Pilots captivate audiences, promote aviation culture

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

Pilots captivate audiences,  promote  aviation  culture While members of Team Cal UAS showcased the assets at Inyokern Airport last weekend (see related story, page 1), two of the local pilots who dazzled audiences at the event gave first-hand testimonies to the importance in perpetuating the technical cultures of aerospace development and aviation.

Among the headlining attractions were the precision aerial demonstrations by the West Coast Ravens, led by IWV Airport Board Member Axel Alvarez.

“We have an extremely nice airport here — it’s something that I really don’t think that the local population takes full advantage of,” said Alvarez. “We have great facilities, great airspace and we don’t have to worry about traffic — it’s one of the reasons I love flying here.”

The 10 other pilots in the formation flew in from Northern California, Southern California and Nevada to participate in Saturday’s event. Axel explained that although he designed the patterns and led the demonstration, he and the other pilots are part of a much bigger organization that travels across the country to perform aerial feats before audiences of all sizes.

The members belong to Formation Flying Inc., which Alvarez said was established for formal training and credentialing for pilots interested in formation flying. “At the time there was a high demand in the airshow industry, but no way to really ensure that pilots had the right training and experience.”

The organization was patterned after naval aviation training, and Alvarez was among those who earned his wings. More than a decade later, scores of pilots across the country are organized into squadrons, such as the West Coast Ravens, who fly into regional locations to participate in formation flights. One of the largest was a 49-person team who flew earlier this year in Kansas City to raise awareness for the fight against breast cancer.

“Safety was the main reason the group was established, but the byproduct of that was providing precision training that translates to a great show for anyone watching,” said Alvarez.

Although still a young man, Alvarez has been flying for more than two decades. He first soloed at 16, got his license at 17, and now flies as a hobby on weekends and works as an aerospace engineer during his days.

“The pilot community is dying because not enough young people are involved,” said Alvarez. “I have been involved in aviation from a very early age, and it is very important to me.

“One of the ways I try to promote interest is by getting kids into the cockpit. I must have had about 25 kids in my airplane over the weekend, and when I looked around, I saw my teammates doing the same thing. If just one or two of those kids continue on in that interest of aviation, this has all been worth it.”

For pilot Chip Yates, his love of flying grew out of his desire to push the technical capabilities of human flight to the limit.

Yates’ background includes everything from managing a corporation to obliterating world records in electric motorcycle racing. In 2011 his team zeroed in on advancing electric flight capabilities.

While his whirlwind activities have already seen him break world records for speed and establish formal ownership of records for altitude in an electric airplane, his ultimate goal is to develop his battery technology to achieve the first trans-Atlantic flight in an electric airplane.

The entrepreneur moved his operations to Hangar 3 at IYK last summer, when he broke his first world records for speed in an electric airplane only days after receiving his pilot’s license.

Since then he has continued to draw national and international attention for his aerial achievements, as well as serving as an ambassador to local youth for the advancement of science and technology. During that time his very part-time residence has grown ever more permanent. “I tell everybody that this is the perfect place for this, which is why I’m basically living here now.”

At the IYK open house, Yates helped kick off festivities with exhilarating fly-bys in his electrically modified Long EZ. When he landed, throngs of spectators swarmed his plane as he pushed it back into the historic World War II hangar. The crowd that followed took hours to dissipate.

The day before, Yates addressed the student body at Murray Middle School to talk about his aviation feats and promote Cal UAS Day. “When I talk to students, I always emphasize the importance of working hard, studying hard and all the possible things you can achieve with a technical degree,” he said.

“Our booth was mobbed the entire day. A lot of them were kids from Murray, which makes me feel like our message is reaching the kids.”

But more than that, said Yates, was his sense of encouragement as he saw an entire community come together to support the technical work at IYK.

“I saw the kind of excitement and support at Inyokern at a level I haven’t even experienced at much bigger air shows. I signed almost 1,000 autograph cards here — more than I signed at the Capitol Air Show in Sacramento, which had 100,000 people in attendance.

“To me what that demonstrates is the personal investment the local population has in doing everything they can to bring business and innovation to the valley. Being a part of that kind of community-held sentiment makes me glad to be here. It also makes me want to keep going, because I don’t want to disappoint anyone.”

Yates said he was also impressed by the elected officials who came out to the event. “Having Congressman McCarthy, Sen. Fuller and Assemblywoman Grove come by and say hi was a thrill. Hearing McCarthy pledge his support to promoting our site for FAA designation [see related article] was very encouraging to me.

“I know we have a lot of competition for designation, and I have been to those other sites. When you look at our natural resources and technical culture it makes those other open house events look like a sham. This is the real deal.”

Story First Published: 2013-11-20