Safety of Aerobatics?

Discussion in 'Aerobatics' started by Yeti Niner Five, Aug 4, 2015.

  1. Yeti Niner Five

    Yeti Niner Five Pre-takeoff checklist

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    I'm a ~260 hr commercial pilot and have been flying a rental Citabria quite a bit. I absolutely love it. I'm also going to start the process for Great Lakes checkout soon at the same place.

    I'm really drawn to aerobatics. It looks like an absolute blast. And frankly, I'm kind of getting bored of the XC flying and pattern work. My problem is that my wife is really nervous about the idea. My question for you guys is, how did you assess the safety of the sport before you got into it? My gut tells me that recreational and competition type aerobatics, performed at altitude, can be done is a manner that's not significantly different than more common types of flying. But that the low-level airshow stuff is something different altogether. I have the higher altitude stuff in my head while my wife is sensing risk commensurate with an airshow performer.

    So, how can I figure out what the incremental risk really is? I've reviewed the material on the IAC website and I've done some searches on accident rates for the typical aerobatic planes (e.g., Super Decathlon). But I'm having trouble figuring out how this kind of aerobatics compares to the type of flying that I'm already doing.
     
  2. AcroGimp

    AcroGimp Cleared for Takeoff

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    Other more experienced than I will hopefully chime in but my attitude is that Acro is more hazardous than regular flying, period.

    How much more hazardous is based on type of equipment, training, and operating approach.

    I fly a metal plane that has inverted fuel and oil, is good to +7/-5 limit loads at gross weight and has a VA that is basically the same as the fastest speed it can go when pointed downhill and WOT (Yak-52). I learned acro in an Extra 300L.

    I've flown acro in a Citabria and the wood wing was always occupying a small part of my brain...did I just hear a crack or was it my imagination??? Botch a vertical maneuver and it sure looked like you could easily overspeed the engine if you fell out of a maneuver.

    I took about 10-12 hours of acro dual in the Extra a couple years ago, with an experienced acro instructor and airshow pilot, and am only now starting to explore the acro capabilities of the Yak after more than 20 hours in it, won't do advanced vertical maneuvers (Hammerhead, vertical roll, etc.) until I get advanced spin training because the Yak has pretty benign spin characteristics except for a wicked flat spin mode commonly entered from blown vertical maneuvers. Training is very important, and not just in how to do maneuvers correctly, but how to correctly recover from botched ones.

    Operating approach is having established minimum entry speeds and altitudes, a hard deck for bailout, and good decision gates for chaining figures together in a sequence. Good ADM basically.

    Airshow aerobatics, competition aerobatics and sportsman aerobatics are not the same in terms of apparent or implicit risk - practice is key for any of them, along wth good equipment and a commitment to flying as safely as you can.

    'Gimp
     
  3. Henning

    Henning Ejection Handle Pulled

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    It actually a duality of increased risk for increased safety. What you learn in the process of increasing your risk during aerobatics makes you safer when you aren't flying aerobatics because your mastery of energy is vastly improved.

    All in all, have fun, don't fly junk, and don't get too low. Most aerobatic deaths are during low level aerobatics.
     
  4. Shawn

    Shawn En-Route

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    Meh...your wearing a chute. Seems safer than a regular XC!
     
  5. Jimmy cooper

    Jimmy cooper En-Route

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    The statistics certainly shoot that theory down! Meh....indeed!
     
  6. Henning

    Henning Ejection Handle Pulled

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    When you look at the statistics, sort between the accidents from aerobatics below 1500' and above. If you use 1500' as your 'hard deck', your risk factor drops a lot.
     
  7. Shawn

    Shawn En-Route

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    Hey, he is looking for tools to counter a perception...not reality!
     
  8. Henning

    Henning Ejection Handle Pulled

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    The counter s simple, "It makes me a safer pilot to fly you around."
     
  9. warthog1984

    warthog1984 Cleared for Takeoff

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    It depends on what you consider aerobatics...

    Is it accelerated spins at altitude, loops and rolls, Sportsman, unlimited?

    What equipment are you using? An aerobat with a lap belt, an upright only Citabria with a harness, a fully inverted fully aerobatic Extra with chutes and a jettisionable canopy?

    Light aerobatics at altitude in a Citabria are pretty risk free unless the pilot actively tries to kill themselves. Competition level aerobatics are another story.
     
  10. Yeti Niner Five

    Yeti Niner Five Pre-takeoff checklist

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    Good conversations guys. Let me clarify some points.

    -I'm interested in understanding the real statistics. Don't get me wrong, I need to help my wife understand that I'm not doing snap rolls at 50' AGL. But first, I need to convince myself that im comfortable with the risks.

    -I'd be flying a Great Lakes 2T-1A to start. I may eventually get my own plane....maybe a Super D. But if start in the biplane.

    -I'm also thinking Primary to start. I could see myself working up to Sportsman. But I don't see any real chance of going above that.
     
  11. Geico266

    Geico266 Touchdown! Greaser!

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    Join an acro a national organization or club in your area.
     
  12. Capt. Geoffrey Thorpe

    Capt. Geoffrey Thorpe Final Approach PoA Supporter

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    Based on the NTSB reports I have read; fatalities come from low level aerobatics, spinning all the way to the ground (in spite of having a 'chute), or not having a parachute in the first place.

    Understand the different kinds of spins - upright, inverted, accelerated, and crossover.
     
  13. Yeti Niner Five

    Yeti Niner Five Pre-takeoff checklist

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    I see the same thing...low-level aerobatics, spins (often with an out-of-envelope CG) and then the random stuff (e.g., something jammed the elevator).

    I've joined IAC and have started reading their materials. I'm going to have a conversation with the local instructors. Then, I'll know if I can get comfortable with the risks. If so, the next hurdle is getting my wife comfortable with them. With three young kids at home, she's rightfully concerned.
     
  14. whifferdill

    whifferdill Line Up and Wait

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    Sorry, but it sounds like you have little familiarity and no experience with competition acro. There are five categories of varying difficulty and complexity - from Citabrias doing basic loops and Cubans at 3500' AGL to Unlimited monoplanes pulling 10G under 500' AGL. Competition acro has an extremely good safety record. I'm only aware of two fatalities occurring during a contest since the inception of IAC in 1972. One was a structural failure about 40 years ago involving a Stits airplane not really designed for acro, and the other was Vicki Cruse who experienced a mechanical problem with the rudder pedal extensions in her Edge 540 during a 2009 flight at Worlds. In the past 10 years, I know of three other fatalities occurring during competition acro practice - two control system failures (Harmon Rocket and MX-S) and a Canadian crossover spin fatality in a Pitts S-1S, which was a training/experience issue. The sport is very structured and safety oriented. So when I hear people who have no experience with the sport spreading misconceptions (I've seen this countless times), I try to provide direct experience and accurate information. There is a lot of value in hooking up with your local IAC chapter to take advantage of the experience available. 'Assimilate' into the culture of safe aerobatics.

    That being said, there are multiple factors that contribute to aerobatic safety. Training is number one. Aerobatic spin training is very important. Going up with the local CFI for a few spins in a 172 doesn't come close to cutting it. Attitude is important. So is altitude. The pilots who stay alive in the long run are the ones who don't fly at altitudes insufficient for their skill level. The unwaivered legal acro floor is 1500' AGL, which is too low for many pilots, depending on the maneuvering.

    It's important to separate low level airshow accidents from aerobatics in general. I pay close attention to all aerobatic accidents. Airshows aside, by far the leading cause of acro fatalities is failed maneuvers at an altitude insufficient for recovery...or insufficient for their skill level. A large percentage of the crashes I've seen involve some type of low level snap roll, spin, or tumble. There have been lots of spin accidents over the years which could have been prevented with advanced acro spin training. Aerobatic spin training has come a long way in the past 40 years.

    A small percentage of accidents are attributable to engine failures, with an ever smaller percentage being airframe/control system failures and medical/physiological issues. Good maintenance is very important for acro planes. I also like to fly acro over a spot where I could make a safe emergency landing if needed. For me, the chute is for catastrophic airframe failure. Bailing out is not without significant risk.

    Don't fly if you're sick or dehydrated, and be careful of certain medications and how they may affect you. IAC ran a story in the magazine about a young Pitts pilot who lost his life flying after a bout of sickness and dehydration. This severely limits G-tolerance, and he lost consciousness and crashed during what would have otherwise been a normal flight for him.

    It goes without saying that aerobatics shouldn't be performed in aircraft not suitable for whatever maneuver you wish to perform. Don't make the Darwin list. There is no such thing as safe or unsafe. But nearly all aerobatic pilots who have the right training and attitude live a long life and die of non-flying causes.
     
    Last edited: Aug 5, 2015
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  15. scottfromboston

    scottfromboston Pre-takeoff checklist

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    Look for the stats on Decathlons and Super Decathlons. Low-level acro is responsible for near-100% of fatal accidents.

    There hasn't been a single in-flight failure of the wood wings. Period.

    Have fun.
     
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  16. James331

    James331 Touchdown! Greaser!

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    Yup




    Saftey?
    No such thing

    Chances are you're going to die doing something very boring, or rather not doing anything.


    Biggest concern I would have with you, is the fact that you only have 260hrs and are "bored" of XC and pattern ops, frankly at 260hrs you really don't know the first thing about cross countries and are just barely proficient at take offs and landings.

    It's not acro that will kill you, it's poor judgement and not knowing what your limits and your airplanes limits are, with your statements and low hours I'm not sure you know these things.
     
    Last edited: Aug 5, 2015
  17. whifferdill

    whifferdill Line Up and Wait

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    Relax. All he's saying is that he'd like to do more than drone around straight and level. We acro folks get that. Hell I can't relate to being a pilot and not having a desire to experience flight in 3 dimensions, and to have a command of your airplane across the entire envelope.

    The fact that he's here asking questions means he's showing some signs of the right attitude. Plenty of cowboys out there who can't be told a thing, and never ask to begin with.
     
  18. Maciej

    Maciej Pre-takeoff checklist

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    Talk about a blanket statement to make...
     
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  19. James331

    James331 Touchdown! Greaser!

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    This is true


    I did spin training before my first solo, and have grown bored of acro :lol:
     
  20. Maciej

    Maciej Pre-takeoff checklist

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    I'm saying more along the lines of you can't make that judgment with only knowing the total amount of hours he has. At 165hrs I've flown literally across the country and up and down the coast, hit every challenging field there is etc, and I too have become bored with just point a to point b flights.
     
  21. 35 AoA

    35 AoA Cleared for Takeoff

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    As an aside, I have always wondered why the GA community refers to aerobatics as "acro". Anyone know?
     
  22. RotorAndWing

    RotorAndWing Final Approach

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    James uses blanket statements for everything, nothing new.
     
  23. Yeti Niner Five

    Yeti Niner Five Pre-takeoff checklist

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    Please don't misunderstand what I'm trying to say. I have no illusion that I've mastered XCs and pattern work, or anything else aviation related. I fully recognize that I'm a low-time guy. But, I do enjoy the learning process and I'm always considering the next thing to dig into...the next step in my aviation maturation. I'll always put a lot of time into the pattern stuff and will always do the XC flying. But I don't think it's an indication of poor judgment to be looking for another dimension to that.
    I'm curious about acro and am trying to seek some knowledge from those more experienced than me.

    I also think you're making some really big extrapolations from one statement. You have no idea what kind of pilot I am. Thanks for making the point about the importance of judgment (BTW, you should learn how to spell it) as it's incredibly important. But please don't make huge assumptions about me when you really are just guessing.
     
  24. Henning

    Henning Ejection Handle Pulled

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    Don't sweat it, find good training, don't fly junk, and mind your altitude, most likely you'll be fine. There are elevated risks to aerobatics that require some extra vigilance, and a couple you can't do anything about except accept. Absolute safety is an illusion, all you can do is mitigate your risks. You will die at an unknown time regardless of what you don't do or how healthy you live your life, so you may as well do what you want and experience what you enjoy, after all, that's the reward for going through life.
     
  25. whifferdill

    whifferdill Line Up and Wait

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    The aerobatic community started it decades ago, others followed along. I guess it's just a more concise lingo than "aerobatics". "Acro" folks in some other countries say "aeros".
     
  26. Yeti Niner Five

    Yeti Niner Five Pre-takeoff checklist

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    Love the attitude, Henning. I absolutely agree with the spirit of it. The only other qualification that I would is that with a wife and three kids, the balance is no longer just about my experiences and enjoyment, but balancing those things against my responsibility to them.
     
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  27. Henning

    Henning Ejection Handle Pulled

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    Understood, however the introduction of aerobatics actually has an imperceptible effect on the sum total of the odds. That's likely why you carry life insurance already. You have a responsibility to your children that goes beyond providing physical things, you also pass on your attitudes and introduce them to experiences, one of those experiences will eventually be aerobatic flight. Another thing you pass on is to not let fear stop you from doing what you want; rather than stopping, before doing something you stop and critically analyze the risks and figure out how to best mitigate them, then continue and experience what you want to experience.

    It's also your's to instill in them the attitude to enjoy life, not exist through it, to not fear death, but accept it as the inevitable outcome of being born, and enjoy the time they have experiencing the things life puts in their path and learning from them, rather than avoiding them.

    Teach your kids to live life, not to fear it. You do that by example.
     
    Last edited: Aug 5, 2015
  28. Maciej

    Maciej Pre-takeoff checklist

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    Very eloquent! :cheerswine:
     
  29. James331

    James331 Touchdown! Greaser!

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    Had you said something like "I would like to expand my experience to aerobatics" or something like that, I wouldn't have said what I said, but to say you're bored of XC and pattern work gives off a different impression.

    With 260hrs you are a low time pilot, sorry, there is a reason no one would hire you, or be able to insure you, to fly XCs with pax or even fly jumpers onboard.

    With more hours IMC then you have TT I would never say I'm bored of any stage of flight, and I know there is still a ton for me to learn, many others have way more time than I do and are the same way.

    I'm not trying to be a jerk, your statement just had a feel that you're beyond XCs now, frankly the biggest thing that'll help you is knowing enough to know that you don't know much.


    Maybe you just used the wrong word, just as I fat finger things on here with my ipad sometimes, ether way good luck.
     
  30. RoscoeT

    RoscoeT Cleared for Takeoff

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    I find XC flying somewhat boring too. Keep going Mr. badass...tell me I don't know my limits and have bad judgment. :rolleyes:
     
  31. 35 AoA

    35 AoA Cleared for Takeoff

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    Gotcha. Yeah, although I feel like "acro" sounds weird and rooted in the wrong word, "aero" sounds way weirder. Ya'll have all the fun!
     
  32. Silvaire

    Silvaire En-Route

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    Well if you're flying a Citabria then technically I suppose it's airbatics :rolleyes:
     
  33. Sundancer

    Sundancer Cleared for Takeoff

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    I've kinda done about all I want to do in a high-wing Ceesna, too, at about a 1,000 hours PIC. After a certain point, I think recency of experience is about as important as total time; 250 total hours isn't so low time, if 150 of them are in the last three months. . .and much better than one hour, 2,000 times.

    What airplane is a good starter for aerobatics? For fun, basic, positive G stuff? I've flown a SF-260 and loved it, but don't have a spare $300K. If money is an object (and it is), are there homebuilt alternatives that are well regarded in the community?
     
  34. docmirror

    docmirror Touchdown! Greaser!

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    I'm no acro expert, and haven't been doing any for many years, so take that for what it's worth. I started training in a Citabria, and a few of my first lessons included rolls, spins, and loops. It was never an issue for me, and while I might have worried about the plane slightly, I was far more concerned with my ability to manage the airplane in all disciplines of flight envelop. I quickly figured out that I was far more likely to let the plane down than the plane was likely to let me down.

    That's why we have breakaway doors, wear the chutes, and have altitude limits to minimize that kind of error result. Note - I said minimize not eliminate. There's something to be said for the FAA disliking the wood wings in acro planes, and there may never have been a failure of one in flight, there certainly have been partial failures. After all, we're talking about 30-40YO planes now.

    Of course, get training and as has been mentioned, learn not only the maneuvers but what to do when something goes wrong and you need to fix it quick, or decide it's not fixable and get out. I was often worried that I wouldn't be able to get out of the plane if something broke. So, we put a couple of big sleeping bags on the ground, and I pulled the door pin and tumbled out with my chute on, right there on the ramp. I felt better.

    Sure, there's increased risk. You tossing a plane around like a Rubic's cube in the air, with your azz in it! Up to you to decide of the risk is worth it. For me, it was and I enjoyed the heck out of it for a while. One more thing that might help. If you have to get out, don't hesitate because you have never jumped before. I have about 20 some jumps and although I wouldn't want to go through it, jumping out never scared me more than riding a broke plane all the way down. Go get some skydiving jumps under your belt.
     
  35. wilkersk

    wilkersk Line Up and Wait

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    I'm a 400 hour private pilot. I save up money to fly aerobatics in Pitts and Extras when ever I get the chance.

    The way I see it, aerobatics is just a different perspective on managing momentum, not all that different from flying gliders or herding a 747 full of passengers all the way down to a nice gentle touchdown.

    Since I'm not flying airshows at low altitude, I feel pretty safe knowing that the airplanes I'm flying in are built for way more Gs than I'm going to pull on purpose. The only thing I have to pay a little more attention to is staying above my "hard deck" and using the skills I've been taught so as not to over-stress the airplane when I *#@^ up.
     
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  36. denverpilot

    denverpilot Taxi to Parking

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    Umm. I usually just twisted one of the rows on the cube. I never really saw a need to toss them around in the air? ;)
     
  37. whifferdill

    whifferdill Line Up and Wait

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    I've not heard of this FAA dislike for wood wings in acro planes. Can you cite these examples of partial failures of wood wings due to aerobatics? Most of the wing failures due to acro that I know of involved metal wings. Not saying wood is better than metal, just trying to prevent your post from unfairly and inaccurately portraying wood wings in acro planes.

    All acro bipes have wood wings - Pitts, Eagle, Skybolt, Acrosport. No problems with the wings if flown within limits. Even some acro monoplanes have wood wings - the One Design, Panzl, Extra 230. They are tanks. So are Stearman wings. You know which acro plane I've seen the most wing problems in the past with? ....Metal (not wood) spar Decathlons.

    The '41 Clipped Cub I used to fly had the original wood spars. Perfect condition. My Pitts sees +6/-4.5G on every flight on its original 40 year old wood wings. No worries.
     
    Last edited: Aug 19, 2015
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  38. docmirror

    docmirror Touchdown! Greaser!

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    There were several pictures included in a brief maybe 6-8 years ago showing A&Ps what to look for in planes like the Citabria with wood wing spars. The pics were in the inspection port nearest the wing root and what looked like wood fretting or cracking in the grain. There was also a campaign to have wood wings in the Citabria replaced with only metal. Not sure if you can get a wood repl wing root.

    I believe, but haven't checked that the new generation of Super D has a metal spar. While I was interested back then, I haven't kept up with the research on it further.

    Here's what a very brief search turned up:

    http://www.bellanca-championclub.com/SparADIndex.html

    Several links off that general link. Just noted it goes back before 2000.
     
  39. whifferdill

    whifferdill Line Up and Wait

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    I figured you were referring specifically to the AD on that particular series of aircraft - applicable even to the original 7AC Champ, which I went through with my old one. Yeah Decathlons were changed to metal spars back in the 90's. I was mostly responding to your remarks over supposed issues with wood wing acro planes in general. Comply with the AD inspection, and there's no reason to worry about wood spar Citabrias and Decathlons that get flopped around on occasion. It's a stretch to call a Citabria an aerobatic aircraft in the first place. Few Citabria pilots these days seem to turn them over at all.
     
    Last edited: Aug 19, 2015
  40. somorris

    somorris Pattern Altitude

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    I saw a news brief that at the World Aerobatic Championships in France (going on now), a composite plane lost a engine (departed the airplane). The pilot was able to get out safely even though he was at a low altitude. Any material can have problems :).
     
    Last edited: Aug 19, 2015