Another Day at the Blockhouse

Fellow IAC36 competitor James Pratt borrowed a digital video camera and made this video of his practice session in the Super Decathlon today. This is the aircraft I flew last season before moving into the S-2B.

Speaking of which, the video is interesting because there’s a lot of talk about video systems right now. A two camera system is being installed in the Extra 300, and we’re interested in putting a two or three camera system into the Pitts. Combined with the smoke system, it will make a great addition to the demo flights we do in that aircraft.

Anyway, back to James’ video. He should be flying in a higher category and move up from the Super D, but the cost gets prohibitive. Quickly.

You’ll see him run through the sequence twice. The first time, the camera is pointed at his face. Despite appearances, this is not (always) due to vanity. No, it’s so he can see where he’s looking. If a maneuver is not working out well, it is often because the pilot is not looking in the right place at the right time. Plus it’s funny to see yourself get scrunched down in the seat by the Gs, and as we all know, the ability to laugh at oneself is important — right up there with putting your video online so we can all giggle at it.

The second time through, the camera is pointed straight ahead. Believe it or not, this is one of the least useful angles for aerobatic training. In general, I think looking out at the wing, back toward the tail, or across the aircraft will be far more enlightening than looking straight forward. The wing view will reveal common flaws with vertical lines, 45s, departure from the X-axis track during looping maneuvers, and so on.

The video was taken at the Blockhouse, an unimproved area of south Orange County that we use for aerobatic flight. It’s one of the only places left around here that meets the requirements of 14 CFR 91.303. Comprised of three closely spaced, parallel north-south valleys, on any given day you’ll find as many as four airplanes using this space at one time. It requires a high level of situational awareness. It think this pays off, though, because I’ve noticed that folks who practice over featureless areas or open water have a harder time managing their position in a marked aerobatic box.

During the video, you’ll hear the Pitts (N1191) make a call inbound to the Blockhouse. James is in the central valley. One of the other Decathlons (N5535K) shifts from the east valley to the west valley to make room for the Pitts. We keep the S-2B in the east valley as much as possible for noise abatement. This Blockhouse ballet is pretty amazing when you step back and look at it.

Sometimes I think about the hundreds of pilots who have trained — and trained others — at the Blockhouse. I would not be surprised if this was the most active aerobatic practice area in the country. Unfortunately, the Blockhouse is at risk as developers build homes ever closer to our practice area. I am hopeful that a serious slowdown in the housing market will allow this aerobatic haven to flourish for a while longer.

As they say, supplies are running out. And once it’s gone, it’s gone.

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