The secrets to 5 tricks you’ll learn in aerobatics Training

Watching the blue angels as a child was one of the things that always inspired me to become a pilot. Aside from flying, I also love freestyle mountain bike riding, where I get my other “air time”. I feel like aerobatics combines the best of both.

Aerobatics isn’t something you start learning in your first lesson (much to my disappointment!) or even your 20th. It takes mastering a lot of other skills before you can even learn basic aerobatic manoeuvres. It’s generally not cheap either – you’ll need to train in a specialist aerobatic category aircraft, since a botched manoeuvre or recovery could bend or permanently ground your Cessna or other normal category aircraft.

One word of warning – when you begin to start learning aerobatics, I highly recommend getting a flight helmet for your own safety. Aerobatics isn’t like GA flying, your body is physically thrown around in the cockpit, and an impact to your head could be fatal.

1. Vertical Loop

Aerobatics Training

The vertical loop is a positive G maneuver flown throughout 360 degrees of pitch. This means that even at the top of the loop, (when you’re upside down) you’ll feel acceleration towards the floor of the aircraft, and not the canopy. A vertical loop is primarily controlled by the elevators with balancing input from the rudders as required.

Due to the varying speeds and load factors throughout the loop, the slipstream effect on the aircraft will alter requiring increasing balancing rudder in the first half (slowing down), and then decreasing balancing rudder in the second half (speeding up).

How to do a Vertical Loop

  1. Check that the airspace you’ll be performing the maneuver in is clear by performing a wingover – pitch up and whilst holding the g, bank the aircraft so that you can see below and above your current altitude.
  2. Find a line feature on the ground that will help you fly straight during the loop.
  3. Align yourself with your chosen line feature, and pitch down to accelerate to entry speed – approximately 3x Vs (stall speed) or .9 of Vno (maximum structural cruise speed)
  4. Pitch up smoothly to apply 3-4G (load factor)
  5. Maintain your stick position and move your eyes from the left wingtip to the right wingtip to ensure that each wingtip is the same position above the horizon. Correct any discrepancy with rudder
  6. Start to increasing the right rudder on the first half of the loop (vertical up) to balance increased slipstream effect due to reducing speed.
  7. Just prior to inverted move your head and eyes back and wait for the horizon to appear in your field of view. 
  8. Apply forward pressure on the stick against stall buffet if any is felt.
  9. at the inverted position, slightly reduce pressure on the stick to make the loop more circular.
  10. As you come around to vertical down you MUST apply backpressure for 3-4G’s to prevent over speed and to complete the maneuver to exit on your original height, with reducing right rudder to account for increasing speed
  11. Level off and confirm your line feature, height and airspeed.

Common Errors

  • Pulling too tightly (too much drag!) leading to a stall
  • Not pulling hard enough so the loop is too big and you stall on the up line
  • Crooked loop by not keeping the wings equal to the horizon or by not balancing the skid ball.

2. Horizontal Aileron Roll

Aerobatics Training

The Aileron Roll is flown throughout 360 Degrees of roll, using primarily the aileron control.

Due to slipstream and torque effect, this will be most easily achieved in the direction opposite to propeller rotation – i.e. in a conventional (American) aircraft with a clockwise (right) rotating propeller, the roll rate will be highest in a left turn and so the left aileron will show the best performance. Rolls in the same direction of propeller rotation may appear sluggish.

Because of potential slow roll rates (60-90 Degrees per second) in most aircraft, you’ll need to pitch the aircraft up to approximately 20-30 degrees nose up and use momentum to maintain height throughout the maneuver. On recovery, the aircraft may become erect in a nose-low configuration, which can either be recovered or used to accelerate into the next maneuver.

How to do an Aileron Roll

  1. Clear the airspace with a wingover
  2. Align yourself with a line feature and dive to build up to the correct airspeed – approximately 2.5 x Vs
  3. Pitch 20-30 degrees nose up
  4. Return the stick to get back to zero-G (load factor), pitch forward slightly if necessary to achieve zero-G.
  5. Apply full left aileron with a small amount of rudder with neutral pitch and then remove all rudder.
  6. When inverted, a small amount of forward stick is ok. Maintain the full aileron deflection
  7. When returning upright in the last 90 degrees, introduce a small amount of back pressure on the stick with rudder to assist.

3. Barrel Roll

Aerobatics Training

A barrel roll is a positive G combined pitching and rolling manoeuvre. The aircraft traces out a path that would follow the inside of a barrel.

How to do a Barrel Roll

  1. perform a wingover to clear airspace, pick a line feature, and a reference point in front of that.
  2. Exit the wingover at an angle of 30-45 degrees to line feature and dive to entry speed (3x Vs or .9 of Vno)
  3. Pitch up (3G) to put the instrument panel on the horizon
  4. whilst holding the pitch position, perform a coordinated turn with gentle roll and rudder. After 45 degrees of turn the aircraft should have 90 degrees of bank with the nose very high
  5. Continue the roll to the inverted position and feed in more aileron and less back pressure on the stick. At inverted the nose should be well above the horizon.
  6. After inverted, and in the decent, increase the back pressure on the stick, reduce aileron input and coordinate with rudder

4. Stall Turn

Aerobatics Training

A stall turn is sometimes incorrectly called an Immelman turn or a hammerhead. It makes use of the first quarter of a loop with an abrupt 3-4G pull up from level to vertically upwards.

As the airspeed decreases to approximately the straight and level stall speed, apply abrupt rudder input to yaw the aircraft through 180 degrees to establish a vertical down line. The yawing motion may cause the outside wing to produce lift and hence you may need to apply opposite aileron to the rudder to maintain a pure yawing motion.

In addition, due to the gyroscopic effect, the propeller will transmit the yawing force into a pitching force, so you may also need to use forward or back pressure on the control column to maintain neutral pitch.

Note this pitch will depend on the direction of the stall turn and the direction of rotation of the propeller.

The easiest direction for a stall turn is in the opposite direction to propeller rotation (much the same as the aileron and barrel roll). This is a is left hand stall turn for a conventional aircraft (clockwise rotating propeller) and right for an anticlockwise rotating propeller (as viewed by the pilot).

NOTE: A Stall turn in the same direction as propeller rotation is called an opposite stall turn. This will require significantly more rudder and aileron input and depending on your aircraft may require backpressure to prevent excessive nose tuck and recovering to a slightly inverted position. Like anything – keep your eyes up and out and do what you need to with your hands and feet to make the picture work out the front!

How to do a Stall Turn

  1. Clear the airspace with a wingover
  2. Establish a line feature and reference point, and pitch down to accelerate to entry speed
  3. Pitch nose up using back pressure on the stick (3-4G) to reach vertical
  4. Turn your head to look at the wingtip in the direction you’ll be performing a stall turn
  5. Ensure the aircraft is pitched to the vertical, use forward stick if required to make the rate of pitch zero and maintain position
  6. Count to 3 seconds. Glance at ASI to check when you’ve reached stall speed
  7. Introduce full rudder deflection in the direction of the stall turn and opposite aileron to balance
  8. Apply forward stick pressure (if required) to keep the pitch rate zero. For an opposite stall turn, you may need to apply backpressure.
  9. Reduce rudder input once aircraft has almost completed the turn to prevent overswing.
  10. Establish aircraft on vertical down line
  11. Recover to level using the standard 3-4G pull up from the loop

5. Slow Roll

Aerobatics Training

A slow roll is similar to an aileron roll, except that due to the low rate of roll, you’ll need to apply more rudder and back/forward stick to maintain the aircraft in level flight

How to do a Slow Roll

  1. Clear the airspace with a wingover
  2. Align yourself with a line feature and dive to build up to the correct airspeed – approximately 2.5 x Vs
  3. Raise the nose to a slight climbing attitude – 15 degrees nose up
  4. Return the stick to get back to zero-G (load factor), pitch forward slightly if necessary to achieve zero-G.
  5. Roll the aircraft using aileron slowly, progressively introducing opposite rudder
  6. At 90 degrees (or knife-edge), apply full opposite rudder deflection to the direction of the turn.
  7. Continue the roll using aileron, progressively introducing forward stick pressure and decreasing rudder
  8. At inverted, apply almost full forward stick to maintain inverted flight with no rudder
  9. Continue rolling using aileron, progressively introducing rudder in the direction of the turn and decreasing forward stick pressure
  10. at 90 degrees or opposite knife-edge, full rudder deflection in the direction of the turn and no forward stick pressure
  11. Continue rolling using aileron, progressively reducing rudder deflection and increasing backpressure

Does aerobatics sound harder than you thought? It certainly feels like it at the start, but just like any other skill in flying, with practice on the ground (chair flying) and visualizing the control inputs during the maneuver, you’ll get better a lot faster in the air.

Do you have aerobatic experience? What’s your go-to trick to “wow” your passengers? let us know in the comments below.

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ken johnson


Ken is a passionate aviator, a professional pilot and flight instructor. He has over 17 years of flight experience across hundreds of aircraft ranging from recreational, aerobatic, historic, commercial and military aircraft, training hundreds of students along the way. Find out more.

Ken has 124 posts and counting. See all posts by Ken

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