Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Adventures in the tailwheel!

Several months ago, one of the instructors bought a beautifully refurbished Cessna 140. White body accented in burgandy, and very clean. Inside matched the exterior with nice red apholstry. I stare at the panel, so sparse of complex instruments! As I oohed and ahhed with the others, my head moves to the eppenage, and it's A TAILWHEEL! The lights started going off in my head! Instructor + Tailwheel airplane = Tailwheel endorsement!!

We had kicked around that idea, and he had said if he could work it out, he'd love to! It took us a few months to get together, but I finally got my chance to train on it!

I get inside, and begin asking for a checklist, at which he laughs. Just prime it a couple times, master on, mags to both, pull the start. Vrrroooom. Wow it started up with very little effort. I click a few more switchs for the strobe, radio, & transponder. That's it! My eyes scan the sparse panel. It's occupied with only a few gauges, airspeed, RPM, oil temp, oil pressure, compass, and a turn-n-slip indicator. No fancy GPS, nor heading & attitude indicators. This was down to good'ol basics. (Fuel gauges were on the left and right by the wing attachment points.)

We do a few turns, both normal and pivot turns (on a point). My fears of doing a groundloop are starting to diminish when I taxi out to the runway. The steering takes some getting used to for sure. It takes much less rudder movement to start veering in a hurry, so subtlety is key.

As we review the proceedure for tailwheel take-off, I can't help but think how WRONG this is gonna feel. You actually have to push FWD first...get the tail up, relax and hold the nose level until gaining enough airspeed to rotate. My first try wasn't perfect as the nose went up and down a little, but after take-off I was again on familiar ground....

...or so I thought. I've been a low wing guy, and used to flying the same genre of planes. As can be expected, new sightlines off the cowling had to be made. When I asked him what the Vspeeds were earlier, he smiled, and said to keep her above 60 and you'll be fine. So keeping around 70, the nose was still below the horizon, making front line sight pretty good! When I go to turn crosswind the wing dipped down, loosing my ground ref to the runway...I look for a hdg indicator, but there isn't one...DOH! I managed through other ground references to keep the rollout square. That's gonna take some getting used to!

I go to call my position, which requires a pushbutton on the panel to be pressed. It's a bit ackward for me to let go of the throttle and reach over to make the call.

We head out to Farmville, which is a nearby grass strip. Oh boy...my mind cringes at the thought of compounding new plane, tailwheel techniques, and then adding grassfield challenges! As we approach the field, and glider in tow is climbing to altitude. We enter the pattern, and come around. The flaps for the 140 aren't big and uses a parking brake type lever to actuate. (So the statement of put the flaps up is kinda counter to the movement!) Winds are pretty calm, so at least no crosswind work is necessary!

I come in for my first tailwheel landing (a 3-point), and it's similar to normal ops, except there is a certain AoA where you don't want to pull the nose up any further. It corresponds to the angle that puts the tailwheel and the front wheels on the same plane. I come down, holding it off ok. The rear wheel hits, and I pull the elevator all the way back...and for a brief moment forget to really controll the rollout. Tailwheels seem to need double the tail work to keep it stable down the runway. YAY my first tailwheel landing, AND on a grass strip! WHOOHOO.

Taxing back is a bit bumpy, as I realize this field isn't nearly as smooth as I thought it would be. Not to mention nice little fences and ditches right off to the side!! I watch as the glider swoops down to land. Very nice!

Taking off in a tailwheel is the same on a grassfield, but oooh is it even harder to hold that nose level! A little bump at the last part of the runway gives us a boost into the air. I fly past the trees on the right, which felt really weird being that CLOSE to them!

For my third approach to terra firma, we go over the proceedure for a "wheel" landing. This is where you come down, and maintain a level attitude, and hold it after you've touched down, until you can't keep the tail up any longer. WOW, now THAT felt weird!! All my training taught me to increase AoA as I hold off, but this kept the nose down...OIE! Still I did ok, bounced slighly and worked hard to maintain that nose position. It was pretty hard to detect when the tail was ready to go down as you use more and more fwd elevator to keep it level.

We fly back to Greenville, and I have a few gos there. It was nice to be flying solely on pilotage, using known ground references without even planning beforehand. It felt increadibly free, and down to basics! Loved it!

While the solid runway offers more rigidity on landings, I found I liked it more. Especially on rollouts.. I throttled up, nose came down quickly, and I held it there perfectly, and took off! YES! I'm getting the hang of this!! It was the end of our first session, and he said I was catching on fast. I really didn't care how long it would take to be fairly proficient, I just enjoyed the opportunity to fly a classic from 1942!

(Update: After another session, and 10 more T/O & Landings, 3+ hours, I've received my tailwheel endorsement!! WOOHOOO!)

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

1 Year Anniversary Flight!

It's hard for me to imagine, that it's been a year since I became a pilot. By which, I mean my first solo. I remember it was a nice calm day, with nice steady winds down 08. How exilarating it was, and how very scary! Tonight I was going up to get my night currency back in check, and I found myself with similar feelings.

There is a certain peaceful aspect of flying at night. The airport relatively quiet, but nicely lit up with it's blue taxi lights, and racing rabbit trail. N223DC was to be my magic carpet for the evening. A special plane to me, as it was the one I soloed in. No other plane would do for an anniversary flight.

To my immediate dismay, it wasn't there when I arrived. I didn't recal anyone else on the schedule before me, and the key wasn't in the lockbox like they phoned me about. I let myself calm down, and give whomever 15 minutes or so. Sure enough, 10 minutes later, I spot and begin hearing the familiar drone of a DA-20's engine. They come into land, a little up and down in the hold off, but it appeared smooth. As they taxi back, my hearing was confirmed as the silouette of a DA20 turned toward the hanger lights.

I walk up to the marvel of 21st century composite engineering, and see it's owner pop out along with his instructor. I've known him since last year, and he soloed a month after me. "Ah no, 1.9 hours (hobbs)...just 0.3 short of what I need for cross-country!" he says a little dismayed. "You trying to get your X-C requirement for IFR?" I inquire. "Yeah I have my check-ride on Monday!" Wow, that made me do a double take. He had obtained his private right before me, and here he was ready for his IFR checkride! Well, I guess that's one of the benefits of owning a lease-back airplane. You can afford to fly allot! I wished him luck as I begin pre-flighting her.

I took my time, enjoying the rare steady breeze we had. TAFs said the clouds would be coming in later that night, creating low overcast. The moon was out, and it played hide-in-seek with the cloud layers. I sat there remembering how much I love to fly at night. My plan was to do two full stop landings, then fly over the city lights of Greenvile.

I realized these flying spurts, once every two to three weeks, are taking their toll. My flow isn't what it used to be, and have to go through the checklist first (instead of the usuall flow, followed by a double check against the checklist). Flying once a week was far better. Still it's better than not flying at all. I have been pleased that my landings are still pretty smooth, so at least that part of the art is fine.

My second run in the pattern, and the winds started coming at a 60° crosswind. It's always weird and yet cool to be pointed so far off your actual ground track heading. It's like sliding sideways. Piedmont, the USAir Dash-8, announced it would be entering behind me. That's another reason nighttime flight is great, I could spot him since he announced being 10 miles away. It's pretty obvious why more collisions happen during daylight hours, than night.

After another successfull landing, I begin my climb to 1500'. Time for some sightseeing over Greenville! Ever since I was young enough to remember, I'd always awe at the beautiful city lights viewed from the commercial jet window. Now, to be able to get that on my own terms, is a pure feeling of freedom. I fly near the baseball stadium, no one playing, but the lights are shining bright. Flying over the mall, reservoir, restaurants, and of course our home is a serine picture. I look up and the moon is shinning down, casting a glow on the wings. I can't help but think, "Well, I'm closer to it, but I doubt I'll ever get to go there..."

After performing some 45 & 60° bank turns (the later being my fav...2Gs!) I head back to the airport. No one in the pattern, and I command the lights on full...foom! I always love that! Same bit of crosswind, but this time I turn the runway lights to their lowest setting so I can see the pavement sooner. In the base I noticed I failed to complete my pre-landing checklist, and switched back on the fuel pump which I missed. While not absolutely necessary, as it's a backup, it's a good idea when at low throttle settings. I smack myself for that one. Dang I'm out of touch...no way I woulda missed that several months ago!

I hold it off better, as I exit from the crab, left wheel lightly chirps then the right. YAY a super sweet crosswind landing! I taxi past the PGV terminal, and the now silent Dash-8. I park the plane, and sadly shut her down. It's amusing how many pilots take pride in everything they do, including parking. I get out and the nose wheel & tail are perfectly on the line, and I nod happily to myself. Only 0.6 hours of flight time this go, but I still had a great time. As I put the cover over the DA20, I just wish I could do it more often.