OCEAN CITY – An aerial view of Ocean City and its beaches surrounded by the sparkling Atlantic Ocean is one thing, but throw a fly-along in with a couple of the world’s most skilled aerobatic pilots, now that’s just over the top.
My 5th Annual OC Air Show experience began last Thursday with the opportunity to join world champion aerobatic pilots Mike Goulian and Rob Holland on a fly-along over Ocean City in an A36 Bonanza plane while observing them demonstrate a few moves in their own aircrafts.
Walking into the Ocean City Municipal Airport, I really had no idea what to expect. As I walked through the doors, I was asked to jump on a plane that would fly side-by-side with Goulian and Holland.
Before the plane took off without me, in a few seconds I made the decision to take flight and as I was quickly initialing a release form I noticed a few statements that included the words “injury or death” in them, but I have to admit that was the only time my nerves got the best of me.
I went up with Media and Sponsor Relations Coordinator for Goulian Aerosports Chris Porter. The plane steadily set off at high rate of speed down the runway and smoothly lifted into the air as all of my nerves settled and became obsolete.
Goulian and Holland had taken off before us and seemed to have vanished into thin air as our plane flew out past Assateague Island and out to the Atlantic Ocean, revealing an amazing view of Ocean City beginning with Trimper’s Rides moving north where I could easily pick out some of the well-known high-rise hotels and the town’s residential neighborhoods.
As I was taking in the scenery, I sensed an approach from behind our plane and sure enough Goulian and Holland were coming up on the right side, where I sat in the front passenger seat. It was only a matter of minutes before they started breaking out some aerobatic tricks while smiling for the camera.
I don’t think I will ever forget the complete composure of the pilots as they easily maneuvered in and out to give each other a spot in the limelight. The greatest moment was when Goulian flipped his aircraft up-side down to ride inverted through the air and at one point tipped his wings to Holland’s wings, who was flying below him, to the point where their aircrafts were practically touching.
As our time in the air came to an end, Porter turned us to head back to the airport but on the way I was able to view the region one last time in all its beauty.
Once we hit land, Goulian and Holland sat down with me and let me in on their aerobatic careers from the beginning to where they are today.
Goulian was raised in the flying industry. His father opened a flight school in 1964 where he spent his spare time in junior high and high school washing planes. By the time he was 16 years old, he was flying solo.
“That was kind of fun that I could fly an airplane by myself before they let me drive a car,” Goulian said. “I have done all kinds of flying from corporate jets to other things like that, but my love and my passion has always been the aerobatics side of it.”
Goulian flew in his first contest in 1987. Among many other awards, in 1990 he was won the U.S. Advanced National Champion and in 1995 he won the U.S. Unlimited Aerobatic Championship. He was honored to represent the United States at the World Aerobatic Championship on three separate occasions.
“I was lucky enough that I never had to make a decision in what I wanted to do in life, it just found me, or I found it,” Goulian said. “I get up in the morning and I go to bed at night thinking about aerobatic flying … I just feel super lucky and privileged that I get to do this. There is not many of us in the country that are allowed to have the privilege to do this full-time.”
This was Goulian’s first time flying in the OC Air Show, which celebrated its fifth anniversary this year. He was scheduled to perform last year but came down with the flu the day he had to leave for Ocean City. When I asked him if he plans on returning in the future, he immediately responded, “Absolutely.”
“I have never been to Ocean City so this is a new experience,” he said. “It is great. This is an air show that has a reputation of being one of the shows with the largest crowds and one of the best air shows in the country.”
Goulian and Holland performed as a team as well as on their own during last weekend’s show.
“It will almost be like rapid fire … it is sort of just do the most high energy fun stuff you can do in front of the crowd and it is really just a great way to get the crowd energized and started,” Goulian said. “Out of all of the people that you can fly with in the country, Rob is one of the people that I have the most respect for and that is a cool thing because when you’re in the sky with him you never have to worry about where he is or where you are, he is always there, so together we make a great team that can put together a really fun air show for the people there. What you saw us doing out here today will be the most basic thing that we will do. It just gets better from there.”
Holland furthered, “For the people watching, if they blink, they are probably going to miss it.”
Holland said he felt the same about flying with Goulian but for him he gets to ride along side with one of his mentors growing up. Unlike Goulian, Holland was not surrounded by pilots growing up but he can remember the first air show his dad took him to.
“That’s what I had to do when I grew up, so that became my single focus,” Holland said. “I remember being in college going to air shows and watching Mike Goulian fly … so it is special to be in air shows with the people you grew up watching. It is just really amazing.”
Holland became a licensed pilot at the age of 18. He attended Daniel Webster College and graduated in 1997 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Aviation Management and Bachelor of Science degree in Aviation Flight Operations. He is rated as an Airline Transport Pilot (ATP) with a Certified Flight and Ground Instructor rating and also holds a glider rating.
“I knew I wanted to be an air show pilot, but I didn’t know how to get there, and I guess my break was I actually started teaching for Michael Goulian at his flight school up in Boston,” Holland said. “I started teaching aerobatics and that introduced me to competition flying and that’s what gave me my start in air show flying and after a year I left the school to do my own thing and competing full-time and flying in air shows full-time, and that is what I have been doing for the past 10 years.”
In 2008, Holland became the Advanced World Aerobatic Champion, as well as the U.S. National Unlimited Freestyle Champion. In 2011, along with many other awards along the way, Holland won the U.S National Unlimited Aerobatic Champion and the World Freestyle Aerobatic Champion.
This was the fourth year Holland returned to Ocean City to perform in the air show and said he also plans on returning into the future.
“It is one of my favorite shows,” he said. “The people are great here. You get huge crowds, and all of the events they do for us are amazing, the people treat us great … it is just a very enjoyable show, it has a great reputation and this is the show to be at. All of the acts are great … that is the nice thing about doing air shows on a personal level is showing up and seeing your friends that you normally fly shows with and catching up with them, but performances by the Thunderbirds and Mike Goulian and all the other performers it never gets old it always just gets better.”