Arts & Entertainment

Looking up: Biplane pilot to entertain Columbia Cup crowd

Mike Wiskus pushes the envelope of daredeviling to the limit.

How so? By flying a biplane upside down, sideways, straight up and straight down -- sometimes reaching 280 mph.

Does he ever worry about something going wrong as he falls into a spiral downward descent going that fast?

"Nah!" he joked at first, then he got serious. "Yes, what I do is dangerous, but staying focused is the key. I concentrate and I don't screw up. Simple as that."

Wiskus is one of the featured air show stunt pilots who'll perform as part of the Lucas Oil Team at this year's Lamb Weston Columbia Cup event. The air show runs July 27-29 between the unlimited hydroplane heats along the Columbia River.

Wiskus says he's been in love with flying since he was kid and was awed seeing his first air show in Iowa where he grew up.

"Even as a 10-year-old, I felt passion for flying," he said in a telephone interview. "I bought every kind of model airplane and put it together and hung them around my room."

The passion never left him.

"I used to ride my bike down to our local airport, push open the gate and walk up and touch the planes," he said. "You sure can't do that today, but you could when I was a kid."

At age 14, he talked his way into a part-time job of washing planes at the airport, then traded his wages for flying lessons. By the time he was 17, he had his pilot's license.

Now, 30 years later, he's still in love with flying and never gets tired of his chosen profession. He's logged more than 24,000 flight hours and is qualified to fly 40 different types of aircraft.

Wiskus, a married father of four, was the regional champion from 1996-2005 in the IAC Aerobatic Competition, took first place in 2002-03 North Central Regional Aerobatic competition and was United States Aerobatic Champion. Then in 2003, he was one of six qualifiers for the United States Advanced Aerobatic Team. In 2004, he competed in the World Aerobatic competition in Sweden, and in 2005, he earned the Fred Leidig trophy and sword for aerobatic excellence.

Wiskus doesn't compete anymore, but he still pushes the envelope of daredevil extraordinaire by soaring his Pitts S1-11B biplane into the clouds then falling back down to Earth spinning around and around, making the crowds below dizzy. He indulges his passion for planes by flying for Lucas Oil Air Shows. And when the show is over, he also owns West Metro Aviation in Minneapolis and manages several corporate flight departments.

"I just love to fly," he said. "The show will be loud and include a lot of smoke, and a lot of rolls and spirals."

After he finishes, Wiskus can probably be found strolling through Columbia Park signing autographs or passing out the free kids book he wrote that explains the wonders of aviation.

But he'll also be keeping an eye out in the crowd for that 10-year-old whose eyes are filled with wonder at the awesome sight of planes.

"It's a look I can spot anywhere," Wiskus said. "And I love it."

*Dori O'Neal: 582-1514;