Sunday, April 19, 2009

Now THIS is flying!

Throughout this blog I have posted pictures of my airplane, the Citation X, and the flying I do in it. I also have talked somewhat about my start flying Huey Helicopters in the Army many (many) years ago. It may come as a surprise to people that my transition from helicopters to multi-engine turboprop airplanes was accomplished in only 30 some hours of flying. Since then, I have mostly flown more "complex" airplanes like King Airs and BE1900s and jets.

I put "simple" and "complex" in quotations for the following reason: Some would think that my Citation X is very complex, but put me in a single engine airplane and watch out! It's just not what I'm used to. The airplane flies differently (and much slower). I am used to crossing the runway threshold in my X at 110 or more knots. In a Cessna 172, one is 1/2 that speed... yet at not quite a hover. Flying under VFR (or visual flight rules) is different than IFR (instrument flight rules). I am under positive ATC control (talking to someone) the entire flight. A VFR pilot doesn't need to talk to a controller for a good portion of a flight unless they wish to do so (for "flight following" - see this article from AvWeb for more info). The "parts" are different. There are more control surfaces and the systems are different. I had even forgotten during a recent presentation that on a 172 you PUSH the throttle for more fuel delivery, but someone was quick to remind me (thank you, Captain Ron!).

So each time I rent an airplane, which is not very often, I take a lesson first from a flight instructor for two reasons. 1. The insurance for the airplane requires a "check out." and 2. My peace of mind. I need to dust off that knowledge. And invariably, the CFI (certified flight instructor) checking me out will make fun of my reluctance to fly the airplane using visual references. I am used to referring to the flight instruments because I am so often inside the clouds or above them and have nothing outside to reference. A pilot flying in VMC (visual meteorological conditions) more often will keep the airplane "straight and level" by looking at the horizon. Climb or descend by lifting or dropping the nose slightly. Turn by making the horizon at an angle. I use the flight instruments, such as the attitude indicator, to accomplish the same thing (or let the autopilot do it!).

So, it is a real THRILL to me to be able to fly under VMC... or more accurately, to get a ride from someone who is a proficient VFR pilot (I get all of the bennies and none of the stress). Since I was in Columbus, OH, last week I was able to meet up with Girl with Wings Egg and her dad, Dave, who happens to own an RV-6. To me, this is flying. I mean, just look at that tailwheel, which, by the way, is a whole 'nother can of worms. Learning to fly a tailwheel is a lot different than a tricycle gear airplane. Just look at the angle at which the airplane sits. Often the pilot cannot see in front while taxiing, and must S turn back and forth to ensure a clear path. See this article for more FAQs about tailwheels answered.

So usually in my job I take off, climb like a banshee, level off, fly for an hour or two or five, and then descend and land. What a thrill for someone to be able to fly wherever and whenever they want! For example, Dave gets to fly right over his house (and his neighbors' houses, so he has to be judicious about this), which is just at the end of the forward wingtip in this photo. A good way to let your family know when you're nearly home, no?

And once we had gotten far enough away from the airport, the sky was (mostly) ours to do with as we wished. Dave let me fly for a bit, the first time since Hueys that I had flown using a "stick" instead of a yoke. Again, it was a struggle for me not to lean over and look at his instruments. It flashed back in my head to look outside and refer to the point at which the horizon met the windshield. When we had reached our desired altitude, I knew to let the horizon drop slightly so we would stop climbing. And we were flying west, so I picked out the property lines that matched our direction of flight, so I would know if I drifted off course. (When new land was being settled way back when, the surveyors made east-west and north-south grids for accuracy.)

Then, I gave the controls back to Dave. It was really a beautiful day for flying. Blue skies, no winds, smooth. And then Dave had to start talking about what "this baby could do" (no, he didn't use those exact words). I figured this might come up. Aerobatics. Sigh. I've only had to do spins once in my life, during that 30 hours in the transition to airplanes. Wikipedia defines spins as "an aggravated stall resulting in rotation about the center of gravity wherein the aircraft follows a downward corkscrew path." I call it a rollercoaster ride with no track. First time back in 1993, I screamed the whole way til the instructor recovered the airplane. And then we did more spins til I was able to enter and recover on my own. We need to learn them because "a specific and often counterintuitive set of actions may be needed to effect recovery. If the aircraft exceeds published limitations regarding spins, or is loaded improperly, or if the pilot uses incorrect technique to recover, the spin can lead to a fatal crash." I don't look forward to doing one again. Intentionally or not.

So when Dave suggested we do loops and rolls, I was less than enthusiastic. Then he said his 15 year old daughter loves to do rolls. Could do them all day. Did I mention I was competitive? So, there we went. I could not even tell you what the airplane did. All I felt was the Gs and my stomach going end over end. But, huh, not too bad. Ok, let's try one of those loop things. This one, a little stronger Gs. And although I could see a little blue and brown flashing through the little space between the brim of Egg's Girls With Wings cap and the top of the panel, again, no clue of what we just did. I kept my head down, but did NOT keep my eyes closed! Mostly because I knew THAT would be worse.

But I felt like I was ok, and so I asked Dave to explain the maneuver again, while I fooled myself into thinking I'd be able to keep up (happens awfully quick). So one more roll followed by one more loop. And then I reached up and opened that air vent full blast on my face. I had had enough. Dave saw this, and knew why. Was he laughing at me?

I spent the rest of the way back trying to not to move my head from side to side or up and down, which was really a shame because the flight back was just as amazing. See the Columbus skyline? As we get closer to the airport, I call out "traffic" to Dave. He looks, and doesn't see it. Why? Because he wasn't looking far out enough. I'm used to airplanes traveling at high speeds. At the speed we and the other aircraft were going, it would have taken quite a while for our paths to meet. Ahh, the joys of flying at .92 mach!

So we drew closer to the airport, and Dave called the tower to let them know we were inbound and getting ready to land (Dave had already let his wife know we were on our way back by buzzing the house again). As you can see in this picture, there is an aircraft holding short of the runway waiting for us to land. Dave put down the flaps for our approach (you can see the space in the inboard portion of the wing). Flaps are usually fully extended for landing to give the aircraft a slower stalling speed so the approach to landing can be flown more slowly, allowing the aircraft to land in a shorter distance.

Dave turned final, and we picked up those PAPIs that I discussed in an earlier blog post. Smooth final and landing, in my ignorant opinion. He, like all pilots, is critical of his landing, as you can read about in HIS version of events on his own blog! The worst thing about the landing, from my point of view, was that the airflow from the vent abruptly ceased. I was glad for the taxi back to the hangar in front of the onsite restaurant at Bolton Field, or KTZR. One day I'll have to go back for JP's Barbeque Ribs and Chicken. But all I could think about was getting that canopy open and some more fresh air.

Soon though, we were back in front of the hangar, the airplane was shut down, the logbook filled out and Dave pushed the airplane into his space. And voila! We were done. The whole trip from driving to and from the airport, getting the airplane in and out of the hangar, starting up and shutting down, taxiing in and out, and a 1/2 hour flight took about an hour. Wow! It takes my Citation X co-pilot and I at least an hour to prep the airplane for the first flight of a tour. I am so jealous that Dave, and Egg, of course, have the ability and opportunity to be able to enjoy flying like this. I am also extremely grateful that Dave was willing to share it with me!

p.s. Dave's family and I then went to dinner at a Mexican restaurant. I wasn't sure I tasted much of my food and I was awfully glad to get home and sleep off the queasiness. Until next time!

1 comment:

  1. "Was he laughing at me?"

    No, empathizing. The same thing happens to me now and then. I've just learned to recognize the signs - not everyone will confess to how they're feeling for some reason - so I keep an eye on how're they're looking.

    One of my life dreams was to fly in a Pitts Special biplane. When I finally got to do it, I had to ask to go back to the airport after only 20 minutes. I felt horrible, but that part is all a distant memory. What I do remember far more clearly is the flight itself, how the airplane felt in my hands, just how uncomfortable 5 negative Gs is, and what an awesome experience it was. Oh, and how hard it is to see out the front of a Pitts, even in the air.

    I've been thinking all weekend about what you said as we were flying over my house: I truly am lucky. One of the best aspects of giving rides in an RV is how the wide smiles people wear serve to remind me just how incredibly special it is that we have the freedom to fly the way we do, and how fortunate I am to have such a wonderful machine to do it in.

    Maybe we can get a do-over on the Mexican food next time you're in town, or grab some of those ribs at the airport. It's super easy to get me to go to either of those places.