Achiever in the Air
Local man to compete for United States in world championship
Coushatta native Kevin Coleman’s future is taking flight. As a member of the U.S. Advanced Aerobatic Team, Coleman will fly for the United States at the World Advanced Aerobatic Championship in Radom, Poland, next summer.
“This is basically the Olympics of aviation, so it’s a real honor to be able to represent the United States at this level,” he said.
Coleman earned his spot on the team by placing third place overall at the Advanced Aerobatic Team competition in September in Dennison, Texas. Coleman along with the seven other athletes from across the United States make up the national team.
Coleman grew up around aviation, following in his father’s footsteps. He also draws influence from Marion Cole, his mentor. Following Cole’s death, Coleman launched the Marion Cole Memorial Scholarship, an honor for young adults ages 16-25 with an interest in aviation.
“From the time I was born, I was around aviation and aerobatics,” he said. Coleman attended his first air show at 6 weeks old. Now 24, he has since competed in aerobatics and participated in air shows, including the Barksdale Air Show. He first flew in the Barksdale Air Show in 2010 and hasn’t missed it since.
Air shows and aerobatics competitions are not the same, Coleman said. While air shows are geared toward the audience, featuring elaborate moves and showmanship, aerobatics competitions are based on precision and technical skills.
“The most challenging thing for me is turning my brain from competition to air show,” he said. To maximize showmanship at air shows, no buffer zone exists, meaning pilots can fly as low to the ground as they like. In aerobatic competitions, a 700-foot buffer zone keeps pilots from flying low.
Pilots participate in various types of flying at aerobatics competition including known, unknown, free and four-minute freestyle. They’re also judged overall. In the known competition, the pilot has previously studied the maneuvers. In free and freestyle, pilots can add their personal touches to competition. In unknown, the pilot must compete without previously studying or practicing the maneuvers. Coleman placed third in known, third in free, second in four-minute freestyle and second in unknown.
Coleman’s one-of-a-kind plane is an Extra 300 SHP. Built in Germany, the plane is made of lightweight carbon fiber. Weighing in at 1,200 pounds, it has 400 horsepower and is built similar to a race car, roll cage and all.
“This airplane can do everything you think an airplane won’t do,” Coleman said.
Just practicing flying isn’t enough for competition, he said. G forces during flying can put thousands of pounds of pressure on the human body, so Coleman stays active, especially with leg exercises, to practice maintaining steady blood flow.
The U.S. Advanced Aerobatic Team will begin training together in January as they prepare for the world championship in August, meeting with a coach and manager.
“We’ve put together the best team to compete for the United States in 20 years,” Coleman said. Though the pilots will compete individually, they hope to win for the United States.
“There will be an individual world champion, but the big picture is to bring home a gold medal for the United States as a team,” he said. The United States has not won as a team since 1988.
As the team prepares to train, they are fundraising to provide the resources needed to win, Coleman said.
“The U.S. government does not fund the U.S. team. We’re all self-funded, so we’re going on our own dime,” he said.
When Coleman performs in air shows, he enjoys their patriotic nature and giving back to the U.S. military by providing entertainment. He admires the military’s ability to represent their country, and he, too, hopes to represent the United States well in Poland.
“It’s a real honor to represent the United States,” he said. “It’s nothing like what the military does, but I can represent the United States in this format.