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Brian Lecomber’s latest “From the Cockpit” column

THE UNCOUNTABLE – AND WHAT REALLY COUNTS Brian looks back over a long display career and thinks about what was really important…

I AM sometimes inveigled into talking to flying clubs and other associations. I am never entirely sure why. If it is for the purpose of imparting my entire store of aviation wisdom it’s going to be a ruddy short talk, so I sometimes wonder if they’re expecting a cross between a tutorial and a song and dance routine. Anyway, there are always questions from those of the audience who have trouble getting to sleep, and these questions sometimes go on long enough that I am in fact tempted to sing, which will most certainly empty the premises in about four seconds.

However, two of the questions I am most often asked are (1) how many displays have you flown, and (2) how do you invent a new manoeuvre?

Neither of which I can answer. Take displays. The problem is – what is a display? You fly at the Farnborough Air Show for two days – and yes, of course, those are displays. I mark fully paid‐up displays in my logbooks with an asterisk. So two asterisks there, no question.

But a week before that you went to Farnborough and flew exactly the same display, to the same base‐height, for the Flying Control Committee to approve it for public consumption. Was that a display? Er…

And then you flew the same display at an empty airfield except for three TV crews who were filming it for worldwide audiences of, according to them, trillions. Was that a display…?

Then there were the full‐scale practises – but I’ll come back to that.

So – difficult to count. I have a tad short of 2 000 asterisks, but all that means is fully paidup public displays. For the rest…? I have no realistic idea.

So then there’s question 2 – the new manoeuvres. How do you go about inventing a new aerobatic manoeuvre?

This is the question that every new owner or group member of an aerobatic aeroplane asks himself in the bath or as he drops off to sleep.

You’ve bought into a Pitts or an Extra – and you wanna do something new. And this thought teases, niggles, squirms, and finally looks you in the face when you’re actually sitting in the rumbling aircraft at the holding point about to go do it – a position which carries a certain stark reality which is not present in the bath…

Well, there are comparatively few really new manoeuvres.

Take a manoeuvre I used to fly daily. Pull up to the climbing 45 degree line and on that line full‐rate double‐roll left followed by a double flick right, then pull up again to the vertical, tail‐slide canopy‐up, catch the reversal on the back‐swing, stabilise on the inverted down‐45 line, four‐point roll, and then push‐out to inverted level flight.

Sounds like a new manoeuvre? Well, it wasn’t.

Visually new, I hope, yes. As in maybe you hadn’t seen it before. But no one element of it was actually new. Rolls on the up‐45 line – nothing new. Flicks on the up‐45 – not new. Tailslide – not new. Four‐point roll on the down‐45 and push‐out – definitely not new.

So, new? Well, not really. A ‘new’ manoeuvre like this I always think of as a ‘new composition’ – no one component is new, but you’ve put them all together in a new way which hopefully no‐one else has thought of. Do not expect to be sole proprietor of said manoeuvre for long – if it’s any good other pilots will soon copy it, and if nobody copies it then it probably ain’t any good.

The other kind of new manoeuvre is just that – completely new. Something which involves the aeroplane executing some impossible‐looking evolution the like of which no‐one has ever seen before. You can tell when you’re in the presence of such a tour de force when instead of saying “How did he do that?” the other pilots say: “What the hell did he do there?”

That is a really new manoeuvre. And they don’t come so often. The Lomcovak was introduced by the Czechs, developed with almost suicidal gusto by Neil Williams, and I simply nicked it, along with most other Unlimited pilots.

The Spiral Tower was invented by Eric Muller and consists of an up‐vertical outside flick‐roll decaying to almost a horizontal rotation which you then translate into a positive flat spin – if you can. This is the ultimate pilot’s manoeuvre – and shame to say, I could never get it to work consistently. The knife‐edge flick perhaps I can take a crumb of credit for because it evolved from the knife‐edge spin, and I figured that anything which creates a spin must also create a flick and so started using the knife‐edge flick (or Ruade) with higher entry speeds on different lines and angles. Well – me and about 100 other pilots in the world…...................

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