By lex, on February 20th, 2009
So, I putted down to Brown on a Friday afternoon, for to once again break the surly bonds of earth and cheat death, and so on. In a 65-HP “conventional” gear Champ. Such as which 62-year old airframe you have previously seen photographic evidence of.
Your man Eamonn was there, good man himself, a grandson of Ireland at 6′ 5″ (at least), slipping on a pair of low-cut Chuck Taylor’s, if only for the maneuverability that are in them. Hizzoner’s ankle-to-ground interconnect being of such luxurious abundance as to prohibit wearing more formal gear, whilst in the trunk. Getting all in the way, like.
The assiduous reader will recall that our last effort to go flying was undone by a faulty left magneto. Which critical piece of gear, we were reliably informed, had been put to right, the machine successfully flown in test, and everything required in order for a guy who spent 4,000+ hours with his feet mostly on deck to learn the art and science of taildragging aviation.
After a very abbreviated brief, we were out of parking, hand-propping the machine to life and taxiing down for an intersection take-off. Something in me pondered the runway length in front of us to the degree that I was forced to ask, “How much runway is that, anyway?”
Oh, two thousand feet, he said. I’m pretty sure. Plenty enough to get us airborne.
It wasn’t like we had long field arresting gear at the departure end, nor a tailhook if it came to it. The machine unsticks at 60 MPH in any case. I drove faster getting to the airport. Off you go.
Stick back the whole while when taxiing, just to keep the tail honest. Run-ups at the hold short revealed that the mags were working well within specs. On the right runway, and devil take the hindmost. There’s little enough drama with the spinner at high RPM. Right rudder of course, for to keep her tracking. When the tail wants to go flying you ease the back stick out. At a time and place of its own choosing the airplane comes unstuck, and suddenly you’re flying. Never a need to rotate to the flyaway attitude. It seems so unnatural.
We stayed in the pattern this time, so it was a turn to downwind for a left closed pattern. In up and away flight, there’s nothing to it. There’s little to do turning to final, apart from kicking left rudder in. There’s not much to it rounding out to land. It’s when the wheels touch down that things start to get interesting.
I’ve spent several thousand hours in airplanes that muscle through the insubstantial air on brute force alone. Airplanes that, for the most part, land gratefully, exhausted. Perfectly satisfied to head back to the barn without complaint. The Aeronca Champ forms no part of that database. Docile as a a lamb when flying around, although she’ll beg a bit of rudder to keep the ball between the stripes. Once you plunk her down though, she asks you what you’re made of. Insistently. You cannot relax an instant until you’ve cleared the runway. And then only maybe.
A couple of three-point landings to warm up, the first of which was nothing to brag on. I carried a bit more speed through the roundout since last week’s efforts led me to believe that at max gross weight, the flare to land less broke the rate of descent than to converted nose down to nose up with little change in rate-of-descent. We landed a little firm, bounced into the air and held the stick back in our laps for the second landing. And that’s when it got interesting. Like it wasn’t already.
We fell back to earth, landing softly and searching equilibrium. Which tried ever so hard to let the back end go first. Got her mindful of her duty at last, slowed down to a crawl and hit the throttle again. Take-off’s are easy.
I found that my legs were shaking on the upwind leg. I haven’t felt that in a while. A long while. I put it down to the adrenaline.
The second and third three point landings were pretty smooth, if I must say so myself. So it was off to wheel landings.
The first of which was an abortion. It’s hard for an instructor to talk a student through maneuvers which require action more quickly than the voice can convey, and the mind process. Eamonn tried it anyway. It ended up being a three point after all, the options being to bail out with a go-around, or plant the stick in our laps and hope for the best. We chose the latter, but even with the tail on deck, you’re nothing like done flying the airplane. It’s a veritable soft shoe on the rudder pedals to keep her honest.
The second wheel landing was better, at first. Flew a flat, power-on approach and placed the stick about an inch forward of neutral as the mains touched down. Things were going fine until I eased power to idle, at which point the tail, lacking airflow from the engine, wanted to fall back to earth. No sense fighting it, said I, and hauled back on the controls. Causing us to go airborne again, briefly. This is really hard, I remember thinking. Harder that I would have thought. All the rules had changed, and I was suddenly a nugget again.
The third wheel landing was the best of all. Held the nose down for as long as made sense. Let the tail sag down to the runway when it seemed ready. Had a jolly three to four seconds while I fought to keep her tracking straight – the slower you go, the more rudder required, the longer it takes for opposite rudder to take effect. Next time I’ll disregard the centerline and just hold what I’ve got, so long as we’re tracking straight ahead with runway remaining. Beats s-turning across the centerline all hollow.
Got her slow at last, nearly to a stop and said, “We’re on the go,” adding full power. At which point the engine quit. Stopped, like.
Called the tower controller, told him we’d be a moment. Eamonn got out to turn the prop and we got her fired up again, for to taxi back to parking. Asked your man, “So. Do you know anyone with a Citabria?”
Because, challenged as I am? I think I’m done flying a certain 1947 Aeronca Champ.
Not a big deal to lose the engine on a touch-and-go. Might have made things sporty on a go-around.
This sort of thing can make a man ret ponderful.