BY CHRIS DILLMANN
Make way South Lake … the country is about to celebrate its 236th birthday. To help mark the grand occasion, the annual 4th of July celebration hosted by the South Lake-Excelsior Chamber of Commerce will commence as usual at the Commons.
Most of the well-known events are back, but an air demonstration over the waters of Lake Minnetonka will surely add a new element to the festivities.
The day kicks off at 8 a.m. with the two-mile Firecracker Run, followed at 8:30 a.m. by the 10k Firecracker Run. Both will begin and end at the Commons. The fun continues with the Sand Sculpture Contest beginning at 9 a.m. at the Commons beach. The Kids’ Patriotic Parade will begin 11 a.m. in Lyman Park on Water Street and travel down Lake Street to the driveway in the Commons.
The Kids’ Fishing Contest will begin at noon on the water by the Commons. Music at the Bandshell will begin at 4 p.m. with the first band, "Saint Away," a stomp grass genre that South Lake-Executive Director Linda Murrell said would sure to get people up dancing.
The Chris Thompson & Coral Creek-Bluegrass band from Colorado will take the stage at 6 p.m. The revered Minnesota Orchestra will cap the night’s music at 8:30 p.m. New this year Murrell said will be the live broadcast of the bands and orchestra in thanks to Scott Zerby of Digital Gamers.
"With the new technology this is going to be nice," Murrell said.
She says because the Commons gets so busy and there is so much boat traffic not everyone can hear the experience live. This will give them an opportunity to hear the music in all its glory. To listen to the live broadcast visit the chamber’s website, southlake-excelsiorchamber.com, and click on the Chamber Radio button.
The pinnacle of the events, the fireworks display will cap the day’s events at dusk.
However, this year will make way for something that the area hasn’t seen in decades and a first for the chamber’s event.
FLYING HIGH OVER
Pilot Michael Wiskus will be showcasing his incredible flying skills at 8 p.m. over Lake Minnetonka in his 300-plus horsepower Lucas Oil Pitts S1-11b airplane. Earning his pilot’s license at the age of 17, Wiskus has performed in more than 7,500 performances in front of 46 million pairs of eyes.
"The air demonstration will be big," Murrell said. "Even though it’s only 13-14 minutes long. The kids are going to go crazy when they see what he can do in an airplane."
With more than 24,000 hours of flight time, Wiskus is qualified to fly more than 30 aircraft including some of the highest performance aerobatic aircraft in the world. A 2002 U.S. National Aerobatic Champion as well as a 2004 U.S. National Aerobatic Team Member, Wiskus has traveled the world performing in air shows and competing against some of the greatest aerobatic pilots in Europe and Russia.
For the demonstration at the Excelsior 4th of July celebration, Wiskus says people can expect a lot of smoke and a lot of noise. Twists, tumbles and "some things you’d never think an airplane could do," he said.
Forward summersaults, barrel rolls, stalls, precise point rolls and outrageous maneuvers will demonstrate why he was awarded the Silver Medal in Sweden.
"With the right control inputs and right airspeed it’s just amazing what you can make the airplane do," Wiskus said.
To set up a show of this nature requires a lot of clearance from the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office Water Patrol, the Federal Aviation Administration and the city, to name a few.
Boaters will not be able to get around a very firm perimeter around the fly zone for about 45 minutes Murrell said.
"If you want to get some place, get there before we close the perimeter around 6:30 p.m.," Murrell said.
Wiskus said it will add some inconvenience, "but will be worth it, I guarantee it."
Prepping the fly zone is just one aspect of the show, Wiskus says. Checking the condition of the plane to making sure his health is top-notch, he says it’s just a lot of things to consider.
"When you start looking at all the things involved to make sure that thing are going to be safe and nobody will get hurt, there’s a lot involved," Wiskus said.
A TRUE LOVE FOR AVIATION
Growing up in Mason City, Iowa, Wiskus said he was saturated in aviation. Working out of an airport since the age of 14, Wiskus said he did whatever he could do to get within 50 feet of an airplane. And 38 years later – "I still can’t wait to get out and fly," Wiskus said. "I love to fly airplanes."
Learning the style of flying he’s gained such notoriety wasn’t easy. He credits his mentors.
"To go out there and grab an airplane to try and figure it out yourself is almost suicidal," Wiskus said.
When he was learning to fly, he said he grabbed a "How To" book with the stick in one hand, the book in the other.
"That’s just plain crazy looking back on it now," he said.
More importantly he said – good mentors are good students.
"You never stop learning, you never get to the point where you know it all," Wiskus said.
The plane he uses, the Pitts aircraft, is only one of three in the world, which he specifically built after purchasing in 1999. Built like a tank, he says, it comprises of a lot of steel tubing that is set up for continuous 12 plus and minus G-force stress for its life.
He says he will pull about eight Gs positive and six Gs negative about 15-20 times per performance.
"It’s a little harder on me than the airplane," he joked.
His other passion is rebuilding and refurbishing vintage aircraft. To fly something that nobody has ever flown before is truly the greatest thing, he says.
"This has been the most incredible, extraordinary career in my life, ever," he said. "I can’t tell you how fantastic it’s been."
Though, his real passion is passing his love for what he does to the younger generation.
"I hope the kids are intrigued," he said. "I hope they are captured like I was captured at 10-years-old."
For more information and a full schedule of the 4th of July celebration, visit southlake-excelsiorchamber.org.