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Thoughts On Potential Success and Reputation of an Aerobatic Airplane

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  • Thoughts On Potential Success and Reputation of an Aerobatic Airplane

    Just read this and although it is written by and about full scale aerobatics, I found it quite interesting and applicable to IMAC pilots.

    It was written by French pilot Francois Lvt and posted on the FaceBook Aerobatic pilots group.


    "I had a lot of time this Morning! Thank you Mike Vaknin for giving me the opportunity to think and write some personal comments about the potential success and reputation of an aerobatic airplane. Hope my English was good enough for not triggering the 3rd world war on misinterpretation!
    There are many parameters to consider explaining a victory in an aerobatic contest. I think Aerobatics is by essence a quite unfair sport since the result depends on a human assessment of performances that take place in a totally changing environment during the contest. The judges, well-armed with all their cognitive bias, just try to evaluate -as objectively as possible- the quality of a product in constant changing conditions of evaluation. This is not an easy task and I think they’re doing quite a good job in general, the overall rankings are not totally stupid in the end even if one individually experiences -systematically- a tremendous feeling of injustice regarding one’s own performance . In other terms the victory ultimately depends on a non-negligible part of Luck. I call Luck a bunch of many parameters that are too subtle and numerous to be all considered and modelized altogether. I see 2 different kinds of Luck though:

    First the Pure Luck, meaning several parameters that can dramatically vary from one competitor to the other, on which one does not have any control. All those factors can sometimes align themselves and work altogether in a way that facilitate the performance:
    - The flight is not too early in the morning, not too late in the afternoon, the judges are not sleepy nor frozen, not thirsty nor cooked in the sun with their ass aching.
    - The wind is the most favorable for one’s own sequence, the strength is perfectly fitting the program design, the wind blows from the good side of the judges, the side that will not visually amplify the distortion of some of the figures. And happily, it is the side where you can pick up the more relevant references for the positioning in the box.
    - The other meteorological parameters influencing the engine power, airplane behavior, moisture, visibility, turbulences, the background in front of which the airplane appears…
    - The lack of Luck of the other competitors.
    - The mistakes (YES!!!! ) of the other competitors.
    - …and many others.

    Second, the Luck that can be built up and stored by making relevant choices, implementing behaviors and routines during the training that optimizes the pair pilot-plane. It is a process in the long term where one must think about and fix an infinite number of little details that undoubtedly appear insignificant at first sight. But when an entire season of training and a whole championship can be ruined by only one over rotation of 15° in the last sequence, this huge work on numerous insignificant and improbable contingencies can make an enormous difference.

    Aerobatics is a motorsport. Regarding this and to put it as a euphemism: The airplane has a non-negligible role to play in the overall performance. The pair pilot-airplane must work in symbiose to achieve the best possible performance.Given the design and the nature of the airplane, the execution of a given aerobatic sequence can be apprehended totally differently from an aircraft to the other. For example, whereas achieving certain unknown sequences was more a fight for altitude on the Cap 232, it was more a fight for speed for the Sukhoi. Where the cap232 would perform easily maneuvers at low speed, the Sukhoi was struggling. On the other hand, regaining altitude in a hot atmosphere with the cap was a nightmare whereas the Sukhoi could do that easily. That is the way it is, some airplanes are particularly well designed for a specific task. If one considers the Aresti flight as a specific task, if one considers the conditions in which one trains and prepares for the execution of this task, there are undoubtedly better airplanes than others.

    But what does it mean “well designed” or “better airplanes”? I guess it is a question of statistics and concepts emerging from big numbers -if one can talk about big numbers in the aerobatic world-. I think one can define a well-designed airplane as an airplane that most pilots can fly naturally, easily, without having to spend an insane amount of energy to develop specific skills to tame it. Moreover, the airplane must be able to cope easily with all the exercises potentially required in an Aresti sequence, without presenting any particular difficulty. As far as Aresti flight is concerned, I really think the SC is an amazingly easy and homogeneous airplane. Not only it covers easily all the domain of the current Aresti catalog, but it is easy enough to reach or keep a quite good level of competency, given the amount of training hours commonly flown annually.

    For most of us -I mean in general, for an “average skilled pilot”-, going to the world championship with 60 hours of training on the SC would offer some quite good perspectives, whereas 120 hours of training would be required with another airplane for the same result. However it may be more charismatic, more agile, can snap at twice the speed, it would probably be a more demanding airplane for the same result as the Extra and a much more demanding airplane for taking advantages and benefits from its superior capabilities. The airplane must leave you in peace during the performance. What a nightmare when you have to focus on every stop of rolls on an airplane when some other airplanes will stop naturally leaving you with resources for thinking about all the rest. Just think about a 4-point roll. Some airplanes will demand a complete focus on every stop whereas other will require only a minor attention because the stop is naturally easy. It would be the equivalent of thinking about every step you make not to fall during your walk, compare to walking naturally thinking about something else. In general, what pays off in competition is consistency. A consistent number of f****************************s scored 8.5 works better than a few scored 10 and one scored 0. Given the number of rolls and stops judged on a contest, it is better to make all of them acceptable instead of making 99% of them perfectly and make one over rotated by 20° (ask Nico Ivanoff for this with his incredibly charismatic sequences, all of them impeded systematically with one single over rotation that ruins it! , we all experienced that!)

    Well, all this to say that in this strange and labile environment of aerobatic competition, the result depends undoubtedly on one’s personal talent and flight technique, it largely depends on pure luck for all the factors one cannot control, it finally depends on the resources one can invest in coping with contingencies during a sequence. When all the resources are invested to tame the beast, there is nothing left for adaptation, positioning, relevant choices, thinking ahead. My opinion is there are statistically airplanes that will emerge for being better than others, being the best compromise between their proper flight qualities, their ability to be efficiency handled with a limited time of training, their ability to perform all the specific tasks requested with an acceptable result.
    Once again, I mean in general. I do not consider the case of the exceptionally talented pilot (there are some!), that can easily and consistently handle a very demanding and more capable airplane.

    Ah! Here is a little funny digression: In the context of training where I was looking for some ways to develop efficient personal methods, I tried to go to the very fundamentals and the essence of the aerobatic competition flight and I ended up with grammatical considerations. It could sound funny but the grammar in a language is the way one processes information, the way one makes sense of things that go beyond the only body perception. And, in aerobatics, like in many other domains, work is efficient when it makes sense!

    So, the 3 essential questions and answers I ended up with were:
    - What is the principle of an aerobatic contest flight?
    - I fly in front of judges and they put marks related to my technique.
    - What do I do to win?
    - I show the judges my best technique.
    - what do the judges do?
    - They look at me and score my technique.

    The 2 last answers are grammatically particularly significant to me and I have based afterwards my entire training on the principle emerging from those 2 very basic and simple answers.

    Expressed in the verb, the priority of my action for winning is “to show». «My best technique” is complimentary and therefore secondary. I may not achieve completely my goal in showing them a mediocre technique, I could still get a mark and stay in the race. On the opposite, I could fly my best technique ever, it would be useless and would get a zero if flown behind the judges.
    The priority for the judges is “to see” as it is expressed in the main proposition. The scoring is a consequence of seeing. From the judge perspective, seeing is a priority and this is fortunate because it matches the pilot’s expected goal!
    Ok, enough with boring grammar.

    All this funny personal reflexion to base my entire subsequent training on the box positioning. The old days, when millions of gallons of avgas and billions of flights were only dedicated to the full positive snaproll on the vertical up, were over!
    And this is where this rejoins the question of the friendliness of an aircraft helping the pilot to achieve his main goal of positioning himself and “showing”: a friendly aircraft will leave you in peace most of the time and will help you to stop easily and accurately your snaps and point rolls. A friendly airplane will give you some time and energy to think ahead, to cope with the wind, the repositioning, the change of direction of roll in the next figure because it will appear better…Knowing where you are and knowing where you go makes you comfortable and the technique benefits from this serenity.
    On the other hand, if you are spending all your energy in stopping accurately every point roll and not over rotating the f****************************s that slides like farts on ice rink, there are no resources left. If you are lucky, you’re left with just enough time to realize where you are in great frustration because where you are is absolutely not the place at which you would like to be. Then it’s the infernal spiral, entropy takes over, tailslides are falling the wrong side in horrific noise, spins are falling from everywhere in great disorder, the 1 ¾s become some approximate 7/3, mothers are screaming in fear and kids are crying in horror and disgust, while the cops are already waiting for you on the apron in vain, because this big mess initiated in the box of Sherman will undoubtedly finish over Bournemouth, at 180° of the axis.

    Of course, all this preceding is a personal point of view. In the end, I know that one’s taste or preference for an airplane is not discussable and the quality of an airplane cannot be based on an individual assessment. But if taste is not discussable, performance is measurable and general laws can emerge from a collective behavior or facts. It seems that the SC could objectively pretend to be the current best airplane for ARESTI. Airshow and “stunt” flights, Freestyle competition flights, other leisure flights are something different where other airplanes can probably be better.

    My reflexion was limited to the flight only. The fact that Extra can easily provide spare parts and customer support sure bolsters the success of the plane.
    Ah! I don’t work for Extra. But if they want to hire, they can call me!

    So, let’s fly the plane we like most, but let’s keep in mind that it may not be the easiest one nor the most adapted to our goals."

  • #2
    Great article. Thanks Earle!