Above & Beyond: Back in the Saddle
An airshow pilot describes the trials of the comeback.
- By Debbie Gary
- Air & Space magazine, March 2002
(Page 3 of 3)
I wasn’t the only one thinking that. One day corporate America woke up, rubbed its eyes, and bought a ticket. Airshows are now where the Mall of America meets the state fair—with airplanes. There are still some Mom-and-Pop shows with local acts and little commercialism, but mostly airshows are enormous flying parties brought to you by our sponsors. Companies like Red Baron Pizza arrive with a first-rate announcer, four glittering Stearmans, and an 18-wheeler packed with food, a miniature museum, and rides for the kids. Airshows are big business now.
I’m almost finished with my practice show when the jet flames out. I had pulled up for Down the Hatch, rolled on a vertical line, held it, throttled back, steady on the stick, and waited. The jet slid backward, then suddenly, violently, it whipped forward and swapped ends. On the down line I added power, but the engine choked, barked twice, then died.
For a second my mind jumps backward 23 years to Mojave, California, the last place I flamed out during a show. I check my memory to see what I did then, and my mind is like a computer loading software. Then suddenly I am back in the present. Fuel: Right tank is off. Wings are out of balance. Fuel on, switches off, then on again, starter button pushed. The igniters tick, tick, tick like a time bomb. The starter screams like an approaching fire truck, then whoosh, boom, kerosene explodes in the burner can and the engine comes back to life.
I do a wingover back to finish with an inverted pass. On the outside, every airshow is different, but in the cockpit they are all the same. My shows will get better as I polish the rough edges, but already I am home again.