By lex, on November 1st, 2009
What a weekend.
Tailspin Tom offered us the opp to head up to CRQ and take a turn at a cherry 1968 Beech Debonair that has seen some tender loving care over the last 40 odd years. The hardest part about any new airplane is safely getting her started and configured at the hold short, but there really wasn’t much to it: Mixture full rich, prop flat, throttle cracked a half an inch and just a few moments on the fuel boost pump for to get her primed. She started on a couple three blades and after that it was find our way to the runway. Me on the left, Tailspin on the right, Chief Barnstormer Bronco (pictured below) a-snoring in the back.
Flaps up for take-off, and the six cylinder Continental IO-550 engine gave us a full 300 HP as we ran down the runway, right rudder nearly hitting the stops. An 80 KT climb out (for noise abatement) yielded an impossibly nose high attitude, even with three corn fed ‘Muricans in the machine, and none of your FAA 170 pound “standards” neither, more’s the pity. Once clear of the groundlings, 105 kts gave us a good combination of track made good, rate of climb and over the nose visibility.
The panel included a Garmin MX20 moving map, which after the austere gear we’ve had our mitts on these last several felt nearly like cheating. The Debonair – a transitional name between the V-tailed debbils and their conventional siblings – is a stately aircraft, with positive control movements required to place her in her lane. Gets up and goes though, with the throttle wide open. Goes 160 kts without breathing hard with 25″ of manifold pressure and the prop eased back to 2300 RPM. All that at about 13 GPH once leaned 50° below peak EGT. Yes, we were graced with a digital fuel control monitor.
A short hop to French Valley for two landings – the Debonair lands gracefully, if authoritatively, and there is a bit of cockpit bustle on the touch and go, upping the flaps and retrimming – the obligatory $100 cheeseburger (or in my case, the French Dip). Then off to Warner Springs, if only for the soaring that was in it. My last time there having been somewhat less congenial.
Tailspin has lately renewed his Certified Flight Instructor – Glider qualification, and your host was to be his initiate, like. We clambered into the frail contraption (itself entirely innocent of proper propulsion) and stewed a bit behind a Cessna Ag Truck afore giving the go-ahead signal. There was a mighty crosswind, and the aspect ratio of a glider is non-trivial, the which caused Tom to perform the take-off and the landing too. Your correspondent left to fly formation a couple hundred feet behind the laboring taildragger until the time came to cut the tow.
It’s not a trivial thing to fly unpowered formation in a hugely high aspect ratio machine behind a Cessna Ag Truck. Requiring as it does a delicate sense of rudder usage to oppose the adverse yaw and jockey into position. Too low and you get all bollixed up within the prop wash and become a drag on the tow pilot, who may cut you off in mere spite. Too high and the line goes slack. Forget about the ailerons. Eventually the time did come to zoom a bit, then race back down, slacken the tow rope and cut the bond that keeps you flying, like. To soar the thermals. Which proved elusive in the event.
Now you may have heard all the paeans to unpowered flight, soaring with the hawks, flitting among the updrafts, hearing nothing but the wind against the hull and so on. Flights of angels, etc. Your correspondent, keeping a game smile on his face all along, could not help but think he was willingly taking off in a configuration that would, in any other aircraft he had ever flown, constitute an à priori emergency of the very gravest nature and a fine reason to abort the flight. On account of the lack of power that was in it. Above the actual, unyielding turf. Sans parachute.
Having climbed to some 3000 feet above the airstrip, we cut our tow and went looking – fruitlessly as it turns out – for those lifties that would give us something for nothing. A bump here or a hiccup there, but the trend of things was that we were coming down, slowly – 42 MPH at max endure – but inevitably. Eventually we arced back around and Tom took the machine for the landing, coming down from what seemed like a space shuttle approach, it was that steep, to a grinding stop in the dirt alongside the runway. Happy, for our own part, to be whole in body and spirit.
There’s a very wide chasm between an FA-18 climbing out in full grunt and a glider coming down to what would otherwise be classified as a forced landing.
Perhaps it grows on you.
A short hop back from Warner Springs to Palomar, and a not entirely credible ILS approach to runway 24, chased as we were. Taxi clear, shut her down, put her away. Back on the bike for the trip down south.
Taken all in all, I’ve had worse Sundays.