MGA’s Aerobatics Club Takes Flight

Author: Alexandria Brooks
Posted: Wednesday, June 29, 2022 3:00 PM
Categories: School of Aviation | Pressroom | Students

Eastman, GA

L-R are Angela Rogers, MGA Aerobatics Club president, Gene Behrends, assistant chief flight instructor, and Bobby Jeanes, flight instructor.
L-R are Angela Rogers, MGA Aerobatics Club president, Gene Behrends, assistant chief flight instructor, and Bobby Jeanes, flight instructor. Behrends and Jeanes are faculty advisors for the club. They are standing in front of a Citabria (‘airbatic’ spelled backward), used by the School of Aviation for upset recovery training. Aerobatics are sort of an extension of upset recovery training but more geared toward competitive events among pilots and entertainment for people watching from the ground.

At age 28, Middle Georgia State University (MGA) aviation student Angela Rogers is rolling (and looping and spinning) into her second career as a professional pilot.

Originally from Destin, Fla., Rogers decided to leave behind her job as a manager of pilots at an Air Force base to become a professional pilot herself. She enrolled at MGA and will graduate with her B.S. in Aviation Science and Management in spring 2023. But in addition to taking part in standard pilot training, Rogers is a big part of the amazing world of aerobatics. 

She is currently the president and one of the primary organizers of MGA’s new Aerobatics Club.  She became involved in starting the club to "get people excited about that part of aviation. We should all have some kind of training in aerobatics. It makes a better pilot and provides a better understanding of aerodynamics."

Aerobatics consists of spectacular flying feats and maneuvers (such as rolls and dives) that are geared toward competitive events among pilots and entertainment for people watching from the ground, differing greatly from typical fixed wing flying.

“You’re pushing the envelope as far as what the aircraft is capable of doing in regard to performance aerodynamics and structural capability,” explains Rogers. “Different parts of the tailplane turn into something else entirely just because of how the air is flowing over it.”

Gene Behrends, assistant chief flight instructor at MGA, explains that aerobatics are sort of an extension of the upset recovery training taught at the School of Aviation, which introduces students to the basic elements of aerobatic flight and how to recover from different phases in maneuvers, such as spins and inverted rolls.

“If you're trying to learn aerobatics and you mess up a maneuver, you're going to wind up in an unusual attitude of some sort or maybe in a spin or something like that and that's why we teach recovery from that stuff first.”

While upset recovery is not a required course for flight students, those who take upset recovery courses tend to be better aerobatic pilots due to their advanced skillset and heightened confidence.

“There's a lot of different recovery techniques and reactions that you wouldn't think of as a normal pilot,” says Rogers, “and by learning that through upset recovery, you become more aware. So, we teach upset recovery and then move into the basic aerobatic training where we're learning how to sequence together those maneuvers and how to actually fly in an aerobatic box” - a cube of protected airspace that is safe for pilots to perform aerobatic maneuvers - “and that's where we start getting people into the mindset of like, ‘okay, well, do you like it enough to compete?’ We're really just getting started on that.”

There’s currently a year long wait for students to take the University’s upset recovery course and interest in aerobatics continues to grow.

“We just have to give them the opportunity to do it. it's one thing to take it as a class and then never touch an aerobatic airplane again, but it's a whole other thing to take the class and use those skills that you’ve literally paid to learn and do something for fun.”

Although aerobatic flying is fun, Rogers stresses that it’s not only for fun.

"You can't just go up there and cowboy around in the air. You have to have an understanding of what you are doing.”

Much like rollercoasters, aerobatic flying isn’t for everyone due to its physical and mental effects. The upset recovery course is a great determiner for those who may be interested.

“They either love it or they hate it,” says Behrends. “You can usually tell from the first flight. There's no middle ground. They're nauseas and sick, and they never ever want to touch it again, or they come down with this huge grin on their face and they just are all about it. They want to learn more,” which is exactly where the Aerobatics Club comes into play.

The small but mighty club of aviators recently got its start at MGA thanks to the encouragement and generosity of several people who would love to see the club develop at the University.

“We’ve been really fortunate in receiving support from the local International Aerobatic Club chapter, IAC 3,” who have placed several students on scholarships, given them opportunities to fly their super decathlon aircraft for practice, and gotten them into competitions in the Sebring Aerobatic Championships, says Rogers.

“We have some really great mentors that have come out of the woodwork as far as getting us started.”

The club’s current coach, Marty Flournoy, has been a major supporter since the beginning, helping the group schedule practices for those in the club and students with a piqued interest.

“We have a coach that has flown literally all across the world to do this stuff so we couldn't be in better hands.”

With the help of Flournoy and the IAC 3, the club is trying to get the University Aerobatics Club competing against flight programs at other schools, including North Dakota and Embry-Riddle.

“We're currently ahead of them in the standings,” says Rogers. “Our scores are higher, but we don't qualify because we lack one more pilot.”

This is the University’s first attempt at an Aerobatics Club. Rogers, along with other supporters including Behrends and Bobby Jeanes, flight instructor at MGA, started the club to encourage all students to become involved in aerobatics regardless of their major.

“It’s for anybody who has an interest in aerobatics,” explains Rogers, “even if they just want to be a judge on the ground.”

Even if students aren’t interested in competing, Rogers encourages all pilots to take the upset recovery course and attend a club meeting to get a taste of aerobatics.

“There's a lot of benefits. It builds your confidence because you know that you can recover your aircraft from the weirdest attitude possible. It makes you feel good about what it is that you can survive in an aircraft. Having the situational awareness that upset recovery and aerobatics gives you is so important. It’s not It's as easy as people think it is and, when you're fine-tuning skills like that, it translates into all different parts of your flying whether you realize that or not. It makes you more responsible and aware. It really cleans up your flying.”

After graduating from MGA, Rogers hopes to become a flight instructor for the University and eventually begin work on a master’s degree in space operations at Embry Riddle.

Her nosedive into aerobatics opens up even more doors for her as she maps out her career.

“I've flown planes that I never thought that I would have the opportunity to fly, including the EXTRA NG,” she said. “I was the first woman under the age of 30 to get more than 35 hours in the aircraft in the United States. Since I've started to compete, I've been given invitations to different competitions across the U.S. I don't own a plane so they're all going out of their way to find me an aircraft to fly.”

Regardless of their major or which campus they call home, students who would like to learn more about MGA’s Aerobatics Club are encouraged to complete the interest form found in the club’s Instagram bio.

“I think this club is going to turn into something really fun and educational,” she said, “and it'll be a good time.”