2017 East Coast Aerobatic Contest wrap-up

We had catastrophically-perfect weather for this year’s installment of the East Coast Aerobatic Contest in Warrenton, VA (KHWY). It’s not lost on us this perfection while seemingly the rest of the hemisphere is reeling from the catastrophically bad weather.

I finished 2nd in Sportsman among a talented group. I’m happily surprised but did make satisfying improvements to my hammerheads during practice. I also got some good coaching on flying the Cuban Eight and that helped since it’s the highest-weighted figure in this years’ Known program.
Full results online in IAC’s contest database: 2017 East Coast Aerobatic Contest full results

Thanks, as always, to Julie Artz (Youtube: horsemoney) for coming out to play with us and sharing video. It’s always cool to see this relatively-solo pursuit from a fresh perspective. And it makes sharing with friends and family easy!
My second contest flight (of three). The judges liked it; scored 2nd out of 8.


This quick blurb about the contest appeared in the Fauquier Times Saturday. A picture of me from earlier in the week was conveniently available courtesy of the airport management and got included. Image credit: Alex Hrapunov
Look up! East Coast Aerobatic Contest takes flight at Warrenton-Fauquier Airport

I posted a few pre-contest pics on Instagram.


Much fun was had, including a sunset formation flight with Pete Muntean in the Super Decathlon (with Amy Wolfgang taking pictures and video, thanks Amy!) and Mark Meredith in his Super Chipmunk.


These two shots courtesy of Alex Hrapunov – tmr2rwb@yahoo.com
Thanks for coming out Alex! We appreciate all the time you spent with us and that you’re willing to share your great images.

start-up for taxi

Getting down with the other-way up

I’m trying to get more comfortable inverted. I’m so new to aerobatics that just a minute of inverted flight, straight-n-level with the gentlest of turns, is challenging. To maintain coordinated flight, the aileron and rudder inputs are opposite each other. Flying normal-side-up, pilots instinctively use left aileron with left rudder to make a coordinated left turn. All that goes out the window (canopy?) inverted. Awesome.

Eventually, being comfortable with negative-G will be an advantage. I’m not very good at it yet. (I already know I need to get more stick-forward authority from my elevator trim system, so I don’t have to push so hard.)

Stunning biplane video

I came across this on biplaneforum.com. I don’t know the creators but they are to be applauded. It’s visually and creatively stunning and the music choice works perfectly. Of course the gorgeous airplanes and magical flying abilities of Skip Stewart and Kyle Franklin don’t hurt either.

Full screen and high volume is the way to watch this one.


Kyle and Skip from MikeL on Vimeo.


First flight in the Pitts S-1S

It’s official. And it’s no April Fools joke, despite the date. Two days ago I successfully took off, flew, and landed my airplane…several times! And what a perfect day for it. Clear, dry, and light winds. I was really nervous, I’m not used to being that nervous, but it was mostly good “sense enhancing” stress. I was tight for the first part of the pitts s1sflight but slowly relaxed. By the time I came back to Lee I relaxed enough to not screw up my first approach to the relatively short, narrow strip I’ll call home. (It’s too bad I don’t have cockpit video of that landing. I would love to see what my face was doing!) My flying wasn’t pretty but I’m really happy with it. It felt good.

Karen told me how quickly it gets up and goes, but I was still exhilarated by the takeoff and climb. Dan Freeman flew his practice sequence and had just landed at Lee when I took off (he makes an appearance in the video). Mark Meredith (restoring a Super Chipmunk in the hangar next to Bill Finagin) took the opportunity for a proficiency flight in his Archer and went down to Cambridge about the same time. Emily’s brother Bennett flew with him and we had lunch down there. It was a great afternoon.
pitts s1s

I went to Cambridge, did some testing west of the field: slow flight, stalls, rudder walk, turns, and found ~1900rpm gets me to a 100mph pattern speed. I did some brief checks of control feel at lower airspeeds and I’ll explore more soon. I found it takes a ton of right rudder, even in cruise a left turn only needs the barest hint of left rudder. I’ll explore that more as I get more time in it. Then I headed into the pattern at Cambridge for three low-approaches and then a landing.

Communication is still an issue, so maybe it’s not the radio. On the way out Potomac reported me weak, broken, and unreadable. Mark was only 5 miles away and said I was clear but very weak. (We planned to come back into the SFRA as a two-ship, just in case, but apparently Potomac could hear me well enough so we came in separately.) The automated radio check on the ground at Lee sounds fine. Troubleshooting ensues so I can go flying again!

I put cameras on the airplane but I didn’t give them much attention…I had other things to focus on. Consequently I didn’t get much usable video. The cockpit cam battery died quickly and the wing cam tilted back shortly after takeoff. I do have an hour of the underside of the top wing, though, in case that ever comes in handy.

It’s not exciting video but it’s a moment I’ll remember forever.

Thanks to Bill Finagin for his excellent training and getting me ready quicker than I thought possible.

Tank killers – twelve o’clock level

It’s not often we find ourselves down-range of any weapon, let alone a large one. How about this for size and sheer make-my-person-and-entire-airplane-cease-to-exist-from-4000-feet-away potential: 30mm gatling cannon delivering 3900 depleted uranium rounds per minute. Now make it a flight of two and you have my undivided attention.

It was a busy day at Easton (KESN) last time I flew with Bill Finagin. We were going around the pattern on runway 22 and a flight of two A-10 Warthogs were doing a practice instrument approach to runway 4, i.e. in the direction opposite our landing. The tower controller was busy and did a good job handling everyone. The timing worked out that we were on final as they were over the airport. Bill handled the important stuff of talking and coordinating our part and directing me, while I just flew. (To help make sense of the radio traffic: Bill’s permanent call sign is “bug 1” and you can probably guess “wardog 1” is the pair of Warthogs.)

Pilots spend a lot of time and energy watching for other aircraft. The vast majority of traffic we encounter is “no factor”, meaning we see them (and they probably see us) and no action is necessary for either party. Very, very occasionally we might have to slightly change our direction or altitude briefly. Rarely (it’s never happened to me) do we find ourselves flying straight toward another airplane on a collision course. Even more rarely is it death-dealers like the Warthogs. It was a unique experience.

It was never a problem but everyone was on their toes making sure everyone was doing what everyone else expected.

GAPPA – Please support the General Aviation Pilot Protection Act

gappa capitol building

Pilot or not, there’s no debate that aviation in the US represents both our basic freedoms and our strong transportation system.

GAPPA could greatly expand the existing general aviation pilot base. If you haven’t heard about it yet look at these links and get familiar. If you support it, I urge you to let your lawmakers know.

I think it has the potential of addressing the declining pilot population. By allowing more pilots to fly the way most of us fly everyday we get more pilots flying and staying active longer. Aviation wins!

I sent emails to both senators and my house rep. Please learn about these bills and contact your elected officials! Your message doesn’t have to be long or eloquent. Below is what I used so feel free to use it or modify it to fit you.

gappa congressional bill

GAPPA background from EAA




Sign the EAA Petition

I suggest writing a note in your own words, but they also have a way to easily send your senators and rep a message, after signing the petition.

Here are links to find contact info for your senators and representatives.
Senators list
Representatives list


Dear Senator (insert name),

I’m a constituent and I support the General Aviation Pilot Protection Act. Please lend your support to H.R. 3708 (Rokita) and S. 2103 (Boozman).

I’m an active and passionate pilot and believe the strong aviation community in the United States is a powerful advantage in many ways, both to individual freedoms and to the transportation system. These bills expand on the FAA’s successful sport pilot medical standard. Not only will they strengthen general aviation by getting more pilots flying and keeping them active longer (a major concern for everyone in aviation), they will save pilots and the FAA time and money.

I urge you to cosponsor S. 2103 and do your part to keep U.S. aviation strong.

Thank you for your time.


Michael Glen Becker

Video: Another amazing soaring video from Balleka

sgs 2-33 training glider image

SGS 2-33 training glider at Atlantic Soaring Club

This inspirational soaring video makes me wish for infinite time and money.

Even as I embark on my aerobatics adventure I wonder if I’ve chosen well. I was happily working on my glider certification when I fell into my current obsession with aerobatics. Flying/owning gliders, and soaring as a sport, is generally considered less expensive than powered flight and aerobatics. Financially, I can’t manage both powered aerobatics and soaring now. Time-wise, I’m not sure I ever will. But boy is it fun to dream about.

If Balleka’s soaring video doesn’t get you excited you’re not interested in flying. It’s ok if you’re one of those, but I will admit to not understanding you. 🙂

Balleka has published some excellently flown and edited soaring videos that will be well worth the hour-plus you’re likely going to get sucked into watching. Thanks Balleka!

p.s. Great views in here of the Exmoor coast Cornwall England, the Alps, and for cycling fans the famous Tour de France climb Mont Ventoux.

Rudder Walk & Simulated Engine Loss video

I wrote about the rudder walk exercise a while ago and tried to explain what’s involved and how challenging it is for me.

Now I have some video to go with it, but the video isn’t that exciting until you realize a few things:

  • The airplane isn’t flying; it’s falling
  • The wings are generating no practical lift
  • We’re holding the airplane in a full stall with the stick all the way back
  • The only thing keeping the wings even close to level is my tiny rudder changes. That’s what Bill is referring to when he talks about “input” and “pressure”.
  • Airspeed is somewhere just under 60mph; we’re normally zipping around at 150mph
  • The beeping is the stall warning indicator
  • Descent rate is ~3400 ft/minute. (Maybe more accurately termed “free-fall rate”.)

It was a beautiful day for flying and Bill and I both had open schedules so we flew a long time, including airwork and pattern work/landings at Cambridge and Easton. It was New Years Eve and no one else was flying; even Potomac Approach (the Baltimore-Washington International control frequencies) was quiet.

This rudder walk and the simulated engine failure were the start of our flight. I’ll post some other video snippets soon.

I’m getting better! And loving every minute of the challenge.

We just happened (not an accident, I’m sure) to finish the rudder walk near a small airport (Ridgely) where Bill felt the most appropriate celebration was a nice simulated engine failure exercise. This amounts to pulling the power to idle and working through handling the emergency and setting up a power-off landing. I didn’t do it perfectly but it would probably have been a successful landing.