Monday, August 8, 2016

Rob Holland: Pilot gears up to thrill Atlantic City Airshow crowd


Like most entertainers, Rob Holland follows a routine as he prepares for a show.

Before changing out of his street clothes into his stage wardrobe, he’ll go over the show with his production team. He’ll mentally review all the little nuances in the show, even small things that might escape the attention of the audience.

Like most performers in Atlantic City, he’ll be preceded by an opening act. And while the warm-up act is on, Holland has one last step to complete before he’s ready to go — donning a carbon fiber MXS-RH outfit.

It’s not some new haute couture import from the high-fashion houses of France or Italy. It’s a customized and very skinny high-performance airplane.

Holland is every bit the entertainer, but no stage in Atlantic City — or anywhere on the planet, for that matter — can hold his show. Peers consider Holland, 42, one of the world’s top aerobatic pilots. He’ll be one of the few civilian acts performing during the 14th annual Atlantic City Airshow known as “Thunder Over the Boardwalk” on Aug. 17. It’s considered the world’s largest one-day free air show.

His two-seater plane, powered by a 380 horsepower engine, can achieve speeds of up to 240 miles per hour and has a roll rate of nearly 500 degrees per second. Although he can fly a number of aircraft, everything from big jets to small prop planes, Holland is most comfortable performing in his customized MXS-RH.

The powerful machine is more than just an airplane.

“The (plane) just fits my ‘personality’ in the air,” Holland explains. “I don’t get in it. I put it on (and) it just becomes an extension of myself. It just flies the way I would want an airplane to fly. It is incredibly high performance and allows me to do almost anything my imagination can think of.”

Growing up in New England, Holland became smitten with flying when he was a boy. He began flying lessons when he was a teenager, and the moment he earned his license at 17, he immediately turned his attention to aerobatics, learning how to do loops, spins, rolls and other breathtaking and seemingly dangerous maneuvers.

You can call Holland a daredevil. "Brave" and "innovative" are also descriptions that perfectly fit one of the air show world’s most respected pilots, with more than 12,000 flying hours. For you math geeks, that’s that’s the equivalent of 500 days in the air without ever touching the ground.

Whatever you call Holland, just don’t call him a “stunt pilot.”

“I don’t do ‘stunts,’ ” he says firmly. “I fly aerobatics.”

You may think that’s just a matter of semantics — “stunts” versus “aerobatics” — but there really is a big difference, he adds.

“To me, a ‘stunt’ is trying something for the first time, where you don’t know what the results are going to be,” he says during a recent interview from Poland, where he was working with a team of aerobatic pilots.

“I know the results of everything that is in my show,” he adds. “It is very well practiced and analyzed for safety and consistency. Nothing will be added to my routine unless it has perfect results 100 percent of the time. I understand and have practiced all the ‘outs’ in case it doesn’t go right.”

Holland is too good to be the Atlantic City Airshow’s opening act. He’ll appear as a “teaser” early in the show. But his 12-minute performance is right in the sweet spot of the four-hour-plus program.

Holland gets to fly when crowds along Absecon Island beaches are at their peak, because he performs right before the show’s traditional headliners and closing act, the United States Air Force Thunderbirds.

Flying over the beaches of Absecon Island is familiar territory for Holland, and not just because he’s flown in the Atlantic City Airshow and other Jersey Shore shows in the past.

As a young pilot looking to build up flight hours, he chose a time-honored way to qualify for a commercial license to fly commuter planes and corporate aircraft.

“I flew over 1,000 hours towing banners,” he says, “and a lot of that was up and down the Jersey Shore.”

Sometimes, in addition to his solo shows, he also partners up with other flying teams, including performances with the U.S. Navy’s Blue Angels.

An image on his website shows Holland in his single-engine, propeller-driven plane flying upside-down next to all six of the Blue Angels in their twin-engine supersonic F/A-18 Hornets.

Although some entertainers often ad-lib during their shows — like a comedian testing out a new joke, or a singer deviating from a set list to try out a new song — Holland leaves nothing to chance. The show he flies at the start of a new air show season is the same one he’ll fly at the end.

“I ‘lock down’ my routine at the very beginning of the season practicing for the first show,” he says. “I then fly the same show for the season. This keeps it safe and consistent.”

Although most air shows usually take place above airports, flying over the beach and ocean in the Atlantic City Airshow is a special opportunity, Holland says.

“Performing at water shows always has a bit of challenge to them (because) there is no runway below me,” he says. “Depth perception over the water is usually challenging also, and you have to use other (visual) reference points.”

But he’s flown the Atlantic City show enough times to feel comfortable performing just above the sand and the waves. While he has to concentrate on flying his routine correctly and safely, he’s also acutely aware he’ll be entertaining the largest crowd of the year on the air show circuit. Estimates of the Atlantic City Airshow crowds have ranged as high as 850,000 for the four-hour show.

“I’m aware of the audience because that is who I am performing for,” he says. “Atlantic City does have a huge crowd. It’s amazing to look down and see all those people down there on the beach and boardwalk.”


The 14th annual Atlantic City Airshow 'Thunder Over the Boardwalk' begins at 10:40 a.m. Wednesday, Aug. 17. The free show can be seen from many beaches on Absecon Island, but the center of the action — the 'flight line' — is on the Florida Avenue Beach in Atlantic City. For more information, go to


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