SWANTON, Vt. – It’s just another day at the office for Dan Marcotte.
“Some days it’s good; some days it’s not,” he said. “No different than any other office.”
The Bakersfield native is an aerobatic pilot, making a living entertaining audiences at air shows. Today, he’s letting us tag along.
“Alright, see you in a few minutes,” Marcotte said.
And with that, his ultimate biplane is off. Marcotte soars to 1,200 feet at 230mph, flipping, rolling and diving dangerously close to the runway. It’s an adrenaline junkie’s dream.
“It’s just me being a motor head looking for another source of an engine carting me around,” he said.
Marcotte’s love of motorsports started at 16. His need for speed grew from racing stock and land speed cars to airplanes. In 2003, he gave air show competitions a shot and ignited a new passion.
“The excitement, the speed, the exhilaration of the G-loading, being able to twist and turn– the freedom of being in an airplane is unlike any other motorsport,” Marcotte explained.
Marcotte says his job is to push his plane to its limit to dazzle fans. He performs in about 14 air shows a year.
“It was awesome to see him get out here and do some tricks for us,” said Chris Abbott Coch, a spectator.
But earning a living in this industry can be tough.
“When I started flying shows, I was flying anything,” Marcotte said. “I’d fly weddings, high school graduations, racetrack intermission events. I mean you name it, I’d put an airshow to it.”
For the first five years his paycheck only covered his expenses. Marcotte says better money comes with name recognition. Aerobatic pilots must first prove they can be safe and entertaining.
“Just because you can fly an airplane upside-down or do a loop doesn’t mean you’re going to be entertaining to a crowd of people,” Marcotte said.
For Marcotte it’s a labor of love sandwiched between his full-time profession. He’s a welder, fabricator and mechanic at the Franklin County State Airport. But on lunch breaks it’s all about perfecting tumbles, tail slides and spins. If weather’s bad, Marcotte hits the bike and weights. Aerobatic pilots must be in tiptop cardiovascular shape.
“It’s one of the most demanding jobs I’ve ever done,” Marcotte said. “You can’t be fatigued because you are playing in an arena that’s extremely unforgiving.”
An arena that pushes his body to the brink, with gravity taking its toll.
“If you push negative 6 Gs, that’s 1,200 pounds trying to pull you out of the cockpit…
Your head is swelling up, your eyes are swelling, sometimes you burst blood vessels in your eyes,” Marcotte said. “As a land creature, you’re never subjected to those things until you start doing things like aerobatic piloting.”
Reporter Jennifer Reading: Do you worry about safety?
Dan Marcotte: I do. Constantly… You have to take every precaution for yourself and for the sake of your family to make sure that you’ve rehearsed things like egress techniques– getting out of the airplane.
Something Marcotte knows all too well. In April, he survived a fiery crash. At 3,000 feet his propeller broke, instantly ripping the engine from his plane. Marcotte had no choice but to pull his parachute and jump. He landed in a tree unscathed.
“The fear was where the airplane went,” he said. “The worst feeling in the world is not knowing where the airplane went.”
Turns out the plane plummeted to Highgate, crashed on the shoulder of Interstate 89 and burst into flames.
“Fortunately it didn’t land in the travel; it stayed off to the side,” Vt. State Police Lt. Garry Scott said.
Marcotte is picking up the pieces, purchased a new plane and is getting used to his new digs. He even let me test out the tight quarters.
“And that’s what your office would look like if you were an air show pilot in an ultimate biplane,” he said.
But I won’t be taking off anytime soon. I’ll leave this odd job to the pros.
Story, photos and video: http://www.wcax.com