Flying Over Ocean City With A World Champion

Flying

You’ve never really seen
Ocean City until you are inverted over the Atlantic Ocean a few thousand feet
in the air or flipping about in the midst of a head-spinning aerobatic stunt
over Assateague Island.

For world champion
aerobatics pilot Rob Holland, who is one of the many featured acts in this
weekend’s 3rd Annual Ocean City Air Show, it’s the way he likes to
see the world: upside down.

On Wednesday, Holland,
the Nashua, N.H. native, who just happens to be one of the biggest names in
aerobatic flying on the planet (see his 2008 Advanced Aerobatics World
Championship and numerous other awards for details), was gracious enough to
take this reporter up in the air for what quite literally will go down as one
of the coolest things that I will ever do journalistically speaking, and more
than likely, ever.

Millions of people flock
to this area each summer, and Ocean City and Worcester County have proverbially
hung their hat on being known as a premiere coastal destination with
breathtaking views, pristine beaches, and memory making family activities for a
century.

Yet, viewing the Ocean
City coastline and Assateague Island at 260 mph and at 6 G’s force was enough
to quite literally take my breath away, as the pressure of the G-force firmly
secured me in the seat for what felt, at times, (even at 260 mph) like a
leisurely jaunt up the Ocean City coastline.

Then we started doing
aerobatics.

First off, a bit about
the plane, which is sponsored by Window World: Holland flies a MX2 by MX
Aircraft, which is incredibly light (about 1,240 pounds when its empty), wicked
powerful (385 horsepower), and unbelievably agile (a roll-rate of 500 degrees a
second). It’s made purely of carbon fiber and is designed specifically for
doing awe-inspiring and jaw-dropping tricks at high rates of speed and high
altitudes.

“[The MX2] is made
specifically for unlimited aerobatics, so there’s really nothing you can do to
this aircraft in the air that can hurt it,” said Holland. “Every type of plane
is designed for a purpose, so most of the planes you see at an airport are just
to get you from point A to point B, but this plane is literally designed to go
up and do aerobatics. It’s like the difference between a pickup truck and a
Nascar.”

To put things into
perspective, Holland and I never reached more than 6 G’s and minus one G of
force when we were inverted, but he says he will reach 10 G’s and minus 7 G’s,
respectively, during his solo performance this weekend. The plane, which
Holland calls the “latest and greatest model of aerobatic monoplanes,” is
capable of reaching up to 16 G’s, for anyone who might be keeping score,
statistically speaking.

We took off from the
Ocean City Municipal Airport Wednesday morning and in a matter of seconds we
reached breakneck pace, lifted slightly off the ground and seemed to be zooming
toward the neighboring traffic on Route 611 before Holland calmly quipped “up
we go” and instantaneously shot the plane straight into the air a few thousand
feet in a matter of seconds.

I will admit that the
initial thrust up into the stratosphere was the only time where I looked down
at my “sick sack” and thought I might need it.

From there, Holland took
us through a series of aerobatic maneuvers including a simple slow roll, a full
deflection fast roll, a full loop in the air over Assateague and the
aforementioned inverted dive.

There was a moment
coming out of the loop where the ocean and the Assateague shoreline was
starring right up at me as we were literally pointed straight down towards
imminent doom. Yet, as my face was being pummeled by the force of the G’s,
terror was the last thing from my mind; it was more like pure euphoria, as I
could see a few specs that were undoubtedly a few of Assateague’s wild horses
galloping up the beach.

If life was going to
flash before your eyes, other than my wife and children’s smiles, there’s
really no snapshot I’d rather see if I’m being perfectly honest.

The next handful of
tricks were a bit more on the extreme side, as Holland initiated a
“hammerhead”, which is where the plane goes straight up, pivots 180 degrees and
comes straight back down. Then, he took us through a “tumble”, which is exactly
what it sounds like. Holland takes the tail of the plane and literally tumbles
it over the nose of the plane creating a feeling of movement that feels as
incredibly out of control that it must look for those watching from the ground.
Essentially, it’s a maneuver that makes the plane look like it’s spinning out
of control and headed for nothing short of disaster.

It kind of felt that way
too, but Holland urges that although the plane appears to be out of control, it
is all just an illusion.

“If it was just
stunt-flying I wouldn’t be doing it,” said Holland. “I’m doing aerobatics which
is very disciplined and technical, but it all is supposed to create the
illusion of being totally out of control. It’s all a show. You try to make
people say ‘holy cow.’”

The final maneuver that
Holland took me through before taking me on a coastal fly-by at 260 mph past
the Ocean City Inlet and up to about 30th Street, was a torque roll,
which spun the plane while inverted that actually made the plane fly backwards
for about a hundred feet. A little blue ribbon, which tells wind direction on
the wing, literally changed directions in the middle of the maneuver, proving
that we were in fact flying backwards.

I’ve always wondered how
pilots or any athlete that does death-defying feats train to do such complex
maneuvers without literally killing themselves during practice. Holland says it
takes a lot of forethought and planning before he even thinks about taking off.

“There’s definitely a
discipline to it. You have to practice all the time, but you have to practice
smart. You can’t be out of the air for a week and then go up and start doing
wild tricks and beating your head around the cockpit,” said Holland. “You have
to think about it for a long time if you are going to do something new, maybe a
month or even two months so you can analyze the aerodynamics, what’s happening
with the plane, what could possibly go wrong, and obviously, what are your outs
if something does go wrong, so by the time you try it for the first time, it’s
like you have done it a hundred times.”

Holland, who has been
flying since the age of 18, and has logged more than 10,000 hours in the air,
caught the so-called “flying bug” after his father took him to an air show like
the one he’ll be flying in this weekend here in Ocean City. Ironically, he
flies air shows for a living, and is booked for about 24 appearances across the
United States and Canada in 2010.

Holland was a part of
the first ever Ocean City Air Show in 2008, and said he’s impressed with how
far the event has come.

“It’s a big air show,
and [event organizer] Bryan Lilley has done such a great job coordinating the
whole thing,” said Holland. “Likewise, the city and the local businesses seem
to be very happy that we are here, and the people who are watching seem to be
really passionate and enthusiastic about the event itself. Plus, it’s such a
beautiful place to have an air show, so I hope to come back as long as they
keep inviting me.

In addition to his solo
performances, Holland will be doing a tandem performance with acclaimed veteran
air show pilot Jack Knutson.

“There’s a lot of trust,
as he flies lead and I fly wing, so his job is to not run me into anything and
my job is to not run into him”, said Holland, “so halfway through the routine,
I’m not exactly sure where we are because I’m totally fixated on where he is
and trusting him to get me to where we need to be, so you have to be careful
with who you are flying with.”

To encourage crowd
participation and perhaps to corral the masses who use social networking now,
event organizers will be taking votes on the official Ocean City Air Show’s
Facebook and Twitter pages to choose what Holland’s final trick will be during
his solo performances. Voters can choose from the ‘Cardiac Express’, the
‘Double Hammerhead’ or the ‘Slidewinder.’

As we banked left over
the Ocean City oceanfront hotels, and flew back past the Air Show headquarters
that will undoubtedly be packed with what could be hundreds of thousands of
onlookers this weekend on what has become one of the resort’s premiere special
events, I could literally feel the adrenaline rushing and I asked if he ever
got desensitized to the feeling of aerobatic flying.

“I don’t take my
flyalongs through my full-on air show performance just because it gets pretty
intense and you wouldn’t be having too much fun, but we did bits and pieces of
it,” he said, “but yeah, views like this never get old, and it sure beats
sitting in an office.”

After a flight with a
world champion, I couldn’t agree more.

To learn more about Rob
Holland, click to www.ultimateairshows.com

 

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