Saturday, June 22, 2013

Time to fly the Taylorcraft

Plane: Taylorcraft
Instructor: Jamie
Route: 40I, Local 
Weather: Scattered clouds, 85 degrees, wind 210 degrees at 7 knots

It may not be instrument training (I know, I'm slacking...) but today's bit of flight instruction let me check off another goal. The Taylorcraft found a home on the rental line last summer. For many years prior she was on floats and the Stewarts kept her up in Michigan during the summers, if I'm recalling the story correctly. Down here in Ohio the floats are no more (well, they're in the hangar) and I've been thinking about flying her for quite a while. Today I finally did.

This afternoon's trusty aerial steed, the Taylorcraft BC-12D

Jamie and I talked about some of the basics while standing under the wing - the preflight isn't all that different than the Cub or Champ, save for a couple things in different places. The biggest difference is that this lovely taildragger has both an electrical system and a starter. No hand-propping and there's even a radio. That's downright luxurious!

We went over the panel in detail (the cabin heat, carb heat, and fuel shutoffs are all next to each other and have nearly identical knobs - what could possibly go wrong?!) and then started the engine. It fired right up after a couple blades and I confirmed we had fuel pressure. With everything in the green, I taxied over to the end of Runway 26. The gear uses bungees like the Cub but it felt like we were wallowing around much more as we rolled over the turf.

Airplane and instructor on the soft grass field

Lined up on the runway, I gently advanced the throttle and a firm push on the yoke brought the tail up off the ground. Soon we were climbing out - quickly. I've heard that Mr. Taylor built a plane that squeezed all the possible performance out of an 85 hp Continental; you won't hear me arguing that point. It was a hot, humid summer afternoon and we climbed at 500+ feet per minute all the way up to around 4,000 feet. Impressive.

I trimmed the plane for cruise and tried some dutch rolls to get a feel for the controls. Because of the way the yoke is shaped, I found it easy to inadvertently push or pull while trying to quickly deflect the ailerons. It took a minute but eventually I managed some relatively yaw-free rolls.

After that I did a couple steep turns in each direction, hitting my wake every time. That's always fun. Then I did a couple power-off stalls; the wing has a tendency to drop more than you see in a Cub, but it's not too bad. Work the rudders, stay coordinated, and you get a clean break with minimal roll. Jamie asked for some slow flight so I slowed down to 45-50 mph and made gentle 90-degree turns with the rudder.

Climbing into the tight cockpit requires some fun anatomical maneuvering

We were already rather nose-high so I pushed in the throttle, held the yoke back, and was rewarded with a very gentle power-on stall. Unlike the Cub, which just kind of suddenly stops flying, there was a noticeable buffet as we approached the stall. Relaxing the stick at that first indication resulted in essentially no altitude loss. I did another and held back longer; the break was still quite gentle.

Need to lose a couple thousand feet? Time for some forward slips. Full rudder to the stops, opposite aileron, and down we went. Not spectacularly fast, however. The airframe is quite streamlined; we never could exceed about -1,400 feet per minute in our descent. There's no vertical speed indicator in the Cub so I can't make a definitive comparison but it certainly seems to drop much faster. I wouldn't be surprised if a J-3 can drop at a clip of -2,000 feet per minute or better in a full-on, to-the-stops slip.

A tad more sophisticated than what you'll find in a Cub!

On my way back to the airport I practiced one turn around a point. It had been a while since I last did any and I spotted a water tower that I've used for similar practice many times before. So I rolled into a gentle turn and held it in position under the left wing. As I said to Jamie, when you've got a GPS logger, even something as simple as flying in a circle can be a little fun...

Google Earth don't lie - I've still got it! ;-)

We entered the pattern and I flew a rather stabilized approach. I knew the sight picture would be different (you sit higher than in the Cub) so I would have a tendency to flare late. To compensate, I added power on short final with the intention of holding the plane off the ground - and we soon touched, ever so softly. Jamie said some nice things and my ego felt good but I'm honest at heart. I told him that it was mostly pure luck - I thought we were higher and it was only that soft because I had added power our descent rate was basically zero.

New sight picture starting to register, we went around twice more. The second landing wasn't anything to write home about. Like I said, that first one was more luck than anything. The third was much better, however, quite gentle if not a perfect three-pointer. At that point, we taxied over to the fuel pump and topped the tanks with nine gallons of 100LL.

Jamie asked if I wanted to fly the pattern solo a couple times. After all, why just taxi back when you're already at the end of the runway and the tiedown is in the middle of the field? I said he'd better stay in that right seat. Not that I thought I'd bend any metal... but I figured it was the smart thing to do.

So I took off for one final lap around the pattern and proved that to be a wise call. Not because I flubbed the landing, mind you. Au contraire - I managed a beautiful, three-point, total greaser where all the wheels gracefully kissed the grass right as I brought the stick all the way back into my chest! Had it been solo you could've dismissed all this as haughty pilot bloggery. But no, now I have a witness. Game, set, match.

My first impression is that the BC-12D certainly is a nice little airplane. It goes faster than the Cub on the same horsepower and feels a tad more stable in cruise once you trim it out. The climb rate is certainly better, too. In short, it would be much more comfortable to take on a trip. In terms of pure fun, however, the Cub's still at the top of my list. The controls are far more responsive (they feel downright sluggish in the T-Craft) and everything just feels sportier in a J-3.

And you can fly it with the door open. Checkmate.

Flight Track: Google Earth KMZ File 
Today's Flight: 1.6 hours
Total Time: 271.7 hours


  1. Sounds like a great time!! You certainly have your share of fun aircraft to fly out there, wish I had access to the same. Yes, that was the green monster of envy typing. :)

    1. Yup, it's a wonderfully unique place. Fly on out for more Stearman time one of these days!

  2. Cool!
    And no, I had no intention of teasing you about instrument training. I need to finish mine first - THEN I'll start teasing. :-)