Saturday, May 29, 2010

AcroCamp Recap

You’re probably wondering why it has taken me so long to publish a blog entry about AcroCamp.  Yeah, me too. AcroCamp, in case you are unfamiliar, was (is?) a documentary about “four pilots from different walks of life and around the country gathering in Michigan to take over a Part 61 flight school for four days and fly aerobatics for the first time” that took place May 13-17, 2010.

I’m not sure why it’s taking me so long to update the blog, other than the days of aerobatics left me physically and mentally exhausted (getting home at 2am after driving home to Cleveland on the last day didn’t help matters much either). Okay, so that explains the first week, maybe… well, then I had a conference - during which I got stuck at a friend’s private airstrip (time to spare? go by air!). As a result, I’ve just been getting caught up with other stuff. Slowing down to type down my memories is getting harder and harder at my age. Which is 29, for anyone who’s asking. Blame the rest on procrastination, I guess.

Obviously I was one of the campers. Remember my blog post about why I wanted to go to AcroCamp? I intend to let you know whether some or all of my goals have been achieved. They were pretty vague  goals, having more to do with "life affirming moments" than "don't puke." For the record, I didn't. However, my brains got a little scrambled during the four days of aerobatics, and relaxing (not journaling) during our down time was almost a necessity (but then again, so was mainlining triscuits and animal crackers to keep energy up and the contents of our stomachs down). I am now going to have to go back to the Facebook posts and tweets of all of those involved and try to recreate the event.  The last few days I've typed out everything I can remember about AcroCamp, which will be posted here in a series of entries. [I'd tell you how many, but I have no idea. It'll stop when I have no more to say.] If I've forgotten anything or don't explain anything well enough, just let me know.

The participants are the four campers, introduced in this AcroCamp blog entry. Shown left to right are Jim, a relatively new pilot, Michele, a CFI, me, and Paul, an airline pilot. Or as they became to be known – Flubber, G, La La and Gump. Our instructors were Don and Barry (in back). Why Don has his finger in his ear is beyond us. I'd like to think he was realigning his turn and slip indicator, but he won't say. Ancient Aerobatic Master's secret, most probably.

Day 0 (Arrival at Camp). We got started a day later than scheduled because of a definite lack of good weather (we need high cloud ceilings and good visibility for aerobatics). Therefore I had no excuse for showing up late, which is not usual for me, because I was trying to get things done before I left. A quick trip to mail some Penelope Pilot books off at the post office turned into a 45 minute ordeal. Then traffic and construction made it so I didn’t arrive until nearly 5pm. I felt horrible because the entire crew was hanging around waiting for me to show up so we could begin. It built up the anticipation for my arrival, at least. (Sorry, guys!)

As soon as I walked in the door, I was made to leave. Walk back out of the door, that is, and come back in with the cameras turned on. Everyone else had some time to get used to having a camera lens in their face, but for me it was kind of awkward still. We had cameramen sticking cameras into our conversations, "confession" cams after every flight, and recorded de-briefs with our instructors. By the end of camp we were totally ignoring the cameras filming everything we did. Ignoring the cameras, Will and Dave, not you guys!

The evening of Day 0 the campers and crew had a brief ground school in an absolutely FREEZING hangar with our instructors, Barry Sutton and Don Weaver. (Quick plug for the instructors, yo. If you EVER need an aerobatics instructor in Michigan, do me, nay you, the favor, and get in touch with these guys.)

This ground school, I must tell you, was a blur, despite the use of a super cool model airplane that the instructor’s son had built. And not just because I was shivering. [Did I mention the camp was in May? In any other state, this would be spring. In Michigan it's still mid winter, apparently.] And boy, did I need a refresher on p-factor, gyroscopic effect, and other aerodynamic principals more commonly seen flying single engine propeller driven airplanes (not to mention I have NEVER flown a taildragger) as opposed to the jets I’ve become used to. And seriously, some of these concepts that I had been studying for my CFI were still a bit of smoke and mirrors.

As soon became apparent during the next few days of flying, you can TELL me something, but you must SHOW me something for me to get it. The Aerobatics book we read prior to camp helped, and the ground school helped, but I had to get into the airplane to get an ah-ha moment. (Despite the picture to the right, just climbing into the Pitts didn't make it become clear automatically. I mean you have to fly the maneuvers too.) For example, Barry and Don actually later had me show them skidding and slipping turns (some of these airplanes don’t have turn coordinators, so you really have to “feel” it) and those other things I mentioned previously, so I could say, "hey, the airplane really can yaw if you don’t lead with a little rudder." Important lessons to remember if I am to become as good as a CFI as they. Plus, remaining coordinated is SO important in aerobatics. You can't be glancing down during a aerobatic sequence to see if you're in trim. Or would that be glancing up? Actually flying aerobatics, now that's the subject of the next few posts. Til next time. Smoke on.

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