Sean Tucker laughs while piloting his single-engine plane more than 200 mph vertically, then letting it “sit” in the clouds before doing a “wing over” down toward the Fire Island beach below.
Such maneuvers would leave some feeling queasy, but it’s all in a day’s work for this stunt pilot as he flies upside-down, through loops, and does what’s called a max deflection roll—spinning his tiny red-and-white aircraft like a drill through the sky. And those are just some of his tamest moves.
“It’s a pretty cool job,” Tucker tells the Press after taking this reporter on a relatively subdued—only half of his usual 9.5 positive g-forces—practice run this week. “Making designs in the third dimension…that’s what I get to do every single day.”
It’s a show he’s performed hundreds of times, practices daily and never gets old. While he concedes that “it’s the craziest job in the world if you can make a living at it,” he says that doesn’t mean spectators should mistake him for reckless.
“It is very risky, but the perception that people have sometimes that I’m crazy is totally opposite what we are,” he says after landing safely at Republic Airport in East Farmingdale. “When we’re throwing the airplane through the sky and front flipping and back flipping and twirling and tumbling to the ground we appear out of control, but we mitigate every risk by training and making sure in every maneuver we have an escape.”
It also helps that this aerobatic pilot flies a state-of-the-art, custom-built plane, the Oracle Challenger III. And that he is one of the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum’s 25 Living Legends of Flight. He speaks of his act as less a feat of daredevilry than a highly choreographed blend of athleticism, art and engineering.
“The wings become your arms and you become so connected with it, then it becomes intuitive,” he says of his connection to his plane. “Then it’s like your dancing in the sky. You’re a part of the machine.”
He hopes his fans, who can catch his show immediately before this year’s headliners, the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds, will be inspired to reach for the stars by living life as passionately as he does.
“Come out and dream with us,” he says. “It’s all about dreams.”