The -52, just like any other high performance plane, is to be respected. A little over two years ago I had the opportunity to spend some time in Tom Johnson's -52 (he now has a -50) getting some advanced instruction. I posted my experience on the Yak-list...and may be useful in this discussion.
DISCLAIMER, this is for entertainment only. It is in no way intended as
instruction or and endorsement to do these maneuvers on your own.
So, your humble correspondent finally got to fly a Yak-52, and was left
scratching his head as to what all the fuss is about....
"That thing is deadly in a spin"
"Lots of good pilots have died in that airplane"
and my personal favorite,
"It will kill you if you're not paying attention"
These are all things I've heard or read when it came to the Yak-52. For
two years now, my interest has been piqued by all this talk and
suggestion that the Yak-52 is a handful of airplane. This seems a harsh
contradiction to it's purpose...a primary aerobatic/military trainer.
About 3 weeks ago, Roger Baker included me in an email that gave the
times and dates of upcoming aerobatic training from some Russian dude
imported for a couple of weeks. I figured to fly with him would be an
awesome opportunity to see this Blood Thirsty Russian Beast put through
it's paces, and stand a chance of not letting it kill me. So, I called
Roger - whom I met at All Red Star last year and have trying to get
together ever since - and wondered out loud if there was anyone in the
area that would let me fly their -52. Roger graciously offered to give
me a front seat checkout in one of his Yak Flying Club airplanes based
out of Palomar, but a member needed to be in the airplane at all times
for insurance reasons (we'll get to that irony in a second). I figured
flying acro sitting in somebody's lap wasn't an option, so I asked if
anyone else was coming that might put me on their insurance for the
weekend. I found the PERFECT guy! Of all people, Tom Johnson of Cannon
Aviation Insurance was coming down! Well, Tom and I have become
friends over the past couple of years and I figured since I didn't have
a claim on record, he just might let me fly his Yellow Yak. :) Sure
'nough, Tom was as gracious as Roger....I was in!
So after a front seat checkout with Roger last Saturday. I drove the 80
miles to Ramona on Tuesday morning to fly the Yellow Yak with the
Russian dude. Turns out this dude is more than just a dude. He's Yuri
Yeltsov, head of the DOSAAF in Kazakhstan, with about, oh, a bazillion
hours of acro instructing in the -52. Vladimir Yastremski is a long
time friend of Yuri's and he and Roger arranged for his visit.
The one potential pitfall in all of this is the language barrier...but I
soon appreciated that there are two international languages, the other
one is aviation! During the preflight's and debrief's Vladimir stood by
the ready for any necessary interpretation, which was seldom needed
unless it was a technical question or discussion of the fine points.
Though his english was limited, phrases like "more push," "easy push,"
"left pedal," "right stick" and "Nyet, you idiot!" were very effective.
OK, he never called me an idiot...to my knowledge, anyway. :) Quite to
the contrary, he was always courteous and his reserved demeanor inspired
confidence in even a neophyte Yak driver (0 hours PIC, until last
Saturday) like me.
OK, Barry, enough window dressing... Right. I flew three times with
Yuri. The first hop consisted of the basic aerobatic maneuvers: rolls,
slow rolls, loop, Immelmans, Hammerheads. As Yuri would say, "No
problem? No problem." Occasionally, he would ask me "you normal?"....I
refrained from telling him about my latest psychotherapy session, and
instead just nodded. After awhile, my body started concurring with my
therapist's analysis of my mental state and we headed for home. On the
ground I learned why I was dishing out the last part of my slow rolls
(not enough nose high when inverted), and that I was very aggressive
with the stick...it brought a smile to Yuri's eyes when he told me
that. I guess there's hope for me yet.
With 18 hours to shake the aerobatic fuzz out of my skull that had not
seen more than 2 G's in the last six months, I was back on Wednesday for
a double dose. The first session was snap rolls, point rolls, spins,
and flat upright spins. All went well, except my aerobatic tolerance
was deteriorating after about 15 mintues and it was a real fight, but I
kept going. Anyway, after my head hitting the canopy about 4 times, I
finally got the hang of the snap roll. Point rolls were rewarding, and
then the moment that I had been waiting for arrived. Spins.
The first spins we did were just the garden variety, power off, upright
spins. No issues there. I did notice, interestingly enough, that the
Yak-52 spin recovery is not as quick as the CJ's. After 3 or 4
evolutions, though, I had compensated and we went to the flat, upright
spin. "First one, I do," came over the intercom. "First, normal entry,
zen stick left full, and power full." As we began to accelerate and the
world went whizzing past like a teacup ride with 3 body builders, I was
reminded of that oh so intellectual line from the movie Fast Times at
Ridgemont high when Spicolli says, "Ah-ah-ah-suh-uh-mmm!" Next thing I
know we had done 5 revolutions and recovered by 6 1/2. "Again, dis time
from Hammerhead," Yuri said. "I do, you follow"...uh, OK, "no problem?
No problem." So away we went again, with Yuri counting rotations and me
just sitting there with this big stuff eatin' grin on my face. This is
FUN!!!! My still unaccustomed to acro head was feeling a little
topsy-turvy, so we headed for the barn.
I was a little worried I wouldn't make it past the first round of this
final bout with the -52 as my brain was still sloshing about in my head
a bit. Hopefully the Cannon Aviation Insurance sponsored Excedrin would
do the trick. This time, it was loops with aileron rolls at the top,
Avalanches (loop with a snap at the top), upset recovery training "I go
in, you get out"...he was talking about the maneuver, not the
airplane...I don't think, vertical rolls, and more spins "dis time, you
do, I watch." Well, if I'm not carrying the left over bag buy then,
sure. As it turns out I got stronger as this flight went on...I guess
my brain was finally catching up with my eyes. Anyway, the two areas I
want to mention here are the upset recovery - 60 degrees of bank, and
exceed critical AoA. As we departed the plane would head towards
inverted. "Now you go!", said Yuri from the back, and I aggressively
stomped on top rudder and pushed the stick opposite the roll. The next
thing I knew we were straight and level. We did this from various
attitudes and in the end the result was the same....very predictable and
Now it was finally time for "you do, I watch." So as we climbed up to
5000 AGL, Yuri went through the flat, upright spin procedure with me.
"Normal spin begin right, zen stick left full, and power full.
Recover...power off, off, stick forward right, left pedal full, wait for
stop spin, zen recover." Sure, Yuri, no problem, just like you did it,
OK, crap, here we go.......normal right spin entry, stick full
left, power full, and....yeeeehaaaw! By this point I hear Yuri
"...sree, forh, five!" Uh, stick right forw...grrrrr, get over
there!..forward, anti-spin rudder (left), and "Power! Power off!" oh,
yeah, that helps! A little sloppy on my part, but Yuri stayed off the
controls and we recovered in reasonable fashion. "Again?!", I ask.
"OK," Mr. DOSAAF says, chuckling under his breath. Back up to 6000 MSL
again, and....wheeeeee! This time I'm actually keeping up with the spin
count, remember to get the power out, and she just happily recovers.
One more for posterity...Yuri must have been thinking "these crazy
Americans!"...and we went home. A nice overhead with a greaser capped
off a great flight and two eye opening, if not headache producing, days
So with the pictures taken, the heartfelt handshakes exchanged, and
logbook signed, I was left with the four wheel solitude of my Ford F-150
to reflect on a very eye opening and confidence inspiring experience.
As Roger Baker so eloquently puts it, the Yak-52 "has a flair for the
dramatic, but behaves just wonderfully." I agree. I found the Yak to
be an extremely enjoyable aircraft for it's purpose. It will do acro
all day long and never complain. It is a capable performer in the hands
of an equally capable pilot, but also is nice enough to encourage you to
be better if you're not as good as a guy like Yuri. I found no bad
habits, no uncomfortable tendencies, and in the end, a totally
I also see how guys get killed in these things. The stick forces to
recover from the upright flat spin were significant. I'm a 6'2', 200
lb., guy who hits the gym a couple days a week, and I thought Yuri was
fighting me on the stick the first time I tried to get it out of the
bottom left corner...it was just the airplane fighting me. I managed to
move the stick out of the corner with one arm but it took some effort.
Also, Yuri said that if you leave the aileron out of spin (i.e. left of
center in a right spin), even a touch, the plane will stay in the spin.
So yes, if you don't have proper type specific training and/or panic
when you get into an unexpected accelerated spin, I could see ending up
in a force on force battle with Mother Earth. But it seems, like with
most airplanes, the myth far supersedes reality.
The Yak-52 is a great airplane and does what it was designed to do just
about as well as anything out there. Spins? Well, it certainly
commands respect, but with the proper training, like Yuri says, "No
problem? No problem."
Worldwide Warbirds, Inc.
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