The Liberty Gazette
December 11, 2012Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely
Linda: A new poster depicts a Pitts S2C (biplane) just a few feet above a runway, inverted. You’re looking at the airplane from behind, as though it is flying past you, very close. The upside-down tail is within reach, a gloved hand almost touching it; a snapshot of an air show routine performed by the Werth brothers, Billy, a pilot, and David, a motorcycle stuntman and racer.
I caught up with Billy last week before he left for ICAS – the International Council of Air Shows annual convention in Las Vegas. Growing up in an aviation family and flying since 1988, Billy is a military pilot (Aircraft Commander on the air re-fueler KC-135R), a Chautauqua Airlines captain on the Embraer 145, and a modern-day barnstormer, dazzling air show crowds in his newly acquired Christen Eagle and giving rides and lessons in the Pitts through his company, Grayout Aerosports, of Indianapolis.
He’s often spotted practicing aerobatic maneuvers over my sister’s house, so it’s not unusual for me to get a text message from someone in the family, “Billy’s up practicing!”
We first met him at the fuel pump at the airport near her house several years ago. Back then Billy was very close to getting his ground level waiver, meaning the FAA would allow him to do aerobatics without limitations on how low he could go, a valuable commodity to an air show pilot.
Today, he’s a hot item. And while that’s certainly a testament to his skill and training, he also married a marketing guru with a background in broadcasting and event planning, who does a great job selling Billy as a product. Haley, who I remember as a toddler in pigtails growing up a couple doors down from us, is a burst of energy and an asset in the air show business.
The routine with brother David is a bit edgy to some airshow executives, so for now they’re performing a wing grab, rather than the depicted tail grab. “Some airshow executives think we didn’t think this through, that we pulled it out of a hat and tried it once – but that’s not it. We’ve taken all the possible safety steps. We’re in constant communication during the routine, weather has to be just right, and we practice, practice, practice. Nothing we do in a show is new to us; it’s planned out, choreographed, and practiced.”
The act opens with a game of chicken between airplane and motorcycle. Then the boys settle down to race. Then there’s “the grab”. “It’s the ‘High Five,’” Billy explains. “Brothers fight, compete, and make up. If you have a sibling you get that, and we relate to the audience on that level.”
Rides and lessons help support the costs of performing. Non-pilots can get a taste of aerobatics; for pilots, aerobatic lessons are important for keeping valuable skills current. Whether you’re flying a small Cessna or a Boeing 757, as Billy emphasizes, you can lose those skills. “One day that auto pilot might go out. When you’re looking around asking, ‘where are we going and why are we in this hand basket,’ you had better take a long hard look at that. You need good stick and rudder skills. Sometimes you have to turn off all that fancy equipment and fly the airplane.”
Have a look at their website, www.GrayoutAerosports.com. You’ll be impressed!