Carlo continues his story of flying with Meynard for the first time.
In two days he learns more about aerodynamics than most pilots do in years. He is in a fabric-covered aerobatic airplane, yet his best lessons have nothing to do with maneuvering flight.
There was a large, yellow, thing in the hangar. It was a spindly, almost insectile contraption. Huge cockpit windows. Spade-shaped things sticking out of the wings.
I ran my hand gingerly over the fuselage. Fabric.
The thing sat with its nose snobbishly high in the air, its empennage perched on a tiny wheel at the rear. A taildragger.
I peeked into the cockpit as we pushed it into the sunlight. No gyro instruments. No yokes. Control sticks. Not a Cessna.
This, according to Dad and Meynard, is a real man’s airplane. A Super Decathlon, made of fabric, steel tube, and lightning bolts.
Great balls of fire!!
You do three things in an airplane, Meynard says. You aviate, navigate, and communicate. He would do the latter two on this flight. That’s good because that Decathlon can be quite a handful. He claims that all airplanes are basically the same, but I don’t know about that.
Basics. He asked me to maintain straight and level flight as we entered the practice area. Piece of cake, right? No one can beat me on heading and attitude holds. I’m like an autopilot that makes witty comments!
But not this time. The Decathlon weaved all over the sky as I struggled to stay on track. The heading would deviate, I’d correct, and then I’d find out that I’d gained a hundred feet. Geez! Adjust power to correct. Now I’m back at the correct altitude. Didn’t trim – I’m going too fast. Throttle back. Oops, heading! Hey, I’ve lost fifty feet and dropping. Power! Pitch up. Watch the heading. Correct heading and speed. Ahh.
“You are climbing, sir!”
Meynard’s gentle prodding follows me as I find, to my embarrassment, that flying forgiving little Cessnas has disguised flaws in my technique. I chase needles. I forget to check the area before maneuvers.
“Pitch and power,” Meynard reminds me. A fundamental. I know that. But not the way he knows it, and it shows.
And we haven’t even started maneuvering yet!
Meynard’s students learn to take off, fly an entire pattern, and land with the whole panel covered, no references except the view outside, the seat of their pants, and the sound of the engine.
I had learned to fly by the numbers, which has its own advantages. It’s easy on the airplane, it’s easy on the passengers, and the airlines love predictability.
However, that is not the kind of flying needed in aerobatics and emergencies.
What is called for is flying that is quick, decisive, precise, and based on intimate knowledge of the airplane rather than on a bunch of charts and figures.
The practitioner of this kind of flying is so attuned to the laws of aerodynamics that it is instinctive.
The airplane has become an extension of his body and will.
This is how Meynard flies. Aerobatics, he says, makes you a safer pilot because of the level of precise control and decisiveness it demands.
I wonder for a moment why he keeps reassuring me how safe aerobatics is.
Then he does a loop.
Posted from Manila, April 5, 2009