Wild, Sweet & Cool

by Kwakerjak

Busy Child

“Believe it or not, it’s actually quite simple once you know what you’re doing.”

– Aileron

Twilight approached the practice field, levitating the saddle in an unmarked cardboard box beside her. She’d gotten a few weird looks from some of the residents of Ponyville, probably because unmarked cardboard boxes as bulky as this one tended to rouse the curiosity of others. Well, that and the fact that it was somewhat unusual to see a unicorn to levitating large objects all the way across town. Maybe I should just use a cart next time until I have to go off the road....  

The unicorn chased the thought from her mind. This was a minor detail that could wait until later. For now, she was more interested in learning why Rainbow Dash had insisted on arriving ahead of time to “take care of the preparations” (whatever those were). A glance towards the sky provided an answer: the pegasus was zipping around, meticulously arranging fluffy piles of water droplets into what was apparently some sort of obstacle course. “Hey, you’re here!”

Twilight wasn’t exactly certain how to respond to this statement of the obvious, except with an equally self-evident statement of her own: “Yes, I am.”

“Great! Just give me a minute or so to finish getting everything ready, and then we can get started.”

The unicorn grinned slyly. “A whole minute? Isn’t that a little slow for you?”

“Hey, this is the first time I’ve ever tried to teach anypony else basic aerobatics.”

“I suppose that explains why you brought your whistle today. But where’s your cap?”

“Uh, hello?  We’re going to be flying all over the place. It’d probably just fall off.”

“Well, we’ll certainly be all over the place, considering how large this obstacle course is.”

“It’s not an obstacle course. It’s a series of stations for us to work on different tricks. I’m pretty sure it’s all set up the way it’s supposed to be, but I wanna make sure everything’s just right.”

Twilight rolled her eyes. “And you guys think I’m a perfectionist.”

“Well, if you don’t want to learn it...”

“What is this ‘not wanting to learn’ concept you speak of? I’m not familiar with it.”

Rainbow Dash laughed at this joke (at least, she was pretty sure it was supposed to be a joke of some sort, given the unicorn’s smile), and glided back to the ground. “Okay, enough talking. Let’s get strapped in.”


As the two ponies had gotten quite proficient at saddling up in the past few weeks, it didn’t take very long at all before they were in the air. “You ready to get started?”

Twilight Sparkle nodded. “You bet. I’ve been reading up on the terminology, just like I promised. I’m ready for everything you have to tell me about loops, rolls, turns, and spins.”

Rainbow Dash chuckled softly—her friend’s eagerness to learn about flying reminded her of her own foalhood impatience. “One thing at a time, okay?  Let’s start with the loops.”

The inside loop was undoubtedly the easiest of all the maneuvers on the day’s agenda, mostly because Twilight had been using partial versions of it as her primary means of inversion thus far. Twilight simply gave the signal for “up,” and since her directions were all relative to the pair’s current orientation at any given moment, continuing to go “up” caused Rainbow Dash to fly in a vertical circle. The pegasus, knowing that her friend always preferred to have as much information as possible about everything under the sun, started to give a somewhat involved clarification of the trick’s name, explaining how flyers would visualize a circular band, sort of like one of Zecora’s neck thingies, but Twilight cut her off.

“It’s called that because I’m on the ‘inside’ of the loop, right?”

“Uh... yeah, now that I think about it, it’s true. I mean, that’s basically a simpler way of saying what I was already saying, if you know what I’m saying.”

“I... uh, think so. And the outside loop is the same, only I’m signaling ‘down’ the whole time and I’m on the ‘outside’ of the loop, right?”

“Pretty much. I take it you wanna give it a shot?”

Indeed Twilight did, and the first attempt was soon made. However, this proved to be significantly more difficult, as the unicorn’s “outside” position meant that the g-forces of the maneuver were pulling her away from her flyer, causing her to extend her legs and lessen the strength of the “down” signal. This hadn’t been a problem with the inside loop, since in that case she was being pulled towards Rainbow Dash, and Twilight Sparkle, like most ponies, had a lot more experience pushing against positive g-forces than pulling against negative ones. That being said, this particular rider was somewhat better informed than most beginners due to her meticulous research habits, and had been mentally prepared for the extra difficulty; the fact that her hind legs had been getting regular workouts from the previous practices helped as well.  It only took a few more tries before Twilight was making complete outside loops, although she clearly needed more practice before they’d be circular enough for performance in a theoretical competition.

Still, Rainbow Dash decided that her student was proficient enough to try a more complex trick: the vertical eight. This was done by performing an inside loop, followed immediately by an outside one (or vice versa), tracing a vertical figure-eight in the sky (hence the name). In order to help Twilight judge when each loop had been finished, the pegasus had set up two small cumulus clouds so that they resembled a colon: the two would perform an inside loop around the higher cloud, and an outside loop around the lower, with the space in between acting like a gate to let Twilight know when to transition from one loop to the next. It was the same way the pegasus had learned it in flight school, and not surprisingly, a teaching method that had been successful for an academic underachiever like Rainbow Dash was outstanding for a pony like Twilight Sparkle, whose brain seemed to be hardwired for learning.

However, beyond the vertical eight, most tricks (including all of the ones Dash wanted Twilight to be familiar with) required proficiency at rolling. The most basic of maneuver in this category was the Aileron roll. This particular trick, which was named after the pegasus who’d first developed it, consisted of a complete rotation around the flyer’s longitudinal axis without any changes in direction. It had replaced the barrel roll (which Twilight had experienced the previous week) as the first rolling maneuver traditionally taught at flight schools, because it was much easier to perform.

Or rather, it was supposed to be much easier to perform, but for some strange reason Twilight seemed to have difficulty completing the rotation. She had no problems inverting, but reverting required so much physical effort on her part that she was tempted to declare learning it not worth the effort. A brief break to let the unicorn rest and read through the saddle’s instruction manual didn’t appear to do much good, either. The manual made no mention of Aileron rolls, but instead skipped them entirely in favor of barrel rolls. This stumped the two, until Twilight, on a hunch, suggested that they try the (allegedly) more complex maneuver. When Rainbow Dash caved in, they quickly discovered that barrel rolls, while not exactly easy, took much less effort to pull off.

“I don’t get it,” Rainbow Dash said as she hovered at the end of the line of cloud rings she’d set up for practicing rolls. “Aileron rolls have always been easier for me—and practically every pegasus ever, for that matter. I’m pretty sure even Fluttershy can do them when she’s not feeling pressured. Why in Celestia’s name would they give you more problems, when a barrel roll is basically the same thing combined with an inside loop?”

This, however, caused Twilight to have a flash of inspiration. “Of course! It’s the inside loop.”


“Because the barrel roll has an inside loop, it’s creating positive g-forces for me. On the other hoof, the Aileron roll is spinning around an imaginary line that goes through your body, but since I’m on the outside, that’s creating negative g’s.”

“And this matters because...?”

“Well, I indicate roll by leaning to one side or the other. That causes one of my legs to extend while the other retracts, and then you roll in the direction I’m leaning. But leaning over like that is really difficult without positive g’s, since negative g’s tend to push me back to the normal sitting position. This explains why the instruction manual didn’t even bother mentioning the Aileron roll. It’s too difficult for a rider to signal.”

“Oh, come on. It’s not like leaning over is the only way to get your legs to do that.”

“It isn’t?”

“No way! I mean, you do that sort of thing all the time when you’re trotting, right? One leg’s extended, the other isn’t. Or are you telling me you sway back and forth when you’re walking down the street?”

“But... surely you aren’t the first pony to think of that. There must be some reason they don’t bring it up.”

“Maybe, but with the way we’re strapped together, I can feel pretty much every move you’re making, so if you don’t make my instincts kick in, I can just think about it. Personally, though, I doubt it’ll come to that.  C’mon.  Try it.”

Given that her only other option was to end the practice session early, Twilight agreed to give this a shot. The two ponies returned to their starting position, and began a flat pass through the cloud rings. Okay, Twilight, the unicorn thought to herself as they entered the pseudo-tunnel. Lift one leg, push off the other, and... hold! 

Rainbow Dash rolled to the right, fully inverted... and continued the roll until she reached her starting orientation, all in one smooth move. Sure, it had been a little slow (ideally, they would have completed it before exiting the rings), but the pegasus decided that this was still worthy of a hearty “Yahoo!”

“That... was... wow....” Twilight Sparkle concurred.

“So, I take it my idea was a good one?”

“Yeah... although I was a bit surprised at the direction. For some reason, I thought we’d go left, because I was pressing down with my left leg, but once I got over that, it worked... pretty well, actually.”

“Wanna try again?”


The two did several more passes until Twilight got the feel for the procedure and felt comfortable enough to try incorporating the roll into other maneuvers. It still wasn’t close to being “pretty” enough for competition, but then again, if the pair had wanted others to see this, they wouldn’t have gone so far outside of Ponyville in the first place.

Learning the Aileron roll allowed the two to move on to the Immelpferd turn. This required little explanation, since Twilight had ridden along for one the previous week: one-half of an inside loop, with a half-roll at the top to level out. Somewhat surprisingly, she suggested trying the Split-S before her flyer could even bring it up, on the grounds that it was “the same thing, only in reverse.” One inversion and second half of an inside loop later, Rainbow Dash was confident that her student was ready for the most complicated trick on the day’s agenda.

The trick in question was the horizontal eight. When she heard the name, Twilight initially assumed that it would be little more than a vertical eight begun from a nosedive or a vertical climb rather than a flat pass, an assumption which seemed to be supported by the fact that the “course” Rainbow Dash had arranged for the trick looked just like the one for the vertical eight, only turned 90° so that the two clouds were arranged parallel to the horizon, rather than perpendicular.

In reality, the only thing the horizontal eight had in common with its vertical counterpart was a vague resemblance to the number after seven. Starting from an ordinary flat pass, the flyer would complete five-eighths of an inside loop before performing an Aileron roll (in other words, an Immelpferd turn, except the roll occurred after the full inversion, when the flyer was at a 45° angle to the ground). Then, after continuing in this trajectory for a brief period, the flyer would execute six-eighths of a second inside loop, inverting again at the same angle as the first turn. The trick ended with the flyer returning to her original altitude and leveling off.

According to Rainbow Dash, the reason she wanted Twilight to give this trick a try was so she could practice stringing together different maneuvers so that she could make the transitions as smooth as possible. It was this, the pegasus claimed, that made aerobatics impressive, and not coincidentally, it was also the reason relatively few pegasi were qualified to become full-time flyers like the Wonderbolts. It demanded an extremely sharp mental acumen, or else one risked disaster—usually to one’s professional reputation, but sometimes to the wellbeing of other ponies, especially when flying in formation.  “Lucky for me, you’ve got brains to spare, so this should be no problem for you!”

“Well, I’m certainly glad that you’re confident about this.”

“Great!  Let’s get to it!”

Rainbow Dash’s plan was to start out by using her whistle to signal when Twilight was supposed to be transitioning to the next section of the maneuver. The point wasn’t to let the unicorn get her timing down perfectly; rather, it was intended to help her learn what her physical orientation was supposed to be when the Aileron rolls were meant to be executed. After several tries, she felt confident enough to give the horizontal eight a try without Rainbow Dash’s coaching.

The first half of the trick went off without a hitch. Twilight guided her friend through the partial loop, and rolled at the exact spot where she had in the practice runs. This isn’t so bad, she thought to herself as she approached the second loop’s inversion—which was a problem, because at that time, she was supposed to be thinking about Aileron rolls.

Twilight realized almost immediately that she’d executed the second roll just a bit too early, as she was headed straight for the cloud.  This didn’t cause her too much concern, other than mild disappointment at having made a mistake. One second later, however, the unicorn was abruptly reminded of one of the most oft-overlooked corollaries of a pegasus’ ability to walk on clouds—namely, the ability to crash into them.

Of course, one doesn’t become a winner of the Best Young Flyer competition without learning how to quickly recover from mid-air collisions, so Rainbow Dash had little trouble regaining control and hovering while her rider recollected herself. “Are you okay, Twilight?”

“Yeah... I’m fine. I just didn’t expect hitting a cloud to jerk me around so much.”

“Well, you’re a unicorn, so you normally pass right through them, which means that you kept going for a little bit, even though I’d already stopped.”

“Right. Conservation of momentum.”

The pegasus had heard enough about the physics involved in flight over the years to recognize the phrase, even if she could never quite remember what exactly it meant, so she assumed that her friend knew what she was talking about, and decided to move on to the next subject. “Well, I’m sure you’ll be ready for it next time.”

“You’re right. Let’s get back to it.”

“Uh, sorry, Twilight, but I’ve got to pull the plug here. My wings are getting tired, and believe me, straining a wing is not something you want happening at these altitudes.”

“Aww... I was hoping to get to spins. The books I read made them sound so beautiful and graceful.”

“Well, yeah, I’ll admit that they’re really kick-awesome to watch when they’re done by a flyer who knows what she’s doing, but they’re also really difficult and dangerous, and you’re not even close to the skill level needed for me to feel comfortable letting you do that yet. In fact, I’m not even sure I have the skill to pull one off if you just sat on my back like a sack of potatoes and let me take over. I mean, I’m more of a speed specialist to begin with, so I don’t practice the graceful stuff nearly as often. ”

“Oh... that’s too bad, I guess.”

“Besides, to do a spin, you have to stop flapping your wings entirely for the duration of the trick, so I wouldn’t really be getting any extra strength training in by having you ride along.”

Twilight sighed. “No point in moping about it, I guess. After all, we made some good progress today, right?”

“Some progress? Twilight, it took me months to learn how to do everything you did today. I mean, granted, it’s still a little sloppy, but that’s nothing that can’t be fixed with some more practicing.”

The unicorn grinned sheepishly. “Well, to be fair, I don’t have to worry about the actual mechanics of flying.  All I’m really doing is pointing you in the direction I want you to go.”

Rainbow Dash chuckled as she landed on the grass. “Alright, be modest if you want. Still, I say it’s a shame you weren’t born with wings. You’d be a natural pegasus.”

“Flattery will get you nowhere,” Twilight replied as she released herself from the saddle. “Same time next week?”

“Definitely,” the pegasus replied as she removed the saddle and replaced it in its box. “There’s going to be really thick stratus clouds all over the Ponyville area, which basically means the entire sky will be padded, so we can take a few more risks.”

“Maybe even a spin?”

“Maybe... but I have something else in mind.”