We’ve all heard many times that you can stall in any attitude and at any speed. What’s seldom mentioned, however, you can recover from a stall in any attitude too — given sufficient speed. If this seems either immaterial or outright dubious, read on.
I was up once with a video camera on the instrument panel pointed forward, looking for action. Suddenly here came another glider, crossing paths some hundreds of feet below, near enough for an interesting shot if I could reposition in time. I swung away in a sharp spilt-S, intentionally falling behind and below the bogey, then zoomed up on its six with energy to burn.
Though fully capable of this maneuver, I had never practiced with a ‘live’ target. Turned out I dove a bit too far and gathered more speed than necessary, so had to pull up hard to not pass under it. And that’s a textbook prescription for an accelerated stall.
We all know what ordinary stalls feel like, and don’t normally associate them with heavy Gs, but the camera doesn’t lie. Video shows the bogey coming into view from above, appearing to shudder as it falls off the bottom of the screen during the stall, then smoothly back to center screen during recovery.
Keep in mind, the other aircraft was straight and level the whole time; it’s my ship that shuddered. When the stall began I was pitched up 35 degrees or more at about a hundred knots, and remained well above level (still climbing) afterward. Stalling scrubbed just the right amount of excess energy, enabling a momentary pause to paint the rapidly growing target with imaginary tracers before lofting above it again. Kaboom.
Now think what might have happened if I had not recovered from the stall. Impossible to know with any precision, but the glider would have continued upward toward the victim for several seconds, slowing but effectively out of control. And…
The ugly truth is, that other pilot was oblivious of peril in which further misjudgment on my part, or a botched recovery, could have risked collision… There’s no stenciling a kill on your nose cone if your nose cone is what makes the kill.
And THIS is exactly why the FARs require PRIOR ARRANGEMENT!!
One of America’s soaring patriarchs that called Crystal home is the late Irv Prue, who, along with two sailplanes of his design, is justly enshrined in the Soaring Museum Hall of Fame. Irv was also known for brashly claiming, “You can always find lift at Crystal.” That’s usually true of course, but… always? These days, nobody brags more than me about how great the soaring can be here, but… always? I had the honor of knowing Irv before he passed on to that big soaring site in the sky, and one time I challenged him about his boast. On that day of course there were fluffy cumulus everywhere, so with an ironic smile he challenged me to prove him wrong. I failed.
The coming week I’ll be wishing Irv were still with us, demonstrating precisely where to tow and how to fly, so I could prove him right again. Short of that, we can expect cool temps, light westerlies and lift of the character building variety. Bring a sense of humor plus your inner Prue if you’ve got one, and who knows what might happen?
I learned to fly as many have, with money from an insurance settlement. That same windfall also paid for a used camera and three lenses. The two arts seemed made for each other and I was eager to combine them, but it didn’t take long to find that being unskilled at both disciplines and barely familiar with either kind of equipment guaranteed poor results all around. My first flight with the camera was embarrassingly short and not especially safe, the few pictures I took amounting to blurry fuzz. Both flight and film cost more than I could frugally afford, illustrating the need to develop these skills separately, at least a little, before trying to combine them.
Results did improve as years passed until neither passion interfered terribly with the other, but of course there’s always more to learn. Then that first camera died weirdly, as so many things do, and I could only afford to replace it with what was then called an instamatic. Surprisingly, this technical step ‘down’ brought unexpected breakthroughs! The simpler device enabled more consistent, if lower resolution images, and strapping it to my wrist while holding it outside the canopy window eliminated those pesky reflections that spoil so many otherwise wonderful aerial photos. More importantly, ease of handling saved brain space, always a limited commodity, and led to more artful flying, thus more and better pics.
The most challenging subject for aerial photography might be other aircraft, and not for technical reasons alone. Catching moving targets from a moving platform has its difficulties, but often the worst problem is psychological. It’s impossible to get a good picture of a plane that’s always running away, which is what amateur air-to-air becomes in many cases. All pilots should understand that formation flight must be by prior arrangement, but briefing beforehand won’t help much if the pilot you’re trying to shoot won’t let you come within a half mile. It’s even more frustrating when, for whatever reason, the glider you’re in sinks below and the other pilot climbs unthinkingly away. Sad truth is, some of my best air-to-air trophies have come by way of subterfuge, sneaking up on the ‘victim’ before they knew it.
Then I got lost and ended up in California where bigger, more spectacular landscapes provided richer visuals, and outcomes improved proportionally. Costs, however, also continued to rise. During one season of collecting panoramic mosaics, I joked that I was single-handedly supporting the Kodak Corporation. (Didn’t help; they were about to go belly up anyway.)
Eventually my trusty little SureShot got so full of desert dust it was beyond repair — just as digital cameras came available at a comparable price. This though, exposed the awkward fact that I did not have or even want a computer, without which digital photos hide forever in the camera. But it was the nineties, and things were changing fast. Not even a luddite can evade the neutering allure of technological advancement, Lord knows I’ve tried.
So I gritted my teeth and bought a low-end PC that I scarcely knew how to operate. (Two things to say about that travail: curse whoever invented the invisible WRONG button, and thank Heaven for CONTROL ALT DELETE! The rest remains an ongoing ordeal.) Good news? Profligate shooting sprees cost nothing, plus it’s now possible to quickly crop, enlarge, enhance or otherwise alter images, and never regret the wasted ones.
Nowadays everybody has a camera in their pocket whether they know how to use it or not. Stills, video, and practically infinite rolls of ‘film’, so it’s a very different game. But from my vantage in the rear seat, I still see people doing all sorts of things to sabotage their own work. So here’s the simplest of advice for anyone shooting digital in the air. Unless you really know your stuff, don’t bother trying to compose a perfect frame, don’t even use the viewing screen. Just square your camera with the horizon and take twice as many shots as necessary. You can shamelessly dump the skeezy ones later.
Also, if someone else is trying to capture you for posterity, stay within radar range!
Congratulations! Daniel Durbin and Evan Dansereau passed their glider check rides last Monday.
Twenty two years ago today was my first November living at Crystal – and we woke to a solid foot of overnight snow! While that probably won’t happen this week, we will get a taste of ‘seasonable’ weather, including afternoon temps in the sixties, more clouds than usual and, wait for it, the unofficial start of WAVE season will depend on just how southerly and how strong the wind is…