Pietsch Airshows

The Jelly Belly of airshow performers

Kent Pietsch is at an altitude of 6,000 feet, floating in space above the runway, dead stick. Suddenly, his wingtip smokers explode with color as his vintage 1942 Interstate Cadet begins a slow spin toward the earth. Losing altitude and careful not to go too fast so the propeller won’t start turning, Kent keeps his engine off for seven minutes. The suspense is staggering as he continues an unending assortment of rolls, hammerheads, and split S’s. The finale is equally surprising and demonstrates what 25,000 hours of flying experience can add to an exciting performance.

Kent and his brother Warren Pietsch (pronounced peach) continue to innovate the business of entertaining airshow crowds with their comical and aerobatic routines. They have the pilot experience to accomplish breathtaking, safe maneuvers; both soloed at 16. Individually they rapidly added skills, certifications and personally restored their own show planes. Warren restored a Taylorcraft, reducing its wings to 14 feet and Kent restored his Interstate Cadet. They have since flown, built, restored, maintain and helped dozens of beautiful aircraft find new owners.

They are quite a pair with over 50,000 hours of flying between them, hosting certifications from L-1011’s and Airbus to a variety of antique airplanes, Warbirds and gliders. They acquired the love of flying at a young age and recommend young people today taste the excitement of being a pilot. Their flight school in Minot, North Dakota can help you savor that excitement.  (pietchaircraft.com)

Analogous to the passion of flying and entertaining airshow enthusiasts that the Pietsch family demonstrates, Jelly Belly, the Pietsch Airshows sponsor, has a passion for creating the making the very best candies. The company, known for “true-to-life” flavors, constantly innovates the world of jelly beans and the more than 100 other candies it produces. Some readers may remember that they created a naturally flavored Blueberry jelly bean so President Reagan could serve it and bring America to the world by way of red, white, and blue jelly beans. Few remember that Jelly Belly has been connected to aviation for more than a quarter century. They surprised Sally Ride, the first American female astronaut, with free floating, weightless jelly beans in outer space. It was also the first time jelly beans ventured into outer space.

Jelly Belly sponsors top-of-the-line, family-oriented entertainment because it is one way the privately held company says thanks to its consumers.  Jelly Belly sponsors Pietsch Airshows because they believe that exposing wide-eyed little boys and girls, of any age, to the excitement of safe and entertaining flight can help General Aviation expand its efforts to develop pilots. You can learn about the other exciting people and top of the line programs Jelly Belly sponsors by checking out: http://jellybelly.com; click on news, then sponsorships. 

The antics of Pietsch Airshows comic routines touch the imagination of anyone who sees them fly. Imagine an RV driving down the road with a portable runway attached to its top. Think about that for a second. If you’re lucky, you’ll see the Jelly Belly Jelly Beans-sponsored, 800 pound, Interstate Cadet making a landing on top of the moving RV, with only eight inches of clearance on either side of the tires. It looks fun, people laugh, but it’s precision flying. If the pilot gets too low at the back, the RV blocks the aircraft airflow and the airplane won’t fly. If he gets in front of the RV, downdrafts will suck him toward the runway, so after he does land on the roof and rides a little way, he has to lift the airplane off smartly with full power and firm pull on the stick. A surprise to most people talking to Kent or Warren on the flightline is learning that the pilot can’t see the RV during the maneuver.

Adding even more color to the varied airshow performances, Warren, the younger of the two brothers, flies a spellbinding routine that is quick, precise and up close. You better hold on to your seat as he puts his clipped-wing Taylorcraft into unusual attitudes or screams by in the homebuilt aircraft they call a Schnortenzummer@. Warren uses both aircraft to maximize a combination of gyroscopic aerobatic maneuvers with plus and minus G-force that will leave you gasping for air. You’re not even in the pilot seat and you’ll sweat! The brothers believe, like their dad Al Pietsch who started the business in 1968, that the audience is always number one. Kent said, “If you can’t entertain, you have no business being out there” when asked about airshow flying. Believe it or not, Jelly Belly’s sponsorship added even more color to his brilliant yellow and red Cadet.

There are several airshows within an hour or two from most of our homes and you’ll no doubt have to choose between them. The performers are the airshow, and I can’t help but strongly recommend you attend a show where Jelly Belly-sponsored Pietsch Airshows is performing. They have literally entertained millions of people at more than 400 shows. Did I mention the mesmerizing wingtip-scraping pass down the runway that you can’t believe until you see it performed? I’ll close with an anonymous comment from someone talking on an aviation blog about having just seen their show: “Unlike a Super Hornet Demo, this dude [Kent Pietsch] will have you in stitches with laughter!”

John Cilio is an aviation historian and freelance writer. You can contact John at: questions@vintageflyer.com