Black Diamond Jet Team set to sparkle

January 12, 2012

Black Diamond Jet Team

If Jared Isaacman could make a wish, it might be that the 2012 airshow season hurries up and gets started.

“We’re getting antsy here,” he said. “We need our aviation fix.”

Lots of pilots feel that way by mid-January—but as the founder and a member of the Lakeland, Fla.-based Black Diamond Jet Team, Isaacman is in a pretty good spot to do something about it. And it sounds like he won’t be sitting around much longer.

Around the time that major league pitchers and catchers report to spring training camps in Florida, the jet team billed as “America’s premier civilian squadron” will start practicing for shows that will feature a new twist: the addition of a seventh aircraft in the role of a dynamic solo. The new configuration comes during a year of changes that included a relocation of the base from Lancaster, Pa., to Lakeland, Fla., and the team’s emergence on the circuit last Nov. 28 as the Black Diamond Jet Team, after being known as the Heavy Metal Jet Team.

Whether you catch the act at an airshow or while attending a sporting event where they perform a flyover, you can recognize the jet team by its black-and-white “Arctic camouflage” paint scheme—and sharp-eyed plane spotters will call out five Czech-designed L-39 Albatros single-engine jets along with two MiG 17s, including the new ship. That’s Isaacman flying the L-39 in the right-wing position.

In making a break from the classical six-ship presentation based on a four-ship diamond and two opposing solos, “it’s going to be more dynamic, with a lot more action in front of the crowds,” he said. Working out the new routines will take “a lot of collaboration, planning, and academics” to which the February training season will be devoted.

One element that won’t change in 2012 is the dedication of each performance to the Make-a-Wish Foundation, an organization that since 1980 has worked to make wishes come true for children with life-threatening medical conditions. The team provides 100 tickets to its performances to the organization, along with a VIP tent set up on the premises. The bond goes beyond airshows. Several years ago Isaacman made two round-the-world flights piloting a business jet to focus attention on the charity’s work. The flights raised more than $100,000 for Make-a-Wish. 

Many pilots engage in interesting activities when they are not flying (performing heart surgery, running nations of various sizes, working in mass media, science, and making motion pictures, to name a few) and Isaacman, now 28, also finds ways to take his mind off the torments of temporarily being unable to fly a jet in airshows.

In his case, the distraction is running United Bank Card, an industry-leading payment processor that was born in the basement of his parents’ home when Isaacman was 16, and grew into a company that now processes more than $9 billion annually in credit card volume.

Black Diamond Jet TeamThe Make-a-Wish Foundation has long been part of UBC’s corporate charitable efforts, so it was natural, Isaacman said, to carry that commitment over to the jet team, which is fully sponsored by his company.

That back story seemed to merit further exploration. Isaacman explained that UBC got its start when he was already working for a credit card company’s management information systems operation. He “started to understand a lot about the industry,” soon coming to recognize that the industry’s transaction-processing piece was the neglected offspring, frequently outsourced and usually forgotten.

Seizing an opportunity to fill a void, Isaacman and his early supporters “changed all that, and made it an industry in itself.” Now recognized as a leader, “United Bank Card was named one of the fastest growing private companies in the U.S. for five consecutive years (2005-2009) by Inc. Magazine and was ranked by Deloitte on their list of fastest growing technology companies in the Connecticut, New Jersey and New York area in 2008,” said a UBC news release.

That doesn’t mean Isaacman has the company on autopilot. UBC still consumes a “massive” part of his day and 60-hour work weeks, he said.

Okay, back to jets.

Back to piston singles first, because it was a Cessna 182 that served as Isaacman’s platform for earning his private pilot certificate. Sights already set on jet cockpits, he took the quickest path possible by heading straight into multi-engine flying and spending a year accumulating time and experience in a Beech Baron, which he flew “everywhere.”

Isaacman moved up to his first jet, a Cessna Citation Mustang, and eventually flew about every Cessna bizjet before taking on the Hawker Beechcraft Premier. With 2,000 hours of jet time and experience flying worldwide came his first taste of warbirds, when he fell in with “a great group of guys” that included retired Air Force Lt. Col. Jerry “Jive” Kerby, who became Isaacman’s instructor and now serves as team leader for the Black Diamond Jet Team.

What’s it like when a civilian pilot weaned on Skylanes, Barons, and bizets transitions to the jet-airshow scene? Black Diamond Jet Team

Isaacman said that he found the single-engine L-39 simple from a systems point of view compared to the more advanced bizjets. There’s one generator, one battery, and an uncomplicated hydraulic system, which was helpful for attaining a type rating,

Then came his intro to the world of formation flight, basic dogfighting, aerobatics, and maneuvers like the “flameout pattern” that you’d have to fly if the Albatros suddenly became a glider.

“What I found more difficult, at least in the beginning in transition as a civilian pilot, is that military pilots fly differently,” he said.

In a bizjet, piloting “is all about being smooth” and not making the passengers nervous.

Military-style flying requires a different type of precision: “Roll the wings and pull.”

“You learn things that would never come up in a business jet,” he said.

According to the team’s 2012 schedule, 20 booked appearances begin in Titusville, Fla., on March 9 and conclude Nov. 1 at Florida’s Homestead Air National Guard Base. In between look for performances at hometown event Sun ’n Fun and at the Experimental Aircraft Association’s 2012 AirVenture in Oshkosh, Wis., as the airshow season moves along.

Dan Namowitz

Dan Namowitz | Aviation Writer

Dan Namowitz is an aviation writer and flight instructor. He has been a pilot since 1985 and an instructor since 1990.