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What Makes My Prop Spin

by Craig Agapie, Sweet Aviation Flight Department Manager and Chief Pilot

Note from Joel: For those who haven’t yet met him, or who have and want to learn more about what makes him tick, check out the following article from Craig Agapie, who, in addition to being our Chief Pilot and Flight Department Manager, is also our primary instructor for the Super Decathlon. Below, Craig shares a number of his favorite flying experiences and memories, which we hope will allow you to get to know him a little better.

The thing I enjoy most about flying is the flying itself. I feel truly blessed by the number of pure, unencumbered flying experiences and professionals I’ve met over my career. Picking a single favorite may not be possible, so here are a few:

  • Glider flying is a unique experience. There’s something about circling quietly with the majestic hawks, sharing the same thermalling technique they have used to soar for thousands of years.
  • Mountain flying in a C172 enlightened me to real decision-making, the effects of density altitude, and again, working with nature.
  • My college experience was very rich with opportunity — I got to fly a Piper Arrow down to Key West, Florida, for spring break week one year and a C172 the next. We even got to take a day trip to Bimini, Bahamas, for a rather unusual lunch!  The trip was preceded by a large group flight to Oklahoma City for the FAA’s superb water survival course.

One event in particular, though, resonated with me deeply.  A professor, Vern Bothwell, took me under his wing one summer and taught me how to work on a handful of classic airplanes. He may have just been looking for free labor to help maintain his extraordinary group of antiques and experimentals, but I was more than happy to help out. Parasols (I wasn’t brave enough to fly that one!), a strange pusher he called the Beaky Bird, an Aeronca Chief, an Ercoupe, and several more rounded out his stable of ragtag, but enormously fun, airplanes.

Each day started off eating peanut butter pancakes with a lot of elderly folks at a nearby truck stop. In return for labor, he let me fly the Chief from his too-short grass field that was hemmed in by trees on both ends and one and a half sides!  This was my first grass experience, and it quickly escalated.

We flew a short distance to a public, well-manicured, obstruction-free field called Pam’s Place. After a landing or two, he hopped out and said to take it up alone, and this set off the butterflies in my stomach!  At this point, I had been teaching university students at a busy Class D airport, so flying was certainly not new, but that day felt like I soloed again for the first time. Amidst the picturesque blue sky and green grass on that September day, it felt like I was taken back to the 1940s and my grandpa was teaching me to fly and had just set me loose for the first time! No flaps, no radio or transponder, no traffic — just me, the plane, and a perfect grass runway to welcome me back. I remember it so clearly.

I worked line service during college and had the pleasure of refueling the greats — Jim LeRoy, Jimmy Franklin, Bobby Younkin, Rob Holland, Greg Koontz, and many other 100LL burners. After one air show, Jim LeRoy needed to get his plane to Dayton for the next air show. With me in a 172, he taught me about formation takeoffs and formation flying that ended with him demonstrating a head-on pass somewhere near the Indiana-Ohio border.

At one point, fellow ISU alum Billy Werth bought a Pitts S-2C (Rob Holland’s previous mount), and we got to do some formation acro with me in the school’s Super Decathlon. I got to fly the Pitts afterward, but the ceiling was unfortunately too low to do anything other than blindingly fast rolls!  These have all become memories that I cherish. I take these experiences with me each time I introduce someone to aerobatics. The sense of awareness and possibility, plus the wonderful freedom that acro brings to their minds, is a joy to see and hear from the back seat. They experience real flying.  Purpose, efficiency, utility, mission — they all fade away. Enjoyment becomes all-consuming. Old men become young, the most experienced Chief Pilots’ minds expand, teenage boys laugh uncontrollably, and young ladies gain confidence in what is too typically a male-dominated industry.

I love learning, hypothesizing, testing, and improving, and aerobatics gives me all that. I’m always excited to help a fellow pilot enjoy the thrill of aerobatics. If you’d like to learn more, you can email me at Craig@sweetaviation.wpengine.com or call (260) 267-5505.

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