So for my first "live"* biannual flight review I figured I wouldn't just have my CFI go around the patch with me for three reasons:
1) Being in a familiar aircraft at a familiar airfield and over familiar territory might not point out my weaknesses like they should. I didn't want it to be a check-the-box-requirement-is-fulfilled drill.
2) My CFI is great, but he's so used to the way I fly that he may not notice any bad habits I've picked up - or, more remotely, I may have picked up one of his bad habits.
3) Might as well learn something new while I'm at it.
So I called up Greg Koontz, aerobatic pilot extraordinaire, and in a pink of hubris scheduled some upset training in a cheerful, confident voice. A bit like Pee Wee Herman getting a lesson on how to ride his bicycle from Lance Armstrong.
He's a very approachable, friendly, and professional guy. I half expected him to tell a Sport Pilot with less than 60 total hours that it would probably be better if I waited until I had more hours and better skills before I waste his time, but he gave me a half second pause and then smiled at me.
Weather went from marginal to acceptable (I had done all the requisite things to ensure this - hope the neighbor doesn't ask too many questions about why I was out in the backyard at midnight wearing a robe chanting and where the heck did his cat disappear to?), with a rising overcast that was to break up around the time we were to actually fly. I knew I should have picked the red cat over his calico as the timing was a bit off, but that was okay.
We covered the fundamentals of flight from the perspective of aerobatics, and he was pleasantly surprised that I had a good grasp of what makes airplanes do what they do. I left it up to him on what I'd learn, and he said to keep it simple and give a good idea on what aerobatics is that we'd do just one maneuver - aileron rolls.
Soon we were out to the decathalon (same one as in the video), I was strapped in with a parachute and given instruction on the aircraft.
First time in an aircraft with prop pitch control. Manifold pressure? Wazzat? And look at all the stuff on the dash - at least the compass looks friendly. Hell, one has to work fuel mixture on this aircraft. In the Champ it's just there for decoration. Loads of power, too.
So out we taxi onto his grass strip - first time for that, too. Very different from pavement; grass is slippery stuff, and bouncy, too. But I managed to keep us straight and up we went at 80 mph once I learned to pitch up a bit more in the champ and come down from 120. Zoom, that plane is fast!
There was a nice hole in the clouds, so we climbed up through it and over the top of the overcast. First time flying over clouds like that. Pretty and no thermals, but uncomfortable. And since he wanted me to climb on heading at a set speed. He had me do some stalls; it was to familiarize me with the aircraft, but also to check my skills (it's a biannual, too, remember!). I unplugged my internal navigation thinking. We did some stalls and some steep turns (after he growled about my "747" gentle turns - guilty!), and then it was time to roll.
An aileron roll is really a zero-G parabola with a lot of left or right stick to rotate the axis of fuselage around itself. No rudder or elevator is given in the maneuver, as the idea is that the aircraft should keep doing what it's doing, only with the wings rotating around. Simple enough - one pitches up, pitches forward until zero G is felt, brings the stick to neutral and then hard left or right. When the roll is completing, return the stick to neutral and then level out from the zero G flight path.
Okay, not so simple. My first attempt had me using some odd inputs (zero G is NOT a normal sensation), and we put both negative and positive G (-1 and +2) on the meter. Hmmm, don't rush it, he says calmly afterwards. During the maneuver itself he was speaking in tongues, at least briefly.
Let's do another. Hey, I did it! Very cool. It's a timing thing, but one has to feel for it. Climb and turn to a set altitude (Mr. Koontz is a real pro, and a bit slick - more flight review skill stuff without announcing it). Do three more to the left and then two to the right.
By now my stomach was beginning to show signs of disquiet, and being totally without shame I told him we were done with that unless he wanted to turn it into nausea training to the point of failure. He genuinely chuckled and said he appreciated me being honest about it - some people think it's a sign of weakness to admit to motion sickness.
In fact I was whipped.
We found a large hole in the overcast in the direction of his airstrip and he was happy I could descend at a set rate on a set heading - I guess I had muffed some of the other stuff!
Time to do some landings. We set up for a left pattern to his strip, and I did a very sloppy pattern and bounced the landing. Swishied the roll, too, and took off for another. A little better on the next, but waay too close in on base to final - go around. Man, I'm looking like an idiot and those close in Champ patterns aren't doing me any favors in this hotrod. Big slip and I salvage it with a nice three pointer.
"Not the kind of precision with throttle and pitch I'd like to see," he noted, we'll talk about your slips and slides later." Oh, man, I suck!
But I was struggling and didn't know why. I do touch and goes almost exclusively. Okay, head check. First, fly the darned pattern like it's a pattern and not your personal patch. Second, grass strips don't have lines or numbers or stuff on them. Gotta pick a spot more overtly in my mind to land on. And third, get that pattern bigger; this plane is a lot faster.
Up and around for a right pattern. There we go - nice three pointer with a nice straight track on roll out. Turn around and put her in the barn.
And then the critique. Hmmm, I tend to slide on the turn from crosswind to downwind, and when I slip tend to move stick before rudder instead of using both at the same time. Recommendations?
1) Fly more. Need more experience. I still have fewer hours than a lot of Private Pilot students. Working on that - gotta get the plane finished so I can afford to build up hours.
2) Do pattern work at other airports. It's obvious that I've gotten so used to flying the pattern at my home airfield that I'm doing it mechanically and almost out of habit. I came up with that idea and Mr. Koontz looked pleasantly surprised that something like that would come out of my thick head.
3) Keep working on basics, aiming for precision.
4) I ain't all tore up as a pilot; nothing got broke (not even our feelings) and we got to fly in an airplane. No real bad habits and he says my attitude is correct about aviation.
And I'm not ready for real aerobatics yet. My skill set just isn't where it needs to be for that kind of precision flying.
* My first biannual was actually accomplished a year after I got my license through the WINGS program. I took some online courses through the FAA and did the flight instructor portion when I got my tailwheel endorsement. It's a grand idea, but really doesn't measure up against an hour of ground instruction and an hour in the air with a CFI with the intent of evaluating skills.