Flying the 2015 Sportsman Known Sequence - By Gordon Penner, NAFI Master Instructor-Aerobatic, FAA Gold Seal CFI

This year’s Sportsman Known sequence has decent flow and energy, without too many of the elements that would punish low-horsepower/high-drag aerobats. So let’s break this sequence down, with the newer aerobatic pilot in mind, and see what we find.

I also hasten to add that this article – and this sequence – is not just for competition. Many of you may not want to compete or may not be able to compete due to LMS, or life management, er, stuff, but this sequence can be something you can do on your own that is fun and personally challenging. Many RV and experimental pilots will be able to enjoy this sequence while staying within their airplanes’ limits.


The key to aerobatics, as stated by 1972 world champion Charlie Hillard, is “…where to look and when.” As you think about the sequence, I want you also to think about when you are looking over the nose and when you are looking past your sight gauge or wingtip to the horizon.

Also try to maintain what aerobatic coach John Morrissey calls “deep focus,” where he maintains that a “…clear and distinct focus to the furthest point ahead of the aircraft’s flight path must be maintained.” In level flight, he wants pilots to focus on a spot 20 miles away. When pilots are on a downline, he said, “…I want them to pick out blades of grass.” Keep these things in mind throughout the sequence.

The breakdown of this sequence, actually any sequence, is in two parts: first strategic, then tactical. Think of strategic as “big picture” and tactical as the detailed parts of each maneuver. Don’t rush the strategic analysis.

Many of you will tend to move right into thinking about each maneuver individually. Instead, I suggest that you think of the sequence as a whole, and think of the big things first, such as not busting the bottom of the box as well as staying in it.

I would have you think first about your starting altitude and then about the placement of maneuvers in the box. If you get these two things set in your mind and take care of them (strategic), you will then be freer to think about flying each maneuver as cleanly as you can (tactical).

I like what former IAC President Rob Dorsey said in one of his fine “Stick and Rudder” articles that have appeared in Sport Aerobatics. He said to think of the sequence like a game of billiards; you not only want to make a good shot – you want to leave the cue ball in a good position for the next shot.

Altitude Analysis

The first thing to think about is your beginning altitude. To find that number, you have to start at the last maneuver and work backward. With the performance level of a 150-hp Decathlon or Citabria in mind, I think most aircraft will lose altitude on Maneuvers 8, 6, 5, 4, 2, and 1.

With Maneuver 10, the 2-point roll, low-horsepower/high-drag airplanes can roll at slow speeds, but they will usually be called “barreled” if they do so, even when they are not. These aircraft require some speed to show well in this roll, which means Maneuver 9’s exit must have some speed to it.

Since Maneuver 9, the 270-degree turn, is an energy scrubber, that means that the 45-degree downline from the half-Cuban-eight must be long enough to feed in enough energy for both Maneuvers 9 and 10. Some altitude will be lost there.

The speed you get out of the loop, Maneuver 7, can only be as much as the speed you put into it. As a result, you must fly Maneuver 6, the reverse-half-Cuban, as fat and round as you can to get that speed, which will probably result in an altitude loss.

Slower rolling aircraft will take a bit of time to do the 1/4 roll on the downline from the hammerhead. This will produce the speed that Maneuver 6 wants but will result in an exit altitude lower than the entry altitude.

A 1-1/4 spin with a good downline will result in at least 1,000 to 1,500 feet of altitude loss in these entry-level machines, so plan accordingly. As a newer aerobat, you may not yet know the altitude losses or gains for most of the maneuvers in your airplane, but you must learn very quickly how much room you need to complete a spin. It is a very important number.

You will want to be fast out of Maneuver 2 so that when you go into Maneuver 3, the Immelmann, you will have enough energy for the all-important half-roll at the top. That darn half-roll gives a lot of downgrades, so practice it so it comes off cleanly. Work on Maneuvers 2 and 3 together so you are feeding that half-roll with the energy it hungrily demands.

If you’d like to read the rest of Gordon’s story, get a copy of the February 2015 issue of Sport Aerobatics magazine.