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The Height of Ethanol Promotion
Greg Poe's Fagen MX-2
by Kelly Nyberg

As he flies and flips through the air, you cannot help but wonder how he does it.

Greg Poe is one of the greatest aerobatic pilots of his time, flying one of the world’s most advanced airplanes. His amazing maneuvers across the sky draw millions each year to his air shows, but spectators also get a 275 mile-per-hour demonstration of ethanol’s power and a lesson about what ethanol means for America.

“We have a public out there that just doesn’t understand ethanol, and they are hungry to get answers,” Poe says. “I’m a good outlet for that. ”

A native of Boise, Idaho, where he currently lives with his wife and 20-year-old daughter, Greg Poe discovered his interest in flying at a young age. As a kid, his fascination with the space program drove his desire to get his pilot’s license, and by age 19, he had completed flight training. He then earned commercial and instrument ratings and became a flight instructor. Poe has specialized in tail wheel training and aerobatics and is known as one of the most knowledgeable and experienced instructors in the country.

Over the years, Greg has been involved with different types of flying. His experience in float plane flying and towing gliders and aerial banner advertisements was valuable, but he says his true love is for aerobatic flying. He studied aerobatics under an accomplished pilot, John Chambers, whom Greg says helped him build a good foundation.

“Many years of trial and error helped me to perfect my aerobatics,” Poe says. “I would take the airplane up very high into the air and experiment with different maneuvers until I found something new and exciting.”

Poe’s adoration for the art of aerobatics led him to enter national competitions, and shortly after his first air show performance in 1992, he decided to become a full-time air show pilot.

Now a sixteen-year veteran of the air show circuit, Poe tours the country almost year-round, performing in approximately 22 shows each season. More than 4 million people attend his air shows each year. They are not only entertained – they are also educated about ethanol.

Poe’s is not your average aircraft. In a pioneering choice, the MX-2 is powered by ethanol.

He realized ethanol’s strengths when a mutual friend introduced him to Ron Fagen, owner of Fagen, Inc. of Granite Falls, Minnesota, the firm that has built the majority of the nation’s new dry-mill ethanol plants. A fellow pilot, Ron decided that Fagen, Inc. would sponsor Poe as a way to get the message out about the benefits of using ethanol.

“If I’m willing to use ethanol and trust that it’s going to run properly and safely for me, the public should see that it’s ok to use it,” Poe says. “It’s the right thing.”

Poe says that with ethanol, his airplane experiences decreased emissions and increased horsepower – much the same results as high-octane, clean-burning ethanol will have for an automobile.

“We are believers,” Poe says. “It is our responsibility to get that out to the public.”

Debbie Seagle is Greg’s director of marketing and public relations, and Dax Wanless serves as his director of operations. Each is essential to making the air shows happen flawlessly. Dax became part of the Greg Poe air show team in 2006 and handles logistics, keeps the planes in top working condition, and is the announcer at the air shows. Deb also joined the team in 2006 after she did some photography and PR work for him through another company.

“Working for Greg and the Fagen team is the best of all worlds,” Seagle says. “We are promoting the benefits of ethanol and what Fagen, Inc. is doing for America. We are touching the lives of young people and encouraging them to strive for something good in life. We are also giving adults a new perspective on the environment, the economy, and aviation.”

No matter how serious their message to the public, Poe’s team is a tight-knit group full of laughter and fun. They spend a lot of time flying, packing, organizing, running, fixing, sharing, and laughing together, which has made them quite close.

“All three of us have really good chemistry,” Wanless says. “We laugh a lot and have fun.”

Air shows are complex events, taking three to four days to prepare for each show. In a typical week, the Poe team gets to the site on Tuesday to prepare for the weekend show. Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday are full of media opportunities, which is where Greg really makes the ethanol message shine.

He begins as early as 6:00 am for a morning full of media shoots for television stations and interviews with TV and newspaper reporters. Greg also takes ethanol promotion to the air waves through live radio broadcasts.

In addition, Greg actually takes members of the media up in the air in a support plane that flies right along with his air show plane.

All this media exposure multiplies ethanol’s message, taking it beyond those who attend the show itself to all those who read the paper, watch the news, and listen to the radio.

“The media gets us in front of people that would not usually go to that air show event,” Poe says. “It also gives us a chance to promote Fagen Inc., and ethanol.”

Poe also hosts an “Elevate Your Life” program for children, which he presents through schools, camps, and youth programs all across the country. He gives an inspirational presentation about setting goals and pursuing your dreams.

In a typical week, following his youth program, Poe goes to practice, Dax works on the planes, and Debbie works on photos, the website, and other media elements. Friday is a media day / practice day, and Saturday and Sunday begin the briefing, getting the planes into position for display with the Fagen trailer, and preparing the ethanol information to share with the spectators.

At each show, Poe usually flies in the morning, with each performance lasting about twelve minutes.

“In those twelve minutes, I’m absolutely exhausted because of the extreme G forces I experience,” he says.

He also gives interviews, talks to the crowds, and has autograph sessions. The most important thing Poe focuses on at his air shows is the team’s use of ethanol. Promotional materials are handed out at the shows, which are all bent toward ethanol.

Each air show is musically choreographed and features daring stunt maneuvers. Poe’s most famous move is called the “Poe Pinwheel.”

“This is a maneuver I came up with to make the airplane cartwheel across the sky. It’s probably the most difficult thing I do because the timing has to be just right to make it happen,” Poe says.

Poe’s aerobatic plane is an important element of the show, and he likes to share it with the public. He has had three aerobatic airplanes within the last sixteen years, but he calls his current piece of machinery “the most advanced airplane in the world.”

Fueled by 85 to 95 percent ethanol, the Fagen MX-2 is American designed and built, weighs about 1,320 pounds, and can travel at top speeds of 275 miles per hour. It has a roll rate of 420 degrees per second, a four-camera on-board video system, and a front seat for passenger rides.

Since beginning his partnership with Fagen and his promotion of ethanol, Poe has felt a difference in public opinion about the fuel.

“We have become a pretty good barometer for the public’s perception of ethanol, ” he says. “Many are curious and have questions about what the cost difference is for E85, where can they get it, and what’s the difference in mileage.”

Poe says he has three favorites about his job as an air show pilot. He gets to fly the coolest planes in the world, he gets to travel around the country and see things that others only see on television or read about in books, and lastly, he gets to meet the greatest people in the world.

“I can’t really imagine doing anything other than performing at air shows,” Poe says. “This is truly my passion.”


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The American Coalition for Ethanol publishes Ethanol Today magazine each month to cover the biofuels industryís hot topics, including cellulosic ethanol, E85, corn ethanol, food versus fuel, ethanolís carbon footprint, E10, E15, and mid-range ethanol blends.
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