Scott Francis

Interview: Nathan Gingles
Photography: Nicholas Pascarella, James Woodard, Chris Rose, Nathan Gingles, Christian Gross, Ryan Kelly, Ryan Tykosh



[editor's note: There's a running theme for us at airshows watching Scott Francis perform. He's widely known to us as the most difficult act to get a clean shot of. Scott flies the absolute pants off of his brilliant blue MX-S aerobatic airplane, and when tracking him through a series of maneuvers in our telephoto lenses, he's there one second and gone the next. It doesn't matter which direction he's heading, he completely deviates from his flight path faster than I can blink. Literally. When I do manage to keep him in the frame (forget getting a clean shot), the turns and rolls he executes are mind-numbingly fast, almost comical.

If there's an airplane that looks like it flies 'on rails,' this is the one, with Scott behind the stick. We've all had the pleasure of getting to know both Scott's routine and Scott the person over the past year or two: watching him fly is always a treat, but if you get a few minutes to chat with him, you'll understand why we like Scott the person so much. Scott is humble yet passionate; truly a kind human and a good soul. People like Scott are the reason the airshow community is so strong, and the reason why we keep coming back. Check him out at scottfrancisairshows.com -np]




FDA: Scott, could you tell us a little bit about yourself? Your background, hometown, years flying..
Scott Francis: I'm originally from Wichita, Kansas, which is the Air Capital world, right? My dad was a pilot there, a test pilot at Beech for most of his career for like 30 years. So, I kind of grew up around airplanes and I grew up close to McConnell Air Force Base watching the planes flying around in the air. I always kind of had the passion for it; as I got older I kind of had a choice to make between engineering or flying for a career and actually I wanted to fly for a career. So, I had a Navy scholarship, ROTC scholarship in college and wanted to fly fighters. But my uncorrected eyesight wasn't good enough, so, I couldn't do that. I ended up kind of pursuing the engineering thing as a career, but kept the flying stuff going and then I guess in 2003 I got into some aerobatics, got some fundamental aerobatic training and started competing at different IAC (International Aerobatic Club) contests and one thing led to another. That led to me buying a Pitts S1T aerobatic airplane, which I loved and I started moving up the ranks in competition and then eventually bought a Giles 202, which is a two-seat all carbon fiber airplane, [a] little high performance [airframe], and started flying some airshows in that. And then in 2013 I bought the MX that I am flying today, and I'm flying about 20 airshows a year.

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Awesome, we all love the MX-S. What aircraft did you learn to fly in?
So, I guess, in terms of formal Flight Training, that was back in high school...so even though I had flown with my dad in Bonanzas and Barons and King Airs and whatnot, the Beech Flying Club there had a bunch of Sundowners. My dad was my was my primary flight instructor, but to actually learn to fly [it was] in a Beech Sundowner C-23.

I loved flying that plane, good for tall people.
It's a great airplane, the fact there's doors on both sides is [great].

Your father was a test pilot, was he your main influence to becoming a pilot?
Yeah, and his father was an airline pilot. So, I was kind of third generation pilot, but [my main influence was] definitely growing up with my dad. I mean, my earliest memories are flying with him... he exposed me to a lot of flying and also he was an aerospace engineer. So, he exposed me to a lot of the engineering side as well. For me, flying has always been a passion; it's just that airplanes are magic. I think they all are and I enjoy flying anything from a Piper Cub to a King Air to a Dash 8 to an MX . They're all just great airplanes.

 
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Do you have a favorite plane fly?
Definitely this one, the MX is a truly special airplane. It's neutrally stable, it's got a fantastic roll rate...the thing I really like about the airplane is; in most airplanes you have to worry about exceeding G limits and so forth. In the MX, you really don't... it's a +/-14G limit on the airplane. You really can't get up to 14 G's,  the wing will stall before you get to it. So, the thing is, you're pretty much free to express what you want to do in the airplane and not worry about breaking it.

What's the most Gs you've pulled in [the MXS]?
Well, the G meter maxes out at +10 and -6 and I generally come back with it maxed out both ways. I know I've exceeded that by probably a little bit. I mean, I don't think it's gotten up to 15 G's but I've probably done 12 positive and 6 negative in it.

And then the roll rate is what, 500 [degrees per second]?
540.

540. What does that feel like going through that?
You know what, when you come from other airplanes and you fly this airplane at first it's a little exciting. But what happens is you develop more of a timing for it, right? So, it's almost like hitting a tennis ball, right? You don't think about everything in your stroke. You just know the timing of the stroke, same thing in rolling the airplane here. You just know that full deflection stick for so long gives you this much roll rate and you just get used to it, but it is an eye opener the first time you fly because it's a blistering roll rate.

Yeah I can't can't even imagine rolling that fast. What's the most challenging thing about flying this plane? You said it's a pretty friendly plane to fly?
The plane really has no bad habits. When you learn to fly the MX, the airplane will do what you ask it to do, at the instant you ask it to do it. And so I wouldn't say that any of the maneuvers for the airplane are particularly hard. Getting the airplane to tumble there's a fairly narrow window that you have to do it with the stick and the rudder. Once you find that, it will tumble just fine. That was probably the most difficult thing was to find that entry criteria to get it to do it. If you're too heavy-handed with the stick. It just won't do it, you'll just end up hurting yourself, but everything else, the airplane is just, you know...this is what it was designed to do. It's what it's built to do and it's probably the most let's say 'blemish-free' airplane I've ever flown in the sense that it really has no bad habits.

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So yesterday we were talking, you said you’re a speed and G junky. If you could get a ride or fly any plane, what would it be in?
F-16 for sure! Yeah, and you know and I know there are newer fighters and probably better weapons platforms, but to me the F-16 is the sexiest jet ever built. I've got some friends that have flown them and they say it's a thrill to fly. And yeah, that was kind of a lifelong ambition of mine, you know to fly a fighter. I was going into the navy so it would not have been an F-16 but you know, it's an unrealized ambition. Maybe next lifetime, but if somebody came along and said 'I grant you a wish to fly any jet what would it be', it would be an F-16.

Maybe somebody will hear your wish right, but you have to bring me along too. So, as far as airshows go, what's your favorite part about airshows?
You know what, there's two things really...one is sharing my passion for flying…[and not] a lot of people have had exposure to such a small sliver of aviation (airshows) and a lot of times it's just airliners. So, what they know, in terms of what airplanes can do, is a small fraction of what they can actually do. I like broadening people's horizons and the other thing that I like a lot is exposing kids to aviation. I grew up going to airshows and flying a lot; that's what triggered my passion and when I see little kids at an airshow...[my wife] Teresa and I, we were watching the F-22 yesterday, there was a young kid, a boy, probably four years old, with his dad and just watching them watch the jet and watching the fascination on his face...I like being a part of that, just exposing kids to that passion for aviation is just really, really neat to me.

Going back looking at your early flying career, what do you wish you knew then that you know now?
You know what, if I had known how enjoyable aerobatic flying is, I probably would have started it earlier. You know, when I got out of college, starting a family and buying a house and money is tight you know, it's harder to get started. I didn't really get started in aerobatics until I [was] in my late 30s and if I had the chance to do it again, I'd find a way to start earlier, just because it gives me more time to do it. You know, you're always developing your skills. There comes a point where you know the body can't take some of the rigors it takes to do this. So, you'd only got a certain window to do it and if I could change anything, I would have started it earlier. I know guys on the circuit today that are starting in their 20s and finding a way to do it, and I admire them for it, Adam Messenheimer is out there doing that and others also. And I admire them for finding a way to do it in their twenties, because I wish I had done it.

We love Adam! So, what's next for you? Is this your ultimate plan?
I am one or two years out on this thing. I mean, I'm certainly going to keep flying this airplane in these kind of shows for the next couple of years beyond that. Is there another airplane that I would like better? None that I know of right now. So, I'm going to kind of keep doing this as long as I can. If there was an opportunity to do a formation act and it was the right opportunity, I might do that but for the time being I'm just enjoying the solo. Just loving the MX.