Some of the incredible feats that are part of his repertoire include flying under a falling motorcycle, performing a "knife-edge" maneuver less than a meter from the ground in formation with a Lamborghini, and cutting rubber ribbons from the back of a pickup truck. These acts have generated hundreds of thousands of viewers of his YouTube videos.
For Skip Stewart, airline pilot, aerobatic instructor, and owner of an aerobatic flight school, aerobatics means: freedom of expression.
Skip, When and how did you discover the amazing world of aerobatics? Have you always wished to become an aerobatic pilot specialised in Air shows?
I wanted to be a pilot because of my Grandfather, who introduced me to flying at a early age. He was a crop-duster and would take me flying often. I began building and flying Remote-Controlled Airplanes, wince I wasn’t old enough to get a pilot’s license. I didn’t know it at the time, but flying models is actually airshow practice. Once you learn how to take-off and land, it is all about aerobatics, keeping the airplane in front of you so you can see it, and showing off for your friends. It wasn’t until several years later that I realized how inspirational an airshow could be. I saw Leo Loudenslager fly his Laser 200 and it was an inspirational moment and the moment that I knew I wanted to be an airshow pilot. Simply to be given the honor of flying and hopefully inspiring people like Leo had inspired me was my goal and I have spent the last thirty years pursuing that goal.
What are your feelings up there while performing your stunning air shows?
Freedom, inspiration, focus, dedication, pride, intensity, honor and responsibility.
What people can expect to see in your air shows? What do you think the crowds enjoy more?
I think first and foremost people want to be entertained. I try to be entertaining on multiple levels and to create an illusion of danger. I want to be inspirational through a demonstration of man and machine working in harmony, to create a feeling of “how did he do that”, and to inject a feeling of “is he going to make it?
You are the first pilot to fly an airplane under a jumping motorcycle at an air show. What is the next challenge that you have in mind?
It is becoming more and more difficult to keep peoples attention. With competing activities like high-def video games, CG movies, X-Games, and the like, it is important to remain innovative in the airshow industry to maintain a fan base. Flying under jumping motorcycle, knife-edge formation with a Lamborghini, pulling ribbons out of the back of pick up trucks, flying through pyro and with Jet-Trucks and the like are all becoming a more and more important part of the modern airshow.
What kind of specific flight training needs a pilot like you? How many flight hours do you train before you begin the Air Shows circuit?
It is important to learn the fundamentals really really well. This is the foundation for the rest of your career. It is also important to compete in IAC competition. There just isn’t a better way to hone your skills than through competition. Never stop learning and never do anything with the airplane that your not comfortable doing. Being in situations that are uncomfortable will cause the human body to enter a fight-or-flight mode. Tunnel vision, time-compression, increased heart rate, and an inability to concentrate are all parts of this reaction. None of those things mix with low-level aerobatics. It is very important that your routine be just that a routine, none scary, comfortable, fun experience. Anything more could be dangerous.
What are the clues to become one of the most entertainment air shows pilot in the world? Do you think that is very important to offer something different to the crowds to have a success in this business?
Yes it is very important. But I will let someone who is successful in the business answer this one! LOL
Do you think that flying aerobatic air show in USA are different in style, aim and sense from the freestyle flights that we can normally find in any international competition FAI? Why? What are the differences?
I think you will find the “European” style in the USA as well. But yes, I think it is different. One is like watching Figure Skating and the other like Cirque Du Soliel. But maybe I’m biased.
According to the 2011 USA accident summary, 12 aviation accidents occurred flying aerobatics which four of them occurred during aerobatic flight at air shows; three involved flying aerobatics in non-aerobatic aircraft; and there was one mid-air collision during aerobatic practice and one crash during an ICAS waiver renewal flight. Do you think your aerobatics (air shows) are more risky than other aerobatics flights? Why?
Anytime you fly an airplane close to the ground it is unforgiving. I’m sure the crop-dusting industry has a similar accident record. We will never keep aerobatic pilots from crashing. But we must be certain that we keep them from crashing into the spectators. The safety of the fans is #1. The safety of the airshow pilot is a responsibility we each take upon ourselves. It is a huge responsibility that shouldn’t be taken lightly. And it isn’t for everyone.
Lets talk about your modified Pitts S-2S Prometheus. What changes have you done from the initial Pitts S-2S to convert it in the Prometheus?
It is easier to say what hasn’t been done. The only unmodified part of the airplane is the horizontal stabilizer. Everything else has been highly modified or completely replaced with something custom. The wings, tail, fuel tanks, cowling, landing gear, propeller, side panels, tail wheel, engine, canopy, instrument panet, etc…are all specific to Prometheus. The basic frame (although strengthened and reshaped) and the horizontal stabilizer are the only stock parts of original S-2S.
We know that you are working with Eddie Saurenman in the design of a new plane called “P3 Revolution”. What are the main characteristics of this plane? What kind of extra performance are you looking for with this new plane? When is expected to be flying?
The P3 Revolution Biplane is an all-new ground up design based on what has been learned from modern Remote-Controlled Airplanes. It is a very unique design that doesn’t look like any airplane, yet has characteristics that remind you of many different airplanes. The things that are unique are the construction method – the airplane will be made from carbon fiber with no steel tubing or wooded structures like a Pitts; The wings will be cantilever with no flying wires; The design uses a methodology that will reduce the number of parts and molds that are required to complete the airplane. This will keep cost down and make it easier for others to build the airplane in the future. We expect to make flight within 36 months.
You are working in a project that selects young adult to help them. Explain us what this project consists of? How did you get that great idea?
We are starting a program that will initially select two young adults per year to receive free flight instruction with the goal to have them solo an airplane and hopefully give them the boost they need to start a career in aviation. The details are still being finalized, but I am very excited to have an opportunity to reach back and lend a hand to young aviation enthusiasts. In time, we hope to expand the program to make it available for a larger number of young adults and possibly expand the training to make it possible for them to attain a Private Pilot’s License.
We can consider that you are the perfect example to follow for those young people who dream about reaching one day the success in aerobatics that you have. Which advice would you give to them?
This is a tough question. An article was written about me in Air & Space magazine a couple of years after I started flying airshows. The title was “So You Want to be an Airshow Pilot?” and the tag line, which I think summed it all up perfectly, said, “Start with a High Paying Day Job!.” It’s not what most airshow hopefuls want to hear, but the truth is that there is not a lot of money in the airshow business and it takes an enormous amount of money to properly prepare yourself, and acquire an airplane, to fly airshows. I knew I wanted to fly airshows, but I also knew I needed a path to be able to afford it. So I flight instructed until I had enough flight time to get a job for a commuter. I flew there until I had a good enough Resume’ to get a corporate flight department job, where I made barely enough money to purchase my first Pitts. I started an aerobatic flight school to make up the difference, so I could afford the airplane. I drove the same car I had in college for ten years, just so I could put the money into flying and competing. I finally started flying a few airshows and was shortly thereafter hired to fly for Fedex, which allowed me to buy an S-2S and slowly over several off-seasons turn it into Prometheus. As I became more and more successful flying airshows, I finally got to the position where the business started paying for itself a few years ago. Now, I have three airplanes. Two Pitts Prometheus’ (P1 and P2) and a Twin Comanche support plane. Last year I flew twenty shows in five countries around the world, including China, the Middle East, and Central America. But I never forget what it has taken to get here. So for the young aspiring future airshow pilot I would give this advice: Keep your eye on the goal and don’t blink, and remember that you need to start with a high paying day job!