Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Excellence In Execution

Learn from your mentors, and be a mentor yourself

I've dedicated my entire adult life to the art form of air-show flying. It's such an exquisite honor and privilege to strap into a flying machine, have the wings become your arms, and tumble, twist, turn, spin and flip across the sky.

Adweek once pronounced that air shows were the "Indianapolis 500, Top Gun and the Fourth of July, all rolled into one."

For the last 24 years, I've had the opportunity to share the "magic of flight" with and to "light that spark within" more than 120 million spectators across North America. After finishing a performance and taxiing by the kids, moms, pops, grandmas and grandpas, it's so empowering to witness the incredible joy on their faces. I finally get it. Fantasy of Flight founder Kermit Weeks once said, "Everybody doesn't like airplanes, but everybody has a fascination for flight." The freedom of flying taps into their inner core.

The metaphor of flight is very powerful, and it so resonates with the spectator's soul that they live vicariously through my flying. If I abuse this privilege and let ego take over during a performance and kill myself, I also kill their dreams. That's not acceptable behavior for a 21st-Century Barnstormer.

Mitigating risk is the single most important element to surviving in this flying business. After a near-fatal bailout below 750 feet AGL from an unrecoverable inverted flat spin due to a pilot-error-induced aft-CG condition, I knew if I was going to have any future at all in the air-show flying business, I needed to be committed 24/7 to the relentless pursuit of excellence and perfection.

My first step was to search out mentors, and I found the world's best: Bob Hoover, Leo Loudenslager, Charlie Hillard and Wayne Handley. They gave me perspective as to why we fly. That aviation is a jewel that needs to be respected and cherished. That it's an honor and privilege to touch the controls of a flying machine, and that the privilege can't be abused.

They taught me how to honestly face my fears, verbally acknowledge them, and once I overcome them, become empowered by what I was afraid of. They taught me how to think and train like a champion. During an air-show season, I'll practice 450 times in order to fly 120 performances. To be the very best you can possibly be, it's imperative to be consumed with the notion of "excellence in execution" on every flight.


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