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.” http://www.bruceair.com/aerobatics/aerobatics.htm 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...

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