Why fly aerobatics? There is no definite or simple answer to such a supposedly simple question. Amelie Windel has asked multiple pilots from all walks of life and has been given substantially different answers, as she discusses here in her first piece for Global Aviation Resource.
The starting point here is that some pilots have simply told me that they didn’t feel aerobatics was for them, and came to the conclusion that they would be sticking to straight and level flight, despite not even having tried aerobatics.
When presented with this answer, I tend to dig a bit deeper and logically present them with all the countless benefits that some very basic aerobatic training could provide. With the assumption that not all readers may have yet completed or begun flight training, I aim to make this article as accessible and understandable as possible.
During your conventional training, you will not have ventured anywhere past sixty degrees of bank or twenty degrees of pitch and you will have been taught to correct any kind of unwanted yaw. You will have been taught stall recovery, but spinning will have been left out if you completed your PPL somewhat recently. I was reassured to hear that certain instructors would present spinning as an option during a student’s PPL training, although this is quite rare due to numerous factors. Aeroplanes operate in a three dimensional space, and all aircraft are capable of being forced into pitch and bank angles exceeding sixty degrees due to outside forces such as wake turbulence or even pilot error.
Having the necessary skill set to ensure a successful recovery can make the difference between life and death. Aerobatic training will give you a feel of what it’s like to be at the edge of the envelope, and you will eventually be able to feel the changes as the aircraft passes in and out of its flight envelope, thus reacting appropriately and therefore avoiding any life-threatening stall or spin accidents.
When I first started learning how to fly aerobatics, I noticed that whilst inverted, the natural tendency was to pull through to level flight, which results in a huge loss of altitude. The more I progressed, the more natural it became to roll upright, thus swapping altitude for energy. In a perfect world, upset recovery training would be mandatory during commercial training, and spin recovery would be brought back into the PPL syllabus.
Each pilot will tend to have a set of personal limitations, smaller than that of his / her instructor and the aeroplane, so the overall aim is to expand the pilot’s personal envelope until it matches that of the aircraft, thus making them less afraid to use what is needed to rectify any unwanted situation. Airlines are increasingly starting to see the benefits of upset recovery training, and there is no reason why you shouldn’t consider it. It could save your life.
During the start of my initial aerobatic training, I tended to rely on the instruments to guide me through each manoeuvre. I would check the altimeter to make sure that I was not below my base height (in competitive aerobatics, there is a minimum safety altitude pilots must adhere to depending on which level you are competing at). I would check the altimeter again before I entered a spin to make sure I had enough height with which to recover. I would check the ASI before each manoeuvre, and I would check it again before entering a stall turn or a spin.
However, the altimeter’s and ASI’s response to change is not instantaneous. The human eye however, can detect the smallest of changes; sensory receptors in the retina send impulses to the brain that provide visual cues identifying how a person is oriented relative to other objects. When flying with instruments, the visual sensory input in terms of the outside world become non-existent and a full integration of sensory input is not possible. I am not saying that the pilot should focus his entire attention away from the instruments, but instead focus on the aeroplane in relation to the horizon 95% of the time.
Over time, you will be able to differentiate what your attitude is, how it is changing and the rate at which it is changing. Most modern day aerobatic aircraft are also fitted with wing tip sighting devices that allow you to reliably interpret pitch information without the use of instruments. Over time, aerobatics will develop your visual acuity, spatial orientation and spatial awareness.
As many of you will recall, you will have felt a huge sense of accomplishment and pride after completing a somewhat challenging task. Whether it was your first solo, or a daunting essay, a certain degree of self motivation and self discipline was required in order to complete the achievement. Many of those who fly, and have completed the tasks required in order to obtain a licence tend to eventually lose that sense of accomplishment since all their goals have already been achieved, leading to complacency.
Aerobatics opens up a whole new can of worms; the learning curve is an extremely long one and with enough motivation, it can also become an extremely steep one. Once you have started learning aerobatics there are multiple different routes you may choose to take, some taking years to fully master and even at that point, there is still more to learn. At higher levels, aerobatic training requires the focus of both body and mind. It allows you to set your own boundaries and goals without a pre-determined syllabus. I will thoroughly explain the various routes you may choose to pursue in my next article, and I can assure you that they are each as personally satisfying as each other.
Most importantly, flying aerobatics is fun. It’s exhilarating. It’s exciting. There is nothing that can compare to the feeling of being in complete control of an aircraft and pushing it to its limits in a three dimensional space. My definition of complete and utter freedom is aerobatic flying.
Note: My first and foremost concern is your safety as pilot.
Please do not attempt any aerobatic manoeuvres without prior instruction or guidance. Refer to your POH to make sure that your aircraft is suitable for aerobatics and has been maintained at a standard suitable for carrying out any aerobatic manoeuvres.
If you’d like to find a local school or instructor that provides aerobatic or upset recovery training near you, feel free to get in touch.