Jon Melby is an air show pilot with over 35 years of flying experience. He is surface level aerobatic qualified, formation aerobatic qualified, and holds an Airline Transport Pilot rating. He has flown dozens of aircraft types and currently performs in a highly modified Pitts S-1-11B bi-plane.
Jon first learned to fly at age 8, when he created a pile of leaves in his Duluth, Minnesota lawn, climbed onto the roof of his 2 story home, and jumped like a bird into the leaves.
At the age of 12, he had the opportunity to meet the legendary air show pilot Bob Hoover at a local air show. Bob Hoover’s sincerity and great personality gave him the inspiration to pursue his dream of flying. When he was financially able, he made it a goal to solo in a non-powered glider before his 16th birthday. In only 8 flights, he achieved his goal by riding a bicycle 45 miles, on hot Arizona July summer weekends, to the nearest glider airport!
It was this type of determination that inspired him to purchase an airplane at age 19, and then hired an instructor to learn to fly it! Receiving his pilot’s license by flying every day for a period of 3 weeks, yet eventually yearned to do so much more in an airplane. After owning several Cessna passenger type aircraft, in 1996, he purchased a Pitts S2B Bi-plane and spent 3 months training to compete in Aerobatic Contests.
During his first aerobatic competition against 23 pilots, he achieved 3rd place, and in the next two contests won first and second place, awarding enough points to become the Arizona State Sportsman champion. This all took place the first year of competition aerobatics. It was then that he knew that aerobatics was his “passion and groove” and it’s been an adventure ever since.
Now, flying “extreme” freestyle aerobatics at Airshows, Jon can encourage both adults and children to pursue their dreams, much like Bob Hoover did for him.
The aircraft Jon flies is the awesome looking Black and Yellow factory built Pitts “Muscle” Bi-Plane.
There are only two factory built S-1-11B aircraft flying in the world today. With a 330+ H.P. six cylinder Lycoming (AEIO-540) motor, Cold Air Induction, 10.5 to 1 High Compression pistons, and 3 bladed Hartzell “Claw” Propeller, this aircraft has all the ingredients for a great air show performance. The S-1-11B has only a single seat and it is very light weight (1085 pounds dry), providing a perfect platform for flying high energy aerobatics! The Pitts bi-plane is made of metal tubing frame, wood spar/ribs, and mostly fabric covering. This helps keep the airplane light weight. However, fabric is sensitive and can quickly puncture if not careful!
This S-1-11B cruises at 195 MPH and can climb nonstop vertically from zero to 2,500 feet at sea level. During normal climb out, it does an amazing 4,000+ feet per minute climb rate! Compared to a small single engine passenger plane that climbs at around 750 feet per minute.
Fuel capacity on this aircraft is 28 gallons in a single main tank and 15 gallons in a reserve tank. Fuel burn at cruise is approximately 14 gallons per hour. During the airshow routine, the S-1-11B is burning approximately 25+ gallons per hour.
The smoke you see behind the airplane is created with special oil which is the same consistency as salad oil. Usually using Canopus 13 or Dialys-ax grade of oil. This is stored in a 6 gallon smoke tank located under the main fuel tank. The smoke oil is pumped to the aircraft exhaust via a standard automotive fuel pump. Once the oil hits the hot exhaust pipes, it turns into smoke! The oil does not catch on fire if the aircraft is moving. The burnt oil doesn’t smell great, especially in the cockpit.