Aerobatics – What all we should know about it ?

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There are some people who want to check out whether or not a fully loaded Boeing 747-400 can do a giant looping!! Well, it’s no doubt that aerobatics (acrobatics in aircraft) are great fun, but the majority of people mislabel them as “not serious flying” or even “the wrong way of flying”. In fact, doing correct aerobatics require a good amount of theory and another good amount of practice – most of the time, it’s much harder than setting up an FMC (Flight Management Computer) and pressing the autopilot buttons… oh, and did I mention it’s way more fun? It definitely is !!

Against the popular belief, aerobatics are not simple or easy to perform. There are specific maneuvers that must be performed exactly as published in order to keep the flight safety – it’s definitely not “just moving the stick to the sides”! The pilots you see at airshows aren’t some crazy guys with lots of luck, they are well prepared and practice hundreds of hours before doing any of the stunts in public. They know exactly what they are doing! If you are interested in taking a break from the heavy jets, general aircraft, gliders or helicopters and practice some acrobatic stunts in the simulator, this guide is right for you. I’ll present you many different aerobatics of many different levels of difficulty – I’ll also provide you illustrations and detailed instructions on how to perform them.

 

Preparing your flight: choosing the right aircraft!

Each of the aerobatics presented on this guide were successfully simulated using the default Extra S300 aircraft. Despite the Microsoft Flight Simulator flaws in this area, we are still able to simulate many aerobatics with a good degree of realism. If you are getting serious in the aerobatics, I highly recommend that you purchase one of the RealAir Simulations products – they are not only visually amazing, but they also have great flight dynamics that will allow you to perform aerobatics with the maximum possible realism!

Before you get started with the aerobatics, take some time to familiarize yourself with the aircraft. Perform a couple of turns, take-offs, landings… compare the aircraft behavior in high speeds to the behavior in low speeds, test the stall speed, etc. I want you to be completely familiarized with the aircraft before attempting an aerobatic. I also want you to fly in the virtual cockpit whenever able – it provides a much better situation awareness that should help you a lot on performing the aerobatics presented on this guide. Another important point is the smoothness of the simulation: you will need a high-FPS environment in order to perform the stunts correctly!

Let’s get started: The aerobatics!

1. Rolls

A roll is a 360° revolution about the longitudinal axis. We have basically four types of roll: 1. Aileron roll, 2. Slow roll, 3. Barrel roll and 4. Snap roll – they are all flyable in the simulator and will be discussed in details now.

1.1 Aileron roll [ Difficulty:]

The aileron roll is the most simple and easy to perform type of roll. You have probably performed one of these without knowing its name! Basically, you need to complete a 360º revolution while flying in a straight line. First of all, make sure the wings are level; then pull the nose up to about 20 degrees above the horizon and let go of the flight controls. Deflect the ailerons fully to the left/right (depends on the side you want to roll) until the roll is completed. Don’t use the elevator to compensate loss of attitude, the nose attitude should be around zero when the roll is complete. To recover, simply use opposite aileron and up elevator to fly straight and level again.

1.2 Slow roll [ Difficulty:]

The slow roll is basically the same as the aileron roll, but this time we need to keep the nose always pointed to a specific point in the horizon. You will need to use the rudder and the elevator to compensate the aircraft’s nose down attitude, caused by the constant changes in lift during the roll. Once again, you should be able to fly in a perfectly straight line while rolling the aircraft at a constant rate. Make sure the aircraft is straight and level; then deflect the ailerons in order to start rolling. You’ll soon notice that the nose will “fall” – use opposite rudder and a little elevator to maintain the nose pointed always at the same place. As the aircraft approaches inverted flight, continue using rudder and down elevator to maintain a constant altitude and heading. The key in a slow roll is to coordinate the use of rudder and elevator so that the aircraft is always at the same altitude/heading while rolling at a constant rate. That sure takes lots of practice!

1.3 Barrel roll [ Difficulty:]

The barrel roll combines a loop and a roll – its flightpath has the shape of a horizontal cork screw. In this aerobatic, you are expected to complete a loop at the same time you complete a roll. To enter a barrel roll, pull the nose up to about 10 degrees and start rolling to the left/right – the point here is to reach level flight (maximum altitude) exactly at the same time you reach inverted flight (half roll). That means the initial 10º attitude should drop to zero exactly at the same time you reach inverted flight. Continue to roll with a constant rate; the aircraft’s nose will start to get down, but you should only apply up elevator to reach level flight when past 3/4 (270º) of the roll. You don’t have to worry too much about the altitude here, the flightpath will indeed look like a corkscrew! Things start to get more complicated now… it’s very important that you practice each aerobatic several times!

1.4 Snap roll [ Difficulty:]

The snap roll is certainly the most tricky of the roll aerobatics. It’s an autorotation with a wing stalled, which means that we’ll have to stall only one of the wings in order to perform it. A stalled maneuver usually creates a violent gyration and it all happens extremely fast… you’d better not try this one if you have a weak stomach! Unlike a “normal stall”, if you want to stall only one wing you need to be in a fast speed (usually 90~100 knots in the Extra S300). To do that, quickly apply full up elevator, full left/right aileron and full left/right rudder – the aircraft will then roll really fast. Be ready to let go of all flight controls when the first roll is completed! It’s usually tricky to recover exactly when the aircraft is in level flight, but it’s a good practice to try that. Return to the normal flightpath using the elevator and ailerons. In a more difficult variation, you should enter the stall while in inverted flight (negative G forces).

We’re finally done with the roll aerobatics. Note that every type of roll consists of performing a complete roll (360º) about the longitudinal axis, but using different techniques (ailerons or rudder). I’d like to suggest you to extensively practice these four types of roll before trying the other aerobatics. The slow roll concept is extremely important as it is used in many other different aerobatics.

2. Loops [ Difficulty:]

Loops are one of the most basic and well known maneuvers, but it’s not easy to perform them perfectly. The loop must be perfectly round and the exit and entry altitudes must be the same. To enter a loop, make sure the wings are level and you have a good speed so that you don’t stall while climbing. Apply full thrust and then pull the nose up so that you can enter the first quarter of the loop. As you approach inverted flight, ease off the elevator a little in order to make the loop round. When the first half of the loop is completed (inverted flight), put the throttle back to idle to keep the engine from gaining too much RPM and apply more up elevator as you descend. As you finally approach entry altitude again, ease off the elevator and maintain straight and level flight. A good tip is to turn the smoke system on (I key) and replay the loop, this time watching from the outside (spot or tower view) – you’ll be able to see in details where you need to improve. Many other aerobatics use loops or half-loops as part of the procedure, so it’s recommended that you practice loops before continuing!

3. Immelman [ Difficulty:]

The immelman in an interesting maneuver, used to reverse direction of flight back in the World War I. We basically need to perform a half-loop immediately followed by a half-roll, which will result in flying exactly in the opposite direction of entry. Start a half-loop using the same procedure of a full loop; everything works just like it, but this time throttle stays at maximum and level flight must be achieved on the top of the loop – we’re not going down this time! As soon as the half-loop is complete, start a half-roll by fully deflecting the ailerons to the left/right – that will make you fly straight and level again, but at a higher altitude and with opposite heading! You can somewhat control the final altitude or speed by changing the half-loop radius. This maneuver might look simple, but a perfect immelman requires that the half loop is completed exactly above the point of commencement and that the half-roll commences immediately after the half-loop is completed. An important variation of the immelman is the Split-S, where you start at the top, perform a half-roll and a half-loop and finally level off at a lower altitude (inverse of the immelman!).

 

4. Cuban Eight [ Difficulty:]

It’s time to get things more difficult and review loops and rolls. The cuban eight is an extremely hard maneuver that combines two incomplete loops and two half-rolls. As always, make sure wings are level, apply full thrust and start a normal loop. Everything goes like a full loop until 5/8 (225º) into it, which is the time you need to maintain that nose down attitude. Ok, we have completed 5/8th of a loop and are now flying inverted with a constant nose down attitude of 45º. At about half way down, begin a half-roll by fully deflecting the ailerons to the left/right – that will make you fly in the upright position again, but still at an angle of 45º nose down. Approaching entry altitude, level off again (1/8 loop) and repeat the same procedure: a 5/8 loop, 45º nose down attitude and finally a half-roll to the upright position. Approaching entry altitude again, level off and fly straight and level. The difficulty of this aerobatic is in keeping the same radius and altitude of both loops and maintaining always the same heading/opposite heading. You should exit the maneuver with the same altitude and heading of the entry. Except many hours of practice before you can get this one right! Variations of this aerobatic include the reverse cuban eight, inside-outside eight, half cuban eight and reverse half cuban eight.

5. Hammerhead [ Difficulty:]

The hammerhead is another interesting maneuver for those of you who like some adventure. This time, we’re going to climb at 90º with full thrust and wait for the aircraft to stall, then descend also at 90º while performing aileron rolls. Sounds a lot of fun to dive directly into the ground while rolling and then safely recover, doesn’t it?! Well, it is! First of all, I want you to make sure the aircraft is flying straight and level with a decent speed. When ready, apply enough up elevator to start a 90º climb – it ain’t going to last long and you should reach stall speed within seconds. At stall speed, move the throttle back to idle and apply full rudder so that the aircraft initiates the turnaround. The aircraft’s nose will move down in a vertical circle and you should be pointing down at this time. Use the rudder and elevator to control your attitude during the turnaround and the dive. You may want to do some aileron rolls while diving or climbing if you have enough altitude! To recover, simply apply some up elevator and get back to straight and level flight. The recovery point depends on the final altitude or speed you want to have – you can dive for a much longer time if you have a good altitude. This aerobatic is really cool to perform and not very difficult – definitely one of my favorites!

6. Spin [ Difficulty:]

Spins are also beautiful and interesting maneuvers. A spin in an autorotation with both wings stalled, resulting in a dive with lots of rotations. To enter a spin, move the throttle back to idle and maintain level flight – note that you’ll need to increasingly pull the stick in order to maintain level flight as the speed decreases. Approaching stall speed, apply full rudder, full up elevator and wait for the spin to develop. Firmly maintain these inputs during the autorotation. When you are ready to recover, put the ailerons and elevator back to neutral and apply some opposite rudder until the the aircraft stops spinning. Finally apply some up elevator to go back to straight and level flight – adjust power as required. Once you get good at it, try to establish a fixed number of spins and recover exactly after this number is reached!

Conclusion

By this time, you should have already figured out that the “not serious flying” or “wrong way to fly” speech is a complete bullshi*! The amount of practice that it requires to perform one aerobatic perfectly (especially in the simulator) is surprisingly high and definitely isn’t “just moving the stick to the sides”. Not only are aircraft acrobatics extremely fun, it will also help you become a better pilot – it teaches you to better and more accurately control your airplane. Knowing how to recover from an inadvertent spin in an acrobatic aircraft, for example, will also prepare you to deal with a situation like this in a Cessna 172, a Beechcraft King Air or whatever non-acrobatic aircraft you are flying. It’s no waste of time to practice and learn more about aerobatics, it can only do good!

Courtesy : Flight Simulator X

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