For an unbelievable third time, I was shown the generosity of a kiwi PPRUNE member when I was offered to go up for a flight in a ‘real airplane’, ZK-MAD, a Pitts Special S2B by Mike ‘Slackie’ Slack.
He had been planning the ride for quite some time, but weather amongst other things had continually delayed it until yesterday afternoon. I arrived at Ardmore at 5pm, a little ahead of Mike who was caught up in traffic, and spent a few minutes taking photos of the traffic at the busy regional airport, still buzzing with activity as the day drew to a close.
Once Mike arrived, he phoned the fuel truck, which drove over to ‘The Great Stunt Company’ hanger and filled the Pitt’s up right there and then. This is a clever little system that Ardmore runs, and saves the pilots (especially of the difficult to control taildraggers) a lot of time as they don’t have to taxi to the pump, and then get in and out of their craft again.
Anyway, after we had enough juice for our flight, we then spent about 20 minutes putting our parachutes on, in case of an emergency of course, and then buckling down into our safety harnesses. I could not believe how tightly and securely I was being held in place, but was thank full for it later on.
Once we where both in place, me in the front seat as the PAX and Mike in the back as the pilot, we spun the huge 2 blade Hartzell propeller into life and taxied towards runway 21 for takeoff. No sooner had Mike declared over the Unicom that we where rolling, we where airborne in just a matter of seconds, thanks to the very light (500kg without pax) of the specially built aircraft, the grunty power generated from the 6 cylinder Lycoming engine, and the generous amount of lift from the four bi-plane wings.
As Mike had explained to me, this aircraft was not built for comfort, but the sole purpose of going fast and being able to perform aerobatic maneuvers, so once we where up above the Pukekohe countryside, I could hardly hear a thing, with nothing but a very thin $30,000 canopy separating me from the sky!
In just a few minutes, we were over the ‘green shed’ training area, and circled a few times to get up to 4000 feet. Then, once we arrived in our 1km by 1km ‘aerobatic box’, Mike began to perform the list of maneuvers, drawn out on a piece of paper stuck to my panel:
First off was the Aileron roll, a simple 360 horizontal twist. I was not sure what to expect, but as soon as I was upside down, clinging from my seat above me and hanging down towards the world below, I let out a huge grin of satisfaction.
Beforehand I thought that nothing could beat the feeling of flying, being free in the sky above everyone and everything below you on the ground. But now, I realized that being able to fling yourself though any dimension you want , has it’s advantages too
As we spun back level, Mike asked me if I was feeling ok, and I replied ‘Couldn’t feel better’, so we proceeded with another roll, except this time, doing a four pointed version, where you briefly keep the plane straight through every 90 degree turn.
I was having the time of my life by now and was prepared for anything and everything which was to come, as the maneuvers got more and more complex as we continued down the list.
Next up was a loop the loop and a stall turn, two thoroughly enjoyable stunts that I had already performed when I was a pax in ZK-CIT with Andrew ‘Wombat’ Hope, so I was prepared for what was to come.
Again Mike asked me if I was feeling ok, which I replied in the affinitive to, although the G-Forces acting on my body where too great to even hold the camera up to the canopy windows to record videos- sorry about that! Even if I had of recorded some clips of the stunts for you to watch, I really do recommend that it is something you must try for yourself. The feeling of spinning and flipping inverted is unlike anything else you can possible ever experience, as well as being tremendous fun at the same time!
After the stall turn, we climbed a little then Mike decreased the throttle, pointed the nose up a little which sent the Pitts into a controlled spin. The ground in front of the nose got closer and closer and rotated faster and faster, making my eyes ever so confused, but Mike soon fixed that pulling us level again and continued on to our next maneuver, the 45 degree climb.
You can properly guess by the name of that little stunt what we did, and after this, we proceed into what was the most complicated maneuver yet, the ½ Cuban Roll, which sort of combined everything we had flown so far. To start off with, we pulled up at a 45 degree angle, then flipped upside down at the top of our climb and pulled back underneath our path created a top side of the ‘8’ symbol shape.
After this I can’t really remember all the moves we did exactly, but I can recall there was a lot of nose-pointing-up stuff, and the horizon kept moving all over the place. You might have heard that the Pitts has the same handling capabilities as a modern day F-16 jet fighter, so you can imagine how intense everything felt to an amateur like myself. Mike had to keep on telling me to ‘SQUEEZE’, meaning clench every single muscle in your body to stop the blood going to your head, so that sort of proves me point!
After about 30 minutes, the sun was setting low over the Manukau Harbor, and unfortunately, all good things must come to an end. Mike radioed NZAR to announce we would be making a full stop on runway 03 and I prepared myself for a very special landing experience as we descended over the bright lights of the Southern Motorway and Papakura Township.
As the Pitts has no flaps, we had to slow down quite considerably as we turned onto finals, and with this the nose began to raise up, giving the pilot and myself zero visibility out the front of the aircraft. Instead of aiming directly at the runway as most other planes do, we flew in a parallel line a few meters to left side of 03, and used the view through the right hand wings as a visual guide to touch down.
Once we crossed the threshold, Mike turned to plane onto the tarmac line, and said to me, ‘look out each side, if the grass started getting closer on one side, we go back the other way’ and it was as simple as that. We bumped down a few seconds later and taxied back towards Mikes hanger, making big ‘S’ shaped turns so help us see where we where going.
As I unbuckled my parachute and safety harness, I thanked Mike for the ride and clamed out the cockpit, noticing the ‘NO BARFING’ sign on my way out. I felt really giddy standing still on the ground after being flung all over the place for the previous half an hour, and as I sat down in my car, actually began to feel a little queasy on the way home- which is really quite funny when you think about it. I also noticed that the takeoff was rather jolty in this certain type of aircraft, but after performing all the gravity deifying maneuvers previously, the touch-down felt as smooth as can be to my exhausted body!
I took a few videos from inside the Pitts during flight which I have merged together and uploaded here:
Thanks once again to Mike ‘Slackie’ Slack for the awesome experience. It was something which I will never forget and am eager to boast to all my mates about!
Andrew aka c'Trolly
CT, you've certainly gotten me excited! I'm very happy to hear you've made the best of this opportunity several times, as it does seem to be a rare occurance, if any, for most of us here. If I'm ever given the chance to pass through the skies at 100kts, upside down, I'll take it, keeping in mind the great experiences you had. Thanks for the very detailed report on the event, and I must say, you've taken great pictures.
Wow, thanks Cheeky for your elaborate account of such a wonderful experience. Beautifully written. The Pitts must have been an incredible airplane to ride in. Nice pics too.
I had a similar ride in a Citrabia when I happened to drive by an airport where a pilot was practicing for an airshow. I went by the pumps where he was gassing up and said to him that looks like a lot of fun. He said "sure is, would you like to come along for a ride." How could I turn him down. We did about every manouver in the books, after each he turned around and asked if I was all right. No problem. It was only after we landed that I sat down in a corner of the hangar and nearly barfed.
Thanks Cheeky for your story.
I've always wanted to fly in a pitts but have never had the chance. You did a great job describing your adventure.
haha great stuff - and a tad scary, i find the FS christen eagle scary enough...
I envy you Cheeky...Thanks for sharing with us this wonderful experience
I'm jealous. My biggest adventure is walking the dogs.
Walking them would make a drill sergeant cry.
Congrats Cheeky, thoroughly enjoyed the editorial, with some nice still shots. Film was pretty good also.
Having had an hours flight in a Tiger Moth, I know just how hard it is to take any pics, especially any movies. Don't think I'd have been happy doing the acrobatics in the TM. How much knee room did you have, in the Moth I had bruises on my knees from the joystick being banged left to right, and that was just taxying.
Wow! Thanks for sharing the experience. Your descriptive writing sure helps to imagine what it must be like to ride along. The part about remembering to squeeze made me stop and think... realizing once again how much more there is to flying than what I've enjoyed on the sim.
I've flown the sim's Extra 300S several times and thereby got just an inkling of what you experienced.
thats awsome! youre so lucky you got the chance to fly in the pitts. i would love to do that except for i get barfy when i spin in cirles. but i love doing flips!!!