The Rolling Circle Project
The Rolling Circle Project
A Difficult Maneuver, Learning, Prostatitis and . . .
“Perseverance Furthers” – The I Ching
This project is about learning how to fly a rolling circle. At first, it was very hit and miss, based on watching Clyde Geist fly rolling circles with a foamcore board wreck of a plane that had no more than aileron/elevator controls.
He demonstrated by circling using only the elevator and rolling with the ailerons kept in a set position. Only lately I figured out how it was done, using the elevator to maintain pitch angle as the plane rolled to inverted or upright and also using the elevator to add the turn as the plane made the transition to knife edge between each inverted or upright position. By starting the elevator’s movement in the knife edge positon, the plane was turned during knife edge and rudder wasn’t necessary as the plane came to a horizontal position.
Talking with Roy Thompson we spoke of flying a circle to the left and the possibilities of rolling to the inside or the outside of the circle. Rolling to the outside had been recommended as the better direction to start with by a friend of Roy’s who was proficient. Deciding on a direction and concentrating on it until the maneuver could be accomplished seemed a good idea so I accepted rolling to the outside and circling to the left as the form to follow and proceeded to try to figure out how to do it.
Over the months I would practice in small increments with various models but I made very little progress. I attempted rolling circles on the flight simulator but had little success. It did not occur to me to be frustrated by my failures but to just continue to work at it, following each incremental inspiration that might promise success.
One thing that did not come clearly to me was that the plane I was flying had as much to do with success as my technique. I knew that certain planes would not be great for the maneuver due to their aerodynamics but I didn’t realize until I started flying the Flash (designed by David Kyjovsky), that there could be a plane that could be so precisely controllable.
The plane and its maneuverability/controllability was so exciting that I acquired a second Flash to back up the first. Though they use different motors, they are essentially similar and it was difficult to tell the difference between the two.
Once I had the plane I had to wrap my mind around the movements of the transmitter sticks as the plane rolled and turned. At times over the past few years, when I’ve had trouble getting to sleep because of the pressures of my work, I found that if I concentrated intensely on a problem that was of little significance but difficult to resolve, I would drop off to sleep quite quickly. For instance, I had a plane that defied my aesthetic efforts to come up with a satisfactory color scheme and would try different layouts and color combinations as I headed for Nemo’s world.
It occurred to me that I could adapt the exercise (if it can be called an exercise) to learning the rolling circle. I sleep on my side with my two hands usually near each other and so began moving my thumbs as I visualized the plane rolling and turning. It was very difficult at first and I would fall asleep before I made much progress but each week seemed to increase the ease of imagining and practicing the moves. My concentration exercises at bed time encompassed the use of aileron, rudder and elevator but the transfer of the movements to the real model were difficult to accomplish.
Flight practice sessions always benefit from warm calm weather at the right time. If a rain storm had blown through I was ready to make a quick trip to the field and get in a few flights. It was very difficult to put together a prolonged session. I discovered that though the batteries would allow me to fly for fifteen minutes or so per charge, my nerves were only up to only six or seven. Deep breathing helped to establish some calm and the flights lengthened.
Bruce Brutt, a fellow flier who flies very well and quite aggressively was standing by my shoulder during a flight and I told him of my project. He responded with the observation that the maneuver could be done without rudder and that comment brought me back to Clyde’s demonstration from years ago. I tried a few starts without worrying about the rudder and presto, I did a very creditable half of a rolling circle. And then I did it again. So far, so good.
One frustration that arose as I practiced the maneuvers was that quite often, after a good session, I would return to the field a bit later and find that I couldn’t do anything right. It’s was as though I was starting from scratch as I flopped the plane around, barely controlling it and keeping it from digging a new hole in the field. These times were the those that might tempt one to say, “I’ll never get this”, and then give up but with time I came to realize that these sessions are a necessary evil. When they happen, I just fly and don’t try too hard to accomplish any specific goals but just goof around and have a good time.
The rolling circle project progressed and soon included a few more experiences. At least two complete rolling circles were achieved, however, to call them circles without noting that they were also spirals (spiraling down) would be leaving out an important point.
The tendency for the circles to decay into downward spirals has been a long lasting frustration. I found that I could maintain my concentration on coordinating my thumbs with the planes orientation, i.e., inverted, knife edge or upright for only a couple of rolls before I lost it. However the exercise was not without benefits: I become much better at sustained consecutive rolls in a straight line as I missed the cues to turn into the circle with the elevator.
Rolling with the transmitter on high rates (large movements of the control surfaces) and low rates (smaller movements) resulted in two markedly different maneuvers. Rolling with high rates was quick and dirty. The rolls were more easily accomplished but also deteriorated more rapidly after the first few. Low rates rely on less force being applied to the airframe and required a more sensitive input just to to accomplish the rolls. Could it be said that rolling with high rates is rolling with power while with low rates, one rolls the plane with finesse? At one point I found that the rolling circles were really impossible at high rates, but still challenging at low rates.
A few days later my time out flying was very frustrating. I could start a rolling circle from any point on the circle but it would end up a mess. My ability to perceive what was happening at the rates it was happening at was limited - old age or inexperience? One thought was to try a smaller, higher pitch propeller. Speaking with Joe Prianti one afternoon he suggested that the plane was snapping out of the turn. It made perfect sense. The question is what to do to cure the snap?
I also wondered if the rolling circle could be done using the rudder only, keeping the aileron stick over and manipulating the rudder to accomplish the turn.
My state was that of good, solid, plain old frustration. I couldn’t seem to get past a certain point in the execution of the maneuver. The plane always seemed to fall out or roll in a circle in the wrong direction or just flop around when it seemed I was on the verge of getting it. One day a tree reached up and grabbed my Flash - I was so intent on the project that I noticed only at the last minute that the breeze had picked up and put the plane in danger.
One day, on the way out to the field (woods) to see if the weather had helped to bring it down, there was a program on the radio about Ira Flatow’s new book based on his science interviews on NPR. At one point the discussion centered on the need for sleep in learning new skills: six hours straight, minimum required. I haven’t had more than three hours straight in at least 14 years. Maybe that’s the problem. Would medical science have the answer?
The plane came down from the tree was repaired and flown. I had it flying while Frank Klotz (he’s also in training for frustrating maneuvers) was visiting the field and he offered up some coaching. He suggested I practice flying the plane in large simple circles, keeping the nose slightly high (on the verge of a harrier) and slow.
As I tried the large slow circles I immediately began to see the possibilities and got a clearer view of where my efforts fell short before this exercise. I realized that I had been moving the sticks around and hoping the plane would respond in the right way. When it didn’t, I’d start over but do the same thing. I was flying in an airborne rut.
My mental practice was opening up new possibilities but when I got out on the field and had the plane up, the possibilities evaporated because I didn’t have a solid base on which to hang them. When I practiced the large circles I began to feel I had room to practice and that I could introduce parts of the rolling circle a bit at a time.
The new plan was to practice large slow circles upright, inverted and on each knife edge, until I could make an identical circle in each position with ease. Then I’d start to practice transitions from one position to the next so that I could do say, a half of a circle upright and the other half on a knife edge with the right wing down. This felt more and more promising; I couldn’t wait for a good flying day!
Practicing the moves Frank recommended exposed a lot of shortcomings in my ability to fly the Flash. And it also exposed the differences between the two planes, Flash #1 & Flash #2. #2 is much easier to fly and keep in position and #1 is all over the place. Starting with a knife edge circle with the right wing down, I made a transition to inverted then a KE circle with the left wing down and finally, upright (always circling to the left). Flash 1 required constant input to maintain the maneuver while Flash 2 required very little to stay on course.
When I attempted a rolling circle at this point I was no better off than I was before, stirring the sticks and hoping for the best. I do realize that my conscious apprehension of what is required is very slowly becoming easier and perhaps a bit more “automatic”.
The stuff I wrote about above regarding the difference between the two planes varied all Spring and early Summer. I became desultory about rolling circles, practicing minimally each time I flew although I’d been flying the two Flashes almost exclusively. But then, for the second time, I succeeded in completing a reasonable, recognizable rolling circle - not one, but two, consecutively.
A while later I made a circle and a half. I became slightly more enthusiastic and tried parts of a circle nearly every time I flew. I spent more time flying knife edged circles, inside and out, inverted circles, upright, flat, rudder-only circles and the second and third roll on a “roller” became more easy each time. Then, not expecting much one day, I started one and bingo!, two of them that didn’t begin to fall apart until the third began.
My concentration on seeing the position of the plane at each position was still not clear and full. The plane would wander off and I would lose my focus. But the more I did it, the easier it became for me to see the plane and to anticipate its coming position so that I could be “ahead” of it and make the right control move to keep the roller together.
In the interim I discovered a way to make knife edged spins and started to explore that maneuver. One day Rick Casella and I spent a couple of hours flying and talking about the KE spin. I had tried Scott Stoops technique, but like the rollng circles, I couldn’t see the move needed to enter the “spin”. The accident that happened was that I would do my disjointed tumble maneuver and move one stick slowly away from its beginning position and the plane would enter the KE spin.
Rick had a little cardboard plan profile cutout of a plane, torn from corrugated with maybe a three inch wing span and he’d move it through the maneuver that I was doing. He said I was making a transition from a flat spin into the KE spin. I couldn’t “see” it because my eyes weren’t up to being that quick with the maneuver yet.
Using the little cutout, I showed Rick how Scott entered the KE spin in his description of it in his book. I realized as I was showing it to Rick that my problem with Scott’s technique was that I had little experience with making a decent wingover. The wing over is in fact part of a KE loop made from an up line. When I showed Rick how Scott’s move worked, I saw the move much more clearly. Since then my execution of the KE spin has two ways of getting into it, my original and Scott’s.
All this about the KE spin is by way of mentioning how important being able to visualize or “see” a maneuver is to executing it. Separating the ideas of visualizing and seeing is important as well. Visualizing in this sense is conceiving of the maneuver in ones mind’s eye as well as by using a miniature of the model. Seeing the maneuver is being able to have my eyes linked to my fingers as completely as I can in the moment of actually flying the maneuver.
One day at the field we were in an intense bull session on 3D maneuvers with three or four of us yakking away. Bob Erbe asked Rick how to do a rolling circle. Rick explained his approach (which is to “fly the maneuver”) and I chipped in with my declaration that the rolling circle was a major project of mine for some time. I mentioned a few things about the frustration of months of attempting it and then mentioned that I was so intent on learning it that I had a prostate operation to improve my chances.
That brought the discussion to quite an abrupt turn. After the laughter abated a bit I explained. As I mentioned above, I heard a discussion on the radio about the brain and learning. I have been interested in the brain and learning for many years, grazing the literature and devouring any magazine article that glossed the subject. I’d done some experiments with myself in trying to develop habits and to overcome them willfully. At one time golf was a passion to which I applied what I was learning about my brain and I tried to constantly be conscious of what was happening (in terms of what I knew) with learning the rolling circle.
The discussion on the radio had to do with the fact (or theory, if you will) that humans need a certain amount of a certain type of sleep to learn a new skill. This type of sleep occurred only if the cycle of sleep was at least six hours long. Since I was about sixty years old, I haven’t had a cycle of sleep longer than three hours - mostly two and a half hours if I was lucky. I always had to get up and pee. I’ve been taking medications to alleviate the pressure my bladder makes on my prostate for years and the whole catastrophe, though mild, has been a frustration. I realized (theorized?) that if I wanted to make rolling circles, I was going to have to get more quality sleep.
A desire to make rolling circles was certainly not the prime mover in my decision to have prostate surgery but it was the tipper that motivated me to get on with it. Three months after the surgery it’s a little too soon to say how successful it was in many ways. I still haven’t slept for more than three hours straight but there have been times lately when I haven’t fully awakened at the call of nature, managed to operate on automatic without any disasters and some learning might have slipped in. I have done a few rolling circles, rough but rolling circles nevertheless. I’ve given credit to a few people here who’ve helped in my quest so I may as well say thanks to Dr. Michael Palese as well.
My latest trick is to fly rolling squares. The plane is flown in a straight line for one or two rolls and when it's upright at the end of the line it's turned left and then immediately rolled again. The maneuver is repeated around the square. The plan will be to introduce a turn when the plane is inverted as well, but using smaller turns which geometrically would result in a rolling octagon. I suspect that it will be hard to distinguish between a rolling octagon and a rolling circle.
Last edited by Ron Williams; Aug 19, 2008 at 07:05 AM.
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