September 18, 1999
From: email@example.com (Billy Beck)
Subject: Today: 1.4 Logged, 2.4 Total - Here's The Story
So, today, I logged .8 dual received, .6 solo, and I was also inverted in an airplane for the first time in my life, during a total of 2.4 hours in the Citabria.
Add all that up, and there's a clue to how my day went.
Terri and I took off normally after satisfactorily routine pre-flight and run-up, headed for closed traffic. Winds at takeoff were 090 @ 4, but they didn't stay that way. Runway 07 was active all day. It was definitely a good day for me to get out and practice solo; the winds weren't very strong, but pretty busy. Down short final, it was like a succession of slaps upside the head. I could imagine a martial arts instructor going at an advancing student like that; not so much of a challenge as to overwhelm him, but just enough to keep him guessing.
I wasn't exactly thrilled with my landings while Terri was aboard, but I think that's to be expected. Call me picky, but I like to pick at my own performance. In my view, complacence is only one step away from satisfaction, and I think there's always room for critique and a reach for another percentage point. Terri was happy enough after five circuits, though, and called the full stop.
We taxied over to a restaurant and pulled up next to the patio, shut down, and deplaned. We sat around chatting for a while with Terri's husband, Cal, who is a colonel with the Georgia Air National Guard. They had plans for me, but not until some fuel was burned out of the Citabria's tanks. So, I was elected to burn it off. They ordered up another iced tea, while I saddled up and rolled out for pattern work: my second solo flight.
It's interesting: there is nothing at all routine, to me, about flying solo, but doing it is something so far removed from writing about it that, at the moment, I'm not terribly interested in wringing it for every little nuance set to words. It was four landings: the first two were quite worthy, and the second two less so. Overall, it was a pretty good session, especially given those slap-in-the-head winds.
I bagged a second supervised solo, and that means that I get to go unsupervised up to specified Wx conditions after only one more of those. Most likely tomorrow.
Because of what was going to happen, though, I called a full stop after four before it got too late in the day. I taxied back to the restaurant where Terri and Cal were waiting. Cal walked out to chock me, and while I was noting times, he unloaded the parachutes from behind the back seat.
We sat down for another tea, and he briefed me on the 'chute. Once I had it squared away, we walked back out to the Citabria, leaving Terri under a patio-table umbrella in the late afternoon sunshine, with a great big smile.
Cal told me that I was to handle myself as PIC until we got out over Lake Lanier; he advised a cruise altitude of 4000 MSL, but it was my flight otherwise until then. I flew us out there, and then he shook the stick, and I got a real eye-opener.
It's been said that most people of ordinary sense will, if they stare at an airplane long enough, begin to sort out the essentials involved with its operation, and convince themselves that they could, without instruction, manage to get it off the ground, around the pattern, and safely back to earth. Of course, most people in this newsgroup now understand exactly how foolish such an attempt would be, and would likely lay bets on the duration of such a flight, measured in seconds before the inevitable tragedy.
I'll take the same premise of seemingly obvious principles available to ordinary sense, extend them a bit and say this: many people with a bit of time in a single engine airplane will have a look at the idea of flight, a bit more fully formed now, consider an aerobatic maneuver of seemingly obvious simplicity, like an aileron roll, and, if they think about it long enough (but doing nothing more than that) convince themselves that they could manage to do it.
Now, nobody here need confess that they've thought this, to anyone else. If anyone here has, I'm here to point out two things: 1) you ought to confess it to yourself, as a matter of integrity, and; 2) forget all about it, right now. I mean: bloody get it out of your head.
When the time came for me to attempt an aileron roll, Cal was right there to pull my power before I got into serious Vne trouble, and to put the lake and sky back where they respectively belong. Here's the truth: while it has occurred to me that I might be able to roll an airplane by myself without instruction, it was always an idle conceptual excursion - exclusively in my head - and there was never a chance in the world that I would cross that fantasy into real life. That's a good thing, because I would have scared the living shit out of myself, if I'd survived. Looking back at my single attempt today, I can see that I might have survived had I been dumb enough to try it, but it would have ranked right up there with a full-blast bike crash for sheer terror-quotient.
Cal is ATP, and veteran of USAF fast jets, most notably F-4's and A-10's (although some might quibble with the Warthog and "fast jets" in the same sentence). I'm told that Terri is no slouch in an aerobatic regime, but I'd never seen, and heard, anything like this before. My cockpit experience with Terri is virtually exclusively primary training oriented: just the basic facts, really, with shadowy hints of things beyond that. (And I think she hinted at them only because she realized she wasn't dealing with a moron who might get excited far over his head. She knew she could trust me.) Cal, today and by contrast, had me almost over my head in both physical and mental maneuvering: keeping up both at a pace that was just fast enough to illustrate that this stuff was beyond my current reach, but tantalizingly close enough to keep me interested in gathering as much as I could in order to understand it. He did it effortlessly with both airplane and running commentary, explaining things in rapid sequence and deep complexity (multiple synchronous control inputs and their resulting effects in a wide variety of regimes), and I learned a lot.
The main thing I learned is how easy it is to know just enough to die.
That's the over-riding impression I carried away from a one-hour session that was also the most fun I ever had in an airplane. I'll put it this way: some in this group might recall how excited I can get over spins. Well, by the time Cal was ready to return to LZU this afternoon, he asked if I'd like to throw a spin. I said, "Nah, let's head home".
It would have positively bored me after what we'd just been through. (Oh, and there's one more thing: Cal's a very friendly character, as easy-going as they come, but I was also a tad intimidated at the idea of throwing a spin with him in the back seat after what we'd just done. I preferred to simply fly a good heading home, show him a good landing pattern, and not shear the landing gear off with a side-load on touchdown in those slap-happy winds.)
We started the session with military lazy-8's across a road (something I actually did almost in the direction of "well"), and then went through aileron rolls, loops, split-S's, hammerheads, cloverleafs, and Cuban-8's. We interspersed with regular clearing turns, and Cal would ask "How's your stomach doing?" between every series. I was grateful for his courtesy, and proud to report "A-OK" every time. We peaked at 4G on the accelerometer, and we saw enough G at that level that I could really study it. Among numerous other things demonstrating how busy this sort of flying is, I observed, later, that I wasn't very consistent with leg-muscle strains at G-onset. That's because there was so much going on that I often just forgot about it. It was only the third time over the top of a loop that I got the timing of looking for the lake through the roof window, because I was studying airspeeds.
There is a lot going on in this stuff.
Bear with me, folx, if I'm redundant here to the point of insulting anyone's intelligence, but I'm going to say it again: don't ever be tempted to fool around with aerobatics without real training.
Here's what, though: do think about booking instruction. Here's why:
While it's obvious that some pilots regard this as serious fun, I can see a much better reason to do it. It's about precision flying. In order to do this at all satisfactorily, it's clear that a pilot must know his/her machine very well. That has its own rewards, of course, but aerobatic flight requires, I think, knowledge a tad beyond what many pilots carry in their everyday flying. It also exposes... (yes; I'm going to use the word) deficiencies in skill that could be crucial someday in a situation that might pop-up in an otherwise everyday sort of flight. Ask yourself: is it possible that you'll someday find yourself in a crunch where something like a perfectly-timed positive-G unload could make a life or death difference? <shrug> I dunno. It looks like a good bet to me, though.
Those are the kinds of margins that I saw today, and it was an extremely valuable lesson. Here's what I'm going to do: when I'm licensed, I'm headed into aerobatic training as seriously as I can swing it. Personally, I'm nicely constituted to this sort of thing. (When we got out of the airplane, Cal told Terri, "He's got a cast-iron stomach." Immediately, I told the truth: I felt just fine in the air, but when I stood upright after stepping out of the airplane, that's when I got a tad dizzy. I was over it pretty quickly, but it surprised me.) I understand that it's not for everyone, but if you're up for it, I would heartily suggest taking it for what it's worth, which is a lot.
I don't see how it can help but make you a better pilot.
Return to Anthology Contents
© 2000. e-mail =>