“You have the aircraft.”
Those four words — innocuous when said by an airplane pilot to another — carry some exhilaration when said to a reporter.
Mike Wiskus is one of the aerobatics pilots performing at the Minnesota Air Spectacular at the Mankato airport this weekend. As a teenager learning to fly in Mason City, Iowa, he found a small but passionate group of pilots willing to teach him the basics and then some.
Wiskus, a 20-year air show veteran, learned aerobatic flying along with the basics.
“At the same time I was learning to do cross-wind landings — basic stuff — I was learning to do rolls and loops,” Wiskus said.
On Wiskus’ pilot’s test, his instructor asked him to perform aerobatics.
Learning aerobatic flying introduced him to a three-dimensional career path full of rolls, loops and dives.
When Lucas Oil offered Wiskus a sponsorship, he hit the air show circuit and has been flying ever since.
“I couldn’t imagine doing anything else,” he said.
Wiskus exudes his love of aerobatic flying with the glee and excitement of a child. Flying the plane is like second nature — he wears it more than he sits in it. Taking a passenger with him is a chance for him to show what makes his job fun.
And fun it was.
Wiskus offered a demonstration of some of his maneuvers in his Pitts S2C — a front propeller biplane with more power than its size suggests.
Wiskus explains each step of every aerobatic maneuver — framing his explanations through the exhilaration of youth, when he first experienced them.
“Remember when you were a kid and would climb on the monkey bars and hang upside down,” he said. “You were up above the ground but you had your legs locked in the bars and just enjoyed the feeling of being upside down.”
Whisks then inverted the plane. Highways, trees, fields and rivers extend above my head.
Whisks gives me a chance to feel the controls as he pilots from the seat behind me.
“You have the aircraft,” he said.
I straighten the nose to the horizon, level the wings. He instructs me to pull up.
“More, more,” he prompts.
“Now take the stick all the way to the left,” he said.
We barrel roll.
At age 60, Wiskus never lost his love for the thrills most children have pushing their limits whether it was hanging upside down, careening down a hill on a bike with hands off the handlebars or getting the swing to go as high and fast as possible.
Wiskus is considering retiring. Not because the job has lost its fun and thrill. Spending 150 nights away from home every summer is tough for the father and grandfather.
“I love flying,” he said. “There’s nothing else I want to do.”
Retirement is still a ways away.