Francis Meyrick

Hitting the Vertical

Posted on June 4, 2013

Hitting the Vertical

I love(d) aerobatic flying.
Give me an aerobatic fixed winger, preferably a biplane, a full tank of gas, a quiet sky, and I’m in Heaven.
Mind, it won’t be quiet much longer. The propeller tips, reaching almost supersonic speeds in a screaming, balls out dive, combined with the vibrant hum of wind rushing past and strumming the flying wires, will soon fix Quiet. Not to mention two hundred foaming ponies giving it their all, hoofs on the gallop, manes flying, and eager heads straining forward.
Faster… faster.

I slowly learned. I did some really, really stupid stuff. A mixture of naivety, inexperience, youthful exuberance. I flew competitions, and I flew air shows. It’s easy to start thinking you are pretty good. Pretty damn good. The (healthy) cure for this is to go fly at a seriously competitive level. I don’t mean the local get together at Jo Blop’s Friendly Farm, where the Cessna 150’s mix it with the Citabria doing funky loops. I mean a well run aerobatic competition, with experienced, trained judges. Often highly experienced pilots themselves.

In my first ever competition, I flew a Stolp Starduster, with a fixed pitch prop. I thought, modestly, that I did pretty damn brilliant. Oddly, I finished dead last. One of the judges was a retired Airline Pilot. He was super nice, positive, and encouraging. An Old Boy, big old handlebar mustache, warm, ruddy smile. He sat down afterwards with me, and taught me how they judge. What they watch for. The loops. Are they round? Really round? It’s harder than you think. Your airspeed is changing all the time. So you can’t just haul back on the stick…


…and around you go. Perfect loop…

It just doesn’t work that way. I asked him about my loops. He drew them for me. What I thought was a (ahem!) brilliant loop, certainly felt like a (brilliant) loop from my perspective. Going up, over, and down. But it actually demonstrated some serious technical errors and imperfections. He drew it for me. I found myself looking at this weird shape. It was like a circle, with the vertical middle portion missing. Meaning, I flew it up, lost my airspeed, kind of flopped over backwards over the top, and then accelerated down again. More like a symmetrical egg shape.
A rugby football, standing vertical.

Oh! Now that’s interesting…!

My friendly tutor had now opened up a whole new world for me. Little did I know how much flight time I would be spending pursuing my new obsession in the years to come. Round… loops. Perfectly flown. I never knew there was such a thing. I thought a loop was a loop, was a loop. And if I could fly a loop, I was right up there with the best of them. Not so…
Then Old Mustache Face taught me about “drawing the vertical line”.
He was one of those aerobatic judge/teachers who loved his field. He positively enjoyed drawing vertical lines on a piece of paper, more or less vertical lines, and vertical lines with the top bit all funky, and explaining to me what they watched for, and how to increase your score as a competition pilot. It was all about hitting the vertical just right. From straight and level flight, balls out, pulling back smoothly, straight up into the vertical. The real vertical. The true vertical. Not the slightly off, lop sided vertical, with the funky bit near the top….
Oh, no, the REAL McCoy.

Now that was interesting. I remember walking off with a new found bounce in my step, the happiest pilot who ever came in dead last in an aerobatic competition. A whole new world had been opened up to me, courtesy of my friend the Judge. There are a lot of good people like that in Airplanes…
So now, I was off to practice. And I practiced. And I practiced. And I got nowhere. I knew it wasn’t quite right, because when I tried rolling around the vertical (performing a slow aileron roll whilst keeping to the vertical) the trailing edges of my wings were all lopsided and cock-eyed relative to the horizon. (I was sitting behind the trailing edge). I knew I was just not hitting the vertical perfectly. So I practiced more. And more. No good. Frustrating.
Then I did something I should have done way sooner. I enlisted the help of some flying buddies, as ground observers. Pilots all, they obligingly parked themselves in the control tower, as I zoomed down the runway, and lofted up on my first attempt.


The radio crackled. There was laughter in the background.
“Not even close!”

“Nah, you are a good fifteen degrees off the vertical!”
Wow. No wonder it was all a mess.

With the guys talking me through it, I soon closed the gap. I learned that you are on the vertical, when you feel like you are actually leaning over backwards. Weird, but true. Of course, now progress was fast. I took a break for coffee and bullshit, gassed up, and roared back up again. After several near perfect vertical lines, as judged by my buddies, I went around for the Ultimate Test:

A vertical slow roll. A 360 degree aileron roll, same constant rotational speed, without losing that precious vertical line.

Down the runway… build the speed… hit the vertical…
Amazing. For the first time I had that neat sense of my wing trailing edges neatly flying in formation with the horizon. The nice, parallel arrangement of my trailing edges with the flat horizon no longer wandered and spilled over into a confusing visual mess. Perfect symmetry. The perfect vertical slow roll. Real cool.
I did a few more, and landed for more coffee, ecstatic with myself. I might not be an ace, but (Hey!) I’m getting better!

It was while we stood chatting, hangar talk, that I remembered my friendly Judge talking about something else. Another important point they scored on. The positioning of the roll. The judges wanted to see the roll neatly executed in the middle of the vertical line. For maximum points.
I had to ask: “Oh, errr… did I place the roll correctly in the middle of the vertical line?”
I would have put money on it that I had done so. Quite a bit of money.
“Nah!”, said a chorus of voices. “No, it was always about one third of the way up or so…”.


Back to more practice… Laughing

Francis Meyrick

Last edited by Francis Meyrick on June 4, 2013, 11:55 am

0 votes, average: 0.00 out of 50 votes, average: 0.00 out of 50 votes, average: 0.00 out of 50 votes, average: 0.00 out of 50 votes, average: 0.00 out of 5 (0 votes, average: 0.00 out of 5)
You need to be a registered member to rate this.

Leave a Reply