Every few years I go through an unusual attitude refresher just to remember that airplanes are controllable even outside of normal flight parameters. International Aerobatic Club instructor and director Bill Finagin did the honors. He runs Dent-air Ltd., an aerobatic school in Annapolis, MD. (He’s also a dentist, which explains the name, not the condition of the aircraft.)
To do this with the requisite degree of safety, in my opinion, a special aircraft, instructor and adequate airspace are needed.
The Pitts S-2C is an excellent platform in which to explore those areas that we really should be avoiding in transportation or basic training aircraft. It’s stressed to manage the loads and while a normal upright spin is a one G maneuver, the recovery is somewhere around 3-3.5 Gs. Utility category aircraft are stressed to 4.4 positive Gs which is sufficient but not as good as the 6 Gs required for acrobatic machines. By the way, 4.4 Gs assumes that they haven’t been abused-some of the old warhorses in our training fleet have really high mileage.
We spent considerable time briefing each maneuver-demonstrated with a Pitts model and a laptop video of exactly what I would see. Brilliant and very effective! It is my observation that one of the weakest areas in today’s flight education system is the pre and post flight briefing. Rushing the brief shortchanges the student terribly and fails to provide the necessary knowledge to take full advantage of the flight.
Around the DC – Baltimore area the airspace is highly congested so Bill made arrangements for an aerobatic area over the Frederick Airport from 7,500-1,500. We called the Potomac TRACON before launching, who provided an assigned squawk and a time window. They would keep IFR traffic clear of the spin zone and a notam was published for VFR pilots. Additionally, a ground spotter with a hand held radio could call us in the event an itinerant pilot happened to overlook the notam. In low density airspace all this probably wouldn’t be needed but let’s just say it the training proposition would be devalued if a midair collision became part of he scenario.
The cabin announcement for airliners that were arriving into Dulles and BWI may have been something like: “Tray tables and seat backs should be in their upright and locked position. On the right side of the aircraft you may notice a small red, white and blue biplane that is spinning earthward at something like 8,000 feet per minute-not to worry, while they appear to be momentarily out of control and with luck, they should recover.” Despite the extreme attitudes, we were never out of control and that’s the point . The beauty of the Pitts, in the hands of a competent pilot, is that it does exactly what you tell it to do-right now.
A full Safety Pilot column on the ride is upcoming and I’ll answer an all-important question.