Inverted Again!


This is a regular blog post. Check out the other posts for show notes and links to show audio.

I finally got inverted yesterday for the first time since November. Yeah!

About 1.7 hours with Barry Sutton in the Citabria yesterday. The mission was to get up and start rebuilding my aerobatic tolerance for the 2009 season and then continue with tailwheel training in the pattern.

We started with wingovers of varying degrees until I was getting her up to about 60 degrees, burying the wingtip, and still pulling her out well below the yellow arc. The idea with the wingovers was to get some sense of energy management back after not having flown the aircraft for months. Six or eight of those until I was nailing them pretty well both left and right.

Then we looped her. I do so love the loop. If I’ve been having problems, it’s been that I’ve relaxed the pull too early on the way up. Mostly, it’s getting a feeling of what it’s supposed to look and feel like in the airplane. This time, I think I nailed them pretty well. Good steady pull on the way up with only a little bit of letoff as I floated over the top and then begin the pullout as the horizon comes through the top (!) of the windscreen.

On the back of the last one, I actually felt like the airplane rotated a little around its lateral axis. Not sure if that’s good (too much pull and stall risk?), but it was an interesting sensation. This is a very capable airplane and we had plenty of altitude in which to recover, so I wasn’t worried. Additionally, I’m getting pretty good at managing the energy in each maneuver. On each of the last two or three loops, I kept the airspeed out of the yellow while still being pretty smooth.

Barry says that the loops were good and round and probably looked impressive from the ground. In fact, he says that the average layperson would assume that we had out cheeks in our laps pulling gees. Heck, I think it’s impressive regardless, but understanding how it’s different in the airplane from what you see on the ground is an added benefit of doing this. I get a lot better idea of what I’m seeing at airshows.

Aerobatic tolerance is about 20 minutes. Rotten. But I’m glad that I’m starting in early. I’d like to have it up to an hour of moderate aerobatics by early June. An organizer at one airshow that I’m covering this year says that he’s going to vet media riders in a Pitts S-2C before turning them loose to get media rides from the performers. Okay. (1) a Pitts S-2C ride is a great ride even if you never get past the vetting and (2) as long as I get to shoot and record in the Pitts, I’m good. Although I really do want to be the iron-stomached media rider who can handle whatever the performer throws at him.


I had a chance to try out the new camera rig. It performed very well. No gee-induced issues and the mount (from Pegasus Auto Racing Supplies) held the camera exactly where I wanted it. I put it on the tube to the upper left of the panel as seen from the front seat. The wide-angle lens gave a satisfactory breadth of view of the cockpit, but the sensation of motion wasn’t what I was looking for. I think I might need to mount it toward the center so that you get more outside view and get more of a sense of the aerobatic maneuvers.


The camera proved easy to operate from the pilot’s seat. You can’t see the controls from the pilot’s seat, but they’re fairly easy to operate by touch if you’ve futzed with the camera a bit on the ground first.

I managed to goof up the audio recorder during startup and didn’t record the intercom audio for this flight. So I’m going to have to use this footage for something else. But it’s good footage nevertheless. I’m looking forward to playing some more with the camera to figure out what works best. In any case, I don’t want to wait until it’s a really good flight opportunity to try to work out the bugs. I’ve just recently been approved by the Air Force for a really cool opportunity and I want all of the hardware working flawlessly when that gets scheduled.

I have the new MacBook Pro and I’m getting acclimated to it. I’ll be installing the video editing software soon and I’m looking forward to posting some exampled of the in-flight video soon.

More aerobatics and tolerance-building coming up! Stay tuned!

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More information about Sutton Aviation:

Sutton Aviation, Inc.
Oakland County International Airport
6230 North Service Drive
Waterford, Michigan 48327
248-666-9160

2009 Season Planning: Re-Tooling for Better Video

This is a regular blog post. If you’re looking for show notes or links to show audio, please check the other posts.

I’m tooling up for the upcoming season. I wanted to do more video elements for the show, but lacked the hardware to do so effectively. So I decided to, among other things, update my camera rig.

I had been using a bullet cam plugged into a 1990s-era Sony handycam (because the Sony had an analog input appropriate to the bullet cam and not necessarily because the Sony was the best means of capturing the action).

I have initial approval from at least one military source to go fly a pretty high-performance airplane this summer, and it’s the kind of airplane whose crew chief is unlikely to let me run a lot of wires around the cockpit. It has ejection seats, you see . . .

So, with some help from Will Hawkins, I settled on a new rig. The base camera is the Panasonic HDC-SD9. It’s a 12-oz. unit that records high-definition AVCHD video at native 1080i resolution to SD/SDHC™ memory cards with a maximum video resolution 1920 x 1080.

Although I’ve had good luck with tape media thus far in the Citabria (pulling maybe three gees max in usual maneuvering), I do have occasional problems that I suspect are due to the effects of acceleration on the tape transport. Hard drive cameras can also be affected by gees inasmuch as the read-write head isn’t designed to put up with those stresses, either. So I got the Panasonic that has very few moving parts in general and no moving parts in the storage mechanism.


I clamp it into the airplane using a clamp mount that I bought last year from an auto racing supplier. It’s very configurable and can hold the camera still in any number of orientations. It’s configured in this picture to clamp to a horizontal part of the dash, but it works just fine clamped in lots of other orientations.

The lens is a Raynox Pro semi-fish-eye conversion lens. At 0.3x, it broadens the field of view by 180%. This is important. When I first mounted the bullet cam in the front of the airplane, I got video of my face and some moving shadows, but little else. The field of view wasn’t wide enough to capture the cockpit environment to show what was going on. I solved that to some extent by mounting the bullet cam in the back of the plane looking forward, but I still couldn’t get any shots of my face. The camera was just too close.


The conversion lens blows the image back a lot and will allow me to shoot from up front, which will be cool. I’ll probably experiment a bunch with placements around the airplane in the next few weeks.

More re-tooling discussion soon! I’m planning to convert my music studio rig to a Mac platform with Digidesign 003 Rack + Factory and Pro Tools LE 8 and I’m sure that I’ll have a lot to say about that as it happens.