Sunday, July 25, 2010

Airspeed Video Episode - Spins with Barry

There are the show notes to a video episode. You can watch the episode in the viewer above or by clicking here: Better yet, subscribe to Airspeed through iTunes or your other favorite podcatcher. It’s all free.

It's time for another video episode!

I wanted to go up with Barry to do some acro to condition for the T-38 ride that happened on the 13th. Unfortunately, the Super D is no longer on the line at Oakland Flight Academy for financial reasons, which leaves only the Citabria. And the Citabria, not having a constant-speed prop, is limited to spins as far as acro goes. (And, even if we flew it fully acro, we'd be limited to positive-G maneuvers anyway.)

No problem. Spins are plenty fine to stimulate my vestibular system.

And, as long as I'm flying, it make sense to take along some cameras, if only to shoot B-roll for Acro Camp. This time, I took up a three-camera system so that I could show not only the view of the cockpit but the control inputs and an unobstructed view of what's ahead of the airplane.

And it was a chance to try out the Multiclip functionality in Final Cut Pro, which is perfect for this kind of parallel-track editing (three cameras and an audio channel).

Like it says in the intro. DO try this at home. It could safe your life. Or at least improve your confidence in dealing with unusual attitudes. But be sure to do it in a duly certified airplane with a qualified instructor and in compliance with all of the regs.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

More Frame Grabs from the T-38 Ride Video

This is a regular blog post. If you're looking for show notes or links to show audio and video, please look at the other posts.

I just received a couple of DVDs from Jo Hunter containing offloads of the video that she shot at Beale AFB during the T-38 ride. Lots of her video is going to be useful in places in the episode. The shot above is an additional angle. The primary angle is handled by the camera that you see on the left edge of the frame.

Here's a shot of the altimeter/mach meter at our peak speed (on the way from the coast back to the MOA to go do some acro). Approx. 520 KIAS and Mach 0.94. Yeah, baby! New personal best for me. But don't think that I wasn't eyeing that "1.0" longingly.

How much more Top Gun can you get? Runway shimmer! I'm in the aircraft on the right facing away from the camera. The aircraft on the left departed a few moments before we did.

Can't resist giving the thumbs-up after the ride. Jo caught this one on video, but I'll bet that she has a good still of it as well.

Here's a shot with the hand-held camera in the back of the aircraft. It shows the ContourHDs mounted up front in my cockpit - one looking forward and the other looking at the aircraft's 9 o'clock. The view from the front-facing camera is great for capturing the forward view, but only captures the top of LtCol MacLeod's head. Good for forward visibility but, if I had it to do over again, I'd probably aim the camera down about 15 degrees to capture the front cockpit. No worries, though! It's going to be a really good episode!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Post-Production Begins on T-38 Episode

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

The adrenaline rush from the T-38 ride at Beale has subsided just enough that I can sit down and begin to rationally inventory the content that we captured on the trip. I spent part of this afternoon going through some of Mark LaCoste’s still pictures. While Mark was primarily handling video, he also shot some really good stills.

I flew four cameras on the sortie – three mounted and one hand-held. Here, I’m mounting a couple of ContourHDs. You can see the GoPro HD Hero through the glass just opposite where my belt buckle would be if I was wearing a belt. I had given a lot of thought beforehand about where to mount the cameras, so the mounting and setting took only about five minutes. The crew chief was really helpful, too, in selecting where to put the hardware.

Here, LtCol Gary MacLeod finished checking out my harness and making sore that nothing in the back cockpit becomes FOD. (Yeah, you pay close attention that. You do engine start and taxi with the canopies open for ventilation. The intakes are just abeam the rear cockpit and anything loose in that cockpit will instantly be ingested into the engines. Which would matter greatly even if the engine weren’t 50-odd years old. And, even though they've been overhuled many times, they're - well - 50 years old.

Getting ready to go. I’m setting up the audio recorder.

I’m really excited about this episode. Can you tell? Contrary to prior practice, I think I have enough video – and it’s strong enough stuff – that I think this is going to be an all-video treatment. I’ll likely do an audio treatment as well on some of the more meta aspects of the flight, but this feels like a video thing. More soon as I get the rest of the inventory done and start writing the script and figuring out what other on-camera narrative input I need to film here in Michigan.

Vectren Dayton Airshow 2010 - Saturday

This is a regular blog post. Be sure to check out the other posts, many of which contain show notes and links to show audio and video.

I spent yesterday at the first show day of the Vectren Dayton Airshow. Probably the largest show I’ll hit this year other than Oshkosh. Really well laid out and very nice facilities for media. I’m grateful to the organizers for the access that made this a great first experience at Dayton.

As usual, I get pulled in many different directions at these things. In the best way. To a large extent, what I see from the crowd line has more to do with what other opportunities I’m covering on the field. It might take five or six shows before I get to see all of the performers that performed at any given show site. But that’s okay.

This was my first time seeing Kyle and Amanda Franklin’s wing walking act. I’ve said before that I’m not so into wing-walking. I appreciate the difficulty and skill, but – as always – my thing is chasing things that I’d like to do. I’d love to go fly that beautiful Waco JMF-7 Mystery Ship. But firmly strapped into the cockpit and cranking it around a bit.

They say that people watch NASCAR or airshows or whatever for one of two reasons: To witness the skill and performance or to see a crash or other tragedy. I’m very much about the former interest. I harbor the view that wing walking caters to the latter interest. Am I a bad airshow fan for thinking that? Am I a wuss for being conflicted about it? Would Kyle or Amanda take umbrage? (They are, by all accounts, wonderful folks and I’d sure hate to give the least offense.)

And there’s beauty in that solitary figure on top of the wing challenging the wind blast. I know it’s a team (somebody has to fly the airplane), but the image that gets me is the strange combination of vulnerability and strength in that image. I rarely blow up images that I take at airshows and hang them up in my office. But one of the images for which I’ve done that is a shot of Theresa Stokes atop Gene Soucy’s Show Cat from Selfridge three years ago. It’s really dramatic in a way that doesn’t happen with other acts. Maybe it’s that you can see the performer from head to toe. The performer is not the airplane, as is the case with the other aerobatic acts. Maybe that’s why I like Greg Koontz’s act so much. In the Clem Cleaver act, you get to see Greg out there with the airplane and he flies low with the door off, so you actually get a sense of the man as well as the machine.

Anyway, above is the best of the images of Kyle and Amanda that I was able to capture. I’m not the guy with the long lens (I shoot with a Costco special from Nikon that came with a reasonably capable 200mm zoom), so there’s a fair amount of cropping involved, but I’m pleased with this one. And it evokes that vulnerable, yet defiant thing.

Capt Ryan Corrigan of the Viper East Demo Team put the F-16 through its paces. Really nice display. And the humidity was just about right so that it wasn’t too hazy to shoot, yet the aircraft created excellent vapor on the wings when pulling Gs (which was most of the time).

The show hosted two B-17s. This is the Commemorative Air Force’s B-17F, Sentimental Journey. She has been everything from a bomber in the Pacific theatre to a photo reconnaissance platform to a fire fighting platform. The CAF Arizona Wing acquired the aircraft in 1979 and has been operating it since then.

What’s better than a C-130? An aerobatic C-130 flown by steely-eyed and slightly crazy Marines. The days of JATO launches are over, but I can’t seem to get bothered by that. It’s just stinking majestic to see this bird fly and be as nimble as it is, notwithstanding its 76,000-lb (empty) weight. Plus, a Fat Albert pass is an opportunity for us guys with the shorter lenses to actually get a better shot than the long-lensed shooters. Although I was kind of jealous of one guy who actually got the face of the rider up in the dome on top of the aircraft.

This is also the first time in years that I was close enough to the Blues to be able to see them step. In a very real sense, the demo begins a good 15 minutes prior to takeoff. They do the precision step even though 99% of the crowd can’t see it, and even when they stage across the field and almost no one can see it.

I often talk about stomping the ramp or doing the Haka prior to a flight. The Haka part is mainly in jest. (But only mainly.) But a preflight routine of almost any kind focuses you and serves as the thing that separates two-dimensional activities from the impending three-dimensional activities. And that’s a good thing. You’re about to go do something completely divergent from what our species is used to. You’re about to go and fly on behalf of those homo sapiens who lived during the 200,000 years prior to aviation. It’s serious business and it sends a chill up my spine every time. Maybe the Haka isn’t such a bad idea. Say on the ramp at KBAK for NESA MAS next year?

I also interviewed Maj Luke “Supa” Fricke, a T-38 IP from the 560th Flying Training Sqn, 12th Flying Training Wing at Randolph AFB near San Antonio, Texas. He’s an IP in the T-38C who makes other IPs for a living. He started out in the T-37 Tweet and then moved to the T-38 for advanced training. He then did a stint as a T-38 first-assignment instructor pilot (“FAIP”) before going on to fly the A-10 Thunderbolt II (the iconic “Warthog”) for 13 years before heading to Randolph to train instructors in the T-38C.

I’m going to use the footage to supplement the T-38 ride footage from the Beale AFB flight last week. We weren’t able to do a planeside interview at Beale because of the amount of noise on the ramp (not a bad thing, mind you – I adore that kind of noise). So the planeside footage of Maj Fricke will go nicely with the episode. I also got some beauty shots of the airframe to drop into the episode at strategic moments.

Maj Fricke did a great job in the interview. He was nearly perfect at working each question into his answer so none of my voice had to be in the interview. He also did a great job of stopping and restarting at logical points when the AeroShell T-6s drowned him out momentarily. (Note the T-6 smoke arc behind him in this frame grab, which was unplanned but kind of cool.) I’m guessing that he’s done this before. I hope his PAO knows what a great ambassador he or she has in Supa.

So now it’s back to the grindstone for a week and a half until Oshkosh. I’m planning to leave southeast Michigan at oh-dark-thirty the morning of Wednesday 28 July and hit the American Champion factory on the way to OSH. FOD and I should make it there late afternoon and then be on the grounds through Saturday mid-day. I’ll tweet the lat-long for Firebase Airspeed as soon as we get settled in. See you there!

Friday, July 16, 2010

Vectren Dayton Airshow 2010 - Media Day

This is a regular blog post. If you’re looking for show notes or links to show audio, they’re here on the site, just in the other posts.

I spent the day at the Vectren Dayton Airshow here in Dayton, Ohio, where, in addition to hitting the show, I’m visiting my college roommate, Jim Davis.

This is my first year hitting Dayton. I can tell you already that I like the layout and the media situation and I’m looking forward to getting out on the grounds tomorrow to see the show in full swing. The Blue Angels are headlining and I got to see the team’s practice demo. It seems to be a little longer than I remember and it has several elements that are different from last year.

I spend the early afternoon getting a ride in Flagship Detroit, the oldest fully-restored DC-3 flying today (SN 45, delivered to American Airlines in 1937.). This ‘three is owned and operated by the Flagship Detroit Foundation.

Lewis Drake and John Thatcher took Jim, me, and about a dozen other media reps out for about 0.6 to demonstrate the airplane. I flew a couple of video cameras, but the footage didn’t work very well. I mounted the Hero up on the top rear of the cockpit and a ContourHD on the flight engineer’s table. As I sat in the back looking up into the cockpit, I realized that that placement wasn’t working well, largely because the guy at the flight engineer’s seat kept lifting his still camera up directly in front of the Hero and shooting. And there was the parade of other media folks in front of the camera.

No biggie, though. I got several sequences that I’ll likely be able to use in a later episode. And I plugged in the audio recorder and captured the intercom and ATC chatter. I haven’t had the opportunity yet to listen to the audio. But I explained to Lewis what the audio recorder was as I was de-installing it from the rear headset jack. And he said something to the effect of “Oh! Did you get the landing?” Which leads me to believe that there might be some fun stuff on the tape, both there and elsewhere. Lewis was enthusiastic and fun to be around. I can’t wait to audition that audio. I might do it on the drive home.

I’m always conflicted about riding in a DC-3 or a C-47. Clearly, I love the airframe or I wouldn’t have gone all the way to Griffin and done a type rating training course in it. But I got the type rating to fly it, after all. I think I was a good passenger despite myself. As often as I make the joke about the pilots having the fish and being called upon to dash to the cockpit to land the airplane, this is one airliner that I know I can actually land. And that makes it weird somehow.

Dan Gryder’s Herpa DC-3 was perfectly serviceable and hat its own gritty freight-dog appeal. I heard Dan say in an interview once on the 25 Zulu Show that N143D greasy and oily and he kept trying to talk people out of coming to train in it, but that they kept showing up to fly it. Yeah, I’m one of those guys. And I’m (and many others are) good with that.

Flagship Detroit, on the other hand is pristine. The cockpit is clean and shiny. New(er) gages and dials and a clean panel. The Spirit harkens to a different line of history that the same airframe serves. This is the airplane that made air travel more common, even if not commonplace. It’s a different vibe. Neither better nor worse. Just different. And, for the record, I’d happily fly either of them tomorrow. Or right now, for that matter. Heck, I’m tailwheel current . . .

Randolph AFB sent a couple of T-38Cs to the show and they were flying earlier in the day. There are a couple of Vipers on the ramp, too. I met the pilots. And, of course, there’s a T-6A.

Airshows are becoming reunions of my dreams. Nodes of convergence by the gossamer functions that are these aircraft – these things that I first grew to love here on the tarmac and then pursued. Perhaps you’ve heard the line about the dog that chases cars and about what a dog like that would do if he actually caught one. In some sense, I’m that dog. And I’ve caught a few cars.

Walking around the ramp on a day like today is an opportunity to reflect on how fortunate I’ve been to experience these aircraft, how hard I need to work to come up with a great episode for the T-38 ride to justify the trust that the Air Force placed in me, and the vast chasm between my abilities and the abilities of those pilots who regularly fly these aircraft.

I mentioned at the beginning of this post that I’m visiting Jim (“Gumby”) Davis, who’s a senior desk editor at the Troy Daily News. Gumby and I roomed together for the last two and a half years that I went to Albion College. We were on 2nd East Seaton 1986-87 and then roommates in the Delt Sig house 1987-88. We spent many a sleepless night studying (or not) and once came within two hours of breaking the Delt Sig stay-awake record of 70 straight hours. Many an excellent memory is being re-lived and the deepest, darkest corners of my iPod are being plumbed for obscure stuff that I couldn’t fathom why was there until a few hours ago.

We’re hitting the show again tomorrow to see what we can see. In the meantime, though, we’re heading out for some food and a beer or three.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Acro Camp Cast Post-Production Debrief

There are the show notes to an audio episode. You can listen to the show audio by clicking here: Better yet, subscribe to Airspeed through iTunes or your other favorite podcatcher. It’s all free!

The cast of Acro Camp got together on TalkShoe the evening of 14 July to reunite, talk about the experience, and offer suggestions for the next time we do this. Acro Camp campers Paul Berliner, Michelle Kole, Lynda Meeks and Jim Rodriguez joined IP Don Weaver, production chief David Allen, and MyTransponder co-founder Rod Rakic for an hour or so in the virtual post-production studio.

Be sure to check out (and particularly the Acro Camp group on MyT) for details about the Thursday night gathering at AirVenture Oshkosh later this month where you can meet the campers and production crew as we help to promote the best in aviation new media and social media!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Firebase Airspeed - Beale AFB Style

There are the show notes to an audio episode. You can listen to the show audio by clicking here: Better yet, subscribe to Airspeed through iTunes or your other favorite podcatcher. It’s all free!

Jo Hunter ( and Mark LaCoste ( joined me at Beale to shoot stills and video, respectively. And, as is the custom of merry bands of new-media producers, we gathered around an MP3 recorder to talk about the experience and get some content out into the podsphere.

This session happened in the VOQ at Beale Air Force Base about 45 minutes north of Sacramento, California on the morning of my T-38 ride.

We’re compiling the video, audio, and stills and I should have content get into the feed soon!

First Frame Grabs from the T-38 Talon Ride

The Talon ride is in the logbook! 1.2 dual received on the orientation flight in the mighty Northrop T-38 Talon! Jo, Mark, and I just departed Beale AFB and I'm posting this from Sacramento (KSMF) on the way home to Detroit.

I flew four cameras. These grabs are from the GoPro HD Hero mounted on the grab handle. I flew two ContourHDs mounted on the AOA indexer: One pointed forward over Lt Col MacLeod's head and the other just behind that one pointed off to the left to get the roll. Lastly, I flew Jo Hunter's ContourHD in my hand to point at whatever seemed most interesting at the moment (not the least of which is the airspeed indicator/mach meter).

These are the only frame grabs that I've had time to extract, but I can't wait to get the rest of the video offloaded and watch it to identify the really cool moments. I pulled these off in a Thai restaurant after the ride. Even if I had more time, it would be almost impossible to watch the video under those circumstances without getting all excited about the ride all over again. Introspection will have to wait.

Look for more frame grabs and for both an audio episode (yes, it will be epic) and a video episode covering the flight.

I'm going to try to slide down the back side of this adrenaline rush and sleep some on the kerosene canary on the red-eye ride home tonight. Fat chance.

And tomorrow will be interesting, as days like that always are. How do you walk down the hall and properly answer a casual "What's up?" from a colleague when, less than 24 hours ago, you were doing Mach 0.94 above the mountains of northern California? If there's a proper answer to that one, I have yet to discover it.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

On the Eve of the Talon Ride

This is a regular blog entry. If you’re looking for show notes or liks to show audio or video, please check out the other entries.

Many thanks to Jo Hunter ( for shooting the stills in this entry and to Mark LaCoste for shooting video and providing really valuable Air Force background and commentary from his experiences as an F-15 Eagle maintainer.

Okay, I’m going on radar. (It seems as though I’ve been using that line frequently lately!)

I’ve been here at Beale AFB, about 45 minutes north of Sacramento, since Sunday afternoon. This morning, I completed my flight physical. That’s the last hurdle over which I have any control and thus the event after which I go on radar with you guys. So I can tell you that I’m on the verge of completing the trifecta: Completing demo rides in examples of aircraft from each phase of the fighter-bomber track.

As most of you know, I have logged time in the T-6A and the F-16. That leaves only the Phase 3 aircraft – In this case, the mighty T-38 Talon. I’ve been working with the 9th Reconnaissance Wing for a few months to get things lined up and now it’s scheduled to happen tomorrow. I show at 1345 local and step at 1530 local for an approx. 1.5-hour flight.

Today was mostly preliminaries. I got the flight physical done and then did a base tour. After lunch, it was time for the egress training, parachute training, survival kit orientation, and local survival training.

The egress training is always the most interesting of the pre-flight activities. You have a training cockpit and you learn how to get in, strap in, get the canopy closed, and be ready to fly. Then it’s all about emergency procedures. You learn how to egress (get the hell out of the airplane on the ground in case of fire or other danger) and how to eject.

Capt Gorman walked me through the egress training first, and then I climbed in and demonstrated my understanding. It takes doing it two or three times to figure out what you’re doing, but it comes pretty quickly if you’ve paid attention.

Then it’s all about the parachute. We walked through what to expect in an ejection and how to recognize and troubleshoot parachute malfunctions. Probably the most interesting part came with the personal lowering device (or “PLD”). The idea is that you might make it from 15,000 ft. AGL to 50 AGL just fine, but be hung up in a tree and need to get yourself the rest of the way down unassisted. With the PLD, you can do just that but connecting it to a tree branch or (if your parachute is firmly lodged in the tree) the parachute itself and then pulling the harness releases and lowering yourself with a breaker bar.

I actually got to perform the whole procedure suspended from the ceiling. For the record, it was pretty straightforward and I think I accomplished it with aplomb. One demonstrated parachute landing fall later, I was signed off and the pre-flight training was complete.

Next was life support for the G-suit, helmet, and mask. This is my third time getting fitted for this equipment. Although the fittings have been roughly a year apart, I’m pleased to report that it seems that I remember perfectly well how to don and doff a G-suit. And a helmet and mask. And check out the breathing apparatus at the test station. Not that I’m anywhere close to being a fighter jock. But it gets the heart beating a little quicker when you walk into a place like the base life support room and it turns out that you know what to do.

So, in the quiet and dark of yet another locker at yet another Air Force base, there sits another G-suit, helmet, and mask. And they have my name associated with them. Tomorrow I again get to taste a little bit of that fleeting dream that began in 1971 with a book about Joe McConnell, Jr. and the F-86 Sabre. Tomorrow I step to complete the trifecta. And maybe I get a little closer to understanding what lives inside every pilot and aviation enthusiast.

And, most of all, I hope that I again feel that spark that will keep me up at night for the next couple of months composing, editing, writing, and bringing you guys another account from the edge of the envelope.

G’night for now. Sleep if you can. I’m going to go toss and turn for awhile. Wouldn’t you?

Invertor et vomens! Smoke on!

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Frame Grabs from Friday's Balloon Flight

I really should be editing the B-17 video from Indy, but I'm also offloading video from the last couple of days and I couldn't resist posting a couple of the frame grabs from that flight. Not a lot of explanation in this post. The pics speak for themselves.

BAC Strikemaster Gun Cam Frame Grabs

Yesterday was the first performance day at the Battle Creek Field of Flight Airshow and Balloon Festival. I spent the day on the ramp getting planeside interviews with some of the performers for use here on Airspeed and for vignettes for Acro Camp. When the performers withdrew into Duncan Aviation for their briefing, I wandered over to an L-29 Delfin and a BAC Strikemaster that are part of Jerry Conley and Andy Anderson's jet combat act.

After the briefing, one thing let to another and the team offered to put my HD Hero in the nose of the Strikemaster. I used one of the flat adhesive mounts and put it on the landing light just inside the bubble window in the nose of the aircraft.

The result was great "gun cam" footage of high-speed passes like this one. They used pyro on the ground as a part of the act and this pass gives you a great view of a few of the pyro charges going off.

Here, the Strikemaster swoops back on the airport after a few ore of the pyro charges have gone off.

If you look to the right on the horizon line, that's the L-29 headed in the opposite direction. With a closing speed in excess of 900 mph, it just flashes by. I think slow-mo treatment in the video episode will bring this out nicely.

Here's a nice shot of the threshold of Runway 23 (soon to be Runway 23R) on the final approach to land. That's Western Michigan University's flight school on the left, the ANG Base on the right, and the crowd line about halfway down on the left.

And, of of course, your friendly host shooting a few pictures of the camera installation just before retrieving it from the airplane after landing.

I spent the rest of the day over at the CAP static display handing kids into and of a C-182T. I took my camera along and left it in the tent that CAP shared with the Yankee Air Museum B-25. When I got back at the end of the day from helping to put the airplane away, everyone (including the camera) was gone. It turns out that the B-25 folks grabbed the camera and kept it safe overnight. So the camera is in friendly hands, but a couple of hours' drive away. Thus, no pictures from the still camera in this post. They're going to ship it back to me in time to head to California for an Air Force ride next week. I'll pull the best of the pictures off and get them up here as soon as the camera shows up in the UPS truck.

Friday, July 02, 2010

Battle Creek 2010 - Media Day

Yeah! It’s Battle Creek time again! The Battle Creek Field of Flight Airshow and Balloon Festival is going on now through Sunday in Battle Creek, Michigan.

I spent the day on the field (when I wasn’t up in a balloon) and shot stills and video and caught up with my friends there. And, naturally, I got a preview of the attractions this year.

Randy Harris of Bearfoot Aerobatics really flies beautifully. I think his Skybolt 300 is one of the most photogenic airplanes on the field this year. It was really catching the sun today in a way that not a lot of aircraft do (especially when you consider where the sun is when you’re facing north on a crowd line but the acro is flown along Runway 5-23 – You have very narrow angular area where the sun makes it worthwhile to shoot). The airplane puts out a lot of smoke, too, which makes the presentation even more dramatic.

The F-22 Raptor is headlining the show this year. It’s no secret that I’m a huge raptor fan and I got up close and personal with both of the specimens that were on the ramp. David "Zeke" Skalicky, Maj, USAF, is flying the Raptor this year and he put her through her paces. I can do some of that stuff in a Citabria, but I have to do it at 60 KIAS and then I have to recover from the ensuing spin. The handling is just too sweet for words. My only complaint is that the aircraft doesn’t come in a two-seat variant.

The Raptor is flying with a F-4 Phantom II for the heritage flight. I’ve never been a Phantom fan because I’ve always seen it as a misguided foray away from the core Boydian energy-maneuverability philosophy that makes this kind of flying worthwhile. The Phantom was a missiles-only ship for most of its operational service life. Only later did they add the gun. Maybe the Raptor (which is about as automated an aircraft as we have that still has a seat in it and fights BVR and drops JADAM) ) is the more proper expression of what the Phantom’s designers had in mind.

I’m hopelessly romantic about the idea that one ought to crank and bank and engage in combat where the actual maneuvers of the airplane matter. Regardless of whether the Raptor fights BVR, it can move like nothing else out there and perhaps there’s poetry in flying the Phantom in the formation – Maybe the Raptor is the redemption of the Phantom. Or maybe I’m full of crap. Either way, the Raptor is much more fun to watch than the Phantom. Even if the Phantom has two seats.
Am I over-thinking this? Come on, Steve, it's an airshow! Enjoy yourself! Truth is, I really am enjoying myself. The formation flight is beautiful and well-executed and I'm having a great time.

I interviewed the safety officer for the demo team in front of the airplane for Airspeed and Acro Camp. It was a good interview and he was enthusiastic about the airframe. I need to get his name from his tag in the video. The team was ready to brief the demo and the captain was very kind to take a few minutes to do the interview at that point in the day. I don’t have the hardware to pull the video off the cards here in Battle Creek, so it’ll have to wait until I get back the Airspeed HQ.

Last thing about the Raptor. I know that everyone thinks that a jet team like the Thunderbirds of the Blues is necessary to anchor an airshow. And nobody loves jet teams more than I do. But I think that the F-22 is a wholly satisfying anchor demo for an airshow. For the reasons stated above and because it gives the show an opportunity to really craft the mix of other acts on the schedule. This is a really satisfying airshow with 100LL and JP-8 burners and pyro and other elements. I’m really looking forward to watching this tomorrow with a crowd pressed up against the snow fence.

The Iron Eagle Aerobatic Team was also there to play. Formation acro is just such a quantum leap from single-ship acro. And these guys get really close and match each other so nicely. It’s just a joy to watch. Satisfying prop whine, lots of smoke, and dramatic coverage of the show line. What’s not to like?

Bob Carlton demonstrated some truly beautiful stuff in his Super Salto. It’s a sailplane powered by the PBS TJ-100 jet engine that puts out 225 pounds of thrust, which is more than enough to aloow the sailplane to self-launch and makes it the only sailplane on the airshow circuit capable of performing a low-level, jet-powered airshow program. I didn’t expect to enjoy Bob’s routine as much as I did. Maybe it’s the same thing I feel when I’m watching John Mohr or Greg Koontz. Although the Super Salto has a jet engine, it’s not that powerful and I’d imagine that it requires some pretty good pilot chops and attention to energy management to make it do the things that Bob makes it do.
Get the heck out here and enjoy this show! The weather is supposed to be great, the schedule is well-rounded, and the grounds are ready to go. Adults are only $10 and kids under four feet are free!

Balloon Flight with Dale Wilson in Seventh Heaven

I didn’t expect to get up in a balloon today. Or this year, for that matter (or at least not during this particular year's iteration of the Battle Creek Field of Flight Airshow and Balloon Festival). After all, I had a spectacular experience with Dave Emmert four years ago or so. But, then, again, the show was audio-only at that point and now I travel around with something like five HD video cameras and am getting a little better every day at editing video and making video episodes.

So I showed up this morning bleary-eyed with about two hours of sleep under my belt, intending to say hello at the media center, shoot a few pictures to back an arrival blog post, and then go sleep in the parking lot of a Starbucks for a few hours.

But, through a happy twist of chance, Dale Williams had an open slot for a flight in his balloon, Seventh Heaven (N7252W, a Firefly AX7 with about 76,000 cubic feet of envelope volume). Might I be interested? Do bears dookie in the woods? Heck, yeah!

I met Dale and his happy band of balloon chasers just outside the gate and we headed off to Emmett Township, south and east of the airport. This was a three-point target exercise where we’d launch wherever we wanted at least 2,500 meters away from the first target and then try to drop streamers on each of the three targets.

It turns out that Dale and Dave Emmert are friends and, the more I think about it, I seem to recall Dave talking about Dale during the recording of the prior episode. In any case, Dave was there on hand as we tried to figure out where would be best to launch Seventh Heaven. As before, this involves some science, some magic, some consent by landowners, some hemming, some hawing, and some BS. Various groups released small helium balloons (called “pieballs”) to try to obtain a near-realtime guess about the winds. Our group was no different and we released one and then watched it intensely.

There seemed to be consensus about where the ideal launch point would be, given the winds aloft. Many of the teams ended up along the same stretch of road where we were.

Then came the process of attempting to obtain permission from the landowners to launch from their fields and/or yards. Imagine someone knocking on your door at 0700 on a Friday and a asking permission to grow a 76,000 cubic-foot multicolored bubble on your lawn. We actually knocked on the door of the house in front of which we stopped. No answer.

I’m still surprised at the spaces in which balloon pilots will launch. The yard looked small to me, but these guys were talking about whether they could get two balloons up from the space.

I got a kick out of one team that launched before we did. They set up in someone’s front yard and the balloon actually required a lane of the road to fully inflate.

We obtained permission to launch from a recently-mown field and we were in the second wave of balloons to do so. It begins with a gasoline-powered fan to inflate the envelope (the bag that most of us think of as the “balloon”), Then you begin blasting away with a 2 million (yeah, that’s million) BTU burner and the envelope stands up pretty rapidly and is ready to fly.

I climbed in and off we went.

We spent a lot of time around 1,400 feet AGL, which is where the winds that we wanted seemed to be. Balloonists "steer" by changing altitude. As nearly as I can tell, the ideal situation for a balloonist is two wind currents at roughly 90 degrees to one another. You let the higher one push you along and then you descent into the lower transverse one (at the right moment, by the way) to hook around to the target before ascending into the higher one again to set up for the next target.

Dale prefers to be closer to the treetops. I agree with him. It’s really amazing just cruising along less than 100 feet off the canopy of trees. As I alluded earlier, this is going to be primarily a video episode and you’ll definitely get a sense of the drift from the video. Maybe mot Will Hawkins quality, but it should be pretty good.

We essentially missed the first target, but scored on the second. The third proved to be out of reach, so we began looking for a place to land.

We found it in the form of a residence off to our left. If the places in which balloonists launch surprise me, the places at which they land amaze me. But, then again, I suppose that someone brand new to airplane flight might be surprised that I can put an airplane down reliably on a runway that’s 75 feet wide. It’s all in the experience.

Dale deftly maneuvered the balloon onto the back yard of the residence. We missed the power lines, the ornamental shrubs, and everything else. A couple of bounces and we were on the ground.

You leave the balloon standing up until the crew gets there. There are several reasons for this. First, your footprint is pretty small. Second, your crew can wrangle the balloon to the ground relieving you of most of the worry about dropping the balloon onto something like the ornamental shrubs. (Or the dog. Yes, there was a dog. Or, rather, a horse shaped like a German Shepherd. Named Ozzie.) And, if there are obstructions between where the balloon is and the chase vehicle, you can just lay on the burner until the balloon is neutrally-buoyant and you can have the crew walk the balloon over fences and other stuff to reach a more suitable place to deflate it.

It turns out that we weren’t even the first balloon to set down in this yard. I guess it’s just something that comes with owning a house near Battle Creek. Ballooning is more intensive here than in most other similarly-situated geographies and the balloon festival and airshow brings in competitors and fun fliers from all other the region. Not the worst thing to have come out of the sky every once in awhile.

And, in fact, the people to whom we talked from the balloon (yeah, you can do that) seemed un-fazed by the balloon floating less than 100 feet above their heads. I even had a casual conversation with a lady in her driveway about how she could e-mail me and I’d send her the picture that I had just shot of her and her house. I got her e-mail a couple of hours later and I e-mailed her a couple of pictures in the middle of writing this post.

I have some video editing and production to do, but this ought to make for a good episode. I’m looking forward to putting it out.