Soaring with Sagar – You Spin Me Right Round – Part 2

Day two was setting up to be a busy one. Our goal was to squeeze in two flights and get an intro to Spins and Aerobatics. With the same format as the previous day’s flight, we did a through briefing, hopped into the plane, Tim demonstrates a maneuver, Sagar demonstrates, repeat, head back to the airport and then debrief. It was hard to keep all of the information straight as each maneuver and flight built on the previous ones. But Tim was quite patient and reminded me that this was just an introduction.

The flight on spin recovery was actually the one I was most afraid of. Visions of the plane tumbling out of control had been dancing through my head all week long. Flashes of “Maverick” trying to reach for the ejection handle as he and “Goose” plummet towards the ocean in a flat spin were in my thoughts. And I was going to be in an aircraft AND expected to recover??? You’ve got to be kidding me.

But the reality was that this was a calculated maneuver. One where I had an amazing airshow pilot watching out for me, and who always had safety in mind. We setup the maneuvers at a very high altitude so that we had time to recover, and Tim was always there to recover in case I was unable to.

On the ground we talked about the various types of spins: Upright spins, flat spins, accelerated spins, inverted spins, inverted flat spins, and inverted accelerated spins. But during the flight, we would only work on upright spins.

While trying to remember the exact flow, I asked what would happen if I messed up the order? Tim started to tell me about one student that he had. “I had a young guy who came in who had his own Pitts S-2B and said that he nearly killed himself doing a spin in his own airplane and he had no idea why it wouldn’t come out of the spin. He said by luck and the grace of god he came out of it but had no idea why and now he’s scared of his own airplane. So I sat with him and we talked about it and I realize what he had done. First he was using the traditional spin recovery technique and not the emergency spin recovery technique and then he got it out of order. What he was doing was that he was trying to break the stall before he got rid of the rotation. If you are in a full spin with the rudder stomped in, and lower the nose, it accelerates the spin tremendously. And this guy was lowering his nose first, accelerating the spin tremendously, and he stomped on the opposite rudder, he was not getting out of it.”

So while this was all ‘fun’ to a degree, it reminded me that this was serious business. If I had actually been an owner of a Pitts or an Extra, I could easily see the benefit of taking a course like this. As Tim put it “the typical Private Pilot or even Commercial Pilot, doesn’t look at spins. The benefits are tremendous, because when you start flying a Christian Eagle, Pitts, Extra or something like that, it’s very easy to find yourself in a spin just due to a blown maneuver. So it would be naïve to buy or regularly fly an airplane like that without going through spin training. Because sooner or later, you can find yourself easily in these situations. As an airshow pilot, I purposefully try to get myself in these situation because it looks cool. And I want to be able to consistently be able to recover myself from that each and every time.”

But enough talk, it was time to get back in the air. After our safety check and making sure the area was clear of other air traffic, Tim demonstrated the first spin. Straight and level at 5,000 feet. Pull the airspeed to idle, back pressure on the stick to slow us down to nearly a stall, horn starts going off, kick in full left rudder, and away we went.

The two things that have to be present to cause a spin were both there. Stall and yaw. A couple of turns and Tim recovered and we climbed back for my turn.

With Tim talking me through it, I entered the spin. Then it was like I actually knew what I was doing. Power to idle, Remove your hands from the stick, full opposite rudder till the rotation stops, neutralize the rudder, and recover to level flight. Or so I thought. On my first attempt, I feed a bit of forward stick nearly causing us to enter an accelerated spin, which is harder to recover from because the rudder becomes ineffective. On my second attempt, I did better, but still, not quite there.

Return to base, debrief, water, bathroom, brief and back in the air. It was as if I was in the military flying back to back sorties. But if I was flying, I would want this former U-2 Commander watching my back. As we made it back to the practice area, I was reviewing everything that we had gone over in the past two flights.

Aerobatics was the ‘real world’ scenario where I would need to employ the unusual attitude and spin recovery. The goal was to quickly and efficiently recover from blown maneuver, without loosing excess altitude and gaining excessive airspeed (Vne), or end up nose high and stall the aircraft (and if I did, then to stay coordinated and so I don’t turn it into a spin). Easy enough right?

For our final flight, Tim was going to have me do a Loop, Cuban 8, Immelman, and a Hammerhead. While I had seen airshow performers do it countless times, this was going to be one of the first where I would be trying it myself.

Even the most basic of maneuvers, a loop, was challenging for me. I started the maneuver at 160 kts and pulled back on the stick at 4 G’s. As I brought the nose up, I relaxed the back pressure on the stick, tilted my head as far back as possible and find “my line” which was a road on the ground to keep me on track through the loop. During the pull I was constantly looking left and right at the trailing edge of the wings and tried to keep them symmetrical on the horizon. If they were not both symmetrical, then I had some extra bank in them and needed to compensate by adding rudder. As I floated the plane over the top, I started to gain airspeed and had to compensate by adding backpressure to the stick. And still looking left and right to make sure the plane is level and pull through the loop. The couple of times I tried it, I couldn’t keep a smooth nose track. I was pulling too hard, too light and ratcheting the airplane instead of smoothly pulling through the loop. Guess I was not going to perform in any airshows this season.

We then continued though the rest of the three maneuvers. Ironically, during the Cuban 8, I passed through the 45 degree line and ended up in a nose low attitude and had to recover. Unfortunately I did not recognize that until Tim told me, and in that one moment, the value of this training was evident.

The final part of this weekend’s flying was that Tim was going to give me a taste of what it was like to be in the plane with him during his airshow routine. Well, let’s just say that I have a new found respect for what he does and will never look at another airshow act without my stomach tightening and little beads of sweat forming on my forehead. So with the flick of the stick, we leapt right into it. Well, all I got through was the first 5 of a total of 24 maneuvers before having to call it quits. In the span of less than two minutes, Tim put me through a ¾ of a Loop with 1 ½ turns on the downline followed by a 4 point roll followed by a torque roll then a centrifuge, and a half Cuban 8. Imagine the coolest rollercoaster that you’ve been on and then multiply that by 100! And no, I did not lose my lunch!

If you are thinking of getting an aerobatic airplane or want a refresher course on safety maneuvers, or are a pilot who just wants to become a safer pilot, I highly recommend that you go fly with Tim Decker Airshows. For more information visit: http://www.timdeckerairshows.com

A special thanks to Tim Decker,  Dennis Pearson, David Salmassy, John Kluenker and James Baker for all of their help.

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