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Oct/Nov 2000

Table of Contents
San Juan
River Magic
The Maverick TwinJet
Extreme Air
Albuquerque Aerobatics
The $100 Hamburger
The Galley, Flagstaff, AZ
Back To Basics
Retro-reflective Approaches
Hangar Flying:
GA Flying Tips for Flying Phoenix Sky Harbor
SWAV News Update

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SW Aviator Magazine
3909 Central NE
Albuquerque, NM 87108
Phone: 505.256.7031
Fax: 505.256.3172
Extreme Air!
story by Pete Alexander, photos by Gerrit Paulsen
You’ve probably seen them on ESPN or television commercials. If you’ve ever gone to an air show, then you have definitely seen them. We’re talking about aerobatic pilots and their high-performance aircraft. Those spins and snap rolls and tail slides that make your stomach knot up and elicit a collective "yeewwww!" from everyone watching is what these accomplished aviators live for. They are hooked, plane (pun intended) and simple, and they want you to climb on board. So take these few moments before your appointment and imagine the ultimate E-Ticket ride in a Pitts S2-B "Human Paintshaker"… if you can hack it, that is.

Let’s begin with a definition and a little history first, shall we? AEROBATICS: An intentional maneuver involving an abrupt change in an aircraft’s attitude, an abnormal attitude, or abnormal acceleration not necessary for normal flight. Essentially, what this definition means is any kind of flying outside the straight and level experience most of us know from our airline travels (but in this case, "normal" operating procedures for a Pitts Special). Of course, the Federal Aviation Administration has it’s own set of definitions, involving angle of bank, types of maneuvers, etc., which aerobatic pilots comply with. Aerobatic flight has been around almost as long as manned flight itself. We first came to know about such performance flying on a nationwide scale with the introduction of the barnstormer in the 1920’s. In the decades that followed, veteran military pilots took their improved performance aircraft ever farther outside the envelope, evolving into flight demonstration teams and developing competitions on a worldwide scale. Today, we enjoy performances by pilots in more powerful and nimble aircraft than ever imagined in those heady days of early biplane flight.

However, what we’re really talking about here is people who like being upside down, sideways and pulling Gs while perfecting precise routines in a 3-dimensional "box" of airspace – usually hundreds to a few thousand feet above terra firma. The women and men who perform these "routines" (granted, they look anything but routine from the ground) are exceptional in some ways, and just plain folks in others. Needless to say, they each have a passion for flight and a desire to push their capabilities as a human being. However, unlike NASCAR racers or America’s Cup skippers, their world is one of three dimensions, and they strive to master their machines into a choreograph of movements and timing that will make the observer on the ground think it is nothing more than an effortless dance. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Aerobatic pilots must learn to blend the cerebral with the physical, the fluid with the precise, the anticipated with the just completed. Exercising the human mind in an environment demanding "big picture" awareness (i.e., position in space and proximity to the ground) with "little picture" alacrity (i.e., monitoring engine and flight control performance) – all while putting your body through intense weight loading – is easy to talk about but very difficult to do. The fact of the matter, though, is that it doesn’t take a special person to be an aerobatic pilot – it only takes a person with desire. The patience, fortitude and skill will come later. If you have ever seen performances by Patty Wagstaff or Sean Tucker, then you know what I’m talking about – two more down-to-earth and gracious people you will never meet. Yet they define the current limits of the human-machine interface in the realm of performance flight. They are truly ideal ambassadors for the sport.

Having had a taste of some "unusual attitudes" while in the military, I wanted to get a closer look at the world of precision aerobatics and perhaps sample the "squirrel cage" first hand. I contacted Albuquerque Aerobatics and arranged to meet with one of the club’s most active members – Bill Rodway. We hooked up on a sunny late-winter afternoon to talk a little about his passion (and peril). Bill, together with partners Bob Bogan and Mark Hauswald, started Albuquerque Aerobatics last year. Their primary goal is to provide spin training for private pilots and aerobatic training for anyone interested in a little "extreme" adventure. Their recently acquired Pitts S2-B is also used for demo rides and Pitts checkouts (the Pitts S1 is the popular single-seat precursor of the two-place S2).

My demo flight would be with Bill in the S2. Bill is a former Naval Aviator who flew A-7 Light Attack jets off carriers before taking a cushy job with the New Mexico Air National Guard "Tacos" flying F-16s (affectionately referred to as "Lawn Darts"). Bill drives a Delta 737 around to pay the bills (and fund his recently acquired aerobatic addiction). After wrapping up his military career with the Guard, Bill caught the aerobatic bug and bought in on a share of the S2-B. He claims his horizon will take him no further than perhaps the intermediate level of competitive aerobatics, but don’t believe anything he tells you when he’s trying to act humble – after all, he is a former Naval Aviator.

Aerobatic flying is not always what it seems to the naked eye. From the ground at an air show, the pilots enjoy the length of the runway to conduct their captivating maneuvers. But in competitive aerobatics, pilots must fly their entire routine within the confines of a "box in space" (roughly 1000 meters a side and 3500 feet high). Five to seven officials on the ground judge performers, and every deviation – no matter how minor – is noted and points are subtracted from their overall score. Points are awarded based on individual maneuvers multiplied times a difficulty factor, with 1870 points being a perfect score. There are five levels of competition: Basic, Sportsman, Intermediate, Advanced and Unlimited. Each level requires a greater amount of proficiency and precise performance, but each has one thing in common – the pilot must do whatever it takes to make the performance look good from the ground… something that looks more like chaos from inside the cockpit.

Most aerobatic flyers are non-professionals who participate simply for skills training and the camaraderie of the sport. For those that seriously get into it, however, it becomes an all-consuming passion. There are contests held in almost every state throughout the year, leading up to the National Championships in Dennison, Texas every fall. The ultimate goal, as with most sports, is the World Championships. But back here in New Mexico, right now, the focus is on finding the edge markings of the "box" on the desert floor and getting in some training.

Our aircraft departed Coronado Airport and headed for Albuquerque’s west mesa. Once we "exercised the metal and fabric" a bit, we proceeded to perform some of the basic maneuvers associated with most performances: rolls, loops, spins and hammerhead turns. To see this high-performance aircraft "shake it out" and perform these maneuvers with remarkable precision from the ground is amazing enough, but wait until you see it from their perspective! I was thoroughly impressed with everything about aerobatics by the time we returned home, wishing for an opportunity to get a taste of some more. Aerobatics are, without question, addictive by nature!

Through increased exposure via introductory flights, advertising, promotions, word-of-mouth and the Internet, membership and activity in clubs such as Albuquerque Aerobatics continues to increase. Air shows, of course, remain the number one lure for finding people interested in trying aerobatics. Recently, however, as extreme sport participation has increased nationwide, an associated interest by non-pilots has begun to appear. Introductory aerobatic flights are also a very popular gift idea. If you are interested in discovering the incredible thrills of aerobatic flight – or know someone who is – contact the International Aerobatics Club to locate the chapter nearest you, or contact Albuquerque Aerobatics through at (505) 897-8511.

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The material in this publication is for advisory information only and should not be relied upon for navigation, maintenance or flight techniques. SW Regional Publishing, Inc. and the staff neither assume any responsibilty for the accuracy of this publication's content nor any liability arising out of it. Fly safe.