Up for a challenge, a stunt flying duo emerged
Michael Whitney photo
Stephen Christopher, 58, of Monroe stands in a hangar at the Arlington airport next to his two-seater RV-7 airplane which he built himself. He flies it for travel, pleasure and coordinated stunt flying as part of Undaunted Airshows, the tandem stunt team he and Todd Rudberg
formed. Rudberg flies a home-built RV-8 model.
ARLINGTON — These two guys are putting on quite a show while doing something they love.
Stephen Christopher of Monroe and Todd Rudberg of Kettle Falls, far northwest of Spokane, are in their third year of stunt flying.
Maybe you saw them in action at the Arlington Skyfest this August.
Christopher's red plane typically is the lead. Rudberg keeps visual on it from the cockpit of his orange plane and calls the signals to carry out the next string of stunts.
They met through the Blackjack Squadron, a cadre of ace pilots based at Arlington Municipal who specialize in flying groups of planes in tight formation.
Rudberg wanted to take things a step further, making it a goal to learn loops and rolls, and wanted a partner.
Christopher took up the offer. "He had no idea how serious I was," Rudberg laughed.
A collaborative friendship blossomed under the tradename Undaunted Airshows.
They do have formation flying as part of their routine — although it will be while flying upside-down with twin smoke trails to wow the crowd.
Both men are retirees today. Flight has always been part of their lives: Christopher got his pilot’s license at age 17, and for Rudberg, well, he grew up on airplanes, he said.
They both have engineering backgrounds, and physics degrees.
The two thank established stunt flyers such as Bud Granley and his son Ross for mentoring them.
Their wives are not fazed by them being daredevils, they said, and come to local shows.
Both built their own aircraft.
Their low-wing, lightweight monoplanes are built from kits from Van’s Aircraft of Aurora, Oregon, which is some 30 minutes south of Portland. The blueprints for Christopher’s red RV-7 came on big white sheets; the multiple physical parts can be ordered by freight. Todd’s got an orange RV-8.
These kit planes are categorized as experimental aircraft. These models seat two. For some, the fun is the challenge of piecing it all together. Christopher said it took about 2,000 hours to build his over two years.
For an airshow, they sequence the maneuvers meticulously. You don’t go unscripted mid-air.
They’ll do more than 30 maneuvers in a single performance.
Way before anything, though, they chart it out on whiteboards, use models to visualize positions, and “do a ‘dirt dance’” that choreographs the movements with feet firmly on the ground.
From Christopher’s takeoff spot at Arlington Municipal and Rudberg’s at Paine Field, they’d routinely meet in various spots in Snohomish County to practice.
“We use a lot of geometry in the air,” Christopher said. The sequences are fluid, going motion into motion into motion, Rudberg said. They said they try to arrange things tightly so something’s always happening to create a great presentation.
Their 2022 performance season of 10 shows over 21 weeks, spanning from Utah to Alaska to Alberta, Canada, wrapped up a couple of weeks ago with an airshow northeast of Los Angeles.
Every venue has a differing “air box” all aerobatic flyers generally need to stay within to keep crowds entertained. Cloud cover lowers the ceiling height of this box.
There’s quite a bit of basic fighter maneuvers from bygone air wars.
It utilizes a bit of magic to fool the eye, too, when the two barrel at each other head-to-head and pass by what looks like mere inches. The separation distance is actually about 10 yards, although that still leaves little room for error considering they’re approaching each other with each plane going over 100 mph.
In-flight, they tee up their positions for each maneuver but keep radio chatter minimal. Two-way radios don’t allow two mics being open at the same time. “Silence is golden, for if something needs to be said it can be heard,” Rudberg said.
After landing, though, they’re not shy to hop out to greet fans and dosh out stickers with their logo of their two planes flying upside down to the text.
Seeing kids grin ear-to-ear? “That’s my favorite,” Rudberg said. “Some of the kids are gobsmacked.”
What’s not to love?
Photo courtesy Undaunted Airshows
Todd Rudberg in his orange plane with a black underside and Stephen Christopher in his red plane with a white underside put out twin trails of smoke while conducting a tandem formation at close distance.
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