Behind an Air Show Display: Dreams, a Team and a Military Discipline

Behind an Air Show Display: Dreams, a Team and a Military Discipline

In a signature maneuver for Team AeroDynamix, six planes will fly vertically before breaking apart in a “Bomb Burst.” The nine-plane formation team will be a highlight of the Aerobatic Air Show in Ocean City, NJ, on Sunday, Sept. 14, 2014.


Ocean City’s Aerobatic Air Show returns at 1 p.m. Sunday, and one of the highlights will be the performance of Team AeroDynamix, billed as “the world’s largest air show team.”

Mike “Kahuna” Stewart

Spectators watching the free air show from the beach or boardwalk in Ocean City will see the nine-plane formation team fly wing-to-wing vertically toward the heavens before breaking out into all directions in the group’s signature “Bomb Burst.” They’ll see the team paint the sky with cursive O’s in another distinctive maneuver, the “Nine-Ship Triple Vic Loop.”

If the death-defying routine looks as if it requires military precision, that’s no accident, says flight leader Mike Stewart.

“The team operates like a quasi-military organization,” said Stewart. “We have a lot of trust, of course, in each other.”


Read more about how to watch the two free air shows in Ocean City on Sept. 13 and 14.

Stewart said his mentor is retired Air Force Lt. Col. Bob Goodman, who took a young pilot and started to teach him air-to-air combat maneuvers, chasing another airplane around the sky one-on-one.

Team AeroDynamix will perform in the Ocean City, NJ Aerobatic Air Show on Sunday, Sept. 14.
Team AeroDynamix will perform in the Ocean City, NJ Aerobatic Air Show on Sunday, Sept. 14.

The exercise “distracts you from the complexity of doing a maneuver,” Stewart said. “You ignore the fears of turning upside down.”

“It’s training only the government can buy.”

Stewart said the military precision is the key to the success and safety of a team that flies 10 aircraft in all directions, in close proximity at high speeds.

All the Team Aerodynamix pilots have nicknames. Stewart flies with Smokey, Plumber, Widget, Badger, Round Bob, Dubes (Tom DuBrouillet), Speedy, Leggs and Greese. Stewart takes the name “Kahuna” as the flight leader.

But Before Stewart became Kahuna, he was a mere mortal, an IBM computer programmer, senior manager, development director and vice president. He went out at age 30 to seek training for his pilot’s license. He had built model airplanes as a kid and ultimately constructed the airplane that he flies in the show.

He left his job a couple years ago, and now at age 46, he flies full time with Team AeroDynamix.

Team AeroDynamix pilots
Team AeroDynamix pilots

“I get to go do what I love,” he said. “Life’s too short. I followed my dream, and I get to do it with my buddies.”

Though the Ocean City show will include nine planes, the team usually flies with 10. The pilots come from cities throughout the Southeast including Charlotte, Atlanta and Cincinnati. Some fly full-time. Others are weekend warriors with day jobs.

The team practices every week, often in Charlotte, but rotating to different cities and different landscapes.

New pilots have to earn the trust of their teammates. They start in two-plane formations.

“We don’t let them get very close,” Stewart said.

As the new members gain more experience they join bigger and tighter formations, he said. Pilots typically practice for more than two years before joining the team in a show.

Flying over the ocean as they will on Sunday in Ocean City is a different experience. The flying is smooth with no thermals and little turbulence, he said. But the flat ocean surface makes depth perception difficult.

But the pilots will rely on each other, their experience and their military discipline to execute another daring display.

“It’s pretty cool,” Stewart said. “Better than sitting behind a desk.”