Sunday, March 31, 2013

Rock Star

Two airplanes. I have two airplanes.  


One of which I have been ignoring more than is healthy. With the big push to get the 12 finished up and flying, and the not-quite-great weather we've been having for months now offering up few opportunities to fly at all, much less fly both of the planes, well, somehow I ended up going more than three months without flying the 6. And that is a long, long time. It's not good for the engine to sit that long, and piloting skills can erode too.

It was time to do something about it, and a chance came along on Saturday. It was light winds that I needed the most, and it wouldn't hurt to have a nice blue sky to go with them. I got both. Thus it was that I pulled the gray taildragger out of the hangar for the first time in what seemed like forever. Always the trooper, Papa was only mildly reluctant to start - it took one more shot of prime than usual and ten blades or so rather than the two or three that are the norm, but he grumbled to life easily enough, considering.

I didn't plan on flying with him for more than the half hour it would take to boil any condensation/water out of the oil and accomplish the three landings that would be required to establish currency for the next ninety days. And it pretty much worked out that way. Having flown the 12 exclusively for the last few months, it was no surprise that there were some adjustments to make in my what are now my normal procedures. The 12 is, in many ways, much simpler to operate. There is no primer in the 12, nor do I have to turn the fuel pump on and off or deal with the mixture setting. These are both automatic in the 12. Sort of -- while the 12 doesn't have a primer, it does have a choke control. 

The differences continued. As I was taxiing down the runway, I couldn't help noticing that I had much more positive ground steering in the 6 as opposed to the 12 with its free-swiveling nose wheel. On the other hand, I couldn't see much of anything out in front of the plane. An interesting trade-off, that, and I'm not sure which I would choose, if I hadn't made the choice already.  Takeoff was very different, too. I've gotten quite used to the spritely performance of the much lighter 12. The 6 felt like is was dragging an anchor. The feeling of lethargy was apparent in the air as well. What used to feel like the nimblest airplane ever suddenly felt like a U-Haul van. I shudder to think what something like a Cessna would feel like - a granite bath tub comes to mind. 

As I headed out to MadCo, I thought it was pretty neat to see 150 knots on the GPS again, that being a fairly unattainable rate in the 12 absent a one-way trip straight down.  I was nervous about the landings, but they actually weren't very bad. I've typically caused my own problems with landing the 6 by carrying too much speed into the flare but the 12 has taught me to get the plane slowed down earlier in the landing process. So, although I did bounce both landings, they were "soft" bounces and there were no subsequent bounces after the first - there just wasn't enough lift left in the wings. 

Back at Bolton, sitting in front of the hangar reflecting on a few things,  I debated for a few moments and decided to key the mic and say what was weighing on my mind: "This is probably the last time we will talk. It's a shame that it has come to this - I'm going to miss you guys and I appreciate your help over the last 15 years."  I deliberately kept it apolitical which, to be honest, was difficult. I also didn't wait around for a response (which I figured was 50:50 between a sad "Thanks" or an admonishment to not clutter the frequency) - I just turned off the master switch.

As it turned out, it wasn't the last time we were to talk, although I doubt if the guy in the tower realized that it was me again when I called in for taxi clearance as Experimental Two Eight Four Delta Golf just an hour and a half later.  Yes, I was going to fly again!  This time I would be flying down to Portsmouth and bringing a passenger along as well. Pete's son Warthog, himself the happy recipient of a pilot training slot in the U. S. Air Force, would be riding along.

I went home for a few minutes and was back at the hangar early enough to do a little work on the 12 before he showed up. I added an ounce of Decalin (it's some kind of chemical that is supposed to help protect the engine against the unwanted lead in 100LL avgas) which only took a minute, then got started on looking for a way to add a trim tab to the rudder. I don't have a lot of scrap metal of sufficient size, but as I was searching around for something that would work I came across a real prize: back when I was working on the fuselage kit, I had noticed that Van's had sent me two left side parts. When I told them about it, they sent me the right side part and I threw the now superfluous left side part into the scrap box. That part turned out to be perfect for creating a trim tab. It already had a row of rivet holes, and it already had a nice curve shaped into it. All I had to do was cut out an appropriately sized chuck with the band saw.

Bangety-bang and it was riveted on and ready to go!

Because I like to practice, I plotted a flight plan into the Skview and set it to climb up to 5,500' at 600 feet per minute. I kicked on the autopilot and let it do its thing until we reached cruising altitude, whereupon I turned it off and handed control over to Warthog. There we were, cruising along minding our own business when the Skyview started showing traffic at our 10 o'clock, 400 feet above us. Sure enough, there it was: a tiny spot off to our left. The Skyview predicted it to be on a direct collision course with us, and it was right. We watched as a twin engine (Baron? Aztec?) came right at us. We could plainly see the altitude difference so no avoiding action was required. 

I wondered if he ever even knew we were there, but as I think back on it I think he must have. According to the Skyview, he was at 6,000 feet, an altitude that would only be appropriate for a westbound IFR flight. Being IFR, the controllers would surely have called us out as traffic, just as the Skyview did for us. Still, it was a fantastic demonstration of the safety aspects of the Skyview.

The winds were again favoring a straight-in to runway 18 just as they had been a week ago, but for the same reasons as last time I decided against doing it. The winds were a little stronger out of the south this time around, though, so we wouldn't be able to just circle around to land on runway 36. Instead, I had Warthog fly us out to the east to put us a couple miles away from the airport and nicely positioned to enter the pattern on a left base to runway 18. That too is a bit of a short cut, but heading further south just to turn around and enter the pattern on a downwind leg would have put us head-on into anyone flying a very wide patter. We also could have gone to the west and entered on a crosswind leg, but that would put us head-on into the calcified-brain pilot that still thinks runway 18 has a right-turn traffic pattern. It's been a few years now, but those guys are still out there, I'm betting. 

The ensuing landing was firm, but passable.

We had time to wander around a little bit after lunch. We walked around to the other side of the fence to get a closer took at the Air Traffic Controller.

Then we walked over to the tie-down ramp to commiserate over the sad demise of an airplane that has clearly been abandoned to a slow, insidious death by negligence.

The saddest picture of all. Clearly someone had intended to fly again soon and never made it:

After settin' a spell with The Jackson Two in the rocking chairs in the small terminal building, we headed back to our respective planes for our trips home.  They were ready to go before I was, so I was sitting on the taxiway waiting as they went by on runway 18, just lifting into the air as they reached my waiting position. Right around that time, a voice came over the radio: "Such-and-such is on a three mile straight-in for runway 36."

So here it was! The reason we don't do straight-in approaches. This guy clearly hadn't been listening to the radio or he would have known that there was a departing airplane heading straight at him. I keyed the mic and said, "You have a plane departing one-eight." That was enough to convince him that a left downwind to one-eight would be more appropriate.

The flight back was bumpy. I am beginning to believe that with this airplane, all flights are going to be bumpy. I was rewarded with the best landing I have ever made in an RV-12, though, so it all balanced out.


Ted said...

Used to have two other airplanes at KPMH with similar condition. They still pay the tie down fee!

Steve said...

I think the moral of this story, for me, is that I better not fly any RVs anytime soon. Little Cessnas and Cubs are still plenty responsive for me. My checkbook likely wouldn't appreciate me discovering otherwise!

Post a Comment