My story is just like so many other aerobatic pilots. I am a third generation pilot who grew up in Southern California. I was born in 1961. In 1967, my grandfather bought a brand new Cessna 172. I worked very hard to make sure that plane never left the ground unless I was in it. Southern California was the perfect place to be if you wanted to see an air show. Art Scholl was the first air show pilot I can remember… wingtip smoke… inverted ribbon cuts… what could be better?
Model airplanes became my obsession and I spent all of my free time flying models in Mile Square Park. I periodically gave myself a little extra free time during high school by skipping class to practice. I started to compete with aerobatic models in 1978 and won the Nationals in Lincoln, Nebraska, in 1979.
It was that same year I took my first ride in a Pitts Special. I talked the pilot into showing me an outside loop. As we pushed around the back side of the loop, the orange trees at Santa Paula looked huge! I was hooked.
Fast forward a few years: I found myself living in Fresno, California. The Selma Aerodrome had a Decathlon for rent and I started taking lessons from Alan Geringer. Alan was my aerobatic instructor and was also the examiner for my private pilot check ride. Selma is a magical place. No less than four pilots have gone from that 2,000 ft strip to the U.S. Unlimited Team. In 1985 I flew my first IAC contest; Sportsman in Alan’s Decathlon. There were 8 competitors in the category and I came in 11th, but flying the Decathlon was great fun.
It was clear I needed my own airplane. Step one: Get a good job. Luck was on my side on this one. A friend from my model airplane days recommended me for a job flying unmanned airplanes (UAVs). The bad news was I spent most of the next decade either out of the country or out of the state. In 1994 I bought a Pitts S2-S, but deployments made big gaps in my contest career. However, after twenty-five years flying unmanned airplanes, I am very happy to have done the first flight on 17 UAVs; most notably the Predator. Predators have now flown over one million hours and one is on permanent display at the Smithsonian Institute.
Fast forward a few more years: My Pitts was replaced by an Extra 300. I had a forced landing on my last practice flight before the 2007 National Aerobatic Championships. I was not injured but my Extra would spend most of the next year at Southeast Aero being rebuilt. (It looked better-than-new when it was done.) But, it was time for another plane. While the 300 was being rebuilt, I found an abandoned 300S in the back of a hangar in Santa Barbara, California. This plane had not flown in a few years and had become a bird habitat, but it was just a pressure washing and ferry permit away from its new home.
Fast forward another year: After flying Advanced for a while, I decided that it was time to try Unlimited. This turned out to be a great decision. At most of the local contests there were only a couple of other competitors… instant gratification! I had flown in the Nationals for the first time in 1993 and it took a while to get back. 2010 was my fourth Nationals, in any category. When I landed after the second Unknown, I knew I’d had a good flight. My friends were making eye contact with me as I taxied in (instead of reading their programs). When the dust settled, I was the first alternate. Since that time, Hector Ramirez resigned his spot. His decision left a spot for me as a competing team member, and some big shoes to fill. Having the opportunity to fly in the World Championships and represent the United States is truly a dream come true.