Aerobatics is the practice of flying maneuvers involving aircraft attitudes that are not used in normal flight. Aerobatics are performed in airplanes and gliders for training, recreation, entertainment, and sport. Additionally, some helicopters, such as the “RedBull” Bo 105, are capable of limited aerobatic maneuvers. The term is sometimes referred to as acrobatics, especially when translated.
Aerobatics are generally flown in one of three disciplines, each having their own legal and safety requirements. Many of Lone Star Aerobatic Club’s members balance their summer calendar between weekend fun, competition flying, and airshows around the country. If you are interested in any aspect of aerobatics or just want to come hang out at our next fly in or practice day please feel free to contact us! We love to share our passion!
Aerobatics are flown over an airport with judges grading each maneuver from the ground. Pilots are broken into 5 categories; Primary, Sportsman, Intermediate, Advanced, and Unlimited. Each pilot with fly three different flights, usually a Known, Freestyle, and Unknown. Scores are totaled from the three flights to determine the winner. Competitions are great for those with a competitive spirit, or those simply looking to hangout at an airport, eat, drink, fly, and talk aviation! Competitions also play a key role in building sound flying skills and are often use as a stepping stone into Airshow aerobatics. Check out IAC.org for more information on Competitions.
Millions of people each year watch the thrilling low level aerobatics that airshow pilots put on at airshows around the world. This type of aerobatics is generally reserved for highly skilled and experienced aerobatic pilots that have usually completed at least several years of training and are competing at high levels of competition. Unlike Competition, airshows are only open to those that hold a low level flight waver from the FAA. For more information on airshows and becoming an airshow pilot check out www.airshows.aero.
This category encompasses all of those pilots who love aviation and aerobatics but do not participate in either competitions or airshows. Even if its just a loop and a roll in an old Stearman biplane aerobatics are a thrilling experience! Participating in aerobatics in any level will make you a more precise and confident pilot!
Aerobatics is not stunt flying. It is precision flying. And yes, there is such a thing as gentle aerobatics.
The International Aerobatic Club (IAC) is not a competition-only organization. Only about 10 percent of the members compete, and in the end, competition is not what aerobatics is about. Competition is just one avenue of expression. Aerobatics is about the pure freedom of flight in all forms.
Aerobatics is about safety and recovery training. Aerobatics is about being able to confidently and safely fly in all corners of the aircraft envelope. Aerobatics is about the sheer joy that this kind of flying brings. Aerobatics is about how this kind of training brings a pilot’s confidence level up and his fear level down. All of these things enhance flight safety, as well as being a heck of a lot of fun. One does not need to compete to feel these effects, or to gain these benefits.
The International Aerobatic Club (IAC) is a division of the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) and the National Aeronautics Association (NAA). It promotes aerobatics and governs the sport of competition aerobatics in the United States under the regulations of the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI). IAC chapters throughout the U.S. promote aerobatics at a local level and host aerobatic critiques, seminars and competitions.
GETTING STARTED IN AEROBATICS
By Mike Heuer
A lot of times, people will walk up at an aerobatic contest or air show and say, “You know, that really looks like fun and I really wish I could get into it, but I don’t know where to start.” There are probably a lot more who would like to take a shot at aerobatics but the very thought of leaving straight-and-level flight may make them uneasy or unsure how they will react to it.
It’s sometimes amazing what a few phone calls to local FBOs will produce. Quite a number have a Decathlon, Cessna Aerobat, or a Pitts S-2B tucked away in a corner. You may have to travel to get at one and to find an instructor who knows how to use it. Obviously, if an aircraft that’s approved for aerobatics is an extinct species in your community, you must face the prospect of journeying to an aerobatic school that advertises in aviation publications. Actually, when you look across the country, there are quite a few to choose from. The International Aerobatic Club also maintains an on-line list of schools. IAC provides this list as a service to the aviation community but does not endorse any schools. Many are run by active IAC members and aerobatic competitors.
If distance is not a discouraging factor, you will want to check out items like the instructor’s qualifications, the airplane used for training, and the cost and availability of both instructor and equipment. Write for information or invest in a phone call. Many of the 4,000 members of the International Aerobatic Club can help you, too. IAC has Chapters across the USA and all of them are familiar with what’s available in the area. It is also a good chance to meet other aerobatic enthusiasts and to gain from their knowledge and experience. In no case, should aerobatics be learned on your own. Quality instruction is the only way to go.
No matter who you fly with, parachutes are required equipment when flying dual and should be required by any aerobatic school when flying solo. Few schools, however, permit solo flying for insurance reasons. The school you work with should have a designated training area. No matter where you fly, your minimum altitude for any maneuver should be 1,500 feet AGL, in accordance with FAR 91.303. Your instructor should review with you all of the applicable regulations and procedures that are involved in aerobatic flying.
If you have already logged a fair amount of straight-and-level time and you feel up to it, you might ask for a demonstration right off of the kind of maneuvers that will be encountered in your course of training. Make sure you have a good intercom or signal system and can indicate when you’ve had enough. Remember to tighten your thigh and stomach muscles when pulling positive Gs (this helps prevent blood from rushing to one end of your body). Good instructors are well aware of the strains to a newcomer to aerobatics and the time it takes to get used to it all and will be careful and conscientious as to how they introduce you to this type of flying.
On the other hand, if you’d like to ease into the sport gradually, as most people would, you’ll be content to build up a tolerance to the forces on your body and the new experiences. It comes on pretty fast anyway. The gradual approach can be expected at most good aerobatic schools.
Incidentally, many schools also offer emergency spin recovery training and also custom courses to serve those who wish to advance in the sport beyond the basics.
When you get started and in most cases, aerobatic instructors will try to determine your skill with some fairly simple but revealing activity, like steep turns, chandelles, or lazy eights – maneuvers you may have been introduced to earlier in your aviation career.
After the first hour or so of instruction, you will be introduced to basic aerobatic maneuvers. From that point on it becomes a matter of instructor’s preference and/or the school syllabus. Some will get into spins, some might go to rolls, others will introduce you to loops.
Those first few hours will demand tremendous concentration and probably leave you feeling quite tired. It takes a little while to build up stamina. Learning to relax, while hanging upside down in a slow roll, may require some conscious effort. The point is, every day you fly aerobatics, whether it’s your first encounter or your thousandth, you’ll be learning, perfecting, reaching, and enjoying the experience. In a sense, it’s like skiing or figure skating, where you first have to learn to stand up, then move, turn, stop, and eventually leap. The more you learn, the more demanding the sport becomes and the more you can enjoy a sense of accomplishment. Ask a gold medalist if it’s worth the effort.
REFINING THE BASICS
Your instructor will tell you when you’re ready for solo aerobatics and you’ll be told what your limits are. At some point you should start putting maneuvers together, watching your entry speed and altitude for each one. Do two loops in a row or fly a loop followed by a roll. When you reach the point that you can put a spin-loop-roll sequence together and fly it with reasonable control, you are eligible for the first of ten Achievement Awards issued by the International Aerobatic Club. The Primary patch should be within reach after a couple weekends of practice. Thousands of pilots have already earned Achievement Awards.
If you keep going and decide you’d like to measure your talents against some other people, IAC sanctions dozens of aerobatic contests around the country every year. There are five levels of competition: Primary, Sportsman, Intermediate, Advanced, and Unlimited. There are also categories for glider aerobatics. These are explained elsewhere on the IAC website and its rulebook which members can download free of charge.
The most popular level is Sportsman and a lot of pilots use rented or borrowed aircraft in this category. While it’s a seriously competitive sport, nearly everyone who shows up for a contest enjoys the spirit that develops so quickly at the contest sites. A calendar of events around the world is carried in SPORT AEROBATICS magazine, the official monthly publication of IAC, and on the IAC website. IAC encourages you to attend competitions, even if you do not choose to fly. Many pilots are introduced to competition first by helping out, volunteering to work as an assistant judge, or in other functions. This experience teaches you how a contest works.
Aerobatic instruction and aerobatic aircraft are not cheap, but if you can muster the means and handle the thrills, the art and sport of aerobatics are hard to beat. Aerobatics builds confidence and makes you comfortable and skilled in all attitudes of flight. Aerobatics will improve your proficiency and make you a better pilot, no matter where your flying takes you.
AN EXPLANATION OF COMPETITION AEROBATICS
By Mike Heuer
There are few sports that demand as much physically and mentally from the participants as sport aerobatics. The competition sequences, as the flights are called, must be flown with split-second timing, precise speed and altitude control, constant calculation for such variables as wind and temperature, and very precise planning on the pilot’s part. Any wrong turn, misplaced pullout and roll in the wrong direction can put the pilot out of the running because of a zero score by the Judge.
The sequences are flown in an aerobatic zone over the airport commonly called the “Box”. This box is an area 3,300 feet square with the top at 3,500 feet. The bottom of the box varies according to the competition category. For Sportsman pilots, it is 1,500 feet-for Unlimited is is 328 feet.
The flights are graded by a team of judges who are assisted by two people each. These judges grade each individual figure as well as how well the sequence is positioned within the box. The figures are graded on such factors as precision of the lines and angles, symmetry of figures, and other factors spelled out in the IAC “Official Contest Rules”.
Each Judge has a copy of the figures the pilot will fly. On these sheets the figures are graphically represented by symbols. The system of graphically depicting the figures was devised by Jose L. Aresti of Spain for use in the world aerobatic competitions. It has been successfully used for many years. Since 1988, the FAI Aerobatic Catalogue has been in use. In addition to the graphical symbol, each figure is assigned a difficulty coefficient or “K factor” based on the difficulty involved in performing the figure. The Judges, in turn, grade the figure on a scale of 0 to 10. The K Factor and grade are multiplied to derive the points for that figure. A computer scoring program then adjusts the totals to account for bias or inconsistency.
The basic key to aerobatic figures is shown above. Combinations of these figures are used and are what you will be seeing pilots fly at an IAC competition. The dot signifies the beginning of the figure and the slash indicates the end of the figure.
Each competition category-Primary, Sportsman, Intermediate, Advanced and Unlimited-flies a different set of sequences. These sequences are:
Sportsman and Primary Known Compulsory Programs. This is a set of figures published by the IAC before the contest season begins; every pilot flies the same set of figures. There is also a Free Program Option for Sportsman.
Intermediate Known Compulsory, Free and Unknown Programs. In addition to a more complex Known Compulsory and Unknown, the Intermediate pilot is also permitted to compose a Free Program of their own design. This program is subject to certain restrictions in the rules. They also fly n Unknown program which is distributed to the pilots only a few hours before the flight and which cannot be practiced. This program is a test of the pilot’s ability to fly a group of figures in a certain sequence which they have not flown beef. All category Unknowns operate on the principle.
Advanced Known Compulsory, Free and Unknown Programs. The Advanced pilot flies an even more complex Known Compulsory, a Free Program and an Unknown program.
Unlimited Known Compulsory, Free and Unknown Programs and 4-Minute Free Programs. The Unlimited pilot flies the most complex and difficult sets of figures of all competition pilots. They also must fly an extremely high performance aircraft capable of flying the figures which are required. The 4-Minute is often very exciting and entertaining and can include smoke and music.
The greatest number of pilots will be flying in the Sportsman category. It is IAC’s most popular and where the competition is most keen due to the great number of entries in that category. There is also an even more simplified entry-level category called Primary.
Although the sport of aerobatics is relatively new in aviation, the excitement and spectacular action of these magnificent aircraft doing the precision aerial ballet under the most difficult environmental conditions for the pilot has destined the sport to become one of the most interesting in aviation.