Warbird Flying Techniques

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2007 Scale & Non-Scale Events




The flyby (aka flypast in the AMA rule book) is one of those maneuvers, along with the figure-eight, that is easy to do but difficult to do well.  It shows off the airplane if done well.  That’s why many of the in-flight photographs that you see in event - coverage articles are taken during flybys.

The secret is all in the setup.  If the approach is perfect, during the flyby itself the pilot need only watch the airplane cruise by.  Ten-point flybys have been scored in competition without even moving the sticks!

The flyby should be placed over the outer edge of the runway at 10-20 feet of altitude.  Straight flight should be maintained at cruise speed for at least 300 feet, centered in front of the pilot. To do that, the plane must descend to the required altitude and airspeed well before the beginning of the maneuver, as much as 400 feet away!  Excess airspeed must be bled off, and heading, throttle and altitude should be established well before the pilot announces, “Beginning now.”  It looks best if there is no change in heading even though compensating for the wind, and no change in altitude or airspeed.  Then, after calling “Complete,” continue the flyby as far as you dare just for good measure before turning.  The longer it is, the better it looks.

In the video, we see a gentle rocking of the wing due to turbulence in the crosswind.  This could have been avoided if the pilot flew higher, above the ground turbulence.  But high doesn’t look as good as low, so one must compromise.

For warbirds, the slow flyby is even more dramatic, especially if preceded by a fast flyby for contrast.  The slow flyby is a show-off maneuver.  It is flown down and dirty, full flaps, landing gear down and as slow as the plane can safely and steadily be flown.  This requires coordinating all four primary flight controls throughout the maneuver.  The pilot must adjust throttle carefully, just enough to maintain constant airspeed and altitude, with some up-elevator trim, steering with the rudder and holding the wing level with ailerons.  Vulnerable to turbulence, it isn't easy.  Practice this maneuver at an altitude high enough to recover from a spin.


Multiple inside loops are not characteristic of warbirds; only the single inside loop is prototypical and then, only marginally so.  The Red Barron said they were not useful in combat; loops and aerobatics in general were “only to impress the ladies.” 

A warbird loop should be large, slow at the top, oval--not round--and losing some altitude at the bottom.  A loop looks bigger if started low.  A prolonged shallow dive to build up airspeed prior to pulling up is okay, but the loop looks more scale if started in level flight at a lower airspeed.  Then this becomes a power maneuver—the more powerful the engine, the slower the maneuver can be entered, and engine thrust, not momentum, hauls the bird up and over.  At the top, airspeed should drop to just barely flyable.  Don’t let the nose drop quickly.  Instead, add some down-elevator to flatten the top of the loop.  It’s level, though inverted, so airspeed will increase.  Don’t overdo the down-elevator or else you will risk an inverted outside snap roll—another maneuver to try first with plenty of altitude.

When doing a loop in a crosswind, there is a tendency for the flight path to drift downwind, causing a circle to become a horizontal spiral.  There are two methods to compensate for the wind—yaw into the wind or roll into the wind.  We will discuss both.

Purists yaw the plane into the wind with rudder all thru the loop while holding the wing level with ailerons.  As the plane approaches the top of the loop, the amount of rudder needed must increase as the airspeed slows, decreasing again on the downside as the airspeed increases.  This is how really good pattern planes compensate for wind drift.  But a warbird has dihedral and other properties that make this method difficult.  One must constantly adjust the ailerons to compensate for the varying effect of yaw on roll caused by the rudder.  All this is too complicated for my thumbs--I’ve never come close to mastering this technique.  Instead, I do it the easy way by rolling into the wind as follows…

Enter the loop with the wing level.  As you pull up, immediately bank slightly into the wind.  At the top, bank in the opposite direction.  This causes the entire loop to be tilted into the wind.  The downward half will also drift into the wind so that the exit will be at the same point as the entry.  Level the wing as the bottom is approached.  To look good, the reversals of bank angle at the top and bottom must be done gradually so that the wing appears level at the top and bottom.  Try it in calm air and notice how the loop can be made to drift left or right.  In the video, there is a crosswind from the left.  Notice the tiny roll just after the top of the loop.  The pilot could have hidden this roll better if he had started it sooner.  If noticed, his little roll is a cause for downgrade in competition, so it must be done discreetly.

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