Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Aerobatic Lessons in Denver

Aerobatics in a small plane is a blast and every pilot should try it, especially in a Pitts S-2B Biplane if you get a chance.

Pitts S-2B

I finally got a chance to go up and take a lesson in aerobatics. I have been wanting to do this for a number of years, and my wife got me a gift certificate for Christmas this year at New Attitude Aerobatics at Rocky Mountain Metro Airport(KBJC). By the way, that airport was previously known as Jeffco Airport in Broomfield, Colorado, and it is in the North Denver area. New Attitude Aerobatics has a good price for the Pitts S-2B plane rental and instruction and is close to where I live. So far, I really like the instructor, John Blum. I also think he is the only one with a Pitts for rental in the northern Denver area.

There is a list of aerobatic schools provided International Aerobatic Club. New Attitude Aerobatics that I went to is on this list. Air West Flight Center in Longmont (KLMO) is on this list for Colorado as well; they have Citabrias and a Super Decathalon. By searching the internet, I found some other aerobatic instruction in other areas of Denver. I found there is Barnstormers Aero Services at Centennial Airport (KAPA) in South Denver and Dagmar Aerobatics at Front Range Airport (KFTG) in East Denver.

I went up twice in a Pitts S-2B and once in a Super Decathalon at New Attitude Aerobatics. I did both planes just to see what both were like and also to get a little tailwheel transition training in the Super Decathalon.

1st Lesson (in Pitts) (Time: 0.8h)

What an experience! The Pitts is a fun little plane with a big engine (260hp). Getting in takes a while due to strapping the 2 seat belt harnesses as well as the 2 parachute belts. It takes a little less time each time though. Taxiing really takes s-turns since you can't see over the nose. Turns in the air are fun and different. It is neutrally stable and will not come out of a turn by itself, but easily is turned back to straight and level with minimal stick pressure. It is amazing; you point, it turns, and stays in the turn almost like a video game.

So then on to the fun. We started with a steep lazy eight from what I learned in the commercial certificate, then we took it to the aerobatic level with a wingover. Next was fun with loops; the thing everybody dreams of doing with an aerobatic plane. It was great and easy in the Pitts. Then it was time for aileron rolls. Fun and easy and another one you dream of doing. The Pitts has a very fast roll rate, and it was great. All this was very exciting, and at this point I was getting little light headed, so it was time to head back. Better to end on a good note the first time.

2nd Lesson (in Decathalon) (Time: 1.6h)

The Super Decathalon is a great plane too. A little easier tail dragger for the beginner tail dragger. A little easier to see over the nose, a little less horse power (180hp), and more normal takeoffs and landings. So this lesson was mostly about learning the tail dragger with a little aerobatics thrown in. In the process, we did a lot of touch and goes. It went pretty smoothly, and I will talk about that in a different blog posting.

On the aerobatic side, we started with aileron rolls. The loop was next and was fun as well. The Super Decathalon was very capable in these maneuvers. Then I wanted to try a spin. This is a great experience to see. It is similar to what I have heard, but there is nothing like experiencing it first hand. I think I want to experience it a few more times before it will be comfortable. It seems like you go inverted slightly at least in the beginning. After the recovery though, you are not inverted, but in the expected dive, and it is time to pullup before you develop too much speed.

I did notice that aerobatics are a little different in the Decathalon versus the Pitts. The Super Decathalon is not quite as fast in roll rate, stick pressure is harder, and some other things, but still very very fun.

3rd Lesson (in Pitts) (Time: 0.8h)

Being my third lesson, I was able to tolerate a lot more on this one. I repeated some of the previous maneuvers and learned some new ones.

  • 2 aileron rolls
  • 2 hammerheads
  • 2 inverted flight
  • 2 spins (standard and one with the stick forward and spinning faster)
  • 2 Loops (one ending in spin because I did not pull hard enough. Easy to recover from though.)
  • 2 hesitation 4 point rolls
After all this I felt fine. I had done a lot of stuff, and it was a moderate turbulent day. Once again, it is getting easier every time. Landing though was interesting to follow through. It was a windy day with a bit of a crosswind, and once again the approach is very different in a Pitts with forward slip until right before landing.

General Thoughts And Notes

A good start for generation information is at International Aerobatic Club which has a magazine and local chapters across the country. For some other introduction information I found this page on competition aerobatics in Wikipedia. I found some descriptions on competition sequences in Wikipedia and some descriptions on competition sequences at International Aerobatic Club.

Plenty of things to think about with all the maneuvers. I'll mainly leave that to a book to talk through. I purchased "Basic Aerobatics" by Geza Szurovy. It seemed to get a number of good reviews and seems like a good start.

Here are a few couple basic notes for myself on loops:

  • Look to left at beginning
  • Watch for no turning when starting loop.
  • It is easy to pull the stick/ailerons to side
  • Reduce or neutral back pressure when near inverted.
  • Switch to looking up when a little past vertical
  • Harder back pressure at bottom of loop.

Having good breathing seems to help during the aerobatics. Probably good all the time, but especially during the aerobatic high G maneuvers. Nice steady breathing; deep breathes in and out. During the high G's, I hear this is good: Take a deep breathe, tighten stomach muscles, and then breath out slowly through your mouth like you are playing a musical instrument (This tightens the neck muscles).

One interesting thing I heard was that you can do competitions with an instructor in the other seat. He is not allowed to do anything during the aerobatic sequence, but be a safety pilot. But he can also help during the landing, which can be nice for a plane such as the Pitts which can be hard to land. Seems like an interesting alternative or a way to get started.

Telling Friends

I have told 2 pilot friends already. One of them has already gone up already and came back with a big smile and wanting to go again. Give it a try yourself when you get a chance!

Going Back For More

So what is next?? Well, I think I want to do more at New Attitude Aerobatics. First thing, I think I want is to work on my tailwheel endorsement in the Decathalon. Maybe some aerobatic practice at times during the lessons. Then maybe some more lessons in the Pitts afterwards. Who knows... maybe a try at the basic competition. I am not sure if I will get into it to the higher levels of competition, but I think the simpler stuff will make me a better overall pilot.



Anonymous said...

I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


Brian said...

Thanks for the feedback. I love getting positive comments every once in a while. It keeps me going. I just got back from a trip and intend to write a number of posts soon.

Brian said...

I am still continuing with the tailwheel endorsement slowly, but hopefully to finish next week. Here is a later post about my looks inside the Citabria tailwheel airplane.

burns blogger said...

nice blog and a good read, Looking for aerobatics and air races.

Anonymous said...

Can you fly upside in any of those planes? And if so, did you?

Brian said...

I was definitely flying upside down in these planes in loops and rolls. I did not pull negative G's, but that was just because I was not ready for it. I believe both the Pitts and Decathalon have the fuel and oil mechanisms to fly inverted with negative G's for a period of time.