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Drinking from the Fire Hose

Some of you may have bumped into me over the last year and a half as I have been learning to fly and then working on an instrument rating through the 141 program here at Sweet Aviation. This program is geared toward customers who want to turn the fun and magic of flying into a career, so it’s fairly structured and systematic. Since the only way to get good at flying blind is to practice flying without looking outside, I don’t get to take in the sights very much. But it was time to mix it up a little bit, so I decided to start flying aerobatics in the Super Decathlon, N109PC.

During a recent lesson, the only thought going through my head was that there was no way that I could be this lucky. For the last 30 minutes or so, the plane had been in accelerated stalls, rolls, and loops, and it was an absolute blast. When it was time to head back in, I heard Craig’s [Agapie, the aerobatics instructor] voice over the intercom, “Do you want to make the call upside down?”

To be honest, my inner 12-year-old was jumping for joy. But the rest of me chickened out and keyed the mic, still upright: “Fort Wayne Approach, Decathlon 109PC would like to cancel flight following.” At that point, it was time to head back toward Smith Field, and we were still at 6,000 feet and ready to descend.

Clearly, the best option was to roll inverted and lose 3,000 feet, so I rolled the SuperD over onto its back, and that’s when it felt like trying to drink out of a fire hose. The world that was all too familiar just seconds ago was now just a blur of green and brown. The lap belts were reassuringly doing their thing, supporting my full body weight. It felt like all of my blood was pooling in my head. What a sensation — just like recess and the monkey bars!

Then, on the panel, two gauges started a trend that was worrisome. The airspeed was increasing past VNO of 160 mph and was steadily pushing its way through the yellow arc toward VNE of 200. The altimeter was 4,900 and winding down in a hurry. I thought, “Wait, we were just at 6,000!” Then Craig said, “So, we’re getting close to VNE. — would you like to pull the power back?” as if he was simply commenting about the weather. A quick look back at the airspeed, and it was already past 185 and climbing to 192.

We rolled back upright, and at that moment the world snapped back into focus. We were in a nose-low unusual attitude. Well, how do you fix it? Simple, reduce power, level the wings, and arrest the descent.

It should be pointed out that doing rolls, loops, and an inverted VNE dive are not required skills to work as a commercial pilot, but simply meeting the regs has never seemed to be good enough. Had Craig not been there to snap me back to reality, I might not have figured out what was happening in time. Having the opportunity to recover from unusual attitudes in a safe way means that the next time, it might not feel like I’m having to drink from a fire hose.

And now I know that with practice, I might be able to make a radio call while inverted.