By lex, on November 18th, 2007
So, yeah, got to go flying yesterday in the Varga Kachina. Toodled up the 5 on mein Teutonic krad, which ended up being an unnecessary precaution – if you can call riding a motorcycle “precautionary” – on the way up, but a godsend on the way down. That’s life in North County Sandy Eggo these days. Best get used to it. Met up with Chuck the Chief Pilot and talked a bit about the spiel given to paying customers. Didn’t talk too much about the machine itself – I’d done my homework pretty thoroughly since last weekend – just got in, strapped in, followed Chuck through a quick cockpit fam and then cranked that puppy over.
Which is where it got interesting for a while: Cool morning and first launch of the day meant that the engine needed some priming before she’d catch. I pushed on that primer button like any pinball wizard, but the engine, she would not take over. People were watching with increasing interest, and I started to get that “this is a bad dream” feeling. Chief Chuck talked me into hitting the primer again, only letting the plunger fill with gas, like, between strokes. See how that might do. Famously, as it turned out. We was running!
Wasn’t a whole lot to it once the engine was on line. Most of the things that had been turned off got turned on and it was time to taxi. Quick run up for mag checks at the hold short and we were hurtling down the runway towards a 60 mph rotation speed. Which was about 20 mph slower than had been driving to the aerodrome on the motorcycle. Climb-out was at 80 mph and we did a left downwind departure towards Black Mountain, climbing all the way up to 2500 feet. Turns out that rudder is required in a power-on climb in a prop aircraft, which I’d remembered. Turned out that the Varga doesn’t have any rudder trim, which I probably should have known but didn’t. Jet boy got a tingle in his boots by the time the hop was done, from all that dancing on the rudders. Once at altitude we transited at a leisurely 120 mph or so, well below the 135 mph max sustained cruise airspeed (Vne is 170).
Over Lake Hodges we saw some of the desolation from the fires weeks back, including one hilltop that had a house standing in pristine condition on a cul-de-sac containing a collection of several other houses that had been burnt down to their foundations. Strange. Chuck showed me a number of his ground “gouge” checkpoints – the plane is pure VFR, so navigation is pretty much looking around, finding something familiar and orienting from there. In these planes “IFR” is short for “I Follow Roads.”
No doubt that my familiarity will improve in time, but a combination of haze and unfamiliar names gave me that “Fam-1 in the T-34 at Whiting Field, 1983″ feeling all over again, with the Stuckey’s at Point Baghdad being replaced for the now by the San Elijo Lagoon. Or maybe it was the Bataquitos Lagoon.
We practiced a power-off stall there over unpopulated turf – the Kachina’s stall horn came on well in advance of actual aerodynamic buffet. The stall itself came right around 50 mph, was straightforward and unobjectionable. Recovery was rapidly effected by lowering the nose to reduce angle of attack and increasing power. We’d lost less than a hundred feet. There was no tendency towards yaw or wing rock, which was nice.
Out to the fairgrounds at Del Mar I did manage to find a minor “gotcha” – the pitch trim control looks like the window roller on your granddad’s Ford and is located just behind the throttle itself. It was easy to reach over to trim the airplane nose up a bit and find that you’d reduced throttle instead – once.
San Diego’s Class B airspace starts getting tricky south of the fairgrounds, so we worked our way up the coast to Swami’s at Encinitas – really just off the coast. Did some mild acro – steep turns and chandelles, mostly. The plane really is a delight to fly, and the only thing I found myself having to watch out for was a tendency to overbank at the the top of a chandelle. It’s a fun little plane, but it’s no fighter.
After a bit of fooling around on the company’s dime we headed back in for a downwind entry at Palomar. The eensy-weensie teeny turn radius of the machine at 80 mph meant that I started my turn to final from base far too soon – rather than roll out well left of centerline I sorta schmoozed my way over like a car salesman sneaking up on the nice young couple with the distracted look on their faces in the used car lot.
With the wheels permanently in the “down” position, landing checklist was not much more than “mixture – rich, carb heat – on, emergency fuel pump – on” and oh, yeah – important reminder for a carrier pilot – “flare” to land. Time was short so we only did the one landing. Gratifyingly for my ego it was a “squeaker” and before you knew it we were back on the parking ramp. I’ve had worse Saturday mornings.
This should be fun.