The Aerobatic and
Bob Duran, Airshow Industry photographer, videographer, webmaster and member of the International Council of Airshows
As a full time airshow photographer and enthusiast, I first met Allen following one of his flawless performances. Our friendship has since been both rewarding and informative. In the following, I will share with you, some of the things that I have learned from Allen: a technical, informal and behind-the-scenes insight of what it takes to be an ACE-rated aerobatic performer, and how this select group of professionals distinguishes itself and their respective performances.
Allen, thanks for giving me a level of understanding and appreciation not otherwise possible from outside of the cockpit!
We can all agree that flying aerobatics requires more talent and skill than driving a Lamborghini. But exactly how much more? First and foremost, airshow performers must be entirely self-disciplined, safety-conscious and in top physical and mental condition. Their primary concern is safety: safety for him or herself, for the lives and property of those attending the airshow and for all others in the immediate vicinity, both in the air and on the ground. In fact, Airshow Safety represents 80% of the overall effort put forth at an airshow by the planners, emergency crews, security personnel, volunteers, etc.. The remaining 20% is about the actual performances.
To participate in an airshow, a performer must satisfy licensing, regulatory, aerobatic qualifying, liability and other criteria. Next, he or she must compete for a slot to perform in any given airshow. There are after all, more aerobats (aerobatic airshow performer) than airshows. The sponsor's selection process is heavily based upon an aerobat's reputation for safety, experience, aerobatic skill and artistry. After all, each performance must impress thousands of fans in the stands, network and local TV audiences, another 20,000+ in parks and backyards near the airfield and last-but-not-least, the F.A.A. observer. Finally, each aerobat must design and perfect an artistic performance, which distinguishes him or herself from the competition. And the peer pressure and competition is as good as it gets.
So just how does an aerobat impress the fans, promoters and peers? Maneuvers of course. Lots of them and and "the more difficult, the better". But that's not nearly as simple as it sounds. Luckily, in the United States, all performance routines and performers must be pre-approved by the F.A.A., as a safety net for all involved. To the aerobat, this means lots of practice, refinement, qualifying and special licensing before participating in his or her first airshow. No shortcuts allowed.
By its nature, aerobatic maneuvering is intense and it requires adrenaline by the gallon. Pilots must multitask a myriad of technological, environmental and regulatory factors with split-second timing and a "zero" margin for error. A tall challenge which Allen repeatedly meets. The F.A.A., U.S. Navy and professional airshow community agree, that without question, Allen H. Smith, III is a consummate flying professional and a fun-loving aerobat.
Allen is also one of less than twelve aerobatic pilots in the U.S. that hold the highly coveted Aerobatic Competency Examination ( "ACE" ) Level One (I) rating in the L-39. Among other things, the rating certifies safety, technical precision and proficiency for each maneuver attempted. There is a screening process, which mandates hundreds of hours in a particular aircraft, years of aerobatic experience and a spotless safety record as a prerequisite to applying. The process also involves rigorous written and oral components, followed by a flight demo, in which an F.A.A. Observer rates the demo flight from a ground perspective. Here too, tolerances are absolute. Only then are you granted your first ACE card at Level IV minimum altitude of 800 . With subsequent years of experience and a pristine safety record, subsequent ACE evaluations will be granted to Level III ( 500), Level II ( 250 ) and Level I ( zero).
Of course, it helps when you have a degree in Aerospace Engineering, with years of flying combat jets, build and maintain prop and jet aircraft, a test pilot, an Instructor, a contract military Safety & Instructor Pilot, and military flight; all culminating in 12,000+ hours in 47 different civilian and military prop and jet aircraft. When you combine all of that with Allen's professional and engineering accomplishments and being a perfectionist, it all comes together to produce a highly qualified and safe ACE rated pilot that will thrill, educate, and entertain you during the Dream Flight of a lifetime.
So don't delay! We train pilots and offer Dreamflight rides twelve months of the year with the nice Philadelphia weather. So call today and get on the list to pick a date for your L-39 or T-34 training or Dreamflight experience.
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