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Say ‘yes’ to ‘Extra’ opportunities

International Aerobatic Club member Shaun Brautigan reached out to students enrolled in Middle Georgia State University’s aviation program via an Instagram message, hoping to find an eager student to occupy the front seat for a cross-country flight from California to Georgia. Brautigan needed to fly a client’s 2021 Extra NG, one of the first examples of the new Extra NG, across the country to put hours on the aircraft and network with collegiate aerobatic programs.

“All of us [Middle Georgia] kids got in a chat with [Brautigan] on Instagram, and he just happened to text us all… and he asked if any of us had our tailwheel endorsement and if anyone wanted to go on this trip with him. It just fell into [my] lap,” said Rogers.

Rogers, an instrument-rated private pilot with a tailwheel endorsement, was the first student to respond and was “the most interested in the sport, and also very quick to free her schedule for this 40 [hour] mission with little to no notice,” said Brautigan.

Rogers got her start in aviation through the Eglin Aero Club, where she worked as a civilian contractor at Eglin Air Force Base/Destin-Fort Walton Beach Airport in Florida. But it wasn’t until she discovered aerobatics that she found her true niche in aviation.

“I was kind of perusing through a phone book at a Steak and Shake, and I saw this ad for an aerobatic flight” in a Pitts S2C. “That was my first aerobatic [experience], and I was hooked,” recalled Rogers.

After booking a one-way ticket from Georgia to California to meet Brautigan, the reality of flying with a stranger across the country began to sink in for Rogers.

“I kind of took a step back and was like, hold on,” recalled Rogers. “But I looked him up on LinkedIn and ran his profile… and read a few news articles about him about how his local community didn’t want an aerobatic box, and he seemed to handle it really well. If he’s not crumbling under pressure with a whole town coming after him, he must be pretty sane. So, then I decided it was a go.”

Angela Rogers and Shaun Brautigan's cross-country flight was a 16-state adventure traversing the United States. Photo courtesy of Shaun Brautigan.

Throughout their 16-state trip, Brautigan introduced Rogers to Extra owners and pilots and included a stop at the University of North Dakota to network with students competing in the university’s aerobatic program. We “had an epic day with the UND kids doing demo flights all day for them in the [Extra] NG,” said Brautigan.

“He basically turned that Extra trip into almost a campaign… of how wonderful the aerobatic community is and how supportive it can be, and even though it’s so small and so spread out, no matter where you go you can find someone and more than likely that person is going to be cheering you on. It was incredible,” said Rogers.

Although the trip came to an end when the pair touched down in Georgia, that didn’t stop Brautigan from presenting Rogers with another opportunity: the chance to fly his Super Decathlon in aerobatic competitions.

Due to Middle Georgia State University’s policy prohibiting students from competing in aerobatic competitions in the school’s Super Decathlon, Rogers’ only option was to compete in Brautigan’s aircraft.

“Our university isn’t as willing to go forward with using our aircraft in contests because they bought [the Super Decathlon] with the purpose of training… it’s been kind of difficult to navigate that, but the members at [International Aerobatic Club Chapter 3] have been helping us go around that… so now I have a whole bunch of Decathlons at my disposal because Shaun allowed me to fly his Decathlon,” said Rogers.

“The Extra flight didn’t just fall in my lap as an opportunity; it literally opened up every single door and window in this house so I could figure out how to do this,” said Rogers. “It was a little sendy, but I don’t regret it at all because now I have this amazing aerobatic coach,” said Rogers. “I call him Uncle Shaun. He’s just a really stand-up person.”

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