Happy Feet

By lex, on November 9th, 2009

So, as previewed earlier, I thithered down to Gillespie Field Sunday afternoon for to take another hack at landing an aircraft what has the center of gravity aft of the mains. Met CFI Dave, a kindly gentleman of a certain age with a lovely hangar set up including the Citabria parked outdoors, a cherry Cessna 310 in the hangar alongside an absolutely gorgeous Stearman.

I hate to leave a challenge go unanswered, but truth be told my experience with that horrible old Champ left me feeling more than a little out of sorts. Was a time on the second hop, maybe three or four wheel landings into it (but before the engine failed) that I felt my legs shaking, just for the adrenaline that were in them. The last time I had felt like that I was a junior lieutenant coming off a night trap on in the North Arabian Sea in the summertime, with a mile visibility, no moon and a yellow shirt who seemed intent on seeing exactly how close he could taxi my nose landing gear to the deck edge without the whole kit ‘n kaboodle going over the side, safe in the knowledge that while my family would no doubt weep bitterly when I was gone, he hisself would still have three hots and a cot when all was said and done.

Well, one hot anyway. And the cot. Being an aviation bosun’s mate after all, and no class of idler.

Dave spoke a good speak, and nothing he had to say came as a particular surprise. Yes, I was aware that the need for right rudder on the go diminished as airspeed increased and the rudder became more effective. Too, I had an intellectual appreciation for the transient gyroscopic precession as the tail came off the ground, calling for a little more right rudder until the effect subsided. What I really wanted to know was how to keep the damned thing tracking more or less down the centerline once I’d planted it back on deck. With a special emphasis on keeping the front end facing frontwards, like. Rather than taking turns with the tail leading the dance, wingtips skagging the ground and the prop churning through the turf.





We had a good day of it, in the event. There was a wee bit of waggle on the first landing when your host prided himself on remembering to plant the stick in his lap but let his feet fall asleep, like. Disregarding CFI Dave’s admonition to keep “dithering them” just a bit to keep her honest. Rather than letting things build up, overcompensating and getting into the dreaded pilot-induced oscillation situation. Because if you’re already active on the rudders – albeit in a very limited sense – then you’ve got a good feeling for where you are at any given time even as the airspeed bleeds off. My next several landings – we did six, all told – were remarkably unremarkable.

It didn’t hurt that the machine held 150 horses under the cowl rather than the mere 65HP of the Champ, and was a dream to fly once airborne, although aileron spades might have loosened the control forces in the roll axis. It didn’t hurt that the machine was well-maintained. It didn’t hurt that rounding out for the flare actually broke the rate of decent, rather than set you up for a heinous bounce on steel sprung wheels.

It didn’t hurt at all.

After flying the machine with your man, my take-aways are these:

  1. Read The Complete Taildragger
  2. Spend a little time on the desktop simulator
  3. Find a qualified CFI

The book makes sense of all the various forces in play. The simulator gets you over the counter-intuitive procedures. The instructor pulls it all together for you in a comforting way.

I’ll be back, and for my certification – which Dave regretted very deeply to tell me was no very great distance away – I’m promised a graduation hop in that Stearman.

He had me at Stearman.



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Filed under Best of Neptunus Lex, Flying, Uncategorized

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