Meet the Grunts
Behind the scenes, they make airshow stars shine.
- By Debbie Gary
- Photographs by Caroline Sheen
- Air & Space magazine, September 2013
(Page 2 of 5)
To crew for Koontz, Masterson takes time off from his full-time job as an electrical engineer; Harvey is retired; and Hankins, who used to do lighting and sound for concerts, works full time as a groundskeeper for Koontz’s bed-and-breakfast.
“I used to go to airshows as a spectator, but I actually like working behind the scenes at the airshow more,” Hankins said. “Being in the airshow business is like being part of a big family, and working with Greg is so much fun. It gets me out of the ordinary 9-to-5 job.”
Later in the week, Koontz had a close call. In the middle of a low-level snap roll on top of a loop, his seat back broke and pitched him back onto the rear seat control stick. He managed to untangle himself and regain control of the Decathlon. When he landed, looking shell-shocked, his ground crew was there to help him troubleshoot the defect that could have caused a disaster.
Check and Double-Check
It was the end of the day, the crowds had left, and Chris Rudd was in the performers’ hangar. The sun, near the horizon, lit up the flame-colored paint on David Martin’s well-polished Breitling CAP 232 as Rudd checked its engine oil.
Rudd is a full-time aircraft mechanic specializing in aerobatic airplanes; he also is a part-time grunt for a number of performers. He likes to work when all the distractions of the busy day are gone.
“It minimizes your chance of making a mistake,” he said.
At airshows, “airplanes get pushed to the maximum limits, so when I check these airplanes, I always focus on the controls,” he explained. “There is a whole lot these pilots can overcome, but a control failure at low altitudes is not one of them.”
Rudd started crewing six or seven years ago. “I was at Sun ’n Fun [in Florida] when Patty Wagstaff’s crew chief hot-started her plane [restarted the fuel-injected engine after if was hot from running at full power], and it popped up on its tail and scared him,” he recounted. “He got out and said he would never get back in it again. I happened to be standing there and had done work on her plane. She looked over at me and said, ‘Think you can fly this thing?’ I said, ‘Sure I can.’ Two days later I was in it on my way to Branson, Missouri.”