Aviators and flying enthusiasts -- a question for you

As you already know if you read this old thread, I have a fear of flying. I can make myself do it – I just tend to dread every moment I’m up in the air. One of the suggestions I’ve heard and read repeatedly as a way of potentially dealing with my issues is to take a flying lesson, or at least go up in a plane where I can sit in the cockpit, observe the pilot’s demeanor and how the plane is controlled.

Well, my wife, in her infinite wisdom, has decided to give me the gift of just such a flight as a birthday gift, which happens to coincide with us taking our first flight together since I developed my phobia. I’ll be going up in a Pitts S-2B sometime in the next couple of weeks, and I’ve been told that I’ll have the opportunity to fly the plane myself essentially as much or as little as I want, outside of take-off and landing.

I’m looking for general comments from those who are pilots (or those who have gone on a flight like this one) about what I should anticipate on my trip. I’m a little bit nervous, but much more excited about the opportunity. I don’t expect to be miraculously cured of my phobia after one flight, but I do suspect it will be a helpful experience for me, and hopefully a lot of fun at the same time.

I do have a couple of specific questions, too:

[li]What are this plane’s controls like? I tried to find information online about the cockpit itself, but didn’t have any luck. My pilot mentioned that the control was similar to a joystick, but that was the extent of the detail I got.[/li][li]Is this the sort of experience you would recommend to someone with a fear of flying?[/li][/ul]

All comments are greatly appreciated.

Whoa, whoa, WHOA!!!

A Pitts for your first flight?! That’s a serious aerobatic airplane that has very poor visibility on the ground, and it’s a tailwheel. Definitely not the sort of aircraft one typically goes up in for their first flight.

I strongly suggest you do one of two things:

  • Arrange for a flight in a more sedate aircraft. Preferably a common trainer like a Cessna, Piper, or Diamond.

  • Or failing that, make certain the instructor understands your background and why you are there. Make it crystal clear that you do NOT want to see any aerobatics or any other such maneuvers if that’s not what you want.

I’ve trained some pilots who initially had a serious fear of flying, and will give you more information on that if you’d like.

Mach Tuck, CFI

I HEARTILY recommend it, there is no better way to get over your fear of flying than by taking the controls yourself.

Cockpits vary in size and look, although they all provide the same basic information. The cockpit of the Pitts Special that you will be flying in will look similar to this:

Your pilot/instructor will do a good job I’m sure explaining to you what the instruments mean and which ones are important to look at. it may look daunting and confusing now but that will go away once you learn their function. In fact, you won’t spend too much time looking at them at all, as VFR flying involves mostly looking out the window :slight_smile:

I have to head home from work, I’m sure the actual pilots on this board (i’m just an enthusiast at the moment) will be more than happy to give you the basics!

Asimovian’s wife here. To answer your question, Mach Tuck, the reason for the Pitts is not for acrobatics. Asi can give the details, but he is the one who picked it out. (I had assumed that he would be going up in a Cessna or something sedate.) He had a really nice long chat with the pilot about his fears and why he was doing this, so having the pilot decide to do some acrobatics is (hopefully!) not an issue.

I’m hoping that seeing the controls and taking the stick is going to be help Asi understand, on a more gut level, why and how the plane stays in the air. I definitely don’t want to push him into doing anything he doesn’t want to, and although it seems like kind of an odd present for someone who’s afraid to fly, I really do think he’ll have a blast.

I had done my homework on this, and I know it’s normally used for aerobatic purposes. The pilot is well aware of my fears, and although he does do aerobatic training, he also runs pleasure/scenic flights using the same plane, and he has no intention of putting me through anything I don’t volunteer for. :slight_smile:

And I would absolutely love to hear more about training pilots with a fear of flying – thank you!

I should also make it clear that I’m not looking to become a pilot – just trying to overcome my fears while maybe having some fun at the same time. This isn’t really about training me so much as it is giving me the opportunity to experience a few minutes of what it’s like to control the plane. Dorjän, thank you for that picture!

It would be helpful if you could specify what bothers you about flying. I’m claustrophobic so I understand what the beginnings of an anxiety attack can feel like.

A couple of things. I agree with Mach Tuck that this might not be the best plane to do this in for a couple of reasons. As mentioned, it’s specifically designed as an aerobatic plane capable of 7+ G’s and 5 – G’s of force. 3 g’s of positive force is enough to make you light headed and/or sick. Negative G’s are just going to make you sick. Also, a stick control system is not as user friendly as a plane with a yoke. A yoke is much closer to a car steering wheel and will behave about the same. I think you’ll like it better and feel more in control.

What to expect in a Pitts: You’ll be sitting in tandem with the pilot behind you. That might be a little intimidating by itself. Since it’s a tail dragger the pilot cannot see in front of the airplane and will zig-zag when taxiing. That’s normal. Once power is added for takeoff the tail will come up quickly. Another thing to expect in a small airplane is the amount of jostling in the lower levels of flight I would describe it like the bumps in a roller coaster ride. This will smooth out when you get about the haze line. If you know they’re normal bumps you can learn to ignore them.

I’ve taken my Uncle flying and he’s prone to anxiety attacks on commercial flights. He had no problem in my plane. He thought it was due to the fact that he could see where he was going and felt more in control of the situation. It’s probably why I don’t feel confined when I fly.

Flying in a small plane is a different experience than an airliner.

Sometimes the fear transfers over, sometimes, it doesn’t. If it does, I really hope you overcome your fear.
I kind of have a secret;

I guess I qualify as one of the Doper pilots, but to tell you the truth… I hate, HATE, flying commercially.

I get airsick. It’s uncomfortable. I hate the other passengers. I don’t know how much of a fear it is, but there’s definitely some anxiety.

But get me behind the stick, and I’m cool, calm and relaxed.

I’m pretty sure it’s the whole lack-of-control thing for me…
I have major control issues. I don’t even like being in a car with someone else driving, so going onboard an airliner is not a fun experience for me.
Sounds like you’ve picked a good person to fly the plane. Hope you get over the fear, and if you do feel you’re over, ask for some aerobatics…

If you think it will help your anxiety, then it’s a great idea. Flying is a very different experience when you can see where you’re going and what’s happening, instead of looking sideways through a tiny window.

But I would also suggest a different plane. I think you’d do better in a plane where you’re sitting side-by-side, instead of tandem. For what you’re doing, it would be worthwhile to be able to see the pilot during those times when you’re not at the controls. If you want to get over your fear by finding out what happens during a flight, there’s a lot to learn from just watching the instructor. He’ll be handling the startup, checklists, radios, scanning for other traffic, and just generally managing things and knowing what’s going on. If he’s relaxed and professional about all that (and I’ve never known an instructor who wasn’t), you could draw on that confidence for other flights.

And please come back and tell us how it went.

Well, it sounds like you have had a good talk with the instructor, so I feel a bit better about your flight. But you should still understand that by flying a Pitts this is sort of like taking your first driving lesson in a Porsche.

I agree with the previous comment that a side-by-side aircraft would be better for this sort of thing. Also, the view from a Pitts while in flight is excellent. But that could also turn out to be kind of scary. A Cessna or Piper does feel more auto-like, and therefore somewhat familar.

As for my students who had fears…

They all eventually got over it. I’ve had two who were downright terrified on their first flights. One in particular probably didn’t enjoy it at all for the first eight hours or so. I have to hand it to him for his sense of determination. Everything went slower for him in training than other students, but that was fine. He became a very solid pilot - the kind I didn’t have to worry about when I sent him on solos.

I realize you’re not going for a license, but here are some tips I found while working with my uneasy students:

  • Tell the instructor when you need a break. Flying is expensive, and most CFI’s pack a lot into the flight time. Sometimes they forget students get overloaded and need a rest.

  • Ask him to tell you what he’s going to do with the airplane before he does it.

  • Leave your ego back in the hangar. You don’t have to prove anything, and you can always schedule another flight if you’re not feeling right about things. Don’t be afraid to say when you’ve had enough.

And most important of all:

  • Have a sick-sack with you and keep it handy. If you can’t reach it within three seconds it’s completely useless. :slight_smile:

Good luck, and tell us how it goes!

I am a lifelong aviation enthusiast and a perpetual flight student it seems these days. I would kill to go in a Pitts myself but I agree that it doesn’t seem to be the best choice for this purpose. It will be good for a simple thrill ride though.

If I were in your position and wanted the anti-fear to transfer over to commercial plane, I would choose a side-by-side plane and have the instructor take you through a pretend commercial flight. That would include explaining all the instruments, radio, GPS, and checklists work and then going on a round-trip to another nearby airport and back while following instrument, radio, and traffic patterns fairly close to airliner pilots. That would show you what is going on in a commercial cockpit pretty well.

If you take a lesson in a Cessna or other enclosed training aircraft, the instructor will generally let you do as much as you are capable of doing right away. I took off and landed the plane myself on the first lesson although I had already spent much time on MS Flight Simulator and knew the instrument functions and basic theory pretty well. You don’t really have to know anything in advance though.

You could also get the pilot to demonstrate emergency awareness techniques like shutting off the engine in flight and picking an emergency landing site. Planes need engines to take off but they don’t usually have much trouble staying up for quite a while as a glider either and making a safe landing without huge problems.

Have a great time. I got a gift certificate for another lesson for Christmas and still haven’t used it. Your flight may prompt me.

The advice has been wonderful, and greatly appreciated!

St_Ides and Mach Tuck, I’m not terribly worried about getting airsick (although I shouldn’t be overconfident about it, either, since I’ve never been in a plane this small). I’m not prone to any type of motion sickness, be it flying or boating or anything else, and it takes a lot to get me nauseated in general.

Magiver, you can follow the link I posted in the OP to my original Fear of Flying thread to see what specifically bothers me and how I developed my phobia, but in a nutshell, it’s the turbulence that really gets to me. I can generally sit still in a state of semi-paranoia during perfectly smooth flying time. But the second I feel a bump, I want to grab the armrest and scream (for the record, I’ve never done this – I handle my discomfort quietly, but with an incredibly pained look on my face). There’s no logic behind it, because I know (and have seen demonstrations of) just how much stress a plane’s wings can take, which is why it’s a phobia. I don’t claim that it’s rational.

I understand from lots of people that smaller planes tend to experience far more turbulence than a commercial flight for a variety of reasons. Part of my thinking is that I’ll have the opportunity to experience plenty of the physical trigger for my fear, but at the same time, I will have a clear sense (both by being in the cockpit and by having control of the plane) of how the aircraft is truly affected (or really not, as the case may be) by turbulence. I am hoping that this will ultimately translate into a much better reaction to turbulence as a passenger on future commercial flights.

Am I being overly optimistic? Maybe…but I’m more than willing to give it a shot. And for those who commented about having the pilot being next to me rather than behind me, I can’t argue with your logic. But I suspect that having a calm voice in my ear talking about what we’re doing at the time will be more than enough to comfort me. I’m not too concerned about it right now, anyway.

Thanks again for all the contributions…please, feel free to keep 'em coming!

Fearing turbulence makes perfect sense. Going by to my roller coaster analogy, my first experience was not pleasant. While riding in an old style wooden roller coaster I had one arm locked above the bar and one locked underneath. Every time the coaster dipped I was slightly lifted out of my seat and I was literally hanging on for dear life. When I realized you were SUPPOSED to lift out of your seat a little then I was able to relax and enjoy the ride. That is what happens in an airplane.

The Pitts should be great if all you’re worried about is turbulence. I personally think you would find a yoke more familiar to fly but it won’t affect what you are trying to do. You’ll actually get the feel of a WWII fighter with a stick, which will be fun all by itself. Since the plane is designed for 7+ g’s you might ask the pilot to fly a steep turn to experience what 3 g’s feels like. This is well below the aircraft’s capabilities and you’ll get an understanding of just how much force it is designed to take. Translate this to a bigger aircraft. when you look out the window of a commercial airliner and you see the wings moving up and down then you should realize that is what the engineers intended them to do.

Hope it works out for you. Keep in mind there are a lot of pilots who would really enjoy a flight in the plane you chose. Once you feel comfortable with it then the pilot can demonstrate something fun like a barrel roll or a wing-over.

Me too, and I got my license 18 years ago. In fact, it really is the one main reason I can identify that has prevented me from flying as PIC the last 10 years or so. That, and I flare on landing, but practice will fix that.

I share your feelings, and I think you might actually be doing the right thing with the Pitts (though I was originally with the others against it). My fears are divided fairly equally between not having any practical idea of how much turbulence a plane can take, and not having any confidence in my ability to keep control in heavy chop. The latter probably doesn’t apply to you, unless you have a concern over how well the pilots can control the craft.

For me, I think the best way to get over it is to do something like you are doing: intentionally go up on a choppy summer day with an instructor in my typical aircraft (Cessna 172) and push my limits.

Well, I have some ideas about what you should do also but I won’t tell you them.

You seem to have you aims and plans and attitude well in hand.

The Pitts is great because it is acrobatic and you can’t break it short to running it into the ground. So you can be fully confident that any turbulence you might encounter and any imput that you or the pilot put in won’t break it. That is the very reason I gave myself some S-2B time for my 45th birthday.

I had never flown in an airplane that I could not break and wanted to try stuff that I had heard of and thought of but could never do. Then came the Pitts…

The instructor, I think, did not really believe it when I said I just wanted to yank it all over the sky. That is what I did. I tried to break it. I tried every silly thing that I had ever heard or thought. It was great.

Even with helmets and intercom if you have both, it will still be noisy, cramped, unless you are a real little guy, and will feel like nothing you have ever done nor likely do again, it is not an average airplane. But you can’t break it nor can any turbulence you will encounter break it, he will not take you into a thunderstorm, so have a blast…

Don’t forget to look out and enjoy the view…

When I saw you were planning your first flight in a Pitts I was initially with the crowd that went WHOA!

However - since you’ve had a good talk with the fellow taking you up and you apparently feel comfortable/confident with him and the airplane then that’s a huge point in favor of that airplane. If it’s something you chose and you want to fly that makes a difference. It’s just that there is such a strong association between Pitss and aerobatics… but there’s no reason you can’t use one for a pleasure flight.

I will agree, though, that side-by-side seating might be more reassuring. Then again, if you’re the sort where a quite, calm voice in your ear keeps you leveled then you should be alright. It WILL be noisy.

A lot of folks here are pro-yoke. Me, not so much. I do prefer sticks and always have, but then I started with a stick so no doubt I’m biased. At the point where you are, though, I really think it makes little difference.

A disadvantage of the Pitts is that it’s a tailwheel - it would be astonishing if the pilot allowed you any opportunity to handle it on the ground whereas a Cessna 172 or Piper Warrior can be safely manuvered on pavement or turf by even the most rank beginner. Then again, you’re not doing this to learn to fly, you’re doing it to get over fear in the air. In which case it might be more efficient to dispense with the ground handling altogether and just focus on what you’re there for.

You will get more “bumps” in the Pitts than in a commercial jet. But, as many have pointed out, it’s just about impossible to break a Pitts short of crashing it into the ground so no matter how bumpy it gets you can reassure yourself that the airplane can take it.

Taking the controls may or may not make you feel better, but I strongly encourage you to try it.

I was one of those pilots who had a fear of flying when I started lessons, and took lessons in part to get over it. Yeah, it did slow me down at the beginning, It took a long time to solo (and believe me, very few of my fellow pilots were at all sympathic about it). I like to think I turned into what Mach Tuck refers to as a “solid pilot” - nothing fancy, but reliable. I didn’t choose a “normal” airplane for my first lessons, either. In my case, since my fear had been triggered by a very bad experience in a commercial airliner I think the lack of “airplaneness” in what I chose was a factor in making me feel more comfortable. I still prefer airplanes that are a little off the beaten track.

And finally - I hereby give you permission to be nervous, anxious, or even scared. Yeah, you’ll probably have to tough some of it out, but those emotions are all OK. Fear won’t kill you, just make you really uncomfortable. Unlike an airliner, in this case if it gets overwhelming you can ask to be landed, you’re not trapped into a full length ride. Being in control does a lot to quell fear.

I’ve done some flying in a Pitts. I’m just about to go out for dinner, but when I come back I’ll answer your questions as well as I can.

I have some reservations about whether it is a good aircraft for what you want, I’ll elaborate when I get back.


Unless you think your ideas would somehow be detrimental to me, I’m not sure why you’d want to hold back. I enjoyed and appreciated everything else you had to say – I’ve no reason to believe differently about what you haven’t said.

I am looking forward to hearing what you have to say!

Broomstick, thanks for the comments. I do wonder why some have felt so strongly about me being more comfortable with a yoke. But I suppose the idea is that familiarity (in this case, controls being more like a car) would potentially contribute more to my comfort.

So, based on what everyone’s current understanding is of my objectives in this, is there anyone who still thinks it would be avisable for me to seek out a pilot who flies a Cessna or similar aircraft? And I realize that I have yet to hear fully from a couple of you.

Thanks again to each and every one of you.

Comon folks, give the Pitts a break. Just because it CAN be thrown all over the sky like Patty Wagstaff on crack, doesn’t me it HAS to be. It’s not an inherently unstable aircraft, and you can fly it just as basic as a 172 on a discovery flight. It’s all up to the pilot. I’m sure Asimovian has no inclinations to try any inverted loops and barrell rolls, and his instructor isn’t going to throw him any surprises.

As far as stick vs. yoke, its not like a yoke controls the plane anything close to how a steering wheel controls a car, I don’t see any inherent advantages of starting off with a yoke when it comes to familiarity.

Asimovian, have fun. I’m quite jealous! :smiley:

:smack: “Advisable.” Can’t fly, can’t spell, neither. Sheesh.

And on preview…

Well I hope that providing a full post-flight report will quell that sentiment somewhat. :wink: I’m really anxious to get up there…my “real” flight is only a week and a half away, and I want this under my belt beforehand.

Okay, I’m back. I had a very nice Thai dinner with a couple of work friends, thanks for asking.

As I said, I’ve done some flying in a Pitts. I started using an electronic log book recently, and it tells me that I’ve done nineteen hundred and fourty three flights in a Pitts. It was all a few years ago though, so I may be a little vague on some details.