|Team Chaos' Sky Bolt is one of the two planes in their air show act. PHOTO BY DEKEVIN THORNTON
|Team Chaos's Jet Truck leaves behind a cloud of smoke in its tracks. PHOTO BY DEKEVIN THORNTON
It may look like chaos, but the two pilots and jet-truck driver who make up the Team Chaos show say it is scripted and safe.
The team made its debut at EAA AirVenture 2011 earlier this week, with each of the three members performing solo acts as well.
Randy Harris, who flies a Skybolt 300, Gary Ward flying his MX2, and Neal Darnell, of Flash Fire Jet Truck, make up the group and are sometimes joined by Darnell’s son, Chris, in the jet truck.
Harris describes their act as a “reality TV show where you get to see grown men acting badly.”
The routine follows a story that has both pilots wanting to race the jet truck, and so they try to impress the driver with their aerobatic maneuvers in order to get the driver’s nod.
It ends with the “winner” of the competition racing the jet truck and the “loser” trying to disrupt the race.
“When we all meet together and there’s a wall of fire, we have had people run away screaming, thinking that we hit each other,” Harris said.
And more than once, the team members have been told: “You scared the crap out of me! But I’ll be back to see you tomorrow.”
Safety amid the Chaos
Harris said the team goes through a safety assessment to make sure they are never one failure away from an accident.
“Basically, our act is fault tolerant,” he said. “If one person flying doesn’t do what they were supposed to do, it won’t cause an immediate accident.”
The three continually try to improve safety, and cameras mounted on each of their vehicles allow them to look at video footage of the show afterward and, if necessary, make changes for future shows, he said.
Most of the time the planes are about 200 feet away from each other, Harris said. “We just create the illusion, and convince the audience that these two pilots are idiots.”
But they’re far from idiots.
“It’s like meeting another car on the highway,” Ward said. “You pass cars all the time without having an accident.
“There’s just a lot of smoke and noise with two airplanes and a jet truck in the same place.” In other words, it just looks like the planes are so close that they will hit each other.
Darnell also makes safety a priority in the jet truck, which can go from 0 to 375 mph in six seconds.
First, he follows National Hot Rod Association rules, which dictates everything from required training to jet-truck specifications.
“You don’t just hop into a truck and drive 375 mph unless you want to kill yourself,” Darnell said. When he’s driving, he wears a five-layer fire suit and shoes, as well as a full-face helmet.
In addition, a fire extinguishing system is on board.
“I feel I’m more protected than the pilots,” he said, noting he’s on the International Council of Air Shows’ Safety Committee working on recommendations to improve pilot safety.
Both pilots and Darnell also perform solo acts.
Harris has been flying his modified Skybolt, which be built primarily in his living room condominium, on the air show circuit since 1995. Harris said he actually prefers flying Team Chaos compared to his solo act.
“Team Chaos is more of a mental exercise of coordination,” he said. “My solo act is much more physical and complicated.”
Ward, however, prefers his solo act. “It’s my signature act, and I really get to express myself,” he said.
“Team Chaos is just an added attraction typically done as a closing act….”
Ward said he has been passionate about aviation all his life. “I live, breath, and eat airplanes; I always have.”
In the 1990s, he bought and rebuilt a Pitts S-2B, never thinking that by 1998 he’d be performing in air shows.
And although he just turned 70, Ward said he doesn’t plan on stopping soon.
“I have a need for adventure,” he said.
That would explain why he enjoys racing upside-down a jet truck. “I can feel the heat through the canopy; it’s pretty exciting.”
Darnell also drives a second jet truck for the Air National Guard in its “Max Adrenaline” show.
AirVenture 2011 is Ward’s third trip to Oshkosh and Harris and Darnell’s first. “It’s been a dream of mine for 25 years to actually be invited to fly here,” Harris said.
“I am really honored…and it’s odd to see my name on the program with people who I have admired all my life.”
Darnell agreed. “This is truly the best of the best.”