The New Air Show in Town: Aerobatic Flight!

Posted on Sun, August 2, 2015

The Aerobatic Flight exhibition at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, in Chantilly, Virginia, has a new addition—a film entitled, naturally, Aerobatic Flight! All the excitement of multiple airshows is packed into this lively film through clips of current pilots on the airshow scene and footage of legendary pilots from the dawn of the airshow. Besides entertaining you, the film also explains exactly what aerobatic flight is: A departure from straight and level flight and flying unusual attitudes. Why would a pilot want to do that? Well, it teaches pilots to be comfortable in an airplane by understanding the aerodynamics of flight, thus making them better pilots and giving them the ability to react to an emergency situation. Pilots fly aerobatics for fun, in competition, and at airshows. It is not random stunting, but rather a disciplined sport.

In Plane View: Extra 260

A selection from In Plane View: Abstractions of Flight, a book and traveling exhibit by museum photographer Carolyn Russo, this photo shows the four-bladed MT natural composite propeller of the Extra 260, designed for extreme aerobatics.

Although aerobatic maneuvers may look dangerous, they are actually precise figures that, like any other sport, take skill and practice to master. A pilot first learns three basic maneuvers: the roll, the loop, and the spin. From there he or she can move on to more difficult maneuvers and combine them into safe and stunning programs. Many maneuvers were pioneered in World War I by military pilots who first flew reconnaissance missions. They soon realized the potential of the aircraft for warfare and emerged as the first fighter pilots. An abrupt turn and climb or a dive either removed you from the sights of an attacking aircraft or set you up to fire on the enemy.

Veteran cinematographer Mark Magin has shot thousands of hours of air show film and files, which he culled into this exciting piece. Archival film rounded out the history, highlighting some of the aerobatic planes at the Udvar-Hazy Center and the extraordinary pilots who flew them like: Leo Loudenslager’s Laser, Bob Hoover’s North American Shrike, Betty Skelton’s Pitts Little Stinker, Art Scholl’s deHavilland Chipmunk, and Bevo Howard’s Bὕcker Jungmeister. Top air show performer Sean D. Tucker and many others demonstrate the amazing ability of both pilots and planes. Narrator Patty Wagstaff knows something about the subject—she is a three-time national aerobatic champion, and the first female champion, whose Extra 260 is displayed at the Museum in Washington, DC. It’s all about the excitement of flying and airshows, while demonstrating the precision of aerobatic flight. I think you will agree when you visit the Udvar-Hazy Center to see both the exhibit and the film. Or you can watch the show right here. Then go out and join the more than 18 million people who will attend an airshow this year. Find one near you in the International Council of Air Shows list. Besides enjoying yourself, you’ll be supporting the men and women who present airshows as well as your local community. Or, learn to fly aerobatics yourself!