Written by Carolyn McKeon Friday, 07 May 2010 00:00
Feel the adrenalin pumping, pressing, and pulsing through your veins. The world is twisting, turning, and tumbling before your eyes as you look through the small window of a cockpit. With a jolt, the plane stops with its nose facing the clouds and the aircraft slowly begins to fall backwards. To the average person this is a thrill-seeking move, an act of outright insanity. To an aerobatics pilot like David Windmiller this is just another everyday experience.
Aerobatics, or stunt flying, is something that Windmiller has done since he was 16 years old. He was a part of the United States Aerobatic Team, a team of the top five fliers in the U.S., and competed against the best fliers in the world.
“I like aerobatics more than anything else; it felt as though I was born with it, like it was natural to me. In comparison, regular flying is kind of boring,” said Windmiller. He flies a Zivko Edge 540 built in the United States with a custom-modified engine for leisure and competitions and flies out of Farmingdale’s Republic Airport.
“It’s probably the strongest plane ever built for aerobatics,” he said.
Windmiller was inspired while competing with the U.S. team in France.
“I want to bring in the precision like I used to, where everything is perfect,” said Windmiller. “I want to show what it was like in the days of competition, because back then, if you were alive at the end of a performance you felt as though you did a good job.
He tries to bring this accuracy and style at every air show in which he performs, including the annual Jones Beach Air Show.
Having flown for over 30 years, Windmiller understands and accepts the dangers that come with being a professional aerobatics pilot.
“I’ve been flying for so long, and we’ve had many parts fail or blow up,” he said. “I’ve seen problems and things that go wrong so often that I can now weed out the danger. Unfortunately, every year there are one or two people that I flew with growing up that didn’t make it. Ironically, my father, who was completely against me flying when I was young, died on an airline, TWA, flight 800. Just because aerobatics seems dangerous doesn’t mean the business end of flying is any less.”
Windmiller finds no greater joy than being in the air. His passion for knowledge, precision, and speed are just a few of the things that draw crowds at every show.
“Aerobatics is the unlimited and the extreme,” he said. “It is how anything you think in your mind you can make the plane do.”
From the ground, the crowds stare wide-eyed and slack-jawed at the performer; they only can assume what happens inside the cockpit. When the plane spirals the people below cannot feel the extreme G-force that the pilot feels.
“The term stalling is good; it’s a point where the wind stops producing lift underneath the wings. In aerobatics you are constantly in stall altitudes, it’s just a part of flying, like tumbling which is a full stall flight,” Windmiller said.
Married with five children, Windmiller has a lot to lose. Fear and anxiety are not the first things felt when the Windmiller family watches him soar above the rest.
“They really look up to it,” Windmiller said. “My wife is uptight sometimes, but flying comes with the package, and I fly so much that it dilutes whatever fears they might have. The fear of flying is more of a lack of knowledge and understanding. If you understand the technical end of it, you just know and accept that these things happen. I’m still here, so I must know something, but I won’t say I know everything.”
David Windmiller will perform in the upcoming New York air show at Jones Beach on Memorial Day, May 28-29.