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Friday, June 15, 2012

Aerobatic Flying with Team Oracle

Usually when I think of technology, I think of electronics. In reality though, it’s much more than that. Besides gadgets, one of my other loves has always been aviation, and there is a whole heck of a lot of technology involved when it comes to that.

Long before I picked up my first iPhone, I was the kid in the airport with his face pressed up against the glass marveling at the impressive power of those giant technological marvels. Literally at my earliest opportunity, I learned how to fly and received my pilot’s license shortly after my 17th birthday. I flew for a couple of years and even got the chance to ride in an amazing piece of tech, the 747-400 simulator. Sadly though, flying was too expensive of a hobby and I chose not to have the lifestyle of an airline pilot always away from home. Twelve long years have passed since I had the opportunity to pilot a plane. Imagine my elation this past week when I not only had the chance to fly again, but in an aerobatic plane with the talented pilots of Team Oracle no less!

Thanks to the incredible generosity of my employer, I flew in an Extra 300 with Brian Norris and was even given the chance to perform a loop myself! The fun didn't stop there though. I was also able to fly multiple flights in Team Oracle’s Piper Seneca and take air-to-air photographs of the amazing Sean D. Tucker in his custom-built Challenger III biplane!

Before I continue on, check out the video of my flight in the Extra 300:

You may have caught my comment towards the end where I say that my vision went completely black after one of the loops. I didn't think that was a blackout since I stayed conscious, but it turns out that “blackout” precisely describes what happened to me. G-LOC, on the other hand, would have been fully passing out. I had always heard about it, but wasn't expecting it to happen and thus hadn't tensed up my muscles in preparation. It really is like you may have seen in video games or read about in books. My vision slowly narrowed from the outer edges producing tunnel vision, until finally I couldn't see anything at all. There wasn't any pain, and my vision came back almost immediately as we pulled out of the loop.

So I rode in an Extra 300, but Sean D. Tucker, the star of Team Oracle, flies in his own custom-built Challenger III biplane. Take a look at a shot I captured of him from the Piper Seneca below:

This might sound funny coming from a guy that is afraid of heights, but I was so engrossed in my photography that I barely even noticed that I was sitting right on the edge of an aircraft with no door. That’s me on the far right below snapping away:

Photo courtesy of Craig Madsen Photgraphy
Want to see more of the great shots I was able to capture that day as well as images of my flight in the Extra? Check out the slideshow below (click on any image to go to the gallery or click here):

Now, this is a tech blog after all, so let’s talk some tech about Sean’s Challenger III:

  • Custom designed by Steve Wolfe and unveiled in 2010
  • 400 Horsepower engine, 1200lb weight, and a top speed of over 300mph
  • Rated for up to 10 Gs  (as much as a fighter jet like the F-16)!
  • Unique eight aileron design (ordinary aircraft have two) with spades below outboard ailerons allowing for powerful rapid rolls using very little force on the stick. Sean calls this his “Power Steering”
  • Inboard ailerons provide for precise slow speed maneuvering
  • Wings are fabric covered rather than metal or carbon fiber to allow Sean to “feel the air”
  • Tail surfaces can be deflected up to 45 degrees for slow speed maneuvering

Hear Brian Norris describe more about Sean’s plane over at AvWeb, and check out the yearly winter tear down of the Challenger III posted by Brian on YouTube:

Want to know what it's like to be inside of the Challenger III? Check this out:

See the video below to learn more about the Oracle team that helps make all this possible:

I was completely blown away yet again a few days later when I had the chance to hold the banner pole at the MN Air Spectacular as Sean rolled inverted and cut a ribbon just feet over my head. Below is an image taken by Chad Colberg of Team Oracle as Sean returned for a victory lap after cutting the ribbon. You might be able to make out that I’m giving Sean a thumbs up as he passes by. The guy is so incredibly talented that he actually waved back as he screamed by just 10 feet above the runway!

This video isn't from my experience, but it gives you a good sense of what it's like to hold the banner pole:

Here is how my flight video was presented to me. Now that's a use of tech I definitely approve of!

Many profuse thank you’s to anyone from Team Oracle that might be reading this. You guys are all amazing and I can’t thank you enough for your kindness and incredible time I had with you! Thank you also to Craig Madsen Photography and Jon Laqua Photography for the images captured of me in-flight. 

Check out my photography work at:

Update-Check out my book of the event:

Update 4-27-13: One of my photos from the event made it to! Check it out below: