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Inverted Flight Follies

My buddy Mike loves to fly, and the only thing he likes more than flying is flying aerobatics. He got the bug a few years back and has been hard-bitten ever since. Every time he can scrape together enough money, he's off to the airport for another hour of inverted fun and adventure.

My buddy Mike loves to fly, and the only thing he likes more than flying is flying aerobatics. He got the bug a few years back and has been hard-bitten ever since. Every time he can scrape together enough money, he's off to the airport for another hour of inverted fun and adventure.

STILL, MIKE'S LESSONS HAVEN'T BEEN WITHOUT THEIR SHARE OF EXCITEMENT. One such lesson took place just a few weeks ago. Mike's regular instructor was laid up following an auto accident (I hope the irony isn't lost on anyone), so Mike took up with the assistant instructor. The preflight went well, and Mike and instructor also got the plane into the air without a scratch.

They did some of the basic maneuvers -- loops and barrel rolls, when the instructor told Mike they needed to practice some of the basics. In this case, that meant some time flying inverted. Mike didn't mind -- inverted flight was good practice, since you end up (or at least pass through) inverted at some point in most aerobatic maneuvers. Knowing how to instinctively fly a plane inverted also prepares you for the unexpected in YOUR airplane, should you ... say ... inadvertently stumble into IFR conditions while VFR.

MIKE DID EXACTLY WHAT WAS ASKED OF HIM BY THE INSTRUCTOR. He rolled the plane upside down, and was pushing the stick forward to keep the nose slightly high. As he did this, Mike had the feeling he had forgotten something. Money had been tight, and he hadn't been flying aerobatics in a few months. What was it he was forgetting...

THE INSTRUCTOR CALLED FOR MIKE TO PUSH THE NOSE UP. Mike complied, and pushed the nose up a little. It was then he remembered what he had forgotten -- for aerobatic planes, the headsets have chinstraps to keep them from getting pulled off your head while flying inverted. Mike realized that his chin straps weren't under his chin right about the time he pushed the nose of the plane up, and felt the headsets start to fall of his head and towards the headliner!

WHEN YOU ARE DOING AEROBATICS, IT IS USUALLY AT FULL POWER. "ROOAAAAARRRRR" went the airplane engine in Mike's now naked ears ... and the wind noise. Reaching up and putting the set back on was out of the question, since he needed to keep one hand on the controls. From the back of the plane, Mike could hear his instructor screaming over the noise -- "Are you OK?" Mike gave the instructor the "thumbs up", and then indicated with his hand that he wanted to roll back to the "sunny side up" position.

On rolling back over to flight more akin to what the rest of us are used to, the headsets followed the laws of gravity, and gave Mike a good bonk on the head to remind him to fasten the chinstrap in the future.

FLYING AEROBATICS -- DON'T FORGET AN AEROBATIC CHECKLIST like...

  • Headset chin strap - FASTENED
  • Safety Harness - CHECKED AND TIGHT
  • Parachute - CHECKED
  • Inverted fuel tank - CHECKED
  • Inverted oil system - CHECKED
  • Procedures - CHECKED

LESSONS FOR NON-AEROBATIC PILOTS -- If your headset pulls off, YOUR ORIENTATION IS PROBABLY LESS THAN STANDARD. Go back to your partial panel practice, and get the plane straight and level. Get the headset back on. Then consider how you got to that abnormal situation -- even if it was an encounter with severe turbulence -- and how you will stay out of it next time! (For turbulence, that might mean always asking for PIREPs in and around the area of your flight.)

Know and follow the aerobatic flight checklist for your aerobatic plane. And anytime you go flying when you haven't been out in a while, be extra diligent, be extra careful and confess to your instructor that you might be a bit rusty. Ask that he/she double-check your actions -- even the simplest ones. At the very worst, you'll learn something new.

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