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Beginners guide to Aerobatics

There is nothing more challenging or exhilarating in aviation than aerobatics, yet many pilots feel that this is beyond their capabilities, but it should not be so.

Basic aerobatics can teach pilot skills that might one day be beneficial should they get into a bad situation during landing, slow flight, instrument/night flying, bad weather or when showing off. Yip, some of you needed that last one.

Feeling the controls all the way against the stop while in an unusual attitude is, for the uninitiated very unsettling, but super addictive once you understand the how’s and whys of basic aerobatics.

As you would already know, aerobatics is not part of basic pilot training, however all pilots can benefit from a little practice and the understanding of loops, rolls, stalls and stringing these important yet simple manoeuvres together. This will build more confidence in handling and decision making. Instantly recognising unusual attitudes will increases your reaction time.

Aerobatics consist of five basic manoeuvres:

  • Lines (both horizontal and vertical),
  • loops,
  • rolls,
  • spins and
  • hammerheads.


Nearly all aircraft are capable of performing aerobatics manoeuvres of some kind, although it may not be legal or safe to do so in certain aircraft. A few phone calls to your local club and school should point you in the right direction. In the beginning you will not be climbing into a SBach or Extra, but rather a simple training aircraft like a Citabria or Super Decathlon.

The first shock will be that most of these aircraft will have a tailwheel. This means getting a tailwheel endorsement, which will also help with your aircraft handling skills.

The second shock will be that most of these aircraft are built with tubular steel and fabric covering, and the last shock will be that your instructor will be sitting behind you in tandem, not next to you. You might even experience an aircraft with two wings such as a biplane like a Tiger Moth or hells bells, a Stearman.

Should you not be comfortable with this, find a school that has a spamcan Cessna 150 Aerobat that has the all familiar nosewheel.


Not all flight schools offer aerobatic training, but some schools do offer emergency spin recovery training and also custom courses in upset training.

In no case, should aerobatics be learned on your own. Quality instruction is the only way to go.

No matter who you fly with, parachutes are required equipment when flying dual and should be required by any aerobatic school when flying solo. The school you work with should have a designated training area. No matter where you fly, your minimum altitude for any manoeuvre should be 1,500 feet AGL. Your instructor should review and brief you before and after each flight with all of the applicable regulations and procedures that are involved in aerobatics.

Make sure you are comfortable with your aerobatic instructor. After all you are going to experience life and death manoeuvres together.

Good instructors are well aware of the strains to a newcomer to aerobatics and the time it takes to get used to it all, and will be careful and conscientious as to how they introduce you to this type of flying.

Make sure you have a good intercom or signal system and can indicate when you’ve had enough. Remember to tighten your thigh and stomach muscles when pulling positive G’s, (this helps prevent blood from rushing to one end of your body).

Your first basic manoeuvres will probably be either a loop, a roll or a spin.

From that point on it becomes a matter of instructor’s preference and/or the school syllabus. Those first few hours will demand tremendous concentration and probably leave you feeling quite tired. It takes a little while to build up stamina. Learning to relax, while hanging upside down in a slow roll, may require some conscious effort.

After your training you might want to consider aerobatics as a hobby, or if you are good enough, a career. But remember this could really be expensive and would require some form of sponsorship.

Many pilots are first introduced to competition by helping out, volunteering to work as an assistant judge, or in other functions. This experience teaches you how a contest works.

Competition aerobatics is divided up into different class levels, depending on your skills, experience and type of aircraft:

  • Sportsman Class
  • Intermediate Class
  • Advanced Class
  • Unlimited Class

In South Africa, we have two other classes:

  • RV Class
  • Freestyle Class

There are also categories for glider aerobatics.




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