Meet our team – Ryan Epps

I’m an IFATC Education Group Writer, a role I’ve held since 2019. I’m also a commercial pilot, flight instructor, and help run the Airport Editing Team, currently as an Airport Editing Manager.

I help to create posts on a wide range of topics, everything from aircraft systems to flight regulations to tips to improve your flying.

Outside of Infinite Flight, I am lucky enough to spend my days flying real airplanes.

  • BS in Professional Flight from Purdue University
  • Commercial Pilot – Instrument Airplane, Airplane Single & Multiengine Land
  • Certified Flight Instructor – Airplane Single & Multiengine, Instrument Airplane
  • Ground Instructor – Basic, Advanced, Instrument
  • Remote Pilot – Small Unmanned Aerial Systems

I utilize those skills to help teach future pilots both in real life and through Infinite Flight. For me, I still keep trying to learn as much about flying as possible. I’m always available to answer a question about flying or controlling.

GE90 Engine on the B77W

The General Electric GE90 is a family of high-bypass turbofan aircraft engines built by GE Aviation for the Boeing 777, with thrust ratings from 81,000 to 115,000 lbf (360 to 510 kN). It entered service with British Airways in November 1995. It is the most powerful and was the largest jet engine, until its 6 in (15 cm) wider fan successor, the 105,000 lbf (470 kN) GE9X, powered the Boeing 777X first flight in January 2020.

Above is a WHIP image from Infinite Flight of the new reworked B777-300ER’s engine. You can learn more about the progress of the next update, 20.2, at infiniteflight.com/timeline.

Supersonic Titanium

At Mach numbers greater than 2.5, aluminum is no longer an option. The SR-71 was made largely of titanium, which has good high temperature characteristics, but is still light enough for aircraft structures. To allow for the expansion, slip joints are used in many places on the SR-71. On the ground, the SR-71 fuel tanks leak, and they do not seal until the aircraft heats up during flight.

References: BoldMethod, NASA

Dropping gear to reduce drag

Interference drag is generated by the mixing of airflow streamlines between airframe components. For example, between the landing gear strut and the fuselage. As air flows around different aircraft components and mixes, a localized shock wave is formed, creating a drag sum greater than the drag that components would have by themselves.

You have to be mindful though of restrictions in regards to the speed at which you’re flying. There would be no adverse effects on the gear because of your speed but in the real world there are limits.

Trying sticking your hand out the window. When your hand is horizontal like an airfoil, it’s easy to stick outside the window. But when you open your hand into the wind, your hand flies backwards, and requires a lot more force to hold it position.

Dropping the landing gear produces a large amount of form drag. Form drag is the result of an object’s general shape in relation to the relative wind.

Reference: CBoldMethod

Divert commands and their differences

There are several ways you can completely deny incoming aircraft on the tower and radar frequency via the miscellaneous command sub-menu.

“Deny Entry” says “N623KB, Due to heavy traffic, airport is not accepting incoming traffic at this time”. Translation; come back later or divert, but we probably will definitely not be able to accept you any time soon.

“Unable, Divert” says “N623KB, Airport is unable to accept arriving traffic. Please divert to a suitable airport”. Translation; we’re not experiencing heavy traffic per say but we can’t accept you at this time, go somewhere else. You will never be able to land here.

“No Light Aircraft” says “N623KB, No light aircraft accepted at this time. Please divert to a more appropriate airport”. Translation; you can technically land here but your aircraft is so incredibly slow that you’re becoming a major problem, so land somewhere else.

All of these commands are subtly different but can have their own individual uses.

30 Degree Intercepts not Always Needed

Before 20.1 your standard ILS approach always included a 30 degree intercept. It is now possible for us to spice it up a little bit with all our new procedures.

Some STAR’s will let you arrive on a long final, or they may have a natural 30 degree intercept already worked into them.

If you have either of those two types of STAR’s filed you can expect no 30° intercept from your approach controller. Since you are already established on your final approach course or you are already on a 30 degree intercept heading there is no need for your radar controller to issue a heading again. They will simply clear you for your approach and give you a frequency change.

Sometimes they will give you you an altitude assignment with your clearance. This can be due to various reasons such as terrain and for seperation requirements. These must be followed at all times.

Knowing when not to give help

Everyone wants to be the one who provided the answer, who solved the solution. You get the applause and adulation because you fixed it. It all comes back to knowing your limitations as a controller or pilot.

If you have little experience in a subject, listen before you teach. Come at it with facts to gain the respect of the person receiving that message if you have the courage, but don’t go in swinging with no material to back you up.

I have no real-world experience, but I come at things with facts and sources or on here we have others with that experience. Get help from an expert, and do your research. Quote and reference material from authorities on the subject. You can’t expect someone to believe you on your word without some kind of confirmation, if you haven’t earned that trust.

So know when to just watch and when to interject until you have gained that trust.

High Supersonic Aircraft

Typical speeds for high supersonic aircraft are greater than 1500 mph but less than 2500 mph. The Mach number M is then greater than three, but less than five, 3 < M < 5. In addition to the high temperatures, they’d encounter compressibility effects and the local air density varies because of shock waves, and expansions.

The only aircraft to cruise in this regime were the XB-70 and the SR-71/YF-12.

Reference: NASA

AMA with Aaron Fitzgerald

We had an AMA “Ask Me Anything” with Aaron Fitzgerald, where the members in our Slack community got a chance to ask him questions, live.

Aaron works primarily as a film and television camera platform pilot and aerial coordinator, and has worked all over North America on over 100 film and television projects. His experience includes high altitude and mountainous terrain as well as offshore and desert environment flying operations. He is also an Air Show performer who flies an aerobatic display in the Red Bull BO-105 Helicopter.

  • FAA / ICAS licensed aerobatic helicopter pilot.
  • Approved FAA Motion Picture Manual and is a member of the Motion Picture Pilots Association and SAG.
  • FAA Part 135 pilot continuously since 1999.
  • Former Paratrooper in the 82nd Airborne Division.
  • Years of professional experience in the utility and charter sectors of the helicopter industry.

As a utility pilot and IBEW member, Aaron has worked in the power line construction field building transmission towers in mountainous terrain. Formerly the Chief Pilot at Summit Helicopter in Los Angeles, CA with a perfect safety record–no accidents, incidents, certificate actions, or violations. The California State Firefighter’s Association awarded Aaron their Medal of Valor in April 2000 for rescuing the crew of a downed news helicopter as it burned on the ground.


How do you prepare mentally for the insane stunts you do?
The mental preparation is ongoing. I practice as often as possible and I am constantly in contact with my European teammates, discussing ideas and experiences related to helicopter aerobatics.

What’s the thing of your career you are the most proud of?
I am probably most proud of my military service, performing at Oshkosh, and doping aerobatics in New York City.

Would you wonder doing another job, what would it be?
If I had to do another job besides flying helicopters, I would be a fisherman. That is my second love!

How dangerous is your job?
It can be very dangerous if one is careless or overconfident. I try hard to take is seriously and with great respect.

What’s the best thing in your job?
Sharing what we do with the public at air shows.

Do you ever get scared when you do insane stunts?
No, but I get very focused, and sometimes that feels a little like nervousness. Not quite the same, but similar.

What’s your favorite maneuver? Which is the hardest?
My favorite maneuver is the BO Turn. It is the hardest to get just right, so it is a constant challenge. I enjoy trying to always make it look a little better than the last one!

What was it like becoming a helicopter stunt pilot?
It is very rewarding and it is a challenge, no question. Learning to do aerobatics in a helicopter was a great privilege and I tried to rise to the challenge and do the very best that I could.

How do you practice for the stunning stunts you do?
I practice as often as I can! It isn’t quite every day, but I try get up and practice at least 3 or 4 times a week. I don’t ever want to become complacent!

I’ve seen you at Oshkosh, is there anything that makes Oshkosh Special?
Yes, Oshkosh is special. For me, it is because of all the great pilots who have performed there. To follow in their footsteps and perform at the very same place is a huge honor for me. Very humbling!

Can you stall a helicopter?
You can stall the rotor system, yes. If your AOA is too high under g load, the airspeed value for retreating blade stall is reduced.

Have you done stunts with Yes Theory?
Yes I have! Those guys were great. Very nice guys indeed!

Have you ever gotten sick doing what you do?
Not yet! (I have made many OTHER people vomit though!)

How do you become an aerobatic helicopter pilot? This isn’t a traditional job, isn’t it? Was this a childhood dream of yours or how did you end up doing this?
The way I became an aerobatic helicopter pilot is that I was extraordinarily fortunate that Red Bull chose to train me and invite me onto their team, The Flying Bulls. It is not a traditional job at all! I always wanted to be a helicopter pilot, since I was a kid, but I didn’t aspire to this particular job because I wasn’t aware that it was possible until later. I am very happy to be here now!

Who were you trained by?
I was trained by two of the best pilots in the world, Rainer Wilke and Blacky Schwarz.

What are you looking out for before you do your stunts?
Before I do any aerobatics, I of course do a very thorough pre-flight inspection, I am always aware of the density altitude values, and I make sure the airspace is clear and legal for aerobatics.

How are you feeling during your stunts?
I always feel good when I am doing aerobatics. It’s a thrill and a great challenge. It is almost impossible to do a perfect display sequence, so it is a fun challenge to keep chasing it. I am always trying to improve.

What’s the max amount of G’s you have pulled?
The maximum positive G that pull in the helicopter is only around 3g’s. Nowhere near what the aerobatic airplanes pull!

Of all the movies you been a part of, what was your favorite to work on and why?
So far, Extraction was my favorite. We shot our aerial scenes in Thailand and it was a great crew at a cool location. I was hired by my friend and teammate, Kevin LaRosa Jr. to work on that film and I am very grateful to have been a part of a film that turned out to be world wide hit! We recently shot another really big action sequence for a movie that will come out next year. I can’t talk about that one just yet, but I promise that you will like it.

How much free Red Bull do you get?
As much as I want! One of the best parts of this job is how Red Bull treats us all. It is a huge global company that feels more like a small group. The whole company has a great team spirit and Mr. Mateschitz treats us all like family. I am lucky to be on the team.

Which of the two were the more complex events technically and logistically for yourself, the Heaven Sent Project or Red Bull Stratos?

Those two stunts were both great achievements and both set World Records.

For Heaven Sent, I was the Aerial Coordinator and lead Helicopter Pilot. I got to help Luke Aikins turn an outlandish idea into reality. We spent about a year and a half developing and testing the various systems involved. Then, on the day of the stunt, Luke performed what I consider to be the greatest athletic human stunt the world has ever seen. He executed it perfectly on live television with his life on the line.

Stratos was a massive project too! That was closer to seven years in development. For Stratos, I was the lead helicopter pilot, so I flew many test jump flights with Felix Baumgartner in the early stages. As the project continued, my role changed to aerial camera helicopter flying during various test flights. Then, on the day of the jump, I was leading the helicopter team to Felix’s landing area. I was flying orbits around Felix as he descended under parachute. We had four helicopters that day. It was an honor to be part of that project and Felix is a hero for being the first person to do a Supersonic Skydive!
I am proud to be friends and teammates with both Luke and Felix today.

Who was your biggest inspiration to become the man that you are today?
My first inspiration was Clyde Pangborn. He made the first non-stop Trans-Pacific flight in 1931 and that flight landed in my hometown of Wenatchee, WA. I have had many aviation mentors who have helped me and inspired me along the way during my flying career.

What would you tell someone who wants to do what you do? Words of inspiration?
I would tell any young pilot that the most basic method of success in aviation is to be nicer and work harder than everyone else! The aviation industry is a small world and word travels fast, so you can usually assume that your reputation has arrived at the scene before you have.

What has been your biggest challenge?
The biggest challenge for me is trying to fit in everything that I want to do before my flying career is over. There are many things that I still want to experience and accomplish!

What’s next?
I will assume by your name ‘Balloonchaser’ that you will be very interested in our next big (still secret) project. It involves a very high profile balloon flight. I can’t tell you anything about it yet, but it will be very impactful and spectacular, I promise!

I just started my training on the EC 135 for SAR and MEDEVAC missions after completing the Allouette SA 316 training. I was wondering what are the steps someone should take to be able to fly a Red Bull aerobatic helicopter one day?
The EC 135 is a nice helicopter. Congratulations! You will be doing important work. SAR and MEDEVAC are the best things you can do for humanity with a helicopter. The honest truth is that I don’t know what the process is for getting this job. In my case, I was asked by Blacky Schwarz and Helmut Wahl if I wanted to be on the team, and of course I said yes. At that time, I had already been flying helicopters for more than 20 years, so they had a good idea of how I flew and how I conducted myself. I would recommend a visit [to Hangar 7 in Salzburg] for anyone who is at all interested in flying for Red Bull. The Flying Bulls team is based there, so all of them work out of that facility. (Well, except for me. I work in then United States, but in spirit, I am with the rest of the team in Salzburg!) Best of luck in your flying career!


Go check out more from Aaron at airborneimages.com.

If you’d like to join in discussions such as this with like-minded people like yourself and experts in the field, to learn and improve, I’d encourage you to join our Slack community.

Increase/Decrease Speed Bug

There is a known bug in regards to the speed commands sent by radar controllers that you should know about either as a pilot or controller.

On Radar the speed shown is in GS (Ground Speed), but when a radar controller sends a specific speed command, it is always in reference to your IAS (Indicated Airspeed). The bug though is that the speed commands being sent are being sent in GS, so to clear up confusion, here’s an example.

For example, let’s say the pilot is flying at 200knts IAS and 235knts GS.

When the radar controller sends a speed command to increase speed to 220knts, the message played will say “decrease speed to 220knts”. This is not supposed to happen. The system thinks the pilot is at 235knts not 200knts (235knts GS to 220knts IAS), when they actually need to increase their speed because the controller is not referring to their GS.

So just know that IAS is what a radar controller is referring to when they are sending a speed command, and to ignore the system generated reduce or increase speed portion.