Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Why I Fly (chapter 6)

This story begins back in 1995 when I was first taking flying lessons. Back then there was a young lady named Debbie taking lessons at the same time. She was working on her flight instructor license. Debbie eventually became an instructor and I became a pilot. Somewhere I learned that Debbie’s dad was a bit of a local celebrity. Her father, Bud, was a pilot for a major airline, and owned a couple of aerobatic airplanes.

A couple of months later, I officially met Bud Granley while I was fence-clutching out at the airport. Fence-clutching is a time honored tradition at airports. You can often find people participating in this, standing outside the fence, their fingers woven through the chain link fence, hands framing their face, and their eyes glazing as they bathe in the sights, sounds, and smells of the engineering marvel on the other side. The only difference between them and me is that I can stand inside the fence.

Bud was giving a fellow pilot some last minute instruction as the pilot was strapping into Bud’s Yak-55. As the pilot closed the cockpit and taxied away, I took the opportunity to introduce myself to Bud. We stood together as his plane started its takeoff roll, and disappeared behind some nearby hangers, we listened to the Yak’s big radial engine growl in the distance. The airplane seemed to take a long time to emerge from behind the hangars but Bud calmly said, “It is still making flying noises.” Shortly after this, the Yak rose above the hangers and headed for the sky.

Over the years since that day, I’ve bumped into Bud every once in a while. His hanger is behind Regal, so I started creating opportunities to interact with him, and I began to follow his air-show career. In the process Bud collected a Harvard (the Canadian version of the AT-6), other Yak’s and a couple of jet powered Fouga Magisters.

Jump forward to this past weekend. I took my family to McChord Air Force Base to see the Thunderbirds perform on Saturday, and Bud was performing as well. On following Monday, I was out at the airport to take some public school teachers for an airplane ride. Bud and a young man from Russia, one of Paine’s regular fence-clutchers we call Wally, were in his hangar changing the tire on his Yak. I stopped to help him and compliment him on the show. I had talked and emailed a couple times about a ride in the jet, and this day Bud said, “Hey, the Fouga is ready to go, is today a good day for a flight?”

I had to think about it for about .0001 seconds before saying, “YES!” I called Sandra to let her know I would be late getting home.

We finished the tire, and headed out to the Fouga. Bud went through the preflight, and had Wally help me strap in. Strapping in to this thing was an adventure in itself. The seat back is padded with a parachute. So we started by climbing in over the left side of the cockpit and settling into the seat, and then strapping in to the parachute like a backpack, with the shoulder straps being bound together at your chest and two straps that wrap around each leg, and connecting in the center, creating a snug cradle for your torso. Once into the parachute, you then strap into the five-point harness that holds you to the seat.

We locked down the canopy and started up the engines, left first and then right, and taxied out to the runway. The tower gave us a quick release and we rolled the plane onto the runway and started our take off roll. I was not slammed into the back of the seat like I hoped, but there was a pleasant squish against the seat. We lifted off to the north on the long runway, and then banked right, headed east to the practice area.

Bud turned the plane over to me to get a feel for the controls. As I rocked the wings left and right, I watched the turn and bank indicator show that I needed to use rudder. Before I could get my feet synched up with my hands, Bud’s voice came over the intercom,
Even though it is a jet, you still have to use the rudders.” Busted. I started with a couple gentle rocks of the wing to get my feet going, once settled in, I banked more aggressively and started some high bank turns – or so I thought, Bud would later give me a new definition of high bank. By now my feet were hooked in to the process. I also tried out the elevators pulling and pushing up and down. I commented on the lightness of the controls. This was a pretty easy plane to control.

Bud described the control system and its boost system. The plane has the equivalent of power steering, and Bud started by turning it off. Now I was in a wrestling match with the control stick. He turned the boost system back on and then turned off the feedback system. The best way I can describe this is that the feedback system seems to keep the stick centered and with this system off, letting go of the stick resulted in it falling off to one side, and the plane following it. Bud turned this system back on too.

Normally in this climb out, I set my plane up for a cruise climb of about 500 feet per minute, so gaining any significant altitude takes some time. Not in this plane. We were barely 6 miles away and we were approaching 6,000 feet. WHOO HOOO!!!

We headed back down and I went back to my yanking a banking. Bud took the controls, pushed the nose down a bit and then rolled the airplane inverted, and then back through to level. He described the maneuver, and then turned the plane back over to me to attempt the same thing.

Nose down, 220 kts, nose up, full left stick an the right wing comes up over the top, hit the right rudder to hold the nose up as the plane goes over on its back and the blue and green sides of the horizon in front of me trade places. Release the rudder. Hold in the stick full left and the now the left wing arcs in to the blue half of the sky, and poke in a bit of left rudder. As the blue and green return to their normal sides of the horizon return the stick back to the center and kick just a bit of right rudder to stop the roll. WOW!

We rolled for a while; in between we bank and turn to keep within the area Bud is comfortable with.

I ask if we can do some loops. Bud says push the nose over and accelerate to 250 kts (about 287 mph). When we hit 250, I pull back hard on the stick and I am slammed into the seat below me. I hold back as the earth ahead disappears. All I can see in front of the plane is the blue sky and white clouds, I look off to the sides to find the horizon, and then tip my head back to look behind me to find the earth swooping over my head.

As the nose fell through the top and starts to point earthward Bud coaches me to hold the stick full back. When the nose started coming back up to the horizon Bud warned me to let up on the stick, but I let off too late. The airflow over the wing has started to separate and the plane shuddered. I pushed the sick forward to stop the shudder and then pulled back to find that spot just before shudder. We did this a couple more times until I could do the entire loop with out the shudder.

Then Bud took the plane. We went up into a series of loops each separated by a 90-degree turn. I fought the G forces to stay alert. I tightened the muscles in my legs and stomach, and I grunted. I don’t know that it help, but I stayed with the entire maneuver. The horizon spun around us. Blue, green, blue, green, blue, green, and back to blue again. I was in ecstasy. Bud looped the plane up on its back and just as we were starting back down, he rolled the plane back to right side up and continued the dive back down.

We did rolls, loops, and turns, yanking and banking, grinning and giggling. This is my kind of flying!

All too soon we were headed back to Paine, where I flew the plane up to the point where we were on final approach and all that was left was the slowing down and landing. Bud put the plane gently back on the runway.

As we taxied in, a curious pilot asked where the plane was from. Bud responded on the radio, “It is French and is a Fouga Magister which means ‘flight master’ in Latin.

The other pilot responded that he caught the French part, but had missed the last half of the transmission. In an attempt to help, the tower repeated the message: “He says it is French, and Fouga Magister means ‘noisy.’”

Back in our parking place we shut down and climbed out.

For the next couple weeks I think all of my conversations will start: “I FLEW A JET!”

Thanks Bud. Due to you, I get to check off one more item from my life’s to do list. You’ve made me a happy pilot.
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