Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Three days, three flights.

Day one: My first experimental plane.

The sales rep from Glasair talked me into a demo flight in a Sportsman. Nick met me at Regal where we did a walk around and pre-flight of the plane, we also briefed on proper speeds: Best angle of climb (Vx), Best rate of climb (Vy), and Best glide (Vbg). We strapped in together, and I taxied the plane out. I had never flown a kit-built or experimental plane before, so I was pretty attentive to how it handled.

This is the diesel Sportsman
The taxi out went without a hitch. There is no nose wheel steering, it just castors, and at taxi speeds there is not enough rudder authority to manage heading so some differential braking is necessary.

The plane was equipped with a 210 HP Lycoming IO-390 engine, and it weighs less than a typical four seat plane, so the takeoff roll was brief and we popped up into the sky without eating a lot of runway. The climb was brisk, right around 1,000 feet per minute.

We leveled off, and did some light yankin' 'n' bankin', steep turns, and a couple stalls. The plane is well behaved with few surprises. The only thing of note is the firmness of the controls. The stick took more force than I would have expected from a light plane. I also thought the stick was installed a bit too low and would have been more comfortable if it were maybe three to six inches higher. The plane also has a large effective rudder. I am guessing this is a benefit when it is configured as a tail-wheel.

I greased the plane onto the runway at Bremerton and parked next to a gaggle of VariEze planes. Their owners had all joined up at Arlington and flown here for dinner. I had a good visit with Nick, and found him to be an engaging man with deep passions for his family and and aviation. Made me wish I had more time in my life to spend with people like him. The food was standard airport food. I will certainly be back.

After dinner we reversed the route back to Paine Field where I bounced the plane onto the runway, erasing the illusion of competence created by my earlier landing.

Over all I think I could have read the manual, hopped in this plane, and flown it away SAFELY with no additional training. It is just that well behaved and familiar. Good plane.

Day two: The Apprentice becomes The Master.

Eric is PIC
I have been mentoring Eric for a several years now. He has earned his private pilot and instrument licenses, and recently set out to get a High-Performance Endorsement and a check-out in my plane. This day would be the day Eric took me out in my plane to lunch. We popped across the Puget Sound for a lunch at the Spruce Goose in Port Townsend.

I had a nice flight looking out the window and enjoying the views. We flew across the stern of one of the Navy’s aircraft carriers on our way over. What a massive beast!

After lunch we strolled through the Port Townsend Aero Museum to admire their collection of classic general aviation airplanes.

On the trip back, the airspace a Paine was crowded. The controller first cleared us one direction, then amended our clearance for a second direction, and then lined us up too close to a landing airplane, only to send back into the sky for a second try. 

We returned to the pattern and were cleared to land third behind two other planes. We spotted the traffic ahead, and started slowing down to accommodate it. We could tell this would be a tough one too. On final, the plane ahead floated long and for a long time. We were only about 100 feet above the runway, and the plane ahead had still not set down. It was pretty clear there was not enough time for it to set down, slow, and exit the runway before we were on the runway. We powered up for the second go around of the day - at nearly the same time the plane ahead powered up for a go-around of its own.

Our third attempt to land was successful. Eric is a very safe pilot.

Day Three: Formation with one slow and one fast plane.

Up early in the morning I was standing next to my plane briefing with two other pilots and two photographers for a photo flight. Earlier we had looked at some example photos the pilots liked as models for what we were going for. Lining up Mt Rainier, downtown Seattle, and the Space Needle would necessitate us orbiting over Ballard. The flight was particularly challenging because we had to find a speed slow enough for one plane to keep up, and fast enough to the other to maintain lift. We settled in at 90 kts.

James Polivka -- Pilot's Eye Photography
Two photographers loaded into my plane, and we headed into the sky. The flight was completed as briefed with the first priority being safety and secondarily getting the shot. And man what a shot it is. My hat is off to everyone involved in getting this photo. Well done!

We were back on the ground by 9:AM.  I am a fortunate man.