Last November, I texted Meynard, needing therapy. I was in Bangkok, after a rough month at work, too much travel.
Meynard is my aerobatics instructor.
He replied by text… .
“We can use the Decathlon as a psychiatric couch. Combinations this time. Cuban 8s and Immelmans. Sequence of 6 maneuvers.”
Salvation! My home leave was only three weeks away.
I went nuts when the Bangkok airports closed, trapping me in Bangkok.
On December 19, I was in Meynard’s classroom in Manila, briefing for my first aerobatic flight in months.
We sat around for two malicious hours, bashing straight and level pilots who try to fly without spilling the coffee of the people incarcerated sardine-like in Airbus and Boeing aluminum tubes.
We were way out of line. And thoroughly enjoying it.
I told him of the placard I saw in the Cirrus the night before. Aerobatic maneuvers and spins prohibited.
It’s like sex, he said with a pensive but wry smile that bordered on pity. Imagine doing the missionary position all your life… .
Meynard had flown in that Cirrus backseat recently, and the demo pilot, immersed in his all-singing, all dancing glass doo-dads, busted a departure clearance trying to fly a non-existent SID.
Meynard reverted to instrument instructor mode when the pilot did that.
WHAT ARE YOU DOING? THERE ARE NO SIDs HERE! WHEN ATC TELLS YOU TO MAINTAIN RUNWAY HEADING TO THREE THOUSAND, YOU [insert French phrases here] MAINTAIN RUNWAY HEADING!
Later, they got lost. Somewhere between Echo and November, which are NAIA taxiways. Lost on the ground.
Instead of burying his head in the cockpit glass, the poor fellow should have looked out the window glass.
Meynard told me a story about his friend Carl Pascarell, test pilot.
Carl was test flying a Velocity at St. Augustine airport. The radio in the airport office crackled. It was Pascarell, looking for Jim Moser, the FBO owner.
Sorry, Jim isn’t here, said the girl behind the counter.
That’s ok, says Carl. Wasn’t important.
Turns out Pascarell wanted to ask Moser for suggestions. Because the Velocity was in a flat deep stall at 9,000 feet, neither yawing nor rolling, dropping 1,500 feet per minute, airspeed zero.
Nothing Pascarell did brought the nose down. So he climbed out of the airplane. In the air. While it was stalled.
He lay on the forward canard wing, trying to weigh the nose down. For 30 seconds.
Finally he got back in, and rode the airplane down to the crash. Then he went back to his day job, which was being an airline pilot.
Another Meynard friend is Budd Davisson, a great aviation writer whose hundreds of flying stories and articles are mostly true.
They met when Budd drew Meynard as his dogfight adversary at Sky Warriors (“Fighter Pilot for a Day”), in Atlanta.
Meynard didn’t tell them he was an aerobatic pilot.
The resulting dogfight, in T-34 Mentors, was epic. Bud wrote a whole article about it in Sport Aviation.
Meynard flashed past, we stood our airplanes on a wing tip, pulled the noses up hard. Meynard was no slouch, canopy to canopy, spiraling upwards.
I lost all concept of whether we were going up or down.
It felt like only an ounce of additional pressure would stall the wing, but get rid of that ounce and it was instantly flying again.
I suddenly saw it! I released just enough back to let my nose sweep up Meynard’s wing.
As we drifted past behind him, I started to roll back in, Grumpy said one word in my headset, “rudder.”
My foot went in, the nose swung and there was Meynard floating in the amber gunsight. A twitch of a finger, a belch of smoke, and I was ready to have an outline of Meynard Halili stenciled on my cockpit.
Between stories, Meynard niggled at my past errors. Not enough rudder in oscillating stalls. Aileron input in pure pitch maneuvers. Pilot-induced oscillation. Exiting aileron rolls 3 degrees to early.
Three degrees. Geez.
Two hours later, we actually took off.
In the Decathlon, he yelled at me unceasingly. Not holding altitude within 50 feet in competition turns leaving NAIA.
Not enough right rudder to offset p-factor as I pulled hard to vertical uplines, as we passed Plaridel.
At the Charlie Four training area, I was barreling my loops — inadvertent aileron input as I pulled back on the stick.
Meynard pushed me hard. No more kid gloves. Haranguing, scolding, provoking. C’MON TONET, FASTER ON THE RUDDER!
I enjoyed every second of it.
“You masochist, enough! You’re having too much fun.”
He made me land at Omni’s short, narrow runway. I actually did 3 pretty good stop and go’s, my first taildragger landings in months.
You thought those two hours in the classroom were just for airline-bashing and hangar-flying stories.
It was therapy, specially tailored for me, who had been traveling far too much in airliners.
Meynard got me so relaxed that I did 3 good landings on a 600-meter runway in a taildragger! After two hours of aerobatic maneuvers.
Psychiatrist. Meynard the Medicine Man.
Homebound, we photographed ourselves.
In the picture, my sunglasses are lifting up. Headset cable floating up. In the window above our heads, you can see Earth.
The airplane is upside down.
See the insane grin? I was whole again.
Posted from Bangkok, January 29, 2009.
Pass cursor over images for photo credits.
Budd Davisson article excerpted from “Sky Warriors — Walter Mitty, You’d Better Check Six”, Sport Aviation magazine, March 1996.
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