I have flown powered aircraft since 1999. I still clearly remember saying to a friend in 2010 that when flying from point A to point B (and enjoying the scenery along the way) does not do it for me any longer I need to stop flying. I perceived aerobatics as just being too dangerous for my liking (although I loved watching it).
At AAD 2012 my perception changed when Nigel Hopkins was flying his solo display. For the first time he described in real time all the inputs (through the PA system) he was making to make the MX2 do what he wants it to do. For the first time I was put inside the cockpit and I loved it (had goosebumps for the duration of his display). And then I knew ………
What follows is my experience of aerobatics, the aircraft, the people and the organising bodies (SAC).
In March 2013 I started exploring where to start with aerobatics. I researched a great deal and got some relevant books on the matter. Some key aspects that became clear:
Get a taildragger rating (majority aerobatic aircraft are taildraggers)
Start of with a slow aircraft to really learn energy management and better technique
Get involved in competition aerobatics (extremely safe environment)
Get your own aircraft or shares in one
In May 2013 I got my first aerobatic opportunity with a friend of mine in his Extra 300. I was flying most of the time from the front seat and after approximately 12 minutes (the last minute flying inverted - not a good idea for your first flight) I started turning green and gave him the signal that we had to head back (keeping the all-important white bag close by).
Although I only recovered at 9 pm that evening I was still flying the figures in my head over and over again. From an aircraft experience I needed something more realistic to start off with. I was introduced to Trevor Warner and my second aerobatic flight was in his lovely RV 7. I was very impressed with the RV, not just from an aerobatic perspective but the fact that it does so many things extremely well.
In September 2013 I flew our (syndicate of three partners) RV 7 from Cape Town to Kitty Hawk. I did my tail dragger rating on the RV 7 and all the basic aerobatics with probably one of the best instructors that I have come across, Trevor Warner. He parted with so much of his time and knowledge to get me going. Interesting enough this was the norm of what I was going to experience with all the aerobatic pilots that I interacted with in the past 18 months. They are prepared to take time from their families and part with their knowledge to assist beginner pilots like myself. And the best of all, they always do this with a smile and with a great deal of passion and enthusiasm.
I believe given the world class aerobatic pilots that we have in this country (that have the attitude that I mention above) this is probably one of the best times to get involved in aerobatics. Unfortunately due to limited space I cannot go into detail as far as the best approach to practising aerobatics is concerned that I have learned from guys like Bertus du Preez. However, I can tell you that if you are keen on competition aerobatics this will save you a great deal of time (and money). Without this knowledge I would have spent at least 50% more time (in the air) than what is required.
The next couple of months I spent a great deal of time with Trevor in the RV as well as briefings in the classroom (classroom sounds extravagant, actually it was the hangar). We did rolls, slow rolls, loops, stall turns, plenty spinning (upright and inverted), Cubans and a number of other basic manoeuvres.
I entered my first competition in March 2014 at Klerksdorp. What a pleasure it was dealing with SAC and more specifically with Natalie Stark. Regular reminders were sent out and all the documentation was always very clear of what needs to be in place before every competition. I was flying the graduate sequence (spin, loop, stall turn, roll and a couple of turns) in the RV 7.
Again as always all the experienced pilots assisted me with advice and moral support on the day and also gave me valuable inputs as far as the sequences that I flew are concerned. I managed to obtain more than 70% and thus "passed" my first test. I loved every minute of the competition flying environment and being able to mingle with some of the best aerobatics pilots. Being a naturally competitive person I knew I wanted to take the competition aerobatics further.
I now had the option to move to the next aerobatic category which is the Sportsman category. Although the RV does well in the Sportsman category our specific RV had some technical limitations that would make it very difficult to compete in this category. I therefore had to start looking for something else. I obviously consulted widely in the aerobatic circle and again all the experienced pilots were more than willing to share their experiences and opinions.
A very promising aircraft was the Slick 360 of which a couple was available. The only thing that kept me from buying one was the single seat. Although most of the experienced guys were of the opinion that the single seat was not going to be a problem, my personal view was:
With two seats training with some of our experienced pilots becomes a great deal easier
I love to share my passion with other people
Then an opportunity (probably at least one year too early) presented itself that I just could not pass by. An Extra 300L was available - this just does not happen too often in our small aerobatic community. On 19 April 2014 I flew her with Glen Warden to her new home at Kitty Hawk. I was privileged (again!!) to do my whole conversion with Glen and also some initial aerobatic training - again he was more than willing to take time from his busy schedule to assist me. This was (and still is) way too much aircraft for me but I just love every second in that aircraft - she is awesome!!!
Due to life and business getting in the way I only managed my first competition with the Extra in September 2014 (Gauteng Regionals). Building up to the competition I was fortunate again to spend a great deal of time with Bertus du Preez (what a talented pilot and mentor!!). With Bertus looking at things such as how to prepare for a competition, "flying the picture" and critiquing me from the ground I had a great deal of fun during the two sequences I flew in the competition and again the camaraderie between the pilots is something to experience.
I would like to thank the whole aerobatic fraternity for the support and encouragement to date, with special thanks to:
Nigel Hopkins - for starting all this for me and the flip in the MX
Trevor Warner - for all the first's ie first taildragger and first aero training
Glen Warden - starting the Extra journey for me
Elton Bondi - the hours over the phone providing guidance
Neville Ferreira - giving me the opportunity to write this and all the advice
Bertus du Preez - too much to mention here, thanks Bertus
My family - allowing me the opportunity to live my passion
So what does the future hold?? To be honest, I am not so sure but I know this; I have the aircraft that can go places; we have the support from SAC and all the experienced pilots and I intend to have the most fun you will ever have doing what I love (as Nigel puts it - flying in 3D).