Welcome to “Path to Your Dreams,” the blog series about fascinating and inspirational stories for young pilots trying to figure out their career path. We have talked with an eclectic group of pilots from various walks of life in aviation, to learn about how they followed their dreams in aviation. Here’s another of the many stories!
The pilot: Kyle Fowler, Red Seal journeyman automotive mechanic; aerobatic pilot, and owner of Go EZ aerobatics, based in Alberta, Canada.
The dream: To be an aerobatic pilot.
The path: Kyle Fowler literally grew up in the airshow industry. His dad, the late Ken Fowler of Team Rocket Aerobatics, flew airshows for 23 years, and Kyle used to announce his dad’s airshows as a kid. Most airshow performers start out as commercial or military pilots, but Kyle was “born to the breed.” He got his pilot license as soon as he was old enough, and then his dad taught him to fly aerobatics in his Harmon Rocket II. Kyle first flew aerobatics in a Pitts Special at age 25. Along the way, he also became a journeyman auto mechanic. “It gave me the skills to work on my plane and the income to support it.”
Kyle always knew he wanted to fly a Long-EZ, a tandem 2-seater homebuilt experimental aircraft designed by the Rutan Aircraft Factory in the 1970s. The Long-EZ has a canard layout, a swept wing with wingtip rudders, and a pusher engine and propeller. Even as a kid, Kyle thought the Long-EZ was really cool.
As he began to fly, he asked aerobatics veterans, “If you were going to get into the industry today, what would you buy?” And many advised him to get a Long-EZ. Kyle explains: “It’s a tough industry to get into, and everyone wants to be just like their idol. But if you look like everybody else, why would anyone want to hire you? There are lots of airplanes that are unique and different, and flying one gives you an advantage.” He also points out that airshows are a family event, and the Long-EZ is still a favorite of the younger kids, including his own daughter, who “likes aerobatics more than anything.” (Hmm. Is aerobatics generation three on the horizon?)
Kyle says the Long-EZ, with the same canard-style design as the Wright flyer, has really helped him in his aerobatics career. Plus, it’s fun to fly. “Everything is a lifting surface so it’s more efficient than a conventional plane. As far as I’m concerned, my airplane is conventional, and everyone else is backwards. It has fairly high performance for a small engine. Plus, you can’t stall the main wing. The canard stalls first, the nose drops down, but the wing is always flying. And you can never spin the airplane because the tail is a lifting surface.”
“We are privileged as airshow performers to be ambassadors for aviation. Our job is to inspire other people and help them achieve their goals. Yes, we get to be the rock stars and have fun, but our job is to inspire others. To tell kids ‘The path that you’re on can lead you to your dream,’ and to listen to their stories.”
Most memorable flight: “I got my pilot’s license without telling my dad. He didn’t know I was getting it, but my instructor was actually the guy who flew airshows with him. On my last day flying before my flight test, we got my dad to come up to the airport where I was doing my flight training without telling him why. We knew when my dad would be there, and we actually stole the school plane out from under another student. He was booked to do his first flight and we kicked him out of the plane. I took the plane and went up on the circuit. My dad flew in and made his first radio call, and I answered, ‘Dad, it’s me, Kyle.’ He said, ‘Oh, are you flying with Eric?’ I said, ‘Nope.’ When he realized it was me flying the plane, he was so excited, he wanted to form up on my wing! But I had to get the plane back, since I’d stolen it out from under that other student pilot. That was my first great memory of flying.”
Flights on the bucket list: “I’ve never done Sun ‘n Fun, and I want to do more flying on the East coast. I also want to fly the new Velocity. It’s like my airplane on steroids. That airplane is sport luxury, and I think it should be flying airshows.”
Advice for other dreamers:
“Airshow flying is not an easy industry to get into. It’s hard to get recognized, to get a waiver, to get hired. But if you have a dream, hold on to it and follow it. Just because it hasn’t been done doesn’t mean it can’t be done. Get proper training and find a mentor to help you move forward. Everything I did was always a step towards that end goal of flying airshows. I wanted to be there by 30, and I made it.”
His advice for aerobatic flying: “When learning new maneuvers, start high. Do your research. Know your ins and outs, know your speeds. Practice loops, rolls, tumbles, gyroscopic maneuvers, and stalls. Get creative. Build a routine about what the airplane can do. Above all, you have to know how your airplane will react if you make a mistake. So, know your gates to enter a maneuver. Go high, then practice, practice, practice, slower and slower. Find out the limits, figure out the worst-case scenario, and build in that safety margin for your routine.”