Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Gah ! I've joined the Angle of Attack Church!

A time ago I posted an entry about how lousy of a virtual pilot I am.

I've lost count of how many virtual skies I've flown. Smolensk, Moscow, Okinawa, the Coral Sea, Korea, Great Britain, France ... I've chatted with fellow air combat simmers about energy and angles dogfights. I've been such a pedantic idiot that a couple of years ago I thought that I was done with combat flight simulators.  The truth is that after 10 years of on and off combat flight simming, I was not able to fly an airplane straight and level without continuously moving the stick back and forth.

(Click here or "read more" below for the full story)
As I mentioned in the previous entry, "Microsoft Flight Simulator X for Pilots" has helped me a lot in my virtual flying. But I needed something to explain me why things are done the way they are done.

"Stick and Rudder" is an aviation classic published for the first time in 1944.

I think this book is exactly what I've been looking for.

It starts like this (bold is mine):

At this very moment, thousands of men, trying to learn to fly, are wasting tens of thousands of air hours simply because they don't understand how an airplane flies; because they don't see the one fact that explains just about every single thing they are doing; because they lack the one key that with one click unlocks most of the secrets of the art of flying.
In the textbooks, this thing is discussed under the name of Angle of Attack. The story of the Angle of Attack is in a way the theory of flight: if you had only two hours in which to explain the airplane to a student pilot, this is what you would have to explain. It is almost literally all there is to flight. It explains all about the climb, the glide, and level flight; much about the turn; practically all about the ordinary stall, the power stall, the spin. It takes the puzzlement out of such maneuvers as the nose-high power approach; it is the theory of landing. No maneuver can be fully understood unless you understand this one thing. You may then still not be able to fly well; you may still be clumsy at moving the stick and rudder perfectly together. Your eyes and ears and feet may still be a little dull; but you will understand flying and not be puzzled; you will be able to figure out what you ought to do; you will be able to analyze your own mistakes; and you will get by.

For the incurable skeptics like me, going through the first two paragraphs of the book without raising the eyebrows is almost impossible. As you can see above, the author takes no prisoners. Right in the middle of the first chapter I said enough and fired up my copy of IL2 to see it by myself. I chose the highly maneuverable and unwieldy Corsair (see screenshot above): this airplane has always been a bitch to me. Bam! The guy was spot on: I trimmed the aircraft with the angle of attack in mind and everything makes sense. I can keep a constant altitude and speed with no problems. You've got to see the landings I'm doing now. I still bounce a bit during landings, but guess what? The book has a section about landing bounces too.

I'm humbled and excited by this book. It feels like a religious epiphany.



smiss said...

Great post - that book is an aviation classic and as a glider pilot, it's one of the most important books in my library.

JC said...

Hi smiss!

Thanks for your comment and for dropping by the blog.

I'm reading your blogs now. Great stuff! :)