This past October, a few of us met up at the 2017 Culpeper Air Fest in Culpeper, Virginia. One of the planes that caught my attention was a Pitts S2C that I had never seen before on the air show circuit. The plane, belonging to Adam Messenheimer, was painted red with some white checkers and some blue accents mixed in really made the plane pop. We recently caught up with him to ask some questions and get to know him.
What's your earliest memory regarding aviation?
I remember being 6 years old flying a Cessna 172 with my dad and a buddy of his. Apparently I was quite insistent on being the only one in the front seat!
What got you into aviation?
I can’t recall a time when I wasn’t infatuated with aviation. My dad was a huge inspiration due to his extensive career. I had plenty of stories to hear between his training in the 70’s all the way to international airline flying.
When did you start flying? How did the first time go?
My first real piloting was done in sailplanes while I was still in high school. The instructors I had were smart people as well as very thorough teachers. All that “stick and rudder” experience was a great foundation for me. That said, my first real flying lesson was with the late John Walkup in Chandler, Arizona. As we got into the Super Cub, he showed me the controls. “And that’s how we drive”, he said wittily.
Did anyone in your family fly?
My dad has been a pilot all his life and is still a captain for United Airlines. Not only that, my mom was a flight attendant, so you can see how I had no choice in my desire to fly!
Did you start aerobatics immediately? Were you always interested in aerobatics?
I always wanted to fly fast and upside down. Combining speed and airplanes was the Holy Grail for me. Just after high school I spent a week recording some music with a band I was in. While sitting in our room one morning, I came across some videos of Rob Holland and Skip Stewart whipping their planes through the sky. “Dude.” Rock and roll, fast planes, extreme flying. That’s when it really hit me.
What excites you as a performer? What is your favorite maneuver?
Just having the opportunity to do such a thing is exhilarating. Not to mention meeting and interacting with all sorts of interesting people. As far as the actual performance, its satisfying to complete something that I’ve spent such a long time practicing. I can't speak for a specific maneuver. Learning the airplanes's behavior and how to best harness it's energy is what I enjoy the most.
What has inspired you throughout your career?
Great people. My entire family has always been very supportive, even though some of them think I’m a little crazy. All of the mentors and instructors I’ve had over the years have been invaluable. I’m also inspired by my students. Seeing their determination and accomplishment is both humbling and motivating.
Tell us more about your plane, what drew you to that specific plane, and did you look at any other planes when you started out?
I’m currently flying a Pitts S2C. Before breaking into the air show world, I spoke with a couple seasoned performers and finally decided on the Pitts. As soon as I took off for my first flight in one with Bill Finagin, I knew it was the right choice. Flying it is unlike anything else. The feel of the controls is crisp and responsive. Its willingness to perform to the highest standard is always profound to witness. And yet amidst all of that, there is a classic sense that the airplane seems to embody.
Is your favorite paint scheme on your airplane now? If not, what is your favorite paint scheme?
The perfect paint scheme varies from airplane to airplane, in my opinion. I love the red stripes and checkering on my aircraft, but the same might not work for something else.
What is your favorite plane and why? Part II, what aircraft is at the top of your bucket list to fly and why?
It might be a cop out, but I’d say my Pitts is my favorite. It has the modern power and engineering with a classic biplane design. Flying it is unique unto itself. And it has an mp3 plugin so I can rock out while practicing. Essential. Does a wingsuit/BASE jumping count as an aircraft? That’s probably at the top of my bucket list.
Where is your favorite location to fly?
I can’t think of a favorite place in particular. Anywhere with beaches is always great. But overall my favorite flights have been a product of new adventures and good people. As a new instrument pilot, I flew several time-building cross country flights with my good buddy, John. The locations themselves were interesting, but the flights are what I remember most. There are several great stories that we now have as a result.
We all know pilots look down on everyone, but who do you look up to?
I’ve had the opportunity to fly with many a great instructor. I learned so much from my primary instructor, Bob Shepanek. If you can imagine John Wayne as an airline pilot/scientist, that would be Bob. I always tell people that he didn’t just teach me to fly, he taught me to be an aviator. Even today I can still hear him correcting me with his grizzly style of speaking. Bill Finagin, aerobatic hall of fame member, has had a profound impact on me. His thorough method of training and “tongue in cheek” sense of humor makes for a great learning experience. Each instructor and examiner I had played an integral part in shaping me into the pilot I am today. I could go on about all of them, but maybe that’s best saved for another time.
What is your favorite aviation memory from 2017?
Competing in the National Aerobatic Championships was a very unique experience. Flying at Oshkosh and brushing shoulders with so many talented aviators was surreal. Even though I made a few mistakes and didn’t place very well, I won’t ever forget that week. It was complete immersion into my passion, along with others who felt the same way - and that’s really cool.
What are you looking forward to in 2018?
Seeing everyone out at different events! Being able to engage with great people while sharing our world of aviation is quite the experience.
Who helps keeping your aviation dream going, how many people are part of your crew?
I am lucky to have 3 great guys helping me out as part of team. The in-cockpit footage is all completed by Bruce, who places the cameras and will then edit what we need for the specific circumstance. This is extraordinarily helpful when trying to take an objective look at certain characteristics of a given maneuver. Rahul handles sponsorship as well as piloting any support aircraft. Additionally, he and Bruce are great mentors due to their insight brought from successful business backgrounds. Erik has acted as a personal trainer, cross country pilot, and announcer. At the end of the day, we’re all just friends that have a common passion and work together in order to make the most out of it.
What do you enjoy outside of aviation?
Motorcycle riding is one of my favorites. Just like flying, it requires a certain level of coordination and ability. I have a few friends that I typically ride with. One buddy in particular loves dancing at stoplights, which always gets a few confused glances. Music is also a love of mine. I dabble in a few different instruments and have some friends that are very gifted. I think its a great way to exercise the creative portion of the brain. Staying fit is also important to me - not only for general health and well being, but for maximized performance in the air.
Last question...what is your drink of choice? Can't say AvGas ;)
Before the flight? Orange juice. Or your favorite energy drink. All that sugar and caffeine might explain why Erik and I are fond of blasting club music and hard rock in our rental cars the morning before an event. Don’t hate, you know its cool. After the flight I’m a big fan of Eagle Rare. Its a great addition to any casual end-of-day debrief!
Images from Full Disc Aviation members:
James Woodard, Nicholas Pascarella, Ryan Tykosh, Chris Rose, Ryan Kelly