The Dynamic Stall

The first time I flew a Yak 52 on Holiday in Crimea with Jack Hemmings at a place called Planerskoya. We had gone there responding to an advert in Pilot Magazine which offered Flying Holidays in Yaks, Antonovs and Wilgas.

At the time we rendezvoued at Gatwick we were complete strangers to one another. Jack soon became known for being indestructible, indefatigable and quite mad. Aged 71 at the time he could out fly, out walk and out charm anybody else in the group. Another Pilot in the group was sure that Jack wore a vest with a big letter S on it underne the his shirt he just never seems to get tired. Jack had spent a life time flying everything from Moths to Dakotas and was in Crimea to add the 52 to his long type list.

We were assigned to our Instructors; Victor Smolin, World Champion 3 years running, and his Trainer, Sergei Tatervosov. A bit intimidating   to say the least! I remember one day, after we had all finished flying, received our debriefing (which is a polite way of finding out just how useless we were at flying) Jack spotted a tiny microlight landing at our Airfield. The Pilot, a young lad who looked no more than 13 years old, had turned up on the runway with a home built microlight and was offering flights in it, or rather under it, for what equated to a fiver an hour. Jack was seen tying a scarf around his head as is to combat toothache, then took off with the non English speaking teenager and promptly disappeared down a 400 foot cliff at the end of the runway! An hour or so later Jack reappeared and made a greaser in the microlight - we thought we'd seen the last of him over the cliff but Jack insisted that he'd had plenty of time to work the controls out on the way down. Although he had to admit that "They were a bit confusing. Everything's backwards you know!". Henceforth he was Christened Captain Mad Jack.

The next day I started my details with Aerobatics in the 52. My first ever in a real aerobatic aircraft apart from one flight years earlier when someone had decided to impress me with their flying skills in a Cherokee by showing me a stall turn without any warning at all, but that's another story. So here we were at about 3000 ft above the runway with my Instructor Sergei Tatervosov sitting in the back shaking his head slowly from time to time and trying not to run out of patience with the complete idiot in t he front seat. This particular part of the detail was for me to start to join some straight forward aerobatic manoeuvres together while keeping line on the runway below. Spin (one turn) recover on the same line at 300 kph, Loop and again aim to recover on the same line at 300 kph and finally enter a 45 degree climb, again on line. Easy enough you might think but after several attempts what marginal flying skill I started with was going from a promising start (officially categorised as very poor) to downright rubbish (off icially categorised as "how did he ever get a licence in England").

The more I tried, the more critique I got, the more determined I got, the harder I pulled. Entering the Loop badly with plenty of yaw and one wing low, it happened. My first dynamic stall. At about 50 degrees on the 1st quarter of the loop I felt a severe vibration on the stick, in the aircraft itself and in my nether regions too. I cant remember now if I stopped pulling at that point, but I know I certainly didn't relax the pressure on the stick. A quarter of a second later the left wing flicked over the top of the right one and the world was rotating faster than my now owl like eyes could follow it. Adrenaline, fear and panic gave my brain added speed and I remember having time to think that the wing had broken. As I turned to see if the sticky out thing on the right hand side was still there, everything stopped, equally as quickly as it had started.

"You like play Horsey horsey eh?",- Sergeys English wasn't very good in 1992. Now at a time when you are convinced that the wing has broken and the even though the aircraft is straight and level, your brain is still rotating like a roulette ball, somebody asks you if you like playing Horsey horsey - what can you say except. "Wha?".

"You know when aircraft goes like horse",- Sergey tried to explain by making the noise which he thought sounded like a rampant stallion. While I was still trying to work out what the he was talking about he then got through to me by saying that the aircraft had "made a stall at high speed because you pull too hard on stick" and then he went on to show me all manner of stalls and proved the theory to me beyond any doubt that an aircraft really can stall at any speed, in any configuration, at any attitude. This was my introduction to the dynamic stall.

Luckily, I was with a highly skilled pilot who had the foresight and experience to let me find out just what one was like, all on my own. For sure he knew I was pulling too hard entering the Loop and that I would probably ignore the warning signs and due to my limited flying ability I`d allow the aircraft to exceed its alpha capabilities. At the same time I was compounding everything by flying the aircraft badly out of balance. All this, as I discovered, equals t he perfect Dynamic Stall entry.

Imagine the newly acquired Yak being shown off to the local flying club by a low level pass and a sharp pull up. Imagine the potential for disaster if the Pilot has never felt the high alpha buffet or even that he ignores it in the situation of needing to pull up quickly at the end of the runway (or out of a dive down to it before a low level pass). And it doesn't have to be low level to catch the inexperienced out, for example a steep turn to the left at 220 kph with the 52 out of balance and overpulling on the stick could soon flick roll you to the right into an immediate spin. Try that at 1000 feet and it could mean trouble too.

Hence the reason for every Yak Pilot to train this manoeuvre with an experienced Instructor on type who can not only show you how to recover from a dynamic stall, but with whom you can explore, step by step, the incipient stages and learn how to identify the warning signs before you go too far.

Now what has Jack got to do with Dynamic Stalls you may think? Simply that Mad Jack was convinced that he was missing out on some good fun by not having practised his dynamic stalls and insisted that Sergei did some with him too. Quite predictably Jack loved them and then went on to fly the single seat Yak 55 later stage Smolensk. Under Russian Rules, he wouldn't have been allowed his freedom in this wonderful tail dragger unless he could demonstrate his ability to recover safely from the dynamic stall in every attitude. Besides, I like telling the story about Jack and the Microlight.