All About Aerobatic Flying

While PrivateFly specializes in private jet charter, we do also like to watch a good aerobatic show in true #AvGeek fashion.

Here we explore a bit about the jaw-dropping loops, rolls & slides of extreme flying – and what the future might hold.

What Aircraft Are Used for Aerobatic Flying?

There are two types of aircraft used in aerobatics: specialist aerobatic planes and aerobatic capable aircraft. Specialist aerobatic planes like the Pitts Special and Sukhoi Su-29 are modified for aerobatic performance.

While aerobatic capable aircraft like the Cessna 152 Aerobat or R2160 Acrobin are still fit for general use – in other words, they can perform aerobatics while still being equipped to carry passengers and luggage.

Pitts_Special_Flying aerobatic

Jets are used in aerobatics mainly for formation flying, because they can’t use the gyroscopic forces that a propeller driven aircraft can exploit and their speed increases the size of aerobatic figures and the amount of time a pilot must withstand increased g-forces.

One of the most popular aerobatics airplanes is the Extra 330SC, favored by many aerobatics stars including “first lady of aerobatics” Patty Wagstaff. Patty’s achievements include winning three U.S. National Championships and many awards, such as the Charlie Hillard Trophy for being the top-scoring American pilot at the 1996 World Aerobatic Championships.

Other popular choices include the Sukhoi Su-26-M and Sukhoi Su-31-M, XtremeAir Sbach 300, Mudry CAP 332, Extra EA-300SR and MX Aircraft MXS.

Is Aerobatic Flying Only Solo?

While you might see single-pilot aerobatic performances, there are also flight formation aerobatics flown by teams of up to 16 aircraft.

Colored smoke trails may be emitted to emphasize the patterns flown and/or the colors of a national flag. Usually each team will use aircraft similar to one another finished in a special and dramatic color scheme, thus emphasizing their entertainment function.

aerobatic flying team colored smoke flying v

Teams often fly V-formations (otherwise known as echelon formation)— they will not fly directly behind another aircraft because of danger from wake vortices or engine exhaust. Aircraft will always fly slightly below the aircraft in front, if they have to follow in line (the “trail formation”).

Where Can I See Aerobatic Flying?

The most common places to see aerobatic performances would be at air shows – the most famous of which are:

  • the EAA AirVenture Oshkosh, held in Wisconsin, is the world’s largest airshow of its kind. More than 10,000 aircraft and pilots take part and the event attracts 500,000 spectators each year
  • Every year on the third weekend of July, the Royal International Air Tattoo takes place at RAF Fairford in England. It is the world’s largest military air show, held in support of The Royal Air Force Charitable Trust, and draws crowds of 150,000
  • Canada’s biggest airshow, the Abbotsford Airshow, treats 125,000 plus spectators to performances by Canadian Snowbirds, the SkyHawks parachuting team, Thunderbirds and Blue Angels
  • The Paris Air Show is the world’s largest aviation expo, treating crowds to spectacular aerobatics flying displays as a selection of the 150 aircraft on display take to the skies every afternoon over the historic city.

In a more extreme category, the Red Bull Air Race World Championship is another high-octane flying event.

Established in 2003, it’s an international series of air races in which competitors must navigate challenging obstacle courses – often in scenic locations.

redbull air race

Future of Extreme Flight

One of the most exciting new sports around is drone racing. The Red Bull DR.ONE event, held for the first time in September 2017, featured fantastic speeds, displays of incredible talent and a spirit of aviation innovation. Held in Austria, the event tested the navigation skills of some of the world’s best pilots on a fast, technical track with weight and height as the only limits.

Image: Red Bull

Image: Red Bull

In fact, there isn’t another area of model flight that has expanded so quickly in such a short time. According to DR.ONE Race Director Jörg Bumba, the possible speeds and maneuvers are mind-blowing and he sees parallels with races like Formula 1 or Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters.

With the constant developments in drone technology and the training and talent required by drone pilots, he’s optimistic that this niche sport will go mainstream in years to come.

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