Crew for a day, ‘fans for life’

August 25, 2011

When he saw that an opportunity to be "crew for a day" for airshow performer Mike Goulian was up for bid in the AOPA Foundation's A Night for Flight auction—and for a good cause—Dan Mattes was determined to win.

He had the winning bid when the auction closed in November; and seven months later, the student pilot was standing shoulder to shoulder with the pilot he used to watch competing in the Red Bull Air Races, going through the morning briefing at the Rhode Island National Guard Airshow with the likes of Sean D. Tucker and the Blue Angels. That afternoon, Mattes stood at show center as Goulian performed loops and rolls and pulled 9-G maneuvers, all timed precisely to the beat of the music. For the whole day Mattes and his wife, Joan, were part of the close-knit team that makes Goulian’s performances come together.

“It was perfect, times 10,” Mattes said.

Behind the scenes

He had the gear: hats, T-shirts, autograph cards. He had watched videos of the high-energy airshow routines, corresponded with Goulian via email, and chatted with Karin Goulian, Mike’s wife and Goulian Aerosports vice president of marketing, on the phone. But Mattes hadn’t yet gotten an in-person look at the routines of Goulian, whom he admired as much for his motivational outreach as his precisely choreographed performances. He said seeing the routine from the platform with crew chief and announcer Matt Chapman made his jaw drop.

“I’m thinking, it’s just unbelievable—his talent,” Mattes said. “… You come back with, ‘How do you do that without hurting yourself?’”

It’s hard work, Goulian, who is president of his family’s Massachusetts flight school, impresses on everyone he can. “Everybody wants to see what it’s like behind the scenes,” he said. What they find out, he added, is that a lot more goes into a 10-minute routine than what they see from the airshow grounds.

“What people come away with … is a new understanding of how hard what we do really is.”

Goulian

And it's not just Goulian who puts in the work. Members of his team double as marketing head and supportive wife, crew chief and announcer, and relocation pilot and photographer. When Goulian finishes a routine that most airshow attendees think must be perfect, his teammates aren't afraid to play the role of critic, too—which Goulian encourages. Mattes joined the team that afternoon to review the footage, watching and listening as Goulian picked apart his performance so that he'd be even better the next time.

Meet Mike Goulian at AOPA Aviation Summit

While Dan Mattes got to crew for a day with airshow pilot Mike Goulian, you can meet Goulian, learn safety tips from him, and even have dinner.

Goulian will be on hand at AOPA Aviation Summit, Sept. 22 through 24, in Hartford, Conn. Join him for an “Airshow Legends Dine Around” from 6:30 to 9 p.m. on Sept. 23 and learn how to manage risk by creating your own safety culture in the “Safety…In high-risk environments” seminar from 10 to 11 a.m. on Sept. 24.

Register for AOPA Aviation Summit today!

The team likes giving people a glimpse of the effort that goes on behind the scenes, but many airshows don’t allow the kind access to pilots and airplanes that they were able to give Mattes at the Rhode Island airshow, Karin said. Mattes and Joan got to accompany at least one of the four-member team throughout the day, with all-access passes and a chance to look inside Goulian’s airplane, an Extra 330SC. Mattes said the Goulians and the rest of their team made him and his wife feel like a king and queen.

“You don’t know what to expect,” Mattes said. “I guess you think they’ll spend five minutes with us, 10 minutes with us and leave us alone. They spent the whole day with us.” He also got to brush elbows with the big names of the airshow world, meeting Tucker and announcer Rob Reider, whose voice he’s heard for years.

“It’s not like the Hollywood mentality where you feel like you’re in the way if you meet a celebrity. They want you there,” Mattes said.

“I told him, ‘Dan, we’re all just aviation buffs. … We’re all just regular guys,’” relocation pilot and media coordinator Dave Kicklighter said. Kicklighter said he remembers watching Goulian videos when he was stationed in Afghanistan, before he was even involved in the airshow world. Now he flies the Extra from location to location for Goulian’s shows.

Giving back

Goulian, an AOPA Life Member, said his strong support for AOPA initiatives stems from a personal experience—when AOPA helped save his family’s flight school.

A group calling itself “Stop the Noise” sued several pilots for the noise they produced as they legally practiced aerobatics in Massachusetts. The lawsuit, which sought about $1 million in damages, could have crippled aviation businesses in the area, including the Goulian family’s Executive Flyers Aviation. AOPA attorneys prepared extensive legal research to help defend the pilots against the nuisance allegation and provided support for two years until the parties reached a settlement. Executive Flyers remained open—and training aerobatic pilots.

Offering the “Crew for a day” experience to help raise money for the AOPA Foundation is a way to give back, Goulian said. But it’s not just because he was a direct beneficiary of the association’s mission to protect airports and their tenants: Goulian’s work as an airshow performer, teacher, and aviation ambassador dovetails nicely with the AOPA Foundation’s other goals of growing the pilot population, enhancing general aviation safety, and improving GA’s image.

GoulianGoulian’s commitment to safety stuck with Mattes well after the crew experience. While Mattes, who has soloed a Gobosh 700 and is working on the cross-country stage of his training, doesn’t have plans to learn aerobatics or fly through pylons, he said he wants to be like Goulian in two important ways: being a safety-conscious pilot and welcoming people into his life. A longtime AOPA member, Mattes saw the auction as a chance to give to a cause he supported while meeting an aviation celebrity he admired. He said it was well worth it.

"It was the best money I spent. … It was for a good cause,” he said.

The “crew for a day” experience is up for bid again this year, and Mattes said he expects the Goulian team to be as warm and welcoming with this year’s bidder as they were with him and his wife. The bidder might even meet up with the couple, as Mattes said he and Joan plan to make the Rhode Island airshow an annual event. They’ll keep in touch with the Goulians, too, he said.

“He’s got fans for life.”

Bidding for this year’s A Night For Flight auction closes Sept. 22. Auction items range from iPads to once-in-a-lifetime experiences; the proceeds go to the AOPA Foundation to help keep pilots safe and safeguard the future of general aviation.

Goulian

Photos by David Kicklighter