Robbie Gibbs, a graduate of Sikeston High School and former flight instructor at the Sikeston Airport, is one of eight pilots to make the U.S. Advanced Aerobatic team scheduled to compete Aug. 3-13 in Radom, Poland, against more than 20 countries and 90 contestants.
To make the team, Gibbs placed fourth during the 2005 U.S. National Aerobatic Championships held in September at Denison, Texas.
"It was the first time I tried to make the team so it was OK," Gibbs said. "That's the only competition to qualify for the team."
Aerobatic flying requires precision flying while enduring extreme gravitational or G forces.
High positive G forces -- which cause you to feel heavier like when on the bottom of a roller coaster loop -- can cause blackouts from blood pooling in the legs away from the head. Negative Gs -- which cause the stomach-rising-
feeling as you top a hill -- force blood up into the head and eyes for a "red out."
"What happens really is you start to see red from the blood getting up into the back of the eyes," Gibbs said.
Competitive aerobatic pilots endure the largest range of G forces, exceeding those of both fighter pilots and air show pilots, according to Gibbs
"We can pull anywhere from negative 6 or 7 to a positive 8-10 Gs," he said. "We're on the cutting edge of aerobatic flight."
Unlike military pilots that use suits to fend off the effects of G forces, aerobatic pilots rely only on physical conditioning.
"We call it 'G tolerance' -- your body learns to adapt to the Gs," Gibbs said. "You go out there and fly hard Gs - you have to build up your G tolerance through flying aerobatics -- that's the only way to build it up."
The competition starts with a compulsory round during which a set list of maneuvers must be performed with a minimum score to remain in the competition. Subsequent rounds include both routines chosen by the pilot as well as "unknowns" not picked by the pilot.
"Most of our flying is done between 1,000 and 1,500 feet," Gibbs said. "That's going to be the best place for the judges to view your flying at."
Flying maneuvers is something every pilot learns to do, but competitive aerobatics is "something that takes years and years of trying to master," Gibbs said. "It's pretty much the pursuit of perfection -- that's what we're looking for."
Pilots aim for perfect angles and lines as any deviation over 2.5 degrees in pitch, roll or yaw loses points. Scoring among the top placing pilots is usually within a couple points.
"A competition flight will only last about five minutes," Gibbs said. "The hardest part about doing an international competition is the time between flights ... because of the mental strain -- anxiety and everything else."
In the world championships, pilots will compete for gold, silver, and bronze medals along with trophies for team and individual achievement.
"As long as I can remember, I've always wanted to fly airplanes -- it's been a childhood dream from day one."
Now a resident of Phoenix, Ariz., Gibbs got his start as a pilot in Sikeston in 1979.
"I was 15 at the time when I took my first flight," he recalled. "I walked to the airport in Sikeston one day and asked the guy who used to run the airport, Perry Jolliff, how much it was for flying lessons. He said, 'Get in an airplane' and I started flying."
In addition to being a flight instructor here, one of his previous jobs was as a corporate pilot for Lambert's Cafe.
Gibbs now makes a living flying for an airline that does international charter flights including charters for the military.
Flying for an airline is "regimented and very technical -- you pretty much fly the airplane by the numbers," he said. "Aerobatic flying is all by feel -- you have to learn how to feel the airplane before flying it in precision aerobatics. And competition is pretty much the ultimate test of that precision flying."
While he doesn't have any relatives living here anymore, "most of my closest friends live there in Sikeston, Mo.," Gibbs said. "I'd like to thank all the people that supported me when I got out of the military, that helped me, believed in me flying for a living and eventually getting into aerobatics."
Those interested in tracking Gibbs during the competition or in contacting him can do so at the U.S. team's Web site, www.advancedaerobaticteam.com.