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The Importance of Aerobatics

“There are thousands of general aviation pilots who are shy of operating outside of a very restricted bank/pitch/G envelope due to the lack of experience, training, and knowledge” (IAC). Flight is composed of three-dimensions, and if pilots cannot control their airplane in all three of these dimensions, it could be hazardous or fatal. Learning aerobatics is just plain fun and exciting; however is also serves two important functions. It helps improve on general handling of aircraft and helps increase the chance of surviving a sudden, unforeseen unusual attitude.

In-flight aerobatics can be defined as stunts performed in flight by an aircraft. These stunts were discovered by a Frenchman named Peguod in 1913 when he jumped out of his airplane to demonstrate his newly designed parachute. His aircraft performed a variety of bizarre maneuvers and struck awe in the crowd and Peguod himself. He was determined to duplicate the stunts the aircraft executed. Soon, daredevils were flying their aircraft to the extreme.

Aerobatics are fun and exciting to watch as well as to perform. A pilot can perform sport aerobatics or competition aerobatics. Sport aerobatics involves a pilot taking his or her aircraft to a aerobatic box in the sky and performing extreme unusual attitudes and specified maneuvers such as a loops, aileron rolls, or spins. Loops are the easiest and most basic maneuver to perform. The pilot must pull back on the stick and hold “positive, but not constant, g throughout” (Robson 103). The airplane does a vertical circle in the air. An aileron roll is another basic maneuver. It involves “rolling” the plane 360 degrees. A spin is a basic maneuver, but is relatively harder than the loop or aileron roll. To perform a spin the aircraft must be stalled and uncoordinated. The aircraft will roll upside down and descend at the same time in a stalled attitude. In order to recover, the pilot must stop the spin by applying opposite rudder, and then break the stall by lowering the nose. The pilot must then regain the straight and level attitude.

During an aerobatic competition pilots must perform competition aerobatics. This type of aerobatics requires maneuvers to be completed to a set standard or the pilot will receive low marks. These pilots have become so precise that they can fly inverted, five feet off of the ground, and cut a rope in half. To be able to do this takes the most precise skill and technique, but pilot aren’t born with these capabilities. They must spend much time practicing and building precision to be able to accomplish this feat. Of course not all pilots need to fly this precisely, but it is vital that they be able to maneuver their aircraft from an unusual attitude without overstressing the aircraft or themselves.

Why are aerobatics, or unusual attitude training, important to all pilots, regardless of their experience? A majority of aviation accidents, including General Aviation, Corporate Aircraft, or Major Airlines, are caused by the pilots being unable to recover when the aircraft gets into an unusual attitude. Such an example occurred on January 31, 2000 when an MD-83 crashed over the ocean due to loss of control. According to the NTSB report, the “stabilizers primary trim system… [appeared] to be jammed.” The aircraft’s elevator position caused it to descend at a negative seventy degree nose down attitude. The two pilots managed to flip the aircraft inverted in order to maintain altitude, but had inadequate abilities in negative G conditions as shown in the pilot’s dialog on page nine, “Captain: …left rudder, left rudder….First Officer: I can’t reach it.” Eighty eight people died in that crash. Had the pilot’s had prior inverted experience, they would have had a greater chance of gaining altitude while inverted or fly the aircraft inverted to the surface and roll back in a nose-high altitude; possibly ditching into the Pacific Ocean and surviving. Unfortunately, not one airline gives its pilots in-flight aerobatic training where the pilot can experience intense positive and negative G-forces.

Not only can aerobatic training aid the pilot in saving himself from an unusual attitude, but it allows the pilot to fly the aircraft in a larger envelope then he or she would normally be able to fly it. As presented on Sean D. Tucker’s website, “a well-trained pilot has been exposed to only 25% of their airplane's flight envelope.” Pilots can expand their envelope by learning how to fly vertical, inverted, or at extreme G levels. This will instill confidence in their abilities to execute normal and abnormal procedures. The Federal Aviation Administration has rejected the idea of making unusual attitude recovery training a requirement. Unless they have gone through a Certified Flight Instructor course, most pilots have never experienced a spin. The problem is that most pilots, then, are terrified of spins and will freeze up when they happen. A pilot who has gone through an aerobatic course learns how to control the airplane through the spin and recover as soon as possible. Such a situation happens when the pilot is turning onto the final leg of the pattern and is at a slow airspeed and an excessive bank angle. If the pilot isn’t paying attention at this point and lets the airplane stall, a spin can easily occur.

Aerobatics are not only fun and exciting, but serve as a great training tool for professional pilots. The problem is that the FAA does not require extreme unusual attitude training or aerobatic training in order to receive a pilot’s license. More than one half of all aircraft accidents were caused by the aircraft flying out of control. If pilots are trained in aerobatics, they will be more able to control their aircraft. Wouldn’t you like to be able to know that the pilot of the airplane you are riding in can fly his aircraft to the extreme and safely recover?

Works Cited

A Hazard in Aerobatics. February 1984. Federal Aviation Administration. March 29, 2003.

Aircraft Accident Report. December 2002. National Transportation and Safety Board. March 30, 2003.

Campbell, R.D, and B. Tempest. Basic Aerobatics. England: Airlife Publishing Inc, 1984. Croft, John. “Taming Loss-Of-Control: Solutions Are Elusive.” Aviation Week and Space Technology. 23 August 2003.

Frequently Asked Questions. 2003. Stinson Air Center. March 29, 2003.

Krier, Harold. Modern Aerobatics & Precision Flying. Pennsylvania: Tab Books, 1963. Recreational Aerobatics. 2003.

Experimental Aviation Administration: International Aerobatic Club. March 30, 2003.

Robson, David. Skydancing: Aerobatic Flight Techniques. Washington: Aviation Supplies and Academics, 2000.

Sean D. Tucker Power Aerobatics. 2003. Power Aerobatics. April 2, 2003.