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EAA AirVenture Oshkosh RSS FeedLuck + Preparation = Safety
By Barbara A. Schmitz, EAA AirVenture Today
Photo by Chris Miller, EAA
Collaborator Eric Tucker gives Clay Stoner a ride while practicing with fellow Collaborators Bill Stein and Ben Freelove.
Photo by Chris Miller, EAA Ben Freelove gives Renee Kompoltowicz a ride on department with Eric Tucker as the Collaborators practice on Monday.
Photo by Chris Miller, EAA
The Collaborators practice their routine Monday over Lake Butte des Morts. From left are Ben Freelove, Eric Tucker and Bill Stein.
Photo by Chris Miller, EAA
Collaborators Ben Freelove, Eric Tucker and Bill Stein practice on Monday in preparation for the EAA AirVenture Oshkosh air show.

July 27, 2009 - Oshkosh, Wisconsin - Look up "mentor" in the dictionary and it reads "a wise and trusted teacher." But to those starting to fly aerobatics, a better definition likely is Sean Tucker and The Collaborators.

With 23,000 hours in the air, Tucker is lead pilot of the four-plane aerobatic team, The Collaborators, as well as president of the Tutima Academy of Aviation Safety in California. The school offers training in aerobatic proficiency, pilot awareness, formation flight, and advanced flight training. Besides Tucker, the instructors include fellow Collaborator pilots Bill Stein, Ben Freelove, and Tucker's son, Eric.

Despite flying air shows since the mid-1970s, Tucker says he continually learns from his mistakes, as well as from the many mentors he's had, including the French Connection, Leo Loudenslager, Charlie Hillard, and others.

"I offer the Academy as a way to pay back (those mentors)," he said. "It really isn't a huge financial success, but it is a great place to share the magic of flying, to make people who are already good pilots go beyond their own personal envelope."

The instructors formed Collaborators so that they, too, could push their personal envelopes and become better pilots and instructors, he said. The group flies 6 shows a year, with EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2009 being their third event this season. They will be performing in the afternoon air show from July 29-August 1.

Tucker isn't new to mentoring. In 2003, he also helped to create a mentor program called Stars of Tomorrow. The program was meant to help young aerobatic pilots break into the air show circuit and do it safely. And while the program had much success, it has also had sadness when two former Stars died in plane crashes, one recently.

Nick Nilmeyer died in 2006 in a practice flight, while Chandy Clanton died earlier this month, also in a practice flight. Clanton was scheduled to fly in the Friday air show at AirVenture.

Tucker said those deaths were particularly hard on him.

"It not only breaks my heart, but it makes me not want to be a mentor," Tucker said. "Right now I'm mentoring some other fabulous young people and I want to make sure they don't make the mistakes I, or others, have made. I keep doing it because I know those kids would still be out there flying aerobatics anyway, and they need help..."

He acknowledged that flying formation is dangerous. "But if you precisely train and communicate, it can be safe," he stressed.

But that doesn't mean Tucker hasn't had any frightening moments in the air. The latest moment occurred on Sunday while the team was performing at the Milwaukee Air and Water Show.

"I was performing with the Collaborators during the solo portion of the act when my oil line ruptured," Tucker said. The rupture caused oil to spew all over his airplane, instead of going into his engine.

"By the time I was able to get to the Milwaukee International Airport, my engine was out of oil," he said. Tucker was able to safely land after declaring an emergency and having planes moved out of the way. He said he will need a new engine before he can perform in Oshkosh.

An engine is being shipped and Tucker said The Collaborators should be able to perform as scheduled on Wednesday.

FUTURE AIRVENTURE DATES: 2014: July 28-Aug. 3; 2015: July 20-26; 2016: July 25-31; 2017: July 24-30
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