President, Patty Wagstaff Airshows Inc.,
Manager, Patty Wagstaff Aviation Safety, LLC
St. Augustine, Florida
ASEL, ASES, AMEL, Commercial/Instrument, CFII, Commercial Rotorcraft; Type Ratings in G-TBM, L-39, T-28 and Tucano
1. Can you walk us through a typical week in the life of Patty Wagstaff?
My primary job is operating an aerobatic school and upset training program from our headquarters in St. Augustine, Florida. I usually wake up around 7 a.m., take care of my bird and dog, then head to my office at the St. Augustine Airport. I like to get emails and paperwork done early so that I’m free to meet and fly with our students. We train people to become more skilled and confident pilots and ultimately enjoy flying more.
I also fly around 12 airshows per year, which keeps me very busy. I have to stay in good shape and keep my G tolerance up, and that takes a lot of practice in the airplane. Luckily, we have an aerobatic box (waivered airspace where we can fly at airshow levels) here at the St. Augustine Airport, and there are several boxes nearby where I can practice. Most of my airshows are in the United States, but I occasionally fly international shows including one last fall in the Gobi Desert in western China.
2. Of all of your endeavors, what gives you the most personal satisfaction?
I would have to say that flight training – whether aerobatic, upset, recurrent or even speaking about it – has been very satisfying. I have really enjoyed the flight school more than I thought I would.
I feel we are doing a good service for people in making them more skilled and confident in their abilities. It’s a good feeling to get feedback from a student saying what we taught them helped them in some way.
3. How much time do you devote to practicing your routine prior to an airshow? What are your goals with each performance?
I am flying around 10 to 12 airshows per year. And it doesn’t matter how many airshows I fly, I still have to stay in the same shape and keep the same G tolerance because you can’t afford to get out of shape at any time during the airshow season.
To develop G tolerance and the fine-tuning to fly a low-level airshow, you have to be in the cockpit and practice. I stay current, and then leading up to an airshow I will start flying every day the week prior.
4. How has the aerobatics sector and airshow environment evolved since you first entered the segment?
The airshow environment has not changed significantly since the 1930s. In a way, airshow pilots are still barnstormers trying to please the crowd. Sponsorships have always been a part of airshows (think Roscoe Turner, Al Williams), so having a sponsor’s names on your wing is not a new thing.
The biggest change I’ve seen is the development of airplane technology and composite construction. When I started in the mid-1980s, we flew airplanes with wood wings and metal props which were fine but not strong enough to withstand the style of flying you see today. The development of carbon fiber and composite construction of airplanes and propellers has made a huge difference and changed the style of aerobatics.
5. When conducting upset training with clients, what is the most common “ah-ha!” moment?
I think when we discuss the “clutch reflex” and our tendency toward the instinctive response to pull the yoke back during an unexpected occurrence in an airplane, e.g., an “upset.” Pilots don’t really understand it until they experience a real in-cockpit (vs. simulator) upset for the first time. Even the most experienced pilots, when encountering an in-cockpit upset want to pull back on the yoke instead of relaxing and “unloading” the wing to let it fly.
It always surprises them that their reaction went against what they have read and heard and even been trained for in a simulator. This is one of the main reasons why it’s so important to get pilots in the cockpit for real-world training – and how we have to train to overcome our human instincts.