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Jun 08, 2019, 08:31 PM
"I will return" Federico
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My First 360 Degree Roller


Our club had an aerobatics primer today, and Ray, the Unlimited IMAC pilot who put it on, challenged me to try a 360 degree turn with four rolls to the inside. I usually decline the challenge to try something new with my plane, saying I'd like to try it on the simulator first. For some reason today I simply said, "OK."

This isn't the first time Ray nudged me out of my comfort zone. Just when I get comfortable with my current aerobatic skills he asks me to try something different: a slower aileron roll, or opposite aileron rolls back to back, or a snap roll in the opposite direction from how I normally do them, or a tailslide.

I've been flying scale aerobatics for almost three years now, and Ray has been a great mentor. He has given me the confidence to move up to a more difficult class every year, from Basic to Sportsman, and now Intermediate. The Intermediate class introduces the roller, but it's only a 90 degree turn with one roll to the inside. I practiced it many times on the simulator before I ever attempted one with my plane. Today, having flown the 90 degree roller more than a hundred times with my 95" EF Extra 330, I was finally getting comfortable with the maneuver. When I executed a near perfect roller on the first flight today (after three attempts), Ray must have been thinking of a new challenge for me.

After landing, replacing batteries, and pushing my plane back to the runway, he said, in his usual direct and nonchalant manner, "On this next flight I want you to try a 360 degree roller." What?! My initial reaction was to say, "Let me try it on the sim first." But I had already done that many times, just not recently. With no real reason not to try it, and Ray calmly asking me to just fly it a little higher than I do the 90, I relented. Having successfully flown in horrible winds (for a small electric) in three contests over the past three weeks, I actually felt ready for the challenge.

Since the roller in this year's Intermediate sequence starts from inverted, I climbed to about 200 feet, rolled inverted, and called "In the box!" The first 90 degrees was no different than what I had flown many times and was not a problem. Then a question popped up in my mind. Do I make the same coordinated turn I did to start the roller from straight and level? Normally you drag the inside wing tip (when inverted) with the rudder stick in the direction you are heading to initiate the roller, which is opposite of the direction of the aileron roll, then go back to the usual same direction rudder (as aileron) until upright, then opposite rudder again as the plane continues to roll back to inverted. Meanwhile, you have to "breathe" on the elevator, pushing lightly while inverted and pulling lightly while upright, with the heaviest push or pull at knife edge. It's a lot to think about, because the whole time you are concentrating on maintaining altitude and a constant roll rate. And now there is the added challenge of completing one full roll at each of the cardinal points: 90, 180, 270 and 360.

There was no time for the question to surface. I just plowed on, deciding that the trick of the rudder to initiate the roller was not needed now. I continued the second 90 degrees of turn with my thumbs taking over from muscle memory. I concentrated on keeping the plane level and following a circle, letting my thumbs move the rudder back and forth as the plane rolled from inverted to upright and back to inverted, again and again. What a ride! As I was half way through the last 90 degrees I remembered I had to end inverted and skidded through the last 45 degrees. It was not even close to a perfect roller, but the plane survived the trip, maintained altitude fairly well, and looked fairly smooth. Not bad for a first attempt!

On the next push back to the runway Ray calmly asked me to try the 360 roller from upright this time. Sure, no problem, I said. Of course, I'm thinking to myself this will be the real challenge. I have always had "beginner's luck," pulling off the first attempt at something fairly well. It's repeating it consistently well that is the real challenge.

Back to 200 feet and upright, I call, "In the box!" and started the roller. Wait, what is that trick again to start the roller? It's not dragging the wingtip this time. Oh, right, it's just a coordinated turn: left aileron with a bit of left rudder, then opposite rudder as I approach knife edge, then same direction rudder, and on and on. I hear Ray in the background saying something about "push elevator now!" or "pull elevator now!" over and over, but it was too much to process for the first time. My thumbs knew what to do, and I just focused on maintaining a slow, smooth roll rate and not dropping any altitude.

My first attempt at a 360 roller from upright actually looked pretty good, according to an observer back in the pits. I was really pleased with it myself. But Ray is a perfectionist, so he asked me to do it again. Yikes! Back around, "In the box!" But the cross wind was stronger now, I was getting tired, and Ray's prompts were a distant noise. I got through it, but it wasn't as nice as the first attempt. (Beginner's luck?) I finished the flight with an Unknown sequence with new elements to challenge me - a negative snap on a vertical downline - and landed. It was enough for one day!
Last edited by rclad; Jun 09, 2019 at 09:53 AM.
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