Friday, January 4, 2013

More fun on skis

Plane: Cub, 85 hp 
Instructor: Emerson
Route: 40I-2OH9-40I
Weather: Scattered clouds, 30 degrees, wind 250 degrees at 14 knots

Due to the recent cold temperatures, much of our Christmas and just-after-Christmas snow remains on the ground. This means Stewart has had the big Cub on skis for over a week. That equates to me being overdue for some stick time in the coolest winter flying machine around!

Given that we only saw snow once last winter and the skis never found their way onto the Cub, I certainly didn't want to miss out this season. Although I have a feeling we're going to see more snow than a year ago, you never know. Doesn't feel like it, but the last (and only) time I flew the J-3 on skis was nearly three years ago.

Yet another awesome thing offered at Stewart - a Cub on skis!

It took a minute to pull the engine through but Emerson hopped on board once it was humming and I taxied towards the runway. No feet on the brakes since the brake lines are capped when the skis are attached; you can actually mess them up if you smash on the pedals! The snow is pretty packed at this point and we ended up making quite a large circle, down to the less-packed snow and back, in order to do a 360 before takeoff.

There was a screaming wind by the time I got to the airport (14+ knots) but thankfully it was almost directly down the runway. Between that and the icy surface, this was a perfect day to illustrate the importance of proper control positions while taxiing. The rudder can be less than effective on ice/snow (big skis sliding vs. little wheel digging into the snow) but it was actually possible to turn the plane faster by utilizing the aileron into the wind technique. Basically, I was able to use the aileron to help weathervane the plane on the skis. Handy!

Flying-wise, it's really not all that different than when the wheels are on. Slight forward stick, then gentle back pressure until you gain speed and the plane lifts itself off the ground in the familiar three-point attitude. Landing is pretty similar as well, though I always felt like I was about six inches higher when I flared. But that's the beauty of snow + skis; even the not-so-great landings were quite soft and cushioney. As you may imagine, taxiing requires more throttle than usual, around 1500 RPM. You also have to slow down more to turn in order to let the skis grab into the snow and not slide all over the place.

From 30 MPH on takeoff/landing to 90 MPH on downwind - it was windy!

We landed a few times at Stewart, first on the runway and then on the north taxiway. The runway's quite compacted after a week of skis sliding on top but the taxiway was covered in fresh, untouched snow. Judging by our tracks, we landed in about 100 feet on the fresh stuff. Emerson then had me fly over to the gliderport and we landed there twice. Finally, we headed back to Stewart and called it an afternoon.

You really do pick up the knack of the skis quite quickly. They're not harder per se, just different, especially if you're used to tailwheel flying. As if to follow the general taildragger mantra, the only real differences are on the ground. Regardless, it's still a hoot and I'm quite happy to have been able to squeeze it in at least once this winter.

And hey, I'm already ahead of 2012, when I didn't hop into the left - or back - seat until April!

Flight Track: Google Earth KMZ File 
Today's Flight: 0.7 hours
Total Time: 251.0 hours


  1. Awesome! I would love to do that sometime!

    1. It's definitely a cool experience. I wonder how many FBOs/flight schools around the country - and especially around the Midwest - have an airplane you can fly on skis. If I had to guess, it's probably not too many. Definitely another reason to be happy I live near Stewart!