Must-see TV

When Discovery Wings went off the air earlier this year, many pilots went into mourning. Well, that can end now, because the Outdoor Channel just debuted a new show called “Wings to Adventure” that’s perfect programming for pilots.

The show is the brainchild of Tom Gresham, a pilot, writer, producer and television personality who has been trying for four years to get it on the air. He discovered he had some sway with the powers-that-be at the Outdoor Channel when he found himself hosting the cable channel’s biggest draw, “Guns & Ammo Television.”

“It became a hit and once it was going well, I went to them and said ‘what about that aviation show I want to do,” he recalls. “The timing was perfect.”

That’s because channel executives had made the decision to go to High Definition (HD) programming and “Wings to Adventure” became its premiere vehicle.

“It is shot in all HD,” Gresham said. “It is spectacular.”

So spectacular, in fact, that when channel executives saw the first few shows, they extended the original contract from 13 to 26 episodes. Each episode runs three times a week, with the show making its premiere June 27 at 10 p.m. Pacific time. It also airs at 11:30 a.m. Eastern on Wednesdays and 2:30 p.m. Eastern on Sundays.

In putting together the show, Gresham had some absolutes. First and foremost, this is a show for pilots by pilots. “We did not make it fluff, with a lot of ‘gee, isn’t flying fun?’” he says.

While appealing to the “core constituency” — TV talk for the pilots in the audience — Gresham’s challenge was to make the show also appealing to people who aren’t pilots. “It’s like pilots talking to each other and we let others listen in,” he says.

Next requirement: The show isn’t about airplanes — it’s about people. “When we do a profile of a Stearman, we do it through the eyes and voice of an owner,” he explains. “We capture that passion. It’s all about passion.”

Last requirement: The moment it stops being fun, the show ends. During shooting days, the staff works from sun up ’til sun down, but it’s like a continuous party, Gresham notes. “One guy was watching us in Shreveport and he said ‘no one stops moving, no one asks ‘what should I do next’ and you guys are having a ball,’” he says. “I truly believe if you are having fun, you get a better product.”

Gresham has surrounded himself not only with a fun staff, but a highly experienced one. All are pilots and aircraft owners and among them they have more than 100 years of flying experience.

When first given the green light to produce the show, Gresham found some highly regarded cinematographers with great reputations — who he fired almost immediately — “because they weren’t pilots,” he says.

Then he heard about the award-winning Experimental Aircraft Association Television Department. “I hopped in a plane to Oshkosh and talked to Tom Poberezny and other EAA officials and learned that the television department had produced a number of television shows, but had been downsized a bit,” he recalls.

Once he started working with Scott Guyette, who runs the department, Gresham knew he had found the right man for the job. “I’ve worked with a lot of shooters and he’s as good as anyone I’ve ever seen,” he says. “I immediately made him the director and that made all the difference.”

Also on the team is Walter Atkinson of Advanced Pilot Seminars, who provides instruction tips; Liz Swaine, a veteran TV anchor and aircraft owner who does the show’s destination and $100 hamburger reports; and Scott Perdue, a former F-4 and F-15 driver who owns a Bonanza and Stearman, who is the formation pilot. “When we shoot air-to-air we always bring our own formation pilot,” Gresham explains. “It’s safer that way.”

Perdue, who Gresham met a few years ago at AirVenture when the two camped next to each other, also is in charge of logistics for the show — a talent he honed when he was in charge of logistics for Air Force One.

Each “Wings to Adventure” episode is 30 minutes long and includes two airplane profiles, ranging from a Cirrus and the latest glass cockpit machines to a 1929 Travel Air and the Vickers Vimy replica now attempting to duplicate the first transAtlantic flight. There’s a destination segment, with reports ranging from lodges that you can fly into to where to find the best Texas barbecue, and a feature segment, which can be on anything from a museum to an interesting person to an interesting plane. There’s also either an instruction piece or a gear review, which will cover everything from the latest electronic gizmo to how to clean bugs off the leading edge of an airplane.

Interested, but not sure if you have the Outdoor Channel? The network is available on all cable systems in the United States and usually is offered as part of the basic package. If your cable company doesn’t offer it, contact company officials and request that they add it. There’s a sample letter at OutdoorChannel.com to get you started. Got DISH Network or DirecTV? It’s offered on both, often as part of a package. If it’s not in your package, call your provider and order it “a la carte.” Saying those magic words means it will only cost you $1.99 a month for the channel, Gresham notes.

“Wings to Adventure” also will have its Hollywood-style premiere at — where else? — this year’s AirVenture. A special viewing is slated for July 30 at the Theater in the Woods. Gresham promises that showing will be “even better than cable.”

“It’s not quite IMAX, but it’s cool,” he says.

Janice Wood is one of four people who regularly contribute to this column.

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