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Friday, 24 January 2014 11:26

How Do You Get Started Flying a Single-Seat Aerobatic Plane? Part I

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Zlin 50LS from the Aerobatic Club Barcelona SabadellSome aerobatic planes only come as single-seaters. Perhaps you're asking how you can get started flying if you can't train with an instructor on such a plane. Well, everything is a process. I'll tell you what happened in my case and how I came to fly the Barcelona-Sabadell Aeroclub's Zlin Z-50LS single-seater. Mind you, each situation is different and other situations may be similar or different; what I describe below is just one, mine...


In the aerobatic section of the " Aeroclub Barcelona-Sabadell" (Spain), there are two aerobatic planes available to any club member who wants to fly them. The first step is the Mudry CAP10B, a two-seater with seats side by side. To fly it, all you have to is put in a request and seek out an aeroclub instructor. Instruction in the plane is similar to what it would be like in any other two-seater, except that you have to pay attention to the peculiarities of a taildragger plane, and in contrast to the Cessna, it can execute aerobatic maneuvers for two purposes: learning to fly aerobatics or learning to get out of abnormal positions that you can get into in other planes.  In my case I opted for aerobatics. In fact, I had already gotten my PPL license for that purpose and had chosen the Barcelona-Sabadell Aeroclub because it offered this possibility.

Cap 10B from the Aerobatic Club Barcelona Sabadells
Cap 10B from the Aerobatic Club Barcelona Sabadell 


In the CAP10B, the first flight hours can be nerve-racking when you're coming from flying a Cessna 152 and have just a few flight hours. The rudder steering can be tricky, the aerobatic maneuvers less than perfect, and each flight, you descend with the question of how to do it right. So the instructor, through appropriate debriefing, is essential for guiding you on the path. This is part of the learning process; you have to get knocked down a few times to get your act together, to learn the specifics of the rudder steering during taxi, take off, and landing. And with the CAP10, you also have to learn to maneuver a plane with significant wing dihedral and only 180hp power.  I flew with several instructors and safety pilots in many trainings and in 3 championships: Rafa Molina, David Membrives, Alex Balcells, Dani Ventura, and Carles Algué.  Besides instructor debriefings, it was helpful to record myself on video and see my mistakes "a posteriori" as many times as I wanted, to drill into my head what I didn't have to do and what I did have to do.

Flying with the Instructor Alex Balcells on board of the Cap 10B
Flying with Alex Balcells on board of the Cap 10B

In addition to the instructors, there are the staff of the aerobatic section of the ACBS, ( Aerobatic Club Barcelona Sabadell) always good friends and wise counselors who create a team learning environment, making you feel at home at all times and in trainings. I would mention them all, but the list would be never-ending. It's also been difficult for me to choose a photo that illustrates the camaraderie that permeates the environment...

Just like that, little by little, my maneuvers improved and my landings became more refined. After a great deal of effort and 23 flight hours in the CAP10 over the course of more than a year, the launch arrived, my first solo flight in a taildragger. It was at Igualada Airfield, on a day with little traffic and hardly any wind, after two instructors had approved me to fly at the aerobatic level, as well as to land and take off in the plane.  Without the weight of the instructor, all of the performances of the CAP10 improved substantially, and the aerobatic training went on in the standard fashion: performing maneuvers while being monitored by the instructor on the ground.

The learning process continued after I launched the CAP10; in fact, you never stop learning. Immediately, the plane felt like a glove, and I had the winning hand. Several flight hours after the release, I was approved to fly aerobatics with passengers in the seat that had previously remained empty. The flights were different, baptism flights, designed for the person sitting beside you who has never before experienced the sensations of aerobatic flight.I had to fly differently; from the perspective of classic aerobatics, imperfectly. But at the same time, in a way that was comfortable for the passenger, i.e., executing barrel rolls instead of competition rolls, loopings without negative gravity in the apex, and ultimately, with minimal negative G-force rather than the fair and necessary amount required to verify that the harnesses are anchored and that there is nothing loose in the cabin.

Members of the aerobatic team of the ACBS
Members of the aerobatic team of the ACBS

Baptism flights were cheaper, since costs were usually shared with my passengers. So I could fly a lot more, combining and reinforcing everything learned up until that moment.

From then on, I was in the Sportsman category in aerobatic competitions. To move up to the Intermediate category, the natural next step was to advance to the next plane in the aerobatic section of the ACBS, the Z-50 single-seater. I asked about the stipulations for flying it. I still didn't meet them. The interested party had to have a minimum of 30 hours flying in the CAP10, a minimum of 10 flying alone, have flown totally alone in a championship, and just before going on to the Zlin 50, complete a couple of transition flights in another two-seater plane with similar advanced characteristics, i.e. variable pitch, high-power, high-agility. On top of that, you have to complete an advanced course on recovering from abnormal positions, like positive and negative flat spins or tail slides.

Me receiving some advice from the instructors
Me receiving some advice from the instructors

With the requirements clear, I continued flying the CAP10, focused on being able to launch the Z in a few months. I trained hard, including a couple of tremendously instructive flights with the Master of the CAP10, Philippe Salvato. With all I had learned up until that moment, I participated in the Sportsman category of Spain's 2013 Aerobatic Competition, but this time without a security pilot, now flying completely solo. All of it was a great experience, not only the competition flights, but the round trip ferries to the competition, making several landings with strong cross wind, having to make decisions and take fast action on my own in each situation. First requirement fulfilled.

To continue accumulating hours in the CAP10, I continued doing baptism flights one after another, and I began to train for the Pyrenees Cup, in which each category includes figures from the level immediately above, requiring you to learn even more. This is how I discovered two new maneuvers: the avalanche (a loop with snap roll on top), and the 1 1/4 turn spin, which has a peculiar and distinct exit depending on which side it's executed. 

For the second time in the same year, I flew solo in a championship. Since I had already completed the necessary number of flight hours, I was all set to transition to the Z-50LS right before this event, but the lack of availability of a high performance two-seater to fulfill the final requirement made that advance impossible. I took the opportunity to consolidate what I had learned with the CAP10 even more, and flew aerobatics on my own beyond what was required in order to make it to the Z-50LS.

One of my
One of my "baptism" flights

But the love story with my dearest "Z" had just begun. I took advantage of any opportunity to ask pilots who had flown the "Z" about the basic procedures. I began to read the flight manual, and when I had the opportunity, I would sit in its cabin to get familiar with it, from its instruments - one by one - the switches, actuators, and levers; to the procedures the pilots were telling me; and of course, to take "the photo" of where the horizon cut the panel, in order to make a three-point landing when the time came. Seated in the cabin with the plane parked, the huge difference between the Z and the CAP10 was the limited frontal visibility of the Z, in the style of the WWII Warbirds, which forced you to taxi making "S's" on the ground to be able to see in front of you. So carefully examining  the cabin of the single-seater you will be flying in, what is known as "studying the cabin,"  is an asset when the time comes to fly.

Me with the CAP 10B in a training camp
Me with the CAP 10B in a training camp

After the Pyrenees Cup , I kept flying the CAP10 , but only for baptisms . There was only one requirement left, and it depended on finding another available aircraft. By proximity, the opportunity came up to fly in Best Aerobatics’ Extra 300, based in Igualada during the winter . It met the requirements: it was variable pitch, a two-seater, high-performance , and like the  Z , did not have flaps.  Landing required sliding with minimal forward visibility, which in the case of this particular Extra, was really poor, much worse than the Z.

When it was all said and done, I took a weekend for aerobatic training, contacted the instructor, David Membrives once again, and I expressed my intentions, already known to the aerobatic section. He prepared the plane. The plan was to make a flight on Saturday and another one on Sunday , and after the second flight , to launch the Z. I put the camera in the cabin, looking back. As in every learning flight, it would serve to analyze everything later.

It was not my first flight in an Extra 300, but it would be the first in which I would take advantage of learning something immediately applicable to another aircraft. The first thing that surprised me was that this Extra, being among the first models, had a central wing, not a low wing; so even from the front seat, the visibility was very poor. David sat in the back seat, closed the dome and started the engine. Due to the noise level in the cabin, we had to communicate using the PTT button instead of a voice-activated intercom like the other planes I had flown so far.

CAP 10B cockpit
CAP 10B cockpit

I taxied with extreme care, so much so that the plane went where it wanted when I tried to make S’s on the ground. On takeoff, I was looking out the left side. The torque carried me over there and I corrected too much to the right, bringing me to the right edge of the runway. The teacher intervened, correcting me. I had to look both ways! During the takeoff run, I had opened the thorttle gradually and carefully, but it was when the plane began to fly that I noticed all the acceleration that was released when I felt my back pressed against the seat. At first, the feeling of power led me to smile, then an irrepressible laugh when I saw the ground push away so fast.

We climbed on the track, controls in my hands. From the first turn, I noticed that the agility of the aircraft was far superior to anything  I had ever flown. Now rising to enter the aerobatic box, we tested the harnesses and there was nothing loose in the cabin. I tried the response on a turn first, and then I told David I was going to try half-rolls. Full deflection , the horizon turns at breakneck speed. Premature correction, very sharp ticking. Okay, it has a bit of inertia, but very little. Another half-roll. Another. Now one hesitation roll. Oh, what a devilish rate roll! This is promising!

My face is testament of how much fun I was having
My face is testament of how much fun I was having

We continued climbing. We began to maneuver. First a basic stall, avoiding the dive. Then a normal spin. No problem. We recover height and go for a flat spin. Meanwhile, without notice, David pull the stick and full rudder, and the plane starts an unexpected snap roll. I understand that it’s a test, and I put the controls in position to return to level flight. Good. After recovering, scrambling into vertical, he repeats it again. I take it, but the speed is very low, and I decide to get out of there in a stall turn. Full left rudder, but the nose is too low and to the right, since we climbed with one wing low.I help the plane to gain speed, and I recover control. In vertical again, another snap roll started by David. This one is faster, and in the video you can even see how I twist my jaw, but I react in time and take it out without major problem this time, leaving the plane to fly in a parabola.

We go to the positive flat spin. From the roof of the aerobatic box, we start it like a normal spin, but after a turn, opposite aileron is applied, foot forward and throttle back, as if you were dealing with someone trying to recover a normal spin very incorrectly, with ailerons instead of pedals. Immediately, the nose rises and the rotation slows down a bit, becoming more calm, as if you were sitting in a swivel chair, watching Montserrat mountains pass by, over and over, from left to right. I keep the horizon in sight, following it as it happens, and practice two ways to get out of the spin: one, cutting thorttle to let the nose fall, the spin returns to normal, and you can get out of it through normal procedures .  And the other, using the opposite rudder pedal, but without cutting the throttle; making the propwash give us control at the tail and making a faster exit. Another spin, also flat, but this time upside-down. We began the spin upside down and flattened it. I noticed the harnesses hanging, projected out of the plane, seeing the ground spin around ahead. Before David says anything to me, I'm taking it. Wow, this has been a strong feeling!

And so have all the pulls to or from the vertical where we are now;  I am trying to pull without fear, and I noticed carrying about 5.5 G. Until now, my body had been accustomed to about 4.5 G maximum when flying alone, although this was in the seat of the CAP10, which the seat is in a more upright position. In the Extra, while lying down with my feet in the air, over 5.5 G was natural. But every tenth further, I noticed in the face and body. David has done a couple of recoveries at 6 G, and as I notice myself getting tired, I ask to stop maneuvering for a moment.  I want to keep a cool head for the landing.

Suffering the negative Gs during the inverted spin
Suffering the negative Gs during a inverted spin

Said and done, we lower on the track, David puts the plane on approach, executes the slide, and allows me to continue.

The stability is so neutral that after a few seconds I have still not made ​​any correction. The plane is just as David has left it!

As soon as I start correcting, the plane gets to the runway and I undo the sliding when David tells me.
I see just a fraction of the runway on each side. I repeat the error from the previous takeoff:  I look at the runway from just one side. It is disconcerting, but I have to bring the plane down to the ground in that couple of meters that we lack to come down! I knuckle down, without losing a hundredth, but the lack of familiarity with the elevator makes me overcorrect, and David intervenes. We touch ground, and I’m left with a bad taste in my mouth.

After stopping the engine, we proceed to the debriefing . As usual, it is the instructor highlighting mistakes and commenting on what to do at each moment. I take note of everything!


Read 19546 times Last modified on Friday, 24 January 2014 13:49

- Aerobatic pilot and competitor

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