This philosophy of work and effort has allowed her to be the only American woman to get three consecutive national titles in the Unlimited category in the 1990s. She formed part of the team when the United States won the World Championships in Canada in 1988, and for many years she has been the highest-scoring pilot on the American team in international competitions. She holds such meritorious honors as being a member of the International Aerobatic Club Hall of Fame, recipient of the National Air and Space Museum Award for Current Achievement, member of the Air Show Hall of Fame, recipient of the Katherine Wright Award, recipient of the Betty Skelton "First Lady of Aerobatics" Trophy, and much more.
Now retired from the international competition circuit, she tells us in a Snap & Roll exclusive that these days she is dedicated to what she loves the most: teaching new pilots, flying new planes, and performing at airshows at the controls of her beloved Extra 300S plane.
1. Patty, I know that everybody asked you this question, but it is mandatory. ¿How did you get started in Aerobatics? ¿ What was the feeling that decided you to go on in aerobatics for more than 20 years?
I was raised around aviation and was always interested in aerobatics, even though I had not been to an airshow until the year I started taking aerobatic lessons. They had always fascinated me! The very word “aerobatics” still sounds exciting.
2. What has aerobatics contributed to you in your life?
Flying made a big difference in my life and gave me focus and discipline and something to put my soul into. Flying aerobatics, especially competition aerobatics, further focused me and gave me something to excel in. So, you could say competition aerobatics gave me a firm purpose in life and a place to focus my energy. Of course, I met a lot of like minded people who have become life long friends.
3. What do you like most about flying aerobatics?
I would have to say the freedom of flying in three dimensions. I also love the feeling of being upside down and the precision necessary to do a maneuver perfectly. I enjoy tumbles and torque rolls etc., but love the feeling of doing a perfect hammerhead or vertical snap roll.
4. You have won three times in a row the US National Aerobatic Championship (1991,1992, 1993) being the unique woman in US to achieve that. What are the clues for this success?
The reason that I think I succeeded in my goals in competition aerobatics were that I had a very defined goal and kept that goal in sight during the time I was trying to achieve it. I also worked hard and listened to everyone I could – even people I didn’t particularly like – to gain knowledge. I had to dig deep to find out what worked for me when it came to competition, especially as I was pretty nervous when entering the competition box!
Well, I can tell you that bad luck is certainly a determining factor in how well you do! I had a few incidents with bad luck. In the 1994 World Aerobatic Championships in Debrecen, Hungary, my sight gauge which I rely on, broke during my first flight. At that same contest I also hit my heat on my prop (not running obviously) while walking through my routine and that threw me off my game a bit. Weather plays a big factor in competition aerobatics and I had some bad luck as far as weather was concerned.
Re: “luck” in general, I don’t think there’s room for superstition in flying in general.
6. With all the amazing awards you have won, ¿ Which one is really special for you and the one that you are more proud to have won it? ¿ Why?
Well, of course for me the U.S. National Aerobatic Champion title is the most important but I’d have to say the National Air & Space Museum Award for Current Achievement comes in a close second!
7. Do you prefer classic competition aerobatics or air shows? ¿ Do you think is necessary that an aerobatic pilot needs to know both disciplines or can be specialised in only one?
I’ve always preferred competition flying and have tried to bring that precision into the airshow environment. There have been some great airshow pilots who haven’t competed – people like Jimmy Franklin – but I highly recommend some competition background for most airshow pilots. From what I’ve seen, National Aerobatic Champions don’t hit the ground and the type of aerobatic skills they have acquired serve them in any airplane they fly whether a warbird or another small aerobatic airplane.
- 8. When you are performing an air show with your Extra 300S. ¿What kind of flight a spectator can expect to see?
I consider my style smooth yet aggressive, precise but exciting…at least I hope that’s what people enjoy about my flying. I also fly like a barnstormer. I like to keep the show moving and not have gaps or “dead” spots in it where I break to climb etc. I only plan one break in the middle of my routine right after I perform the inverted ribbon cut. The break gives the announcer a chance to talk a bit and mention my sponsors. Otherwise, I like to keep it moving from a snap roll on take off to a roll and a slip to landing.
9. With all the experience accumulated on your shoulders through the years, What do you think is really essential to take care and pay attention when performing aerobatics?
The goal in low level airshow aerobatics is to not hit the ground, and so taking care and paying attention is paramount to being a safe airshow pilot. Nothing else matters when you’re flying low level akro but paying attention.
10. Since your beginnings until the actual aerobatics, Do you think aerobatics has changed through the years an adapted to the new times? In which way?
I’ve been flying aerobatics for about 25 years and I have seen changes based on the type of equipment we are flying. When I first started, at least in the U.S. everyone was flying the Pitts. There were a few monoplanes, but they were strictly wood wing homebuilts. The early monoplanes had chains around the engines to hold them to the fuselage in case the engine mounts broke! We didn’t have the technology to build an airplane that was stronger than what the pilot could put them through when flying to the unlimited level. Then along came composites and the Sukhoi, Extra, Cap and everything changed. The airplanes were stronger than the pilots, had higher horsepower engines and because of that a lot of new maneuvers were developed.
11. Have you ever had an Emergency performing aerobatics? What happened? Do you think the aerobatics discipline made you become a better pilot?
Oh, sure, I’ve had a few emergencies, but nothing catastrophic. I’ve lost cylinders, had a few pieces fly off the airplane, etc. but have been lucky enough to have been over an airport when it happened. I’ve scared myself in bad weather a few times!
Aerobatic flying has absolutely made me a better pilot. When you spend years of your life trying to perfect aerobatic maneuvers you realize that the smallest things make a difference…for eg., keeping the ball centered, keeping the airplane in trim etc….and give you better performance. So, of course this translates to all the flying I do. I pity my flight students because I’m pretty demanding on them to strive for perfection in their flying!
12. We saw that you are teaching aerobatics to students who want to be aerobatic pilots or they just want to try what it is about. Which are the first three rules that you give to them? What have you learned from being aerobatic instructor?
With regards to flight instruction, I teach depending on the ability and experience of the student. But, I am fairly demanding as far as keeping the airplane on the centreline for take off and landing, and keeping the ball centered. If I’m teaching someone aerobatics for their first lessons, I do a “pre-aerobatic” lesson before we get to the fun stuff, and concentrate on stalls, stall recoveries, spins, accelerated stalls, etc. Before a person can do a decent loop for example, they need to know when to add right rudder, and they need how to recover from a botched maneuver.
I’m not planning on competing again. I accomplished my goals and have never seen a reason to retrace my footsteps. I enjoy flying different airplanes. I’ve been flying a Super Tucano lately and hope to fly that in airshows. I also enjoy instructing. I do specialty training, some airplane checkouts, train people for airshow work, tailwheel training, etc. and would like to have a flight school. Otherwise, I’m always open to exciting opportunities!
14. You have demonstrated that there are no limits for women to be one of the best in this sport. Why do you think that there is no more women aerobatics pilots in this man’s dominated sport?
That’s a tough question that I don’t have an answer for. I think that flying aerobatics professionally requires a single minded dedication. It really has to be the main focus and vocation. I don’t think a person can approach serious airshow work or unlimited competition as a “hobby.” Your other work has to be the “hobby” and the unlimited akro the main focus. There just don’t seem to be as many women interested in pursuing that. You’ll notice that most of the women who do don’t have kids. The women with kids either quit and come back, or quit entirely because (and this pertains especially to airshow flying) it is just too dangerous and goes against maternal instincts. This is just my theory of course.
- 15. What advice would you give to the young women aerobatic pilots who are starting in aerobatics and dream to have one day the same success as you?
I would say go for it! Ask and listen for advice.