Aerobatics is the demonstration of flying maneuvers for training, recreation or entertainment.
Many aerobatic maneuvers involve rotation of the aircraft about its longtitudinal axis (rolling) or the pitch axis (looping). Some complex maneuvers, such as a spin, also require that the aircraft be displaced around a vertical axis, known as yawing. Maneuvers are often combined which demands a higher level of skill from the pilot, but greatly increases the spectacle of an aerobatic flight sequence.
Aerobatics is also practiced as a sport. Some pilots fly solely for recreation, while a smaller number (several hundred world wide) choose to compete in aerobatic competitions. Competitions start at Primary, or Graduate level and proceed in complexity through Sportsman, Intermediate and Advanced, with Unlimited being the top competition level. Unlimited pilots perform much more complex figures and sustain higher g levels (+/-10g's).
In the early days of flying, some pilots used their aircraft
as part of a flying circus
that had no practical purpose were flown for artistic reasons or to draw gasps from onlookers. In due course some of these maneuvers were found to allow aircraft to gain tactical advantage during aerial combat or dogfights
between fighter aircraft.
Aerobatic aircraft usually fall into two categories—specialist aerobatic, and aerobatic capable. Specialist designs such as the Pitts Special, the Extra 200 and 300, and the Sukhoi Su-29 aim for ultimate aerobatic performance. This comes at the expense of general purpose use such as touring, or ease of non aerobatic handling such as landing. At a more basic level, aerobatic capable aircraft, such as the Cessna 152 Aerobat model, can be dual purpose—equipped to carrying passengers and luggage, easy to land, as well as being capable of basic aerobatic figures.
Flight formation aerobatics are flown by teams of up to sixteen aircraft, although most teams fly between four and ten aircraft. Some are state funded to reflect pride in the armed forces whilst others are commercially sponsored. Coloured smoke trails may be emitted to emphasise the patterns flown and/or the colours of a national flag. Usually each team will use aircraft similar to one another finished in a special and dramatic colour scheme, thus emphasising their entertainment function.
Teams often fly V-formations—they will not fly directly behind another aircraft because of danger from wake vortices or engine exhaust. Aircraft will always fly slightly below the aircraft in front, if they have to follow in line.
Aerobatic maneuvers flown in a jet powered aircraft are limited in scope as they cannot take advantage of the gyroscopic forces that a propeller driven aircraft can exploit. Jet powered aircraft also tend to fly much faster which increases the size of the figures and the length of time which the pilot has to withstand increased g-forces. Jet aerobatic teams often fly in formations which further restricts the maneuvers that can be safely flown.
Aerobatics are taught to military fighter pilots as a means of developing precise flying skills and for tactical use in combat.
Aerobatics and formation flying is not limited solely to fixed wing aircraft, helicopters are also used—the British Army
, Royal Navy
, Spanish Air Force
and the Indian Air Force
have helicopter display team. The Indian Air Force
helicopter display team is known as Sarang
All aerobatic maneuvers
demand training and practice to avoid accidents
. Such accidents are rare but can result in fatalities; safety regulations are such that there has not been an airshow spectator fatality in the USA since the 1950s. Low-level aerobatics are extremely demanding and airshow pilots must demonstrate their ability before being allowed to gradually reduce the height at which they may fly their show.
There are many aerobatic training schools in the U.S. and other countries. A detailed list is available at http://www.iac.org/begin/schools.html
Aerobatics are most likely to be seen at a public airshows
. Famous teams include:
- Asas de Portugal (Portuguese Air Force)
- August First (People's Liberation Army Air Force)
- Black Eagle (Republic of Korea Air Force)
- Blue Angels (United States Navy)
- Blue Diamonds (Philippine Air Force)
- Blue Eagles (Army Air Corps—United Kingdom)
- Blue Impulse (Japan Air Self-Defense Force)
- Cartouche doré (French Air Force)
- Cruz del Sur ("Southern Cross"—Argentine Air Force)
- Diables Rouges (Belgian Air Force)
- Elang Biru (Indonesian Air Force)
- Frecce Tricolori (Italian Air Force)
- Halcones (Falcons-Chilean Air Force)
- Green Hawk ( Bureau of Royal Rainmaking and Agricultural Aviation, Thailand)
- Midnight Hawks (Finnish Air Force)
- Orlik Aerobatic Team, White-Red Sparks (known also as Team Iskry), Scorpion (aerobatic team) (Polish Air Forces)
- Patrouille de France (French Air Force)
- Patrouille Suisse (Swiss Air Force)
- Patrulla Aguila, Patrulla Aspa (Eagle Patrol; Blade Patrol—Spanish Air Force)
- Red Arrows (Royal Air Force—United Kingdom)
- Red Checkers (Royal New Zealand Air Force)
- Red Pelicans, Rothmans, Silver Falcons (South African Air Force)
- Rotores de Portugal (Portuguese Air Force—Helicopters)
- Roulettes (Royal Australian Air Force)
- Royal Jordanian Falcons (Royal Jordanian Air Force)
- Black Knights, Republic of Singapore Air Force
- Russian Knights, Strizhi (Swifts), Rus (Russian Air Force)
- Sagar Pawan (Indian Navy)
- Sanmueang (Royal Thai Air Force)
- Sarang (Indian Air Force)
- Saudi Hawks, (Royal Saudi Air Force)
- Sherdils (Pakistan Air Force)
- Silver Falcons (South African Air Force)
- Silver Swallows Irish air corps
- Esquadrilha da Fumaça Brazilian Smoke Squadron
- Snowbirds (Canadian Forces)
- Surya Kiran (Indian Air Force)
- Team Jupiter (Indonesian Air Force)
- Thunder Tiger (Republic of China)
- Thunderbirds (United States Air Force)
- Turkish Stars (Türk Yıldızları) (Turkey)
- Ukrainian Falcons (Ukrainian Air Force)