Our Visit to the Academy
Tutima brought a small group of journalists from the U.S. and Germany to experience the Academy first-hand. We arrived the day before the flying began, so we could get an early start. Day 1 began with a briefing by Sean about what we would experience, followed by basic parachute instruction from Chelsea. I paid close attention to the parachute training, hoping the information would prove to be of no use.
The Academy’s training aircraft include an Extra 300L, the premier aerobatic, sport and professional aircraft on the market today. The 300L is the only certified unlimited-category aerobatic aircraft approved to plus/minus 10gs. That’s more than fighter jets pull. I was told that during certification, the 300L was actually tested to 26gs and it did not break.
I was in a Pitts Special S-2B, which felt like the Lotus Elise of the skies. Tiny inputs generate instant response. Ken told me the Pitts makes a great aerobatic training platform. “The best thing about it is that it does exactly what you tell it. The worst thing about it is that it does exactly what you tell it.” If there are any flaws in your technique, the Pitts will find them, so you can fix them.
During the first flight, the instructor was in control. I sat in the front seat and kept my hands well clear of the control stick. The ride was a hoot. We did barrel rolls, loops, and hammerheads – basic tricks for seasoned pilots, but for mere journalists, they really got the adrenaline flowing.
Landing the Pitts takes some practice, because you don’t have a good view of the runway. Ken related a pilot joke: “A good landing is one you can walk away from. A great landing is one where you can use the airplane again.”
After lunch, the real fun started. Once airborne, we received some basic instruction, then we were given control of the planes. It was intense. The morning flight – as a passenger – was like the world’s best roller coaster. With the stick in my hand, it was like a roller coaster that could fly off the tracks at any second.
At the end of Day 1, the planes had to be flown to another airport, and I had a chance to sit next to a large hole in the side of a Piper Seneca where the door was supposed to be. I was tethered to the plane, so if I fell out, I would not fall far (or so I was told). I shot photos while Sean did tricks next to us in the custom plane he flies as leader of the Oracle Flight Team.
The next morning professional aeronautic photographer Jessica Ambats flew up from Santa Monica to snap shots of us doing some formation flying over the central California coast. At the end of the article is a link to some video I shot while riding with Jennifer in the Seneca.
Once we’d been photographed, we had some free time. I’d seen Sean doing some amazing tumbling tricks while he was practicing his routine, and I was eager to experience something like that. Ken obliged and we did a few tricks, including one called a “lomcevak.” Ken told me it’s a Czeck word. I thought maybe it meant “lunch coming up”, but some online research revealed that it means headache or hangover – a reference to how the trick makes the pilot feel. Also it is apparently the only aerobatic maneuver where every surface on the aircraft is completely stalled. All I can say is that whoever came up with the word “discombobulated” probably did it right after doing a lomcevak. I’ve included a link to a video of this maneuver at the end of the article.
Below are two of the many amazing images Jessica captured.
Experiencing the Academy first-hand and meeting the professionals behind it left me with deep respect for the work Tutima, Sean, and the rest of the team do, and with a sense of awe at their skill and the things they can make an airplane do. They don’t defy gravity and physics as much as they use them to their advantage, no matter what the situation. Hats off to Tutima for supporting this amazing group of pilots, and kudos to the pilots for putting their knowledge to work helping make other pilots better.
Click the following links to access resources related to this story.
Tutima Academy of Aviation Safety official website
Tutima Academy Podcast – Episode 1 (8:48 video)
Tutima official website
Lomcevak (14 second video – not a Tutima Academy pilot)
Jessica Ambats shooting the Tutima Academy pilots (4:53 video).
One of Sean D. Tucker’s airshow performances (10:22 video)
Sean Tucker Aerobatics (2:44 video)
Sean in the Oracle Challenger (2:29 video)
Tutima: Partner in Aeronautics (5:21 video)
Here is a sampling of student testimonials and other resources relating to the Tutima Academy:
USA Aerobatic Team (4:04 video)
Horizontal Rain – A Day with the Tutima Academy