As our small, white propeller plane loops lazily above green Manassas, Va., farmland, a low snarl building from below is the only warning before red wings flash by in a rapid climb before swooping gracefully into place alongside us.
In the single-seat, carbon fiber stunt plane is Greg Poe, a pilot from Idaho with 37 years under his wings. This weekend he will join dozens of flyers like himself as they take to the air above Andrews Air Force Base for the 2011 Joint Service Open House and Airshow.
“When I was a student pilot, I went up with an aerobatic airplane trainer who did some of those maneuvers. I was blown away by it and thought it was the funnest thing I’d ever done” Mr. Poe said. “I try to get creative: How can I help so people have the most fun watching cutting-edge planes?”
The airshow, which is free and open to the public from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, will have a range of aircraft in the air, and there will also be dozens of planes parked on the tarmac for visitors to explore.
This year’s theme is 100 years of naval aviation.
“We recognize that the Navy first did a ship-based take-off in 1910,” said base spokesman Eric Michael Sharman. “We’re celebrating the past and looking toward the future for the Navy.”
For two decades, Mr. Poe has been flying in airshows, wowing crowds with his inverted flying, breakaway passes and what he calls “Newton’s Folly,” when he tumbles the plane nose over tail in a controlled but daring free fall.
“It’s flying with very aggressive maneuvers,” Mr. Poe said of the steering.
On the ground, the longtime pilot leads his Elevate Your Life program, which encourages young people to set and achieve sky- high goals, leading by example through his flying style
Mr. Poe travels the country with two team members: coordinator Greg Gibson and vice president of operations Dax Wanless, who also happens to be the voice of Greg Poe Airshows.
Mr. Wanless’ job when he isn’t flying the support plane - which carries gear, tools and visitors - is to announce Mr. Poe’s maneuvers and get the audience to feel as involved as they can from their seats on the ground.
“I’m always working to try to get that person into the cockpit,” Mr. Wanless, a 10-year pilot, said.
Some people might prefer solid ground, however, when Mr. Poe starts his maneuvers. A typical show will last about 11 minutes, with stunts coming one right after another.
“It’s just concentrating on the feeling of the airplane,” Mr. Poe said once he was back on the ground. “It’s giving the right input to get the right reaction.”