My Introduction to Aerobatics in a Pitts Special

By Juri Keyter


I have always been curious about aerobatic flying but such an opportunity never presented itself. I guess in a way I have also been too scared to try it and perhaps I had a few invitations but consciously eluded them because of 3 direct concerns I had:

1. The Instructor
If I get in an aircraft for an aerobatic flight I want to know that the instructor is not only capable of performing aerobatic manoeuvres, but also capable of recovering when things do not go as planned.

2. The Aircraft
I am always cognisant of the fact that only a select few aircraft are capable of aerobatic flying and then of course the condition and maintenance of the aircraft is also a major concern.

3. My Own Abilities
Lastly, I was not even sure if I want to do aerobatics. I had no idea if I would start throwing up after the first turn or even enjoy it at all.

So with these 3 major obstacles, aerobatic flying was out of reached until I heard about Alpi Flight Academy offering aerobatic training in a Pitts Special with instructor Ivan van der Schaar. I have known Ivan for a few years now, seen him flying in air shows and I also knew that he fly Harvards at the Harvard Club. This made him the aerobatic instructor I was looking for. Knowing Ivan I also knew that he would not fly an aircraft if it was not in excellent condition and that therefore eliminated concern number 2. So with only my own ability to worry about, I was ready to give it a try.

Juri Keyter, Ivan van der Schaar and the Pitts S-2A

There is a specific sequence for aerobatic training, starting with recovery procedures during the first flight and working your way to the more advanced manoeuvres as you become more comfortable and proficient. I however requested to deviate from this phased approach as I wanted to eliminate my 3rd concern, "My Own Abilities" and to see if this was something I wanted to do. Of course, once I have experienced it and elect to proceed with the training, I will follow the standard sequence of the training.

After a detailed briefing I was strapped to the front seat and we were off for one of the most enjoyable flights of my life. We climbed to 7500ft where we started off with a simple wingover followed by an aileron roll. The speed requirements for most of the manoeuvres is beyond the capability of a Pitts in level flight and a "Wingover" is simply the easiest way to build up the speed while maintaining positive "G". To perform the "Wingover", we ensured that we had around 100mph, pitched the nose up high and rolled the Pitts onto its side. From there the Pitts naturally dropped its nose, the speed started to increase significantly as we were hurtling down to mother earth, we levelled the wings and pulled it out of the dive to maintain 140mph as the entry speed for the roll. Once the nose attitude was slightly above the horizon, we neutralised the elevator, applied full left aileron and the Pitts gracefully rolled 360 degrees without any significant rudder input.

Short video of the "Wingover and Roll"

Next up was a "Wingover" Followed by a "Loop". In this case we were looking for at least 180mph to ensure that we do not run out of speed at the top. Once we reached 180mph we pulled up at "+4 G", looked out the side to verify level wings, eased the stick back as we floated over the top and increased elevator pressure as we flew down the second half of the loop.

Short video of the "Wingover and Loop"

Our last exercise of the day was a "Barrel Roll". This is basically a combination of a "Roll" and a "Loop". Coming out of the "Wingover", we maintained elevator back pressure until we had a pitch angle of about 45 degrees. From this point we maintained the elevator back pressure but also rolled the aircraft using left aileron. This control combination resulted in a complete rotation on both its longitudinal and lateral axes, causing our flight path to follow a helical path while roughly maintaining our original entry direction.

Short video of the "Wingover and Barrel Roll"

I admit, halfway through the sortie I was not feeling very well. I could feel that something in my stomach was moving up even while we were straight and level. But I am happy that I pushed through. After the second "loop" I started feeling better again and the moment Ivan gave me the controls to try it myself, I felt right at home.

Although I was somewhat disappointed at the start when I was strapped to the front seat, I was very glad to be in that seat when we returned home. The Pitts has no forward vision and it is truly a hot-ship. You have to side-slip it all the way to short final to have any reference with the runway. Once you cross the threshold, you only have some peripheral vision to the sides, that's it!! I have a few hundred taildragger hours but this was way outside my capability.

Short video of the "Pitts Approach and Landing"

I must say "I am hooked!!!" and I will certainly be back for more!!

Sport Aerobatics

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