Meet the Grunts
Behind the scenes, they make airshow stars shine.
- By Debbie Gary
- Photographs by Caroline Sheen
- Air & Space magazine, September 2013
(Page 4 of 5)
When Norris got to the field, Tucker was fine, but the airplane was demolished. “It was awful,” Norris recalled. “As I hooked chains to what was left of it and dragged it through this guy’s dirt field, it hit me in waves and I broke down. We had spent 12 years perfecting that airplane, rebuilding it every year, always making it a little bit better. And now it was scattered in pieces for hundreds of yards.”
Leader of the Pack
It was a few days into the show, and Carl Paris, a high-time jet pilot, was worried. He looked at the weather radar in Goulian’s truck. “There’s a lot of wind in those clouds,” he said to Chris Porter and Matt Chapman, Goulian’s mechanic. “Better get the plane out of here.” They pushed the Extra through the crowd until Porter could jump into it to taxi toward the hangars. Chapman followed in the crew car.
Suddenly the sky darkened and the wind whipped up. Other crews leapt into action. Bruce Turner ran out of the Aeroshell Team’s motor home to snag a billowing tent.
The rain fell in curtains. On the taxiway, Porter could not see past the Extra’s nose, so he stopped, pivoted into the wind, stood on the brakes, and ran up the throttle. Still the airplane skittered, so Chapman hopped out of the car and onto the airplane’s tail. Nearby, the wind was so strong it smashed two parked airplanes together, but the ground crews kept the show airplanes safe.
Chris Porter dreams of becoming an airshow performer himself. Before he hired on with Goulian, he competed in aerobatic contests and managed a flight school. Then he read a piece Goulian had written on how to have a career in airshow flying, and contacted him. Later that year, Goulian offered Porter a job as his media and sponsor relations coordinator, and Porter grabbed it.
Like everyone on the team, he does grunt work from sunrise until late at night: stocking the hospitality area, busing tables, emptying the trash, filming Goulian’s flight, shopping for supplies. But he also ferries the Extra, and some of his happiest moments have been in the team’s Bonanza, taking reporters and photographers on flights. By late July, he had been with Goulian for only six months, but already he had flown formation with Sean Tucker and Rob Holland, two of his heroes.
At the Dayton, Ohio show, he, Goulian, and a cameraman climbed aloft with the Blue Angels behind them. With constant speeds and steady hands, Porter focused on his mission: to be a stable platform for the camera and a solid lead for the flight. The Blues flew past, turned, and caught up again while the cameraman snapped away. “Mike was following me and the Blues were following him,” Porter told me. “And suddenly it hit me that technically, for those few moments, I was leading the Blue Angels.”
Bs and Ts
Grunts Bruce Turner and Teresa Beardsley specialize in logistics. For about 10 years, Turner, who is retired from the insurance business, and a group of other pilots owned and operated a hospitality motor home for the Aeroshell Team. They followed the team to shows, and over the years Turner found more ways to help the team at their biggest shows, AirVenture and the Sun ’n Fun Fly-In. The team has about 40 sponsors, and at these two shows they have an overwhelming number of things they need to do to satisfy the sponsors’ requirements. As logistical director, Turner schedules autograph sessions at sponsors’ booths, speeches and appearances, mandatory evening social events, rides for sponsors’ guests, and the party they host during their Saturday night airshow.
He makes up a detailed schedule for team members, drives them from event to event, and shows up at their airplanes every morning at 7:45 a.m. with people who will go up for the morning’s aerobatic rides. His favorite ride is in the slot airplane, the one behind the leader. “You see everything,” he said. “All the other airplanes are right there, and you feel like you could reach up and grab the tail of the one in front of you. Then I watch the aileron move on Mark [Henley]’s airplane and the ground goes by overhead as we roll.”