Wow, how do I sum this up?
Saturday was my first flight in an L-39. It was, quite simply, the pinnacle experience of my life so far. When I jumped out of a plane a few years back over Australia I thought that nothing could ever top that experience, the pure euphoria that skydiving provided.
I was wrong, so very very wrong.
Thanks to a wonderful guy by the name of Tyson, I had an experience this past weekend so utterly profound and life altering that it puts that jump into a very very distant second place.
The flight started at Burbank airport in southern California and finished at Brown Field in San Diego. The stuff in the middle I just don't know how to put into words properly. I was given the chance to do what I have done in flight sim for 20 odd years, for real. I still can't wrap my head around it all. We did formation flight with another L-39, aerobatics, insane rolls, canyon runs, some extreme low level flight, and Tyson was kind and trusting enough to hand me the controls for about half of the flight.
So what's it like to fly an L-39? Well... its just like driving a Lotus Elise... in the vertical. The aircraft is just incredibly responsive to control input. There is no lag, no play in the stick, the slightest input elicits an instant response from the airplane. It's not the fastest accelerating or highest flying jet ever made but *wow* can that thing ever corner. In canyon runs and inverted passes over ridgelines we regularly hit 4-5G, and even with a G-suit it is just an utterly intense experience.
While I didn't experience even a blip of motion sickness or nausea at all, I found the first few aerobatic manoeuvres extremely disorienting. All of my previous real flying experience was absolutely worthless in this regime, and so oddly enough I found myself doing the same thing I did during my only in-flight emergency some years ago as PIC of a Cessna 172: I convinced myself I was back in Flight Simulator. Is that bizarre or what? Once I did that though I started keeping my head steady, using the canopy frames as references, ignoring the massive sensory assault from my body, and I was then able to stay perfectly oriented in any flight attitude. And then, insanity of insanities, I was handed the stick of this awesome little fighter.
I did several rolls, both barrel and aileron, as well as inverted pulls up the sides of mountains, over ridges, and back towards the ground, and a couple of truly wild canyon runs. To describe that experience as exhilarating just doesn't cover it. He also trusted me with landing the thing, giving me the opportunity to do a couple of touch and go approaches and despite a little apprehension on my part at first I found it incredibly easy to handle on approach and flare. In fact, believe it or not, I'd say it's actually easier to land than a 172. I'm not sure whether it's the airplane's 8000lb of inertia or its brilliant flight controls, but it's just gorgeously stable on approach.
I'm still digesting and analyzing the experience, but what I do know is that my new friend Tyson is one hell of a good pilot. He's one who knows his aircraft's limits and his own extremely well and doesn't step beyond them. He and his wife Anjuli are also incredibly gracious hosts and I feel very lucky to have met and gotten to know them a little.
And so with that, I'll just let some pictures, and more importantly a video, do the talking. The video link is at the bottom of the post. It's a little large, around 190 mb, but it covers some of the best 20 minutes of our 80 minute or so flight. I wish I could have recorded more of the aerobatics, I didn't have enough hands, or free brain cells, but it will definitely give you a good idea of what I experienced. I apologize for the shakiness of some of my footage. It's not the L-39 handling turbulence badly, quite the opposite, that plane just laughs at rough air, but rather my inability to keep my damned arm steady with such G loading, not to mention a diet of pure adrenaline. ;)
Secondarily I now have enough photo reference and personal experience in the L-39's cockpit to make one killer VC haha and a much much more accurate flight model. Back to work!
Tyson I truly can't thank you enough for your generosity. Thank you for one utterly amazing weekend mate. What a rush. I wish I could bottle this feeling.
Lotus' L-39 Flight Video Download
190mb, approx 20 mins