Friday, August 27, 2010

Getting Mike back into the air

Plane: Cub, 85 hp
Route: 40I, Local
Weather: Clear, 78 degrees, wind 100 degrees at 4 knots

I know I've already said this a couple times since the calendar rolled over to 2010, but I'll be darned if this wasn't the most beautiful day of the year. We've had nothing but heat and humidity for the better part of the past month so today's nearly calm winds, unlimited visibility, and comfortable, non-humid warmth was downright perfect for some Cub time. Of course, Mr. Murphy stepped in (pun not intended - you'll see...) to try and keep me on the ground when I smashed our front door into my big toe last night. Blood and pain ensued but I'll leave the gory details aside. There was still no way I wasn't going to try and get in the air, especially since I'm only feeling pain when walking.

I called Stewart and found out both Cubs were open (on a day like today? what's wrong with people?!?) so I had them hold the big one for me. Gina was already up flying with CFI Dave in the small Cub so I would have had to wait an extra half hour and the additional 20 hp really bump up the fun factor anyway. I'm digressing here but the key thing (IMSAFE checklist, everyone!) is I climbed in the cockpit as soon as I arrived to be sure there was no pain and no restriction in movement with the rudders due to my toe. Thankfully, it appears that the aviation gods trump Mr. Murphy because I was pain-free and determined that I was fit to fly.

In light of the amazing weather, I had sent a text message to some pilot friends as I left the office that said something random about how we should all be flying on a day like today. My friend Mike called me in response as I was driving to the airport and said he was free, so I told him to get the heck on down to Waynesville so we could go flying! I ran through the entire preflight and had everything ready so we simply had to hop in and get propped once he arrived.

We headed straight out at about 1,500 feet and then I turned south to follow the valley for a few miles. There's nothing quite like enjoying the trees and terrain passing below the open door of a yellow Piper Cub on a summer evening. I broke off that route and turned back towards Caesar Creek Lake, which we flew over on a similar sightseeing mission. Contrary to what the GPS track shows, we did not fly underwater. Seems that thing gets the hiccups from time to time when it comes to recording altitude.

I climbed up to about 2,800 feet after we passed the beach and waved the wings at the people down below. There were a couple planes that I spotted while doing my clearing turns so I held off doing any maneuvering until I could tell they were safely clear of the airspace I'd be using. Then I asked Mike if he wanted to have some fun (the response was, unsurprisingly, an enthusiastic yes) and cranked the Cub over into a steep turn to the left. My scan still showed us to be clear of any traffic as we completed the 360 so I rolled immediately into a steep turn to the right.

At that point there was another plane approaching us - although he was well below our altitude (I think he was copying our earlier sightseeing idea) I didn't want to be losing track of him in the middle of steep turns. I waited for a little bit, then banked the plane around for one or two 90 degree turns before deciding it was time to head back. We were plenty high so I pulled the carb heat on, throttle to idle, left rudder to the stop, and lots of right aileron. Throwing those barn-door flat sides of the Cub against the wind in a forward slip always does a good job in ridding you of altitude.

The pattern at Stewart was semi-busy and I saw a plane turning crosswind so I turned my downwind earlier than normal to be sure we didn't cut him off. This put me about 1/4 mile farther from the airport than normal but I still wanted to try an engine-out approach. The hindsight, short-story version is I probably should have turned towards the runway about 5 seconds sooner. I was banked about 25 feet above the ground to line up with the runway when I added power to arrest the sink rate; I pulled it back to idle two seconds later when lined up and made a smooth three-point landing. Had it been a real emergency I would have made it back to the runway but there's no reason to brush that closely against the safety margin when practicing!

As I explained to Mike, I always like to knock out three takeoffs and landings when flying the taildraggers to ensure I extend my passenger-carrying currency. I decided to salvage my reputation (that's the first time I've ever had to add power during a simulated engine-out since I was a student pilot) and attempt another power-off landing the next time around. This one went perfectly as I turned back plenty early, used a moderate forward slip to lose altitude when I had the runway made, and touched down smoothly enough that the airplane was still usable. The final approach was made normally until I added about 300 RPM as I began to flare and flew the airplane just off the grass about 1,500 feet down the runway until I pulled the power and the wheels touched.

It was good to get Mike back in the skies (he's in the midst of a four month break in his own training and is itching to get back at the controls) and to have someone to tag along. He said my turns were really good and I always appreciate passengers that try and pad the pilot ego! ;-) Seriously though, it was great to bring someone up in the Cub that can appreciate what I'd label a rare perfect flying day. I had the video camera mounted in the cockpit and recorded part of the flight but I honesty haven't had time to do anything with the footage. At this rate, I think I'll end up posting a video of a giant assortment of random flying clips on here eventually!

Flight Track: Google Earth KMZ File
Today's Flight: 0.9 hours
Total Time: 173.8 hours

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