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Fri, Dec 10, 2004

ICAS '04: From Pro Football To Air Shows

One Canadian's career takes him from the playing field to the air show line in tiny jet

Scott Manning is not the kind of guy whom anyone would dare address as "Tiny." The one exception would be if you are describing the aircraft he flies at air shows in Canada and the United States, and into which you would never believe he could fit.

Back in the 1980's, Manning wanted to be a military pilot. Since Canada also required a college degree and a commission for the job, he enrolled in the University of Waterloo and graduated with a double major in Kinesiology -- the study of the body in motion -- as well as Environmental Studies. At 6 feet 3 inches and well over 200 lbs, he was a natural football player, a sport he practiced in high school and all through his four years in college.

After graduating in 1984, he was drafted into the Canadian Football League, as a 290 lbs. offensive tackle with the Saskatchewan Rough Riders. During his two year contract, however, he was sidelined both years due to knee injuries. He then signed with the Montreal Alouettes, and was put out of the game permanently by a player who clipped him from the side and broke his leg.

After surgery, the doctor said his leg couldn't take another hit, and if he played pro football again he was risking not being able to walk again, let alone play. The very next day he was told this, a blood clot formed in his leg and almost reached his heart before he got to the hospital. He spent a month completely immobilized and full of anti-clotting drugs like Heparin, but it saved his life.

It was time for a career change. His wife is a US citizen, so he moved south to Michigan and offered to sign up with the US Air National Guard at Selfridge AFB, just outside Detroit. Unfortunately, that unit was transitioning from the F-4 Phantom to the F-16 Fighting Falcon, and they had a surplus of flight officers. He would have been commissioned, but would never have flown.

Stumped by the circumstances, the pair returned to Canada, where Manning then tried to join the Canadian Air Force, only to find out that he'd waited one year too many. He was now 28 years old, and the RCAF has an age limitation for pilot candidates -- 27 years old.

Unable to get the military establishment to teach him how to fly, he figured it was time to try it on his own. He earned his private pilot ticket in 1988, then his commercial ticket. In the process he was trained in the basics of aerobatics in a Cessna 152 Aerobat. Moving up, he trained in a Zlin 142C and got his Canadian primary aerobatic endorsement, which basically allowed him to fly solo to the "aerobatic box," call ATC to get clearance and start making holes in the sky at between 2,000 and 4,000 feet. Since then he's flown many other aircraft, including the Citabria Decathlon, the Pitts Special S2B and the Extra 300L.

In 1988, his interest in aerobatics took him to an air show in London (ON), where he saw Bobby Bishop and Dave Hoover performing their show in the Coors Silver Bullet team. After Bishop landed, Manning introduced himself, learned more about the BD-5J Microjet and fell in love with the tiny pocket rocket.

The following year, he purchased a BD-5 kit and began construction, slowly learning the art of metal work, attending the EAA Airventure show at Oshkosh to learn about aircraft construction. Like all experimental aircraft builders, he had his setbacks, as well as periods of inactivity. All in all, it took him some 6,000 hours of work to finish the aircraft.

He met with Bishop again in 1996, the year Manning joined ICAS, and struck up a relationship that led him to work for Bishop's company, Aerial Productions, for two years as crew chief during east coast performances. During those two years he learned how to operate the BD-5J at air shows as a business by watching the best in action.

Between 1996 and 2000, Manning's aircraft was used by Turbine Technologies as a test bed for the development of a small engine with just under 400 lbf of thrust. The engine was then -- and still is -- a very promising small turbine, perfect for an aircraft like the BD-5J, but the success and high demand for the company's other products has put that project in the back burner. Manning brought the aircraft back to Canada and continued working on it.

The Stinger, as he calls his bird, is a stretched BD-5J Microjet, with an empty weight of 450 lbs, 12 ft long and with a 17 ft wingspan. The power plant is a French Microturbo TRS-18-046, which can propel the aircraft to 260 kts. Taking one look at Manning, you would never believe he could fit into such a small aircraft. In order to accomplish this he's taken the seat and pushed it all the way back against the rear cockpit bulkhead (post-stretch). He also cut a slot off the bottom of his instrument panel to make sure his knees will not hit it during a performance.

Manning and his Stinger have flown one air show this year, the Niagara Wings and Wheels show in Canada, on August 28-29, and he's scheduled to appear in three shows in 2005. He has already signed contracts to appear in Joplin (MO) on June 25-26; the Bagotville Canadian AFB in Quebec on July 2-3; and back at the Niagara on the Lake Wings and Wheels show the last weekend of August.

When he's not flying, Manning works in law enforcement in the province of Ontario, at the equivalent of a US sheriffs' department. If you'd to see him perform in an air show near you, tell your local air show organizer to contact him at the FMI link below. An email is all it takes to get the ball rolling.

FMI: mailto:jetcanada@iprimus.ca

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