Aerobatic training makes you a better pilot - or so I've heard. Most would agree, I believe. Is it true? I've flown with quite a number of acro students over the years, and acro didn't make them all better, but what it did do was remove the unknown for them, as I like to think of it. Consider this - how could a pilot who has spun, looped, and rolled consider a 60 degree bank and 20 degree descent angle as an "unusual attitude?" You see my point. In aerobatics, all attitudes are normal; there are no unusual attitudes. But there are unusual sensations like being at the very top of a tail slide with the engine idling. You know that instant where you are no longer ascending and not yet descending? Yeah, that second where all the primary flight controls are absolutely useless as the airspeed is zero and you are literally along for the ride...eerily quiet.
Paul was a good acro student and he wanted dearly to master inverted flight in the Zlin 242. Over and over and over we slowly rolled inverted, working the ailerons, rudder, and elevator so that we arrived inverted with the nose up as it should be; of course, this required a firm push on the stick. Over time, Paul eventually 'got it' and every flight had to include a half dozen rolls to inverted and plenty of inverted straight and level and turns. Paul had so much fun that he forgot about his mundane day job, the one where he shuttled paying passengers safely and upright from Dulles to Dallas in his MD-80 as Captain. I think his inner child was emerging. I told him that if his MD-80 ever got rolled inverted from the wake of a Cessna 150 heavy, he was well prepared to right it and save the day! Paul agreed wholeheartedly.
Mike was doing a wonderful job of maintaining inverted straight and level; that is, of course, until a Cherokee Six filled our windscreen heading right for us. Mike froze and couldn't remember which way to turn to avoid the impending collision. The rules says alter course to the right, but, we were inverted, so was that left aileron to turn right or right aileron to turn left, or what? A split second before I intervened, he figured it out and got us out of harms way. Looking back, the Cherokee probably never saw us as he was still cruising straight and level. Mike remembered one of the cardinal rules of acro I taught him early on - upright or inverted, an airplane always turns towards the low wing.
Instructing aerobatics sure has its challenges: Trying to stay inside a mile square box, because of all the surrounding airways being off limits, means a lot of turning - good for traffic spotting, however; staying high enough to avoid the ground but low enough to avoid the clouds and the jets on approach to Big City International; staying two or three steps ahead of your student; and if all goes south and the aircraft ends up gyrating in some unrecognizable student-invented maneuver, calmly pull the throttle back, let the Earth fill the windscreen, then recover from the dive or spin. On to the next maneuver...