplane and go do some upset recovery and spin training. And get a loop or two in just for fun. You might find that you like it. You may even find it addictive.

I thought that all of that “I need my vitamin gee” stuff was bravado and hangar posing. But it’s not. Not most of it, anyway. It’s genuinely wonderful stuff. Is there no end to the wonder of flying? Are we not the luckiest generation in history?

Follow me on Twitter as StephenForce!

And shoot me a friend request on! Beta invitations are available from I’ve already set up groups that address some of the things that you guys tell me you like best about the show, including Gooney Birds and Aviator Musicians, but it’s always better when you guys add your own thoughts, pictures, tips, and other content. Be a part of the rising tide that will give pilots and other aviation enthusiasts a genuine and authoritative community designed by pilots for pilots!

Arrival at AirVenture Oshkosh 2008

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I stayed at work almost all night Monday night and then packed the car and left around 10:00 EDT Tuesday morning. We arrived at Oshkosh around 6:00 CDT (nine hours through the Chicago construction, etc.).

First order of business was to get to the Orion FBO at the far end of the North Forty for Dan Gryder’s DC-3 charity event. Dan was hosting the event for Challenge Air and had assembled the DC-3 All Star Bluegrass Confabulation. I got to join in on mandolin for a few numbers and Dan was even kind enough to plug me in (my mando is set up for electric, although I rarely play it that way).

Cole spoke of nothing but the DC-3 on the way across the airport grounds and was really thrilled to hang out around the airplane. I think he got in and out at least a half dozen times. Here he is in the left seat.

We also got a shot out on the wing. Cole seemed to be genuinely impressed that I was typed in the airplane. He’s usually pretty difficult to impress. Or maybe it’s that he gets pretty regular access to stuff like airplanes and recording studios and radio stations and other relatively cool things and just takes some of those things for granted. In any case, I think a DC-3 is pretty impressive regardless of whether you hang around other airplanes on a regular basis.

The party was lousy with podcasters, too. UCAP, The Pilotcast, The Student Pilot Cast, and yours truly, as well as Rod Rakic from, the new aviation-centered social media site. (Ask for your beta account by e-mailing!)

We got back to the campsite around midnight and managed to set up our condo-sized tent in the dark with some assistance from some very kind EAA Radio teammates. Cole was bushed and slept until 8:00, by which time the tent became a sauna and we started up the day Wednesday.

Follow me on Twitter as StephenForce!

And shoot me a friend request on! Beta invitations are available from I’ve already set up groups that address some of the things that you guys tell me you like best about the show, including Gooney Birds and Aviator Musicians, but it’s always better when you guys add your own thoughts, pictures, tips, and other content. Be a part of the rising tide that will give pilots and other aviation enthusiasts a genuine and authoritative community designed by pilots for pilots!

Monday, July 28, 2008

You Can Fly Ace!

This is a regular blog post. Show notes and links to audio are in other entries.

You can fly Ace! Ace is the iconic mascot of the soon-to-launch, a social media site for pilots and aviation enthusiasts. Facebook and MySpace too clunky and non-pilot-oriented for you? You need to get on! When’s the last time you saw a space for type ratings in a social media profile? That and a lot more at has laminated Ace to the cover of his very own logbook and will be casting him to the winds at AirVenture Oshkosh this week. Pilots take Ace up for a flight, log the flight in Ace’s logbook, and then pass him along to another pilot. The idea is to have Ace flown in as many different aircraft, by as many people, and under as many different circumstances, as possible. And, under the right circumstances, you can give Ace an endorsement (if you’re a CFI/CFII/MEI, etc. and he has the requisite experience) or even a rating (if he accompanies you on your checkride). See more details in the inside cover of his logbook above.

Look for Ace in your neck of the woods. And, if you fly him, please sign the logbook and then pass Ace on as quickly as possible! And then put an entry in the “Where’s Ace?” group at so they can track him.

Want an invite to the beta? E-mail

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Oshkosh Fever Nearing Peak

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Oshkosh fever is nearing peak. I hit Target to pick up the requisite foodstuffs and Papa Joe’s for the beer (two kinds of Leinie’s and a six of Sam Adams Boston Lager for starters). I took the sleeping bags to the Birmingham Laundromat to wash and dry them and I cleaned out the car in the Laundromat parking lot.

New tent, a new cot for Cole, and a pile of new equipment. And I haven’t even assembled the musical instruments that will be going with us.

Dan Gryder asked me to sit in on mando for the Tuesday night DC-3 bluegrass jam. Cole and I were going to leave Tuesday night, get a hotel in Waukegan, and, long story short, arrive at OSH Wednesday morning. Instead, in order to make the show, I think we’re going to launch around 10:00 or 11:00 a.m. EDT on Tuesday with the idea being to arrive at OSH before 6:00 p.m. on Tuesday. Pounding out the work stuff to make sure that I can do that in good conscience.

Follow me on Twitter as StephenForce. I’ll be sending out the GPS coordinates for Firebase Airspeed as soon as we get settled. We’re camping with the EAA Radio folks.

See you there!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

F-15 West Demo Team Pilot Capt Sam "Nuke" Joplin

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These are the show notes to an audio episode. You can listen online right here by clicking:

We interviewed Capt Sam “Nuke” Joplin of the F-15 West Demo Team on Sunday, July 6 from the Battle Creek Field of Flight Air Show and Balloon Festival.

The F-15 West Coast Demo Team is one of the seven single aircraft demonstration teams assigned to the USAF Air Combat Command. The F-15 West Team originated from Holloman AFB in New Mexico and moved to Tyndall AFB in Florida before settling at Eglin AFB in the early 1990s. The name "West Coast" has been retained for heritage purposes.

Capt Joplin spent some time talking about the return of the Eagle fleet to service after having been grounded for some time in 2007 and early 2008, as well as the operational capabilities of the aircraft, what it’s like to do heritage flights, how he received his callsign, and whether Eagle drivers read Air Force Blues.

Here’s s shot of the F-15/P-51 heritage flight on Saturday, July 5 at Battle Creek this year.

Another shot of the heritage flight as it passed over the crowd on Saturday.

More information about the F-15 West Demo Team:

More information about the USAF Air Combat Command:

Air Force Flight Careers:

Saturday, July 19, 2008

You Can Go Back - Part 2

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I wrote some time ago about stopping by the Water Street Coffee Joint in October and finding it essentially as it was in 1993 as I studied for the LSAT. I had a similar, but more intimate experience yesterday.

I had heard that the 1983 Cessna 152 II, N94891 (in which I did a lot of my early pre-solo and solo primary training in 2001), had moved from Willow Run Airport (KYIP) to Ann Arbor Municipal Airport (KARB), but had not seen her on the field except for a fleeting glimpse in 2003 or so. So, when I arrived early for Paul Stambaugh’s hangar party yesterday, I asked around to see if anyone knew where I might find her. Turns out that she’s around, well-maintained, and working for Solo Aviation, located at the terminal building.

The gentlemen at Solo were kind enough to actually hand me the keys and tell me that I could go and see her. How cool are they? I went down to Bravo row, opened the padlock, rolled back the doors, and there she was! Boy, does she look good. They've been taking right proper care of her. “Hi, girl! Remember me?”

“Hey, Tup! You lose a little weight? What brings you back to this neck of the woods?” she said.

“Paul’s party. And it was a great excuse to come look for you,” I told her.

“And who are the little ones?”

I introduced the kids to 891. Cole was gestating the last time I flew 891. Ella wasn't even in the plans.

The kids are used to C-172s or bigger airplanes, and Cole’s first remark was “Hey! There’s no back seat!” True enough. This is a bare-essentials no-nonsense pilotmaker. She’s IFR certified, but only has VOR navigation and ILS capability. I never flew her under the hood, but a lot of my acquaintances built hood time in her, plugging along at 90 KIAS.

For me, she went charging down runway 5L at Willow Run, rotated, and carried me around the pattern for my first solo and several subsequent flights. A wonderful trainer and one of my all-time favorite aircraft.

Cole and Ella were very deferential – even a little reverent – when I told them that 891 was the first airplane that I had ever soloed. They really treated her with respect and even stood still over in the corner while I got into the left seat and reminisced a little. Then Cole ran over and played line marshal and cleared me to take off – No doubt to scout the Hun lines and report back to this site of the trenches or maybe to look for wildfires or something like that.

I love this airplane and am delighted to see that she’s still on the line and making pilots out of pedestrians. I need to get over to Ann Arbor again soon and take her up. It’d be fun.

Good to see you, 891. I’m still out here trying to make you proud!

(Don’t tell her about the F-16 thing. I think she’d take it the right way, but there’s no use rocking the boat.)

See 891 and the astonishingly friendly and helpful people at Solo Aviation in the terminal building at Ann Arbor Municipal Airport. (Seriously, how cool are you guys? I really, really appreciated that. I'll be talking you up to anyone who will listen.)

Solo Aviation, Inc.
801 Airport Drive
Ann Arbor, Michigan 48108
Phone: 734-994-6651
Fax: 734-994-6671

Paul Stambaugh's Hangar Party 2008

This is a regular blog post. Looking for show notes or show audio? You can find it in the other posts.

Went to Paul Stambaugh’s Fly ‘Em If You Got ‘Em hangar party this afternoon at Ann Arbor (KARB) with Cole and Ella. The whole airport community shows up each year for barbeque and some bring airplanes. There’s usually at least a Stearman and several others and Paul likes to fly his Pitts for the gathering.

A shot of the crowd. It’s usually a little more spread out, but it rained on and off throughout the afternoon and everybody pretty much kept to the hangar itself. Made for a more intimate setting with lots of folks in close proximity.

Cole and Ella found a spot next to Steve’s biplane and grazed on the goodies all afternoon. The food was unusually good this year and someone bade perhaps the best baked beans I've ever eaten. Paul had lots of pork, hanburgers, and hot dogs on the roaster and the pulled pork was outstanding.

Before too long, Paul filled up the smoke oil tank on the Pitts and taxied out fo give us a demo. A high-performance take-off to an inverted downwind, then three passes, including a this high-speed pass.

The Stearman showed up just as we were leaving, but I managed to run back to the runway and grab this shot of it just as it was landing. It's a beautiful aircraft and I wish that we had had more time to go look at it up close. But it was raining pretty well and I already had the kids in the car.

Many thanks to Paul and Steve for throwing this party every year. It's nice to get back to Ann Arbor every now and then.

If you're a non-pilot or just beginning and have yet to really feel at home at your airport, find a way to get invited to a hangar party or two. It's the single best way to network and meet new friends on the field!

Thursday, July 17, 2008

How to Prep for Pulling Nine Gees

This is a regular blog post. Please check out the other posts if you’re looking for show notes or links to show audio.

Although I’m sure that I’ll work this in to the summary episode now in production, this communication bears posting in full.

SSgt Russ Martin is the guy with whom you communicate if you’ve been selected as a primary or alternate flyer with the USAF Thunderbirds. (Don’t inundate or stalk him. He’s not the guy who decides who flies.) He coordinates your suit-up, hands you off to the correct people, and generally makes sure that you have the great experience that the Air Force wants you to have.

I know that the Airspeed audience is particularly interested in the behind-the-scenes stuff that has to do with the actual aviation, and I thought that the text of SSgt Martin’s e-mail to me might be interesting to you. I received this about a week and a half before the flight. It covers the aeromedical factors and the process for the day of the flight and answers a lot of questions that I’d imagine most media riders have.

It’s also the first tangible indication that this experience has a very real chance of happening. It’s the kind of e-mail that makes you just sit there in disbelief that it’s actually there on your screen.

It’s also an excellent example of the Air Force’s media relations culture. It contains all of the necessary information in very clear and professional terms while at the same time being engaging and even witty.

Anyway, enjoy!



Congratulations on being selected as an alternate for a flight with the Thunderbirds. Obviously we would love to fly everyone who is nominated for a flight, but keep in mind that if the primary nominee for the flight on Thursday, July 3, is not able to fly for any reason, you are next in line!

Should that happen, the following instructions would apply...

We will need you to arrive for your flight equipment fitting at the airport by 2:30 p.m. We will meet you [location redacted]. If you need directions, please talk to [name and contact information redacted]. She should be able to point you in the right direction. She is our local Public Relations point of contact.

Please make sure that your cameraman or photographer is with you for complete coverage of your day's activities. Also, please bring a cotton t-shirt (any color) and a pair of cotton athletic socks that come up to the middle of your calves. Both are for your comfort. We will provide you with the flight suit, harness, helmet, G-suit and all other gear necessary to make your flight as comfortable as possible. All you will wear under your flight suit is your socks, t-shirt and underwear.

The scheduled take off would be at 5:30 p.m. and would last about an hour. Because of weather and air traffic variations, we cannot guarantee an on-time take off and landing.

Your cameraman or photographer will have access to everything during the day with the exception of the few minutes you spend with our flight surgeon. Also, we will have a still photographer there to capture the entire day for you and we will ensure that you receive a CD of digital photos as soon as possible for your personal use.

Some things to keep in mind to make your flight as enjoyable as possible:

Starting 24 hours prior to your flight, hydrate. Drink water until you're silly and then drink another bottle. Hydration combats motion sickness, so this step is key.

It is not recommended that you go drinking the night before your flight. The alcohol and its after-effects also quickly dehydrate the body and will encourage a feeling of dizziness and nausea that you will want to avoid while flying at speeds approaching the sound barrier!

The day of the flight, unless you can't live without it, please avoid that morning cup of coffee. Avoid carbonation and caffeine the day of your flight. Both are diuretics and will cancel out all of the work you did for the 24 hours prior getting yourself good and hydrated.

The day of your flight, I want you to have food in your stomach, but nothing greasy and nothing spicy. It's a good idea to stay away from deep fried breakfast Taquitos! A piece of fruit and a bagel, or a light turkey sandwich would be ideal. The carbs will be good for you and will help to keep your stomach settled that day.

In the meantime, remember that just because you weren't selected to fly with us this time around doesn't mean that you never will. The Thunderbirds return routinely to cities such as yours to participate in air shows. You can learn more about the Thunderbirds by visiting us on-line at

Thank you and have a great day!

Staff Sgt. Russ Martin
Chief, Media Relations
USAF Thunderbirds


Guys, SSgt martin is a real pro and very clearly loves what he does. He made the whole experience go smoothly and this e-mail is just one of many artifacts of that process.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Another Great Image by Tim Reed - And Thinking of Hitting the Studio

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Here's No. 8 on my ride just after rotation with the gear coming up and the afterburner cranking. If you look closely, you can see the concentric donuts in the exhaust! Tim's working on some more of the pictures and has been passing them along.

The more I think about it, the more inclined I am to actually go into someone else's studio and record some original music for the Thunderbirds ride summary episode. Drum machine just isn't going to cut it for this. I need to play acoustic drums and I need a good room and someone with good mics and good sensibilities on the console for that. I might also go electric for part of this one.

Probably acoustic six-string, mando (capoed up to two frets), bass (big Washburn and/or little Ashbory), Carvin DC-127T electric guitar, and, of course, acoustic drums. Mostly rhythmic stuff without a lot of melody to go under the commentary.

Like all evil guitarists, I'll probably do it in E (you just need the growl of E to get the F-16 right), so the xaphoon is out. Too hard to play a C xaphoon in E. Although I might do one phase in A so I can use the shuttlepipes for part of it.

Got to go write and then schedule some studio time to get this done!

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Another Cockpit Shot from the Thunderbirds Ride

Tim Reed has been working on some of the pictures he took at the airshow. Here's a rather good one of me sitting in the cockit just before the Thunderbirds ride. Can't say what I'm thinking, but it probably runs the entire gamut.

First Post-Thunderbirds GA Aerobatic Flight

This is a regular blog post. Looking for show notes or links to audio? Please check out the other posts. AND CHECK OUT THE THUNDERBIRDS POSTS FROM A FEW DAYS AGO! (Scroll down.)

Spending a lot of time with the audio from the Thunderbirds ride getting it edited down for another epic summary episode a la the DC-3 summary episode. Thinking 90-minute-plus extravaganza. Might even go into the studio to record original music for it. Will have more vide to post soon, too. Will Hawkins is helping with the initial production. Watch this space!

Got up on Tuesday for 1.5 in the Citabria with Barry Sutton. I should note that, since Tradewinds closed in February, I haven’t had any home FBO at which I am checked out to rent airplanes all by myself. And I’m finding that, for the time being, I don’t care! I am a growing Citabria addict.

I did about 1.5 in the 172RG over at Flight 101 and had a good experience, then there was the DC-3 training. Just before doing the DC-3 training, I went up with Barry in the Citabria because I had no tailwheel time and wanted to do a few wheel landings before flying the ‘three. I loved that flight and went back to do more tailwheel training with Barry so that I could say with a straighter face that I have a tailwheel endorsement (the ‘three is wildly tailwheely in the taxi, but behaves like a big tricycle-great airplane otherwise). I really need to master a smaller taildragger before I can feel good about claiming to be a taildragger pilot.

Barry allowed early on as how he does aerobatic training in the Citabria, which piqued my curiosity. We did two flights after I got back from Griffin and before the Thunderbirds ride. The first was about aircraft stability and the second was about unusual attitudes and energy management. In each case, my stomach had had enough by about the 20-minute mark and we did the rest of those 1.3 or 1.4-hour flights in the pattern working on landings.

I got pretty green toward the end of the Thunderbirds flight. Not dwelling on it and not saying that I didn’t have an outstanding experience. (Can I say it again? The Thunderbirds rocked and Maj Mulhare worked really hard to make it a solid experience! I will never, ever forget that flight!) But I was a little disappointed in myself about getting that green that quickly.

So I had low expectations going out again in the Citabria on Tuesday. We strapped on the chutes and headed to the practice area and I expected to get maybe 20 minutes of cranking and banking before having to come back to the pattern.

Surprise! Yours truly got a full hour of loops, rolls, and hammerheads (I love hammerheads!) and no tummy issues at all. In fact, it was Barry’s idea to head back to the airport. (Not that Barry had issues – He just wanted to get some landings in.)

I think that it might have something to do with being on the controls a little more. I flew most of the maneuvers instead of watching or just following along on the controls. I think that made a big difference.

And there’s some element of exposure that helps. Most aerobatic guys who take time off in the winter will tell you that it takes them about five flights to get back into the swing. There’s an extent to which you have to just keep at it and push through whatever barrier you’re experiencing.

I was really stoked after the flight. This is what I’d hoped aerobatics would be like! Not having to be limited by the stomach and just enjoying the outer reaches of the flight envelope. And getting familiar enough with the maneuver to be able to just watch yourself do it.

You know the aerobatic sequences from One Six Right? I used to just hang my head and cry (yeah, cry) when I saw those because, although I’ve had more flight experiences than most people will ever have, I feared that that real skydancing would just plain elude me. Can it be that I can reach it and that it’s just on the other side of a little push through that 20-minute barrier? Can it be that I just need to have my hands on the controls?

What is a barrier, really? The problem is that the most important barriers are unique to each of us and there is no way to see anything but this side of the barrier until you put your head down and make a run at it. Maybe many runs. Maybe even fighting your own physiological and mental limits each time.

But the happiest times of life are when you realize that the barrier is surmountable. That you can do it. Or at least peek over the other side.

Hey, I’m no steely-eyed missile man yet. In fact, in many ways, I’m just a poser. I have a lot to learn. I’ll always have a lot to learn. But, on Tuesday, I transcended what I though was going to be an ongoing personal limitation. Or at least made a big-ass dent in it.

Car-dancing on the way home. Liquid Tension Experiment blaring. Windows down. Yeah!

Flight will transform you. Flight finally let me give my undivided attention to a burning blue-green horizon as the brilliant yellow nose of the Citabria fell through it and then the wings were like they were on straight vertical detents for a moment before pulling out.

Poser though I may be most of the time, for a little while this Tuesday, I was Superman, Harry Potter, and Fletcher Seagull. I am Stephen Force and I love this stuff.


Contact information for Barry Sutton:

Sutton Aviation, Inc.
Oakland County International Airport
6230 North Service Drive
Waterford, Michigan 48327

Monday, July 07, 2008

Building Possibly the Coolest Logbook Page Ever

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I think that I might be working on the greatest logbook page ever. It just happened that the DC-3 training in Griffin started on a new page, so I start out with five lines and four flights in the DC-3.

(By the way, the DC-3 course documentation took the form of a completion certificate, but no logbook entries. I made the entries myself based on the in-flight recordings I made while covering the type rating course for the show.)

So that’s DC-3, DC-3, DC-3, DC-3, Citabria, Citabria, F-16D. And Maj Mulhare was kind enough to sign that F-16D entry and even filled it out as being dual received!

Not sure there’s much else I could get in there that would make it cooler. The Tri-Motor would have been cool and I paid for the right seat, but Detroit City Airport wouldn’t make the proper arrangements to accommodate the EAA’s Tri-Motor and they had to cancel.

So I’ll put a little more Citabria time in the book tomorrow afternoon. And, to be honest, that’s plenty good enough for me. What a great summer so far! Maybe ASES in August with Tom Brady, but I think I’m through adding stuff prior to AirVenture Oshkosh in a few weeks. It’ll be hard enough to live with me as it is.

I’m hard at work editing and I’ll have a summary episode for the Thunderbirds F-16 flight up soon. Watch this space!

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Thunderbirds Ride - Full Description Episode

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These are the show notes to an audio episode. You can listen online right here by clicking:

Photography by Tim Reed.

Here it is! The full-length episode with all of my initial reactions from the USAF Thunderbirds flight!

I have a lot of audio and video yet to post and I plan to do a full summary episode with audio from the suit-up, the briefings, and the flight. But, in the meantime, I think it’s important to get the story out as soon as possible.

And what better way to do that than by using that age-old journalistic technique: Hangar-flying!

For this episode, I’ve invited friend, Civil Air Patrol (USAF Auxiliary) captain, and confessed Air Force and F-16 fanboy Rod Rakic to take over the flight controls and the microphone and interview me. This is a roughly chronological (but otherwise free-flowing) discussion of the media ride that I took with Maj Tony Mulhare, Thunderbird No. 8, this past Friday. We departed the Battle Creek Field of Flight Air Show and Balloon Festival just before the rest of the Thunderbirds team began its demo and returned just before the demo was complete.

In the intervening time, Maj Mulhare put the F-16D through its paces in the Hersey Military Operations Area about 80 nm and 12 minutes (!) of Battle Creek and I was along to observe the capabilities of this outstanding aircraft.

Listen in and you’ll hear my impressions just over 24 hours after the ride. Plenty to talk about, but it’s still gelling, so this episode contains from-the-hip, honest, and gut-level commentary about the flight, the Air Force, and how the experience expanded the way I think about aviation.

See the links on the right side of the page for links to US Air Force and Thunderbirds resources.

Thunderbirds Ride Video - The Takeoff and Climb

We got the video issues ironed out (mostly) and we have a post of the takeoff sequence!

Check this out! 0 to 350 KIAS in a matter of seconds and then a 4-5 gee pull-up.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Thunderbirds Flight - Frame Grabs!

This is a regular blog post. Looking for show notes or show audio? Please check out the other posts.

Rod Rakic and I just recorded the initial reaction episode and I’m working on editing it down. We also just got the video figured out. Here are some frame grabs courtesy of Will Hawkins.

Here’s a shot on the runway and ready for departure. Thumbs up!

Pulling up and flattened out by 4-5 gees as we climb for 10,000+. (And get there a few seconds later!)

Rolling to have a look at the airport below. That’s KBTL back over my left shoulder.

I’ll be editing down the episode that Rod and I just did with the idea of getting the episode posted sometime tomorrow morning. Stay tuned!

Thunderbirds Flight - The Ride and Thoughts from the Ramp

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These are the show notes to an audio episode. You can listen online right here by clicking:

Photography by Tim Reed.

Radio and other audio media: Download the takeoff audio to run with my interview at (1MB).

I got the Thunderbirds ride! Unbelievable! Didn’t want to get too excited because anything can happen from a schedule change to a malfunction at the hold-short line. But it happened!

And get this . . . I have 1.0 hours dual received in the logbook! In the F-16D. If it gets any better than this, I’m not sure I can handle it.

Here’s the deal. I’m posting the best of the pictures here this morning. Then I’m heading for the airshow to shoot more pictures and interview an Air Force recruiter in connection with the Thunderbirds story. After the airshow, I head home and Rod Rakic (CAPblog publisher, fellow CAP captain and Air Force aviation enthusiast) and I are going to sit down and hangar-fly the whole thing from beginning to end to talk about the experience. I think that will be a great way to make sure that I get the whole experience brain-dumped early on and then I can do a summary episode with the audio (and, yeah, as soon as I can get the video drivers to work, I’ll post video!) this week later on.

Anyway, above is the briefing with Maj Tony Mulhare, No. 8, the advance pilot and a narrator for the team. He briefed me on all of the procedures around 2:00.

The walk to the aircraft with Maj Mulhare and SSgt Kristi Machado. We launched just before the team’s demo for the afternoon, so we went up just before the diamond launched. 350 KIAS to the end of the runway and then a 4-5-g pull vertical to 10,000 feet or so within a few seconds. I got to see the diamond launch from 15,000 feet above.

In-cockpit briefing with Maj Mulhare. Somehow, I don’t remember arming the ejection seat as being a checklist item on any other flight! The briefing is mainly about things not to touch and a few things to touch. I had control of my oxygen and the COM radios. COM1 for ATC (Minneapolis Center for most of the ride) and COM2 for the discreet frequency for the team so we could hear the demo going on.

After the flight with Maj Mulhare in front of F-16D No. 8.

Receiving the nine-gee pin. I’ll get a macro lens at some point and post a picture of it. Only those who have pulled nine gees with the USAF Thunderbirds get to wear this baby.

Look for more audio Sunday morning as I post the episode with the full download of the experience!

Friday, July 04, 2008

A Picture Is Worth . . .

A picture is worth . . . Well, you get the idea. And, in fact, I’m in the process of writing a thousand words (several of them) both for the blog and for print and other media. Hope to have a post and episode out tomorrow morning.

I've also planned a very special episode to initially tell this story. I'd like to have as much of this up as possible as soon as possible - at least the first thoughts and gut reactions, and that probably means that the usual sitting down on and off for a week won't work. So I thought I'd ask Rod Rakic (of CAPblog fame) to turn the tables and interview me about the experience. I think that'll get the information out in an efficient and constructive way.

Rod's very knowledgeable and should be able to pull a little more information out of me that I think I'd get to you solely through the keyboard and I think it'll work well. It's a little experimental, but that's okay. It's called for. This is new territory for the show and this approach seems promising. We're scheduled to record tomorrow night.

In the meantime, I'll write and post some more pictures by tomorrow morning.

More soon!

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Thunderbirds Ride . . . Almost. (But Catch Me Tomorrow!)

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These are the show notes to an audio episode. You can listen online right here by clicking:

Photography by Tim Reed.

Okay, I can go on radar with you guys. For the past two weeks or so, I’ve been designated the alternate media flyer with the USAF Thunderbirds at the Battle Creek Field of Flight Air Show and Balloon festival. I didn’t want to make a big fuss before this because, after all, I was the alternate. Jeff McAtee of WWMT NewsChannel 3 was the primary.

So, after a couple of weeks of working very hard to not wish ill things on Jeff or his car or . . . (you get the idea), I arrived at the appointed time and place to find Jeff’s wife and daughter there (and, therefore, very likely Jeff – healthy and ready to fly). Bummer, but that’s okay. I was always only the alternate.

Then Suze Nanos-Gusching (Battle Creek Airshow Media Director) pulled me aside. “Steve, I think you’re going to get your media flight.”

SSgt Russ Martin (Chief, Media Relations, USAFADS) walked me into the Western Michigan university College of Aviation Building. It seems that Jeff didn’t have a camera crew with him (probably covering the pretty extensive damage caused by the storms in West Michigan the day before). No camera crew, no ride, apparently (which makes sense because you want to have as much coverage of the process as possible to show your audience).

So the idea was that I would suit up and, if Jeff’s camera crew didn’t arrive, I’d fly. Be careful what you wish for, folks! If circumstances align and you make sure that you’re in the right place, you’re liable to get what you wish for.

I met with the flight surgeon, Maj. (Dr.) Charla Quayle first and she did a quick medical exam. Took my blood pressure, listened to my lungs and heart, and asked a pretty thorough battery of questions. I was reeling pretty heavily from the thought of going flying in an F-16, but my blood pressure behaved itself (diastolic pressure of 80). My hear rate was up pretty well, though!

Then I went to get into my zoom bag. You war your own underwear, your own tee shirt, and your own socks. Then it’s the zoom bag. I think Jeff was my size and that I got the next smaller zoom bag. A little tight, but not bad. After all, the gee suit is going to make any tightness of the zoom bag academic.

Here, I’m getting fitted with my gee suit. It will inflate to apply pressure to my calves, thighs, and abdomen to keep the blood from rushing out of my head in high-gee maneuvers. We’ll be pulling nine gees at some point in the flight (at which point I’ll weigh as much as some of the training aircraft in which I’ve flown), so I’m very glad to have the gee suit. In the photo, they’re lacing up the back. The suit also laces up the back of the legs. Once all of the lacing is done, you use snaps and zippers to take it off and put it back on.

Here, I’m finding out about the life support equipment, namely the oxygen mask. By the way, that’s not a cigar in my mouth. It’s a pretzel rod. You want to be good and hydrated and have some carbs in your body before flying to assure the best gee tolerance. I put away more than two gallons of liquids before the suit-up and munched on pretzels throughout.

Claustrophobia? Fortunately not me (or at least not around the face). This mask seals around your face and there’s a valve somewhere along the way that requires you to consciously suck in air and blow it out. A little Darth Vader-esque, but very, very cool looking. If you were just taking this as a lark before, the helmet and mask will dispel that notion. It’s a reminder that you’re heading into environments that require life support and involve forces and attitudes that most people can’t imagine.

The tip of the spear is serious business, ladies and gents. If you don’t get that feeling the first time you put on the helmet, hear the world outside all muffled and disconnected, seal the mask around your face, pull down the visor, and have to consciously push and pull your breath through the valve, I don’t know what to tell you. I get the feeling that this is just the first of many indicia like that.

Here’s SSgt. Russ Martin. He and the whole Thunderbirds team made the whole thing a great experience. It’s clear that they’ve done this a few times before and have evolved this whole ritual to impress upon the rider how special this experience is.

So here’s the deal. I didn’t fly. Jeff’s camera crew arrived in the nick of time. i saw Jeff's flight take off as I left the field. 4-5 gee climb off the end of the runway. Gorgeous! I hope Jeff had a great flight. He's a great guy and deserved to fly.

But the good news (really good news, in fact) is that I’m supposed to report at 1:30 tomorrow for setup of my life support system and final fitting and then, around 3:30, I’m scheduled to go up with No. 8, Advance Pilot and Narrator Maj. Tony Mulhare. How cool is this?

I’ll post on both the blog and the podcast as I’m able. I’ve been recording audio all through the process and will piece it together cogently as I have the opportunity.

Watch this space!