Margins 101


At the 2018 ICAS Convention in Las Vegas, F-35 test pilot Billie Flynn discussed using margins to construct each maneuver backwards—from the end of the maneuver to the beginning. “Margins” in the air show environment refers to the buffer area performers give themselves to recover safely from a maneuver. Hypothetically, a performer has practiced a torque roll enough times to ensure that the maximum altitude lost while sliding backwards is 400 feet, the maximum altitude required to reestablish control is 400 feet, and the pullout takes a maximum of 600 feet. The performer will then set a minimum altitude for the torque roll at 1,800 feet, giving a 400 foot margin to eat into in the event of an unforeseen complication.

Obviously, margins are aircraft specific, as the margins on particular maneuvers varies from aircraft to aircraft. Allotted margins are important to identify because establishing appropriate margins for each maneuver performed requires a thorough, nuanced and technical understanding of those maneuvers. Not only must performers know how to execute them correctly, they must also be aware of possible deterioration to which a maneuver may be susceptible. This close familiarity with each maneuver is only gained through repetition and practice.

Flying without properly identifying your margins can be compared to driving down the interstate without wearing a seatbelt. Under perfect circumstances, there would never be a problem; however, when flying in an environment with as many variables as the air show box, operating without set margins is simply a bad idea. Have you identified the margins for each maneuver in your sequence? If you have not, try Billie’s method. You may be surprised what you find.

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The International Council of Air Shows (ICAS) is a trade association dedicated to building and sustaining a vibrant air show industry to support its membership. To achieve this goal, ICAS demands its members operate their air show business at only the highest levels of safety, professionalism, and integrity.