“FLY IT LIKE YOU STOLE IT”. Those were the words printed on a sticker staring me in the face as I was strapped into the front seat of Rob Holland’s Veteran Home Loans MX2 aircraft. Having read that, with a parachute strapped to my back, I knew I was in for the ride of my life – and I was more than ready.
Holland, a world champion aerobatics pilot with multiple championships under his belt, was one of the many performers on Florida’s Space Coast for the 2011 Cocoa Beach Air Show Nov. 5-6. The 3rd annual event has become very popular in central Florida, and 2011 was no exception. Flying with (arguably) the best aerobatics pilot in the world is not something that happens very often, so when I was offered a flight I jumped at the opportunity.
“When I was young, 7 or 8 years old, my dad brought me to an air show. I saw people flying upside down and that was it, I was on a mission from that point on to someday do air shows. I’ve never had a ‘Plan B’; it was always my goal to fly”, said Holland.
Rob has been flying for over18 years, having logged over 10,000 hours of flight time in more than 162 types of aircraft. He’s flown air shows professionally since 2002, making him one of the youngest pilots on the air show circuit today. His name has become synonymous with high performance aerobatics, continually pushing the envelope of the most advanced aerobatic aircraft in the air show industry and showcasing maneuvers you never believed an airplane could do.
“I don’t consider myself a stunt pilot. A stunt is trying something new and not knowing what the result will be,” said Holland. “I know what the result will be, it’s practiced, it’s choreographed. Every move has an out – it’s about the illusion of danger, not the reality”.
Rob’s $380,000 ultra high-performance MX2 aerobatic airplane, built by MX Aircraft of North Carolina, is tiny, lightweight, and pushes 385+ horsepower while boasting a structural profile that can pull plus/minus 16 G’s. With a roll rate of 400+ degrees per second, the all carbon fiber aircraft can pretty much do whatever Rob wants it to in his quest to redefine the word ‘aerobatic’.
His brand new aircraft, the MXS, is a single-seater and is used in his performances – the MX2 is a two-seater used for VIP / media flights.
His advice before our flight? “Look around, enjoy the view, and just have a lot of fun. There’s no way to describe it, you have to experience it, and your about to. I’ll try not to beat you up too bad. I’m gonna flip it end over end, do some rolls, fly upside down, slide it sideways across the sky, maybe fly it backwards…”
Backwards? I didn’t know an airplane could do such a thing, but apparently when it’s Rob Holland flying it can. After all, he IS the 2008 World Advanced Aerobatic Champion, 2008 U.S. National Unlimited Freestyle Champion, and the 2011 U.S. National Champion, not to mention he won the 4-minute freestyle routine in Italy in 2011 also. Needless to say I was in good hands.
Temps were in the 70’s, skies were mostly clear, and I was more than ready to go. Mike Ganor, Rob’s on-site operations Manager and show announcer, made sure to point out one slight detail to me before we took off, “If you hear Rob yell EJECT EJECT, you better unstrap your seatbelts & jump out, because the canopy will be off & Rob will already be gone”. With that said, and after replacing a faulty headset, off we went.
We accelerated down the runway at Merritt Island Airport to nearly 175mph in a matter of seconds before Rob pulled back on the stick and we went vertical right off the bat, pulling 4 G’s before leveling out and heading to our airspace about 1,000 feet off Cocoa Beach’s Alan Shepherd Park.
We did flips, rolls, flew upside down, and tumbled end over end – pulling 7 G’s before all was said done. Photographing the view for our readers while pulling G’s is not easy, at all, matter of fact it was much more difficult than I thought. But Rob’s team hooked me up with 3 GoPro HD cameras to shoot stills & video during the flight – 1 on each wingtip & 1 in the cockpit – so I did end up with plenty of great imagery despite not doing so well with my DSLR. We even buzzed by the crowd who gathered at the airport watching us fly on our way back, pulling upwards of 6 G’s in a tight 180 degree turn over the runway before finally touching back down on solid ground.
No roller coaster ride anywhere even comes close, the flight is a pure adrenaline rush to it’s max. It’s no wonder why he loves his job so much, and the view from his office isn’t too bad either. I instantly fell in love with it, and will never look at an aerobatic flight demonstration the same way again.
For more information about Rob Holland and his team at Ultimate Air Shows – including bio’s, show schedules, photos, and videos of his acts around the country please visit www.ultimateairshows.com.