Oct. 19, 2022

A harrowing account of a real-life inflight emergency, a thought-provoking discussion of advanced air mobility (AAM) and an exhilarating behind-the-scenes look at the making of one of this summer’s most popular and exciting movies were all part of the Day Two Keynote Session at the 2022 NBAA Business Aviation Convention & Exhibition (NBAA-BACE) in Orlando, FL.

Tammie Jo Shults

Tammie Jo Shults

Pilot, author and aviation advocate Tammie Jo Shults began the session by recounting her journey from being inspired by flight while working at her family’s ranch in Tularosa, NM, to encountering those who discouraged her pursuit of a military flight career.

“The colonel in charge shook his head as I approached, and said, ‘This is career day, not hobby day. You need to go find something girls can do,’“ recalled Shults. “I was bewildered [as] I hadn’t heard anything that was beyond the grasp of the female mind.”

Shults persevered, becoming an accomplished pilot in the U.S. Navy, where she learned many vital skills she would put to use years later, when captaining a Southwest Airlines Boeing 737-700 that suffered an uncontained engine failure on April 18, 2018.

“We heard an explosion and felt like we had been hit by a Mack truck on the captain’s side,” said Shults. “In one motion, the aircraft skidded sideways, went into a steep dive and snap-rolled to the left.”

Shults and her first officer guided the stricken airliner to a successful emergency landing in Philadelphia, although not without cost.

“We were able to return 148 people to their lives and their loved ones, but we were not able to do that for [passenger] Jennifer Riordan,” she said tearfully. “That will always bear heavy on my heart and the hearts of my crew.”

Those experiences now inform her commitment to inspire others to pursue excellence, especially in challenging moments.

“Take a look at our habits, our heroes, our hope,” she concluded. “We all have a sphere of influence. We do not have to be in charge to make a change. We just have to take the time to see and the effort to act.”

AAM Panel of Leaders

AAM Panel of Leaders

During the next segment of the Day Two Keynote Session, acclaimed aviation journalist Miles O’Brien hosted a panel of leaders in the emerging AAM segment.

“Here you have an industry that has technological and regulatory uncertainties, and really uncertainties as to whether the market will embrace [autonomous AAM flight],” O’Brien said, challenging the panel. “Do you think that people are ready to get on board?”

“George Lucas always used to say, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them,’“ replied Adam Grosser, chairman and managing partner in AAM venture capital firm UP Partners. “This falls very much into that category.”

Jaiwon Shin, president of Hyundai Motor Group Division Supernal, highlighted his parent company’s strong financial backing for AAM.

Said Shin: “What’s most important is their commitment to [being] part of the transformation to become an integrated mobility solution provider, connecting ground and air mobility, and making this futuristic, 21st century mobility [available] for all citizens in the world.”

Beta Technologies cofounder and CEO Kyle Clark shared some of the lessons learned from the flight of his company’s electrically powered Alia aircraft from Plattsburg, NY to Bentonville, AR earlier this year.

“As soon as you go out and fly over Class Bravo airspace, you’re no longer flying at the pleasure of your test team in your airplane, but at the pleasure of ATC,” said Clark. “It’s a huge jump in confidence to have an aircraft that doesn’t get babied [in a flight test program.]”

“We’re at a moment in time where billions of dollars have been invested in this new form of transportation,” said Wisk President and CEO Gary Gysin. “The Tesla Roadster was introduced in 2008 and Uber rideshare in 2010. So, in 12-14 years, transportation fundamentally changed. [AAM] is going to change transportation [again].”

Top Gun Experience

Top Gun Experience

The NBAA-BACE Day Two Keynote closed with an exciting discussion about the making of the thrilling flight scenes from the summer blockbuster sequel, “Top Gun: Maverick,” starring Tom Cruise.

Hoping to land the job as aerial coordinator for the movie, Kevin LaRosa II took the initiative to develop the L-39 “CineJet” in conjunction with the Patriot Jet Team. The high-performance aerobatic jet’s gimbaled nose camera is able to shoot high-resolution inflight video.

“We were all doing what we love, and for me that was [this job],” said LaRosa. “It was a Hail Mary for a chance to be aerial coordinator for this movie. I’ve probably watched the original [Top Gun movie] thousands of times, and it would be just a dream come true if that would happen. Sure enough, I got the call.”

Monica Barbaro, who played Lt. Natasha “Phoenix” Trace, one of the pilots in Top Gun Maverick, described the intense training regimen designed by Cruise and LaRosa that took her from her first pattern flight in a Cessna single to pulling as much as 7gs in the F/A-18 Super Hornet.

“We looked for things to get us uncomfortable because we knew the filming of the movie was going to be so intense that we wouldn’t have any time to pick up the physicality of it,” said Barbaro. “We were really, intentionally, overtrained. And yeah, it was an experience no one else in Hollywood ever gets. That’s for sure.”

Blue Angels Solo Pilot Frank Weisser, whose low-level flying skills featured prominently from the very first scenes in the film, drew laughs and applause when describing what it took to make it appear Cruise was in the cockpit for certain scenes, not him.

“They shaved the back of my head and then glued his hairline across the back,” he said. “No one had explained that [before] I sat down in the makeup chair, and I felt clippers going all the way to the back of my head.

“When I came in, the woman asked, ‘Who are you doubling for today?’ And I said, I think you might have missed the point on this. I am not doubling as Tom; Tom is actually pretending to be us!”

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