FLEET WEEK – A Conversation with Airshow Pilot Tim Weber

Flying and crooning over The City By The Bay

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By Seán Martinfield
Sentinel Editor and Publisher
Photo by Lynn Imanaka

Brace yourself. It’s only going to get louder. And I love it! Get down to the Embarcadero, over to Pier 39, or onto the highest roof of whoever you know that has one and watch the greatest airshow on earth. It’s all about the breathtaking aerial maneuvers and stunts of the greatest pilots around – including members of the Blue Angels. Prior to their ear-popping flights over your neighborhood, comes a dazzling display by airshow pilots who regularly tour across the nation. I had the great opportunity the other day to interview one of them, Tim Weber. The man is incredibly down to earth and an emerging recording artist on top of it. He’ll be soaring over the crowds around 1:45. His plane will be easy to spot.

Tim: I fly the GEICO Extra 300S. I always make a point of emphasizing I fly the GEICO plane because sometimes if the crowds can’t hear the announcer, they’ll see the plane and know that it’s me. I’ve been on the air circuit now full time since 1996. I do 22 to 28 shows a year – coast to coast, non-stop, living in hotel rooms. The life of an airshow gypsy.

Seán: That can sure cut into a guy’s social life.

Tim: It sure does. It gets into your blood. But it’s a really cool thing to do for a living. Not a lot of people can do this as a full-time occupation. So, I’m very fortunate in that respect. It still is as much fun for me today as it was fifteen years ago.

Seán: How did you get started in this?

Tim: I got a job at an airport when I was 13, soloed in a glider at 14, and by the time I was 15 was exploring aerobatics in gliders. Aerobatics came naturally to me. Eventually I was able to afford an Aerobatic Biplane that was actually a Pitts Special and started doing competition aerobatics. I had a couple of guys who had watched my free-style routine. Then I got some calls asking if I would consider flying in their little airshow. I hadn’t really thought about that. It had not been part of my paradigm, it just wasn’t an option. I gave it some thought, explored it a little further, and decided to take a chance.

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TIM WEBER

Tim: I had been jonesing for an airplane called a YAK 55M built in Russia. You could buy new ones back then that were pretty affordable, came in a box. So, I took a big chance – borrowed the money, bought the YAK and started doing some shows. It was amazing! By the time I’d done five or six shows, my phone rang. The guy says, “You don’t know me, but I’ve been hearing about you. How do I get my name on your airplane?” He owned a pretty good sized company and became my first sponsor. By the end of that year I had a major life insurance company as my sponsor and I was off and running. I went from not thinking much about airshows to being a full-time airshow guy within the course of a year. It was kind of crazy. And I never looked back.

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The YAK 55 M

Seán: Do you have a kind of theatrical agent who books these shows for you?

Tim: Basically the way the airshow guys work is through an annual convention. Most of the producers and performers come together and try to make our schedules allign. And throughout the year we get calls as well. I’ve been doing it long enough so that booking those shows isn’t very difficult anymore because people know me or have worked with me. When people are getting started it’s extremely difficult, because no one knows who they are. My other hobby – the other love in my life – is music. I’ve been playing guitar and been in bands ever since I was a kid. I was playing in the clubs when I was 17.

Seán: Are you singing as well?

Tim: Yes! All the music that apply to my airshow routine is me. So, I’ve gone to the studio and laid down tracks and flown to my own music now since 1999. It’s kind of neat, because in the last year I’ve had so many requests. People are coming up to me and saying, “I like your songs – where can I get them?” I never had anything for anybody to purchase. Last year, I finally went into the studio. Every time I’m in Phoenix I go in and work on the CD a little bit. By the end of the year I had eight songs down and thought – ‘I’ve got to just stop, because, it’s going to take another year to just get up to 12 or 13 songs.’ That was my goal. I had to do it piecemeal in-between shows and travel schedules. But I finished it last year. It’s called ”How Many Ways”. It’s on iTunes and CDBaby and people are buying it. It’s fun and I’m getting a lot of nice feedback from it. It’s cool. I’m lucky – I get to do the two things I love most in life: music and aviation.

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TIM WEBER – HOW MANY WAYS

Seán: Well, this is your lucky day. I’m a professional vocal. So, I want to know how do you compose for yourself? Are you a tenor or baritone? What do you do?

Tim: The guy I did my CD with is Billy Williams who has won several Grammys, did 13 albums with Lyle Lovett. He’s sort-of winding down his career. I met him through an acquaintance and he agreed to do a project with me. He’s a guy who – through the course of our working together last year – was at the White House serving as a Music Director, did the Ellen Degeneres Show. He gets called out for all kinds of stuff, he’ll go to LA or Nashville for a session. It’s worked for me in Phoenix. We talked about vocals. I was one of those guitar players, always the hired gun. A lot of times I worked through agencies and didn’t know the other players. And you always had your little bag of songs you had to sing in order to get work. We talked about this. He’s got the software where you can actually look at the notes you’re singing. He pulled it up and said, “Look, here’s this and here’s that. You’ve got good vocal skills. You’re a raw vocal talent. But it’s obvious to me you don’t considerate it an instrument, and you don’t spend a lot of time practicing. Look at this note – you nailed it and held it for this whole long time and it was dead on. But, see this little spike over here and this gap over there? Those are what I see and what I hear when somebody doesn’t have a well-rehearsed and well-exercised voice.” That was interesting input from him. Obviously, I guy like you would make a world of difference for me.

Seán: What you’re talking about is exactly what I do as a vocal coach. When you’re writing a new song or heading out to the recording studio – you are working with your liabilities and assets. What you want to know – what I want to know if you were my client – is that you can consistently produce in a live concert what you have perfected in the studio with the engineer. You have to re-produce that same product live. So, in many ways, it’s the same discussion as when you’re flying. There’s only one way to fly the plane and come out of it alive.

Tim: That’s exactly it. He did tell me that. He said, “You practice your guitar, right? But how often do you practice your vocals? It’s a muscle, man. You’ve got to practice your vocals just like you practice your guitar and staying sharp with your chops and your licks. You’ve got to do the same thing with your vocals.”

Seán: My job is to show you how to work out your voice. And then it’s about the presentation of your songs. I can’t write songs for you, but I sure know if you’re communicating them to an audience or not. So, I’m going to be in your audience at Pier 39 for Fleet Week. Tell me about what you’re doing in the show.

Tim: Basically, us guys that are flying the smaller airplanes are based in Oakland. There ten acts in addition to the Blue Angels.

Seán: I think most people are under the impression that the whole event is about the Blue Angels.

Tim: No, the Blue Angels are the noisy jets and are at the end of the day. All the propeller planes, the ones making all the smoke, doing the single shift stuff – that’s all individual guys. I fly for GEICO. The Blue Angels have their group of Navy F18s, a totally different deal. They are the last act of the day. The rest of us are the entertainment throughout the day. We start at 12:40 and goes all the way until the Blue Angels start around 3:00. If nothing changes in the schedule, I’ll be flying about 1:45.

Seán: Seeing the GEICO lable on your plane and from watching one of your YouTubes, I guess it’s going to be pretty obvious when the spotlight is on you.

Seán: What’s easier? Singing on stage or flying your plane?

Tim: They’re both kind of the same. I’m sure you’ve experienced this – standing behind stage and having butterflies. I go out there, put my guitar around my neck and this wave of calm comes over because I’m in my environment. In the groove, you know? You just do it. Right now, it’s probably harder for me to stand in front of a large audience and sing because I haven’t been out playing live much. I did it for years and years, but since I started the airshows I haven’t been able to commit to a band. From time to time I’ve gone out and played with a group for a number of gigs when I have time off. But it’s difficult to do that. Coincidentally, I’m going to open up – with some guys that I’ve never played with – for Aaron Tippin in December.

Seán: Where are you playing?

Tim: In Las Vegas at the Paris Hotel. We’re having our big convention there. Aaron Tippin has been hired to do a private concert for the convention – around 2,000 people. They’ve asked me to throw together four or five guys who all have musical talent to do two rehearsals and be the opening act. It’ll be fun.

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Listen to Tim sing: ”I Gotta Fly”

Seán: Back up in the air – do you have a favorite or signature maneuver that distinguishes you from others?

Tim: In my case, I combine all the maneuvers without a break. I’m into the high energy, non-stop, start to finish. I fly with a certain kind of a cadence. I think people can sense who’s flying from patched-together sloppy flying. I believe in crisp, hard flying that doesn’t stop. No breaks. I don’t do half my routine, shut off the smoke, and go climb and fly away, gain altitude, come back and start over. It’s just – bang! – I start. I do all the maneuvers and I stop and fly away. It’s all about energy management. It’s all about how much energy you can carry to the next maneuver, how much energy do you convert to altitude, take the plane end-over-end, fly out of that maneuver, and do it repeatedly, the same. Every time I fly the airshow routine it’s exactly the same as the time before. At least I strive for that. So, if I have a signature – it’s consistency, it’s cadence and rhythm, and energy management. Flow. It’s flying, it’s flying with music. I approach it like a show. Unlike most guys, I don’t have an announcer saying, “Here comes a double hammerhead! Here comes a torque role!” I just like the announcer to say what needs to be said, introduce me, talk about my sponsor. And then I just fly to the music and let the people get involved in watching. I think it’s fascinating. I don’t think they’re necessarily there to learn what aerobatic maneuvers are called so much as to be entertained. That’s how I approach it. Everybody has their own approach, and there’s no right way or wrong way.

Seán: I know that during your performances you pull an average of 10G positive and 5G negative. Give me an everyday reference I can understand about that kind of force.

Tim: A good way to describe it – if you weigh 200 pounds and you’re walking around, you feel 200 pounds of force holding you to the ground. That’s 1G – 1 x the force of gravity. If you were riding with me in my airplane and I pull 10Gs, you would feel 2,000 pounds on your body. It would be like having a small car parked on you for a few seconds.

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TIM WEBER sings: ”I’ll Be Okay”

Seán: How do you get yourself into shape to handle that?

Tim: Good question. The average person blacks out around 4Gs. Fighter pilots and guys who fly military jets all wear G suits. Basically what causes you to black out is that when you pull the Gs the blood leaves your brain and tries to go to your feet. The object is to figure out how to not make that happen. So, the G suit tightens up around your upper legs and your upper and lower torso to restrict the blood flow. Unfortunately, that’s not something we can have in these small airplanes because it requires a computer and air compressors and all kinds of equipment. We don’t have any of that stuff. We just stay in good physical shape, stay hydrated, practice a lot. We have MIG lock maneuvers where we tighten our legs with just our muscles, tighten our abs and our chest and just kind-of bear down and go for it. To be honest with you, if you’re not hydrated, if you’re not feeling good – your G tolerance goes away. It doesn’t happen often. But I’ve been in airshows where I start to not feel good or start to see a little gray at 7 or 8Gs. And I say to myself, ‘O, man! I am not in shape to pull Gs today!’ – and I just have to back off. I have to fly a softer airshow routine and not pull the Gs. It’s only happened about once every six or eight years. It’s not a common occurrence. We’re very cognizant of our health and fitness level.

Seán: So, what are your vital statistics?

Tim: I’m about 5’ 11”, 170 pounds. In the gym all the time. I’m pretty much a health freak. I’m popping vitamins and drinking bottled water a lot, eating healthy. That’s important. In my opinion, you’ve got to stay physically fit if you’re going to fly hard. It’s critical.

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Add these original songs by Tim Weber to your Blues and Rock Library. Click here to sample and purchase the CD or MP3 tracks from Tim’s release: HOW MANY WAYS

BlogTalkRadio featuring Seán Martinfield – It’s all about singing and the 2009/10 San Francisco Opera Season. Download >Carmen Milagro’s recent interview: Women and Legends Who Really Rock, 9/11/2009

Visit Seán on YouTube:
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Seán Martinfield
Sentinel Editor and Publisher
Seán Martinfield, who also serves as Fine Arts Critic, is a native San Franciscan. He is a Theatre Arts Graduate from San Francisco State University, a professional singer, and well-known private vocal coach to Bay Area actors and singers of all ages and persuasions. His clients have appeared in Broadway National Tours including Wicked, Aïda, Miss Saigon, Rent, Bye Bye Birdie, in theatres and cabarets throughout the Bay Area, and are regularly featured in major City events including Diva Fest, Gay Pride, and Halloween In The Castro. As an Internet consultant in vocal development and audition preparation he has published thousands of responses to those seeking his advice concerning singing techniques, professional and academic auditions, and careers in the Performing Arts. Mr. Martinfield’s Broadway clients have all profited from his vocal methodology, “The Belter’s Method”, which is being prepared for publication. If you want answers about your vocal technique, post him a question on AllExperts.com. If you would like to build up your vocal performance chops and participate in the Bay Area’s rich theatrical scene, e-mail him at: sean.martinfield@comcast.net.

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