It’s Never Too Late

By Patrick Roberge, EAA 812284

First, a snap roll, then accelerate for a loop, then pick up speed again for an Immelmann. Next, a hammerhead to reverse direction, then a Cuban eight, followed by the Emerson Flip, and finish with a barrel roll to exit the aerobatics box.

No, it’s not Patty Wagstaff or Sean D. Tucker — it’s an old dog learning new tricks. After learning to fly in my 50s and instructing for the last 18 years (I’m 78) I wanted to ease off the usual but didn’t want to stop learning new stuff.

Enter Red Stewart Airfield (40I) — a family grass strip in southwest Ohio dating back to 1946. This is grass-roots aviation if ever there was. Look up and you’ll see Cubs, Champs, and maybe a Stearman in the pattern, plus a Citabria higher up cutting aerobatic capers in the sky.

How did I get here? Some years back, I attended an airshow here, camped overnight, and remembered the welcoming atmosphere. Because I hadn’t flown tailwheel in ages, I decided to revive those skills. For this, I knew that Red Stewart’s was where I would go.

When I learned that aerobatic instruction was offered in a Citabria by Emerson Stewart, the grandson of the airfield’s founder, I thought why not do both tailwheel and aerobatics?

First flight: Emerson demonstrates a loop, talking it through, and says “Now you do one.” I say “Demo’ it again.” Next, Emerson demo’s a hammerhead and invites me to do one. I say “Demo’ it again” … and so it went. I didn’t dare touch the stick! All I did that day was land the airplane, wondering — what am I doing here?

Well, anyway, after Emerson’s patient instruction, from spring through the fall, I look forward not only to learning new maneuvers, but improving stuff I had supposedly learned — like making loops look round rather than elliptical. In addition to a sense of accomplishment, aerobatic training has given me confidence that I won’t freeze if I’m ever upset in, say, a 172.

So, get yourself a good instructor and, go ahead — cut capers in the sky! It’s never too late.

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