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#212 The Power of Practice

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Written August 2016

I’m a big believer in the importance of practice.  That’s why when I was asked what I do when I fly by myself, the answer was pretty easy. The opportunity to fly by myself doesn’t happen too often.  Maybe it’s why the quality of my demos is beginning to deteriorate.  I guess I better go back to my original plan of flying by myself for 1 hour each week.  The purpose of that flight is simply to keep up my proficiency.

But the question was, “What do you do?”  It’s a pretty good question.  I guess I could break it down to two things.  One is to simply practice the same maneuvers I teach in order to display some sort of proficiency when I demo them so that my students won’t shake their heads and mutter to themselves, “what could I possibly learn from THIS clown?”

The other thing I do is to practice something in which I rarely give any dual.  Aerobatics.  Almost any aircraft is capable of aerobatics.  Bob Hoover proved that.  It’s primarily its ability to withstand G force and drag from the wings that determine what an airplane is capable of.  That’s why the limiting factor is really the pilot more than anything else. Some airplanes are certified for aerobatics… some are not.  If a student can get into trouble and attempt to “Split S” out of a botched maneuver, it helps if the aircraft is capable of withstanding the resultant loading. That’s why I don’t teach aerobatics in aircraft which are not certified for it.  Besides, I may have made a living as an aerobatic pilot for 14 years, but I’m a horrible aerobatic teacher!  I like to think it’s the same gene that caused my father to be an inferior polo player… In his case, he was too concerned with the welfare of his horses[1]; in my case, it’s concern for the airplane!

If there is one maneuver which tests one’s ability to perform fundamental aerobatics, it’s the slow roll.  All my flying career, mostly in the airshow business, I performed in airplanes which were not equipped with inverted fuel or oil systems.  That’s why I’ve always referred to those maneuvers as “ballistic aerobatics”.  For the same reason, I’ve always referred to a slow roll in such an airplane as a “slot roll”.  I call it that because, while in a slow roll, the nose of the airplane is going up and down in an imaginary “slot” while the pilot simply flies the G’s.  A barrel roll will feature a heading change, a slow roll will not.  The slow roll also requires proper rudder input to do it correctly.  That may be the hardest thing to perfect, because the rudder input is “backwards” through half of the roll.

Practicing the Landing in a Turn.

Interestingly enough, I find that the maneuver I practice the least is the landing in a turn followed by slaloms.  As difficult and complicated as it is, I don’t seem to have a lot of trouble with it and it is often left behind in a personal practice session.  I should probably practice it more, since it’s important that I do it well and with precision.

Since I feel that you should always practice that in which you are weak, I usually finish off my practice session with some power-off accuracy practice.  I combine that practice with the attempt to do smooth landings and adhere to the centerline.  In the event of a crosswind, I may practice the “diagonal” landing, taking a few degrees out of the crosswind by landing diagonally on the runway with no attention to the centerline.

So I guess you could have figured this out all by yourself.  Since I teach certain things, it stands to reason that I should be fairly competent at performing those things.  And if you know anything about my philosophy of learning, you also know that I feel that nothing beats plain old practice.  One of the best indicators of the importance of practice is simply formation flying.

Practicing formation flying with Darren Pleasance.

You might think that you’re flying with great precision, putting the airplane right where you want it. Then you form up on another airplane and realize that you really weren’t as precise as you thought you were!  But with practice, your power changes and small adjustments become smaller and smoother.  And THAT is the power of practice

[1]Larry Lansburgh won the trick riding and single steer roping at the Salinas rodeo when he was 15.  He went on to be inducted into the American Horse Show Association hall of fame and was a two-time Academy Award winning film maker. But that’s another story!