Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, August 21, 2012


Understanding trim, rudder and angle of attack

I start by asking Heather to demonstrate a power-off stall. Many students are taught to recover from a stall as quickly as possible, but I know how evil the secondary stall can be. I've watched air show pilots get too low for their comfort level and pull too hard when they saw the ground rushing up. The secondary stalls turned into spins. Too low to recover. Had they relaxed, decreased the angle of attack and let the air flow over the wings, they would have had the airspeed and altitude to recover. I want to make sure Heather had the right reactions when she needs them, so I worked on getting her to decrease angle of attack after the stall and not to rush getting the nose back to the horizon.

The sun was getting low, but we still had plenty of light at altitude for one of my favorite pre-aerobatic maneuvers—accelerated stalls. These are important for people who have to fly low and slow, or who have to land. The point is to show how when the airplane is in trim, it behaves quite predictably, but when it's out of trim, it stalls quite differently. We set up for slow flight and start a 45-degree turn using just enough power to hold altitude, and I demonstrate how the airplane will, even in a steep turn, generally stall straight ahead when the ball is in the center and the airplane is in trim, but the airplane will behave quite differently in the same turn when it's out of trim in a slip or a skid. Pull a little too hard, and it will flip upside down very quickly. I asked Heather to look outside for the elusive Moose, and we quickly set up for the classic Alaskan Moose turn stall or that famous base-to-final stall.

Heather was doing really well, but it was getting dark and we would have to wait until our next flight to do spins and aerobatics. As we started to head back to CIC, Heather said, "We can't go back without trying some of the fun stuff!" Just as the last sliver of sun set behind the coastal range, we did a loop and a roll, and ended the flight with a slip down to runway 13L.

On our next flights, we worked on spins, slips, unusual attitude recovery and, of course, the fun stuff—rolls, loops and a few snap rolls. Because she had an upcoming commercial rating checkride, we did some chandelles. I had not done these for ages and was surprised at what a great coordination maneuver they are. I'm going to incorporate more of them into my training curriculum in the future.

It was my privilege to fly with Heather. She gained more confidence and a few more skills that she can apply to any airplane she flies, and as always, I learned a few things about teaching. There's always a more effective way to explain a maneuver, and the more I teach, the better I get. It's a challenge for me not to talk too much, and I love to tell my students that when I stop talking, they're doing something right!

Teaching aerobatics is rewarding because you know the student will accomplish a lot, learn new skills and gain confidence in their flying. Sometimes it changes their lives. But, I find that most students need the pre-aerobatic training portion of the training—better technique with stalls, spins and accelerated stalls. After they've mastered the basics of good stick-and-rudder skills, I know their loops will be clean and square to the horizon, because they'll apply right rudder as they start the pull.

Flying aerobatics is fun, but it's serious fun and there are no shortcuts to becoming a good aerobatic pilot. Can you say "lomcevak?"


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