There we sat, complacent and relaxed. My wife and I had just finished setting up the scoring computers for the Illinois State Open Aerobatic Championships and we were enjoying a gorgeous summer evening chatting with friends from the International Aerobatics Club (IAC) - Chapter 1 at Illinois Valley Regional Airport (VYS).
The airport would be the site for this competition over the next two days; Saturday and Sunday, August 28~29, 1999. The organizer and sponsor for the event was the IAC Chapter 1, with members centered around the Chicago area. The box markers were out, and the people who had done that job were gasping for breath after struggling through the soybeans for an hour or so. Most of these workers were also competing pilots.
Shortly after Noreen had the computers readied for competition scoring, our friends, Cynthia Lyons and Dave Underwood arrived. Cynthia asked if I had gotten my Private Pilot license yet, to which I answered yes, having taken and passed the test on Fathers' Day (9 weeks earlier). She then asked if I was going to compete. "No.", I responded, since I didn't have a plane yet. (Let alone one which is in the "ok to go upside-down category".)
Cynthia then offered their plane for me to fly in the
competition. ...Here might be a good spot to backtrack a bit...
A few months earlier, February I believe, in one of the mildest winters ever in the upper midwest, I was still in the midst of studying for my Private. I had passed the written test a few weeks prior to that time and was getting "antsy" about getting in the hours to prep for the test. I decided to get some spin training in order to feel better about unusual attitudes (and recovering from them). In the process of looking for someone to teach spin training, I contacted the IAC - Chapter 1 President, Rory Olson. Rory suggested a fellow named Gene Littlefield. Hmmm, that name rang a bell somewhere. Can't quite place where I'd heard it.
A couple days later, I called Gene Littlefield at his FBO in Morris, IL (C09). He agreed to give me a start the following week in their Citabria.
Now I was getting excited just about the spin training and decided to see if I could accomplish some other aerobatics at the same time. Gene was ready for this and in mid-February, I found myself in the front seat of a Citabria with the best instructor I've ever had in the back. (Has anyone else ever noticed during aerobatics training, that it feels lonely when there is no-one sitting next to you?)
We took off from Morris and headed west to the practice area. Once there, Gene had me go through the basics of control and slow flight in the Citabria. Up until then, I thought you needed to be moving to fly. The Citabria seemed to fly at nearly zero airspeed; just keep pulling back more.
Soon we were ready to try some aerobatics... and that part I'll leave to a separate article. Look for it in a few weeks.
...now, back to Peru, Illinois and the IAC competition. Having done just enough aerobatics to know the sequence for Basic (see other links here for more IAC and Aerobatics info. - including a calendar of upcoming events.) I hardly felt truly ready to go up and compete in someone else's plane, even if Dave was going to be in the back seat as a safety pilot. I mulled it over for an hour or so, until Noreen convinced me to go ahead.
Dave agreed to go up with me a couple times that evening before the competition so I would at least know how to find the competition box from the air and which way was forward on the Decathlon. Wow, was this plane a far cry from the Citabria! After a couple practice sessions, I felt ready for my first aerobatic competition (Yeah, right!). Dave was excellent at calming me down and making sure I was thinking through what I was doing and staying ahead of the plane. (I seem to be VERY lucky with finding good people to instruct in the plane.)
I think I actually slept that night. As I remember,
it was between 3:05 and 3:10 AM. Somehow, I really was anxious to
go the next morning.
For the other categories of competition, I was acting as a recorder for the judging. This is the person who writes down the judges scores during the competitive flights, since the judge can't look away from the plane he or she is judging. All I could think about, as I watched ever more complex series' of aerobatic maneuvers, was the sequence for Basic. In the Basic category, you are given a fixed, known sequence of figures to fly which make up the basic aerobatic maneuvers for almost all the other figures.
The sequence (after you have entered, and are approximately in the center of, the box) is: Spin (1 turn), Loop, 180-degree Turn, Aileron Roll, 90-degree Turn, Exit the box. Sounds easy. Even so, Cynthia said you can lose track of the next figure and she made a sheet for me to follow and clipped it onto the panel of the Decathlon. Wow, were we ever ready!
Into the air. We climbed to reach the box and stayed out of the way until it was clear of the previous competitor. Soon they flipped the markers to white to indicate the box was empty. We came in from the West and entered the box almost centered. It is impossible to describe how I felt at the time. I didn't know if I was frightened or just EXTREMELY excited. Hopefully more of the latter, I thought.
The first round came off fairly well. I got scores on all the figures, that is "no zeros". So, the judges at least were able to count 5 basic figures and they were done within site of the scoring position. Wow, that was fun. Now I knew I was anxious to get back up again and try to do better. (There weren't any 10's.)
The next round went better on 3 maneuvers but my loop looked like a lower-case "L", and I lost a lot of altitude in the 180-degree turn. Still, it felt great and I was thrilled to even be doing aerobatics already.
Sunday brought a third round. With the weather turning for the better, the sky over cental Illinois was beautiful, and again we were climbing in the Decathlon to get ready to enter the box. Here we go.
Now I am not sure what happened this time. I believe I came out of the loop somewhere other than on the X-axis of the box. Anyway, I was soon off somewhere else. We may have flown over downtown Louisville. I think I completed my aileron roll before we got as far south as Bowling Green.
Dave was patient and explained where I had slipped up a few places, and finally we got back on the ground. (And we didn't even have to contact Chicago Center to find VYS again.
The scores were not terribly pretty. But is was my first competition, and in a borrowed plane. (THANKS very much to Cynthia and Dave.) The scores were ready and the awards were soon to be done. I stood watching as people were introduced and I'm sure I was grinning from ear-to-ear just thinking about what I had done.
Now they were giving the 1st Place trophy for Basic. Rory Olson announced that the other competitor was competing for a different award and called my name for 1st Place. WOW! This can't be real. But it was. I'm still not sure why exactly, but I was awarded the wall plaque for 1st Place in Basic at the Illinois State Open Aerobatics Championships.
Oh boy, I can't wait to do more of this.
And, speaking of more, we'll have other articles in this
series in future weeks.
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