Saturday, May 21, 2011

Airspeed Announces Casting Call for Acro Camp 2

These are the show notes for an audio episode. You can listen by subscribing to Airspeed though iTunes or your favorite other podcatcher. Or listen right here by clicking: Either way, it’s all free!

In May of 2010, four pilots from around the country gathered in southeast Michigan at my home airport. Two men and two women. Experience ranging from 300 hours to 12,000 hours. A lawyer and Air Force officer with a brand new commercial certificate. A psychologist with a CFI ticket. A furloughed NetJets pilot who runs a nonprofit. And an airline driver with type ratings in lots of heavy iron.

As different as different can be. But they all had a few things in common.

None had a tailwheel endorsement. And none had ever flown aerobatics.

Lined up on the ramp when they arrived were a Citabria, a Super Decathlon, and a Pitts S-2B. And two talented instructors who had cleared their schedules for the next four days. And a camera crew made up pilots and aviation enthusiasts with deserved reputations for translating the thrill of flight into digital adrenaline for thousands of the flying faithful.

You know what happened next.

At some point, you quit wondering, climb over the fence, and go find out.

Acro Camp, the independent documentary feature film that captured the whole experience, is in post and is slated for release late this summer. I’m editing video, arranging and recording music, and designing the packaging. And, frankly, re-living the event.

The experience was amazing. All four pilots – “campers” if you will – climbed into the airplanes and became superheroes of one kind or another. They faced fears, made friends, ate, drank, and became better, more confident, and safer pilots.

Fans arrived from as far away as Wisconsin, Iowa, and Pennsylvania, just to see what was going on. The airport regulars came by to see what was up. I got to drive my car at 80 mph down Taxiway D chasing airplanes with Will Hawkins and his camera hanging out the window and Jack Hodgson in the right seat working the taxi diagram.

For my part, I averaged something like two hours of sleep each night. It’s the most time I’ve ever spent at an airport without flying. And the most I’ve been awake in a long time. The evening after we wrapped, I fell asleep in mid-sentence while sitting there talking to Jack Hodgson in my living room. Twice.

Jim Rodriguez has become a CFI. Paul Berliner is still flying heavy iron, but talked his check airman at his next recurrent sim session into letting him barrel-roll the jet 707-style. I see Lynda Meeks at industry events as she grows Girls With Wings. And Michelle Kole looks out at me from the cover of this month’s Plane & Pilot as she flies the new Super Decathlon that she bought after we wrapped.

Acro Camp was so much more than a movie shoot. It was an opportunity to create, even if only for a little while, a perfect microcosm of what general aviation could be and should be. Birds chirping. A sun-dappled ramp. Pilots. Airplanes. Enthusiasts. Challenges. Parachutes. And not one person who doesn’t “get it” at some level.

I miss it. Everybody misses it. Even people who weren’t there miss it.

It’s interesting that, in one way or another, each camper, IP, and crew member has said words to the effect of, “Let’s do it again. Even if you don’t put memory cards or batteries in the cameras.” I understand that. I feel it.

But I think we ought to put memory cards and batteries in the cameras.

That’s right. We’re doing it again. And you’re invited to be a part of it.

This is the casting call for Acro Camp II.

Listen up. Much of this will be the same as last year. But important things have changed.

By now, you know the drill. We need four pilots who want to fly aerobatics for the first time.

You need to be at least a private pilot with no substantial aerobatic training. An upset recovery course or spin training won’t disqualify you. Neither will any aerobatic flight where you were just a passenger and didn’t manipulate the flight controls to a substantial extent.

I’d also prefer that you not have a tailwheel endorsement. More about that later, but the idea is that, if the weather is too low for acro but high enough for pattern work, you’ll train for your tailwheel endorsement. And might even obtain it.

You need to be physically of a shape, size, and weight that will fit within the volume, weight, and balance of a Super Decathlon, Citabria, or Pitts S-2B, be able to see over the dash without hitting your head on the ceiling, be able to reach the rudder pedals with full travel without being so long of leg that your knees interfere with the stick or the throttle, and be able to properly wear, and operate if need be, a parachute. We’ll do actual weight and balance calculations for the actual aircraft and look at the weight limits of the available parachutes and come up with a hard weight number soon. In the meantime, figure a weight maximum of 190 lbs. If you think that you might be outside the envelope, e-mail me and I’ll check with the school.

All flight will be dual, so you won’t need a current medical. Obviously, if there’s anything wrong with you that would impair your ability to fly and pull Gs without bending yourself or the airplane, this isn’t for you. But a medical certificate isn’t required.

Two campers soloed in tailwheel aircraft last year. We had a pretty special situation with the school’s insurance and really good weather for it. It’s possible that we’ll see some solos this year, but don’t count on it.

You need to be able to get yourself to southeast Michigan on your own power and feed and house yourself for a four-day period in late August.

You have to get along with other people. The camp might be boring at times and stressful at others. Prima donnas and whiners need not apply. I care a lot more about your personality and your willingness to fly to the best of your ability than your beauty or your manly cleft chin or your mad pilot skills. If you’re going to sit around and whine if it rains or complain that the restraint system is relocating your kidneys (and it does), stay home. If this sounds like a huge adventure that’s about discovering things with a team of some of your future best friends, tuck in your shirt and keep listening.

In parts of the camp, you’ll feel completely alone in the front seat of the aircraft, even with an instructor in the back. At other times, it’ll be a mob of your fellow campers, production crew, instructors, and others. Your capacity to have these experiences under widely-varying circumstances during a short time period, and in a way that evokes empathy from a broad audience, is by far the most important thing.

In the early going, you’ll go up with an instructor, get the feel of the airplane, and learn some basic energy management concepts and maneuvers. Probably some wingovers, a few stalls, some pitch oscillations, and some unusual attitude recoveries. Then whatever the instructor thinks is appropriate.

As your sorties go on, you’ll learn such additional maneuvers as the instructor thinks you can handle. It’s all about doing things at whatever pace is best for you. Nobody will laugh at you if you’re not doing Lomcevaks by the end of Day 2. Nobody cares. You’re at the airport and learning and that’s more than enough for anybody.

If you feel motion-sick, you’ll just knock off the acro at that point. No harm and no shame. You finish out the sortie by heading back to the airport and getting tailwheel instruction for whatever’s left of your sortie. Nobody has to throw up in – or on – an airplane, instructor, the ramp, or a fellow camper. And throwing up in the back of the crew car is strictly prohibited.

If you do throw up in or on any of the foregoing, it’s truly no big deal. I’ve done it three times. Twice on camera and once in an open cockpit. Many others have done it. Heck, I’ve even dry-heaved on the ramp after the flight was over. There are three kinds of pilots. Those who have hurled, those who will, and those who lie about it.

If you know for sure that you have a hair-trigger tummy, this thing probably isn’t going to work for you. But DO NOT forego this opportunity because you don’t know how your tummy will react. The only way you can know is to do it. Even NASA still has no good predictor of which astronaut candidates will experience space sickness and which ones won’t.

You might be pleased to find that it doesn’t bother you at all. You might be bummed to find that you’re green around the gills after three maneuvers. There’s no way to tell until you do it, so don’t fail to express your interest for lack of confidence about your tummy.

And the good news is that, even if you’re a little urpy after the first flight, motion sickness improves over subsequent flights. Even airshow pilots tell me that they can only handle about 20 minutes or so their first time up for the season. The sorties can be relatively short if it’s bothersome early on. And you’ll have three or four days over which to condition your tummy.

The idea is to have each camper fly three sorties on each day. More if we can fit it in. Probably a maximum of 10 hours Hobbs over the course of the camp. Last year, several of the campers mixed in a few purpose-planned tailwheel sessions just to break up the experience and take a rest. We want you flying as much acro as possible, but it’s not a death march.

And other factors will influence the amount of flying we get to do. Weather, the health of the aircraft, the health of the instructors, etc. will, of course, come into play.

I flew a Cirrus SR22 to Raleigh-Durham this weekend with Acro Camp IP Don Weaver and then we drove back for 12 hours. We had a lot of time to talk about this film. We have a lot of ideas about how to make this one better, both on screen and in terms of the campers’ experience.

For one thing, we’re thinking about having everyone learn the 2011 IAC primary competition sequence. It’s a 45-degree upline, a one-turn spin, a half Cuban, a loop, a 180-degree aerobatic turn, and a slow roll. Well within the reach of a pilot who’s trained at an event like Acro Camp. If time and personnel permit, we might be able to bring a judge from the local IAC chapter out to the box and have him or her judge each camper’s primary. Not to figure out who’s the best acro maniac, but to give each person a look at a judge’s scorecard and to better understand the competition process.

And there are more ideas where that came from. From barnstorming to BFM, it’s all running around in our heads.

Let’s talk money and control.

Like almost all new-media projects, I have a shoestring budget for this. I’ve plowed most of it into the HD cameras and other equipment and going out and flying the equipment so I know the best positions and angles. I’ve also spent hundreds of hours logging and editing so I don’t have to pay anyone out of pocket to do it. Even the soundtrack is homegrown so I can put what little money there is into equipment and other stuff that will make the movie better.

In a way, I think that this is a great thing. It’s the ultimate expression of democracy in media production. Everybody says that technology is such that you can go shoot a good movie with a few thousand bucks’ worth of equipment. That’s exactly what we’re going to try to do. It’s as much a testament to new media as anything else.

The other thing that this is going to mean is that each camper is going to have to pay his or her own way for the entire thing. Getting there, the airplane rental, the instruction, food, hotel, ground transport, and the trip home.

I can help in some ways. Like feeding everybody at the end of one or two of the days. Like getting a friends-and-family discount on hotel through a friend who works for a major hotel chain. Like arranging a block time deal on the aircraft and instructors. I’ll try to make it so that it costs no more than it has to.

There are two reasons for structuring the thing this way. First, the aforementioned shoestring budget. Second, the campers will likely be private pilots and I don’t want to get anyone in trouble with the FAA or otherwise with any allegations that any private pilot camper received compensation for flying. Or even paid less than his or her pro rata share of the cost of the flight.

And a third reason when we get to the liability issues.

Last year, the campers spent between $3,000 and $3,500 on aircraft and instruction. This year might be more expensive because of fuel prices, a different mix of aircraft, and other factors.

Remember that we’re taking over a school for four days. The school is going to clear its schedule for the aircraft and instructors and give it all to us. Just like your local FBO, if you don’t fly when you can and nobody else takes over your time, you might have to pay a part of what you didn’t fly.

You can figure out your own travel costs to and from the location. The closest major airports are Detroit Metro (KDTW) and Flint (KFNT). Last year, I managed to swing hotel rates in Marriott properties of around $90/night.

Whatever the cost ends up being, let me make one thing perfectly clear. Neither I nor Airspeed is taking any money from you for the camp, either directly or indirectly. You’re paying the school, the airlines, the taxi driver, the hotel, and the waitress. And paying them directly and only for what you actually buy. From them. I get nothing from the flight school or the instructors or the aircraft lessors or anybody else. No kickbacks, no nothing. I don’t charge you anything to come participate if you come. The only thing that Airspeed has going here is gathering raw material for a movie and eventually making and distributing the movie.

Let’s say that it ends up running you $4,500 with your airfare, hotel, training, and whatever else. Wouldn’t you pay something like that for a new rating or a similar accelerated school? There are places in the US where you pay in excess of $2,500 for an upset course that involves a lot less flying. And they don’t give you the possibility of being in a movie. Or being a part of the groundswell of new media. I think that that experience is well worth it. I’m putting in more than that, and I probably won’t even get to fly. Make up your own mind, but it sure seems worth it to me.

Liability, insurance, and other related issues: Neither I nor Airspeed nor anyone else associated with the movie is taking on any liability. This is a shoestring thing. And it’s aerobatic flight, so, like a lot of other things worth doing, it involves risk. I’m merely helping make arrangements and I’m going to try to put together a movie out of the footage that we get. The flying is strictly a thing between you and the flight school just as though this wasn’t Acro Camp and as though I’m not involved. You’re going to get some flight training and I’m there to watch and document. Period.

Accordingly, you’ll sign the biggest, baddest waiver you’ve ever seen. It’s something to behold and I expect that later civilizations will be studying it in awe for millennia to come. I wrote it. I’m a pretty good lawyer and I’m slightly paranoid. The campers from the first movie were slack-jawed, and duly so. There’s a copy of last year’s waiver here ( It might change for this year, but I think it’s a pretty good form.

That’s the only way we can do this. If you want a piece of me or Airspeed, you can’t be a camper. Stay home. That’s a benefit of the bargain upon which I insist. And, yes, this piece of audio will be Exhibit B right behind the waiver and right in front of a mountain of other stuff. You bend yourself or an airplane or walk into a prop or get into a car wreck on the way to or from, you’re on your own.

Unless I actively call you out, chase you across the ramp in an airplane, and run you down with the prop in cold blood, you’re on your own. I’m not trying to be a jerk. This is the only way that Airspeed can do the project. I hope that everyone understands.

Any waivers or liability issues or any other matter between you and the flight school are between you and the flight school. Period. I’m not involved, other than to show you where it is and shoot video of you while you’re doing whatever it is you do there.

You’ll sign a participant agreement that allows Airspeed to use your likeness and video and stills of your activities in connection with Acro Camp in the movie and in any promotion of it, like in trailers, on posters, and in similar ways.

I don’t plan to use anything embarrassing or personally awful. This isn’t The Real World or Road Rules or The Real Housewives of anyplace. But, if you hurl or are scared or things like that happen, it goes in the movie. This is about challenges and facing up to them. Fear and hurling are okay. Sometimes, they’re par for the course. Nobody wants to watch a movie about people who aren’t challenging themselves in some way.

You’ll get credited, but you get no points, no back-end, and no other piece of the movie if it makes any money. The movie is almost guaranteed to lose money and not go anywhere beyond an insular minority of pilots and aviation enthusiasts. And, if it does, you can be reasonably assured that I’ll piss away large portions of the proceeds doing more stuff for Airspeed and you’ll benefit from having the content that those efforts yield. I’m eating the costs mentioned above and putting in the sweat to make it happen, so I think that’s fair.

There’s a copy of last year’s participant agreement here ( Again, it’s a good form, but it might change.

You’ll be welcome to blog, podcast, write, Tweet, or otherwise express your experiences. In fact, it’s encouraged. We might even invite traditional media in to cover this and ask you to tell those folks about your experiences.

In any case, this isn’t Survivor or some other reality show where the producers stand on your neck and make you go through them to talk about your experiences. First, having those involved blog or podcast or Tweet, or whatever is great publicity for the project. Second, it strikes me as slightly evil and a violation of the unwritten tribal charter to try to clamp down on that kind of expression. Third, this thing has grown out of a new-media ethic than encourages sharing and free expression and I don’t think that it’d be true to the project’s roots to try to funnel the buzz through a central point and put AdSense up against it.

Offloading the audio and video every day is going to be a monumental task but, if we can swing it, we’ll even try to give you audio or video clips that you can use for your podcast, blog, or other outlet to go with your new-media chronicling of the event.
That said, there’ll be reasonable limitations on the use of the Acro Camp and Airspeed trademarks and the other rights necessary to make the movie happen and to protect the franchise if I or the school decides to do more with it. You won’t be able to distribute the movie yourself and you won’t be able to hold yourself out as speaking for the movie. Reasonable stuff like that.

Last comment I’ll make in this piece about control, rights, and stuff like that:

You’ve noticed that I’m pretty absolute in terms of rights and control and other elements of this project. I’m not trying to be a jerk, except where it serves the project. Insisting on having certain rights and being the sole decision-maker in a lot of respects is the only way that I can give myself the best chance of having the artistic control and fulfilling the vision that I have for the project. And if, by some miracle, this project gets a distribution deal, I want to be able to sit down at that table knowing that I have all of the rights I need to go forward without being beholden to any third party for licenses, permissions, or other things that put a drag on the process or make it so that I can’t sign up for stuff like warranties and indemnification that distributors and others are going to demand.

Does this mean that you’ll need to trust Airspeed and trust me? You bet. There’s no way around it. Do I deserve your trust? I hope so. I’ve put hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars over the last five years bringing you more than 170 episodes of the best podcast I know how to make. I’ve walked the walk for you and given it away for free, together with a little piece of my soul with each installment. I hope that I’ve demonstrated that I “get it” and that I’m a worthy conduit for the energy that I’m proposing that we release with this project.

Okay, on to fun stuff like dates.

I’m thinking a four- or five-day thing with an arrival the day before the first day. Day Zero would be an arrival day. You show up around 4:00 or 6:00 p.m. Eastern. The campers meet and have dinner with the instructors and the crew and do ground school. The instructors go over the aircraft and the safety systems. Everybody learns how to strap on a parachute. Everybody learns how to get the door or canopy off the aircraft in an emergency. The instructors go over the basic maneuvers for the next day.

Days one, two, three, and four we fly all we can. Three sorties per day per person is the target in the early going.

Day four or five, those who have to leave in the afternoon fly first and then leave. Those who don’t have to leave until later fly last.

We have nailed down two periods that bookend the two possible timeframes during which we will do the camp. Period One begins August 10 and ends August 16. Period Two begins August 24 and ends August 30. The camp itself will certainly include the Saturday and Sunday within whichever of the periods we pick. The only thing we don’t know is which of the weekdays before and/or after will be included. We’ll nail that down after the selection process.

We’re leaning heavily toward Period Two because some of the tech personnel will likely have am easier time making that period. But we’re maintaining a little flexibility for now. They’re putting in a taxiway at the host airport beginning on August 1 and the main runway will likely be shut down for all or part of three days during construction. We don’t know when those days will be. And it’s probably goofy to think that we’ll be able to know any better when those days will be by waiting until June or July to set the dates. But we’re maintaining as much flexibility as possible until then.

And I don’t think it’s going to affect us one way or the other. There’s another airport nearby that’s friendly to acro. If we had to, we could ferry the aircraft there and launch from the other airport while they’re working on the runway at the primary airport. It would be a royal pain for the tech crew to move all of the support equipment for the movie, but it won’t affect the flying much, if at all.

Either way, we’ll nail down the precise dates not later that the time at which we announce the cast, which we’re trying to make at least 30 days before the camp so that we save campers the more ridiculous air fares that happen closer to travel dates if they’re flying in commercially.

One other note on timing. The weather in Michigan is usually pretty nice around that time of year. But the weather could knock out a day or more of flying. If we can’t do acro but it’s still VFR out there, you’ll fly tailwheel and go for your endorsement. The idea is to fly as much as the weather allows and to do the kind of flying that the weather allows.

If we get most of the material that we need for the movie done, but we’re up against the end of the camp, we might need you to stretch it a day or come back to finish up. Your willingness and flexibility to stretch your stay a day or come back is not dispositive, but it’ll be a factor in whether you get selected as a camper.

We’re going to stage the camp at Berz Flight Training at Ray Community Airport (57D) in Ray Township, Michigan. Ray is a beautiful rural airport. Two runways. 9-27 is about 2500 feet long and 60 feet wide and it’s paved. Runway 18/36 is about 2,200 feet long, and half grass, half pavement. No gates. Low fences. If you drive your car back to the hangars, you have to stop short of the threshold of 18 to check final. The foot path that goes between the terminal building and the hangars crosses Runway 18/36.

Ray is the most beautiful airport to which I’ve ever personally been. It didn’t inspire the apocryphal Harper’s Field of Fingers in the Airport Fence Entwined, but it could be that airport. I love it. And you’ll love it.

Berz Flight Training started operations in 1948. It’s a Part 61 flight school that offers all kinds of primary and advanced instruction. The Pitts S-2B from the film is operated by Berz. Todd Yuhas, the principal, has been instrumental in bringing Acro Camp to Ray and helping us interface with the local pilot population. We’ve been received with open arms thus far and we’re looking forward to shooting the film there.

We plan to again use Barry Sutton and Don Weaver as instructors. Check out the Acro Camp website to see Barry and Don flying and instructing. And there’s even a sequence of Don and Barry in the studio playing for the soundtrack. Barry’s an excellent drummer and Don’s a classically-trained keyboard player.

By way of aircraft, the only one that I have down in ink is the Berz Pitts S-2B. The Super Decathlon from last year has been sold and the Citabria from last year is now strictly tailwheel and spin training – no acro. I’m working on lining up a different Citabria and Super-D or aircraft like them for the film. I’ve also received suggestions of other aircraft, but they’re working themselves out now.

There’s a lot to organize over the next few weeks and months to make sure that this happens. There remains some substantial chance that things won’t pan out and that Acro Camp won’t happen. But you don’t get a movie made by being timid or waiting until the last minute to talk to your constituencies about it.

A lot could go wrong. It could rain. One or more aircraft might be squawked and be unavailable to fly. Instructors can get sick. It could turn out that the video we shoot sucks or that we end up without a compelling story to tell. Too many things to try to shake a stick at.

Think of it this way. If you’d go to southeast Michigan in late summer to fly such acro as you could, play some euchre if it rains, fly some tailwheel if it’s low, and have a few beers with like-minded people regardless of whether anyone was shooting a movie, that’s great. If it isn’t low IFR, doesn’t rain, none of the airplanes is squawked, everybody’s fun and cool to be around, and you also get to star in an independent movie by doing it, that’s icing on the cake.

So, if you’re interested in participating in this little project as one of the pilots – one of the “campers” – head to There’s an online application in the sidebar on the right. You’ll need to have a couple of pictures of yourself ready to upload and you might want to have a tape measure, a pair of jeans, and a bathroom scale handy. You don’t need your logbook unless you haven’t added up your time in awhile. Approximations are fine.

The application process is open right now. It’ll stay open until 11:59 PM US EDT on June 24 (that’s 0400Z on June 25).

Last year, 51 people applied. We selected 12 to interview. We talked to 11. And we selected four campers and two alternates. This year, we’re thinking that we might get 100 applications.

We’re again planning to narrow the field to 12 based on the applications, interview those 12 over Skype, and then pick four campers and two alternates. We’re hoping to get the process complete and announce the cast by mid-July.

Take as much time as you need to give good answers, but my best advice is to apply early. We start reviewing applications as soon as they come in and, if you’ve applied early, you’ll probably be under our eyeballs sooner and longer.

Don’t pre-stress over the application. We’re expecting quite a few applications, but, if you’re the right person, you’ll stand out by just being yourself. Write short, declarative sentences. Read what you write out loud. If what you write sounds unnatural when you read it out loud, you’re probably trying too hard. Back off a notch, relax, and be yourself. We’ll sense the genuineness if it’s real.

In the meantime, there are three places you can go for additional information about Acro Camp.

The first is myTransponder. The exclusive official online group for Acro Camp will be the Acro Camp group on myTranponder. It’s free to sign up for myT and it’s free to join the group and interact with others about the movie. myTransponder understands new media and social media better than anyone else. It’s run by fellow members of our aviation tribe and I think it’s only right to have the pilot lounge for this effort be on myT. Additionally, I find that people who are active on myT are usually more involved in general aviation and make better candidates. If you spend some time on myT, you might well find a tidbit or two that’s helpful on the application.

The second is the Acro Camp website at The site will have ongoing outward-facing information about Acro Camp, as well as links to information about Berz Flight Training, the aircraft, the instructors, and other materials. Press releases will also appear on the site and it’ll be a particularly good as a contact point for (ahem) traditional media.

And, as always, I’ll be doing episodes updating everyone right here on Airspeed and at

So that’s the casting call. This is your chance to crawl through that USB cable and enter Airspeed’s world for a few days.

I hope that as many people as possible apply and that we have a really tough time picking the next set of campers. I hope that we pick you. I hope that you show up and meet some of your new best friends. I hope you laugh. I hope you cry. I hope that you scare yourself silly at least once. I hope that you surprise yourself many times by what you can do. I hope that you come away a more confident and safer pilot. I hope that the experience changes you and causes you to stretch the boundaries of what you thought was possible and reexamine who you are and what you believe about yourself. I hope that the project carries a little bit of general aviation outside the airport fence and entices some of our neighbors to join our tribe.

At some point, you quit wondering, climb over the fence, and go find out.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Blues, Blue Ridge, and the Commercial Checkride Looms

This is a regular blog post. If you're looking for show notes for audio and video episodes, you've come to the right place! Just scroll around and you'll find 'em!

I'm almost decompressed from the weekend. Saturday at Indy, I was invited to head over to Indianapolis International for an interview with CDR Dave Koss, Boss of the Blue Angels. They had lined up an F-4U Corsair, an FM-2 Wildcat, and an F/A-18D Hornet (Blue Angel jet No. 7) on the ramp as a backdrop highlighting the Centennial of Naval Aviation ("CONA" for short).

I did my best to ask some nonstandard questions, but Boss is both well-prepared and enthusiastic. I asked him how all of the aircraft behind him were . . . wait for it . . . the same. He didn't skip a beat. "The Naval Aviators who fly them." And he's dead right.

It was a short interview because it was raining and the Wildcat and Corsair had to beat feet back to indianapolis Regional (KMQJ), where they were on static display. But it turned into a really good three or four minutes that I'll likely edit into an episode for the show. I might also try to grab a piece of it to use in Acro Camp.

The remainder of the weekend was also pretty epic. I got home around 0400 local on Sunday morning. After a reasonably full day of domestic bliss, I met up with Don Weaver at Pontiac (KPTK) and proceeded to knock out my long commercial cross-country by repositioning a Cirrus SR22 (N711CG) from Pontiac Raleigh-Durham (KRDU) via Mansfield, Ohio (KMFD) and Upshur County, West Virginia (W22).

We were inside the eggshell from about 1,200 AGL off of KPTK all the way to KMFD. We shot the ILS to 300 feet in actual with a stiff crosswind from the right. Later, we broke out of the clag and had some fun poking through fat, ragged cumulus piles most of the way to W22. We cancelled IFR and landed at W22 for gas.

It looked as though we'd be able to stay above the mountain ridges and below the clouds the rest of the way to KRDU, so we departed W22 VFR and had an amazing time navigating through the valleys and over the ridges using a sectional. The peaks were around 4,000 MSL and the clouds varied from 4,500 to 6,000. Plenty of room to stay legal both above and below. But it's the kind of flying that makes you really work on your SA and keep all of the back doors available in case you round a corner and find out that the next cloud and the next peak are in contact.

We landed at KRDU and buttoned up the airplane. Then we did an almost equally epic 13-hour dash back to KPTK in a rental car. We traded driving duties and whoever was the PND took on DJ duties, digging into the deepest depths of his iPod to introduce the PD to the best of the best in music and motor skills. Don went out and immediately bought Chris Thile's Not All Who Wander Are Lost after we returned, so I was reasonably successful in my PND shifts.

Now it's back to the grind. Lots of interesting clients with interesting work. But I also have only a 100nm night cross-country to go in the aeronautical experience department to go, then it's polish the maneuvers, get the written out of the way, and I'll be ready to take the commercial checkride.

Back to the trenches! Ttere's a movie to edit and Battle Creek is only a few weeks away!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Indy 2011: Day 2

This is a regular blog post. If you're looking for show notes to audio or video episodes, they're all here. Just keep scrolling!

The Airspeed crew vehicle likes to think of itself as Blue Angel Zero. There she is, parked next to CDR David Koss's No. 1 ship. Waiting for the crew to top up her smoke oil for tomorrow's demo.

Day 2 (Saturday) at Indy is complete. Worries about the weather were worth having, but - at the end of the day - not worth getting bunched up over. Ceilings started out high and gradually came down. The Blues flew a low or flat show, which was fine with me because I was on my way out to Indianapolis International to catch a photo op with CDR Koss and the pilots of two WWII-era predecessors of the F/A-18C. I opened up the sun roof so I could hear the jet noise better.

The shoot went well and I got a three-minute piece that I might release as an ultra-short video episode.

I love Dave Dacy's big, honking 500-hp Super Stearman. It's clean, it's white, and it's round. It makes the right noices. You can attach a human speed brake to the top wing. What more do you really need?

I hooked up with the Heavy Metal Jet Team in the late morning and got interviews with Snort and Slick for Acro Camp. The interviews look very crisp in HD. And they should. As long as the light doesn't completely stink. you have an airplae that the team has gone to the trouble to paint with large areas of the three most useful background colors. Don't like how the frame looks? Not popping? Take two steps to the left and you have a completely different contrast proposition. Three to choose from. No waiting.

Both Slick and Snort are very, very well-spoken. Great answers to the questions and a sincerity that you can't fake. Having interviewed about a dozen airshow performers for the movie, I have begun hearing substantially the same answer from multiple performers to the same question. It's to be expected. There's probably a limited universe of answers to the same core four or five questions. But both Snort and Slick had new, different, and dead-nuts-on things to say. I had to remember that I was asking questions and not just sitting in my living room watching the movie.

I'm writing this at a Steak n Shake a couple of miles from Indianapolis International. I just offloaded the day's still pictures from the camera and sent a couple off to the media folks at the airshow. Now it's back on the road for Michigan. There's an SR22 at Pontiac that needs to get to the Carolinas and Don Weaver and I are just the guys to take it there!

Friday, May 13, 2011

Indy 2011: Friday - Part 2 - A Ride on Fat Albert Airlines

This is a regular blog post. If you're looking for show notes to a video or audio episode, you've come to the right place. Just keep scrolling. It's all here!

The Blue Angels are back again at the Indy Airshow. And that means that the ubiquitous blue and gold C-130, Fat Albert, is on the field supporting the Blues and thrilling spectators. And fanboys like me.

Fat Albert is operated by an all-Marine aircrew. I had the opportunity once again to ride on Fat Albert. The first time (2009) was great. But I learned a few things that allowed me to prepare much better for this ride.

For one thing, I showed up with five cameras. Four were small clampable models (two GoPro HD HEROes and two ContourHDs) and the fifth was the trusty Panasonic for handheld use. I checked in with GySgt Ben Chapman when we arrived at the aircraft staging area and he was kind enough to point out some good mount points. Two in the cockpit and two in the back.

The best footage is from the cockpit camera, a frame grab from which appears at the beginning of this post. There's a fair amount of vibration, but what mount in a C-130 doesn't vibrate when you're yanking and banking as much as this one did during the demo? Have you ever wondered what it looks like in the cockpit during the demo? Yep, that's GySgt Chapman floating at the top of the climb-out as Capt Edward Jorge pushes the yoke full forward after a 45-degree initial ascent.

I sat further aft than last time and I'm glad I did. The guys in the back do this all the time and are pretty good at knowing the flight profile and when they're going to be at zero-G. And taking advantage of it. The shot above is not photoshopped. It's the real deal. I got it from my seat with the hand-held. He has a good grip on the ladder and the ladder is firmly secured to the cargo deck. But it's still pretty dramatic-looking.

The main camera for the rear compartment was up on the front bulkhead looking back. It's rock-solid and doesn't vibrate. I'll pull some frame grabs from that one and post them soon.

And, because all of the cameras ran the entire time, I'm going to synch them up so that the video episode is able to cut among the camera angles to giver you a pretty good idea of what it's like to be among the pax on Fat Albert Airlines.

Thanks much to the crew of Fat Albert and to the Blue Angels! Watch for the video episode coming soon!

Indy 2011: Friday - Part 1

This is a regular blog entry. If you're looking for show notes to a video or audio episode, just scroll around. You're sure to find it!

Yeah, it's my favorite time of year again. I'm a little blue as I find myself in mid-May and not out at the Aviation Station shooting a movie. I miss my Acro Camp crew more than I thought I might. But there's nothing like an airshow to take the edge off of that particular blueness.

Indy is one of my favorite shows. This is my third year covering it. It's at Indiana Regional Airport (formerly Mount Comfort) (KMQJ), which has excellent surroundings that offer performance lines that can accommodate almost anything you'd want to fly in the airspace. It's reasonably accessible. Firebase Airspeed this year is at the Super 8 in Greefield, which is only a few miles to the east. But for the construction on the main highway that has things down to one lane for much of the going, it's easy access. And I'm getting to the show around 0700 each morning, so it's no big deal for me.

I spent most of the day shooting cameo interviews for Acro Camp. I re-shot the Billy Werth interview that I did last year (the audio was unusable) and added fellow Red Eagle Dan McClung, hang glider pilot Dan Buchanan, Super Stearman pilot Dave Dacy, and wingwalker Tony Kazian.

And I shot as much of the practice flying as I could. Most notable was Billy and Dave Werth's Sibling Rivalry demo. Billy flies a Pitts S-2C (in which I've flown with him) and Dave rides a ridiculously powerful motorcycle. The act initially involved racing down the runway. But it has evolved since then.

Billy and Dave are now doing a lot of formation performing. In the lead shot to this entry, Billy heads down the runway and Dave reaches up and grabs the wing. And today, for the first time that anyone can think of, Billy flew inverted ahead of Dave and Dave was able to grab the tail of the Pitts. Pretty precise stuff on the part of both pilot and rider!

The Viper West F-16 Demo Team tore it up very nicely. Although ti wasn't terribly hot, it was pretty humid. And that meant huge blankets of moisture cascading over the wings of the Viper at almost any positive angle of attack. The sky was pretty gray and the circumstances weren't great for shooting either video or stills. And, let's face it, I mostly do audio or close-up video. But the 200mm Nikon rig yields up competent images from time to time. The above wasn't the best representation of the Viper that I've ever captured, but you can see the burner and there are huge clouds on the wings. Good enough for me!

Capt Garrett Dover cranked the aircraft around very convincingly. The tight-turning capability of the aircraft continues to amaze me. It just rolls over and cranks around at +9G for a full circle. You're always sure that the Viper is going to bust the 1,500-foot line coming back around, but it never does. That's just unbelievable pull!

I'm still chasing the Heavy Metal Jet Team for a couple of planeside interviews for Acro Camp and the podcast. I was close to Jive and Rook during the briefing in the morning, but had to leave early to interview Billy, then lost them. Heavy Metal does a lot for the Make-a-Wish Foundation and I understand that the team was engaged in taking care of some commitments along those lines. That's fine. I still have tomorrow before heading back to Michigan.

I'm planning to ferry a Cirrus SR-22 from Pontiac down to the Carolinas for maintenance on Sunday and then drive back to Michigan on Monday. Then back to the office and my mild-mannered lawyer alter-ego until the next show. But, until then, it's freshly-mown grass and the smell of 100LL and JP-8!

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Mike "Bloke" Robinson of the Starfighters

These are the show notes for a video episode of Airspeed. You can watch the episode by subscribing to Airspeed through iTunes or your favorite other podcatcher or by watching the video on Vimeo by clicking above. Either way, it's all free!

Mike "Bloke" Robinson - the Supervisor of Flying for the Starfighters - and I go back a few years. It turns out that Bloke was one of the links in a long and unlikely chain of events that culminated in my getting the Thunderbirds ride in 2008. Bloke happened to be confirming some details with the Battle Creek show's director and mentioned that he had heard her on Airspeed in the preceding week. That apparently stick my name in her head at just the time at which the show was thinking about who might be a good alternate Thunderbirds rider. And the rest is history.

Bloke and I connected recently at ICAS in December and he was nice enough to invite me down to spend parts of the TICO Valiant Air Command airshow in Titusville, Florida in March. I spent Friday and Saturday on the ramp with The Starfighters, Heavy Metal, Scooter Yoak, Mark Sorenson, David Allen, and others.

When I could get Bloke to hold still for a few minutes (he's an amazingly busy guy during a show, as you might imagine), he was gracious enough to do it in perfect light next to a gorgeous F-104 in front of a couple of cameras. We talked about the F-104 and his impressions of it and even went a little into acro and energy management for use in the Acro Camp movie.

Here's the interview, along with other images from the two days at TICO.

The Starfighters use the F-104 Starfighter for suborbital flight training, flight test, threat simulation, photo chase, and - of course - airshows. The team is based at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. More information is available at