Georgia pilot flies Southwest by day, stunts by night

Mark Nowosielski developed an interest in aeronautics as a young boy growing up in South Africa. He was about three-years-old when he first recalled flying radio controlled airplanes with his dad.

In 1995, his family left South Africa and settled in Marietta. Nowosielski was a teenager faced with adapting to a new environment and culture. Those were tough years, he said, but it was during that time when he realized his love of flying was more than just a hobby.

“I call it a little bit of a drug. I love the sensation,” said Nowosielski. “The biggest thing is you have to be really passionate about it. If you are not passionate about it you will lose interest because it is really difficult.”

During the week, Nowosielski, 41, is a commercial pilot for Southwest Airlines. On the weekends, he hops into an orange-striped Tiger Yak 55 aircraft to make loops and tumbles through the sky as one-half of the Twin Tigers, a stunt pilot team formed by fellow Southwest pilot, Mark Sorenson. On Oct. 13 and 14, Nowosielski and Sorenson will perform at Wings Over North Georgia in Rome.

“We want to be exciting. We are basically circus performers. People come out to be excited and be wowed and have the sensation of a little bit of danger. We design the show with that in mind,” Nowosielski said.

Nowosielski also does solo stunt flying and is known for his daring tricks in the dark when pilots have to rely more on instinct and experience rather than sight. At a recent airshow in July, he became the first known aerobatic pilot in the country to tumble his aircraft -- a move in which the pilot maneuvers the plane so that the tail rotates over the nose -- at night. He debuted the move in July at the EAA Airventure Oshkosh Airshow in Wisconsin, where he was sponsored by local FBO Signature Flight Support.

After their shows, Nowosielski and Sorenson make it a point to meet young people in the audience and answer any questions they may have. “That is one of the ways we like to inspire people,” said Nowosielski who will even give out business cards to anyone who is seriously interested in a career in aeronautics.

He knows the path to becoming a pilot isn’t always easy. Earning a degree in aviation means long hours of studying coupled with accumulating tons of flight hours and acquiring plenty of debt along the way. After earning his degree, Nowosielski served as a flight instructor and flew regionally before landing a job with a major commercial carrier.

He enjoyed the daily challenges that came his way as the pilot of a major airline but he never stopped wanting to be an aerobatic pilot. He bought a Pitts S1C and began teaching himself how to do loops, turns and spins.

Once he got comfortable, he joined the International Aerobatic Club and began competing. Nowosielski decided to get a coach to help improve his skills and in 2013, he won the U.S. National Championship in the advanced category. Over the last four years Nowosielski has represented the U.S. on a team of eight pilots who compete around the world.

Seven years ago he met Mark Sorenson at work. Sorenson invited Nowosielski to Senoia where they discussed the possibility of doing airshows. Sorenson wanted to create a formation team and he asked Nowosielski to fly with him. The worlds of aerobatic competition and airshows are different but Nowosielski decided to give it a try.

As the Twin Tigers, they perform 10 to 15 airshows per year from March to October. They train each spring at Atlanta South Regional Airport in Henry County every day for a week before the season starts. After so many years and so many hours of practice, performing stunts while flying within four feet of one another has become second nature Nowosielski said. But it is very different from his day job.

“It is like driving a MACK Truck then getting in and driving a Porsche,” said Nowosielski. While commercial flying can change from one day to the next, it is very structured and choreographed, he said. Stunt flying on the other hand requires an enhanced set of skills.

Their shows begin with formation flying. Nowosielski watches Sorenson for cues as they fly 1200 feet off the ground and right in the faces of spectators. Then they face off from opposite directions and fly toward each other giving the appearance of narrowly missing each other as they cross.

Other crowd pleasers include loops and tumbles. While a loop requires a simple pull back on the stick to send the plane up and down, tumbling involves upsetting the flight path of the plane as the tail of the plane rotates over the nose. “We call it a tumble because it looks like you are out of control. The airplane doesn’t like to do it,” Nowosielski  said. But the crowd loves it. “When people say ‘That is the most exciting thing I have ever seen’ that is what I want to hear,” he said.

Event Preview:

Wings Over North Georgia

$20 -$25 general admission (kids under 5 are free). October 13 and 14. Richard B. Russell Airport, 304 Russell Field Rd NE, Rome. 800-514-3849.