smokeonherbFrom “Herb & Ditto”









How many air show performers launch their career as a senior citizen?

Thanks to the sale of a manufacturing business, my experience as a mechanic and aircraft maintenance engineer and the help of many advisors, I restored Ditto, a Navy T-28. I flew my first air show in 1998, just weeks after my 60th birthday, at DeKalb, Ill., under the “wings” of Dave Dacy Airshows.

Now, after 15 seasons of flying smoke-ring aerobatics with the world’s only wing-tip vortex smoke system, it’s finally time to “hang it up at the end of this season.” I’ve tried to wind down the last two years by booking fewer shows, but it’s hard to stop. Even now, I’m tempted by invitations from Florida International Airshow, NAS Key West and MacDill AFB in Florida for next March and April.

My wife Judy and I enjoy our new lake home in Northwest Arkansas. Ditto and the air show business were officially put up for sale in Punta Gorda, Fla., after the October show at Moody AFB in Georgia. The business includes 15 years seniority in ICAS, pilot and mechanic training, and marketing materials.

My message to aspiring air show performers: joining the air show family is a huge privilege because of all the great people you meet: producers, air bosses, announcers, volunteers, military personnel, spectators, vendors and especially your fellow performers. I remember in the early days when three Aeroshell Team members cornered me after a performance and gently asked, “What was different about your loop, Herb?” I confessed that I had started it at 190 knots instead of 220, the normal entry airspeed. I promised never to bust minimums again, and I never did.

My advice for newbie performers: joining this profession is also a huge responsibility, so always weigh the RISK FACTOR vs. the WOW FACTOR of your aerobatic routine. Because most spectators aren’t pilots, they will appreciate anything you do. The WOW factor of many more dangerous maneuvers is insignificant compared to the additional RISK involved.

bakercould do a roll after take-off in Ditto, but It’s not worth the extra danger because spectators wouldn’t appreciate the degree of risk involved. I usually do a one-half Cuban eight turn-a-round if I have the speed and altitude, but when I’ve skipped this maneuver on a hot day, the spectators were still impressed, especially when the announcer explained the danger that day. Please consider yourself as a professional air show entertainer who’s not in competition with anyone, and certainly not a “stunt pilot.”

My advice to older performers like me and pilots in general — BE AWARE OF YOURSELF AND YOUR CIRCUMSTANCES.  Always anticipate what might happen, be prepared, use check lists.  The memory may not be what it used to be for most of us.  Stay in condition mentally and physically.  I have kept up my swimming since college and my cardiovascular doctor says I have the heart and lungs of a 50 year-old.  Keep your weight and BP under control if you’re going to put lives on the line with your flying activities.

Many thanks to ICAS and to all my friends in the air show family and to Judy for all your support these 15 years.  We’ll see you at the ICAS convention. KEEP THE FAITH and FLY SAFE!                          

Herb Baker & Ditto

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