By Greg Koontz, MCFI-A
It's not like you think. It rarely is. I have spent nearly forty years teaching thousands to fly aerobatics. One of the best parts of doing that is watching the first impressions. We sit in our arm chairs dreaming of flight, all kinds of flight. We climb into sleek machines and traverse mazes filled with cumulus mountains. We might be cruising to exotic places or circulating around the local pattern. It all fantasizes differently from how it happens in real life.
Aerobatics is like that too; and just as you might be hoping, it is much more than you might think. We watch those magnificent machines growl through the air, tumbling and pulling and spinning at Airshows and competitions all across America. Some are so very graceful and some are seemingly death-defying. They can as easily scare you as they can inspire. It just depends.
You love to fly. I know because you found these words and gave them a look. I haven't a clue where you're coming from or even If you fly. But if you do fly, you are curious about this aerobatics stuff. As pilots we live in a world of procedures, rules, equipment, gizmos and space-aged electronics. Flight has moved into the 21st Century and soon we will be looking like George Jetson in his sky-scooter. It's quick and efficient these days and, Im afraid, becoming a structured process.
You love to fly and you want flight, not just getting swiftly from here to there. Stick and rudder, seat of your pants, and grass roots are the phrases coming to mind. Maybe watching Sean Tucker or Patty Wagstaff churn up the sky have inspired you to the fun but overwhelmed your senses. These are the wildest and most entertaining of the gender but aerobatics is far more dimensional than just that.
Aerobatics is what you make of it. It can be the zoom of an Indy race car but it can also be the grace of boat on glassy water. It is as diversified as the individuals that peruse the sport. The path taken is going to be in the right direction no mater what trail you follow because they all lead to real flying. Aerobatics is the art of flying figures in the sky. We have no loop buttons or roll switches. We don't program a GPS and watch an autopilot operate our machine. We fly.
The aircraft are of all kinds. Antiques, homebuilts, factory-built, LSA, high performance, low performance, they growl, they whisper, they put-put and they zoom. Stearmans, Pitts', Extras, or whatever. They come with big round engines, little flat engines, modified engines and off-the-shelf engines. Some cost less than my little car and some cost more than my home. I have flown most all of them and I can tell you this, I could never pick a favorite any more than I could pick a favorite child!
Sometimes for me it's simplicity that is best. When I slide myself into the rear seat of my Piper Clipped-Wing Cub I feel that sensation of slipping my fingers into a soft leather glove. The little Cub was built in 1939 and is pulled along by an Eighty-five horsepower engine. It cruises at 85mph so right off the batt you know that I have no desire to go anywhere but up over my grass strip for some fun. It's best at the end of the day when the winds lay down and the heat subsides making the air cool and smooth. No high G pulls or blinding tumbles here, the little Cub just barrel rolls like silk and loops like a balsa wood glider.
You don't come to aerobatics to learn to fly or to learn new skills, it just happens. It probably happens while your grinning from ear to ear like a kid on a big swing. But surely it happens. Stick and rudder, seat of your pants and grassroots become a reality. You are no longer the operator of an aircraft, you are the flyer.