Dudley Henriques


Air show flying is a great deal more complicated than simply showing off. Those who have approached it with this attitude are mostly gone now. Even for those of us who have treated it professionally, there has been a price; a real price.
My wife and I can count thirty two pilots, most of them personal friends, who have been killed , through either a mechanical failure or pilot error of some kind. I'm still here!
Sometimes I wonder if I really was good, or just plain lucky to have survived it all. I can't really say for sure at this point in my life. I do know that I always considered the business to be a constant challenge in a search for excellence that I might never really have achieved.
I burned up thousands of gallons of fuel and oil sharpening myself like a razor on a strap. I stood and watched as friends were killed.
In one instance, I was asked to take off right after a close friend was killed. The show director was a nice enough guy. He was obviously very nervous about approaching me. He said it would be better if the show continued.
I flew the routine seeing the wreckage each time I went inverted in my Cuban turn around.
At the altitudes I flew, all planes of maneuver were critical; in many cases, absolutely no error margin.
Vertical maneuvers always had the element of sight picture acceptance at the top inverted that preceded a down side vertical commit where the shortest exit past 270 degrees was a straight pull; the limiting factor to recovery being whatever radial g was available at that point.
Rolls especially were dangerous due to the knife edge total commit to inverted flight at extremely low altitudes.
It's not really a game for show offs. I've climbed out of my airplane soaking with sweat after only fifteen minutes of this kind of flying. I've sat down with the Thunderbirds and the Blues in their after show debrief sessions and seen the stress in their faces from a show. It's hard, exacting work and it can and has killed many of us who took it lightly...and even some who took it seriously.