It was all going so well last week. I got over my inherent fear of an aircraft who’s normal state has the wings moving faster than the fuselage and is, by definition, unsafe. I got over the fact that the cockpit has minimal visibility (except to port, where the door is), is claustrophobic, and has not much more advanced than switches. I even got over the fact that there’s a 70’s TV in front of me that gets only one channel. And hey, I guess I can get over the fact that I’m trusting some stupid satellites for my position rather than letting my INS do its own dirty work. My first takeoff wasn’t too bad to begin with, but I started messing with the cyclic too early and left my tail on the ground. Apparently this isn’t an optional part (or so I’m told–it does about as much as a pet platypus), so I tried again, being more careful with the cyclic this time. Worked great, and I was able to accelerate, slow down, and do some snazzy looking turns. And in spite of myself, I started to like the Akuloshka. I was having fun and she (or do the Russians call it a he?) was very responsive and agile. Alright, for a guy who just climbed out of an A-10C, this isn’t saying much, but it was still a blast.
Then my instructor told me that ‘Flight director mode is not for real flying’. Figures. I picked it up easily, so it must be a useless skill. Apparently the Kamov Design Bureau decided that one man was enough for flying and gunnery if they gave him an autopilot to do all the flying work so he could concentrate on the missiles. Great theory. So now I had to put this plan into practice. First, I had to be conscious of where my controls had last been centered from the autopilot’s perspective. Second, I had to be aware of the limitations of the autopilot’s control authority. This all came out okay with some practice and trying to keep my control inputs small. All of it that is, except hover mode. Which, basically makes you get in a hover before hover mode can do anything. When I just had to damp my forward motion, I got into a hover okay. But then I flew around a bit and tried again, and I had introduced a bit of sideslip. Sideslip that just wouldn’t go away and stay gone. I focused on getting rid of it, and then tried to kill my speed, and oh look, sideslip’s back. Did you forget to completely zero out the horizontal inputs? Probably. Or maybe you kicked in too much on the pedals, and you’ve got a bit of a turn coming. Lovely. Now time to correct again, but oh wait—no, you’ve got more forward velocity.
After much cursing, and not much help from my instructor beyond “small inputs” (although to be fair, he can do very little when he can’t see my control inputs—a two-seat trainer would be great), I decided that I was getting entirely too frustrated. You know you need a break when you decide that you’d rather figure out your CDU than work on aerial maneuvers. And at that point, I was ready to code coordinates in my CDU rather than keep wrestling with the autopilot. Which brings me to another gripe with Akuloshka—where are the acronyms? Where are the barriers to understanding? How are we supposed to minimize actual words in our procedural checklists?
But, after a little research and practice, I finally figured out how to not move at all. In the air. It’s a bigger accomplishment than it sounds like, believe me.