Scott Sexton flies a Citabria 7KCAB with the smoke on. He has a sticker in his plane that says, “Straight and level flight prohibited.” Photo courtesy Cory Kittle
Scott Sexton fell in love with flight at seven years old when his dad helped him build and fly a model glider. From that point forward his life revolved around flight. He flies Boeing 747s for UPS and has accumulated more than 15,000 flying hours over his career. After years of flying larger jets, Sexton missed the skills required to fly small planes and bought a Citabria 7KCAB in 2010 so he could dabble in aerobatics. Sexton has performed at the Valdez Short Take-Off and Landing competition every year since 2013. He sometimes flies in other Alaska shows, including an annual performance he puts on every Fourth of July at his home on the Kenai Peninsula. ~ as told to and edited by Alexander Deedy
What are some of the tricks you do, and do you have a favorite?
The airplane I have, the Citabria, is a basic aerobatic airplane. It does loops, rolls, spins, and hammerheads. Basically, like a choreographer for ice skating, I take those individual maneuvers and put them together into a routine. Sometimes you can add a couple of them together, like a loop and a spin or a loop and a roll, so you can make the maneuver a little bit more exciting. My favorite is a hammerhead with a spin on the downline. That’s how I open my show every year.
What does that mean? What is a hammerhead to a spin on the downline?
A hammerhead is pulling straight up the vertical line, kicking over a little left rudder, and basically pivoting on the left wingtip. Then I pull it into a spin. I just keep it in the spin all the way until I recover at bottom altitude. I’ll do two or three turns. I’ve gone all the way to a 17-turn spin. Then I use that energy to go right into the next maneuver.
Wow. 17 spins. That’s crazy, man.
Yeah. [laughs] It looks like a big corkscrew in the sky with the smoke on. It’s pretty neat.
When I was a teenager, I asked a fighter pilot if he drove fast, and he told me because he fulfilled that need for speed in the air, he was really calm behind the wheel. I’m curious, do you find that the adrenaline you get from aerobatic flying has impacted your life on the ground?
I think so. It kind of keeps you calm in dangerous or scary situations. You know, if you get out of control in the car a little bit on icy roads in Alaska or something, you tend to be a little bit calmer. Pilots in general are probably that way. They’re just used to dealing with situations. So being a little bit of out of control with the vehicle that they’re in probably doesn’t make them too nervous. It does translate a little bit to regular life where you’re just a bit more calm in situations like that because you’re used to it. In training, all we do is emergency situations.
You also teach now. Is that correct?
I do a little bit of instruction on the side. I’d like to do more. With my work schedule and life schedule right now, I just don’t have time to devote to a school.
If you want to do more, you must enjoy it. What do you enjoy about passing those skills on to other pilots?
The thrill of flying and seeing the excitement on their faces. I really like getting kids involved in aviation. That’s kind of my primary goal in doing air shows— getting kids interested in flying. Not just flying, but in life in general you can do anything you set your mind to. It’s fun just to see them with big smiles in the seat and looking out the window. I’ll let them fly for a little while and see what the plane does.
When you were a kid and you built that model glider with your dad, what was it about that process that ignited your love for flight?
I think just watching an airplane in the sky being weightless. Basically just watching the beauty of flight is what attracted me to it. Then my dad took me to the Elmendorf air show, and I got to watch the stunt pilots up there. And the Soldotna airport had a really small air show back when I was a kid. Watching some of those pilots and airplanes really sparked an interest in flying for me. From about age seven on, I was looking at airplanes, watching airplanes, excited about airplanes, and flying model airplanes. When I got to 16 years old, I decided I wanted to take some lessons. In the first couple lessons I knew that’s what I wanted to do.
Do you still get that feeling when you get in the cockpit and go flying? Do you still love it?
I do, especially with my little airplane. It’s fun flying a 747 around, but it’s definitely a job. The little one I jump in and still have a lot of excitement, especially when I get to go do some aerobatics with it. So yeah, it’s always fun. I have a sticker in my airplane that says, “Straight and level flight prohibited” [laughs].