formerly "The View From Up Here"

Formerly titled "The View From Up Here" this column began in the Liberty Gazette June 26, 2007.

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June 3, 2008 First Aerobatic Contest

The Liberty Gazette
June 3, 2008

The View From Up Here
By Mike Ely and Linda Street Ely

So I told a friend I’d send out a press release something like this: “Local pilot competes in first aerobatic contest; takes home third place trophy, edging out high-time jet jockey husband by a few points after two rounds,” but my friend said that just wouldn’t fly, so I didn’t do it. However, the Houston Chapter of the International Aerobatic Club hosted a "two-design" competition on Saturday, May 17, in Giddings, Texas; the Gulf Coast Regional Aerobatic Contest. What’s a “two-design”? Two different design categories of aerobatic airplanes; in this case, Decathlon/Citabria and Vans RV.

The notice on said they would have a couple of Decathlons for those who wanted to try aerobatics with a safety pilot. I didn't realize they meant we could actually compete in the contest. When we arrived, Jeff Stoltenberg introduced himself and handed us a membership form. With that and a safety pilot, we entered the contest. Contestants could fly their own airplane or rent one of two Super Decathlons available from Harvey & Rihn Aviation of LaPorte. Mike flew with Kevin, from H&R, and I chose Jeff as my safety pilot. There were two rounds–and we missed practice the previous day; this was my first time in a Decathlon. In the first round I finished one place ahead of Mike. In the second round he finished one spot ahead of me. In the end, when the totals were added up, I came out 15 points ahead.

Jeff is a surgeon from Brenham. He and his wife, Lynne, are both aerobatic pilots, but very down-to-earth people. Later, competing in the advanced category, he flew the whole routine backward and outside. 13-time U.S. National Aerobatic Champion, Debby Rihn-Harvey, a lady I really admire, presided as chief judge over the competition. She didn’t give Dr. Jeff any points for his unique rendition of the routine, but he sure had fun.

Mike: Two competitor categories were Primary, for beginners, and Sportsman, a more advanced level. Of twenty pilots competing, nine were competing in their first contest.

Climbing into the Decathlon brought back memories of my first flight in its kin and ancestor, the Citabria. On that flight too I got to experience aerobatics. Aerobatics is not careless flying, it is flying with precision. Competing in an aerobatic contest builds precision and skill and the pilot gains a unique perspective of the aircraft’s capabilities. It also increases the pilot’s awareness of limitations–the aircraft's and the pilot's. It is a uniquely three-dimensional experience. After years of being away from this, and never having competed in aerobatics, I was a bit rusty the first round, but by the second flight I was regaining the feel for loops, rolls, spins, half-cubans, and look forward to doing it again.

Linda: Debby told me that she finished third in her first competition too. Then she turned to Mike and said, "those dang women pilots!"

Mike: ...and a good time was had by all.

Mike and Linda can be reached at

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