Act - the order of maneuvers a pilot works out in the quiet of winter, then diagrams, flies, refines, and practices to present a safe, exciting airshow performance.
Aerobatics - the art of acrobatic maneuvers performed in an aircraft, by men and women who spend most of their time practicing the maneuvers over and over. Because no matter how good you and I may think they look, professional aerobatic performers and competitors are never really satisfied.
Airshow Smoke - created by a miniature high-speed pump transferring very light-weight paraffin-based oil from a reservoir in the plane to the final stage of the exhaust system, where it "smolders", but does not burn. This oil, usually Texaco "Corvus" oil has a very high flash point, and is biodegradable. The smoke leaves a trail across the sky that lets spectators appreciate the geometry of the aerobatic performance.
Aresti - a system of aerobatic symbols, or "shorthand", designed by a Spaniard named Jose Aresti, enabling a pilot to diagram an act in an easy-to-read-at-a-glance order for both the pilot in the plane and people on the ground observing, announcing, or in the case of competition, grading.
Barrel Roll - a broad maneuver in which the plane continually changes altitude and heading until, halfway through, the plane is high overhead, on its back with the nose pointing 90degrees off the flight line. As the maneuver continues, the plane descends and continues to roll and turn as the pilot reduces power. Out the bottom, the plane heads in its original direction at its beginning altitude.
Cuban Eight - a combined looping and rolling maneuver, that begins with roughly the first 5/8 of a loop. As the plane comes over the top and starts back down at roughly a 45 degree angle, the pilot rolls the plane upright. The plane levels off, the nose comes up and the maneuver is duplicated going in the opposite direction. The Cuban Eight, also called a Horizontal Eight looks like the number "8" lying on its side. (A one-half Cuban Eight is used as a reversal maneuver at the end of the aerobatic "stage.")
Entry Speed - target or desirable airspeed required at the beginning of a maneuver to ensure that the plane has enough energy or momentum to complete the maneuver successfully.
G-force - the force of gravity. Your body weight on a scale is measured at 1 G. (You may experience a slightly increased G-force in a skyscraper elevator as the car accelerates upward or decelerates when coming down.) As flight maneuvers are tightened up, G-forces increase momentarily. At 2 Gs, a 150 pound person weighs 300 pounds. At 6 Gs, that same person weighs almost half a ton. Most modern aerobatic aircraft are designed to withstand G-forces in the teens.
Hammerhead - a turnaround performed at the end of a vertical climb just as the airplane runs out of airspeed. With the engine at full power, the pilot stomps hard on a rudder pedal causing a full rudder deflection. The blast of wind off the propeller pushes the tail of the airplane to the side, the plane pivots in its own length, and down she comes, accelerating rapidly, completely under control. Humpty-Bump - a negative-G or weightless push over the top of a vertical maneuver. (That's when the pencil the pilot dropped last month comes floating up off the floor.)
Knife-edge Flight - flight with the wings at a right angle to the ground, approximating a knife passing through the air. It is very nearly ballistic flight, the arcing course of an artillery round across the sky. Only a minimal amount of lift is generated by the side of the fuselage.
Lomcevak - (pronounced LOHM-sheh-vock). A Czechoslovakian word translated as "Berserk Headache", it is actually a colloquialism meaning "Drunken Bum." The Lomcevak, also called the lump-lump, appears to be a totally out-of-control maneuver in which the plane tumbles nose over tail, wingtip over wingtip, across the sky. There are supposedly 200 different versions of the Lomcevak; you will have difficulty describing just one.
Loop - the maneuver the barnstormers were best known for. Entering the maneuver from the bottom, the pilot increases power and gently pulls the nose skyward. At full power with the nose straight up, the pilot checks the wingtips, left and right, to ascertain the wings are "square" to the ground, meaning the plane is truly going straight up. The pilot tilts his or her head back to find the opposite horizon. As the plane continues over the top on its back, the pilot sees the horizon go by the nose upside down! As the earth fills the windshield, the pilot reduces power. With the nose down, the plane accelerates and the G-force increases. As the nose approaches level flight, the pilot eases back pressure off the control stick, and the loop is complete. (This maneuver may be performed "outside", that is, starting and ending upside down; and it may be flown from the top to the bottom to the top, the Waldo Pepper Loop.)
Overhead - where no aerobatic maneuvers are EVER performed in the United States. The must be performed at or beyond the "show line" (q.v.)
Point Roll - sometimes called a Hesitation roll; a slow roll in which the pilot stops or hesitates at a number of "points". E.g. in a Four-Point roll, the pilot hesitates four times, once every 90x of roll, at 90x, 180x, 270x and completing the maneuver at 360x. In an Eight-Point roll, the pilot hesitates eight times, once every 45x of roll, at 45x, 90x, 135x, 180x and so on. (There are airshow pilots who can fly a countable 64-Point roll.)
Red Line - the maximum speed the plane is permitted to achieve, as denoted by a red line on the airspeed indicator. (It could go faster, but it might start shedding parts, like wings, cowlings, ailerons, etc. Not a pretty picture.)
Routine - See "act".
Runway Number - The approximate magnetic heading of a runway, rounded off to the nearest 10, with the last zero omitted. E.g.: a runway in an East/West alignment (90x/270x) is Runway 9 heading East and Runway 27 [two-seven] heading West. In the case of parallel runways, they will be numbered 9L (for the LEFT parallel), 9R (for the RIGHT parallel), and 9C (if there is a CENTER parallel.) Continuing, Runway 18 [one-eight] heads south, and Runway 36 [three-six] heads north.
Sequence - See "act".
Show line - the line along which a performance is flown, usually but not always parallel to the spectator restraint line and/or a runway. Distance is regulated by law. Basically, 500 feet away for prop-powered aerobatic planes, 1,000 feet for warbirds, 1,500 feet for jets. Planes may not be involved in aerobatics any closer than those lines, sometimes called "dead" lines. The area between the performance line and the spectators is referred to as "sterile".
Signature - a maneuver or a series of maneuvers which a professional airshow pilot uses to "sign" his act; a maneuver he or she is known for, usually appearing early in the routine.
Slow Roll - a slow and graceful rotation about the nose-to-tail (longitudinal) axis, entered at a relatively high speed, in which the aircraft appears to almost drift across the sky.
Snap Roll - a rapid rotation about the nose-to-tail axis, entered at a medium to slow speed. The wing is momentarily forced to "stall" or stop flying, and firm input of full rudder makes the plane appear to corkscrew through the air.
Stall - STALL HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH THE ENGINE! The motion of the wing through the air produces lift. When the wing is moving so slowly through the air that lift to maintain flight is no longer developed, the wing is termed to be "stalled." (Now, repeat the first eight words to yourself... Good. Again... Good. Again....)
Stunts - (as applied to flying). What highly-paid highly-proficient stunt men and stunt women do to make motion pictures. It may involve full-sized airplanes and helicopters, or more than likely, it may involve very expensive models. It may involve skydiving, it may involve fire, it may involve landing off-airport or crashing into buildings, vehicles, or other aircraft. Stunts are performed in the MOVIES! The only STUNTS performed at airshows regularly are: 1) Car-to-plane transfers, with a stunt person on the hood of a speeding car grasping a ladder from a plane, transferring to the ladder, and climbing up into the plane, 2) The Wall of Fire, with a stunt person on a ladder being intentionally flown through a wall of flaming wood and oil-soaked rags and paper, 3) The Car-Top landing, where a pilot lands the plane on a specially designed rig on a speeding car or pickup truck, 4) Wing walking. Say to yourself: "Airshow aerobatics are not stunts." Again... Again... See, you're learning... Again....
Tailslide - a turnaround performed at the end of a vertical climb just as the airplane runs out of airspeed. The pilot keeps the nose pointed straight up and reduces power to idle. By skillful use of the controls, the pilot causes the plane to back up, tail first, toward the ground. Then by pulling the control stick back (up elevator), the nose tumbles forward; by pushing the control stick forward (down elevator), the plane tumbles momentarily onto its back as the nose comes down. Once the nose is down, the control surfaces take ahold of the air, the wings develop lift and the plane is flying.
Torque Roll - usually begun out of a dive to achieve a very high entry speed, it is a roll performed while the plane climbs straight up, still under full power. Once the nose is pointed straight up, the pilot initiates a roll away from the rotation of a propeller. (In domestic airplanes, the propeller turns to the right as viewed from the cockpit.) The resultant torque of that action turns the plane to the left. The pilot accentuates that rolling motion and maintains it as the plane slows its upward progress, stops and begins to back down (with the nose still straight up) toward the ground.
Vertical Roll - a roll performed while the plane climbs straight up. It may include a number of "point" hesitations.
Waiver - a written document from the Federal Aviation Administration to an airshow's management permitting deviation from certain specifically enumerated Federal Air Regulations, such as those pertaining to low level aerobatics, speed limits below 10,000 feet and within a control zone, etc. In turn the airshow guarantees to adhere closely to certain required safety precautions, including the immediate availability of rescue equipment and the separation of the spectators from the "show line" ( q.v.)
Tips to enjoy the show:
If this is your first air show or your 100th air show, you may find the tips below useful when you visit your next event.
Wear sunscreen and sunglasses, take a hat, wear comfortable shoes.
This sounds like common sense but you'll be amazed at how much walking you'll do in the sun. Some shows will provide shade tents and some fans prefer the shade of the wing of a C-5. Whatever your choice, come prepared to be in the elements.
Check the local weather forecast.
Listen to the local weather but don't let a little rain dissuade you from attending a show. Shows will work around the weather and there are many acts that continue in overcast skies or light rain. So, you may pack an umbrella alongside that sunscreen!
Come early for static photos
If you're looking to capture images of the aircraft on static display, you'll want to arrive as soon as the gates open to avoid people milling through your shot. Many photographers will also wait until after the show to avoid traffic and capture a softer light.