|Pemberton's show combines gyroscopic movements
Melissa Pemberton knows how much things can change in 10 years.
She flew into EAA AirVenture Oshkosh in 2002 as a newly minted private pilot. This year the 28-year-old is returning as one of the featured air show performers. She can be seen performing today, Friday and Sunday.
"I still get that excited feeling when you pack up and get into an airplane and know that you're on your way to Oshkosh," she said. "I get to be a fan, to hang out with friends and experience the same things that everyone attending AirVenture does. But then I get to step into an airplane and play in the air with everyone watching. To be side by side with the best in the industry is really an honor."
Pemberton's solo act combines gyroscopic maneuvers with the precision used in competitive aerobatics. She's hoping she can help inspire others, and particularly young women. That's why she always gets on the radio at some point in her act to let the women and girls in the audience know that a female is flying.
Pemberton said she saw the Stars of Tomorrow perform at AirVenture in 2003, and it made her realize aerobatics is something she could do. Sean D. Tucker and Mike Goulian sponsored the program, mentoring six future air show pilots and introducing the young talent to the Oshkosh audience.
With a clear vision and dedication, Pemberton started training and got heavily involved in competitions. In less than one year under the coaching of Sergei Boriak and the mentoring of Wayne Handley, Pemberton went from first-time aerobatic contestant at the Sportsman level to third place overall in Intermediate at the 2004 U.S. National Championships. In 2006, by then flying a Zivko Edge 540, Pemberton became the youngest female ever to be a member of the U.S. Unlimited Aerobatic Team.
"When you focus on one discipline or sport, you will excel with it," she said. "Plus, I really did train with some of the best coaches. They helped me learn things...and allowed me to accelerate through the sport and advance."
She also began performing at air shows, thanks to other mentors and aerobatic acts who brought her into the circuit. Still others let her tag along and help at their air show performances.
"I can't imagine I would be successful if it weren't for those mentors," she said. "There is no book out there to tell you how to get into the air show business. In the last few years, I've started having girls who are looking at this career path, and I always invite them to come to a show so I can introduce them to some people."
Pemberton recently became a certificated flight instructor, just like the grandmother who first introduced her to aviation. "I'm so excited about being able to pass on what I've learned," she said. "I've been given so much from so many teachers and mentors. I'm at the point that I need to start giving back."