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  Airshow Pilots     Living on the edge
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"I remember my first aerobatic ride-slash-lesson so well. It was like my first taste of chocolate. I loved it!" says Montaine Mallet. "I puked for two hours afterwards, but I loved it!

"We do it for no other reason than we simply love doing it, but it isn't something you do without a lot of discipline and, of course, practice. Some people think we are up there playing Russian roulette, but we don't even think about it while performing. We are mostly worried about the presentation. Are we in the right place at the right time? Is the music OK? How is the announcer doing? But we are terribly aware of possible mistakes. We worry about mechanical failure and watch to see how tired we are because fatigue causes you to make mistakes. We review every airshow accident of any kind and try to figure out what happened and how it might apply to us.

"We are constantly critiquing every performance and every maneuver, and sometimes the debriefing session gets harsh." Montaine laughs as she says it. "At the beginning, I was always the one who was wrong, but now I know enough to fight back."

But why formation aerobatics? Placing two or more airplanes in close proximity is dangerous enough without putting those aircraft through whirling maneuvers. In fact, most military services won't allow their combat pilots to fly complete rolls or loops in formation. Only their demonstration teams are trained for that kind of thing, as it's not needed in combat and raises the risk to unacceptable levels.

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PHOTO COURTESY OF MUDRY AVIATION / FRENCH CONNECTION

   AUTHOR'S NOTE:

Shortly after I wrote this article, Daniel Heligoin and Montaine Mallet, two of our good friends, were tragically killed in a training accident. We will miss their outrageous good humor, their aerial brilliance and their friendship. They personified aviation at its very best.

— Budd Davisson

Daniel explains, "The formation aerobatics was my idea. In the French Air Force, I absolutely loved to fly formation. Almost nothing else interested me because of the precision that formation required and the challenge it presented. To do what we do is like dancing. We are partners. Every formation team develops a close relationship. They become brothers, a family. You share more and you give more than is possible in solo aerobatics, and it can change you. The level of trust you place in one another is unbelievable. Some people can't maintain this kind of an intense relationship, and that's one reason teams don't always last so long. The quality of the relationship has to match the quality of the flying."plane_article_end.gif - 160 Bytes


Most of the photos in this article are from author and renowned aviation photographer Erik Hildebrandt's new book: "Front Row Center ... Inside the Great American Air Show." It's packed with spectacular images that were captured during last summer's landmark performances. For more information, send an email to erik@vulturesrow.com.

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