Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, March 5, 2013

The Life Of An Air Show Pilot

When you love what you do, is it work?

A few years ago, just as I was getting into my airplane, a random person stopped by to chat and asked what I thought about a horrible accident that had recently taken place. I happened to know the pilot involved, and I had a hard time focusing on my flight that day. This is a scenario we try to avoid.

As it gets closer to show time, my energy comes into focus, and by the time I taxi out, nothing comes between me and my cockpit, except for my flight suit. My hyper focus blocks out unnecessary distractions while I keep both a million details and the big picture in sight. The situational awareness an air show pilot develops is where years of training pay off.

You aren't thinking, rather, it's that the airplane becomes a part of you and you're in a state of "flow"—that wonderful transcendent state of mind where a person is fully immersed in the activity at hand. On the radio, the Air Boss clears us into the box, but I know that once I peg the throttle for a snap roll on takeoff, I'm ultimately my own boss.

After I land and clear the runway, I quickly undo my seat belts and take off my gloves so I can wave to the crowd while taxiing in. A car will meet me to take a ride up and down the flightline, so I can be the performer and wave some more.
Air show pilots appear to lead exciting and possibly desirable lives, but is it really so glamorous?  What goes on behind the scenes? and what's the day-in-the-life
really like?
Next, it's autograph time. Personally, I love signing autographs and talking to people. I like to walk the flightline, sometimes a mile long, signing pictures and talking to fans. I always think how much better it is to be an air show pilot than to be a dentist, for example, because everyone I meet is happy and giving their best. This is what the spectator gives back to the performer, and it's energizing.

After putting our airplanes away, we know the day is only half over. There's almost always an evening function where we're to meet the sponsors and organizers, so it's a must-attend. We also realize that while we may do this every weekend, for the air show, it's a once-a-year event, and the social functions are very important.

I once saw a stage show involving tigers. The stage was lit so the magnificence of the animals was highlighted, but there was an entire crew of trainers dressed in black in the background. That's the illusion of showmanship.

We want you to attend these air shows and keep coming back for more, enjoying our aerial showmanship. And behind the scenes, it's not just the organizers' attention to detail that makes the air show, it's the legions of volunteers that every air show relies on and without who would never happen.

For me, being an air show pilot is the perfect fusion of my love of flying with bringing awareness of aviation to the public. After all, air shows are the only place someone can see airplanes up close, touch them, and feel their power and beauty.

Life as an air show performer is fun, glamorous, exciting, rewarding and exhausting. Flying is only a small part of the job, but to be honest, that 15 minutes of fame when we're dancing across the sky is the payoff. On Monday morning, I'll fly to the next show and do it all again. I'm working hard, but I'm hardly working.


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