Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Pushing My Envelope

I've been thinking about doing some aerobatic style training for well over a year now, on and off. I was wanting to do it to get through some of my remaining fears in flying. Fear of large load factors and spins. I've never done a spin and am sure I will never do one by accident because I know how not to stall a plane and how not to be cross controlled. However, if I ever do want to be a CFI spins (more important, spin recovery) is something I'll have to do.  One thing I've learned in my flight training is if I push out past the boundaries of what I'm comfortable with, the boundaries of what I am comfortable with expand.

Extra 300L - 300 HP of pure fun!
Recently I decided it was time to push out the boundaries some more. I will be starting my commercial training some time soon (I hope!) and found myself feeling that little fear again when reading the descriptions of the commercial maneuvers. Frankly, I'm tired of those little fears.

Fear definitely has its place when flying, but not these fears. Time to move past them. What better way to do that than take things to their illogical extreme and do aerobatic flying with an instructor that specializes in that in a plane purpose built for the experience? So I signed up for "Pilot Confidence Training" through Tutima Academy of Aviation Safety. Its a school founded by Sean Tucker, a world famous aerobatic pilot and it happens to be in King City, relatively close to me.

The Short Story

Saturday and Sunday were spent at Tutima. In a brief summary of what I learned:
  1. How much fun it can be to fly a plane designed for power and precision - the Extra 300L. It was incredible!
  2. What scares me doesn't make me sick.
  3. What makes me sick doesn't scare me.
  4. I hated the spin more than I thought I would.
  5. I liked rolls much more than I thought I would.

The Long Story

The standard curriculum has four flights and about 5 hours of ground instruction. We started at 9AM Saturday morning.  The first flight was control exercises like squares, diamonds, circles, wing rocks, dutch rolls, and rudder only turns and stalls. We used a wing over when we had to turn to stay in the box and that was very cool. The wing over was my favorite maneuver. Pitch the plane up to about 45 degrees, put in a little bit of aileron and the plane quickly turned 180 degrees. It's a low load maneuver that lets you turn around really quick. Great for canyon flying if you get stuck the CFI said.
We did all kinds of stalls. Power off and on, accelerated and turning stalls. Slipping and skidding stalls. I didn't feel sick at all until we did a particularly energetic accelerated stall. That got my stomach upset and we had to stopped shortly after that. The stalls didn't scare me, but that one did make me sick. We met back up three hours later for a second flight but the winds were strong and my stomach still wasn't happy. So we decided to meet back up the next morning. Because I live close there was no pressure to do it all in one weekend.

Sunday morning was more control exercises and stalls, controlled stalls, steep turns (no problem doing 60 degree bank in that plane!).  I was feeling good about how well I flew the plane and how I was able to be precise in the control exercises and the steep turns. The controlled stall (this is a thing where you stall the plane and keep it stalled using the rudder to keep the wings level) was really violent. He demonstrated and the plane bucked and kicked until he finally stopped the stall. That really bothered me and I refused to do the controlled stall right then. 
We also did minimum altitude loss stall recovery. I had trouble with that, my responses were slow and sometimes opposite of what they should be. To be honest I lost more altitude than I did on a regular recovery in the same plane ... one time I put the plane into a major dive trying to recover from the stall but I recovered from my recovery the right way - pulled power and pulled out of the dive and then added power again. Its much easier to do a minimum altitude loss recovery in a 172 I've flown for 10s or hundreds of hours than it is in an Extra 300L I've been flying for 0.7 hours.

Then the spin... I figured it couldn't be as bad as I thought it would be, as what I was afraid of. I was wrong. It was worse. We just did one, he demonstrated it. Power off stall then a kick of the left rudder. Quicker than thought the plane suddenly pointed straight down and the world was spinning fast. The entry into the spin and the spin itself was faster and more violent than I expected. I'll be honest..  I just screamed. I guess I didn't panic because I didn't do anything crazy, just screamed. If I didn't know the spin was to the left I wouldn't be able to tell you what direction it was in... everything happened so fast. He stopped the spin in one turn and leveled off. The whole thing probably took less than 5 seconds. I couldn't bring myself to try one right then.

We went ahead and kept flying and did ballistic aileron rolls. Well, actually he did them. I was along for the ride as he demonstrated but I really liked those. Did one left and right and then a "two point" and a "four point" rolls. Those were really cool. Being upside down and sideways in the rolls didn't bother me at all, and it was really fun.  I want to do those myself and will. I imagined what it must look like to watch this silver plane dive and then point straight at the sun and roll over and over on the way back to level. The way the plane could be pointed directly at the sun and keep on flying was just amazing to me. It was like riding a rocket ship!
That was pretty much the end of the flight, the only thing left for us to do from this lesson was more spins and I didn't want to tackle that right away. Turns out it was good time to go back, by the time we were crossing midfield to land I was feeling sick again and was feeling sicker and sicker until I got out of the plane. 
While I expected to complete the full curriculum over the weekend, I didn't. However, I'm signed up as a student there now I can return at any time to continue the spins and the rest of the course. I will too. This is a fear I want to conquer but it will take one little step at a time. Even though I didn't finish everything I intended, I did learn a lot and, on my next flight, definitely felt more confident in the plane I was flying. Just another step on my journey of flying.

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