There I was….100 feet above the deck pulling 6 G’s to the vertical and my radio came alive with “knock it off, knock it off, knock it off” with emotion and pitch volume to make me understand I had a problem, Houston. So I pushed over the top, leveled my wings and flew straight ahead waiting for instructions from my Air Boss. I left my smoke on so he could find me in the sky for a few minutes. After a long few minutes, I was told the ‘problem’ had been cleared and I was cleared back into the aerobatic box to finish my performance. In 6 years as a performer, this was my “first” so I had to buy the beer that evening!

When people ask me what it’s like to fly aerobatics, every answer is different. It all depends on people’s connection to flying and airplanes. To some, it’s like being on the Tilt-O-Whirl and about the third time around you suddenly depart the fixture and head on up to the sky going around and around. To some it’s like a roller coaster at an amusement park. But the truth is, it’s not really like any of those things. Rather it’s like being in a fast moving vehicle and you go faster and faster and then you just pull up and off you go into the air! The rest is just throwing the airplane around the sky! I bank to the right so I can see the houses below me and then I swing the nose around and bank to the left to see what’s on that side underneath me. The view is unlike any other! But more than the view, it’s a feeling of complete freedom from all boundaries. The sky is really the limit!

But when you are up there, it seems as if there are no limits at all. There are no walls to come to, and no ceiling to hit and no doors to pass through. Just endless blue sky to move about at will. Sometimes I just fly around looking at the sights relaxing and really enjoying the beauty of it all. Some days I am going from one place to another and some days I am just going to a practice area to practice my aerobatic maneuvers. But no matter what my reason is for being in the sky, there just is nothing really like it on earth! If everyone could experience it, I’m sure most would never want to leave it!

When I am flying at an air show with an audience on the ground waiting to see what spectacular “flippy things” I’m going to do, well, I get really focused on the exact routine I’m going to fly. It’s one I have practiced and practiced and practiced a thousand times before show day. The take-offs and the landings are about the same as any other day, but all the flying in between is very precise and must be done in a very small box in front of the crowd. This kind of aerobatic flying is rehearsed and is flown in a sequence to keep the pilot and airplane in front of the crowd at all times. It’s not very entertaining if the crowd has to strain to see the airplane as it moves away from the audience. So we must keep the flying in front of the crowd at all times. “Flying the box” means we have to fly one direction and then turn around and fly in the other direction and then turn around again.

The most important part of air show flying is doing it in as safe a manner as is humanly possible. We do fly low, and we do fly fast and we do fly in a manner that seems out of control at times. That’s the MAGIC! We make our airplanes do things that don’t seem possible yet at the same time, it’s actually happening, so how do we do it!!??? I don’t want to bore you with technical stuff, but the truth is the airplane is doing what it’s doing because we make it do that on purpose. That’s where the practice comes in. We have already figured out how to make the airplane fly through the sky backwards, downsideup and every which way long before we get in front of the crowd. We are busy paying close attention to where the ground is at all times, where the crowd is and how close we are to the crowd at all times. We have zillions of rules about what we can and cannot do at an air show, so we must always be paying attention to all those other things while we fly. Think of a gymnast in the gym 6 days a week practicing for the next big meet. They will do certain moves over and over again until they can do it perfectly. When they can put all their moves together and do them perfectly, they are ready for the meet. An air show pilot does exactly the same thing. We practice a series of maneuvers until they are perfect and then we are ready for the show. Well, almost. When we practice, we are doing it much higher in the sky so if we mess up, we have a lot of room in the sky to fix it and then keep on flying. The gymnast simply hits the ground hard and gets up to do it over again until it’s right. We must have plenty of sky below us to flail about in once we mess up and then get back on track and start over. Once we get it “down”, then we learn how to bring this routine down to the lower levels as seen at an air show.

The crowd wouldn’t enjoy watching an airplane fly so high they could hardly see it. So, we bring it down to the ground, or just short of the ground so you can see what we are doing. That’s the spectacular part! We have to pay attention to all the things that make up the flying part, and at the same time we must make sure we don’t get too low and hit the ground. So back to that safety thing. It’s all about flying our airplanes in a manner that is interesting and exciting to watch but not scary. We do want the crowd to gasp in sheer delight at what they are watching, but we don’t want them to gasp as the vision of someone hitting the ground. We want to make the impossible look easy and the dangerous look spectacular!

Flying an airplane 50 or 100 feet off the deck isn’t for everyone. But for the small handful of us out there doing it, it’s our passion and our love. We have spent much time and money mastering a skill all the while enjoying the pure exhilaration of actually leaving the earth behind to do our little dance in the sky. We return now and then to get more fuel, but back up we go, as we just can’t live our entire lives on the ground! We weren’t born with wings, but we learned that was just a temporary setback! We fly so others will dream and join us!

By Jackie Warda, airshow performer. skyydnz@yahoo.com

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