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White County pilot defies gravity in a biplane built by his father
Jason Frets has a diagram of his aerobatic routine attached to his instrument panel. - photo by Tom Reed

About this series
Summer has given us the travel bug. But rather than explore the mountains or cross the pond to Europe, we thought about people who just head up in the air any way they can. Throughout June, we explored extreme ways to take flight, whether it’s by jumping out of a plane or skimming across the water behind a boat. Hopefully, we’ll give your own summer travels a lift at the same time.

CLEVELAND — Early on a hot summer morning, Jason Frets opens the door on his airplane hanger and pushes his biplane onto a small paved road that runs the length of a grass runway.

The mountains in the distance seem to invite Frets to come and visit them, high in the air.

Frets does this early morning exercise a few times a week, depending on the weather, which takes him into the skies in his airplane.

"The airplane is a Christen Eagle II, built from a kit by my dad, which he first flew in 1982," Frets said of his rainbow-painted plane. "It’s a light weight aerobatic biplane with a powerful engine. It is very strong and maneuverable, has a fast roll rate and a smoke system.

"Basically, The Eagle is a small, powerful, high-performance, two-seat aerobatic biplane."

Frets, inspired by his father, Glynn Frets, got his student pilot license in 1988. Today he is a commercial airline pilot with 12,000 hours of flight time and has flown 87 types of planes.

"My dad was one of my teachers, he taught me aerobatics in this airplane starting when I was 10," Frets said. "Flying is a family event for us and having a Dad that was an aerobatic and air show pilot, I became interested at an early age. He’s been retired from commercial flying for 12 years but still flies for fun."

The Christian Eagle II was sold about 20 years ago, but because of all the childhood memories Frets decided to buy back the plane to keep it in the family.

"I often thought about it and had wished it was still around," he said. "I started a search on the Internet and discovered the registration number had been changed. With the new registration number, I was able to find the owner ... He wasn’t sure about selling it but decided if anyone else should own it besides him, it should be me."

About four months ago, Frets went to Chicago and flew his plane back home. He has been doing humpty bumps, rolls and hammerheads ever since.

"That was really a touching situation when that came up," said Frets’ father, Glynn. "I was certainly proud that he was able to do that and bring it back into the family."

Glynn said his son is doing the same sort of aerobatic maneuvers he has done for years, but with one major difference.

"He’s going to be a much better pilot than I was," Glynn said. "He’s very much involved in the intricacies of each of those maneuvers."

Glynn competed in air shows in Georgia, Alabama and Tennessee from about 1972 to 1991, and then came back into the sport in 2002. He said the hardest part of aerobatics was the g-forces.

"When you are doing air shows you are doing them very low to the ground, so you have to do maneuvers that you are safe with," he said. "The highest g-force I ever experienced was seven g’s, which is seven times your weight, which was for a momentary maneuver – normally you would get three to five g’s."

Frets added that aerobatics, even with the strong gravitational forces, is exhilarating and exciting.

"Aerobatics is a very precise and calculated drawing of figures in the sky with an airplane," he said. "It is an expression of creativity, an art. You can do the maneuvers very smooth and gracefully or get a bit aggressive ... when by myself, the flying is more aggressive."

Basic maneuvers in the air include a roll, a loop or a hesitation roll, Frets said.

"Some vertical maneuvers like a hammerhead where you fly perfectly vertical on an up line until you come to a stop then pivot the airplane and accelerate vertically down," he said. "Some form and combination of those are the basics and I put them in a sequence. Energy management is very important, so I like to start a sequence with a lot of speed, about 190 mph. Each maneuver has an ideal entry speed, so I like to place the maneuvers where the exit speed of one gives me the entry speed for the next."

Even though aerobatics is a fun sport for Frets, he still knows that the hobby is something to always take seriously.

"Aerobatics is not something you just jump into and give it a try," he said. "It’s an activity that you study and train for with an instructor to get a very solid foundation of the basics and how to recover from botched maneuvers. Then later, some self-teaching and critiquing from a ground observer.

"It takes a lot of practice."

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