Michigan Aerobatic Open 2012 – Day -2

Another day in Jackson.  I got up first thing this morning with Don and worked on hammerheads and the humpty.  A productive flight.

I’m not at a good acro tolerance point yet.  It could have been that I flew first thing this morning and I’m just not a morning acro guy.  It could be that I’m just not an acro guy.  But we’ve talked about that before.  And it’s not going to stop me.

The order of the day was hammers.  Lots and lots of hammers.  I got to the point where I could do a hammer with the only talk from the front seat being suggestions for improvement.  And that’s a good thing.  I’m pretty happy about that.  I need to keep the aircraft at right angles all the way around and wait for the roll to the left.  Then it’s right stick to about the halfway point and kick.  I’m feeling as though I get it and it’s really just a matter of getting a more intuitive feel on top of the mechanical stepwise process.

I noticed on the video from yesterday that we spent three potatoes or so on the upline in the humpty on that flight.  We got slow and had to work it over the top.  On the humpty this morning, I started the pull over the top after only a single potato and it worked out well.  Positive control all the way over the top and a good float.

After we landed, it was time to set up the box markers.  The Jackson box is a little odd in several respects.  It’s aligned with Runway 6/24 (and, therefore, not with any of the section lines or anything else intuitive.  Part of the box is situated over the swamp to the west of the field.  That means that we have to put markers in the swamp and in several other interesting locations.  It was 85 F early on and it only got worse.  Humping markers around the airport will take a lot out of you in that kind of heat.  By the time we were done and Don had done several other flights, I was pretty well done for the day.  Discretion being the better part of valor, I packed it in for the day and returned to the Tri-Pi House .

I have stuff to work on tomorrow.  I think I’ll hit the shark’s tooth (vertical up, pull over to a 45 down, half roll to upright, and exit level) and then do each of the other maneuvers other than the spin.  I’m guessing that the spin will do my tummy in, so I’ll conclude with that.  If I can get the spin dialed, it’ll be time to fly the entire sequence out in the practice area.  If I can make it through the maneuvers themselves, then I’ll bring it into the box and see how it works in the box itself.  Most likely, I’ll stay in the practice area on the first flight.  Them I’ll bring it into the box for the second flight (which might or might not start out in the practice area.  The Unlimited guys will show up tomorrow and the box will only get more crowded from here on out, so it’s time to get into the box and see how these things go in a confined space.

Lots to do, but this is all doable.  I’m looking forward to it!



Michigan Aerobatic Open 2012 – Day -3

A down day to get some work done for clients, do laundry, and snag a little sleep, and it’s back to it.

On Sunday, I left the Battle Creek airshow shortly after finishing my narration gig for the Tuskegee Airmen glider demo team.  I picked up Don Weaver in Jackson and drove him to Ray and loaded up a care package for the Pitts.  Don then flew the Pitts to Jackson and I headed home, where such laundry, work, and other more mundane activities ensued.

Fast forward to this morning, when I awoke at the Pi Pi Pi House (which is what we’ve dubbed this dorm at Spring Arbor University where many of us are staying).  Off to Jackson County Reynolds Field, where the Pitts awaited.

I signed on to my second FAA waiver.  As you’ll recall, the waiver is necessary to cover things like aerobatic maneuvering, fuel requirements, altitudes, and other matters.  It essentially allows us to do stuff in Class D airspace that not even a retiring Lt Col on a fini flight would consider.

I realized that I couldn’t find my acro shoes.  They’re actually just wrestling shoes and there isn’t anything special about them other than the fact that they’re narrower than my usual tennies and are less likely to snag when I move my feet up or down on the rudder pedals to use the brakes.  I can feel the pedals a little better and wrap my toes around the turface features of the pedals, too, so that’s a plus.  I had to hit Dunham’s to buy another pair, but was rewarded with a pair that fits even better than my old pair.

The flying was reasonably good.  A couple of half-hour flights.  The idea is to get my tummy settled down.  As many of you know, I don’t really have the stomach for acro.  I’m the dog who continues to chase cars even though I have little business doing so.

The first flight was all positive G with little or no roll.  I can pull G all day long.  It’s roll that messes with my head.  So we flew loops and half Cubans for awhile.  I’d been having issues with getting all wing-low on the float in the loop maneuvers anyway, mostly because I’m pulling the stick back and to the right.  I’m now pulling straight back and that’s really helping.  It’s always easier when you’re not trying to correct in the float when you see the horizon appear and start creeping down the glass all cock-eyed.

On the second flight, it was all about the reverse half Cubans.  (Pull up to a 45, roll inverted, stick it there for a few potatoes, then pull over the last 5/8 of a loop.  I had never flown a reverse half Cuban before, but managed to pull them off.  The issue was figuring out what the float is supposed to look like and how long to hold it.  I also needed a sight picture.  I tried looking left to the sight gage, but, if you’re a guy who doesn’t like roll, you should not be rapidly turning your head left and back while inverted.  It turns out that, if you can find a cloud as a reference, that’s best.  If you can’t, you can try to use the horizon low and outside as a gage, assuming that your roll to inverted was true.

Toward the end of that flight, I had Don demonstrate a humpty-bump (the fifth maneuver in the 2012 sportsman).  That’s a pull to the vertical with a half loop at the top.  Very short upline (unlike the hammer) because you need the energy to get you up into the float for the half loop.  We got a little slow up there, but made it over.  I’m going to pull after only three potatoes or so in the upline.

Tomorrow, we hit the hammerhead hard.  That’s the newest maneuver and the one I’m most concerned about getting right.  If I can nail the hammer and the spin, I think that everything else will fall into place.  (We’ll see how that process works out for me . . .)

Off to bed.  Three flights to get in tomorrow!


Making Good on a Deal – Audio Episode Show Notes

These are the show notes to an audio episode. You can listen to the show audio by clicking here: http://traffic.libsyn.com/airspeed/AirspeedDeal.mp3.  Better yet, subscribe to Airspeed through iTunes or your other favorite podcatcher. It’s all free!

As many of you know, I recently flew my first aerobatic competition, placing second in the Primary category at the IAC Michigan Aerobatic Open in Jackson, Michigan 9-10 July 2011.  I kept a diary of the experience and turned it into an episode.  You can hear the audio by clicking the link above and you can check out the actual diary text and images at the links below.

Sunday 3 July 2011:  The Deal
Thursday 7 July 2011:  Setting Up the Box
Thursday 7 July 2011: I Suck!
Saturday 9 July 2011: Flying Aerobatics in Anger
Sunday 10 July 2011: Making Good on a Deal

For those interested, the Jackson contest will be 7-8 July 2012 at Jackson County Reynolds Field.  Organizers in the host city have some great ideas about organizing events around the contest to turn it into a destination attraction.  Head to IAC Chapter 88′s website for additional details as they become available.

In the meantime, if you’ve never flown aerobatics, now might be a good time to think about starting.  You have plenty of time to consider your options, head to a few local IAC chapter meetings, find an instructor and an aircraft, and go get upside down.  Though I’ve been flying acro on and off since 2008, I didn’t get serious about it until this year.  And I flew my first contest after less than two hours of flying the Pitts aerobatically.  This is a doable thing.

And there’s an amazingly supportive group of people that does this.  You know how pilots are such a reliably stalwart, competent, and friendly group?  Aerobatic pilots are even more so.  You’re going to love flying acro and love competing even more.


Front Seat, Back Seat: Pitts Acro and Transition

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There’s front seat and back seat. And they mean different things in different aircraft.

In the Pitts S-2 models, the front seat is pretty bare-bones. You have a stick, a throttle handle, and a prop control. On the panel is an altimeter, an airspeed indicator, a manifold pressure gage, a tachometer, and a G meter. And nothing else. Not even a whiskey compass.

And you can’t see much of anything, either. The front seat is up close to the upper and lower wings. You can see forward over the nose through the cobains (the struts that mount the upper wing to the fuselage, not the dead rock star). You can see a little bit around the wings. You can see from side to side when a wing isn’t blocking your view. And the sight gage is about 20 degrees behind you instead of directly at your nine-o’clock.

But here, in the front seat, is where you begin to fly the Pitts. This is where you learn the rudiments of flying this powerful acro monster.

The back seat is better in all but a few respects. You can see much better because you’re further away from the wings. The sight gage is directly to your left. It’s really striking after you’ve been in the front.

But, with the back seat comes a lot more workload, You start and shut down the airplane (and hot-starting a Pitts is MUCH more art than science). The mixture and trim controls are back there. You have to watch the temperatures and pressures. You have to tune the radios and watch the GPS.

It makes sense to start out in the front. For one thing, as long as you have a talented and trusty IP in the back, you can pretty much just climb in and go, thus making lessons a lot more efficient. You learn to be very technical and precise with your airspeed and other elements of landings because you don’t have a lot of outside stimulus to tempt you to just wing it. And, if you’re not very precise with your feet just yet, you have a very short arm from the center of yaw and you aren’t going to make yourself sick on the early flights by failing to be coordinated (although your instructor will likely suffer kidney damage if you’re really wild).

You have to get pretty good at landing the Pitts from the first seat before you move to the back. Landing a Pitts from the front is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. You line up on the runway and set airspeed for precisely 95 KIAS. At about 50 AGL, you make one last check for deer on the runway and begin the flare. You lose all visibility in front of you. You just wait for the runway edges to sneak into your peripheral vision and then hope that you sink in a landing attitude until meeting the runway a little above stall speed.

If you don’t see both runway edges after a few seconds, it’s time to go around. It’s not hard to land left or right and I can easily imagine taking out an entire row of runway identifier lights.

If you get it down, then it’s full back on the stick to keep the tail down and you tap dance down the centerline while sneaking your feet up onto the brakes to think about slowing it down.

This is what you need to do reliably before you move to the back seat.

Once you get to move to the back seat, you have a new learning curve to deal with, but that happens fairly quickly. And then you can get on with the business of flying acro with better visibility and situational awareness.

There are any number of reasons for starting out in the front seat, but I buy the one that has to do with the instructor. Landing a Pitts from the front seat is very hard. But I would imagine that recovering somebody else’s bad landing (or other botched maneuver) is even harder in the front seat. Thus, when you go to the back seat, your IP is necessarily moving to the front seat. It would be a really good idea if you had made most or all of your major screw-ups in the front seat (while the IP can have an easier time recovering from the back) before moving to the back seat and putting your IP up front where things are not only harder, but where your IP isn’t likely to be called upon urgently until you’ve already served him or her a crap sandwich from which you’ll be expecting him or her to help you escape.

The shots in this post were taken during my last practice session at Ray before going to Jackson for the IAC Michigan Aerobatic Open. I’ve since done the first flight of my back seat transition and I’ll get some stills and video of the transition flights soon.

In the meantime, the Pitts just gets cooler. I can feel a genuine addition coming on!

IAC Michigan Aerobatic Open Diary: I SUCK!

The good news is that I’ve signed onto my very first FAA waiver. That’s the signature page right there. The FAA waiver allows a number of things, including the obvious items like being able to fly upside down in active Class D airspace. And some not-so-obvious things, such as being able to fly with less than the full fuel reserves (essential when you’re flying aerobatics and need the aircraft as light as possible – As long as you can glide to the runway when you’re done, you’re good to go).

The other good news is that the contest inspector teched out the aircraft, parachutes and pilots, so Don, I, the parachutes, and the Pitts are all good to go. Don and I flew back to Ray Community Airport (57D) in the Archer and then Don and I flew the Pitts back to Jackson (KJXN) to get teched out and to fly some practice sorties in the box. It was kind of nice to just fly the Pitts straight and level. In fact, I actually tracked the course pretty consistently from the front seat. There’s no GPS (or much of anything else) up there, so Don would call out the occasional heading correction and I’d pick a cloud or a lake or some other landmark and fly the course visually. I think that many pilots get goofed up by the instrument rating and forget how consistently one can fly by just picking landmarks and flying to them. I know that I’m one of those pilots.

We also got some formation in with the Archer during the first few minutes after departing Ray. Pierre shot some pictures of the Pitts from the Archer and I’m looking forward to seeing those.

Having declared good news, there’s bad news, too. I SUCK!

I flew the whole IAC 2011 primary with Don out above the farm fields this past Sunday and I was really happy with my performance. Don seemed to be happy with it, too. So I went into this practice session excited and optimistic.

That all evaporated as soon as I was about 500 feet up and climbing. I have studied the airport grounds using Google Maps and I know where the box is. Heck, I spent the morning out there staking out Tyvek to mark it. But everything went into a cocked hat when I got up there to fly the sequence. Box? What box? Where’s the damned box?

I had an awful time identifying where the box was. In my defense, the box is to the west of, and parallel to, Runway 6/24. It doesn’t line up with anything else. No roads, no section markers, no nothing. And it’s nearly impossible to see anything (much less the box markers) out of the front seat of a Pitts S-2B. But I ought to be able to get the general gist.

So, thus lacking situational awareness and really preoccupied with how disoriented I was, I flew for crap. I over-rotated on the spin and got disoriented on the pull-out. The Cuban was pinched at the top, I was shallow on the downline, and I didn’t hold it long enough. The loop was pinched at the top. My slow roll sucked as badly as it usually does. The second run through didn’t show much improvement. I got the spin stopped at the right point (even if I was cocked over with too much right rudder), but I forgot the aerobatic turn and even got turned around by 90 degrees, confused Runway 14/32 for Runway 6/24, and started heading out of the box to the east over the airport (a maneuver guaranteed to get the tower nervous, if not angry).

I knew that I’d probably have an outing like this the first time I tried to fly the sequence in a box. I knew that a certain amount of Sunday was dumb luck. But I didn’t expect to suck this badly. I absolutely stank up the joint.

But that is, in large part, why I’m here on Thursday and why I’m going to go practice a few times on Friday before competing Saturday and Sunday. I’m at least smart enough to know that I need to work on this stuff.

I have a lot to think about tonight and tomorrow morning. Really think about the box location. Really think about the maneuvers. Get a list of questions together for Don so that I can fully debrief the flight tomorrow morning.

And then get a little more comfortable in my office there in the front seat. When you boil my time down, I have something like 1.5 hours flying the Pitts aerobatically. And that’s in bits and pieces from five flights

And I suppose that I could add a couple of other items of good news. My takeoffs and landings are getting a lot better. Nowhere near perfect, mind you. But Don hasn’t had to intervene in five of my last six landings and I think I’m getting the feel of the airplane. I still have a way to go in getting my footwork right. I need to get the pitch attitude on takeoff more consistent. I need to round out a little more gracefully on the landings. But I’m getting it. I’ll probably move to the back seat after a the competition is over and I get in a few more flights. That’ll make things easier in terms of visibility.

And my acro tolerance is really improving. I had no nausea in the course of flying the sequence twice and doing some other maneuvering. That’s a real improvement. It’s hard to fly when you’re worried getting lunch all over what few instruments you have up there in the front seat. I’ve know for years that I can fly a fair amount of acro once I build up tolerance. And flying lots of short hops like this is a good way to build it. I have a weaker stomach than most people who fly acro. But I keep at it. I think that I get a certain amount of respect from people b ecause of that. I’m the dog who keeps chasing cars. Because, one day, I might catch one.

So tomorrow is another day and another series of sorties in the box. I have a LOT to work on. But I’ll keep at it. The goal for the competition is to complete the sequence with no safeties and no FAA violations. I have tomorrow to get to the point where I can do that. And I’m going to take that opportunity.

I have a deal to make good on, you see. And I intend to make good on that deal.