The Liberty Gazette
October 11, 2011Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely
Linda: Last week I started to tell about my recent encounter with making a Pitts S2B biplane dance through the air. Being my first time in this airplane I had to learn how the plane handled and the only way to do so was by wringing it out under the tutelage of my instructor, world record holder Bruce Bohannon. To perform an aileron roll to the left, first establish airspeed –140 knots is good – then pitch the nose up ten degrees above the horizon. Push the stick to the left and as the airplane rolls about halfway through the maneuver, when you’re upside down, push the stick a little forward to keep the nose on the horizon. Continuing the roll through the last half, begin putting in lots of left rudder while pulling the stick back a little. Really step on that left rudder hard through the last 90 degrees of rotation while pulling the nose up, gradually releasing the left rudder as you roll around to wings level flight. It takes a lot of practice to end up pointing the way you intended to. The loops, the half-Cubans, and even the hammerhead turned out more smoothly than most of my rolls, hence, an incentive to return.
Mike: Getting into the cockpit of the Pitts requires one to have performed as a contortionist at some point in life. Strapping into the parachute, then the five point harness and the lap belt requires feats of super-human strength. If you don’t get it right it can make for a very uncomfortable feeling, especially when you are upside down, dangling from a loose harness, looking at the earth over your head.
The takeoff was a bit bumpy on the drought-stricken grass strip. If this persists, Bruce will have to make arrangements to take his airplanes to a paved airport. The Pitts has tough landing gear but some of those cracks in the ground could cause a prop strike, meaning the potential for a costly engine tear-down.
Once we were airborne the Pitts’ powerful engine whisked us skyward to over 3,000 feet where we began maneuvers. I last flew a Pitts over 30 years ago when I was taking aerobatic lessons and somehow my instructor and I ended up in a dogfight with another Pitts out over the Pacific. I’d long since forgotten how light the controls were and how easy it was to over-control and pull a lot of “G’s.” One “G” is equivalent to the gravitational pull we are subjected to while on the earth’s surface. Roller coasters typically subject a body to two or three “G’s” and an aerobatic airplane like the Pitts can subject its occupants to so many G’s they can black out. I didn’t pull that many but the G-meter read nearly six positive and a bit over one negative. My very first roll was so quick and over controlled that we practically slammed our heads against the canopy; oops!
After several maneuvers we descended back toward Bruce’s strip. He rolled into a bank with enough rudder to make it feel like we were flying sideways in a steep slipping approach past the power lines on one side and the trees and ditch on the other and deftly touched down on the grass. Our teeth rattled as the plane decelerated and came to a stop right in front of his hangar. I’ll be back.