“Perhaps, this is something I will regret…” I can’t even finish the thought when the abrupt change of direction of the Robin 2160 draws all my brain power to try understand what is going on around me.
Udo Pieh, the instructor and owner of MKM Flight Training in Mainz (Germany), is showing me the minimum amount of acceleration (Gs) he wants to feel when I am in control of the plane.
He asks me to perform a steep turn with 60 degrees. I do my best, considering that it’s not a manoeuvre I practice daily. Udo taps with a finger on the accelerometer: “1.5 G… not enough! – exclaims smiling – How many shall I see?”
“Two” I answer, almost instinctively.
“Then show me 2 Gs” he adds laughing … and there starts my course for the aerobatic rating!
Let’s start from the very beginning: a few weeks before I booked a trial lesson with MKM Flight Training. The reason why I booked it was very simple: I want to progress on the path to become a safer pilot, learn something new and perhaps test my body’s tolerance to Gs.
For some reason, aerobatic flying is one of the aviation disciplines that attracts most attention from non-pilots for its spectacularity, but very often it is avoided by airmen.
The image of a plane flying in all directions and fashions, except levelled and straight, best than any other represents the idea of freedom.
However, I share what Alan Cassidy, an icon of aerobatics, wrote in his must-read manual “Better Aerobatics”. He explains that the representation of aerobatics as something free of rules is very misleading and that the one quality an aerobatic pilot can never lack is extreme self-discipline.
I believe thrill-seekers are not good in aviation, regardless of what and how they fly it. I think aerobatics is no exception. As Udo said during our first lesson, quoting a known aviation say: “there are bold pilots and old pilots, but not old bold pilots”.
So, I showed up at Mainz airfield (ICAO: EDFZ) at 8.30 of a sunny summer morning. At the hangar Udo welcomed me and introduced me to the plane: a shining Robin 2160 powered by a Lycoming 0-320.
I notice the long ventral fin running all the way to the tail. I liked instantaneously the profile of the plane and the front-sliding canopy.
Udo runs the pre-flight inspection with me, makes reference to a couple of peculiarities of the plane and then he hands me the keys to take the plane to the fuel station.
After the refuelling, we wear the parachutes. Udo explains me how to jump out if need be and in matter of minutes we’re running for take-off.
The parachute briefing doesn’t really help me gather courage, but in matter of 2 minutes we are already running on Runway 08 for take-off.
The day is ideal, with a clear sunny sky, but still no thermals.
We start with steep turns and as soon as I make a clean 2G 60 degree bank turn, Udo informs me that that’s the only way I am allowed to turn from that moment on.
He then guides me to perform an entry into a spin.
Some friends spoke of it as one of the worst feelings a pilot can go through. I don’t share their view: spins develop quickly, but the plane (and most planes in the SEP category are like this) will recover as soon as pressure is released from the control stick and the rudder is in neutral position.
After the initial figures, I feel much more relaxed. I don’t feel sick and my curiosity is only increasing.
We do a few more and I get more and more and more comfortable with the quick rotation of the aircraft and the loss of altitude.
From there on, I am hooked and hungry for more figures. Udo guides me through loops, split Ss and Immelmanns.
An important aspect of most aerobatic manoeuvres regards vestibular illusions. Closing a loop or recovering from a spin impress on the body a lot of G force. When still not familiar with the aircraft and without having developed an eye for the attitude of the plane without looking at the attitude indicator, a pilot may have the illusion of being climbing while they are, as descending quite quickly as a matter of fact.
After the first lesson, my head is busy processing all the information and rethinking about the timing of each move.
In the following lessons I practice rolls, snap rolls and hammerhead (or stall turns). The more I fly aerobatics and the more I wonder whether I will ever be able to fly straight and levelled again!
Another lesson I learnt, is to make a pre-flight check of myself. Learning aerobatics requires being responsive and “consequential” as Udo says. If you didn’t sleep well and feel you are sleep or distracted, it’s better not to waste time, money and, worst, risk “being flown” by the aircraft instead of controlling it.
If you start this course, and I truly recommend it, bring an action camera (or better two) with you. It provides a very good learning support in between lessons from which you can learn a lot.
Find some of my footage below, both in 2D and 360 VR format.
I look forward to receive your comments!