THE VINTAGE INSTRUCTOR
A new set of skills DOUG STEWART
no, no . . . you’re pulling back on the stick. That’s why the nose is dropping.” The voice in my headset was helping to make my head feel as if my brains were going to melt and start dripping out my ears. Worse yet my stomach felt as if it were getting ready to display the contents of my light breakfast in my lap. “You’ve got to start coming forward with the stick as you transition from knife edge to inverted, or that nose will drop. I’ve got it . . . let me show you again,” Stan said as we rolled, yet again, through one more four-point roll. We had been flying aerobatic maneuvers for close to an hour at this point and my fun meter was just about pegged out. I had reached that saturation point where my performance was going to be all downhill from this point on. It was a good thing we were going to be descending for the airport in just a short time. In the back seat of the Super Decathlon we were flying was Stan Segalla, known to many as “The Flying Farmer.” He regularly thrills the crowds at the Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome every Sunday with his hilarious routine in a PA-11 Piper Cub. One would not think that a Piper Cub could do the things that Stan does with it. I would call it absolute mastery of uncoordinated flight. At the end of the act he shows masterly perfection by coming to a stop, after a dead stick landing, directly beside his farmer’s straw hat that had “blown” out of the cockpit as he took off. And now he was encouraging me to strive for that same type of perfection in the air. Not that I was preparing for an air show performance. I was just taking recurrent aerobatic training to keep my skills sharp. Stan is a hard taskmaster. He doesn’t have you fly one maneuver and then fly straight and level for five minutes while you discuss what 10
Why would someone want to go flying expecting to get a stomach that churns more than the bottom of a roll cloud in advance of a thunderstorm, and a head that throbs greater than a round engine?
you have just done. No . . . he has you sequence from one maneuver to the next with very few breaks. Unless, of course, that you mess up, or get disoriented, which is real easy to do. He’ll have you fly a loop, followed immediately by an aileron roll, then dive to gain the energy for a half-Cubaneight to reverse course, coming out of that into a fourpoint roll, sequencing to a barrel roll. Now reverse course with a hammerhead. Then perhaps two or three aileron rolls in sequence (that one can really get my stomach going) and a course reversal with an Immelman. Are you starting to get the picture? You certainly get your money’s worth with Stan. After an hour of training (if you can last that long) you could easily fly over forty maneuvers. With some aerobatic instructors you might only get to fly ten or fifteen maneuvers in an hour. That’s not so with Stan. And one of the amazing things is that Stan is more than 70 years old. He just doesn’t get tired at all. Period. Many pilots would wonder why anyone would want to subject themselves to the physical stress of aerobatic flight, or why anyone would subject oneself to the G loads incurred in flight other than straight and level. Why would someone want to go flying expecting to get a stomach that churns more than the bottom of a roll cloud in advance of a thunderstorm, and a head that throbs greater than a round engine? Well, for some it’s just plain (or should I spell that ‘plane’) fun. After a few hours of aerobatic flight most pilots will adapt to the G loading and no longer find
themselves getting queasy or having headaches. It certainly is a challenge to fly around the axes’ with enough situational awareness to even know which way is up, but when one can start to gain precision in these maneuvers one also gains a wonderful sense of accomplishment. I know that for me, one of the most rewarding things about flying is that there is always something more to learn, something more to perfect. I love the challenge of always trying to make my flying better. I think that if I ever get to the point where I can say that there is nothing more to learn or perfect in my flying, it will be time to hand in my certificates and take up crocheting. So for me seeking that ever-elusive perfection in my flying gets even more difficult when the blue side is no longer necessarily up. But there is also another reason for every pilot to get some aerobatic training. Even if you are a pilot that dislikes banks in excess of 30 degrees, even if you never pitch up or down beyond 10 degrees, there might very well come a time in your flying when the blue side is down, not up. And it probably didn’t get there because of something you did on purpose. I remember when I was taking my initial Malibu/Mirage training with Attitudes International. It was my final day of training. The simulator that I was “flying” was not a motion sim, but was a full cockpit mockup, with projection on a screen that wrapped around outside the cockpit windows. The instructor asked me to shut my eyes; we were going to do some recoveries from unusual attitudes. So I dutifully shut my eyes and waited for instructions to open them and recover from whatever attitude I found myself in. Of course the instructor could not disorient me in this simulator bolted to the floor, as I do when performing this maneuver with students in the air, so I sat there in a nonmoving cockpit waiting to open my eyes and quickly interpret the instruments and then recover as appropriate. When I was told to open my eyes, I quickly scanned the instruments and responded: “You’ve got to be kidding me.” “No I’m not! Recover from the attitude. NOW!” the instructor commanded. Looking at the attitude indicator first, I saw that the blue side was down. Scanning to the airspeed indicator I saw that the airspeed was trending up. Yup! No doubt about it. Even though I wasn’t hanging from my seatbelt this Mirage was inverted. But now the moment the instructor was waiting for. How would I recover? Would I pull back on the yoke and split-S (a maneuver that pulls from inverted through the second half of a loop) back to right side up…or would I add some forward pressure and then full left yoke with left rudder in an aileron roll back to straight and level? This maneuver had been added to the syllabus after
more than one pilot, finding their airplane inverted after a wake turbulence encounter, had opted to splitS out of the upset, only to become much more upset when the wings departed the aircraft as a result of the speeds well in excess of VNE that were reached before control was regained. But if a pilot has never had aerobatic training would they know that the roll is the safest way to recover from the upset? And would they know to roll to the left (assuming an American engine up front)? Would they know that the split-S would lead to excessively high airspeeds, and that if they did keep the wings on the airplane, they might very well impact the ground if the upset occurred on the latter stages of an ILS? The only way that we as pilots can gain the sometimes counter intuitive skills one needs to recover from these kinds of upsets is through aerobatic, or upset recovery, training. Might one experience some motion sickness during the training? Yup! Is the adrenalin valve going to be wide open? You betcha! But even if you only receive one hour of aerobatic training you will be much better prepared to recover from an upset, if it ever happens to you. You will know how to get the blue side back on top if you ever find it down. And you will be taking yet another step in the transition from good pilot to great pilot. Read more about Doug’s work at www.dsflight.com.