Kent Pietsch has spent years pointing the nose of his plane at the sky before cutting the engine and falling weightlessly back to Earth.
His passenger on Wednesday afternoon had not.
And so, as Pietsch’s single-engine Interstate Cadet spiraled nose-first towards the fields surrounding Abbotsford International Airport, this reporter sat behind Pietsch and tried to deduce whether the airplane – and his life – would be saved..
Pietsch looked back. A photo was taken. And then suddenly, the plane was flying again like planes are supposed to fly – not at the ground, but at the horizon.
The reporter’s stomach, though, was not in its typical position.
This weekend, Pietsch will be back in the air, minus the queasy passenger, entertaining the crowds at the Abbotsford International Airshow.
Over the airshow’s three days, crowds of tens of thousands will watch the airshow veteran perform seven times with multiple routines, the most unconventional of which sees him land on a platform atop a standard-length pickup truck.
That trick – which got its start in Abbotsford, when Pietsch bought an RV from a local and had a flat-bed rack bolted to its top – didn’t go off as planned the first time.
“I tried it and couldn’t get on it,” he said. “I landed and thought ‘Man, I just wasted a lot of money.’ ”
Pietsch couldn’t see his wheels. The blind spot, which wasn’t a problem when he was landing on a 150-foot runway, posed more of a challenge when landing on a platform the width and length of an RV.
“I kept moving around. I was having a hard time seeing.”
Eventually, Pietsch was able to master the technique, in part by approaching the vehicle from the side. The RV has since been replaced, and Pietsch has performed the trick across North America.
Pietsch has a long history in aviation. He was previously an airline pilot and has been performing aerobatic routines for more than 40 years. His Jelly Belly-sponsored plane is just 800 pounds. That light weight, combined with a 90-horsepower engine and 37-foot-long wings, allows Pietsch to push the limits of what is possible in the air.
Quick with a laugh, Pietsch also performs an airborne comedy routine that sees him mimic an erratic less-than-adept pilot who somehow manages to not crash.
The routine encapsulates Pietsch’s goals for each show.
“Fly it as safe as you can and have as much fun as you can.”
The airshow begins Friday with a twilight show. Gates open at 3:30 p.m., with static displays and exhibit areas open, along with the kids zone and autograph booths. The opening ceremonies take place at 5:45, followed by the Snowbirds at 6 p.m. and Breitling Jet Team at 6:45 p.m. followed by other performances.
Saturday and Sunday feature full-day airshows, with gates opening at 9 a.m. and the airshow opening at 11 a.m. The CF-18 Hornet flies at 11:45 a.m., the Horseman Flight Team takes to the air at 12:40 p.m., and the US Air Force F-22 Raptor Jet performs a demonstration at 2:55 p.m.
For a full schedule, visit abbotsfordairshow.com.