Guide to the Great- page 4 | Flight Today | Air & Space Magazine
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Erik Hildebrandt (Erik Hildebrandt)

Guide to the Great

A performer searches the airshow circuit for this season's top acts.

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Unlike other helicopters, this one is built with a rigid rotor and rigid mounted main transmission, both of which are bolted onto the airframe so that the machine handles like a sports car, without slop or slack in the controls. When Chuck Aaron moves the control stick to the left, the Red Bull Bo-105 rolls all the way around, without the rotor tilting or bending.

Aaron is fairly new to the airshow circuit. This will be the second season he flies aerobatic shows in the Red Bull Helicopter, but he has more than 17,000 hours of helicopter flight time. He has done flight testing with infrared night-vision equipment, cropdusting, flight instructing, film flying, aerial photography, heavy sling work, cattle herding, traffic reporting, banner towing — nearly any job a helicopter pilot can do.

Michael Goulian

Castrol Extra 300SHP

Over the microphone we hear Michael Goulian say, “Okay, we’re ready to start,” then there’s a countdown, Five, four, three, two, one, and he begins a diagonal line of rolls. His Castrol Extra 300SHP keeps coming down, from 3,200 feet high and 80 mph at the beginning to 260 mph, just above the runway. Then he goes vertical for a long straight, precise rolling climb.

Goulian began competition aerobatics not long after he learned to fly. Within 10 years of his first flying lesson, he competed at the national and international levels, winning many awards, including the title of U.S. National Aerobatic Champion. Now he has a full-time airshow schedule, but he says, “If you say that you’re a championship pilot, you need to fly like a championship pilot. I’ve tried to make sure that everything I do stays precise on a competition level.”

About 50 to 60 percent of his choreography is a combination of classic aerobatics with some kind of gyroscopic tumbling in the middle of it, so that it goes from a beautiful competition maneuver into something that looks out of control, but that stops precisely on some axis, whether it be inverted, upright, or vertical. “So, if I’m going to do a triple flip,” he says, “I make sure I do it three times and that when I’m done, it’s stationary, looking at the audience, every time.”

Goulian’s airplane was specially built for him, and he worked with Walter Extra to decrease its weight and increase its instability with a new tail design. Under the cowling, he has Lycoming’s first Thunderbolt IO-580, a new high-performance engine that has 347 horsepower.

Steve Oliver and Suzanne Asbury-Oliver

Oregon Aero Sky Dancer

If traffic stops so people can read the signs in the sky on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday before the airshow, it probably means Steve Oliver and Suzanne Asbury-Oliver are in town. They use their Super Chipmunk, also known as the Oregon Aero Sky Writer, Sky Dancer, and Fire Dancer to sky write, fly aerobatics, and do a pyrotechnic night show, respectively.

Skywriting, the Olivers will tell you, is a lost art, shrouded in the mystery and romance of the 1930s, when pilots would lie rather than divulge the secrets of how they made thick, lasting smoke, how they formed precise, evenly matched letters, and how they chose altitudes where the words hung in the air most legibly. Suzanne promises to pass on the secrets before she retires, the way her mentor did 30 years ago.

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