Tanya and I had been talking about doing some proper aerobatics training for quite some time. We're always noodling opportunities to advance basic airmanship skills and this was a big one on our list. There are a lot of ways to skin this cat, but how did WE want to do it?
Last week, we loaded up the 12yr old RV9A with over 2000hrs on it and pointed the magic carpet east toward Alabama. The weather was perfect, and there was little to do but watch the miles go by. Before long, we rolled out on a beautiful quiet grass strip in the hills just east of Ashville. We taxied right into the hangar where the RV would sit for the next few days.
Before we could even get out of the airplane, we knew we were in for an adventure as we met our host / instructor for the next few days, Greg Koontz. I think just about every pilot on the planet has seen Greg perform in one form or another. He is a passionate performer and ambassador for the aerobatic arts.
We were here to work on the "simple" things in life. Loops!, Rolls!, Hammer Heads!, and Spins! Every entry and every exit (I think I came up with some new ones). Yes, they all come with exclamations, whether individually or strung together sequentially! The setting was quiet and focused. There was nothing to do here but eat, sleep, talk and do aerobatics in the Super Decathlon. Greg was doing double duty with both Tanya and I flying the same program.
Each flight began with a thorough ground school, followed by about a 45min flight. People are surprised to learn that I'm super prone to motion sickness. Car, boat, air, roller-coaster... You name it I've filled a sick sack. So how was this going to work out? Neither of us had a problem at all the whole time. That surprised me a lot. Maybe something about being so focused on the task and being in absolute control of what was coming next. Greg doesn't do a lot of "demonstration" but shows one, then "you try", while he talks you through it, sometimes with some stick nudge feedback when the words are too slow or not penetrating the saturated CPU in the front seat.
I found the Super Decathlon an interesting new experience. This was the first time I had flown that funny aerobatic constant speed prop. The sight picture was a drastic difference, looking down at the top of the cowl. It felt a bit like sitting in a tractor, but the controls were light and quite agreeable.
Boy this thing could make some noise. Greg was quite adamant about no noise cancelling headsets when we broached the subject. He went on at length about every headset that he has flown with. I put his mind at ease quickly. He likes his David Clark headsets. He has a whole cabinet of everything they make as they are a sponsor. I humored him for the first flight and clamped one of those things onto my head with little consideration for what I was in for. Boy, I knew something wasn't right the moment the wheels left the grass runway but there was no going back. I was strapped into the parachute and the 7 point harness with ratcheting lap belt. I was one with the machine, and it was LOUD! This flight was all about rolls. I won't bore you with the actual flight details. For, everyone knows what a roll is, right? Yeah, right, that is what I thought...
We returned from the first flight and I poured myself out of the cockpit in exhausted glee. Only later did it occur to me that I didn't once think about feeling sick. Tanya was up next, and the very first thing I told her was, "You're going to want your CQ1 Headset. My ears are totally ringing and my head hurts." Out came the David Clark and in went her hot pink CQ1 and away they went. In all subsequent flights, I of course opted for my CQ Headset that is almost always chocked full of "prototype" hardware and my new ideas.
It was neat to sit on the porch drinking a coke watching and listening to her execute the same flight that I had just done. The prop noise and rotational changes bounce around the hills and do funny things in the otherwise quiet woods. We're on the bus and having fun now. Next up, some more ground school and loops! Before we knew it, we were chaining one maneuver into the next.
Around and around we went (literally). Learning new things and practicing others with every flight. By the end it was going something like this: Start with a rolllllllll !, then up into a hammer head!, down into a loop!, straight into another loop, except this time, roll off of the top!, and you're magically setup for a spin!! WooHoooooo! and Again! We were performing fun little airshow routines for each other overhead as we practiced this sequence.
For me, one of the harder parts was the hammer head. It has a lot of nuances going on at the same time that can look very ugly very easily. I felt like the spin was probably the easiest in this airplane as there just wasn't a whole lot to do but sit there quietly (harder than it seems) with the world going around at an alarming rate. We also learned that the CQ1 Headset is an excellent aerobatic headset! As we fell asleep, we marveled that neither of us ever had to go in search of the microphone or the headset as a whole for that matter, even with all the pulling and odd forces that we had been doing. Granted, we weren't doing top-gun type stuff here.
Bonus: Before we left, Greg drug out one of his three J3 Cubs. (you've seen the, land on the roof of a moving truck act, right?) "Who wants to go for a Cub ride?" Uh, "Does a bear...." So we bombed around the field, in and out of the trees for a few minutes each with the door open. Now Greg should have really been jealous of the lack of wind noise in our microphone
. "It's like a motorcycle." At his field, there is a large pond right next to the runway. Can a cub ski? Maybe....
Sometimes the RV isn't really the final product, but just part of the journey.