I am new to the blog but have been mentioned a few times as my new friends out of King George and Delta Airpark have been kind enough to fly me along for some of their weekend adventures. I've been missing several of them as aerobatic season is amping up, and James invited me to write for the group. So James, this is for you.
In my professional life I am a flight instructor with an aerobatic instructor rating to keep things interesting and share my passion for flying. I love my job and flying with students is very rewarding. Life as a backseat flyer leaves me craving control of the aircraft. Competition aerobatics is a time where I get to focus on my own flying, precision and pulling Gs.
In preparation for competition aerobatics the aerobatic club in Washington puts on a training camp for pilots with coaches and judges who sit on the ground with a radio to critique the acro pilots' maneuvers. We fly 3 times a day for 3 days for a total of 9 flights. The adventure began in Squamish where my good friend Frank and I went to pick up our aircraft. Glacier Air in Squamish was hosting a BBQ and invited us to stay the night. Since I am doing the budget version of aerobatics Frank and I would be camping in Ephrata, so this gave us an excellent opportunity to test our camping gear and head out first thing in the morning.
David B flew me up in the Tornado with David M flying ahead with luggage.
First thing in the morning we filed our paperwork, packed our plane and headed to cross the border with a route down Howe Sound, over Vancouver International at 4,500' and into Bellingham.
We pushed the plane out of the customs box while we waited for the fuel truck and filed our flight plan.
Followed by a prompt departure to our goal of Ephrata by the most direct means over the mountains to ensure we would make pilot briefing on time. Frank and I requested flight following and were vectored around active glider traffic that would be flying around our aerobatic box for the week in Ephrata and where landed on time for the briefing.
The coaches ran through the procedures for joining the circuit, leaving the box, frequencies for traffic and discrete frequencies for the waivered airspace where we would be able to perform our aerobatic maneuvers for the critiquers and receive feedback.
Competition aerobatics is performed in a 1 km by 1 km box for spectators and judges on the ground who score individual maneuvers based on their appearance from the outside perspective. This makes the ground critiquer an invaluable learning opportunity.
The aerobatic box is defined between the two runways by the white markers on the ground indicating the corners and center of the box. Since this is in US airspace we are legally required to wear a parachute while performing aerobatics, and may only do so within the waivered airspace. All pilots sign the box waiver and are expected to be in the hold outside the box at 3,500' waiting to be called at our scheduled time with a 2 hour 30 min break in between flights. The schedule changes for no one.
Frank and I set up camp with a fellow competitor, Sean along side the runway. Sean and I created a "box" using sandals as box markers to walk through our aerobatic routines on the ground. This is referred to often as an "aresti dance" and helps us to visualize the flight (budget aerobatics), memorize the routine, and plan the location of each maneuver to stay within the box and best impress the judges. Essentially we hold our hands out like wings and do our best to imitate where they should be at a given point. It usually ends up looking ridiculous from an outside perspective. Like so:
After a good nights sleep in our tent we took turns using the shower in the hangar. Shockingly enough the shampoo I left behind last year was still at the airport. Convenient when you're packing light for the sake of fuel.
I spend as much time on the ground as possible doing my aresti dance between flights and making sure I am well hydrated and have eaten properly. Ephrata gets very warm and windy which makes taking care of yourself highly important as all these factors as well as sleep will affect G tolerance and performance.
I was wheels up 10 minutes before my first box time to ensure I would be at altitude in the hold and "ready to roll" so to speak. my biggest concern for the routine I would perform was the aerobatic spin to a precise heading with a vertical recovery straight at the ground, which would then be pulled to level flight (not a climb). This is counter to what I spend all of my time instructing for a great variety of reasons and I had a lot of "bad" habits to break.
Almost immediately after my first coach called me into the box things got interesting. I dove in for speed ready to perform my first maneuver lightning struck from a very small cell less than 10 miles away. I called the coach to let him know I would be coming down and we agreed to call the practices off and wait until there was no lightning in the area for 30 minutes before starting again. As I was in no hurry to get any closer to the cell with the lightning activity but had a great deal of altitude to lose before joining the circuit at 1,200' I got the power off and slipped the plane quickly to get on the ground as fast as possible, turning away from the weather system and landed safely. Slipping becomes a great skill in the toolbox of any aerobatic pilot with no flaps.
As the schedule changes for no one (not evening lightning) it was determined that the two of use who missed flights due to weather concerns would fly 4 times on day 2 or 3 rather than move everyone else.
My second flight of the day became my first aerobatic flight and the learning curve was on with a focus on competition style spins, and hitting the vertical up and down lines with accuracy. Eventually we moved onto competition rolls where the plane does an aileron roll while maintaining a level flight path.