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Jun 04, 2018, 01:30 PM
"I will return" Federico
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Augering In at 51

June 24, 2018

Learning new aerobatic routines is difficult under the best circumstances. Attempting to do so low to the ground with little sleep on a windy day - with a direct cross wind - and a bright early morning sun silhouetting your plane makes for a dangerous combination. My "Battery Low" alarm also went off just seconds before entering the final figure of the second sequence of my flight, one in which I had re-flown a difficult figure several times, climbing to 900 feet or more and using up my reserve capacity. This morning, on the 51st flight of my new 95" Extra 330SC-E, that combination had me resigned to an impact with the ground as my plane augered in.

My aerobatic mentor, Unlimited IMAC pilot Ray Morton, has been talking me through a new Unknown sequence on every flight. We do a short brief before the flight to go over each figure in the sequence. We determine, based on the current wind conditions, which direction to roll for the cross box elements. Then I take off, fly my Known sequence, then fly the Unknown with Ray calling each figure and the elements in it.

I was going into the last figure, an easy 270 degree aerobatic turn, but I entered low - between 50 to 100 feet - and close to the deadline, which is parallel to the runway, just 100 feet out from where I was standing. I started the maneuver about 400 feet past me and to the east. The crosswind was blowing in at 17 mph, so I should have done an easy pull on the elevator after banking to about 75 degrees. Instead I pulled too tight, making a very quick 270 degree turn that brought me right back to the deadline and about to cross it.

In Basic training crossing the deadline is drilled into your head as the line you never want to cross. Doing so is an immediate zero for the figure. So as I came out of the aerobatic turn and was about to cross the deadline I did an immediate bank and yank. I'm not sure why, as I was done with the sequence and no one was judging the flight, except Ray. Anyway, I must have gotten into a snap roll. I couldn't see whether the plane came out upright or inverted, as it was just a shadow against the sun. When I pulled and it headed for the ground it was all over. I thought to myself, in that eerily elongated moment before impact, that there was no altitude left to recover. I even pictured the impact and said my good-byes. I could hear Ray groan and exclaim, "Oh, nooo!...."

By now you probably have guessed this story actually has a happy ending. Even though the plane was out of my control, at the last possible moment I saw the top of the wings and knew how to recover. I pulled out of the dive with a few feet to spare. My heart was still thumping in my chest as I gently set her back down on the runway.

There are a number of lessons to learn here. The first for me is to make adequate rest a priority before an intense flying session. Precision aerobatics takes a lot of concentration. A simple mistake too low to the ground can reduce a beautiful aerobatic machine to a pile of debris. Flying too low and too close to the deadline creates unnecessary tension with little room for error. I will be thinking about these things for the rest of the season, thankful I still have my plane, and working harder to fly safer while still pushing the limits of my ability.
Last edited by rclad; Jul 20, 2018 at 11:21 AM.
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