How United Airlines pilots gear up for San Francisco’s Fleet Week stunts

SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. (KRON) -2021 Fleet Week in San Francisco marks not only the return of the famous U.S. Navy Blue Angels flight show, but we’ll also see the return of the only air show in the United States featuring a full-sized commercial airliner performing a choreographed act. 

KRON4’s Haaziq Madyun talked to the pilots about what it’s like to fly that plane in the show.

“This year we’re planning on flying the 777-ER. It’s our brand new 777 that we have and the biggest airplane that we have. Actually, the show is no different from what the other pilots fly. All the maneuvers are within the normal restrictions that the airplane has. It’s just in the restricted air space of the air show. we’re able to fly higher speeds, lower altitudes than the FAA would normally allow,” said United Airlines Lead Demo Pilot Randy Abraham.

While it’s a thrill to behold, Flight Captain John Mawhinney reminds us that it is not all fun and games up there on the flight deck.

“There is a lot of work that goes on. It looks very beautiful and calm and majestic as the airplane flies by the crowd, but the flight deck is a bit frantic. It takes a lot of work to get this airplane to do what you’re seeing and the sequence of the events are happening very quickly,” Mawhinney said.

The most experienced United Airlines Test Pilot is Captain Joe Sobczak.

“Basically it takes four of us. Four pilots from flight test to operate the show. Two pilots flying- the pilot in the left seat is the captain for that flight. The pilot in the right seat supporting him and then we have a safety observer who is there to back up the pilots. Keep an eye out for air traffic and to help with the radios”

Captain Joe Sobczak is the 4th pilot, whose role is to back up the other three pilots in case someone can’t make the show.

Both Captain Sobczak and Captain Abraham are home-grown products from right here in the Bay Area.

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