Before I joined the airlines I was a flight instructor at a prestigious flight school in Florida. I was given the distinct honor of becoming one of their aerobatic instructors, a position very few flight instructors were given. In fact, most flight schools do not include aerobatic training, but mine felt it was important to teach stall/spin training since it is one of the more common ways new pilots could get into trouble and the recovery procedure goes against what some pilots would logically want to do.
I consider this training to have been the most important I received or gave. Normally when we fly, we focus on smooth comfortable operations, never really getting near the limits of the airplane’s maneuverability. We just don’t yank and bank a normal airplane because we don’t want to over stress it. Just like in a car, we normally don’t exceed the speed limit, or put the car through its maximum paces. Think about it this way: What’s the difference between driving a Prius and a Formula One race car? Like race cars, aerobatic airplanes are built to withstand more g-forces and sudden control inputs than a passenger plane. And the people behind those race cars are better trained with quicker instincts and decision making skills. Your Prius is equipped with a lap belt and shoulder harness. A race car driver is equipped with a 5-point harness, gloves, and a helmet. Aerobatic pilots and passengers are required to wear a parachute as well as a 5-point harness.
The maneuverability envelope of an aerobatic airplane is much much greater than in a passenger jet, for example. So then aerobatic pilots learn to push their own envelope to expand their comfort zone. Add to that being an instructor and actually TALKING through a maneuver as you’re doing it, and you’re going to end up with some actual skill. Bigger envelope means better skill means more confidence.
To be honest, I flew a pretty underwhelming aerobatic plane for this flight school. It was a total blast nonetheless, but it had major limitations. So when my buddy, a competitive aerobatic pilot, invited me along on a ride in his Pitts, I was already strapped into the seat before he heard me say yes! This flight was no joke. I felt like Fred Flintstone hitching a ride with Danica Patrick. I can’t even come up with the words to describe it. My sh*t-eating-grin meter was pegged. My face was stuck in a smile for a week. Maybe two. I envied my friend for his impeccable skill. He could fly circles around me. And I mean that literally as well as figuratively. Ha!
So why am I writing about this? I’d like to leave you with a few ideas to ponder.
*Straight and level flying is comfortable and serves a very important purpose. But loops and spins and rolls are just so freaking fun. No, really!
*When we push our envelope, we expand our comfort zone, which in turn expands our possibilities.
*How important is it as a creative to push your envelope? Can you use it to distinguish yourself from your peers?
*It is my dream in life to get a ride in a F/A-18 Hornet. Just throwing it out there to the universe in case the Blue Angels want to give this willing blogger a fam ride (winky smiley face).