Monday, July 1, 2013

Flying because you have to

I've long said (to anyone that would listen, so 'long said' does not necessarily mean 'often said') that one of the secrets to staying alive in an airplane is to never put yourself in a situation where you have to fly. This primarily refers to weather; flying into bad weather is a leading cause of bad things happening to pilots.

Yesterday, I had to fly.

As is common with this kind of thing, there is a chain of events leading up to the situation. In this case, it started a couple of years ago when I decided to put the RV-6 up for sale. Once it appeared that I would be capable of finishing the RV-12, the writing was plainly legible on the wall: one of the planes must go. I'm not Harrison Ford, after all - I can't afford to keep a flock of these things. Market interest was spotty at best for a couple of years while the country hunkered down into recession survival mode, but now that it appears that a flat economy is the new normal and people are starting to adapt to it, there has been sudden interest in buying RV-6s. Or so it would seem. I have been juggling prospective buyers for a month now.

The timing was, as can be expected, horrible. Yes, good problem to have, but stressful nonetheless. Just as a quartet of interested parties started asking questions and wanting to see the plane, the annual inspection came due. My overseers at the day job also decided that my presence was required in Chicago for a few days. My annuals are multi-day affairs due to the fact that my chosen mechanic/inspector has a day job of his own, and this year's event was further complicated by the need to apply some paint to various fiberglass parts, which is work that I have no aptitude for.

The annual was finally signed off yesterday and a prospect is flying in this morning for a test flight. I don't/won't fly anybody in the plane after an annual inspection until I have had a chance to test fly it myself, so I needed to get that done. Additionally, it would have been 92 days since my last time flying it, so in the eyes of the FAA I would not be qualified to carry a passenger until I had accomplished three takeoffs and landings. So, I had to fly the RV-6.

But... I had another requirement. The FAA mandates a flight review with a certified flight instructor every two years to ensure that we haven't picked up any bad flying habits, and mine was due.  So, I had to fly twice. The weather made it questionable as to whether I would be able to do that or not. Slow-moving isolated rain clouds had been loafing around all day, so the weather was likely to change significantly every half hour or so. It looked good out to the west, though, so I called my CFI and asked if he could fit a flight review into his Sunday afternoon.

He arrived at 4:00 and we pulled the RV-12 out of the hangar. The weather still looked great out to the west, but it was a little dark to the south. We would be staying in the local area and the visibility was fine, so we figured that bad weather would be easy to see and would not sneak up on us. That proved to be true.

Heading out to the west, I showed the instructor some of the fancy features of the new plane and let him take the stick for awhile as we climbed up high enough to do a couple of stalls. Stalls are one of the things the FAA likes to know that you can recover from, but they seldom if ever happen at an altitude from which recovery is possible. They're most common in the landing phase, but practicing recoveries under the most likely conditions to actually need to recover is essentially suicide. Stalls are benign and easy to recover from at 3,500', so that's where we went. As is the norm, it was easy as could be to satisfy that requirement.

I had no sooner recovered from a stall when the instructor reached out and pulled the throttle to idle to simulate and engine out condition. This is not entirely unexpected. That said, the situation was somewhat complicated due to the close proximity of the runway at MadCo and the wealth of altitude I had in the bank. Again, great problem to have, but not without its own complexities.

I was faced with a choice: I could dump the flaps and go into a full slip (rudder hard to the right, ailerons to the left -- this puts the side of the fuselage into the wind and creates a great deal of drag which allows for a good descent rate without picking up a lot of speed) and land straight in to runway 27, or I could fly a normal landing pattern in order to circle around to runway 9. With the altitude I had, 27 was a sure thing, and 9 was fairly likely, but not a given. Fate favors the bold balanced against a bird in the hand and only a moment to think about it -- I decided on 27. In retrospect, that was a mistake.

Knowing that I would need to get down in a hurry, I slowed down enough to get the flaps out and put us into a slip. I figured if the slip wasn't enough, I could make some S-turns on the way down. Then I heard it:

"Madison County traffic, Diamond yada-yada-yada is on a three mile final to runway 27."

Crap! What are the odds that someone else would be out here?  I told Tony we were going to have to ditch this until we could find the other plane. Nothing was showing on the traffic display, so it was going to take eyeballs to find it.

"No, that's us! I made that call," he said.

"Oh. Well, you aren't in the Diamond that you normally fly, dang it!"

Is what I thought. Only I didn't think 'dang'.

Even in a full slip with the flaps down, it looked like we were still going to be high on the approach. We must have been closer to the airport than I had originally thought.  I slowed us down a little bit more, although doing so did bring the thoughts of a stall closer to front-of-mind. A look at the screen showed a healthy 65 knots, though, so we were good on airspeed.

The slip got us down to where we needed to be and I reverted to a normal straight-in approach. It was the landing flare when I realized that perhaps chancing the pattern to runway 9 might have been the better decision. What  I had thought was going to be a pure crosswind turned out to have a quite notable tailwind component. The runway was just flying by beneath the wheels. We arrived with something of a bang, I got the flaps up without delay, and got on the brakes.

There are many things an RV-12 does well, and braking to a stop is one of them. We easily made the mid-length taxiway. We taxied to runway 9 for takeoff.

We headed back to Bolton for a few more touch and go landings, although the last landing was converted into a full stop as it appeared that the dark rain cloud we had seen down to the south was soon going to cross right over the airport.  And in fact, it did, but we had gotten the plane returned to its hangar before the big drops started to fall.

So, having the checkride done left me with one more task: I still needed three takeoffs and landings in the other plane. That had to wait until a little after 8:00 when the rain finally moved off. This meant wet taxiways and runway which while safe to fly on, results in a very messy airplane. That's not what you want when a buyer is coming to visit, so I resigned myself to the fact that I would be cleaning the bottom of the wing once the flying was done.

The flying itself was no problem at all, although it does take some time to re-familiarize myself with the different operational aspects of the more complicated RV-6. And, as with every time I fly it now, I am reminded of how much I will miss this airplane. The RV-12 is better suited to my current and future flying needs, but the RV-6 is still a blast to fly. While the 12 can be compared to a small, light sports car (say, a Miata), the RV-6 has a nice, deep rumble in the engine that exudes a feeling of power that the almost-electric sounding Rotax will never replace. It also has a sturdier, firmer feel to it in flight as opposed to the kite-like feeling of the very-light RV-12. It has a feel more comparable to a sturdy, powerful roadster like, say, a Mercedes SLK.

The decision between which of the two to keep seems eerily familiar.

Almost deja vu-ish.

So, despite the time pressures and the fickle weather, I made it through the "have to fly" day just fine. The secret was in re-defining "have to" as "need to" -- had the weather not improved, I would have just waited for this morning to fly the RV-6. The buyer would have just sat in the terminal reading through the engine and airframe logbooks while I did my required takeoffs and landings.  Still, it's nice to have it done.

1 comment:

Steve said...

It certainly has been a month of cruddy weather. We bounced around in the T-Craft in between some thunderstorms the other day, too. Take what Mother Nature gives ya, right?

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