Lt. Col. Art Nalls Jr. Interview
(Sea Harrier Pilot)
He’s a former Lieutenant Colonel in the United States Marine Corps, who now pilots the Sea Harrier at airshows in the US and Canada.
His name is Art Nalls Junior we spoke with the Lt. Col. about his sea Harrier and his background in and out of the service.
Q - I saw you at the Syracuse airshow (2016) and that Sea Harrier is one loud plane!
A - (Laughs) yeah.
Q – Do you have to wear earplugs of any Kind?
A - All jet pilots wear a helmet that has ear protection built into it. I can hear it to tell if it’s running okay but it’s not excessively loud.
Q - It’s hard enough to figure out how to work all the dials on a car dashboard and what they mean. How do you ever learn how to fly such a complex plane like the Sea Harrier? That must have all kinds of dials.
A - Yeah, it sure does. I flew in the Marine Corps. That’s where we learned to fly them, both Joe (Anderson, pilot, and I flew the version AV8 that the Marines bought directly from the British in the early 70s. So, that’s where we learned to fly it. Both Joe and I were test pilots at Patuxent River. That’s where we did some flight test in it. We were both maintenance officers. Being a maintenance officer is where you really get to learn the system’s, the things that can go wrong and the problems, things the maintenance guys need to know to fix it.
Q - And you can fly 75 different planes?
A - I’ve flown 75. Probably closer to 85 or nighty now. That was after I had left the military and I’ve flown some civilian planes. I don’t even keep track of the number, but, it’s probably more than 75 now.
Q - I’m looking at the Sea Harrier and what it can do, I can see people reporting or thinking it’s a UFO.
A - You know, in the early days when they started flying some planes at night down in Cherry Point, they didn’t have a lot of lights on them and they were experimenting on how to fly at night and one of the fields they practiced carrier landings at what was an outlying field and there were some reports of UFOs because no one had ever seen one (Sea Harrier). They didn’t know what it was. They hear a loud noise out in the front of their house. They go out and see a light just sitting right there.
Q - And because the Sea Harrier is able to hover. That’s a really unique feature. Do you fly the sea Harrier from show to show?
A - Yes.
Q - You have five people in a support capacity. How do they get around?
A - Well, we have a truck and trailer. Two people go in the L 39. Today we have a truck 24 foot trailer and as soon as were comfortable the aircraft is going to go, will launch the truck and trailer. They have about a two hour drive and as soon as we get weather on the other end that were comfortable with, will launch out and we’ve got about a 15 minute flight. There will be one with the Harrier and to people in the L 39. So that’s three of us and my wife left this morning. So, some drive and some fly. we’ve actually had some people from other areas that will come in commercial.
Q - Did I see that L 39 at the airshow? What’s that?
A - Yes. That’s a black Czechoslovakian jet, an advanced jet trainer. It’s got two seats in it, two controls, two sticks. We actually take people with flight instruction rides in that too.
Q - That must be for the TV people.
A - That’s what we do. We do a media ride or a sponsor ride for people that have kicked in a lot of money for the airshow. The airshow pilot’s the people and will say will give you three or four rides depending on how many pilots we’ve got. Now, in Syracuse we had two qualified pilots, Joey Anderson and myself, both qualified in that airplane. Were both certified flight instructor’s and certified in that airplane. We take people up for 10 or 15 minutes or so. It’s not a very long ride, but, we let them fly the airplane. We teach them how to fly upside down. We teach them how to do some basic maneuvers and then fly us back to the airfield and well take it from landing.
Q - You can’t do that in the sea Harrier.
A - No. That’s a little different.
Q - You’ve been doing these airshows for how long? Since 2008?
A - Probably further back than that. I think I did my first airshow’s around 2002, 2003 I know I was doing them in the year 2003. The Harrier we did our first airshow in 2007.
Q - You do how many shows a year?
A - About six. This year 2016 will do a few more. We usually finished up in about October, but, this year we’ve got two more shows so far and we may have two more added on. Trying to run this thing as a business, its income and expenses. You’ve got to have the income from the airshows because the expenses never really stopped. Even in the middle of winter I’ve got the hangar bill do. I’ve got the electric bill do. We’ve got to get the parts for the truck. These never stop. The insurance comes do once a year. We have to plan airshows so we’ve got enough money to cover all expenses. Normally, the past couple of years we’ve done okay. This year we got to hit with a couple extra expenses so I started beating the bushes for a few extra airshows. I said, can you work us in? Once we finish this show we come back here to Patuxent River in a couple of weeks, which is 8 miles away. So that’s an easy one. The Patuxent River we go down to Miami, Florida. That’s a long way for us. That’ll take us a while to get down there. The truck will probably take two days to get down there. On the way back we may be in Monroe, North Carolina. Were given them a sweetheart deal since it’s on the way back and it works in just nice if they can afford us. We’d love to do it. And we may support the Sebring, Florida auto races.
Q – You did pretty well in the real estate business. That’s about as far away from a military career as you can get. Why did you pursue a real estate career?
A - Well, I didn’t have access to anybody that ever had an airplane. It was only through the military and the Naval Academy that I got a chance to fly some things like that, but then the people that we did know growing up seem to be wealthy, all did it through real estate. My father was a builder and he bought and sold houses. I got a chance to learn a little bit about everything, plumbing, electrical, stuff like that. But I have watched a couple infomercials, make a lot of money buying real estate, no money down. I bought every infomercial that I could. I studied the material and the first house that I bought was my neighbor’s house in North Carolina. I had just been following the instructions in this infomercial. I bought his house. I kept it for a year and I didn’t buy it right. I didn’t sell it right. It was a negative cash flow. I made every mistake you could possibly make but I took the step and eventually bought it. I said I’ll buy the house! After a year I sold that house in one day and after I figured out my taxes, having done everything wrong I made 11% return on my investment for every penny I put into that property in the year, the commission the fees. I made 11%. I thought if I did this wrong and made 11% what could I do if I did things right? So I started reading books. I’d buy a book and I took just about every infomercial there was on real estate and there have been a few of them on TV. You see on late night. Their only worth what you’re going to put into it. If you’re going to buy it and set it on the shelf it’s not going to do anything for you. You have to take action. You have to actually say, I want to buy in the house. Here is my contract and this is how much I’m offering. If you learn to do that, a lot of people are afraid of taking that first step; it did work out for me. I bought some stuff in the areas of the nation, Washington, DC that were historically black, historically high crime. I had more than a few people think I was absolutely crazy for doing that, but, it actually worked out okay.
Q - Back on April 29, 1983, the Harrier you were flying suffered a complete loss of engine power, but, you were able to land. What would happen if something like that happened at an air show? I don’t know where this 83 incident happened if it was over land or water.
A - No, it was over Richmond Virginia and I was at 17,000 feet. The answer to your question is it depends. It depends on where you are and how much energy you have and how much runway, what are your options. Were trained to very quickly evaluate whether you have any options at all, maybe the only option is to reject.
Q - Then that Harrier would come down.
A - It’s not a glider, but, you steer away from the crowd.
Q - And, you would be able to eject so you’d be all right.
A - Yes. Well, let me just tell you the doctor has already said ejection seats are designed for 26-year-old men in good physical condition. You’re not exactly that demographic. Your bones are weak your chances of surviving and ejection which is very violent are probably 50-50. I said, 50% is probably better than you’ve got to a point where you had to reject and stay with the airplane you’re not going to make it. So, 50-50 is better than 0-0.
Q - What if he said art you really should think about giving up flying.
A - Well, I’d get a second opinion. (Laughs). The fact is one day you’re going to have to walk away from it and hopefully you walk away from it with a smile maybe a tear in the eye and you can say, like that last scene in Lonesome Dove when Robert Duval is writing a letter and he’s saying it was quite a party wasn’t it? If you can go out with that attitude, we’ve done more than a lot of people have done, done it longer than a lot of people have been able to do it and really didn’t have a lot of cheerleaders in the beginning going “this could work.” Almost every person I talked to was negative. This can’t be done. You can’t do it. I was starting to think, man, am I really thinking wrong? Am I trying to let my fondness for flying the airplane jade my thinking so it’s not realistic, that it’s just not going to work? Then I talked to a friend of mine, a British Harrier pilot, who is a test pilot also. We’ve been friends for years. His thought was all you really have to do is cross country from point A to point B and you have to do arbor check. The emergency procedure for everything is stop and then land. So, you’re right there over the airfield. I think the rush is reasonable. You’re not flying off the ship at night. You’re not doing low-level navigation. You’re not getting shot at and you can pick your game day pretty much. We don’t have to go today. That’s kind of the thinking we do. We don’t have to do anything. We can put the airplane back in the hangar and will be just fine. The guys flying off the carrier sometimes don’t have that option. You got to go.
Q - When the day comes when you’re through flying the Harrier, is there someone else to take your place?
A - Oh yes. Originally we didn’t have anybody. Since we only have a single seater, my thought was if we can get four or five years out of this we would be extremely lucky. Were about to finish up year number nine right now. What has made this possible to pass on to somebody else and even another pilot trying to fly this vintage Harrier is not straightforward? It’s like going from a modern car to a model T completely different engine controls. Completely different transmission. It’s difficult to learn to drive a model T. It’s got 3 foot pedals, but, it might not be that drastic. It might be going from a modern car to something from the 60s. That’s probably more realistic. We now have a two-seater and it is a trainer and that will allow us to the follow on people well pick. We’ve got two pick’s so far. There may be others. I’m almost sure there will be others. We’ve got the ability to ride in the back and training them and make sure they’re up to speed before we turn them loose. We can surprise them. As long as we can talk to them from the ground, and they understand the language, they understand the flight controls, they understand what the airplane is going to do, I think they’ll be just fine.
Official website: artnalls.com
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