Guide to the Great

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

Erik Hildebrandt (Erik Hildebrandt)
Air & Space Magazine

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When Soucy gets down low again, Stokes unbuckles her belt and does wingwalking poses like the Head Stand and the Hand Shake. When she’s done, she has to hustle to get back in her seat before Soucy lands — he likes to see how quickly he can get back on the ground in front of the crowd.

Soucy flies two other acts in the Showcat: a classic biplane solo and a night show with fireworks. The Showcat is a Grumman Ag Cat cropduster he had converted to a wingwalker’s airplane. It was never designed for any of the wildly exotic maneuvers, but it is big, beautiful, and fun to watch.

For his night show Soucy wires the plane with so many fireworks that he can’t look out at the wings after he lights them or they’ll make him night blind. They leave a trail of fire a couple of hundred yards long.

Sean D. Tucker

Oracle Challenger

The flaming red biplane is a mile high when Sean D. Tucker kicks it into 14 dizzying snap rolls, its smoke trails carving tight spirals in a blue sky, the prop tips screaming. “I do that for the noise,” he says. “The snap is over-speeding and the tips are going ‘whop, whop,’ so people look up, and even if they’ve never seen me fly before, they say, ‘This guy means business!’ ”

Then he dives to 275 mph and goes into his Centrifuge, where he is head over heels, tail over nose on a 45-degree arc, eight, nine, 10 times. After these extreme moves, he climbs a short way and talks to the audience over the radio. Winded from the effort of the aerobatics, he also sounds exhilarated. “I want to put people in my cockpit and give them a flying lesson and technically walk them through what I experience as I tumble through the sky,” he says.

Tucker’s airplane, which began life as a Pitts Special, is a combination of old and new. Its fuselage has a traditional tubular steel frame, but its wings are state-of-the-art, squared off, and powered by a total of eight ailerons to allow it to roll 500 degrees per second. The tail surfaces are so revolutionary that the airplane can mimic a 3-D radio-controlled model that stops, hovers, spins, and twirls in place.

At some shows Tucker also leads a four-plane formation act with his son Eric, Ben Freelove, and Bill Stein.

Chuck Aaron

Red Bull Helicopter

There are other so-called aerobatic helicopter acts out there, but nothing like the Messerschmitt-Boelkow-Blohm Bo-105. In the hands of the right pilot, it loops, rolls, does vertical rolls, and flips.

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