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#135 “Smoothosity”

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(Photograph by Bert Garrison,

Smoothosity is a condition that every good pilot knows how to exercise.  He doesn’t always exercise it, though.  Think of the difference between two different drivers as they negotiate the race course at Sears Point Raceway.  One driver is at the wheel of a high-performance open-wheel formula one car.  He drives fast and hard, finding the right line, accelerating and braking quickly at just the right time.  The other driver is at the wheel of a completely different vehicle.  He’s driving a pickup truck and behind him is a horse trailer with a couple of horses peering out at the upcoming course.  That driver has to drive for the horses behind him.  After all, they are standing on a moving platform and the last thing he wants to do is to toss them around back there.  So he drives with their comfort and stability foremost in his mind.  He drives with smoothosity.  He brakes smoothly a long way before the curve.  He accelerates very carefully out of that curve which he takes at the largest turn radius he can.

Not too many pilots have horses in the back, but all of us have occasion to fly with a passenger.  And that is why all of us must have the ability to fly with smoothosity.

Many have heard me mention Air Show pilot Ted Anderson.  Ted was the best man at my wedding.  But I’m not here to excoriate him for that lapse in judgment.  No, I’m here to observe that Ted could execute a point roll in his Christen Eagle with a precision that many would envy.  When Ted slammed into a point roll, that Eagle’s roll would stop as suddenly as if the wingtip had abruptly collided with a brick wall.  But with a passenger, he wouldn’t fly that way.  Very few riders should ever be subjected to the punishing surprise and jerking ‘G’ force of a point roll.  Aerobatically, they will appreciate a graceful barrel roll far more.

In my training exercises with both primary students and those either taking my master class or getting a tailwheel endorsement, we do some pretty wild maneuvers.  If I had a larger airplane, I would never expect anyone to want to ride through some of those maneuvers.  My students enjoy them, but a rider would probably be uncomfortable.  We should all be thinking about that on the occasion when we are flying with a passenger.  The most common situation would be a simple crosswind landing.  Remember that any flight which is not coordinated will be uncomfortable.  So if you are going to perform the classic crab-to-slip crosswind technique, try to perform that transition at the last possible moment and with the maximum smoothosity you can muster.

Glider Best
A pretty shallow bank for a glider in a thermal.

Similarly, “G” force is normally uncomfortable for the passenger.  A steep turn will very easily transport that tasty chili burger from tummy to instrument panel.  That was a lesson that I learned only too well in the glider ride biz.  As most pilots realize, gliders can remain aloft only be staying in lift.  Much of that lift is found in thermals.  Because those thermals are simply bubbles of rising air, the glider must be turned rather tightly in order to stay in the thermal and rise with it.  That’s the kiss o’ death for the glider ride operation.  Only the tiniest minority of passengers can handle that tight thermalling turn.  We found that we were almost always better off to have a shorter, more enjoyable ride than to have our passengers lose their lunch on final.  By the way, that’s almost always when it happens… another 60 seconds and you would have made it!

I hope all pilots will take their responsibility to their passengers very seriously.  It’s a lot more important that your passenger enjoy a smooth ride than be subjected to hardcore maneuvers which do little more than demonstrate the pilot’s ability to do them.

Just as virtually all non-flyers judge their pilot’s skill solely on the smoothness of his landing, they will always think the most of the pilot who gives them a ride that’s smooth.

Happy Swooping