The World War II dogfights I read about in my youth were the ultimate competitive aerobatics. The penalty for non-proficiency was death. There is no second place in aerial combat. Only the winner flies home.
I remember a book on WW2 flying. The writer described watching Saburo Sakai, the famed Japanese ace, rolling his Zero fighter in a beautiful, curving firing pass against an American B-17 — not an inch of slip or skid, perfectly coordinated, squeezing every ounce of performance out of that magnificent airplane. A true master in total control.
I had ALWAYS wanted to do this – fly like a fighter pilot!
But first I had to master the rudder. That accursed, magical, enigmatic rudder.
Meynard said 99% of all pilots ignored the rudder in flight. I didn’t belong to that group. I didn’t ignore the rudder.
No, I was among the 1% of pilots who did not even know I was supposed to use the rudder that much in flight… .
After an hour in the Decathlon, I became familiar with that sweet sensation of an airplane in a perfectly coordinated turn. The airplane pushed firmly on my butt, G forces equally distributed left and right. A solid, tracking, competition turn.
Competition turns. Stick over with rudder, roll briskly to 60 degree bank, neutralize stick and rudder, and pull to turn with up elevator. I did it again and again, for the sheer joy of flying sharp turns, looking DOWN past my shoulder at the ground pivoting below.
At times, Meynard had to stop me and move on. “OK, you pervert, you’re having too much fun. Level out and take us to 2,000 feet… .”
Line up with the South Expressway. Stick forward, right rudder against gyroscopic precession pushing on the right side of the propeller disc (and I thought that was just theory!).
Then stick back, left rudder against gyroscopic precession, 45-degree up line. As the prop pitches up, right rudder against p-factor (p-factor used to be just theory, too!).
G-forces. I pulled 2, then 3 Gs. Pop stick forward to hold 45 degree up line for one second. Then, stick-forward-right-rudder, back down. Then, up again. Again. Again. Blood draining from head, then rushing back. Butt lifting off seat with each pushover. Man, I love Gs!
“OK, you pervert, enough already!”
The thrill of seeing the South Expressway still lined up with our nose, despite all those gyrations. Precession! P-factor! You gotta love that rudder! If our wings had machine guns those cars would be toast.
Then, vertical up and down lines.
Stick-forward-right-rudder to build 150 mph, then stick-back-left-rudder-stick-back-some-more-now-with-right-rudder, pop stick forward to stop nose at target cloud, glance left-right for incredible sight of wingtips bisecting horizon.
Then, stick-forward-right-rudder to 90 degrees straight down, the wing’s vertical struts perfectly aligned with the vertical horizon.
Vertical flight. Vertical!
This must be like the dive bombers at Midway!
Hanging forward on straps. Pushing stick ever forward as airspeed builds and she wants to nose up. Keep the nose on that reference point on the ground.
Bombs away! The carrier Akagi is toast! 🙂
Then, aileron roll!
Reference Mt. Makiling on nose. Stick forward for 130 mph, then stick back, pop it in level flight for one second, then stick-back-some-left-rudder to 30 degrees pitch up, neutralize! Wait one second for judges to note level flight… . Then, left-aileron-left-rudder for one c-o-n-t-i-n-u-o-u-s roll, nose arcing below the horizon, inverted flight, straps lifting, butt floating off the seat (tighten lap belt even more next time!), feet lifting off rudder pedals, nose arcing back up, Makiling floating back in windshield. Right-aileron-right rudder, straighten out, pop the nose level. Scream!
Next n this series: Spins, eights and a secret love affair.
Posted from Bangkok, Oct 31, 2007.