getting started in aerobatics

By Mike Heuer

A lot of times, people will walk up at an aerobatic contest or air show and say, "You know, that really looks like fun and I really wish I could get into it, but I don't know where to start." There are probably a lot more who would like to take a shot at aerobatics but the very thought of leaving straight-and-level flight brings sweat to their palms, tense muscles to their wrists, and a change in coloration.

getting started

It's sometimes amazing what a few phone calls to local airfields will produce. Quite a number have a Citabria or Cessna Aerobat tucked away in a corner. You may have to travel to get at one and to find an instructor who knows how to use it. Obviously, if an aircraft that's approved for aerobatics is an extinct species in your community, you must face the prospect of journeying to an aerobatic school that advertises in aviation publications. Actually, when you look across the country, there are quite a few to choose from. The International Aerobatic Club also maintains a list and this can be obtained, free of charge, by writing.

If distance is not a discouraging factor, you will want to check out items like the instructor's qualifications, the airplane used for training, and the cost and availability of both instructor and equipment. Write for information or invest in a phone call. Many of the 6,000 members of the International Aerobatic Club can help you, too.

No matter who you fly with, parachutes are required equipment when flying dual and should be required by any aerobatic school when flying solo. Few schools, however, permit solo flying for insurance reasons. The school you work with should have a designated training area. No matter where you fly, your minimum altitude for any manoeuvre should be 1,500 feet AGL.

If you have already logged a fair amount of straight-and-level time and you feel up to it, you might ask for a demonstration right off of the kind of manoeuvres that will be encountered in your course of training. Make sure you have a good intercom or signal system and can indicate when you've had enough. Remember to tighten your thigh and stomach muscles when pulling positive Gs (this helps prevent blood from rushing to one end of your body.)

On the other hand, if you'd like to ease into the sport gradually, as most people would, you'll be content to build up a tolerance to the excitement. It comes on pretty fast anyway.

In most cases, aerobatic instructors will try to determine your skill with some fairly simple but revealing activity, like steep turns, Dutch rolls, or lazy eights.

Maintaining altitude and allowing for wind are just as important as achieving and holding the angle of bank. Again, we are taking aircraft control.

Within the first hour you should also be introduced to or asked to review chandelles and wingovers. Neither are very demanding exercises, but doing them correctly requires coordination, judgment, planning and an understanding of what your control surfaces are doing.

From that point on it becomes a matter of instructor's preference. Some will get into spins, some might go to rolls, others will introduce you to loops.

Those first few hours will demand tremendous concentration and probably leave you feeling quite tired. It takes a while to build up stamina. Learning to relax, while hanging upside down in a slow roll, may require some conscious effort. The point is, every day you fly aerobatics, whether it's your first encounter or your thousandth, you'll be learning, perfecting, reaching, and enjoying the experience. In a sense, it's like skiing or figure skating, where you first have to learn to stand up, then move, turn, stop, and eventually leap. The more you learn, the more demanding the sport becomes and the more you can enjoy a sense of accomplishment. Ask a gold medallist if it's worth the effort.

refining the basics

Your instructor will tell you when you're ready for solo aerobatics and you'll be told what your limits are. At some point you should start putting manoeuvres together, watching your entry speed and altitude for each one. Do two loops in a row or fly a loop followed by a roll. When you reach the point that you can put a spin-loop-roll sequence together and fly it with reasonable control, you are eligible for the first of ten Achievement Awards issued by the International Aerobatic Club. The Basic patch should be within reach after a couple weekends of practice. Over 3,000 pilots have already earned Achievement Awards.

If you keep going and decide you'd like to measure your talents against some other people, IAC sanctions over 50 aerobatic contests around the country every year. There are five levels of competition: Basic, Sportsman, Intermediate, Advanced, and Unlimited. There are also categories for glider aerobatics. These are explained elsewhere in this brochure. The most popular level is Sportsman and a lot of pilots use rented or borrowed aircraft in this category. While it's a seriously competitive sport, nearly everyone who shows up for a contest enjoys the espirit that develops so quickly at the contest sites. A calendar of events around the world is carried in SPORT AEROBATICS magazine, the official monthly publication of IAC.

Aerobatic instruction and aerobatic aircraft are not cheap, but if you can muster the means and handle the thrills, the art and sport of aerobatics are hard to beat. Aerobatics will improve your proficiency and make you a better pilot. For some, aerobatics become the reason for flying and a lifetime can be spent in honing the skills.