Flying Journal - A Little Great Flying-Some Great Little Stories
I can't agree with Bill more-things are looking up. Last month I got my first flight in a Harmon Rocket, a tandem two-seat tail-dragger beefed up from the original Van's RV-4 design to accommodate, in this case, 260 ponies! Sort of a "crotch rocket" of "experimental" airplanes.
I have given tailwheel instruction from the back seat of an Aeronca Champ, but this was a little different. It was shorter than the front seat of a Cub. I'm glad I'm not even an inch taller. I could just sit under the canopy without removing the cushion. I could see some of the instruments with a stretch, but as I pointed out to the owner, the real horizon through that wide-reaching canopy and the pitch of the wings are enough for an instructor to know how the pilot is flying (at least under VFR).
The take-off roll, even with the two of us healthy boys, was smooth and all that power (what I'm used to flying on a six-seater!) thrust us forward and then up so soon I hardly had time to form an impression of the tailwheel technique. As we neared 3500 feet in a practice area, I raised up a little to see the airspeed indicating 160 knots in the climb! I'm in love and I'm spoiled, yet once again!
I always enjoy the smoothness of six-cylinder engines. Furthermore, this airplane was mechanically very smooth. I noticed on pre-flight, and then as I gingerly took the stick, how silky smooth the pivots on the control surfaces seemed. Aerodynamically and mechanically, the dominant impression was smoothness, with no sticking, no hesitation, no backlash. I have often commented that the cables and pivots on garden variety rental airplanes are a more crude technology than a modern bicycle!
I say I took the stick gingerly, as I recalled that on my first, check-out flight in an RV-6, I had taken the stick like I did in the Champ, and within a second I had to grab my hand with the other one and brace it against my knee to bring the plane back to level. It was about 4 times more sensitive than what I had flown before. My first lesson in a helicopter was like that, as well. But this time I was pleased that she never budged her attitude as we transferred control. Stalls recoveries were easy and gentle. We took turns maneuvering and worked up through medium and steep turns. She was easy to hold the nose up, even in 59 degree banked turns.
Ah, yes, another great plane in my collection flown-and a pleasure to fly with a pilot who had mastered that plane. Landings were pretty ordinary tailwheel events, requiring steady rudder attention, but no nasty habits displayed.
As far as stories go, I occasionally gather with some WWII veterans, who we all owe so much to, and I love their stories. They were really rolling this night. Just a sample, from a couple B-17 pilots. Imagine nearly a thousand B-17s in one raid. It boggles the mind. Then imagine a thousand B-17s trying to take off in IMC. Imagine a thousand B-17s spiraling up through the soup in a stack over low frequency beacons and then seeing them pop out of the tops all around you as you try to find the colored flares of your lead plane.
And finally, a story that I will use to illustrate one of the principles of flight we must teach to all private pilots. Students initially seem to think "ground effect" is a bad thing, because it makes them float down an extra runway length when they land their Cherokees too hot, or maybe they lifted off too slow once, and settled back down and scared themselves. But ground effect can get you off a soft field, or it can save your life.
Imagine a B-17, trying to return from a raid on just one engine, instead of two or three or all four. I don't think they are supposed to be able to fly on one engine. The crew volunteers to stay, even though the pilot orders them to bail out. They fly across the channel in ground effect, and unable to climb enough to reach the land in England, beach it successfully on the mud of the coast. There's no fiction that makes a better story than that!
Fly safely, and share the joy (including your memories)!