Aero Club program features airshow pilot
By Gary Vacin
Jon Melby in Pitts bi plane
“I don’t want to be the best air show pilot in the world, I just want to be the longest-living.”
That’s how aerobatic pilot John Melby described his philosophy about flying aerobatic maneuvers that can be death-defying if not performed safely. Melby was guest speaker at the Sun Lakes Aero Club (SLAC) gathering February 18 at the Sun Lakes Country Club.
“We’ve lost 50 aerobatic pilots to accidents in the last 10 years,” he said. “It always saddens me when I hear that one of my air show pilot friends is no longer with us.”
Melby follows a conservative approach to aerobatic flying, always insuring that he says within a Federal Aviation Administration “box” when performing at aerobatic routine at air shows. They’re very specific about what you do, how close you can come to the audience and what altitude you must maintain, he said.
Melby was asked by an audience member about a maneuver he saw the pilot perform at an air show a few years back. The maneuver involved making a low level pass in front of the grandstand, banking the aircraft at near-90 degrees, revving the engine to maintain lift but slowing to an airspeed that resulted in the aircraft almost hovering in the air.
“I don’t do that maneuver any more because it’s too dangerous,” Melby said. “An engine failure at such a low altitude would be disastrous.”
Melby is one of only about 120 air show pilots in the nation. Only 40 of us are extreme air show pilots, meaning we can perform maneuvers extremely close to the ground, he said.
Melby says his usual air show routine lasts approximately eight and one-half minutes and involves 26 individual maneuvers including wing-overs, loops, spins, tail slides, flips, and fish-tail waves especially for the kids. I describe the maneuver individually to kids just before the performance, and each kid thinks I’m waving just to him, Melby said.
“Flying the aerobatic routine is the easy part of the airshow,” he said. “Bad weather when traveling to the show can be a big problem.”
Melby told his audience his father introduced him to aviation as a youth. He soloed in sailplanes at the Estrella Sailport near Maricopa.
Air show pilot Jon Melby (above) was guest speaker at the Sun Lakes Aero Club gathering February 18. Here he is shown with club president Bob Walch.