Keep reading to learn more about aerobatics and acrobatics, how they differ, how pilots perform them, and how candidates can train in both of these flights.
If you have ever been to an air show and seen planes flying in unison and doing synchronised loops and rolls, then you have already witnessed aerobatic flight!
Aerobatics is used in a competition setting and involves precise and calculated stunts that are performed by extremely competent pilots who can fly aircraft either solo or in sync with a fleet of other aircraft.
Acrobatics, on the other hand, is more of a free-form style of flying that involves rolls, spins, loops, and other complex manoeuvres. In fact, aerobatics can be thought of as a form of acrobatics, but in a very specific way. Acrobatics is akin to stunt driving where the driver performs complex twists and turns to put on a show for the viewers but also has practical uses. For example, it is taught to military pilots who can use these manoeuvres to evade enemy fire during dogfights or intense engagements.
Keep reading to learn more about aerobatics and acrobatics, how they differ, how pilots perform them, and how candidates can train in both these flights:
The origin of acrobatic flying can be traced back to the early 1900s when pilots initially began to push the boundaries of what was possible with aircraft. They did this by performing spins and rolls.
These initial tests allowed them to understand the limitations of the aircraft and enabled them to work toward making better and more aerodynamic aircraft.
Aerodynamics play a big role in how an aircraft responds in the air but before we get into the basics of aerodynamics, we must first talk about how a plane flies.
An aeroplane flies using a phenomenon called Bernoulli's principle. This principle states that as the speed of a fluid or air increases, its pressure decreases – but how does this apply to an aircraft?
Well, if you take a look at any aircraft, you will notice that their wings are curved but that’s not just why the plane is able to take off. When the plane travels up the runway, it gains speed. This speed results in moving air that passes through the top section of the wings.
As per Bernoulli's principle, the air passing through the top of the wings decreases pressure which enables the air at the bottom of the wings to push up, because that area has high pressure.
To understand this phenomenon better, you can even do a simple experiment right now at home. All you need is a thin ribbon-like piece of paper!
Tear a piece of paper, hold one edge of the tip, and bring it close to your mouth. Make sure that the paper is curving away from you. Now blow on top of the curve and watch how the paper rises up!
The paper rises, despite you blowing air above it because when you move air above the paper, it creates a low-pressure zone and the air below it (which has high pressure) pushes up, creating lift.
Let’s apply this principle again on aircraft. As the aircraft reaches top ground speed, the plane is primed for take-off but it still needs a bit of a push. This push comes in the form of the angle of the wings. As the pilot angles the wing and tail downward, it pushes even more air which ultimately results in lift.
When pilots perform acrobatics in the air, they constantly depend on Bernoulli's principle to perform various complex maneuverers but in order to do these wild turns and spins, the plane also needs to be aerodynamic.
In simple terms, aerodynamics creates the least resistance to fluid or, in this case, airflow. See, when an aircraft rolls and spins, it puts a lot of pressure on not just the pilot, but also the aircraft. So, the more well-designed the aircraft is, the more complex maneuverers it can perform.
Acrobatic flight simply depends on these various factors to virtually bend the aircraft to the pilot’s will. Of course, this doesn’t mean that acrobatic flying is easy – it's actually extremely difficult to master and requires constant training.
Only the most trained pilots get to perform acrobatics, even if it is a simple spin or roll. A pilot needs to be extremely well-trained in the various flight systems and be well-versed with aircraft/human limitations to perform stunts.
We’ll discuss the training in detail below, but before that, let’s talk a bit about aerobatics.
Differences in Aerobatics
Aerobatics is a form of acrobatics – but it is done in an extremely precise and controlled manner. Unlike acrobatics, which can be akin to parkour, aerobatics is a more disciplined and synchronised form of flying.
Although it employs the same principles and moves used in acrobatics, you will mostly see aerobatics in competitions or top-notch air shows. Aerobatics came about during the early 1900s.
Did you know: the first recorded aerobatic was performed by a French pilot by the name of Adolphe Pégoud in 1913? He managed to get his propellor plane (Blériot xi monoplane) to fly upside down for a few seconds.
This feat astonished the aviation community at the time and demonstrated that pilots could indeed push the boundaries of flight and try different manoeuvres within the limitations of the aircraft.
It didn’t take long for the military to adopt this type of flying either as aerobatics had become an incredibly important tool for evading enemies during both World War I and World War II. Aerobatics even started to evolve with advancements in technology.
As aircraft took on a more modern design, they also become highly nimble and most of all, safe for various forms of aerobatics. This even led to aerobatics becoming a form of competitive flying.
Air shows are an excellent example of this because they heavily rely on aerobatics to wow the audience. Aerobatics during air shows is truly a sight to see because there isn’t just one plane performing stunts, but multiple planes performing stunts in perfect unison.
This type of flying requires extreme training, timing, and intuition. It also requires pilots to develop a “feel” for the aircraft.
Here are some of the most common types of manoeuvres that most pilots learn to perform:
Rolls are one of the most basic forms of acrobatics. They are performed by rolling the plane along its longitudinal axis.
The pilot maintains a steady level and then tilts the plane in either direction to perform the roll. When the plane is tilted, the pilot continuously maintains pressure on the stick to keep the plane in a straight line.
This type of acrobatic may sound simple as you are just rolling the plane either left or right but in reality, it requires quite a lot of training and control of the aircraft. The pilot needs to develop the right intuition and feel for the aircraft and recover the plane to its original position after finishing the roll.
A spin or tailspin is a highly complex manoeuvre that involves rapidly descending the plane in a corkscrew pattern.
A spin is a dangerous acrobatic because it involves deliberately stalling the plane and then dropping the plane while maintaining a spinning motion. The pilot needs to keep an eye on the instrument panel and maintain pressure on the stick to continue spinning downwards.
Once the altitude limit has been reached, the pilot must then apply the opposite rudder to stop spinning and bring the plane back to normal flight. The recovery from this acrobatic is quite difficult and requires extreme training.
Only pilots who are well-versed in aerobatics are allowed to perform this manoeuvre because any moment of doubt or miscalculation can significantly increase the risk of a crash.
In simple terms, a loop is a classic aerobatic manoeuvre where the pilot flies the aircraft in a vertical circle, creating a loop.
This type of aerobatic is very common and is truly a sight to see from the ground. The loop is performed by first attempting a vertical climb. The plane then slowly rolls and the loop is completed inverted until the aircraft reaches its original position.
The key to this manoeuvre is to keep the plane from stalling. Pilots must slowly apply power to the aircraft to keep the plane from diving. Just as with the other manoeuvres discussed above, a loop may sound simple, since you are just flipping the plane to form a circle, but it requires patience, intuition, and lots of training.
The Cuban eight is one of the most complex and fun-to-see aerobatics performed at air shows. This manoeuvre involves flying the plane in two loops flown in opposite directions. It also involves a half-roll between each loop.
This is one of the most complex manoeuvres that is only performed by highly skilled and experienced individuals. Not many people can perform a complete Cuban eight because of its complexity but the ones who do usually end up taking part in aerobatic competitions.
We encourage you to watch videos of pilots performing a Cuban eight to understand the complexity of this fun but risky manoeuvre.
A hammerhead may sound like a simple move but it pushes the limits of the aircraft and the pilot. This move involves a vertical climb followed by a sudden drop.
The manoeuvre is done in succession at many air shows but it requires quite a lot of training. Since the plane climbs and quickly drops, it applies a lot of G-force on the pilot which is why only highly experienced pilots perform this manoeuvre.
The recovery of this manoeuvre is essentially easy, but it requires the pilot to remain in sync with the “feel” of the plane and how it descends so that they can apply the necessary power to level the plane back to normal flight.
Aerobatics at Flight Schools
If you want to learn aerobatics then the best place to start your training is at a flight school. However, we do not recommend that you go to just any flight school near you. To master aerobatics, you need to train with the best pilots and at a flight school that offers the best facilities.
There is only one way to master acrobatics and that is by practising with an experienced instructor that knows the ins and outs of various acrobatic manoeuvres. Instructors teach pilots about acrobatics by breaking down the manoeuvres into different stages. Each stage contains a list of precautions and involves a lot of training.
You also need to train on lightweight and agile aircraft that can not only keep up with your training requirements but can also help you glide across and slide in the smoothest way possible.
Flight schools are also responsible for various ground training that involves thorough theoretical tests that ensure that the pilot learns everything about meteorology, navigation, manoeuvrability, and most importantly, how to recover from a complex aerobatic manoeuvre.
Both theoretical and practical training is essential in building intuition as they can immensely help pilots in difficult situations. This training can also carry forward if you ever decide to build a career in aviation since it can be applicable for competitions and even in military applications.
Flight schools like Sherburn Aeroclub offer dedicated experience flights in highly maintained aircraft like the Robin 2160 aeroplane which is the default choice for many pilots who practice acrobatics. The instructors at Sherburn Aeroclub are well-versed in various manoeuvres and follow all the necessary safety protocols so that you enjoy the flight without taking on any mental stress.
Our instructors are trained to not just teach but to also inspire young candidates. Unlike other flight schools that simply instruct and debrief pilots after training, our instructors will take the time to individually address your needs. This means that you will get full attention and will get the opportunity to reach your full potential in aerobatics!
WHY CHOOSE SHERBURN AERO CLUB
Sherburn Aero Club, which has been operational since 1964, is the ideal place for most of your training and flying needs. It is one of the largest flying clubs in the North of England and also one of the largest in the country.
For those who wish to experience the thrill of a flight for fun or to help fuel their aviation dreams, Sherburn offers experience flights for the newbie, as well as the veteran. The flight experience option is also available for people who wish to take to the skies for special occasions, even if they aren’t into aviation in the long run.
With a large fleet of new aircraft and an airfield refurbishment with new runways, hangars, and an extended clubhouse, we cater to brand-new flyers who have just started their journey to the skies, as well as seasoned flyers who have been operating aircraft for decades.
If you wish to begin your career in aviation or wish to take to the skies as a hobby, Sherburn’s flight training school offers private and commercial licenses, along with pilot medicals to ensure a smooth journey going forward.
Sherburn offers a dedicated day-long Flight Radiotelephony Operator’s Licence (FRTOL) course for those wishing to get the certification, running the first Sunday of every month.
Our dedicated aerobatic experience flights are the definitive way for training pilots on various complex manoeuvres. If you want to hone your skills and train for competitions then our instructors are more than equipped to cater to your needs.
In addition to that, if you are looking for a hangarage for your own aircraft, need servicing or repairs, want to buy a new aircraft or aviation equipment, or are just looking to enjoy and watch the aircraft, Sherburn Aero Club is the place to be.
Call us on 01977 682 674, email us at email@example.com, or message us via our online contact form for more information on acrobatics and aerobatics, as well as experience flights and pilot training at Sherburn.