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A Flight With The Phillips 66 Aerostars

Loop, Roll, And Look Out For Your Buddy -- A Glimpse Into Formation Aerobatics

By Maria Morrison

While various performers zoomed across the skies at AirVenture, the Phillips 66 Aerostars aerobatic team was taking an array of folks--including Miss United States and yours truly--around in circles both horizontal and vertical.

I was in the #2 airplane with Paul “Rocket” Hornick, in formation off the wing of Gerry “Fossil” Molidor. Together, we flew for about 20 minutes as the pilots and aircraft showed off impressive formation aerobatics.

Preparing for the flight, I felt dwarfed by my red parachute. Hornick reviewed key components of the safety briefing that I had watched online before arriving, and in no time I was strapped in with the canopy closing over my head.

The Extra 300Ls are equipped with Garmin avionics in the backseat, but the front seat passenger looks only at the daunting GoPro mount that I feared might soon capture my airsickness.

To my joy--and surprise--no such issues occurred as we twirled around in the sky. We took off in formation, wingtips only a few feet apart. We climbed north of Appleton, over heavy bombers giving ride flights on the field. Entering a dive, we looped and rolled around the skies in a formation tight enough that I could see the expressions on the other Molidor’s face.

The extremely-sensitive Extra 300L was a dream to fly in, and I was shocked at just how fun it was. When our trip was over and my head could once again properly identify which way was up, we returned to the airport and flew a left break to land, which led me to a brief lesson on the philosophy behind dividing “roll” and “pull” movements in aerobatic maneuvers. The entire experience sparked an interest in getting into aerobatics that fear had previously held me from. 

The Aerostar team has been together for roughly two decades, performing all over the country in the Yak-52 and then the Extra.

They have a practice box that goes up to 4000 feet near the home of one of the pilots, which they use outside of the airshow season. There, they refine their airshow performance and prepare for the summer season ahead.

The 2022 show season brought a new set of inverted formation flights and a variety of wingtip-to-wingtip flight maneuvers. I am certainly looking forward to seeing what they come up with next.

FMI: https://phillips66lubricants.com/aerostars/




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