H o r i z o n s | Column
Blue Side Down, Brown Side Up By: Jamail Larkins
Aviation is a unique adventure; but, flying aerobatics in an airshow environment is the ultimate rollercoaster. Over the last 13 years, I’ve had the opportunity to gain slightly more than 1,500 hours of total flight time in a wide range of aircraft. Fortunately my aviation journey has taken me across the entire United States, Canada, and the Caribbean.
espite seeing most of North America from a general aviation cockpit, my most memorable experiences involve hanging from the straps of a biplane inverted for almost 600 hours of flight time. At some point in most general aviation pilot’s careers, they have had the opportunity to roll upside down inside in an airplane. Whether it was in an old Cessna 150 Aerobat or a modern, all composite Extra 300L, the experience usually expands most people’s understanding of how to control an airplane. One of the greatest things I’ve enjoyed about aerobatics is the more advanced stick and rudder skills one gains as a pilot, which directly increases pilot proficiency in all flying environments. I can noticeably tell the improvement in my stick and rudder skills, when I’ve been recently flying aerobatics versus when I’ve been away from aerobatics for awhile. That even applies to everyday flying in standard or normal category general aviation aircraft. In addition to the improved motor skills, there is a certain challenge involved in safely learning how to properly perform hammerheads, spins, loops, and tail slides in an aircraft which is designed to be inherently unstable. It’s also a great learning experience to learn one’s physical limitations in relation to G’s forces and the physical experiences that your body encounters. 30
M AY / J U N E 2 0 1 0
The easiest way to get started in aerobatics is to start training under a well-known and reputable aerobatics instructor. There’s a lot to learn and safety is paramount. As such, it’s vitally important to train with someone that has a superior amount of knowledge in the sport. Just like in obtaining your private license, the more you fly, the quicker (and cheaper) you will learn how to master the world of aerobatics. It’s also a very good idea to compete if you have an interest in expanding your aerobatic knowledge. Most aerobatic competitors are normal everyday people that gather from time to time to hone and test their aerobatic skills. Almost all competitions are sanctioned under the International Aerobatic Club (IAC), a division of EAA. Each of the IAC competitions are very safety oriented and allow pilots the opportunity to learn a lot about the aviation industry. IAC competitions also give pilots a basic understanding of what it’s like to perform inside of an aerobatic box - key if you have any interest in continuing your aerobatic training to ultimately perform aerobatics in an airshow. The training involved in becoming an airshow performer is quite intense. I’ve been fortunate enough to experience it first hand, and it takes more out of you than you can ever possibly imagine, but it’s worth it. I can’t fathom the amount of training
and dedication it has taken some of the greats of the airshow community, like Patty Wagstaff, Sean D. Tucker, and the late Jim LeRoy, to attain the high levels of accomplishment they have, or had, during their careers. Despite the level of commitment required to become proficient and safe, it is also by far one of the most rewarding experiences I have had in aviation. Because of the financial and time requirements required to obtain airshow certification, on average less than .001% of pilots hold an aerobatic competence (ACE) card at any given time. The ACE card entitles you to enjoy the privilege of sharing the gift of flight as a professional aerobatic performer at public venues across the country. To obtain an ACE Card, pilots must demonstrate aerobatic proficiency and knowledge in front of an ACE Examiner (the FAA has recognized that internally, it does not have the expertise to determine if airshow performers are competent, and has therefore