Steve Kapur Interview
(Geico Sky Typers)
Steve Kapur is the Team Spokesperson for the Geico Sky Typers.
He’s been with the Geico Sky Typers for over a decade.
If you’ve seen the Geico Sky Typers in person, you know you’ve seen a first-class aerobatics demonstration!!
Q - Did I see you at this year’s (2016) AirShow at Syracuse Hancock International Airport?
A - It was one of the shows that I missed personally, but, the team had a great time from what I heard.
Q - You missed it?!
A - Yeah. I was home sick that weekend. It happens. I know we all think were supermen, (laughs), but, it happens, you know?
Q - Syracuse hasn’t had an Airshow since 2002.
A - That’s what I heard. We were at that one too I believe.
Q - Besides being a pilot, you’re also the marketing guy for the Geico Sky Typers?
A - Yeah. I’ve been with the team now for about 15 years or more. The joke is, I was in marketing for one of the prior sponsors, Nicorette, the stop smoking products. The joke is, they’ve lost the sponsor, but they kept the marketing guy. (Laughs). So, I have the distinct honor of flying with some of the best pilots every weekend. When we fly it’s a dream come true for me. It really is.
Q - Was there a Sky Typers before Geico entered the picture?
A - Oh, Sky Typers have been around since, the co. It’s about 43 years old right now (2016). It was actually started by a gentleman by the name of Mort Arkin and Mort actually flew in the second world war and this was a love of his, flying these airplanes. He built this business up and did a lot. Initially it was primarily messaging in the sky. Were an airshow team. We fly an 18 minute low level precision flying demonstration at these shows, but, the thing that sets us apart from the other act as the men like to say is, we get off the airfield too so, we go out into our Sky Typing in the sky, in the area, and help promote the airshow and also promote our sponsor’s product as well. But, initially that’s what the business was. It was sky typing. And, we had done some shows for other sponsors but it was really with Nicorette when I was working on the client side that we started flying as an airshow team. When 9 – 11 happened it kind of put us out of the airshow business for a year or two. When we came back we had already been Sky Typing for Geico doing messaging. We approached them, Mort and I, about being sponsors of the air team. Their support revitalized the airshow team. We were back in business so to speak. Over time we’ve gotten more and more sophisticated in terms of the flying and the complexity of the routine that we do. People think whether you’re an artist or whatever that you suddenly emerge but, there is an awful long road to get there so-to speak.
Q - If you didn’t have Geico as a sponsor would you still be able to perform at those airshows?
A - No, and for that were very grateful to them for their support. As you can imagine moving six aircraft and we have a 53 foot hauler that follows us with support, our tools and our spares and we use it as a ready room. In the front there is a room for watching our critiques and doing our briefings. We couldn’t have all this stuff +3 full-time mechanics as well as all the pilots. There is obviously an expense involved with that. Our support from Geico allows us to do all this. So, were very grateful.
Q - Three full-time mechanics!!
A - Yeah. There are actually the only full-time people we have. We’ve got pilots that come together for the weekends that are paid by the show, the number of shows they fly, but they’re not full timers, but the mechanics are full-time employees and have benefits in medical and retirement and all that kind of stuff. The rest of us, this is a part-time job.
Q - You almost have to have full-time mechanics. Your trusting their expertise to keep you safe and alive.
A - Right and they’re all competent men obviously in what they do. We’ve got six aircraft to maintain and these aircraft were built in 1940. I wouldn’t say it’s a big challenge but it’s a challenge to maintain it because sometimes it’s a challenge to get the right parts you need and be able to fabricate parts if you have to. It’s a process and doing what we do we obviously hold ourselves to a higher standard for safety reasons both for our benefit as well as the fan.
Q - Do you fly these planes from city to city?
A - Yes, sir, we do. Were mostly Mississippi East. Typically what we’re trying to do is leave on a Thursday so were in position Thursday evening. Usually earlier than that. For example, we flew at the air station Oceana last weekend. We left Thursday morning and we were there by lunch. Then we were actually able to do some media rides and appearances in the afternoon. Friday is typically a rehearsal day. Saturday and Sunday are performance days and usually Sunday after our performance either before or after the jet team performs will mount up and fly out and try to be home Sunday night.
Q - You weren’t in the military were you?
A - I’m actually one of the ones that is not a military member. Larry and I are both civilian trained. Larry, our squadron commander is now an airline captain for American for a number of years, but, most of our guys are Navy. The pendulum kind of swings depending on who’s currently flying with us. Most of our guys are former Navy. We have a Marine stuck in and we have one Air Force guy right now. Over the years it’s been where it’s equal. Three Air Force, three Navy or whatever. Right now the pendulum has swung more in favor of the Navy so we have a lot of naval aviators on the team right now.
Q - You’re saying Larry currently flies for American Airlines right now and is able to get weekends off to fly with the Geico Sky Typers?
A - Right. I don’t know how familiar you are with how the airline systems work. They bid for trips. As you become more senior you can command weekends off. It may be that when you’re a junior on a particular aircraft, when you’re low on the list you can count on flying Christmas on the weekends but as you become more senior the way it works out is your able to bid to fly trips midweek and be able to fly airshows on the weekend many of our guys are airline pilots which is another reason why I say were part-timers. We’re not full time like the mechanics are. It’s the sole livelihood for the mechanics. But, it’s a great time. I had the opportunity to fly with guys who flew in World War II, Korea, Vietnam and now the Gulf War. Aviation is kind of this glue that binds us together. It’s the glue that binds the generations. You can have three generations of pilots sitting there talking about something. It’s been a lot of fun. It’s also been very rewarding. You have friends that are more like brothers to you. We enjoy each other’s company. We spend a lot of time together as you can imagine.
Q - So, you were in the corporate world, made a lot of money and started taking flying lessons? Is that how it happened?
A - I don’t know if I made a lot of money but, I was in the corporate world. I’ve been flying for 25 years. I met a guy who was actually calling on me and he asked me, he was the supplier and tried to ingratiate himself to me, he said, hey, do you want to go fly? I will say this; I’ve been interested in flying since I was a little kid. My uncle flew for the airlines. We used to meet his aircraft when he came into Kennedy Airport. Then it was Idlewild. He would put me in a car and this was before the days of homeland security and the challenges that we have and he would put me in one of the company cars and drive me out to the airplane he just flown in from London. We’d sit in the cockpit and he would let me sit in captain’s chair. He’d show me the checklist and we’d run the checklist together. At the time I was like six or seven years old. I built all the models and I was very interested in aircraft. That spirit kind of laid dormant in me for a number of years and this guy asked me to go out flying with him and I did. I did really well. I flew the airplane. We were up for two hours. We went around Chicago. I flew the airplane most of the time we were in the air. It kind of reignited that spirit. I started taking lessons. I got my private license. I got my commercial license, my instructor’s ticket, my instrument rating. I took aerobatics from a fellow up in Milwaukee. When I met these guys I was sitting on the other side of the desk and I learned formation flying with them which was yet another challenge and something that most civilians never get the chance to do. There are very few that have the opportunity especially flying old military iron like this from the second world war. So, it’s been a great ride. I definitely enjoyed it. Larry learned his because his dad owned the company so to speak. He learned to fly literally on his dad’s knee. So, he’s been flying these airplanes since he was probably 17. It’s a thrill. It’s been a great ride.
Q - Is it an easy sell to market the Geico Sky Typers? What do you have to do to market this fact?
A - We have a great relationship with the folks at Geico. We really enjoyed their company when they come out. Of course they care about their business. They’re not pretentious. They’re very down to earth. They’ve become like friends to us. I think one of the things we do is we work hard at being good ambassadors for them. All the guys are great ambassadors for the brand. My job along with kind of helping maintain that relationship with Geico is to market us as a property. There’s things as mundane as the new helmet design that were wearing this season. It’s pretty cool. I redesigned the helmets. What I’ve done is kind of worked hard at getting to particular image that were trying to portray. Our image, our personality is red, white and blue patriotism, all American. Now, basically everything we do is aligned with that from the cards that we sign and handout to the people that visit us at the Geico tent to the aircraft to the uniforms to the helmets, everything we do projects that image. We want to make sure that we all look the same as we do that.
Q – Where did this nickname of yours “Sting” come from?
A - (Laughs) we don’t share the inside on our call signs. They are given to us normally by the guys. It’s kind of a thing between the men. It’s kind of a personal thing. I will tell you Larry’s is boss and that’s a pretty obvious thing why his is boss. He’s our squadron commander so, he’s the boss. Team tradition, the commanding officer of the Blue Angels is called boss. The guy who is the commanding officer of the Thunderbirds is called boss and Larry is called boss.
Q - Have you ever taken any famous people in your aircraft?
A - Well, the focus is primarily on media, but, we’ve taken some minor celebrities. One summer we were working with a PR agency that brought some folks that were kind of past TV celebrities. We flew the guy that played the beaver for example. We flew Natalie Stovall was kind of an up-and-coming country star which was kind of a neat experience because we also got to hear her perform at the show that evening, but, for the most part our focus is media. We haven’t really flown a lot of celebs. We kind of like to but, we have such a tight timetable when we do these things. If somebody is around will fly them but are weekends from Friday morning on, almost every minute is planned. We have what we call run a show which is basically a minute by minute timeline for the team.
Q - How many airshows do you do typically perform in during a year?
A - We fly 15 a season. Were in the fall now. We’re starting to wind down and head towards our winter break when the pilots get a rest and all the aircraft get basically overhauled for the following season.
Q - Where do the aircraft go in the winter?
A - We moved the aircraft to Florida we actually keep them in Lakeland, Florida in the winter. It’s kind of become a center. There’s a couple of other performers and teams that are based down there because obviously the weather is also easier on the aircraft. We don’t have a hanger up here (New Jersey) other than for maintenance. So we have hanger space for one, two at the very most. What we do is we do our overhauls kind of on a rolling basis and we try and move the aircraft by December down to Lakeland and store them down there. There is a rhythm to our season. We start training, in February with ground school. Will do, two days of ground school where were refreshing ourselves on the systems in the aircraft in all the idiosyncrasies of flying formation-kind of our manual if you will for the squadron. Then we’ll move in March to Florida. We’ll move down there and will start flying, spinning up the routine so to speak. Will fly two hops a day for several days anywhere from 3 to 5 days, to get ready. Then we’ll fly at least two Florida airshows right off the bat, maybe three. By then things are just starting to get warmer and will start to move north.
Official website: www.geicoskytypers.com
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