It’s hard to believe, but there was a time just before I got my instrument rating when I wondered whether there would be enough challenges and opportunities in general aviation to keep it interesting. Yeah, I was pretty naïve to think that.
The time since then has been pretty interesting, to say the least, and you’ve seen some of that in my entries on this blog.
I’m having a great time re-living some of those experiences as I edit footage from Acro Camp, a movie that I and some friends in the general aviation community shot in May. We brought in four pilots from around the country. Two men and two women. Each had between 300 hours and 12,000 hours total time. But none had a tailwheel rating and none had ever flown any aerobatics (sometimes called “acro”) beyond an upset-recovery or unusual-attitudes course.
We took over Oakland Flight Academy (a Part 61 flight school at Oakland County International Airport (KPTK)) for five days, lined up an American Champion Citabria, an American Champion Super Decathlon, and a Pitts S-2B (from Berz Flight Training at Ray Community Airport (57D)) on the ramp, and everyone flew their first aerobatics. And, most importantly, we flew HD cameras and audio recorders on all of the airplanes so we could capture everyone’s reactions. The picture that leads this post is a frame grab from a flight by student Jim Rodriguez (a 300-hour commercial pilot and now a CFI) and instructor Don Weaver. If you look closely, Jim and Don are giving a thumbs-up (albeit in circumstances under which “up” is ambiguous at best).
I’m still editing the footage from 41 sorties and hours and from hours of the interactions on the ground. And it’s really giving me some insights that are larger than mere aerobatic training. This was the first time that each of these pilots flew upside down (at least intentionally). Some were completely gung-ho. Others approached it with some trepidation. Some picked up things right away. Some took a little while. Some did better with certain maneuvers than others. Everyone confronted challenges, fears, and misconceptions and walked away with a much better understanding of flight dynamics, energy management, and – most importantly – themselves.
Of the many thoughts that occur to me as I sit at the editing console, two really jump out at me. First, acro is unbelievably exciting and fun. It’s worth pursuing flight training in and of itself. Even if all you do is go out on the weekends and fly upside down every now and then, acro is more than enough reward for the effort that goes into the training that leads to doing it competently and safely.
And, second, acro presents the same kinds of challenges that any other flight training does. The cast members in the movie were all accomplished pilots in one way or another when they arrived. But each had moments where he or she felt like a brand new flight student on his or her first discovery flight. And by that I mean moments of excitement, frustration, nervousness, triumph – the whole range of responses.
General aviation has more than enough challenges and opportunities to keep you excited and learning for a lifetime. New students can take comfort knowing that even seasoned pilots experience the same emotions when they face something new (especially acro). And seasoned pilots can look forward to opportunities to challenge themselves. And, no matter what you’re doing when you train, the rewards are always more than worth the effort.
The instrument rating has allowed me to fly along with my wheels in the clouds. Acro has allowed me to calmly and precisely do things that I thought only Superman or Harry Potter could do. And watching some of my new best friends fly acro for the first time has made me even more excited about flying. I can't wait to show everyone the finished film.
Better yet, go find a flight school that has one or more aerobatic airplanes and qualified instructors and go find out for yourself!