Thursday, June 20, 2019

One Weekend, Four Aircraft

A Veritable Spam Can Quadfecta!

As an aircraft owner, I do not rent other airplanes as a general rule of thumb. I already pay to fly my own airplane, why would I pay to fly someone else's? I hold tightly to this rule, though flying the J-3 Cub for my tailwheel endorsement or the Schweizer sailplane are obvious exceptions.

In a definite excursion from the ordinary for me, I flew four different aircraft as PIC in a single weekend during May 2019. I can imagine the wheels turning in the mind of the reader now, a mental perusal of the ol' aircraft bucket list Rolodex. Lessee...a Staggerwing, a Mustang, a Corsair, and ... aw heck, how about an SR-71 Blackbird? Why not? This is an understandable response, but not particularly realistic (especially since all the Blackbirds are in museums now).

Confession: one of those four was my own airplane. The other three were Williamson Flying Club (WFC) aircraft. Two were Cherokee 140s that I have flown previously and are arguably not so different from my Warrior. The fourth was a Cessna 172 Hawk XP. It was my first time in the left seat of a Cessna in over 15 years and the Hawk XP has some attributes that it made it worth the rental cost.

More Power!

Date Aircraft Route of Flight Time (hrs) Total (hrs)
17 May 2019 N736ES SDC (Sodus, NY) - local 1.2 1947.3

Because I fly often and am generally proficient, my philosophy on Flight Reviews is that they are a great opportunity to learn something new. I try to fly with different instructors when I can because every one brings their own unique insights. As a result, in 17 years of flying, I have flown with 14 different instructors. There is also something to be said for consistency within a curriculum, so I worked with the same instructor for all of my Private Pilot certificate and the same instructor for all of my Instrument Rating.

Mike B at the controls of the Club's Hawk XP at Re-Dun Field on 27 May 2019

This year, I had an opportunity to fly with my friend Dan, a retired Air Force officer. Dan and I joined the WFC on the same evening. He is a recently certificated instructor pursuing a third career in General Aviation. At the WFC Christmas party, I won a certificate for an hour of free dual instruction with him. The only catch was that the instruction had to be in the WFC's Hawk XP, the club's grossly underutilized flagship aircraft. Dan is trying to drum up business for the Hawk, which does not fly as often as it should because it is a bit more complex than the rest of the fleet. Somewhat unusual for a Cessna 172, the Hawk XP has a 195 hp, six cylinder, fuel injected Continental IO-360 power plant with a constant speed prop. It would be my first opportunity fly behind a constant speed prop and that made it worth the rental cost.

Sitting in the left seat of the Hawk XP, I felt a little claustrophobic. My line of sight is above the top of the side windows, so I had to duck anytime I looked outside for clearing turns. On top of that (literally), there's a wing right there. The claustrophobic feeling also arises from how far forward the wing is positioned versus the pilot. It blocks a significant arc of sky. This is in contrast to the Cherokees where the pilot sits at the leading edge of the wing and has a better view downward than a 172 pilot has upward.

N736ES at Lake Placid, 10 October 2015

Just shy of rotation speed on take-off, the oil door popped open and I quickly throttled back and brought the aircraft to a stop. After a much more successful second take-off attempt, I contacted Rochester Approach for flight following.

"Rochester Approach, Seven Three Six Echo Sierra."

"Six Echo Sierra, Rochester Approach, are you a Cherokee or a Cessna?"


"Cessna. Six Echo Sierra."

Aloft, we cycled through a series of steep turns, slow flight, and stalls. After each maneuver, Dan would nod and say, "Good job, that was to ACS (airman certification) standards!" Well, except for the first steep turn. I lost some altitude in the turn before I had the proper feel for the airplane.

It is a capable aircraft and is palpably more powerful than my Warrior. That six cylinder Continental was wonderfully smooth in flight. Dan walked me through the practical application of the new-to-me propeller control. It would probably take me a couple more lessons to internalize setting power by manifold pressure, but it was less complicated overall than I expected.

I made two landings in the Hawk, both without assistance from Dan. They were smooth, full-stall beauties right on the center line. I swear, that tailwheel training in 2017 really did wonders for my landing technique. On the first landing, we were caught in some squirrelly winds, but I got the airplane back on track before flaring.

Dan was complimentary as he signed off my logbook for a successful Flight Review. "A couple more lessons to get used to the constant speed prop and you could be signed off to solo the Hawk," he added for encouragement.

We'll see. Now that I've had the experience, I am starting to bump back up against my rule about not paying to fly other people's airplanes. I enjoyed flying the Hawk XP, though I also think that the experience solidified my preference for low wing aircraft.

Saturday Morning Breakfast Club

Date Aircraft Route of Flight Time (hrs) Total (hrs)
18 May 2019 N21481 SDC (Sodus, NY) - FZY (Fulton, NY) - B16 (Weedsport, NY) - SDC 1.5 1948.8

Warrior 481 at Whitfords on 18 May 2019

The very next morning, I departed Sodus with the rest of the Saturday morning Breakfast Club for Whitfords Airport as described in the post called Field Trip. After I returned to Sodus, I helped with preparations for the following day's pancake breakfast.

The WFC Breakfast Club at Whitfords on 18 May 2019

Apple Blossom Fly-In Breakfast

Sunday, May 19 was the annual Williamson Flying Club Apple Blossom Fly-In Breakfast. My job at this event over the last few years has been giving airplane rides as a fundraiser for the club. I can do this legally under the rules governing charity flights. For liability reasons, I have to fly club planes rather than Warrior 481.

Bad Fit

I was assigned N701DT that morning. I had not flown it in over a year and so flew a quick circuit to reacquaint myself with its performance. Because it has the stubby constant-chord (Hershey Bar) wing of the early Cherokees, the handling characteristics are slightly different than my Warrior, particularly when landing.

Date Aircraft Route of Flight Time (hrs) Total (hrs)
19 Nov 2019 N701DT SDC (Sodus, NY) - local 0.3 1949.1

One Delta Tango recently received a new interior that greatly improved the appearance of the cockpit. Unfortunately, the new seat cushions were quite thick and, because the seat height is not adjustable, I had very little headroom.

Matt P with One Delta Tango at the Oswego County Airport, 11 September 2016

I'll give it a shot, I thought. I ran the checklist, fired up the aircraft, and departed the Williamson Sodus Airport.

The top of my head rubbed uncomfortably on the cabin headliner for the entire flight. When I reached for the flap lever in the pattern, a searing pain bloomed in my skull. I had hit my head on a corner of the sheet-metal housing of the compass because I was sitting so high. Fortunately, I wore a hat and was not bleeding, but the bill of the cap was what prevented me from seeing that the compass was there to hit in the first place. On short final, I struggled to compensate for the left crosswind. With the seat being so high, my own knee prevented me from turning the yoke enough to adequately correct for the wind. Did I not check that the controls were clear before take off? I could not remember, but the answer appeared to be "no".

Uh oh.

N9701DT at St Marys, 18 March 2018.

The landing fell somewhere well short of pretty. My heart was racing as One Delta Tango rolled out on runway 28. There was no way that I would have been comfortable flying passengers in that airplane. I simply did not fit.

Others confirmed for me that there was no vertical adjustment for the seat. One person suggested that "We need to get some more fatties flying that airplane to compress the cushion." Though there was a certain practicality to this comment, it was definitely not a short term solution.

I was offered N9855W instead because the interior was significantly more "tired".

The Goldilocks Cherokee

Date Aircraft Route of Flight Time (hrs) Total (hrs)
19 May 2019 N9855W SDC (Sodus, NY) - local 2.0 1951.1

As I climbed into Five Five Whiskey for the first time that morning, I was asked to take a pair of paying passengers with me right away.

"So..." I  put on my how do I saw this politely? face. "I haven't flown this airplane in four years. Mind if I get reacquainted first?"

N9855W photographed from the back seat of Mike S's Champ, 05 May 2018.

I was glad that I took that solo flight. Five Five Whiskey was built in 1967 and features the "shot gun" instrument layout whereby all of the instruments were just put wherever they happened fit. One Delta Tango, Warrior 481, and most aircraft built after the mid 1970s use a standard layout for the essential instruments. For me, flying Five Five Whiskey is always a bit of an exercise in, OK, I need to know the airspeed now, where is that located again?  Engine controls are the push-pull type and spread out across the lower section of the instrument panel rather then being clustered together as in other airplanes I have flown. Other differences included the pushbutton starter, the absence of toe brakes (there is a hand brake that is used instead), and the overhead crank for the trim that I always manage to turn the wrong way no matter which direction I'm trying to trim. I sat for a moment, checklist in hand, locating the instruments and controls.

Despite those differences, the seat height was perfect for me. I fit in this airplane almost as well as my own.

Tom, Jamie, and Mike with N9855W in Williamsport, PA 24 June 2017

When I pressed the starter button, the engine turned over enthusiastically. On take off, my left elbow lay naturally on the armrest in just the correct position for my left hand to comfortably manipulate the yoke. I wish Warrior 481 had an armrest on the pilot's side, but that was omitted from the previous-owner's refit of the interior.

There is a reason why Five Five Whiskey tends to be everyone's favorite trainer at the Club. She is a sweet flying airplane, smooth and docile. By the time I was on short final, I already felt like I was at home in the cockpit (except...crap...where is the airspeed indicator again?). I greased Five Five Whiskey on to the runway and declared myself open for the ride business.

I flew sixteen passengers in seven hops (at least, I can account for seven hops - there may have been more that I simply forgot about), only stopping when my blood sugar crashed sometime late morning. Because of the limited cabin size of the Cherokee 140, I usually had a parent in the right seat and a kid or two in back. At the request of one fellow, I flew him and his son over their nearby farm. Behind us, Mike B had the man's wife and daughter with him in One Delta Tango. We made a couple of orbits around the farm positioned 180° apart from each other before returning to Sodus.

N9355W at Oswego County Airport, 09 July 2017.

Mid-morning, a woman and two children were presented to me as my next passengers. As I introduced myself, the little girl said, "You flew my Dad to Pennsylvania once!" That threw me for a loop. I looked at the woman, thinking that I should recognize her, but did not.

"Sadie, tell him who your dad is is," encouraged the woman. The girl pointed back at the crowd waiting for airplane rides and her father waved at us. She was the daughter of my friend Bill. The Bear and I flew Bill down to Pennsylvania to join his family for vacation in 2015, then continued on with a trip of our own.

But I was puzzled because the woman I was talking to was not Bill's wife. Then I located Bill's wife among the crowd as well. As it turned out, my passenger was Bill's neighbor and her son wanted to be a pilot. Sadie was just along for the ride. They thoroughly enjoyed their flight, though I gently skipped Five Five Whiskey on landing. "Congratulations, you got two landings for the price of one!" I told them to cover my lousiest landing of the day.

I connected them with Kristy afterward, who took them all to our hangar to check out the Warrior while I continued hopping rides. The Bear tried to explain parts of the airplane to the boy, who waved her off impatiently. "I already KNOW all that," he declared.

Aviation Weekend

Between a Friday night Flight Review in a new airplane, a Saturday morning run for breakfast, and successfully flying several rides at the pancake breakfast after the rough start in One Delta Tango, I flew a combined total of 5.0 hours in four different airplanes on what was truly an aviation-themed weekend. Weekends like that do not come around often for me, but I was glad to have had the experience.

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