Throughout the first decade of aviation, pilots continued to learn about aerobatics and crowds continued to be wowed by daredevil maneuvers. Will Rhodes Moorhouse allegedly did the first tail slide in the spring of 1912, but the maneuver was probably really a hammerhead turn. In both maneuvers, the airplane begins by flying up a vertical line until the airspeed is zero (or nearly zero). In a true tail slide, the airplane does just what the name sounds like — it starts sliding backwards. It’s a common maneuver in both airshows and advanced aerobatic competitions. However, the tail slide can be hard on the airplane (and the pilot!) as some airplanes pitch violently downward in the recovery. I’ve done tail slides in some airplanes where you hardly even notice it (like my one ride in the back seat of an F-15) and other airplanes where your eyeballs just about pop out.
The hammerhead turn, on the other hand, is a vertical turn at the top of the vertical line. The pilot kicks the rudder to pivot the airplane about a point while simultaneously adding aileron and pushing the nose of the plane forward to keep everything in a nice flat turn. This maneuver takes a little practice, but is easy enough that it is included in all but the lowest rung of aerobatic competition.
The first aerobatic competition ever was planned near present-day Orly Airport in France on June 8, 1913 — almost exactly 100 years ago. The competition was supposed to feature a French pilot, Roland Garros and a Swiss pilot, Edmond Audemars. The contest was modest by today’s standards and was scheduled to include events in speed, climbs, and “fantastic and dexterous flight.” Presumably the latter made up the aerobatic portion of the contest, which had a 10,000 franc prize.
As the day approached, the French Aero Club and some journalists became concerned about safety and they lobbied the contest sponsors to replace the aerobatics with a more pedestrian spot landing contest. Yawn.
I’ve seen French pilots fly aerobatics in modern times, and they certainly don’t have that attitude any more!