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Blog 3 – Rematch

The 2nd Air Combat USA dog fight, our re-match.

So who won?

Hummmmmm well…….

Last time two years ago we battled over the Atlantic off Long Island, the weather was questionable on the run up which was a bit stressful, not having a back-up, but was actually OK on the day. So we said in future we would go to their base in California as the weather should be more predictable. Mark as you may know is a tad competitive and he lost the first time, so he was dead keen to have a rematch.

Stupidly I joined Mark in some beers the night before, last time we abstained, silly decision for me. He lead me on, honest!

Unlike the previous clear blue skies at Long Island we arrived at Fullerton Airport and it was rather depressing, both smoggy and grey with very low cloud. We flew out over the coast of Long Beach to an area slightly above Catalina Island. Thick cloud, so we were in a winter wonderland, there was a perfect white cloud base below us. It was very very hot up there in the sunshine. It worked well for us, as last time when diving you saw sea below, the cloud on this second trip made it a bit less scary.

You sit side by side with the pilot, he takes off then hands you control. After some close formation flying to get you used to the aircraft, there are some practice manoeuvres and YoYo’s for about 15 mins. Then the combat begins, you start a mile or two away and face each other, but are quite far apart. You fly at each other but to the side, it is not a game of chicken. As the wings pass each other on the left, its game on.

First one – we looped up and came down each other like the top of a heart shape, we were heading for each other inverted. My aircraft was higher , the positioning meant my pilot saw it first and that we were on the same course, so quickly for safety sake he pulled us out to avoid a crash. He calling out that we were disengaging, but those sods followed me off and then shot me down! A great bloomin start for me. It was 1 nil to him and SO unfair.

Second one – he got me again, OH NO ! So 2 nil to him, panic sets in!

Third time I nailed him in double quick time, he didn’t know what hit him, got him just coming over the top of the first loop. I think this was the one where he had managed to get himself into a vertical spin after. Now 2-1 with me more optimistic, but I have to concentrate and get up into the loop quicker just as our wings first flash past. You want to jerk the stick back, but you must make it smooth and yet fast.

Number four – I got on his chuff again nice n quick and right up his tail pipe too. Normally you need the other aircraft to fill half of the circle in the gunsight, then you know you are in range of your guns. He filled it and was much larger than the sight’s circle, so I got him good n proper, never been so close before and accelerated past him off to the right of his wing, it was the perfect Yo Yo. I must have looked dead cool. We were both much more aware this time of the man0euvre. Started by putting the nose down and gaining speed quickly, then pull back and come up out of the other side of the dip, you are then much faster than the person you are attacking. You can do this as you turn, first put your nose tight inside his circle, as if you are trying to cut him off, then put the nose down. It looks like you’re going to overtake below his wing, going off in the wrong direct. You then pull up and straighten your wings, if done correctly you are then much closer and therefore less likely to be shaken off. Hopefully your nose is pointing further inside his, so you ease off and point the nose more outward and he flies into your bullet stream. This one, number 4 was very embarrassing for him, or would be if he could see it from my seat. So now 2-2 and I was all fired up, but knowing Mark he would be spitting flames by now, both aware the last dogfight would decide the match.

Last one number five – Very tense for me, probably more so from Mark as it was first 2-0 to him, then 2 all. Both pulled up perfectly and came up and over, neither got an advantage. As you can see things are usually won or lost at the first inversion. We kept circling in a vertical plane, If you can imagine two aircraft wheeling up and down a circle like going around the inside of a bike wheel in opposite directions, this is called ‘vertical scissors’. We were both in as tight as the other and neither gained any advantage. We both felt like this went on for ages, upside down and pulling 4 G, vomit inducing stuff. I was feeling really green at this point.

After a number of loops there is a natural tendency for the circling to come on to a horizontal plane as you lose altitude. The aircraft’s wings are pointing up and down as you are circling each other. We are both looking straight up through the canopy at each other. As a spectator it must look like a beautiful dance. With the G’s, the pressure on your head is immense, you want to keep the aircraft turning as tight as possible, but keep feeling the wings buffet ready to stall. So you are constantly easing back slowly, then pulling the stick back in to get inside the other’s circle. Your head is constantly up and behind you, never looking forward. It’s very exhilarating knowing that the other hasn’t got on your tail yet.

Once in a horizontal plane, the tendency is that the aircraft get closer and then loose height as if we are both running down the inside of a funnel. This is called a ‘death spiral’, when both fighter aircraft and the pilots are an even match. Then you get nervously close and ends up with one winning ! DOH ! yes he won, PHARR !

In my defense his pilot was the company pilot and had the only plane with a bigger engine, Ok – so it’s not that a convincing excuse, however at that point I was feeling so sick that I would have gladly paid Mark to win.

My pilot was a bit of a part timer with Air Combat and couldn’t get the GPS to work, so we were vectored through and wound our way across LA, but in the middle of cloud. I felt terrible, very bumpy and he had to make sharp turns, with no horizon for me to look at.

We landed some time after Mark, me bright green, I am not sure how I didn’t chuck up, or how I managed to get out the aircraft. Mark the puppy bounced around me as we pulled the canopy back. You have heard of a bad looser, well Mark was a bad winner, as you can imagine he didn’t rub my nose in it too much, NOT!  Well that is until he shook my clammy hand and realized he was in line for a projectile v…… . At that point I couldn’t care less. Despite feeling ill it was such a great fight and I enjoyed even this more than the first time. The pilots said it was good fun for them too as were well matched.

Having done two, we have joined their frequent flyer program ‘The fighter Squadron’, so we now get any subsequent trips at half price.