Second Aerobatics Lesson
I lasted a little longer today--almost the full 30 minutes--before beginning to feel queasy (in case you wondered) and I still haven't actually thrown up in John Greenwood's pretty little Pitts S-2A biplane.
We were a day late because Greenwood had to have an MRI scan on his back yesterday. He still walks stiffly, but he took the last of a series of cortisone tablets today, he said, and wasn't in any appreciable pain, so he thought he could fly okay. He gets the scan results on Monday. I wasn't feeling exactly wonderful myself because I stove in a little toe last Sunday and have had trouble getting a shoe on that foot. Also, I practiced being inverted last evening by hanging upside down over the porch railing for about 15 minutes, and I felt a little disoriented still this morning. But all of that stuff went away--for me and probably for him, too--as we got ready to fly.
Greenwood pushed the Pitts out of the hangar and turned it toward the taxiway. Then it was the struggle to get strapped in--chute, five-point harness, headset, lap belt. But I was feeling more at home in the Pitts than the first time, so I managed it by myself. (When we got back, it took me at least 30 seconds to get out of that belt and harness arrangement, so I'm not sure how useful the parachute would be if it really were needed.) Greenwood fired up the 200 hp Lycoming, and taxiied down the row between hangars, out onto the taxiway, to runway 34. He ran it up briefly, and we were off. At about 500 feet he told me to take over. This time I managed to keep in plenty of right rudder, so we flew, rather than skidded, up to 2,500 feet, heading north. Just short of Kings Dominion, he said to turn south along the power line, and I did--still overcontrolling a lot, but feeling more in tune with the Pitts than last time.
He explained what we were going to do first--get inverted--and then told me to go ahead and do it. Said he'd follow me on the controls. Okay, here we go. Right aileron and left rudder, we're rolling, knife-edge, a bit of forward stick, we're getting upside down, more forward stick, center the ailerons, and there we are, inverted. I'm feeling okay about it, I can see the horizon today, just above the top wing (that is, between the wing and the cowling, because up is down now). More forward stick he says, okay more forward stick, the horizon is just barely above the wing now and we're flying level, More aileron pressure, he says, and I try, but he says it again More aileron pressure! and I press but he's not happy More aileron pressure goddamn Don it more pressure! okay okay, I get what he means now and I'm pressing harder and the wings get level, go a little too far and I relax some pressure and we're stabilized and I'm flying upside down. Cool! I'm relaxing, enjoying the view, feeling good, feeling great, feeling--Okay, give it aileron again, he says, and it takes me a second to realize that he wants us to get rightside up again, but I press the stick over to the right and we roll on around and we're still right along the power line, and we're still at 2,500 feet. (He's probably been helping me on the controls all along, but I haven't felt it, and in any case it's just such a terrific feeling to have done it.)
And the city is about ten miles ahead, the tall buildings rising out of a low pool of mist that extends from east of Chimborazo Park to west of the Boulevard, just absolutely gorgeous, the most beautiful I've ever seen it. The sky is perfectly clear at 2,500 feet, not a hint of a cloud in the blue, the horizon quite clear except around the city mist. The mountains 60 miles to the west are a wavy brown line where the ground becomes sky.
"Turn around," he says, and I get us back north near Kings Dominion and then we turn south again along the power line. This time we'll do a loop, and he reminds me to get my head back as far as I can when we're heading up and look for the horizon.. I'm to follow him on the controls. Speed up to abut 175, back on the stick, pulling maybe two or three g's, heading up, Get your head up he says and I tilt it back until it's lying on the cowling behind me and all I see is sky and then we're almost inverted and there's the horizon coming around into view, Just a touch of right rudder, he says (to counteract the P-force) and the horizon is rotating around and we're past the top and heading down, straight down, Pull back hard to recover, he says and wow it's heavy and he tells me later that it's about 4 or 4.5 g's, and we're level again.
And that got to my stomach a little, so he says to fly around for a few minutes and see if it gets better. In a minute or so I think maybe I'm okay, but then, no, I don't think so, so he says to head for the airport. I manage to find it this time, and turn toward it and start letting down to pattern altitude (1000 feet MSL at OFP). About half way there, I'm looking at the horizon most of the time, trying to make sure my cookies stay in the bag, when suddenly Greenwood grabs the stick and slams us into a hard left, knife-edged turn, then lets go again.
"Did you see him?"
"Look to the right."
I do, and there's a Cessna climbing out from runway 34, about 500 feet below us.
"I saw it about twenty seconds earlier, but waited to see if you saw it."
Interesting. We wouldn't have come any closer if he hadn't turned, but I think he wanted to wake me up--and he did. He also got my stomach's attention with that turn, and I was glad we were almost down. He took over then, turned downwind, chopped the throttle abreast of the midpoint, and started turning base-to-final, and we were still turning at the end of the runway. He added just a touch of power and rolled out just in time for a three-point landing. It must have looked really cool from a distance. It looked cool from where I sat, too, but there was no margin for error. Also, I was surprised at how much wobbling and jerking from side to side we did as the wheels touched and we quit flying--made me feel somewhat better about a couple of my own past landings.
Back in the hangar, he said, "You look a lot better than last time. You were white as a sheet that time." Interesting. I felt a little better--although not really good.
But that was just my stomach. I felt pretty good about flying inverted, and I imagine that the loop will go better the next time, too. But I can also understand why Greenwood says that half an hour is more than enough time--that "they're brain-dead by then."
It's been a year and four days since my first flying lesson with Adam.
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