Tailwheel Training and Camera Placement Work with Acro Camp IP Don Weaver

This is a regular blog post. You can find show notes to episodes – and links to episode audio and video – in the other entries.

I finally got a chance to escape from the office and get up for the first time with Acro Camp IP Don Weaver. Although we have spent a fair amount of time talking about the project, we haven’t been in the same aircraft yet.

So we got up for 13 or 14 trips around the pattern at KPTK on Wednesday to test out some camera placements and get to know each other in the air.

I have a good deal of tailwheel time (at least compared to the average pilot), but wanted to get my groove back and spend some time understanding Don’s teaching style.

We had a about a seven-kont crosswind, so it was a good day to work on wheel landings under those circumstances. I nailed three three-point landings first and then we set about the business of working on the wheel landings.

The crosswind was just enough to support rolling down the runway with the wail up, banked over a little to the right, and with only the right main on the ground. Over the course of the next nine or ten landings, I got a much better feel for what it’s like to dance the Citabria around a little.

I think that a lot of tricycle-gear pilots get bunched up about the oscillations that a tailwheel airplane an have. Frankly, jacking back and forth like we were would probably have damaged a C-172 or at least scared the pilot silly. But this airplane is built to handle the side loads and squirrel around a little more. Additionally, I know that I still have the tricycle-gear pilot’s tendency to not want to push the stick as much in the wheel landing because my lizard brain is screaming “Nose gear! Nose gear! Prop strike!”

In fact, you’d have to push a lot harder than I did to get the prop anywhere near the ground. It’s just a sight picture and a kinesthetic sensation that you have to get used to.

By about the 10th trip around, I was reasonably competently putting it on the right main and keeping it there for an appreciable part of the trip down the runway.

Don’s a good guy with whom to fly. He seems to share with Barry and a few others the rare gift of figuring out when the student is figuring something out for him self and knowing to shut the heck up for a few moments. That sounds crass to say, but I think we’ve all had motor-mouth instructors who actually keep you from learning by constantly calling out every little thing. It’s like asking you on the first tee whether you inhale or exhale on your backswing. I don’t know. Just let me hit the ball!

I think that Don quickly identified my tricycle tendencies and worked on those elements. He also identified a consistent problem that I have, namely centering the ailerons on landing (when I should have full deflection into the crosswind). Having me get it up on one wheel for the takeoffs and encouraging me to put it down on one wheel for the landings really helped me to see that part of the envelope.

We also flew a couple of cameras. These stills are from the Panasonic that I’ve been flying since last year. The other camera is a Sanyo Xacti HD2000 in back, to the right of Don’s head, facing forward. I didn’t have the wide-angle lens for the HD2000 that day, but I think that that placement is going to work out just fine once I get the lens. I just wanted to figure out whether that location worked from a vibration perspective.

By the way, the Sanyo HD200 accessory lenses appear to be out of stock everywhere! What gives, Sanyo? And the scumbags at www.elitedeals.com took my order for a Sanyo 0.45x semi-fisheye lens that they said was in stock, took my money, and then proceeded to wait on the manufacturer like everybody else for three weeks. Don’t do business with these folks. They’re bums. I got a nice 0.42x semi-fisheye lens with an adapter ring on eBay for less than half the price and the seller shipped it to me within two days.

The only problem now is that the HD2000, which has a pistol grip, looks like a flare gun or worse when I put the lens on it. I’m going to be pointing that rig at a performer on the flight line sometime this summer and some security guy is going to think I’m a nutball with a firearm and shoot me.

The HD2000 is probably going to be the primary camera in one of the airplanes for Acro Camp. I got it primarily because it has a microphone in jack. I can run the intercom directly into the camera and not have to deal with recording the audio separately. So the HD2000 in one airplane and the good old dependable Panasonic in the other one.

I still have to check out the Pitts for camera mount points. Might be a good excuse to go out to Ray Community Airport to see it and check out camera mount points.

Don and I also did some pretty aggressive slipping just to show the capabilities of the airplane. From 1,000 feet AGL and a quarter mile out, we slipped it down so that we came across the numbers at flare altitude and 85 mph. Don also demonstrated some effective ways to bleed a lot or airspeed quickly, also with slipping techniques. We had plenty of airspeed above the stall in all of the slips, so I wasn’t worried that we were so cross-controlled.

That demo gave me a lot of confidence for engine-outs and glide performance in the airplane. Often, it’s not hard to glide to the landing point in an engine-out. The challenge is arriving at the flare with enough empty space ahead of you without hitting anything on the way. With the Citabria, you can just get to where you want to be (a fairly broad window in space) and simply show the relative wind a lot of the draggy parts of the airplane. You have a pretty broad choice of altitudes at the key position from which you can get it down – from a long glide to an aggressive slip.

I’m looking forward to getting up again with Don. Both to confirm my thoughts about the camera mount points and angles and to expand my tailwheel and aerobatic stills (such as they are on both accounts).

And to think that I once worried about running out of things to learn!

Make sure that you fill out your Acro Camp cast member (“camper”) application! This is going to be a boatload of fun. Check out the announcement and casting call at http://www.acrocamp.com/ and, if you qualify, go to the Acro Camp group at http://www.mytransponder.com/ (registration required, but it’s free) and click on the link to the online application.

Back Up with Barry – Acro Stills from Saturday

This is a regular blog post. Looking for show notes or links to show audio? Please check out the other posts.

It occurred to me last week that I hadn’t been upside down since May and that that was a problem. So I got up with Barry Sutton for a little acro Saturday morning.

We flew a few combos and then headed back to the airport for some pattern work. My acro tolerance is back to crap (about 20 minutes), but that’s okay. You can’t knock it off for almost 90 days and still expect to have any real tolerance. But I have a ride with Greg Poe in the MX-2 this Wednesday and I at least wanted to get an idea of what, if any, tolerance I had left. I probably won’t be challenging Greg to wring me out.

On the other hand, I landed that airplane like I had built it. Holy crap! Two near-perfect three-point landings. And I think I finally got the hang of wheel landings. I’ll need to demonstrate the wheel landings again a few times, but I had a “A-Hah!” moment with respect to power use and I think I now have all of the tools I need to nail them consistently. It’s now just a matter of dialing in the right power and attitude from a box of possibilities of which I think I now know the boundaries. I love that part of training! Love, love, love it!

Anyway, I wanted to post some frame grabs from the flight, so here they are!

Wingtip buried, here we go in a wingover.

The initial pull in the loop that proceeds into a roll and a split-S. I like the sun in the Scheydens here!

Knife edge in the first quarter of a four-point roll.

The Guy in the Red Airplane

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These are the show notes to an audio episode. You can listen online right here by clicking: http://media.libsyn.com/media/airspeed/AirspeedRedAirplane.mp3.

As Airspeed steams into its fourth airshow season, I’m in top gear heading out to shows and having some of the coolest experiences available below Class Alpha airspace. And I just had a day-long experience up in the Alpha on a KC-135R Stratotanker, too. More on that soon. I don’t think that anyone could say that I’ve spared much effort in chasing edges of the aviation envelope so far this year.

I can’t remember who said that life is what happens while you’re making other plans. But he was right. And I had an experience with that very thing not long ago. I was going to hold off on this episode until I got more of the Indianapolis Air Show content out, but I heard something on a recent episode of Uncontrolled Airspace that made me want to pull this one forward.

By the way, I mention the Uncontrolled Airspace podcast way too little here on Airspeed. If you don’t yet subscribe to UCAP, you need to go and subscribe right now. Go ahead and hit pause. I’ll wait. Okay, you’re back? Good. And leave them a nice review on iTunes, too.

Anyway, the UCAP guys mentioned a letter to the editor of a local newspaper by someone thanking the unknown pilot of a red airplane who had done aerobatics near the writer’s farm.

[Mary reads from letter]

This is to tell the man in the red plane that he has a fan.

I’ve been watching you from the ground. Well, from my farm pastures and yard actually. More often than you know. I am in awe of your skill and the performance you give is wonderful and joyous.

Who are you? Are you a man or a woman? A professional stunt pilot or a pleasure flyer of that pretty red plane? Do you perform for others besides me, or is what I’m seeing just an expression of your own preferences? . . .

Not the usual complaint about noise or some perceived safety issue. A thank-you for the grace and beauty of the performance. That made me pull this episode forward.

First, a little background. As I’ve attended enough airshows, I’ve gotten to see many of the performers multiple times, some more than a half dozen times. And I’ve begin to really hone in on what I love.

No flies on the jet teams. I love them dearly. And no flies on anyone else. But I had an epiphany at Oshkosh last year. I was watching Greg Koontz perform in a bright red Super Decathlon. I had been flying the Citabria for a few months by then and had really begun to love American Champion aircraft. And, seeing Greg fly the Super D so well, I made a connection. That’s an airplane that you might well be able to find, and train in, at your own local airport. Yet here’s a guy flying that very airplane with a grace and power equal to anything else at Oshkosh.

You probably heard Greg’s appearance on the show earlier this year and you could be forgiven for thinking that I’ve begun to regard Greg as a bit of a hero. One could have worse heroes, I suppose.

And I got to really appreciate another part of Greg’s unique appeal at the Indianapolis Air Show earlier this month. At the opening of the show, Greg takes on the persona of Clem Cleaver from Alabama, who barges into the airshow to redeem his coupon for a flight lesson. After some back and forth with the announcer, the air boss ostensibly clears Clem and his putative instructor to get into the waiting Cub, take off, and leave the airspace. But, shortly after the engine of the Cub is hand-propped to life, the Cub begins to roll forward and Clem takes off across the grass beside the runway without the instructor.

What follows is ostensibly a comedy act, but is also some of the best low-level aerobatics that I’ve ever seen. Ultimately, “grandpa” shoots the Cub’s engine with a large rifle and Greg ends the sequence by landing the Cub on a moving pickup truck.

The more you see this routine (and I’ve seen it five or six times now), the better it gets. At one point, Greg, playing the terrified Clem Cleaver, pulls the Cub up to a 45-degree ascent, then pulls the throttle back all the way, pushes over the top, and yells at the top of his lungs. You can hear Greg shouting in the cockpit all the way to the announcer’s stand.

Here’s the shout on Saturday at Indy.

[Koontz 1]

And again on Sunday.

[Koontz 2]

Greg ends that phase of the act by landing the Cub on a moving pickup truck. Then, a little later in the show, he gets out the red Super Decathlon and puts it though its paces, fling outside stuff, high-energy maneuvers, low-energy maneuvers, and even tumbling the airplane (not easy in a Super-D).

Anyway, I know that I’ll never be an F-16, F/A-18, or even Extra 300 driver. So, when I see my idealized self out there flying, I usually see myself flying a bright red Super Decathlon. Just like Greg Koontz.

It’s a happy coincidence that Sutton Aviation at the Oakland County International Airport (KPTK), where I’m based happened to add a Super Decathlon to its line in April. And an even happier coincidence that it’s red.

I had planned to fly some pretty heavy acro to prepare for the T-6A Texan II ride that I had in May at Randolph Air Force Base. I’ve never had a great stomach for acro, but I’ve found that I can work up to about 40 minutes of moderate aerobatic flight with exposure. I planned for two flights a week prior to the T-6A flight and, when the Super D became available, I scheduled it along with instructor extraordinaire and FAA Designated Examiner Barry Sutton. Barry’s an excellent instructor and you’ve heard his commentary in the cockpit here on the show.

We went up for the first time on April 16 and I rag-dolled myself out in only 20 minutes. You can see video from that flight in the Airspeed video episode that posted on May 30. By May 6, I had had a few flights in the aircraft and my tolerance was getting better.

I arrived at the airport to find a gray 10,000-foot overcast and hazy visibility. Solid VFR, but not the best weather for acro because you prefer a nice, sharp horizon to use as a reference when you pull through a loop or roll the airplane.

So we launched and headed for the practice area north of the field. Although much of Oakland County is subdivisions and industrial parks, it gives way to wide open fields and other rural landscape just north of the airport. No federal airways nearby and plenty of vertical and horizontal elbow room so there’s no worry about being over a congested area or getting within 1,500 feet of the ground before being fully recovered. In fact, we add a 500-foot buffer over that and start maneuvers a good thousand feet above that.

Barry has a pilot acquaintance, Paul, at the airport who lives out in the middle of the fields of the practice area and he has mentioned on several occasions that he’d try to contact Barry on the practice area frequency if he saw the Super D maneuvering.

I’ll say at the outset that the cockpit audio here is a little distorted. I usually set the audio levels on the ground and then hand Barry the recorder to stash in back in a Velcro-enclosed pocket. Although there’s a “hold” slider on the MP3 recorder, the slider doesn’t stop changes from being made with the H-M-L sensitivity selector. I usually fly with it set on low, but Barry inadvertently switched it to “high” in the course of stuffing it into the pocket. It’s a little overdriven and distorted, but understandable.

We had just finished a loop and some rolls when Paul came on the frequency. Barry, like many others, had mistaken the T-6A Texan II, a 1,100-hp modern trainer, with the AT6, a variant of the original WWII-era T-6 Texan. No matter. I just thought I’d clarify. Anyway, here’s the call-up.

[Audio 01]

We did the Immelman and a couple of other maneuvers, including a hammerhead, when Barry called up Paul again.

[Audio 02]

So we did the roll and then set up for an inverted pass. Paul had his binoculars out and could just about make out our tail number. We added a hammerhead at the end.

[Audio 03]

Paul asked at the last pass how long the aircraft could go inverted. We follow that up a little and then Paul suggests a heading to get us toward the big empty fields near his house.

[Audio 04]

Paul talked us in and then we did a series of maneuvers. We set up a show line over the fields well offset from his house and came down a bit, but still well above the minimum VFR altitude for the area and well above aerobatic minima.

I’m just going to let the audio run here and let you listen in. We have our box with plenty of clearance both vertically and horizontally for the regs. Frankly, we’re a little too high for anyone on the ground to get more than a basic idea of what we’re doing. The pictures that they sent the next day were clearly taken at maximum telephoto and cropped and we’re still pretty small in the frame. But the altitude is a good thing.

Barry’s giving me direction, but I’m flying the series, which makes me pretty proud of myself. I had been flying acro for quite some time, but hadn’t really done a connected series before. And now I had a chance to do it with an audience. I’m going to let this run with the omission of a couple of maneuvers where I made an attempt to record a Scheyden ad and the audio really distorted.

[Audio 06]

Didja hear that? Kids shouting in the background and lady thanking me for my noble and graceful feats in the sky.

Just before that thank-you, I was feeling pretty green around the gills. Not ready to park a tiger, mind you, but not in the mood to thrash myself any more. And then the voices of Paul, his wife, and the neighborhood kids. Voices that seemed excited about aviation. Voices that made the kind of sounds that I make at airshows all summer. Only the guy in the red airplane was . . . me.

I was instantly not sick. Not one bit. I could have gone another 20 minutes right then and there. All because of the voices from a back yard near some sprawling fields out in the countryside.

Barry and I talked about it on the way back to the airport.

[Audio 07]

Yeah, it’s cool. Really cool.

We did a few trips around the pattern, alternating wheel landings and three-point landings and then finally called up and told the tower that we were going full-stop. On final, a radio call came in. “Cessna niner-four-eight-niner-one 10 miles south with Papa to land, full stop.”

A magic tail number for me. That’s the Cessna 152 in which I did my first solo. It was a private pilot candidate coming in to see Barry for a checkride finish-up. Barry and I parked the Super-D, put away the parachutes, and debriefed and then I wandered back out on to the ramp.

There they were. N132PA, the bright red Super Decathlon; and N94891, the little 152 that took me a long way on the journey from pedestrian to pilot. Both sitting there on the same ramp. A silent meditation of where I’ve been and where I’m going. And the echo of the tinny voice of a fellow pilot, his wife, and the neighborhood kids shouting in the background coming through my headset as I rolled and looped in a red airplane over the fields.

I’ll never be Greg Koontz. Or even a lesser airshow performer. And that’s okay. I’m superhero enough for myself right now. Reading, flying, listening, talking, and, most of all, dreaming. Exploring the envelope. Becoming a better pilot and a more capable human.

If I learned something that day, it’s this. Sometimes you spend too much time fantasizing about what it’s like to fly like Greg Koontz. And sometimes it seems like all journey and no destination – or at least no stops along the way.

And then a flight like this comes along. For 20 minutes, you’re the guy in the red airplane. And the kids are shouting and pumping their fists in the air and pointing at . . . you.

So you stand on the ramp with the 152 and the Super-D and just take it all in. And then you go home and cut the audio and write the script and try to tell a few thousand of your closest friends about what it was like. Just like now.

Most of the time, you’re the scared knucklehead in the 152 or the confused guy with the hood on in the 172 or the guy with the aching right leg in the Apache or the flight-suited CAP major trying to drink from the twin 10-inch LCD fire hoses of the G1000. But, on rare occasions, magic, love, and science meet and you’re the guy in the red airplane flying upside down for the shouting kids.

That letter to the editor showed me that there are red airplanes – and people who watch them – all over the country. I’ve sure as hell been the one watching. And it was nice to be the guy in the red airplane, just once.

Go find a red airplane. Or whatever amounts to a red airplane for you. The life that you dream about might well be happening even as you’re focused on the mechanics and procedures of getting it to come about. Life is what happens while you’re making other plans. Don’t miss those fleeting moments when you actually are some glimmer of the hero that you daydream of being.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. I’m Superman and Harry Potter and Fletcher Seagull, all in good measure. I’m a pilot. And sometimes I’m even the guy in the red airplane.

Link to letter to the editor of the Fauquier Times-Democrat:

Sutton Aviation:
6230 North Service Drive
Waterford, Michigan 48327

Greg Koontz Airshows:
2546 Slasham Road
Ashville, Alabama 35953

Video from the First Acro Session in the Super Decathlon

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These are the show notes to a video episode. You can watch online right here by clicking on this direct link. http://media.libsyn.com/media/airspeed/AirspeedAcro02.m4v.

It’s here! The second full-up Airspeed video episode!

These are highlights from my first flight in the American Champion Super Decathlon. I had flown the Citabria with some frequency in 2007 and had a couple of flights in that aircraft in 2009, but this was the first Super-D flight.

By this time (April 16, 2009), I had received word that my T-6A Texan II ride had been approved and I knew that is was going to be sometime in May. So I got out to the airport and flew acro aggressively to condition myself for the Texan ride. I wanted to be able to fully experience that ride and motion sickness can be such a buzzkill, in addition to making the coverage for you guys pretty lame.

So I headed out to Sutton Aviation and set up an acro program with Barry Sutton where I’d train as aggressively as I could and try to build my endurance for the T-6A ride. Toward the end, I was flying twice a week and getting a pretty solid 25-40 minutes of maneuvering each time. But this flight was pretty short. I rag-dolled myself pretty quickly, both because I was just getting my tolerance back after a long winter and because this aircraft is a lot more powerful and maneuverable and I was able to throw myself around the sky a lot more aggressively.

Anyway, here’s the video. For those to prefer, or miss, the audio episodes, I have more in the pipeline. I’m out on the patio this evening writing the script for the seaplane episode. And I go into the studio in a few weeks to record the music for the T-6A episode (provided that I’ve finished writing it by then).

Be sure to catch me at the Indianapolis Air Show next weekend. I’ll be there Thursday through Sunday. I’m doing a presentation for the Civil Air Patrol at Jonathan Byrd’s Cafeteria in Greenwood, Indiana 6:00 – 9:00 and I’m thinking about having an Airspeed meetup/Tweetup at Damon’s in the Holiday Inn Indianapolis East on Friday at 7:00. Watch my Twitter feed for details and to confirm before showing up.

Contact information for Sutton Aviation, where you can fly this airplane with Barry Sutton:

Sutton Aviation, Inc.
Oakland County International Airport
6230 North Service Drive – Waterford, Michigan 48327

Airspeed Video Feature – Aerobatic Conditioning

Subscribe to Airspeed through iTunes or your favorite other podcatcher. It’s all free!

These are the show notes to a video episode. You can watch online right here by clicking on this direct link.

So here it is! The first full-up Airspeed video feature. 14 minutes of good stuff featuring my last acro conditioning flight before heading down to Randolph AFB for the T-6A Texan II ride.

This is some new ground for Airspeed. I’m by no means abandoning audio. Audio will remain my primary vehicle. But some stuff just works better in video and this is a great example.

Please let me know what you think and how I can continue to improve Airspeed for the greatest and most loyal audience in the world: You guys!

Many thanks to Will Hawkins of Wilco Films for his tutelage in the mysterious ways of video editing. This would have been possible without him, but only with a lot of suffering and trial and error!

Contact information for Sutton Aviation (where you, too, can strap on a parachute and fly this very aircraft with this very Barry Sutton!):

Sutton Aviation, Inc.
Oakland County International Airport
6230 North Service Drive – Waterford, Michigan 48327