Wednesday, May 23, 2007


The week before the flight, I went through a high stress period combined with some stomach illness that left me out of energy. That all ended around Thursday and my flight was not until Sunday morning, by which point, I ran through my IMSAFE and considered myself in great shape. I had a good night’s sleep, felt great, ate just right – everything checked out.

Check ups, take off and climb into the acro zone went w/o mishaps. I planned to work on aileron rolls that day, but decided to start with a loop to warm up the internal G-meter. Plus, the loop is the easiest figure for me to do and aileron roll is the hardest.

HASEL done, set up for the dive and tightened my muscles as I pulled on a stick. As I turned my head to the side, I noticed something was wrong.

Going through the items mechanically, I continued to pull on the stick while adding power as my vision became tunneled, then grey and then left me altogether. When the vision turned grey, I think I was approaching the top of the loop. At that point I was very disoriented not having a clue where I was, but the good thing about the loop is that at that point, I did not need to do anything – the plane must have just floated over the top with me completely out of it.

I am not sure if I lost my consciousness at all, if I did, I would have been for milliseconds because my vision and brain power came back almost at the same time just as I was starting to speed up towards the ground. I quickly killed all power and pulled out very gentry trying not to have another gray out.

Leveling the plane, I was very shaken and scared. I had not clue where that came from but read enough descriptions of grey and blackout to recognize the symptoms. A thought crossed my mind that may be I was not tightening my muscles enough in a pull out. I decided to try a hammerhead, but aborted it in a 45% angle and tunnel vision made its presence again. I realized then that despite feeling OK, by body just was not up to any G’s that day and just flew straight and level for a bit before calling it a day.

Later that day, as I started thinking about it, I realized that the outcome would have been much worse had I decided to try the roll as my first figure as I would have likely lost it inverted and ended up doing split S from a high speed inverted position.

I learned numerous things from that experience.

- I will be always starting the acro sequence with a gentle figure. May be even some steep turns to make sure the body can handle it on that particular day.

- I will try to break the maneuver early (assuming it is safer) at the first sign of tunnel vision. First time was a complete surprise, but now I know what to watch for.

- If I had some sickness to stress during the week, do not assume that the body recovered by weekend even if it appears to be doing great. Postpone the acro for next week, there is lots more things to do, such as landing or forced approaches practice. Or just flying straight and level with the camera.

- Had I ended up unconscious, inverted in a roll, I had a good chance of in-flight breakup. Parachute is an essential piece of equipment for acro and I am glad to have one.

- Altitude is my friend. If anything happens, being at 5,000 to 6,000 ft gives me lots more options that 3,500 ft.

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