Pilot Briefing

The pilot behind 'Amelia'

November 2, 2009

When Joe Shepherd of Fayetteville, Georgia, traded a Cessna 195 for a Lockheed 12A Electra Junior in 1988, he never thought that he’d spend 18 years restoring the airplane. He also never expected to find himself sweating in its cockpit on a hot summer day, wearing a wig and scarf intended to make him look—from a distance—like Amelia Earhart.

Or maybe it was Hilary Swank that Shepherd was supposed to resemble. She stars as aviatrix Amelia Earhart in the movie Ameila, about the pilot who disappeared over the Pacific during an attempted around-the-world flight in 1937. The film, directed by Mira Nair, opens in theaters on Friday, October 23.

A Canadian pilot landed Shepherd and his airplane in the movie. When Peter Ramm bought a Lockheed 12, Shepherd checked him out in the twin-engine taildragger. Ramm was asked to participate in the movie but his Lockheed was under restoration. “He asked if I’d be interested in using my airplane in the movie,” Shepherd recalled. Earhart flew a Lockheed 10 on her fateful trip, but the movie’s producers couldn’t find one.

During the summer of 2008, he made three trips to Canada for filming. Two weeks were spent in a World War II-era hangar in Toronto, and the flying sequences were filmed in St. Catharines. “When I got up to Canada they painted the airplane up just like Amelia’s Lockheed 10. It was called removable paint—when they were done with it, they put a solution on there and hosed it right off. It was movie magic.”

One morning he arrived at the airport and was sent to makeup. “They said, this moustache is going to go. I said, ‘OK’…they paid me for the moustache,” Shepherd said. “They shaved it and put makeup on me, and a scarf, and a wig, and a long leather jacket. I have to tell you, it wasn’t pretty. It’s supposed to give the appearance of a blonde woman flying.”

He spent a steamy day taxiing and flying, and couldn’t get out of the airplane. “We really got hot in there,” Shepherd said. The retired airline pilot and proud 40-year AOPA member had never done a movie before. “That was a really nice bunch of folks to be around. It was hard work but it was a lot of fun.”

At press time Shepherd was planning to fly his Lockheed to New York for an October 16 promotional appearance with the film’s actors. “We’re getting it polished now.”

You’ll be able to see the airplane and meet Shepherd at AOPA Aviation Summit in Tampa, Florida, November 5 through 7.

—Mike Collins

A dream realized

Lt. Kelly Wolter first appeared in AOPA Pilot in 2008 ( see “Solo!” October 2008 Pilot) along with five of her fellow pilots. (A sixth did not make it through the second level of training.)

Here’s what it is like to become a U.S. Air Force pilot, in Wolter’s own words: “In all, my training from Officer Training School to arriving at McGuire took two years and four months. But if we are just counting my flight training, it was two years.

“After finishing [flight screening] in Pueblo, Colorado, in August 2007 I went to Laughlin Air Force Base, Texas, and started pilot training in December. I graduated from undergraduate pilot training in January 2009 and went to water survival training at Pensacola, Florida, for a week followed by Pilot Initial Qualification at Altus, Oklahoma, in February. After I received my qualification of co-pilot from Altus I was sent to SERE, Survival Evasion Resistance and Escape school, in Spokane, Washington, for three weeks.

“That was my final training, which I finished at the end of July. It was a long journey but well worth it. In addition to the Diamond at Pueblo I flew over 250 hours in the [Hawker-Beechcraft] T–6 and T–1 at Laughlin, and then the C–17 at Altus and McGuire Air Force Base with the 6th Airlift Squadron.

“Pueblo was a good indicator [of advanced training]. The course was very similar to advanced training, with the boldface emergency procedures and the checklist discipline. Before I went to Pueblo I had about 75 hours, but that is something I never learned as a civilian pilot.

“Training never ends, and I have already logged five simulator training sessions for a total of 15 hours. The C–17 is an awesome aircraft, and I can’t wait to get out on the road and start flying missions all over the world.”

Flying Elvi hit by economy

If you saw the movie Honeymoon in Vegas then you know who they are. They are the 10-man parachute team that jumped into a Las Vegas parking lot dressed like Elvis to help Nicolas Cage rescue Sarah Jessica Parker from a forced marriage to a rich creep. It worked; Cage married Parker, and the Elvi attended as guests.

That was 1992, but now the Elvi are in trouble. The economy is threatening the future of the Flying Elvi. There have been misadventures in past years, like the time they stood for an FAA ramp check and one of the performers accidentally fired his ankle-mounted smoke canister. But nothing as serious as the unemployment line.

Some of the Elvi still get royalty checks from their movie—usually eight dollars a month. Most have gone back to their day jobs as fifth-grade teachers, construction workers, and avionics repairmen. It seems there are few who can afford 10 guys dressed like Elvis who drop in and lip sync to songs by the king of Rock and Roll. One even got in costume and held up a sign at a burger joint: “Will jump for food.” (Yes, it was Burger King.) Or maybe that was just a promotion. Hard to tell in Vegas.

Their need is great. If you’d like them to drop in (har har), e-mail them at the address online (flyingelvi.com). Then maybe team captain Rick Moffett, the fifth-grade teacher, can realize his lifelong dream of learning to fly instead of drooling over Trade-A-Plane ads.

Russian Bear enters the market

Skip Holm, winner of numerous Reno Unlimited-class air races and a former test pilot for the Lockheed Skunk Works, has realized an 11-year dream by bringing his Bear 360 tandem-seat tailwheel aircraft to market.

Holm is the test pilot and managing partner for Bear Aircraft LLC based in Dickinson, North Dakota, although the major players are in the Los Angeles area. The Bear 360 comes with, as you might guess, a 360-horsepower Vedeneyev M14P radial engine and costs $285,000. The company is recommending that customers order the Vedeneyev M14PF 420-horsepower radial engine for an additional $7,000, especially for those living at higher altitudes or near mountainous areas. Holm teamed with famed Russian aircraft designer Sergey Yakovlev to develop the aircraft. The company is offering $650 demonstration rides at Bakersfield, California’s Shafter-Minter Field that can be credited toward a purchase.

“It’s a kick in the pants,” said fellow partner Stuart Featherstone, owner of a 285-mph Lancair Legacy once raced by Holm. Featherstone is director of sales and marketing. Contact information is on the Web at bearaircraft.com. The aircraft is approved by the FAA for Experimental Exhibition use.

“People I talk to are interested in the fact that it is built to full Russian military specifications, and that the engineering and design was done to Part 23 FAA standards,” Featherstone said. Are they going to certify it? There are no plans for that yet. It comes standard, ready to fly, with electronic flight instruments, an autopilot, and a Garmin GNS 430. Serial numbers one and two are on the production line in Russia.

The aircraft is described by Featherstone and Holm as an easy tailwheel aircraft to fly that is aimed at aviation enthusiasts. It has an empty weight of 1,860 pounds and a gross takeoff weight of 2,760 pounds, with a cruise speed of 200-plus knots using the 420-horsepower engine. It is aerobatic with a tolerance of plus 6 Gs and minus 3 Gs, and has an inverted fuel system with a header tank that holds several minutes of fuel. The roll rate is 180 degrees per second. An inverted oil system is offered as an option.

Vicki Cruse dies during aerobatic competition

Vicki Cruse, president of the International Aerobatic Club (IAC) and a member of the U.S. Aerobatic Team, died August 22 during a qualifying flight for the twentyfifth World Aerobatic Championships in England. The Olympic-style competition is conducted at various locations around the world every two years.

Cruse was a four-time member of the U.S. Aerobatic Team and was the 2007 national aerobatic champion in the unlimited category. As IAC president, she was a member of the EAA board of directors. She lived in Santa Paula, California. The accident occurred at Silverstone, Buckingham, England, northwest of London, where an automotive racecourse is co-located with an airport.

Those who saw the accident said Cruse had completed a 90-degree vertical climb, pushing the nose over at the top in order to descend on a vertical down line. On that descent she performed a one-and-one-quarter-turn snap roll. The objective is to stop rotation after the aircraft has rolled one and one-quarter times, but rotation in this case only slowed and continued to the ground. The accident is under investigation by British authorities.

The Zivco Edge 540 in which she died was based in England and had been borrowed for the contest to avoid shipping a personal aircraft to England. Although team blog entries by Cruse indicated she was having difficulty with the aircraft’s ignition system, that problem had been corrected before competition began, a team official said.

A four-year wait ends for Goulian

How would you feel if you worked four years to win a Red Bull air race requiring low-level aerobatics and knife-edge flying as low as 20 feet? You’d feel like Mike Goulian.

Selected earlier this year as the top airshow pilot in the United States, Goulian won one of a series of Red Bull pylon races in late summer above the Danube River in Budapest, Hungary, before 650,000 people.

American Kirby Chambliss took third, while fellow American pilot Mike Mangold took sixth place.

“It feels amazing,” Goulian said after clocking a winning speed of 224 mph on the 3.5-nm course. “This has been four years in the making. It’s a great win.”

Mike Collins

Mike Collins | Technical Editor, AOPA

Mike Collins has worked for AOPA’s media network since 1994. He holds a private pilot certificate with an instrument rating.