DAYTON — It’s easy to slide through life in a somewhat insular way, so it’s always interesting to watch, from a distance, lives intersect. In this case, I share with you International Aviation Hall of Fame member Sean D. Tucker, his new flying partner Jessy Panzer, and 12-year-old Fairborn student Olivia Collins.
Olivia won a Young Eagles essay contest that allowed her to fly with Sean and Jessy at the Vectren Dayton Air Show. She shared that all three of her grandfathers were in the Air Force. She loves going to the AF Museum with her father, through with his work schedule, this has become more difficult. She and her father had always wanted to attend an air show together, but had never been able to do so; however with this winning essay entry, she saw this as the chance for her dad to take off work and spend quality time with her and what they both love.
Sean began the press conference explaining he had mentored his new partner 15 years ago in the Stars of Tomorrow program which was created to train passionate, dedicated people to fly in the air show arena safely. Jessy went on to corporate flying, became a member of the US Woman’s Aerobatic team, and has now settled in with a legend in the air show industry.
“Jessy lives, eats, breathes skydancing,” Sean explained.” Her dedication to the art form reinvigorates my passion for flight and she’s joyful in the air.”
“And she’s pretty,” someone in the crowd interjected.
“She’s going to be a great role model. She holds herself to a very high standard,” Sean praised.
Jessy inserted, “We’re joining forces to inspire more people, bring new dynamics to the sky and have more fun in the sun!”
The Smithsonian and the Oracle III- “I really didn’t want to give it up, I love that plane,” he admitted, “It was a message to me-okay, let’s start a transition to your next dream. It’s an honor, but…it’s bittersweet.” The Oracle III engine is a custom built Lycoming AEIO-540-D4B5. It has a wingspan of 19 feet, 6 inches, weighs 1,129 pounds, and has a top speed of 300 mph. At the end of the air show season this year, it will be part of the We All Fly exhibit on the National Mall.
Think aerobatic flying looks effortless? Not so, my friend. While your body might be able to handle 9 g’s, you can easily pass out at 3. “Heck yeah! We hook it, baby!” You have to train hard, Sean insists. While life on the road might get hectic during air show season, there’s no eating at McDonald’s for him.
“The high g isn’t a turn, it’s a pull. You gotta prepare for it. Here’s the interesting thing- it’s not even high g; it can be as light as 3 g, depending on how you you’ve been breathing before that you can go out [black out]. You gotta get ready for it; you tighten your diaphragm, tighten your legs, you tighten your butt, tighten your chest; you have to breathe through it-you don’t hold your breath. It’s called the hook maneuver. You get out there and work it. You can ago out at 3 g if you’re not prepared.”
“The only way you can handle negative g’s is to acclimate to it. You can do a lot of damage to your retinas; you can detach a retina if you’re body’s not acclimated. Those are very insidious, very dangerous and you get brain dead from too much negative g, so you slowly work up to that. Right now we’re both g tolerant and my range right now is +9, -6 or -7 but if I’m not in the plane every day I can’t do that, and it takes time to work back up to that g tolerance.”
Sean is very much into core work (weight lifting), high anaerobic workouts, and aerobic work. The prior night after work, he got on the treadmill for an hour and a half.
While many of us were whining about the possibility of bad weather, Sean insists on staying in the moment and focusing on the positive, because that’s how you stay in power. “Once you start going to the dark side, you stay there. And me, as team lead, if I was talking negative all the time, ” he gestures to Jessy, “then that gives her permission to be that way. And if I’m a crook- meaning to cheat on my speeds and altitudes, she can be a crook. Well, you do that in my business and you die. Period. It’s really a commitment to the whole art form.”
Aerobatics is a difficult business to be successful at; it’s physically and mentally demanding, it’s incredibly expensive, hence need for sponsors. “You need to train all the time, you need to be engaged all the time. You can’t go into the arena as an amateur. The people spend their hard earned money to live vicariously through you and if you hurt yourself and if you traumatize them because you’re an amateur…it takes away someone’s dream.”
Speaking of being engaged, that bleeds over into his fan base. Sean trains at the airport in Piqua, Ohio, and a gentleman who’s come out to watch him for over twenty years is unfortunately in a terminal state. He’s 90 years old and they brought him out of his home as he lay dying to, for one last time, see Sean fly. It’s a bittersweet, poignant moment for him. He smiles hugely as he shares that he’s got a whole collection of interesting and unique friends from all over the country, thanks to this job of his. A ten year old fan was not able to meet up with him at a Saturday show because of a scheduled bone marrow transplant. Sean told him, once you’re healthy, we’re goin’ flying.
Jessy’s favorite are the children; “When they’re so excited to see what you just did. And of course to be a woman, to see the amazement on the little girls’ faces and they realize that oh my gosh, I can do that too!”
Which led us to Olivia, the 12-year-old who was supposed to fly with the team that day but couldn’t, as Sean explained gently to her, “because it’s poopy” weather, and the flight will be rescheduled.
Did Jessy and Sean have any fun facts to share about each other? “She burps a lot,” Sean admitted, but after laughing, Jessy shot back, “and he’s thankful it’s not a fart!”
“Oh, and Jessy likes taking a nap. And that’s so smart. Instead of saying, ‘I’m there all the time’, she says, ‘I need my space’ so she can reach her full potential. And what I love about Jessy, she’s not gonna just say yes if it’s not right. And that’s very important because each of us are in control of our own destiny, and she wants to reach her full potential. What great energy that is.”
With the Oracle III headed to the Smithsonian will Sean have bragging rights with his family for the rest of his life? “Here’s the thing,” he shared. “I think I’m successful because I never believe my own press clippings. It’s a great honor to have it go to the Smithsonian, kind of a lifetime achievement. It’s great, but my family just sees me as a working stiff who loves flying. All that stuff was yesterday; what am I doing today? I just don’t think much of that stuff at all. I mean, I’m really honored, and I’m really blessed, but um… I don’t want to give up that plane! But, I’m working on a team [gestures to Jessy, smiling]. I just don’t do that bragging right thing.”
The writer, a Sidney native, is a copy editor for WXIX-TV Fox 19 in Cincinnati. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.