Thursday, July 22, 2010

Day 2 of AcroCamp

Day 2. I think that Don and Barry really know what they’re doing. Instead of going right back into more advanced maneuvers, we had a little warmup session (remember, this was WAY out of my comfort zone and I needed to get back in the groove). I can’t read Barry’s writing of what we did that morning, but I tweeted, “Is it really only day 2 of #AcroCamp? Feels like longer, 'cause I feel like I'm getting the hang of it (hanging from my straps, that is).”

We campers were also having the time of our lives hanging out with some VIPs in the aviation world. Besides Steven Tupper, of Airspeed Online and the creator of this project, we had other folks you might have seen around twitter. The filming was being done by Will Hawkins, of A Pilot’s Story documentary, and David Allen, social networking extraordinaire, whose dream job is to be Ubiquitous Super-Plantery Test Pilot (the guy who flies anything and everything, anytime, anywhere, because he can). Together they do the Pilots Flight PodLog. We were visited by Roger Bishop, of IndyTransponder, who gave us some teaser videos for this year’s airshow in Indiana on June 11-13. Another podcaster, Jack Hodgson, of Uncontrolled Airspace, was there interviewing us for a yet-to-be-named-project featuring AcroCampers (I’ll let you know when he knows). We also saw Rod Rakic, of myTransponder: Making Aviation more Social. Ben Phillips, a photographer, was there as well. I know he got some great pictures of Michele, or “G”, so I’m hoping I’ll see more soon.

Oh, did I not mention MY call sign from the camp? Well, it became “La-La” because of the tendency to put my fingers in my ears and chant La La La La La when I think I’ma gonna hear something I won’t like. For example, when others were coming back from their flights raving about what they had done, I didn’t want to hear something I’d dread doing. Ignorant bliss.

Anyway, it didn’t seem to be necessary. This was May 15th, btw, so I tweeted, “I'm celebrating International Learn to Fly day by learning to feel comfortable upside down. It DOES get easier.” But then I got a ride in the Pitts. If you don’t know what a Pitts is, you probably would picture it exactly if someone were to say to you, “aerobatic airplane.” It’s smallish, with two stubby wings, and two small seats. Yes, the seat is small, but my legs are short. These airplanes were not made for us vertically challenged gals. My first ride in the Pitts had three major issues. One, I could barely reach the pedals or see over the dash. So I had to ..s..t..r..e..t..c..h.. to see to taxi the darn thing. The nose is up so high on this airplane on the ground that you have to point the aircraft toward one side of the taxiway, look ahead of you, then do nearly a 90 degree turn toward the other side of the taxiway, and look out the other side of the canopy to see that no one is in your way. By this time they were using the opposite end of the runway so this made for a very long taxi!

Two, there was a gap between the canopy and the airframe. May in Michigan is considered winter anywhere else and this made for a very cold bite at my neck and had me shivering (but only til we turned upside down again). The wind also caused problem three, because it was hitting the mike and breaking squelch. I had the volume up to try to hear Don over the noise, but the whole flight sounded as if I was in a metal box full of ball bearings! We soldiered on anyway and did some upright spins, aileron rolls, loops, inverted flight, hammerheads, ½ Cubans and reverse ½ Cubans, and Immelmans. I posted “Quick update: I did two flights in the Citabria... and then one in the Pitts! Yeah, buddy. You name a maneuver, and I most likely did it.”

What I learned from this flight was… don’t do “good enough” in getting ready to go fly an airplane. The above problems which distracted me from the training. I kept forgetting to look left. When Don said, “do a loop,” I couldn’t really hear him. Did he say, “do a loop?” “Did he mean now?” Which made me very hesitant in doing the maneuvers – which somewhat decreased the confidence I had built up, even though I was able to at least land the thing myself. I posted, “My dream airplane has always been a Pitts and it's exactly as I imagined. SO responsive and crisp. Immelmans, Hammerheads, Cubans, Spins. Landing the thing is interesting; you have to listen for the runway because you sure as heck can't see it.”

Before I went back to the hotel room, I celebrated a first with Don’s son, Andrew: “I also was the first passenger for the 17 year old son of one of the instructors. Guy doesn't even have his driver's license but he OWNS that Archer.” He’d been in that airplane since he was 2 months old, and was so completely comfortable in it. Truly impressive. Wish I had been able to come close to that kind of proficiency in two days!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Chapter 3 of AcroCamp

Day 1, or “The Flying Begins.”

So as I was being too scared to say I was too scared, the instructor, Barry, and I arrived out over an uncongested area to begin. Barry had me fly around for a bit, getting used to the airplane with some stalls and steep turns and such (which I do in the Citation X as well, but they’re not the same because of the extra engine, airframe design, etc). Then he demonstrated some wingovers, which, according to this Warbird website, featuring a cool graphic, are a common maneuver for attitude and position recovery after a diving attack. Especially after a diving attack on a ground target.

Of course, that’s not how Barry defined it. Given that we weren't under fire, that makes sense. Barry just demonstrated pulling up the nose, angling the wing to bisect the horizon until the nose was, um, about thiiiis much below the horizon, then initiating aft pressure on the stick to recover a level attitude. Cool.

We did quite a few of those. They were pretty mild, we didn’t pull a lot of Gs, the scenery was amazing (even if the ground was racing towards my face), and Barry was an encouraging instructor. By the time we got to the loops, I was hanging in there pretty well. Basically, you nose down to build up some speed (aerobatics is “energy management” after all) and then pull back on the stick. Once the horizon disappears over the nose, look left at the wing to keep you even (not one wing low) and when you can see (and feel) you’re coming over the top, release just a bit of back pressure so you float over the top (makes your loop a circle as opposed to an oval). Then look at the ground coming back under you and pick a line, like a road, to match up to as you pull back to level flight. Easy, right? So much so that when I got back I tweeted, “Just did wingovers, loops, rolls and a spin in the Citabria. Honestly, people, I don't know what you're making such a big deal about ;-)”

Okay, so I was pretty flippant, but understand, I was pretty nervous about all of this stuff. I was afraid of getting sick mostly, but my attention stayed mostly outside the airplane focusing on the horizon, instead of inside on the instruments, which is what a pilot who flies under IMC (instrument meteorological conditions) usually looks at. My next tweet as a response to someone’s “I hoped you whooped and hollered for the cameras then. Sure beats getting green. Glad you enjoyed, knew you would.” I said, “I think I was green BEFORE just anticipating things.”

The next aircraft was a Super Decathalon. Tweeted, “Preparing mentally for my 3rd flight of day where I hear we'll be flying inverted for a sustained length of time. I'm ok with that. (Right?)” Now, you should know (and I knew in advance from reading Basic Aerobatics from Szurovy/Goulian, that for the most part, an airplane doesn’t know its flying upside down (though an aircraft unable to access its fuel, oil, and other systems will soon get a sputtering reminder that it is). So there wasn’t really anything to fear as far as falling out of the sky. Again, the stomach would be upside down, and I didn’t know how I would handle that. My first tip if you’re going to fly inverted, make sure your seatbelt is TIGHT. No, Tighter. Ok, now just tighten it one more notch. There you go. Too tight? Trust me, it will loosen the first time you roll inverted. Remove the uncomfortable sensation of “hanging” upside down and it’s not so bad (until the blood starts to pool in your cranium – a sign it's time to roll back upright).

And now since we got warmed up and comfortable with the basics, it was time for my favorite maneuver, described as a maneuver “from a horizontal line. Pull the airplane up smoothly but aggressively to establish a vertical line. Hold the vertical line until the airplane almost runs out of airspeed, and just at that point, push full left rudder to make the airplane pivot, or cartwheel, around its left wing. Then establish and hold a vertical dive before pulling the nose back up to a horizontal line. The hammerhead ends with the airplane flying 180 degrees from its original heading.” This is an unpoetic way to describe what has to be my favorite maneuver. Julie Clark, as graceful an aerobatic pilot there is, is shown in this video executing a hammerhead.

My maneuvers (and I did all of those shown in that video) did not involve smoke (since there was no smoke generator on the plane). So I posted, “I don't want to ruin the secret to leading a fulfilled life, but I think it has something to do with executing a hammerhead in a Decathlon. ”

Unfortunately, all of the aerobatics were starting to do me in. Back on the ground I tweeted, “I think I will stay right side up for a while. That 2d spin did me in!” So, I’ll admit that I twice felt sick, but I did maintain control over my stomach. An unforeseen advantage for me?: “The #AcroCamp Flight Instructor said my long hair makes a good G-meter. And white mentho gum can effectively cure nausea IMHO.” All of us soon got used to pulling the g’s and could recognize when we had too much.

On a later flight, Barry had asked me up there if my mouth was dry. Which, yeah, I guessed it was. He asked if my skin was feeling tight. Yes, that too. Ok, he said, then it’s time to head back.

Well, that was enough for one day. Yeah, that’s right. One Day. My logbook has these entries: Stalls, takeoffs and landings, 3 pts and wheelies, spins, loops, slow rolls, spin recoveries, aileron rolls, slow roll to inverted and sustained inverted flight. Everyone else went out to dinner and I went back to the hotel and executed a perfect three point landing on my king size bed.

More to come, I promise...

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Girls With Wings Scholarship Announcement

Girls With Wings, Inc., announces their 4th Annual Scholarship Program for a future Girl With Wings. The application packet requires an essay with photo stating why the applicant believes she is a role model for Girl With Wings, to include her motivation, inspirations and future plans. Applicants must not have yet received a private pilot's license but have completed her solo. Entries are to be received between July 1st and August 31st, 2010. At least one $1000 scholarship winner will be notified October 1st and be sent funds to be used toward flying lessons. The awardee agrees to submit updates with at least three pictures taken during flight training and a final essay summarizing how the scholarship helped her, what she learned and her intent to continue her work as a Girls With Wings role model. Full details at

Girls With Wings, Inc., is a nonprofit organization that focuses its efforts on introducing young girls to their role models in aviation-related occupations. Website activities and inspirational stories of women involved in various fields of aviation will motivate girls to pursue their own skyward adventures. Fundraising for outreach activities is done through the sales of Girls With Wings™ merchandise designed to let everyone know “Yes, Girls Can Fly!” While some may view some of our products as just t-shirts, we believe that it is in fact a statement about the potential of girls to be intimately connected with Aviation (and other Science, Technology, Engineering and Math based fields) from the time they are born.

GIRLS WITH WINGS, INC: A nonprofit organization using aviation to entertain and educate girls about their limitless opportunities for personal growth via an interactive website and presentations to girls groups and organizations. The scholarships are primarily funded through private donations. If you wish to schedule a presentation, make a contribution or receive further details regarding program information, please contact Lynda Meeks at or 216.577.6131.

For more information, visit
or contact:
Lynda Meeks, Executive Director
Ph: 216.577.6131