Weather Considerations: The Voices of Experience

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In addition to your full air show routine, you need to design limited routines for two other situations. One is your low show, which can be flown safely when the visibility is okay, but the ceiling is limited. The other is your flat show for conditions that are flyable, but too low for aerobatic flight. A flat show is generally fly-bys with noise and smoke. 

Wayne Handley

I really encourage pilots to have a low show all drawn out, wherever their low show is, whether it is 250 or 500 feet. If they can’t go over the top for a turn around maneuver like a half Cuban, then they have to do other types of turns. If they have a practiced air show, they are going to be a lot more entertaining. I use the example of myself not having one and going out and loping my mule around the pasture to try and entertain the troops for five or ten minutes. Then I got back on the ground and said, “Well, damn, I didn’t do this and I could have done that. Hell, this is in my sequence and I didn’t even do that!” So, if you put just a little thought into it and practice it a little bit, you can do a much more entertaining job of it. So it’s a good thing to have in your back pocket. 

Bill Stein

I don’t have a 1,000 foot show. I have my air show and I have my low show, which is 1,200 foot, which includes all the things I can do with a 1,200 foot ceiling. Then I have an 800 foot show, because — when they say it is 1,000 — it is always 800. I have a set of things I can do at 800 foot and I’m ready to fly and I have almost never flown at 1,000 foot. I have flown at 800 foot a bunch of times and I have flown at 1,200 foot a zillion times and I’ve flown in severe clear a bunch of times, too. But it seems like it is always 800 or 1,200.

That whole mix of them wanting you to say it is 1,000 foot when it is not and then trying to get the other performers to know that it is not 1,000, that it is actually 700 or something. That is a problem.

There is a video on You Tube of me at one show where I was not scheduled to fly a solo. The Collaborators were there…big show. “We don’t want you to fly a solo,” they had said. Then later, “Please, because we’ve got this weather stuff.” Sure. “Great, you’re first. You can give us a weather report.” So, I go up and it is like 800 feet. Air Boss, says, “Really? What is it really?” And I said… “Okay, what is it actually? Actually, it is like 600.” He didn’t like it.

Then there is the next call about an hour later that says, “We got a report the AWOS says it is 1,000 feet. Go fly your show.” So, cool; it’s 1,000 feet. So I go do my thing and I get to the center of the box and I do figure number one, which is on takeoff, which is just a pull over and really the clouds are 900 feet, which is not too bad. I come to the other side of the box and I do something like a reverse Cuban or something, and it’s 1,000 feet, maybe. Then I pull vertical for this humpty bump thing, and — at 600 feet — it is really dark and I am in the clouds for over six seconds. And coming out of the clouds after six seconds knowing you’ve only got 550 feet underneath you to figure out if you are aimed at the crowd or not, is a little bit hectic.

When I got out of my airplane, I walked up to the FAA monitor and said, “Do we have an issue?” And he said, “No, we are all good.” So I turned around and walked away. I got suckered into believing it was really good when I probably should have turned around.

Bud Granley

In Canada, if you don’t have a low show choreographed, you can’t fly the show. That is the rule in Canada. If the weather is too low and you don’t have a low show programmed and they don’t have it in their hand, you can’t fly. You have to have a written-out, high show and a written-out low show for when the weather is down or you can’t do your high show. And if you can’t do your high show, you can’t fly. You have got to have a sheet of paper that they see before you ever get there. “This is my high show. This is my low show.”

I have a low show for each of my airplanes. It’s easy with the Yak. We can stay down pretty low. Basically, you leave out the vertical maneuvers. When the ceiling is down to 1,000 feet, your vertical maneuvers are pretty much out. I’ve done it when the weather was down to 300 feet and it almost nailed me. But that was not intentional and that was a long time ago. We don’t get in those situations anymore.

It was a horrible at Paine Field that day. We don’t do this anymore, but — that day — Art Scholl, Myra Slovak and I all flew, and we all had problems. I checked the weather at one end of the field and it was okay. It was 600 feet. I can do a landing out of a loop at 600 feet. I can pull up, put the gear down, put flaps down, come around and land out of it.

The weather was 600 feet at one end of the field. But, at the other end, as soon as I got the nose up, I was in cloud. Now I had no choice, I had to finish it. So I just stayed on the needle and used the timing and just went around the top and dropped the gear in the right place, and I kind of held it. Then I put the flaps down and just stayed on the needle. Then I could sort of see the runway coming and the flaps had not gone down yet, because I had used the hydraulics for the gear and I had not stopped the gear in the right place to get the flaps.

Anyway, when the gear finished coming out, I looked at the ground and I’m thinking, “Aw, it looks like I’m going to hit the ground about there.” I was right over the runway. Then the flaps came out, because now there was enough hydraulic fluid for them to work, and then it went zzzrup and I landed.

Art was doing the same sort of thing as me, trying to get things over with and when he was coming in to land, somebody yelled, “Gear!” and he put his gear down. Then Myra Slovak got lost above the clouds in his power glider and he drilled around for a while until he finally could come down. So, having a 1000 foot rule is a good idea. No more mucking around like that.

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Deb Gary is a former air show performer, member of the ICAS Foundation Air Show Hall of Fame and freelance writer whose work has been published in Air Shows Magazine and Smithsonian Air & Space Magazine.