As I inspect the general condition of the aircraft, the butterflies that I’ve had in my stomach since early this morning remind me of the day I flew my first solo flight ever; I was filled with a mix of excitement, focus, and respect for the unknown. Even so, I can’t hold back a slight smile knowing that today I will attempt some of the same maneuvers that have amazed me since I was little and saw them performed by great pilots like Cástor Fantoba and Ramón Alonso. And on top of all that, I get to do them in one of the most state of the art planes in the world.
Shortly after preparing the plane, Alex and Sasha arrive, smiling as always, and we immediately review the maneuvers I will fly. They tell me, “Remember for the 45 Degree Tombel to set your mark, roll ¼ to the right to knife, at 110 kt press your left foot down with some aileron to the right, and when the wings are perpendicular to the horizon, immediately push the lever all the way forward with a little aileron to the left. Above all, when you push the lever forward there should be a jolt, as if there was a digital ‘input,’ from 0 to 1.”
I try to visualize and internalize everything they’ve said. We then analyze in detail the procedure of the Knife Edge Spin maneuver also. “It’s a conventional stall turn but the upper turn has to be with more velocity. During the turn hold down your left foot and when the nose is about 5 degrees below the horizon, move the lever forward with some aileron to the left,” Alex reminds me.
With everything very clear and the “inputs” practiced on the ground, Alex and Sasha position themselves to see the flight from their chairs. Meanwhile I sit down in the plane and fasten the bottom harnesses, tighter than ever. More than anything, I’m looking at what I’m going to have to push during the flight.
In 5 minutes, I’m ready and climbing to 3,500 feet to do the safety cross-checks before putting my hands to work.
After a “humpty bump” and a two point roll, the moment of truth had arrived, and legs trembling, I notify them by radio, “Ready to Rock.” Alex tells me, “Ok, 200 kt and at a 45 degree angle.”
I accelerate the plane to 200kt, ascending at a 45 degree angle, knife and at 110 kt: foot, lever, and Oooooh God…! Everything begins to spin round and round. I cut the engine, and everything stops. Alex tells me in his German accent, “Almost, but not quite. You only made one turn and you haven’t engaged.”
“Just one? I was thinking I had done 8,” I respond. I hear him chuckling through the radio…
We make a second attempt, and he reminds me to hold the position of the lever and my foot during the rotation. Also he reassures me, telling me that if I “cut the engine” and ease up on the stick, everything stops.
In the second attempt I repeat: Line, ¼ barrel roll to the right, 110kt, foot, lever, and BAM! Everything around me spins and blurs, without stopping, around and around. It’s impossible to tell what’s happening. My brain isn’t accustomed to processing information so quickly, although I enjoy what I see. The only thing I hear on the radio while the plane follows the command of the controls is “Yoooo Hoooo….very nice,” confirming that finally I have achieved, I have accomplished my first 3-turn Tumblel! I break into a smile. The advantage of doing it at 45 degrees is that the plane is losing velocity and ultimately it stops by itself, while losing very little height.
“Now for Knife Edge Spin,” Alex tells me. I do a stall turn, I hold down my foot, and when the nose is 5 degrees below the horizon I push the stick forward sharply with a little aileron. I take note and listen as the plane goes into an aerodynamic loop - louder and louder - and accelerates, indicating to me that I have gone into a knife spin. More aware of the turns and what happens to your comfortable position with respect to the horizon, I get it to stop on the second turn. I feel good making the maneuver, but I am surprised by the loss of altitude. I have lost 1,500 feet in an instant.
They congratulate me from below, and emotionally, I gain altitude and repeat it a second time. Once again, I enjoy the ease of the maneuver, but I confirm to myself that it is best done with good altitude and no more than three turns, due to the amount of accelerated altitude that is lost.
I return to the runway while watching the sun on the horizon illuminate the beautiful Igualada runway. While I am in the final 35, smiling and happy, I think that for most today will be a day like any other, but for me, without a doubt, it is not. It has been one of those days that you feel proud of. Proud to have succeeded in doing something, despite that something needing much improvement - something that you’ve been dreaming of for years and that today has become a reality.