Eric Tucker’s first acrobatic flight occurred even before his birth, setting the stage for his future as an air show performer..
The event includes headlining performance by the Canadian Forces Snowbirds, an aerial-demonstration team akin to the Air Force Thunderbirds.
“Legend has it that my first aerobatic flight was the day before I was born,” said Tucker, the son of long-time aerobatic pilot Sean Tucker, who is flying at the San Francisco Fleet Week Air Show this weekend.
With their baby two weeks overdue, his parents were flying somewhere 37 years ago when his dad perform a loop and a roll. His mom went into labor that night.
Eric Tucker graduated with an aerospace engineering degree from Cal Poly in 2005, and had been working as a test pilot — the synthesis of engineering and flying, he said.
But the company went bankrupt.
“I decided I didn’t want to be a guinea pig anymore,” said Tucker, who now works as a corporate pilot to afford to own an airplane so he can pass along his love of flight to his two children.
Making a longtime dream come true, he developed an air show act with a comedic slant, including flying his Piper J3 Cub seemingly out of control while twisting in the sky, before landing on an old ambulance driving at 60 mph.
“It really is about exploring all the different realms of flying, and all the wacky stuff an airplane can do. And it was the kind of flying I hadn’t done before,” Tucker said.
Tucker said his act hearkens back to aviation's barnstorming days when stunt performers did aerial tricks to impress audiences.
“I definitely love the high-performance flying, but this kind of flying you can get out there and literally fly in formation with the birds,” he said. “It’s just a different way.”
While growing up around air shows. Tucker remembers spending a week at 12 years old with legendary air show performer Jimmy Mynning, who died earlier this year. Mynning was known for landing his plane on a truck.
That week planted a seed that remaind dormant in Tucker, who said he recently figured it was time to make the dream he has had since age 12 come true and began putting together his act.
He shrugs off the challenge of his act, which is spelled out in a video by his Method Seven sponsor.
“Really, the only reason it was possible is because I had done so much formation flying. So it’s really just an expression of formation flying,” he said. “Then I just sort of baby-stepped into it.”
Of course, once landed Tucker must tackle the challenge of getting the plane off the top of the ambulance — achieved through flying from the speeding ambulance.
Aerial acts landing on moving vehicles are rare on the circuit, with less than a handful doing the daring feat, announcers said.
The Santa Maria Public Airport is hosting the Central Coast AirFest, organized by a committee of volunteers led the Air Show Director Chris Kunkle from the Central Coast Jet Center at the airfield.
Before the first performances, some 5,000 tickets had been issued and sold.
On Friday afternoon, the tarmac was busy with activity as planes arrived and found parking spaces while vendors worked to set up their booths nearby.
“It’s a bit crazy, a lot of activity,” said Kunkle. “It’s cool to see the whole community come together.”
Gates will be open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Sunday, with the event staged behind the Santa Maria Radisson Hotel. Aerial acts will take to the skies between noon and 4 p.m.
Tickets cost $20 for adults at the gate and $10 for youth. Those under age 12 or over age 60 will be admitted for free.
Preferred parking costs $5.
Organizers said attendees should bring chairs but coolers are banned.
For a schedule of events click here.