By Andy Tarnoff Publisher Published Jul 15, 2005 at 5:29 AM

{image1} Professional aerobatic pilots say that, for them, flying a plane is as easy as driving a car. And from the ground, who can really say? But from the air, it's different. I found that out first-hand, watching from just feet away as Michael Goulian's CAP 232 stunt plane flipped upside down and back again. For about 30 minutes on a humid and windy Thursday afternoon, I had a most unique view to watch the mastery of his craft.

Goulian and his crew chief Michael Cappiello were, of course, warming up for this weekend's Air Expo on Milwaukee's lakefront. And while the stunts they showed me were as about as tricky for them as releasing the parking break on my car is for me, I still caught a glimpse as they put the laws of physics to the test. No matter what anyone says, it was hard not to let my jaw drop as I watched Goulian's plane flip through the air at 150 knots, some 2,400 feet above Lake Michigan.

Goulian, his wife Karin, announcer Rhett Grotzinger and Cappiello make up their traveling air show team, and they'll fly at 20 events before the end of the 2005 season. Massachusetts native Goulian is only 36, but he's been flying since he was 14. Cappiello is but 23, and says he's been flying since he was 17. When they're not dazzling crowds at air shows, they operate a flight school and serve as corporate jet pilots.

The group has a slew of air show awards to their credit, and the brightly painted CAP 232 looks like a formidable machine, even on the ground. In flight, though, the French aerobatic plane is even more nimble, and Goulian maneuvered it deftly to both sides and below the Cessna chase plane as if it were an extension of his body.

Goulian says it's all about trusting his wingman, and when his plane moved within mere feet of ours, it became obvious why. At first, I thought he was staring right at me, just smiling for my camera. Eventually, I realized he was watching Cappiello's every move. Just like the Blue Angels, who will perform this weekend, Goulian also knows how to navigate by watching his neighbor rather than watching the view in front of him. (For exclusive video footage from inside the Cessna, as Goulian breaks formation to prepare for landing, click here.)


I, too, kept my eyes on the plane next to us, only occasionally looking up to glimpse the unique perspective of Milwaukee. I'd like to credit my attention to good journalism, but honestly, I didn't know what to expect when I buckled up inside the newly refurbished 1980 Cessna. It was my first flight in a small plane. Never mind the fact that flying makes me more than a little uneasy -- my hosts probably could tell as my voice cracked during our pre-flight small talk (read: my nervous babbling). Once airborne, however, the experience was too captivating for me to remember any fear I might have had before we took off.

Only as we rounded Racine did I realize it was really windy out there -- a fact confirmed by Cappeillo (after we landed, of course). I also didn't realize I was sweating bullets as I viewed a skyline that I've seen dozens of times from passenger jets, only different this time because the view was straight forward and in this plane were just the pilot and myself.

Karin told me before takeoff that her family's career is a thrilling one, and even after just a short conversation, I could tell that the disarming Michael is every bit of a stuntman. A guy who lists his other hobbies as mountain biking, skiing and serious hockey playing, it's not hard to see how he picked his vocation, one at which he excels.

During the Air Expo, expect Goulian to push it much harder. Pulling up to nine G's in both directions, tumbling and using every bit of his plane's 300 horses, spectators will see much more than I saw Thursday afternoon. They just won't see it from 10 feet away.

Goulian will take to the air at 3:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. He'll also be in Wisconsin again for the EAA Airventure, July 25-31. His Web site is




Andy is the president, publisher and founder of OnMilwaukee. He returned to Milwaukee in 1996 after living on the East Coast for nine years, where he wrote for The Dallas Morning News Washington Bureau and worked in the White House Office of Communications. He was also Associate Editor of The GW Hatchet, his college newspaper at The George Washington University.

Before launching in 1998 at age 23, he worked in public relations for two Milwaukee firms, most of the time daydreaming about starting his own publication.

Hobbies include running when he finds the time, fixing the rust on his '75 MGB, mowing the lawn at his cottage in the Northwoods, and making an annual pilgrimage to Phoenix for Brewers Spring Training.