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Flying Lessons from an Aerobatic Champion

By Dave Simeur

Air shows bring out the best and brightest stars in aviation. These events bind communities together with a volunteer spirit, and fuel the dreams of aspiring young pilots as they gaze skyward. On a bright morning, perfect for flying, we had the pleasure of witnessing the highest aviation ideals put into one spectacular day by former aerobatic champion, Mike Mancuso. Until team retirement in 2000, Mike was an aerobatic competitor and member of the Northern Lights Aerobatic Team. Currently, Mike tours the United States to thrill audiences in the Klein Tools Extra 300L, and adds to the nostalgia of the flight line with his classic Beech 18. With air show season right around the corner, it is time to get excited about the people, and what it takes to fill the summer skies.
Mike is up before dawn to prepare for the show. He tends to preflight preparation, show briefings, interviews, and media flights. Once the visitors start to arrive, it is time to meet with eager young visitors at the Klein Tools Extra 300L display. To describe Mike as outgoing is an understatement; he smiles more than a bride on her wedding day. His operation is not a one-man show. Mike fields the responsibility of both employer and employee. He manages the ground crew and the performance schedule strategy year round. Once a weekend is over, it is time to fold up the “tent,” and travel to the next event.
The Klein Tools Team has created a show that highlights the extreme edge of flying. The show is a heart pumping mix of sound and aerial dynamics, choreographed to music with a running dialog live from the cockpit. How Mike is able to speak in a normal tone while pulling 9 G’s is amazing in itself. Mid-show the Extra 300L arrives at show center and Mike springs out to sign autographs while waiting for a challenge race with the jet truck. Meanwhile, the rest of the team hands out custom designed souvenirs to the crowd. Mike makes it seem effortless with his easygoing demeanor, but he practices and improves his show continuously.

By two in the afternoon Mike has already flown two performances, fifteen media flights, signed scores of autographs, posed for pictures, and personally greeted thousands of visitors. But his real work for the day is about to start. Vanessa Cordova and Ann Marie Cruz have arranged a flight through the Reach-for-a-Star Foundation. Vanessa and Ann Marie are young cancer patients with a dream of flying in an airplane. The two young ladies have no idea about Mike’s impressive aerobatic credentials or thousands of flight hours, they just want to fly. Well, that was until they actually arrived at the airport. Now butterflies have taken over and the thought of getting into the tiny Extra 300L is just a little too much. As it turns out they are both scared of heights. Several people are trying to manage the situation and coax the young ladies into the small aircraft. Mike explains as we wander over to meet the girls that this is the exact reason he brought the classic Beech 18 to the air show. He said that the Make-a-Wish and Reach-for-a-Star children prefer to fly with a friend and enjoy a social flying experience. When he tells the girls that they can fly together in the Beech they start to warm up to the idea. When he tells them that back in the day, movie star’s like Marilyn Monroe used to fly around in a plane just like this one, there faces started to brighten. “Let’s pretend we are your pilots and you are flying to a big movie premier.” The intrepid little movie stars climbed into the plush interior and gave an Oscar winning performance. They never stopped smiling for the entire flight. Mike makes it point to fly special little guests at every air show he attends.
Mike is an outstanding flight instructor. I know this because we took the Extra 300L for a thrill-a-minute aerobatic workout. There are aerobatics, and there are AEROBATICS. This was no mere media flight. He taught loops, rolls, inverted flight, hammerheads, barrel rolls, and all the “usual” stuff. Just like Penn and Teller, Mike likes to share magic secrets that make each stunt possible. When we were flying in formation, knife-edged, away from the chase plane it was all I could do not to test out the parachute. Mike calmly flew formation with the other plane he could not see and said, “Look down.” Like pulling back the curtain to see that the lady was not cut in half, he was using the crisp 12 o’clock shadow of his smoke trail to maintain precise separation. Mike also demonstrated that there is never a time in the entire show that he could not return for a safe landing in the event of an engine failure. He practiced engine failures from nearly every conceivable attitude to easy power off landings.

Pilots seem to make the world their home. Like the Astronauts looking back at the Big Blue Ball, little life problems seem small and easy to step over from 10,000 feet. Mike Mancuso not only demonstrated that air shows are a team sport, but why they take a team effort. If you love aviation and want to promote our industry, consider volunteering for a nearby air show. Volunteers make air shows happen. Your skills as a pilot, aviation enthusiast, or whatever your day job might be, are needed to help these community events remain successful. The sense of pride helping thrill the crowds is unmatched. There are great perks as well, behind the scenes access, crew parties, and making new friends. Come out and be a hero for a day, we need your help.
For a list of air shows in the great Southwest, please check the SW Aviator schedule of events at

Author’s bio:
Dave Simeur is a flight instructor with helicopter, single engine, and multiengine ratings. He works with Momentum Interactive, specializing in instructor support, and interactive flight training software at He hopes to see you flight line center at the Amigo AirSho!

Invitation Sidebar
You might think that a simple Cessna 172 or 40-year-old Mooney M20E might not be air show material, but think again. Several air shows are also fly-ins, and visitors love to see all sorts of airplanes, especially ones that they could actually fly! We need pilots to act as ambassadors, recruiters, and static “performers.” Relating the experience to a guest that you actually flew yourself to visit the air show is the height of cool! Putting the entire spectrum of aviation before the public is our goal, and helping to show aircraft that are within reach makes the show more “real” for the average person. I would personally like to extend a welcome to fly-in Amigo AirSho in El Paso on October 8-9. Since the show is at Biggs Army Air Field (KBIF) pilots need to arrange an arrival time. Space is limited. For more information, please visit or call 915-56 AMIGO.

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The material in this publication is for advisory information only and should not be relied upon for navigation, maintenance or flight techniques. SW Regional Publications and the staff neither assume any responsibility for the accuracy of this publication's content nor any liability arising fom it
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