In this Episode Joel introduces the podcast and talks about his the past 20 or so years of his flying career. Joel shares why he is so passionate about aerobatics and tells some tales from his thousands of hours of aerobatic flying.
Welcome to In The Loop – The Aerobatic Podcast from The Aerobatic school.
G’day, Welcome to in the loop The aerobatic podcast by me, Joel Haski from The Aerobatic School.
Well, this is going to be Episode One of what I hope will be an ongoing and an exciting new project and I hope you guys can come along for for the ride with me. The whole idea of this podcast is to try and explore the subject of aerobatics. Something I’ve been into and passionate about for nearly 30 years, and that I think, is worthy of a podcast of its own.
So I’m not going to go too far into you know, the whole flying genre are more going to focus on the different areas within aerobatics that that can be looked at because over the years, I’ve really discovered that there are so many different things in aerobatics to look at. So Firstly, what I wanted to do in this podcast was tell viewers a little bit about myself and where I come from. I want my viewers and listeners to know what my background in aerobatics is, and flying, and it, hopefully will add a little bit to my credibility to the talk on the subject. I don’t want people out there thinking that, you know, who is this guy? And, what’s he got to say about this this subject anyway?
So Let me tell you a little bit about myself and my background. I’m going to be playing play some footage of my five year old daughter or she’s now nine. But when she was five, I took her flying and doing aerobatics for the first time. So we’ll run a little bit of that audio and video for you on the podcast.
Please reference the video podcast above at the 02:50 time mark point to see Layla and Joel fly.
It was amazing when I got to take my, my daughter flying doing aerobatics for the first time, but it a bit of a journey getting her there. So What happened was, we were watching movie together called Maleficent and there’s a scene in it where the lead character starts flying around with wings that that she’s got on her back. She’s doing aerobatics through the clouds and around the clouds and, I could say my daughter was just totally enthralled by the visuals of what was going on. And I was loving it too. Because quite frankly, I have been there and done that. And it’s one of the most fun things you can do with an airplane is, is do what we call cloud dancing or cloud flying and, and it’s it’s just amazing.
Anyway, I turned to my daughter and I said, you know, this is what I do in airplanes, you know, Do you want to come and experience it. Previously to that she’d being very, kind of wary about doing any aerobatics with me, she’d been flying with me, but she’d never done any aerobatics. But seeing it in a different context opened her to the possibility of doing it. And so it was a great way for me to introduce her to it through that introduction. Because it seemed a bit more removed from getting in this mechanical machine that we go up and fly and do that with. Suffice to say,(and) you see from the video that she had an absolute ball doing that flight and and really got to to experience it. In fact to the point where I was ready to come back and she’s like “No Can we stay! Can we stay! can we do more!” And so it was a really great turn around from someone who had previously not wanted to do it to really just getting into it into it and loving it.
This has kind of been my career to a large extent or part of my career to a large extent of converting people or giving people their first aerobatic experience And that’s because I’m now the owner The Aerobatic School previously to that I owned the Red Baron For many years an adventure flight business and their primary income was basically taking people for aerobatic joy rides for many years.
So give you a little bit about my history, how it got to where I am now and where I think might end up in the future. And, what I really want to do with this podcast. So I was introduced to flying Many years ago by my Dad and my uncle, neither of whom were actually pilots. I think maybe if, if one of them was I may never have gotten into flying, because, you know, it’s it’s one of those things you either may or may not follow in your parents footsteps, depending on on what you you think of it.
I was lucky because my dad actually loved building model airplanes. As an enthusiast he would take us to a shows and and we’d watch movies and go you know, read books and what-have-you at home. And So I was kind of introduced to the aviation bug quite early. And I remember really clearly being at a Bankstown Airport Airshow, it must have been in the 80s. And I saw Chris Sperou (who I met a few years ago). Chris Sperou did an aerobatic display in a Pitts special. And I remember watching him do a square loop and thinking “That is incredible!, How do you do that? How do you make an airplane do a square loop?” I was kind of, you know, my brain was trying to comprehend. So from that moment I became fascinated in flying and aerobatics and what-have-you.
I also had an uncle who, from my dad’s brother who was also into flying. He actually took it a bit further than my dad and tried to get his license. Funnily enough, he actually had a glass stomach, and so every time he got into an airplane, not doing aerobatics, just any airplane, he’d end up vomiting. So it didn’t bode well for him to get his private pilot license. In the in the end, he gave it away. That wasn’t before he joined the Air Force reserves as a doctor. He joined joined as a doctor and was quite highly regarded and moved up the ranks within the Air Force reserves and ended up being taken for a ride in one of the F111’s, talk about being jealous!. But anyway, he ended up throwing up on that experience as well. I think the guys and the pilot on that particular day, got a great amount of amusement out of that event, but my poor uncle loved being in the airplane, he just, you know, couldn’t handle it from his stomach point of view.
So I was constantly being kind of surrounded by airplanes and aviation. We talked flying and it was something that actually bonded us together. I was very close to my uncle and, and obviously close to my father. So when I started getting old enough to think about what I wanted to do as a career, aviation and flying was definitely up there. What ended up happening as well was one of my best friends dad’s, for one of my birthdays (I think I was around 15 or 16) he gave me Chuck Yeager’s autobiography. I remember reading that and, I wasn’t a huge reader back then but I remember not being able to put that book down! I read it cover to cover and got completely drawn in by the descriptions of a combat during World War Two. Chuck Yeager flew P 51’s and actually talks very highly of the whole process of going through the air force in World War Two, and flying a combat missions over Europe and surviving these, what, In reality were horrendous events, someone trying to kill you with another airplane. But the way he described it really was amazing. The skill that was required to fly those aircraft and not be killed or shot down by another airplane! And to me, the description of flying air combat during World War Two, basically had the aircraft in the pilot on an equal footing. Throughout World War One, I felt the aircraft probably had a low performance threshold compared to what the pilot could handle. Throughout World War Two it was about equal, and now current fighter jets can well exceed the performance capabilities of the pilots. So you’ve got to be careful not to not to put yourself in a situation that that could have you lose consciousness or worse during a manoeuvre.
I was fascinated by this whole kind of era of aviation and saw it as probably the, you know, the golden age of, of flying combat aircraft. This was all in a 15-16 year olds head. I was thinking, well, maybe i’d like to do something like this when I was able to. I ended up applying for the Air Force When I was old enough. The first application ended up not going through because during the testing phase, I was told I wasn’t assertive enough. That kind of put a halt to that that application at the time. I had gotten through all the aptitude testing, they said I’d be suitable pilot from that point of view. But when it came to the maturity, or psychological side of it, they said I wasn’t assertive enough. So I thought “Well, Okay, That that’s fair enough”, You know, I was only 18 years old, I’ll go of and spend a year maturing and doing other things. So I started to learn to fly. From there, I put an application in one year later. This time, I didn’t get knocked back on psychology. (You know, for the for the assertiveness issue). I got knocked back because my aptitude results were the same as the before and not improved. Not on the scale better they had expected. So I got knocked back again.
By this stage, I’d already started to learn to fly I was getting into the general aviation flying. I didn’t completely put out a military career out of my mind, but I had become absorbed in general aviation flying. So I was kind of, quite happy to see this and see where it ended up. During that period, i’d ended up starting to fly at Sydney Aerobatic School, which was run by a guy called Noel Kruise who was an ex fighter pilot from the RAAF. His school flew mostly aerobatic aircraft, The Robin 2160, the Pitts special and what ended up being one of my favourite airplanes to fly, the Siai Marchetti SF.260. Which, in some countries was used as a military trainer, and, was fully aerobatic.
It was an amazing airplane to fly, really! I write it as one of my favourite aircraft to fly!
So I started working for Sydney Aerobatic School and I did whatever it took to pay for my flying. I had bank loans, borrowed money from my parents, worked multiple jobs at one time. This was in the early 90s and I was doing whatever it took! I wasn’t afraid of hard work.
I just had to fly! Once once I started flying with Sydney aerobatic School, I really fell in love with aerobatics. It really just hooked me in completely. I decided that’s where I wanted my career path to lead. I never, from the very beginning of the seed of learning to fly, had a view to be become an airline pilot. That was not on my radar at the time and still Isn’t
So, I was wondering, well, “how can I make some money out of this?” About the time I got my commercial license (In 1994) Sydney Aerobatic School purchased The Red Baron from the guy that started it, David Floyd. The school had already been operating the aircraft that David was using. The Pitts Special, “FFF” or “Triple Fox” as we call it. David had been cross hiring off Noel for many years so Noel easily just took over the aircraft and the business and started marketing it from there.
I was fortunate that literally, about two months before I got my commercial license. Noel had bought the Red Baron and was looking for pilots because he wanted to expand the business into into a larger business. So what I did was do my I do my commercial flight test in the Marchetti so I was quite experienced on that aircraft and that was the first aircraft I flew a commercial flight in. It was an American couple doing a Sydney Harbour scenic flight. I remember it really clearly. I was absolutely terrified! We had gusty winds and a bit of cloud around. I thought I was going to screw it up, but, in the end we got there and everyone survived. That was the beginning of my flying career.
I ended up getting a few hundred hours in the Marchetti doing aerobatic and scenic joy flights. It wasn’t long after I got my commercial that I started doing my Pitts Special training. The Pitts Special was my first tailwheel airplane. I absolutely fell in love with that airplane! I thought it was the business and I remember during my commercial training and on and off during my ppl training every now and then, I’d just say to one of the instructors “can we just go for a ride in the Pitts?”. We would go out and they would do most of the Flying and i’d do a little. I just absolutely loved! The open cockpit, the biplane, It was just a cool airplane to fly! So that that kind of got me hooked in and I said to myself, “One day, I’m gonna fly this airplane”.
I ended up getting checked out and then actually getting paid to fly it and started doing joy flights in it. I think this was still in 1994, So not long after that, I think it was in 1995 an opportunity came up to buy a Pitts Special, an S2A. I was able to do, again with the help of of Noel (he helped me write a business plan and offered to operate it for me in the in the business). So I went to the bank, cap in hand and business plan together with it and they gave me what seemed like fortunate the time, to go and buy this airplane. It was at Airlie Beach so I bought it and me and a mate went up there and flew it down from Airlie Beach. That was the ox, registration “Oscar, X-Ray, X-Ray” so we had the Fox and the ox. I couldn’t believe I was 23 years old and owned a Pitts Special and was getting paid to do aerobatics in it and and Marchetti and Robin. I was having a ball!.
During that period from 1994 to kind of mid 1995 Enzo Iacono, a friend of mine, who also flew at Sydney Aerobatic School did our formation ratings together. Wwe did it with the express purpose of starting an air combat joy flight. As we weren’t instructors, we couldn’t do hands on air combat flights so Noel Enzo and I how to do this tail Chase and we put together this adventure ride which had the two Robbins chasing each other around. We started marketing, sales, walking around handing out flyers down at Bondi beach and doing whatever, whatever we could to get get it out there. It ended up being quite successful and we did hundreds of flights over that period in the Robins. Then when we got the second Pitts special, we converted it to a World War One a combat experience. We ended up being on TV with Sydney Weekender, with Mike Whitney squeezing into the front of the Pitts and us chasing each other around. It was one of those things where you pinch yourself thinking, Well, you know, yeah, I may not have gotten into the Air Force, but here I am living, what I thought was, was the ultimate dream of being a pilot was doing what we love. That’s exactly what I was doing.
So pretty much every day, or most days I was doing some kind of aerobatic flight, whether it was the Pitts Special, Robin or Marchetti. This went on for quite a few years and, while the flying was amazing, I was finding that I just couldn’t, you know, progress and make and make a living on what I was being paid during those adventure flights. So supplemented my income with other jobs. I can’t remember exactly what year it was but in the late 90s we had a visit from an old instructor from the Sydney Aerobatic School, a woman named Janine Shepherd. Now, some of you may know Janine from her book “Never Tell Me Never”. She also has a TED talk that has had millions of views. Her story is again, another amazing story where she was a cross country skier that was injured in an accident. While training up in the Blue Mountains she was hit by a ute whilst cycling. She broke many bones and had internal injuries. She pulled herself back from the brink and got into flying and ended up being an instructor at Sydney Aerobatic School. Now, she’d written the book (Never Tell Me Never), and someone wanted to make a movie of it. So naturally, they came to us to do the flying sequences from the book. I was lucky enough and I was in the right place, at the right time and got introduced to the film industry and became essentially, a consultant to the film. Noel did most of the advanced flying and I did a lot of the consulting directly to the director and DP. I also did a lot of the Flying sequences in the film as well. Because of that experience, I ended up working in the film industry on and off over the next few years in Australia, and then ended up moving to the UK for a few years and working exclusively in the film industry for about four years over in the UK and Europe. During that period I kind of took a break from flying and I think I needed that, It had been getting a little bit hard to make ends meet. I
I wanted to see the world and I ended up just kind of taking that opportunity to go traveling. While I was overseas, an opportunity presented itself that I just couldn’t refuse. And that’s what got me back to Australia. So while I was over there, I saw that Red Bull was getting into everything aviation. That started this thing called the Red Bull Air Race in the early 2000s. My Pitts special, which I had, for quite a few years needed a bit of maintenance work done. I didn’t exactly have a lot of cash so to throw around, but I’d been able to keep the aircraft hangared. I thought there may be an opportunity to get a sponsor to get the aircraft back in the air. Enzo was still in Australia, and he and I got chatting and you know, confluence of coincidences, Enzo did a job with a guy working for Red Bull. So we got an introduction to to Red Bull, who were looking for an aircraft to put some branding on. We had an aircraft. So one thing led to another we put in a proposal. I ended up moving back to Australia to take on a contract that had us flying a Red Bull branded airplane. What ended up happening is we ended up working with Red Bull for the next 11 years. And going from a branded Pitts special to buying the Red Baron business off Noel, buying the Sydney Aerobatic School from Noel and buying an Extra 200 initially, and then getting an extra 300L, an extra 330 LX and a bunch of alpha 160s (Alpha 160’s were made in New Zealand by Alpha Aviation, not in France or Canada like the Robins).
Just to backtrack a minute before I went over seas in 2000. I ended up getting my instructor writing in 1997 and becoming an aerobatic instructor and doing that for a few years, as well as then in 2000 when the Olympics came around, I got a short term contract with the New South Wales Police a support branch flying Cessna Caravans for them doing intercept stuff around the Olympics. That gave me my first turbine endorsement as well. That was a great job because it was pre 911 so we weren’t really on the lookout for the threat of terrorism. We were more concerned about legal advertisers and things like that. So there was definitely an anti-terrorist element to it but what we ended up doing during that period was patrolling the airspace and capturing people. In fact most people we caught were airline pilots who hadn’t necessarily gone through the the information properly and ended up flying through restricted airspace without a clearing (not flying airline aircraft, just in private aircraft).
During my ownership of the Red Baron, I flew thousands more hours in the Pitts Special. From 2005 to 2009 the business just exploded and we did really well. We had a couple of really great opportunities to market the business and we got on the Australian NRL footy show and had the likes of Fatty (Paul) Vautin up in the airplane and the exposure we got from being on the footy show really blew the business out of the water and we ended up making a making a large amount of money at the time, which allowed us to buy the extra 200. We also did just a ton of flying and we were absolutely flat out. Pretty much every weekend, we were flying back to back formation flights, either over the Harbour or going out and doing aerobatics (or combination of both). During that period we had also been doing some air show stuff like displays all up and down the coast of Sydney as part of our Red Bull contract.
To say I did a lot of flying and a lot of aerobatics in that period is is an understatement! on and off during that period I also got back into competition flying. My whole career has been either adventure flying formation aerobatics, Air shows, competition or aerobatic training. It’s been a combination of all all of those things over that whole period, and in a variety of aircraft from Pitts specials, Extras, The Marchetti, the Cessna Caravan and a bunch of other tailwheel aircraft like the Cessna tailwheels and homebuilt tailwheel aircraft. One thing that kind of brings back to my original reason for wanting to get into flying in the first place was the military. In 2013 I was lucky enough to fly the Cessna A-37 Dragonfly, which some of you may know from the Temora Aviation Museum. They’ve got a couple out there. David Lowey puts on a fantastic display in that aircraft as well as some of his other pilots. The A-37 was an opportunity that I feel very honoured, and lucky to have experienced. I was able to get into a ex military jet. Flying that aircraft was just great fun! I was able to, over a 12 month period acquire about 25 hours in the aeroplane doing a variety of joy flight scenarios and aerobatic rides. It was a really amazing experience and and I felt like, Yeah, I might not have gotten into the military but I was able to still fulfil a lifelong dream of flying in a military style aircraft. The A-37 was great and lived up to expectation. I miss the aeroplane, it’s been sold and shipped to America and is flying over there.
That brings me kind of close to where I’m at now. Since then I’ve been teaching a lot of aerobatics and having quite a bit of success on and off in the competition scene with my students winning various championships here in Australia. I don’t compete myself at the moment, due to other constraints and to be perfectly honest I’m not as passionate about doing competition aerobatics myself as some of the other guys are that come along. I want to support their passion for it and get them through through it and have them be competitive in competition. Because I’ve got a background in doing it I can teach it but, I’m not as passionate about competing in it myself, as is required for the level of flying required for the level of competition that i would be flying at which would be about, advanced and potentially unlimited aerobatics if I had the aircraft for it.
So where I’m at now is teaching people for license’s and getting their basic aerobatic endorsements through to advanced aerobatics with The Aerobatic School In the last few years as well I’ve got quite heavily into formation aerobatics and in Airshow flying in, air shows. In the last few years I have been flying over in China and I absolutely love that part of my work life. That’s where I’m passionate with my aerobatic flying at the moment. I want to see myself doing more of that and trying to get to a regular gig flying formation aerobatics or some kind of airshow act that is unique and interesting that brings people out to airshows so that they have the same reaction that I had when I was at that Bankstown Airshow watching Chris Sperou and going “Oh my God, how did he do that?”, inspiring another generation of pilots and aerobatic pilots to come through and get the license’s.
What I want to do with this podcast is explore all those different avenues of aerobatics, formation aerobatics, airshow aerobatics, competition aerobatics upset recovery training (which requires aerobatic aircraft, but has applications outside of the pure aerobatic environment) and more! Hopefully I’m going to be interviewing different pilots about aerobatics and their journey through the subject and their sport, or their experiences within it. I also want to look at aerobatic aircraft as there is quite a variety of different levels of aircraft. From your entry level Robbins and Alpha160’s, Citabria’s, Super Decathlons, to more intermediate type aircraft like Pitts specials, and, right up to advanced aircraft like Extras, Edge’s and more. There is also Warbird aerobatics, (which are quite different to competition aerobatics), and military and ex-military type aircraft/aerobatics.
I think it’s a is a pretty healthy subject for me to explore. Hopefully, I can take you on the ride with me!
I invite your comments and your feedback. I look forward to hearing from you over this journey. Its been a pleasure introducing you to an area of flying that I’ve absolutely loved, have been doing for nearly 30 years, and, I don’t see myself stopping in the near future as this, this is what keeps me flying.
I’m going to go now and leave this episode one for you to enjoy. Hopefully I’ll see you for Episode Two in the near future!
Thanks very much!