Saturday, March 6, 2010

Slamming the Cub onto pavement

Plane: Cub, 85 hp
Instructor: Joe
Route: 40I-MGY-40I
Weather: Clear, 44 degrees, wind 310 degrees at 5 knots

The good news is that the snow is almost melted around here. The bad news is that two-plus feet of melting snow result in a very soft, muddy grass runway. I originally had the 150 reserved for a solo cross-country flight this morning but Stewart called yesterday and canceled that plan. It's taildraggers-only right now and, due to the field conditions, you have to go up with an instructor. I reserved a slot with Joe and figured this would be a good opportunity to try the one thing I'd never done in a taildragger - land on a paved runway.

You may be asking how I could fly Cubs and Champs all the time and have never been trained to land on anything other than grass. The simple answer is that Stewart doesn't permit you to land them at any other airport (the only exception being Sport Pilot students on their solo cross-country; they land on the grass runway at Urbana) so I've never had a particularly strong reason to do so. On the other hand, it's good to have done it should I ever be over top of another airport and need to land in an emergency.

It's a short, 7 nm hop from Stewart to Wright Brothers

After starting up and running through my CIGAR checks, I taxied straight onto the runway without stopping and poured in the throttle for a soft field takeoff. We left the pattern and headed direct to Wright Brothers. Remember that we have no radios in the Cub so this was going to be a true see-and-avoid and right-of-way practice session. As I approached the airport for a crosswind-to-downwind pattern entry I saw one plane on base and another on downwind in front of me. The spacing worked out perfectly and I slid in behind the second plane as I turned downwind.

It felt odd to be descending through the pattern at Wright Brothers in a Cub. I've landed there probably 50+ times in the 150 and 172 but it was a whole new sight picture sitting in the back seat of the J-3. The landing was, um, let's call it firm. I kept in the throttle too long and didn't touch down with the stick all the way back; we definitely knew we were on the ground. Joe gave me some tips and we slowly taxied back to the end of the runway. The importance of S-Turns while taxiing is clear when you've got a 50 foot wide taxiway and have to stay on the centerline!

I made three more trips around the pattern - takeoffs were always decent but my last takeoff was really good, lifting the tailwheel off first then smoothly lifting off. The landings, however, were all quite terrible. Every time I brought us down with a notable thud, even when focusing on controlling my descent. One good point is that I did always handle the crosswind correctly so we touched while pointed straight down the centerline. That keeps the little wheel behind the big wheels and is not of small importance. Still, something was throwing me off because I never hit the grass that hard - early training notwithstanding.

There's a chance that the paved runway threw off my altitude perception in the flare. While the runway at Wright Brothers certainly isn't new to me, a fixed width still looks quite different than a seemingly unlimited expanse of grass. At least I now know I can get down safely on a paved surface. On the other hand, I'm not happy with any of the landings and definitely want to go up again with a CFI for more practice. I flew directly back to Stewart and landed long, touching down softly while riding out the splashing mud and water that quickly slowed us down.

It was a great day to fly and I think every aviator must have had the same feeling. In our time at Wright Brothers, there were hot air balloons, a 172, an Arrow, and what I believe was a Piaggio P.180 Avanti - a turboprop with two pusher engines and a canard - in the pattern. Not only was it cool to see so many flavors of aviation together, but it really kept my head on a swivel since we were NORDO in the Cub. I'm so excited to be able to finally say that Spring is near!

Flight Track: Google Earth KMZ File
Today's Flight: 1.0 hours
Total Time: 142.8 hours


  1. oh man I need to fly up to Ohio and fly some 'draggers with you. That sounds like a blast. Doesn't the lack of radios terrify you?

    Your experiences make me envious of my highly structured, inside-the-box training.

    Safe skies man.


  2. It was slightly unnerving for the first couple lessons, but now it seems completely normal. Even when I'm in one of the Cessnas I never use the radio at Stewart cause I know barely anyone else in the pattern has the ability to hear me.

    Now, it was definitely a little bit crazier at Wright Brothers with all the traffic... but it really forces you to see and avoid with the Mark II eyeballs!

    Don't hesitate to shoot me an email if you ever do make it up this way. You've got an hour in the Cub on me. But I warn you - it'll get addicting.