Marysville News

Pilots test their skills at Ohio Aerobatic Open

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Brett Hunter, of Waynesville, closes the canopy on his experimental Pitts biplane before heading out for a practice run at the Ohio Aerobatic Open June 14 at the Union County Airport in Marysville. Hunter, a professional pilot for 25 years, has attended the annual competition every year since 2001. Approximately 20 pilots from across the U.S. and Canada participated in the Ohio Aerobatic Open June 14 and 15.

High above central Ohio, Jeff Granger maneuvers his small plane in loops and barrel rolls, flying vertically toward the clouds then toward the ground.

Granger, president of Ohio Chapter 34 of the International Aerobatic Club, said there's no other way to fly.

"There's nothing fun about flying level," he said.

Granger joined other pilots from around the country and Canada at the Union County Airport June 14 and 15 for the Ohio Aerobatic Open.

It's one of several events held throughout the year during which amateur aerobatics pilots such as Granger, a Worthington resident, test their skills.

The central Ohio club has about 40 members, half of whom are active and about a half-dozen of whom compete regularly at aerobatics competitions, Granger said.

For the competitions, the pilots must fly three flight plans: a freestyle plan of their own creation, a trial plan preset by contest organizers and an "unknown" plan that pilots don't receive until the day of the competition.

Granger said the shows shouldn't be confused with the more popular air shows that feature pilots performing tricks for eager crowds. Rather, these competitions are about honing a pilot's skill.

"We don't do air shows," Granger said of the aerobatics club. "This is people who have other jobs and get together on the weekends and compete."

The contests aren't just a hobby for the pilots.

Sheri Davis, a Northland resident, took an interest in aerobatics in the 1990s.

With her feet planted on the ground, Davis coaches pilots on the maneuvers and also serves as a judge for competitions. She was director of the weekend event in Marysville.

In 2011, she met Granger at a competition, and he invited her to fly with him.

She admitted she was terrified, but she swallowed her fear.

"I told him there was nothing I wouldn't do (in the air)," Davis said.

She said her fear dissipated quickly. "When we do aerobatics -- I feel funny saying this -- but it's like everything good in the world at once," Davis said. "I live for this."

Granger, an orthopedic surgeon at the Ohio State University Medical Center, said aerobatics gives him a rush of adrenaline and provides him with a break from the day-to-day difficulties of his job.

"I do this as stress relief," he said. "I'm pretty sedate otherwise."

Davis said Granger's cool head makes him the ideal aerobatics pilot.

She, however, described herself as a little bit of an adrenaline addict.

"In terms of excitement, I'll do whatever I can," Davis said.

Proving her point, Davis planned to follow the weekend's competition with her first skydive.