Friday, November 2, 2012

Aerobatics Weekend

Now for those of you not "in the know".

Not that anyone out there in this interweb thingy doesn't know every detail about me possible, whether I want it that way or not quite frankly...  I turned 40 not too long ago, and in the process of my getting older my wife got "awesomer?"  I'm sure it's a word, and if not, it is now because it's posted in the internetish ethers for all eternity.

Awesomer?  You might ask?  Naturally, you are in a huge rush to use the newest word in the collective dictionary.  I understand.  Crud, now that I bother to look, I am not the first to use awesomer...

*Sigh*  Now that I have spent at least a few minutes typing a lead-in that is leading nowhere, I'll get to the post.

You're welcome.

My wife got me a chance to go flying.  Not just flying lessons, but lessons with a twist.  A, dare I say it, awesomer twist.  There, I said it.

Aerobatic flying lessons!  I told you it was awesomer.

This was one of the most challenging things I have done.  I spent years around light aircraft with my skydiving, and have flown a limited discovery flight in a Cessna around Georgia years ago, but here was a chance to get some basic flight training and couple it with some serious aerobatics with one of the best coaches in the area. The challenge came with stuffing my brain full of concepts and flight instruction and then trying to put it into practice in the pressure of a noisy and unfamiliar aircraft.  right rudder...right rudder...don't climb...seriously quit climbing...we aren't supposed to be in the clouds...

I think I was a bit of a project for Greg who normally deals with pilots that have hundreds of hours to see what he could teach me aerobatically while I was also processing the basics of how to fly in general.

We spent the weekend up at Sky Country Lodge with Greg Koontz.  Greg has been teaching pilots and performing professionally in airshows for many years.  It was a real experience to catch up with him and his wife Cora at their place in Ashville, AL.  They made us, and another couple that were staying there, feel like family.  I can't say enough about how great they were.  I recommend you check it out if you are a pilot (or even if not as was my case) and want a weekend of fun instruction

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Brenna came in to hang out on Saturday and enjoy the fun of sitting at a grass strip airport like old times from when I was jumping from planes every weekend.  She seemed happy.  That may have been related to the fact that Greg and Cora cooked for us, entertained us with endless stories, and there were no kids around...aside from the semi-grown-up kind.

The set up was a bed and breakfast at Greg's beautiful house and hours of flight instruction followed by applying that training (plus some) in the air.  There was so much information to absorb it was almost too much in a good way.

We were flying a Super Decathlon  and it was a heck of a plane to learn to fly in.  Much more entertaining than the more pedestrian Cessna 152/172's that are quite common.  The Cessna's aren't bad, but this gave a whole added dimension of power and maneuverability to the mix instead of just trying to fly straight and adding in some coordinated turns.

In many ways, these flights were a "Create your own roller-coaster" experience.  With the added fear that I could actually mess things up and scare myself and the instructor pretty well.  I wanted to be good at flying for a novice, to show that I had some innate ability to do it, and I thought I knew a few things about flying.  Naturally, I discovered that even with my research and time around planes, there were a lot of nuances and theory to flying that I didn't know.  Big surprise there...

The ground school was really fun because it would take what little I knew and would either correct it or would expand on the "why" things were happening.  Then putting these things into practice in the air right after the ground lessons was a great way to hammer home the information even though I still didn't do things the way I should in the heat of the moment.  I need to go back and do some more flying now that I have had a few days to process the things I wasn't doing well in the practical portion of the flights.  I think I could improve on some things, but who knows I may just go out and not be any better at it.

At first, I was really still trying to fly the plane the way we all experience planes.  Gently and without pushing things.  After a few pointers, I realized that would just have to stop.  The plane can handle it, so go ahead and throw it around.  I feel bad for the next person that I fly with...  Would a normal instructor ground me if I rolled the plane 5 minutes into the lesson?

Let's talk about the plane a bit.  As I mentioned, we were flying the Super Decathlon which had two seats in line.  Greg would sit in back and probably try not to get sick watching my novice stick and rudder work.

It's a tail-wheel aircraft with a tiny wheel in the back to steer when on the ground, and it had a feel of an older WW2 aircraft.  Who am I kidding...It looked like something that I saw in some old movie with tail dragger aircraft, but I have no idea what a WW2 aircraft would feel like...

There were some basic instruments (only a few of which I paid any attention to, Variometer, Altimeter, and Tachometer for the most part) and easy to understand controls.  The blue control changes the propeller pitch and the red thingy changes the fuel mixture.  Funny thing I noted is that everything that can kill the engine or abruptly stop your plane from flying are denoted in red.  Good to know...

It had a high wing and Plexiglas windows on the ceiling which we put to really good use!  The majority of the plane was covered in what looked like a type of vinyl cloth aside from the engine cowling and the leading edge of the wing.  That way the June bugs and other flying objects don't make big holes in the plane when flying!

I stuck a GoPro on for the flights and found out just how goofy I look under stress and pulling G's.  And yes, I mean goofier looking than normal, as a good friend put it earlier this week...

I was able to witness Greg's passion for flying.  After putting up with me all day, we put up the Super D and he grins and says, "Hey, you guys want to fly the Cub?", and with that he pushed out another bright yellow plane.  We all took turns flying with him around the house.  You could tell, he just couldn't get enough of the fun of looping and zooming around.  It really was like watching a bunch of kids on Xmas.  All of us were having a ball.

Brenna got a chance to go for a ride in a Piper Cub from 1939 or '41, I can't remember which year exactly.  A really cool aircraft that Greg uses in his airshow to land on the modified bed of a pickup truck in "The World's Shortest Runway" stunt in the Alabama Boys comedy act.

Brenna and Greg getting ready to go on the Piper Cub.

The Cub climbing hard on Brenna's flight.

We skipped the wheels off the lake in the background, did some loops and even threw the plane into a spin for a few good rotations.  I got that on video, so you will get to see it if you haven't already watched the Timewaster Studio's production at the end of this post.

Ok, now I'm getting tired of typing, and I have to fix the dishwasher. So, here are a few other pictures, and we will get on with the video.

Permission to buzz the tower.  Negative Ghostrider...the pattern is full...
You knew you couldn't get through the post without a Top Gun quote, right?  Well there you go...

One of the most interesting moments was when Greg showed me how to make the plane quit flying.  Call it a spin, call it an "aggressive stall compounded by auto-rotation"; it's fun by any name if you have the altitude to play with.  Make the plane stall one wing more than the other by putting in full left rudder right as the plane stalls and you will fall out of the sky rapidly in a rotation.  One of the coolest things I have ever experienced.  To recover it was simple.  Just apply opposite rudder to slow the rotation first and then dive out.  This spin kills a lot of people, but the problem is that they do it accidentally at low altitude and don't react properly to fix it.  There is a lot to be said for learning how to make it happen and recover from it in controlled circumstances.

The spin.  
I'm pleased that Greg trusted me enough to fix it to take pictures while we were falling.  
I guess I wasn't THAT bad a student...

Looping over the house in the Super D.

Ok, now you have read, or just skimmed...or just scrolled down here once you got bored with the first two paragraphs.  Whatever...

The video.  I'm sorry the video did get longer than I had planned, but there was so much to put in there that I wanted to share and also remember.  I couldn't find a song that would fit with the video that didn't sound lame, and I wanted to hear the engine noise, so this video has the authentic soundtrack from the weekend. 


Aerobatics from Brad on Vimeo.

Links to Greg's site and Sky Country Lodge: