Monday, September 3, 2007

Winter Flying

With careful preparation, cold-weather flying can be great fun.

By Michael Vivion

Winter—it’s cold, it’s dark and sometimes it seems like spring will never come. But, lots of pilots live in cold country, and there’s no sense letting our airplanes sit idle all winter. Although it takes more effort and better preparation, winter flying can indeed be tolerable and sometimes even downright fun. So, if you’re up for the challenge, let’s consider some things you can do to mitigate the effects of winter and enjoy some flying.

A heated hangar is hands down the best gift you can give yourself and your airplane. It allows you to preflight in comfort under good lighting. Outdoor pre-flights at minus-20 degrees F can be more “concise” than might be preferable. A hangar prevents ice or snow accumulation between flights, and the slush that accumulates on the airplane’s floorboards can evaporate in a warm hangar.

An unheated hangar isn’t quite as nice as a heated one, but it still has advantages over parking outside. You won’t need to apply wing, windshield and tail covers, or secure the controls and attach tiedowns every time you park. It’s still important, however, to carry a full set of covers in case you have to park outdoors en route because of a weather delay. You should always be prepared to land and wait out weather, and having the proper equipment on board makes the decision to land at a strange airport easier.

An insulated engine cover is essential. If you park outdoors during a stop for lunch or weather, an insulated cover will keep the engine warm enough to restart, even at temperatures well below zero. An engine cover also helps with preheating. If the airplane lives outdoors or in a cold hangar, it needs an engine preheat system. In really cold country a full electric preheat system, such as those manufactured by Reiff or Tanis, is your best choice. Combined with an insulated engine cover, these heaters will ensure that your engine is thoroughly warm when you’re ready to fly. In milder temperatures, a less complex heating system may suffice.

If your tiedown has no electricity, a blast heater such as the Red Dragon, or a generator to operate your electric heater are other options. Blast heaters warm the engine quickly, so while the cylinders may be warm, the engine’s core may still be cold. Give the heat time to normalize throughout the engine by allowing plenty of time for it to thoroughly preheat before a flight. Most engine manufacturers suggest that you preheat when temperatures reach around 10 degrees F. Personally, if it’s at or below the freezing point, I always preheat.

If you didn’t get your wing and tail covers on quite soon enough and your plane is covered with snow or ice, what do you do? If it’s heavy ice, move the aircraft into a heated hangar, let it melt and dry completely. If it’s loose snow that hasn’t thawed and refrozen, a push broom with soft bristles will remove most of the contamination.

How much snow or ice is acceptable for flight? In reality, for total safety, none. But that’s a decision each pilot has to make for him or herself. At the very least, the safest bet is to remove all contamination from the flying surfaces. By using a broom or rope, you may be able to polish simple frost on the wings to a surface smooth enough for safe flight.

Another option for deicing is to keep a small garden sprayer at home with a half-gallon of RV antifreeze in it. Before you head to the airport, top off the sprayer with hot tap water and spray the entire plane with this deicing fluid mixture.

Engine oil is a subject of much debate. I like multigrade oils. If you prefer straight-weight oils, be certain to change to a slightly lower viscosity in the fall, when temperatures start dropping. It’s always safest to use the grades of oil recommended by the engine’s manufacturer.

Engine manufacturers suggest that you get your engine’s oil temperature to at least 180 degrees for 20 minutes any time you fly. This will allow the heat to eliminate any moisture in the oil. There may be nothing wrong with using duct tape to cover half your oil cooler in cold weather, but a better approach is to install the manufacturer’s recommended winterization kit. If your aircraft has no approved winterization kit, ask your mechanic for the safest way to get the airplane’s oil temperatures into the recommended range.

Make absolutely certain that your engine oil breather line has a “whistle slot” or supplemental breather hole, somewhere high inside the cowling. Your oil breather line opening will freeze over in cold weather. A supplemental breather hole will prevent pressurization of the engine case from pushing the nose seal out of your engine, and loss of engine oil.

Okay, the airplane is ready, but how about the pilot? Flying in winter offers some of the best flying weather of the year: no thunderstorms, generally good visibility and more. Yet it can also leave you in the dark and cold. Each pilot who flies in winter should have a good warm coat, boots, hat and gloves in the plane or better yet, on their person. Good-quality, winter-weight long underwear is a necessity in very cold country.

I consider a survival kit to be essential in the winter, plus a good winter sleeping bag and insulated sleeping pad for each occupant. I also carry a minimal selection of survival items on my person, in the event I have to depart the plane in a hurry. If you “arrive” somewhere off airport it may take a while for help to come. I consider a good knife, fire starters, a signal mirror and some parachute cord to be an absolute minimum kit to carry on one’s person.

One of the new 406 mHz personal locator beacons (PLB) is a great addition to your personal survival gear, though they’re a bit expensive and bulky. My Alaskan friend Ray Tremblay used to say, “Survival gear is whatever you have in your pockets when you go out the door. That bag of stuff in the back of the airplane is camping gear, not survival gear.” Don’t forget the cell phone—it could save the day.

The pilot should be current in the airplane, for both day and night. Winter days are short, and a minor weather divert can push your landing into darkness. You did check the aircraft’s lights (including panel lights) prior to takeoff, right?

Utilize all the weather information you can find. My ideal weather briefing is done in front of an Internet-connected computer, on the phone with an AFSS briefer. It’s easy to miss subtle points in a weather briefing, so having a second opinion can be invaluable. Local NOTAMs can be critical to safety, and there’s only one source for local NOTAM information: the Automated Flight Service Station.

For a more experienced pilot, flying on and off ice can be done safely, albeit with extreme caution. If there were any crosswind, I wouldn’t fly from glare ice. With a wind straight down the runway, or no wind, flying with minimal braking action can be done safely, but it’s still not a good idea. Being conservative about distances required to land and stop, and being able to land the airplane precisely where you want to land it, every time, is essential. If you get sloppy when it’s icy, you’re in for some pain.

In some conditions, you can’t even stand up on the ramp because of ice. In such a case, it might be a great day to find a warm fire and a good book, and read about aviation. Remember, flying is as much a thinking game as it is a set of physical skills, so keep your mind engaged in aviation as well.

So, how do we knock some of the rust off during these long winter months and keep our airplane operational?

If you’re operating a tailwheel airplane, consider installing skis. Ski flying is more fun than you can stand—really! You’ll have more freedom and more challenges. Straight skis are limiting at many airports, since management removes snow and ice from taxiways and runways. However, penetration or retractable skis offer the flexibility to operate from bare pavement as well as snow-covered terrain.

If your plane isn’t a taildragger, or you simply aren’t into airport operations, look for short day-trips close to home base. Upon arrival at your “target,” fly a couple of patterns with landings. Back at your home airport, fly a few more patterns. This is especially valuable at night, when most of us don’t get enough practice.

I may not have convinced you to fly twice a week this winter, but with just a bit of preparation, you’ll find that winter flying on nice days can be really enjoyable and rewarding.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

From The Editor: Red-Tailed Angels

I Can’t Understand Can’t

By Jeff Berlin

In what has turned into an unintentional theme this issue, I seem to have focused on, twice, people or groups that broke new ground in aviation. They were, in some way, told that they couldn’t or shouldn’t, or that it was unusual or possibly inappropriate, to fly. Not only did these people and groups fly, and prove wrong the legions of naysayers, defeatists and perpetuators of negative stereotypes, but they each rose to legendary status in aviation lore.

One story began at the Tuskegee Army Air Field in Tuskegee, Ala. In 1941, 13 young black men enlisted in the Army Air Corps to become America’s first black airmen. At the time, many thought black men such as these noble aviation cadets lacked the intelligence, courage, skill, discipline and patriotism to become pilots and serve the United States. These cadets passed the same stringent physical and intellectual exams as any typical airman applicant, and once accepted to the program, they then had to earn their wings while fighting against an undercurrent of racism. In March of 1942, five of the initial 13 completed the training.

Over the next few years, another 994 pilots graduated to become Tuskegee Airmen, and of those 994, 450 were commissioned to operations overseas in either the 99th Pursuit (Fighter) Squadron or the 332nd Fighter Group. Earlier this year, the Tuskegee Airmen were finally recognized with the Congressional Gold Medal, our nation’s highest civilian award bestowed by Congress. On page 68, the son of an Airman who attended the ceremony at the Capitol gives us some background on the Red Tails and recounts that special day. As I’ve said on these pages before, aviation is infused with history, and there are lessons for us all in the history of the Tuskegee Airmen.

It makes sense that one of air show star Patty Wagstaff’s idols is legendary aviatrix Jackie Cochran. In her day, Cochran set more speed and altitude records than any other pilot, period—male or female—winning an astounding 14 Harmon Trophies in the process, and more than 200 awards and trophies total. She also led the Women’s Air Force Service Pilots (WASPs) during World War II and received the U.S. Distinguished Service Medal for her efforts. After the war, in 1952, Cochran became the first woman to break the sound barrier, piercing Mach 1 in an F-86 Sabre Jet. And while Cochran wasn’t one of the Mercury 13, the women who passed the same tests that NASA administered to its male astronaut candidates, she lobbied for equal opportunity—the opportunity to go to space.

Fast-forward to summer 2007 and another female pilot who has set records, won numerous decorations and awards for her own fancy flying, and is now an inspiration to young women and people everywhere, including this editor—air show superstar, Patty Wagstaff. Flying was in Wagstaff’s blood from day one, as her father was a captain for Japan Air Lines, and it was through her father that her love affair with aviation was kindled. Those glowing embers that were sparked during Wagstaff’s childhood have grown into a raging aviation inferno that has taken her from Alaska in 1979 and her first flying lesson in a Cessna 185 floatplane to three consecutive titles as U.S. National Aerobatic Champion, in 1991, 1992 and 1993—the first woman to do so, and one of the very few, male or female, to do it three times. In 1994, her Extra 260 was put on display in the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum’s Pioneers of Flight gallery next to Amelia Earhart’s red Lockheed 5B Vega and Lindbergh’s Lockheed 8 Sirius. Like Cochran, Wagstaff experienced skepticism and chauvinism throughout her storied career, and pushed through it to achieve a stellar level of achievement. On page 40, you too can take this National Aviation Hall of Fame inductee’s fire-breathing Extra 300 show plane for the proverbial spin and fly like a champion.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

CZAW Sport Cruiser: Top-Of-The-Line LSA

The Sport Cruiser brings features to LSAs that are normally reserved for full-sized, general aviation aircraft.

By Bill Cox
Photos By James Lawrence

Since the official advent of LSAs at Sun ’n Fun 2005, the type has taken off beyond the wildest dreams of its developers. It seems there’s some kind of LSA on virtually every airport ramp these days. In view of the type’s popularity, LSA designers have looked for ways to push right up against the allowable limits of certification. The type is limited to 600 kg (1,320 pounds) gross weight, can’t carry more than two folks and can’t exceed a cruise speed of 120 knots. Additionally, it must rest on fixed gear and fly behind a fixed-pitch or ground-adjustable prop.

The whole idea was safety. Keep the airplane simple, comparatively slow and lightweight, and there will be fewer accidents (those that do occur will inflict less injuries).

One of the designs that has succeeded in approaching the certification limits is the CZAW (Czech Aircraft Works) Sport Cruiser, introduced in 2006 and already sold in 17 countries. The Sport Cruiser is manufactured in the Czech Republic and distributed in the States by Sport Aircraft Works ( of Palm City, Fla. This slick and swept little airplane looks something like the old Glasair FG, but with only a 100 hp Rotax engine out front, its speed is limited to the requisite 120-knot max.

The Sport Cruiser is produced at Kunovice Airport, where European entry-level airplanes have been built and sold for years. CZAW produces a variety of lightweight amphibious and land-based aircraft, and there’s nothing amateurish about either the conception or construction of its airplanes.

In the case of the Sport Cruiser, CZAW offers you a choice of a prebuilt airplane or a Quick Build Kit. Should you opt for the latter, you can expect to spend about 400 hours in construction time and save $34,500 in the process, about half of the fully assembled price. The task is strictly one of assembly, not fabrication. (Yes, the CZAW kit does comply with the FAA’s 51% rule.)

Regardless of whether you build it yourself or buy a Sport Cruiser preassembled by the dealer, this LSA doesn’t spare the amenities. It features electric trim for pitch and roll, electric flaps, a ground-adjustable, three-blade composite prop, in-flight-adjustable rudder pedals and a huge cabin by LSA standards.

The canopy hinges at the front and opens to reveal a generous front office. Roll and pitch control are with conventional sticks mounted well forward of the twin bucket seating positions. Those seats are installed with a transom between them, a function of the 46.5-inch-wide cabin. Headroom doesn’t receive short shrift either. There’s enough vertical space to accommodate a six-foot, two-inch pilot and passenger without brushing their heads against the carbon-fiber, Plexiglas canopy structure. Primary baggage storage is in the turtledeck behind the pilots.

The Sport Cruiser is all metal, both for simplicity of construction and to help allay the fears of pilots concerned about fiberglass durability. Landing gear may be slickly enclosed with speed fairings that contribute as much as three knots to cruise. The Sport Cruiser also features something unheard of among other LSAs, wing lockers. CZAW mounts the lockers just outboard of the wing walks. The square lockers are positioned mid-chord at the airfoil’s thickest point and hold 40 fairly flat pounds of whatever per side.

Like most aircraft in the class, the Sport Cruiser uses a 100 hp Rotax 912, by far the most popular engine for LSAs. (The 120 hp Jabiru 3300 is another option.) Either way, the basic Sport Cruiser offers a useful load in excess of 550 pounds, which means the airplane can lift full fuel (30 gallons), two 170-pound people and 30 pounds of baggage.

CZAW brags that the airplane can leap skyward at 1,200 fpm, and even if that’s a tad wishful, the airplane can manage an easy initial 1,000 fpm, not bad for only 100 hp. Cruise performance is also impressive, 110 to 115 knots on only 4.5 gph. For those who choose the Rotax engine, endurance is around five hours plus reserve. That’s longer than most folks are willing to sit in an airplane without a pit stop, but for those with the necessary endurance, the Sport Cruiser will transport them well over the horizon.

Range at high cruise is reminiscent of that in a Skyhawk, 575 nm plus reserve. Pull back the throttle to max economy settings and you can extend that to 640 nm plus reserve. Control response is good in roll, better in pitch and reasonable in yaw. The airplane flies heavier than it looks. There’s not much adverse yaw, and you can carve turns up to about 60 degrees with feet on the floor and the ball still in the center.

This makes long flights not only possible but also fun. The difference between this LSA and some of the others is that you might not mind sitting in a Sport Cruiser for several hours. The big cabin doesn’t demand rubbing elbows, and there’s plenty of room to move around inside the cockpit. Visibility is excellent in virtually all directions. Overall, the Sport Cruiser perhaps comes closest to a normal category two-seater.

The Sport Cruiser’s large wing might suggest a low stall speed, and the airplane’s bottom number is 32 knots. That’s a virtual guarantee of impressive short-field performance. The airplane was originally designed to be operated from grass strips in Europe, so the comparatively long, paved runways of the States are almost ridiculously accommodating. The official numbers are practically in the STOL category, 400 feet for landing and 360 feet for takeoff.

The Sport Cruiser sells for a base price well below $100,000, but the optional level of avionics sophistication can drive the price well north of that figure. Like many other LSAs (and a few certified airplanes), the basic radio package is based around the Garmin 296/396/496 with the Air Gizmos panel mount. Combine that with a Garmin SL30 navcom and a Garmin 330 transponder plus an intercom, and you have an avionics stack that offers single nav and com, GPS, XM Satellite Weather, terrain warnings and even TIS (Traffic Information Service) uplink. You can also add a number of other boxes to include EFIS, autopilot and rate-of-climb/altitude preselect.

Base price of the standard Sport Cruiser with the 100 hp Rotax engine is $79,500. CZAW also offers perhaps the ultimate safety feature, a BRS recovery chute, for an additional $4,995. That’s a significant increase to the sales price, and it does reduce your payload, but it may be worth it if it saves your life even once.

Don’t be surprised if an increasing number of the LSAs you see parked and flying at your home airport are Sport Cruisers. It’s about as close as you can come to a standard general aviation airplane without a type certificate.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Bad Girl

Flying Patty Wagstaff’s “girly” Extra 300S

By Keoki Gray
Photos By James Lawrence

Opportunity Knocks
There I sat as the consequence of a misunderstanding, watching the ground drop away at a satisfyingly rapid rate. I anticipated a high nose attitude, but still underestimated and had to keep pulling back on the stick—even while setting the throttle and prop to “25 squared” out of concern for the noise-sensitive airport neighbors. I tried to hold 90 knots and reached the end of the 5,000-foot-long runway passing through 1,100 AGL. And the plane wasn’t even trying!

So how does an underemployed acro instructor and airport rat wrangle a ride in one of the air show industry’s hottest birds? It goes something like this…

Patty Wagstaff is a long-time, dear friend. Jay Land and his son Alex are flying buddies of both Patty and me. They have an Extra 300L in their stable and had recently acquired a Sukhoi Su-26. Jay e-mailed pictures of the Sukhoi’s new paint. I’m a big Sukhoi fan, so I replied that if “it” needed to be exercised, I’d be happy to do what I could. I copied the e-mail to Patty, along with the pictures.

First I got a response from Jay, who assumed I meant that I’d exercise their Extra; Alex was going to have first dibs on the Sukhoi. The same day I got an e-mail from Patty; she thought I meant exercising her Extra.

I’ve teased Patty for years—being a Sukhoi snob—that the Extra is a girly airplane. Well, I may be a snob, but I’m not an idiot, so after the 2006 NAS Jacksonville Air Show in Florida concluded, Patty’s crew chief and ferry pilot, Gene Powers, delivered one slightly used Extra to our airport. It was safely tucked into the T-hangar with my Pitts S2A, and I had some time to think about what had just happened. A clear schedule and good weather presented themselves a few days later.

Flight One: Basic Introduction
Starting the new Lycoming IO-580 required prolonged priming that would have easily flooded most other injected engines. Even so, it took two tries to get enough fuel to the injectors. Once running, the engine settled into a nice, hefty idle.

The rudder pedals have stirrups, and the toe brakes were right under the balls of my feet. I made sure to butt my heels against the lower portions of the pedal assemblies to remain clear of the brakes. It would be good practice for later.

The run-up and takeoff were all standard, except that when this airplane is ready to go, it goes! The rudder had lots of authority from the start of the roll and remained light, powerful and immediately responsive throughout the entire flight.

The wing tanks still had between 20 and 25 gallons of fuel, so any acro had to be limited to just +6/-3 G’s. But this was only an introductory flight; hard G was unnecessary. I tried the ailerons on the way out of the pattern and found them delightfully responsive, even with the “burdensome” mass of wing fuel. Getting a 30-plus-degree bank took such little time that the stick didn’t even reach half-travel—just a split-second pulse, and the bank was there. The Extra reached 3,000 feet AGL less than 5 nm from liftoff and leveled off at “24 cubed” (24-inch MAP, 2,400 rpm and 24 gph fuel flow). Patty said the IO-580 was thirsty, but this was ridiculous. Fortunately, the mixture came way back without the EGT going above 1,200 degrees, and the fuel flow settled down to about 17 or 18 gph. The ASI sat firmly at the top of the green arc—158 knots—affirming that this was a fast, overpowered hot rod. The wing fuel had to be burned out, so little attention was spent trying to lean to an ideal mixture setting.

I started with some mild, smooth acro: aileron rolls, barrel rolls, a loop and a wingover. The ability to sustain G was phenomenal, and the G squeeze lasted much longer than in the S2A. The over-the-top maneuvers peaked at more than 1,000 feet above their entry altitudes and felt effortlessly liquid, especially compared to the Pitts. All this at a medium cruise setting of between 20 and 24 inches of MAP—and with wing fuel! Oh, my...

Because aerobatic pilots have to manipulate the angle of attack with finesse and accuracy, I thought a stall or two might be in order. So with the area cleared, power came to idle and I eased the stick back. The airplane is slick enough that the pitch rate was too fast, resulting in a climb. When it finally let go at less than 60 KIAS, the airflow was plainly audible as it detached from the canopy. It sounded like a breeze whispering through bedsheets on a clothesline. The wing behaved well enough that it maintained aileron control. I added power—10 inches MAP—and put it into a 40-degree left bank. It flew at 60 to 65 KIAS. Throttle was forward to 24 squared and the nose up to 40-plus degrees. When it stalled in this configuration, the airplane had more than enough rudder to maintain directional control. Easing the nose down slightly got the Extra flying again. The power-on stall had netted more than 1,500 feet.

More positive G maneuvers followed; loops, rolls, barrels, modified half-Cubans and reverse half-Cubans, and wingovers (90 and 180 degrees of bank) just kept flowing. The power remained between 20 and 24 inches and the prop at 2,400 rpm; still the airplane gained altitude. A full-deflection aileron roll was next flown in an effort to track the roll rate. After four or five linked rolls, I couldn’t trust my mental timing, but the roll rate was easily 300 to 360 degrees per second. Even with partial power and the heavy fuel load, we were soon at 5,000 feet.

ATC called us out as traffic to another aircraft. I held an orbit at first, then settled on a straight course roughly east-bound. I still couldn’t find the traffic, and the other airplane didn’t see me either. (Two-dimensional thinking wasn’t working.) Full power, pitch up for a climb and the Extra went from 5,000 to 6,000 feet in well under a minute. Just then, we spotted each other with more than adequate clearance.

After a few more maneuvers, it was time to head back for landing. Power was back to 16 to 17 inches for the descent and the traffic pattern. Upon reaching the abeam point on the downwind, the throttle came back even further, and a descending turn began. Between modulating the power and manipulating the turn, we arrived over the numbers and flared to the landing attitude. There was lots of control authority in all three axes. Some ratcheting showed in pitch and, to a lesser extent, in yaw—my problem, not the plane’s. But the touchdown was anticlimactic, just as in the Extras and Sukhois I’ve flown before. Aircraft in this class all seem to have great ground manners.

I did two more landings, and found that with the throttle at idle, the plane came down as steeply as the S2A—maybe more so. (There’s massive drag in that prop.) The nose was higher than the Pitts’ landing attitude, but without the top wing, there was the illusion of better visibility. The crosswind drifted us right of center, but that was again my fault and not the airplane’s.

Lots of information in only 42 minutes!

Flight Two: Subjective Handling Review
The second flight was less formal; its purpose was to get a subjective feel for the control, handling and authority of this bad girl. But first a baseline comparison was necessary, so it was off to fly the Pitts. I chose a simple sequence that was also familiar—the 2006 IAC Sportsman Knowns:

• Shark’s tooth
• Immelmann
• One-turn upright spin
• Reverse shark’s tooth
• Slow roll
• Half-Cuban eight
• Loop
• Hammerhead
• Two-point slow roll
• Aerobatic turn, 270

This sequence normally required around 1,000 feet to fly in the S2A, the big loser being the spin—no way to make up the altitude once the little biplane was through that. On the other hand, it didn’t cost more altitude after the spin, either.

Again flying at less than full throttle (25-squared, I believe), the Extra showed her “overpowered” side by gaining back the altitude lost in the spin and then gaining a bit more. The maneuvers felt easier and less rushed, even though the increased speed gobbled up the box faster than the S2A. Years ago, Patty told me about her first Extra 230. She said flying monoplanes after biplanes seemed like “moving through a fluid,” making things effortless and maintaining energy throughout figures. I certainly found that to be true of the 300S.

The time in the vertical was sublime. Not only did the airplane have much better vertical penetration than the Pitts, but it possessed a much superior “hang time” as well. The pitch control across the tops, even in the tight shark’s tooth, was more than adequate. The roll rate off the Immelmann was quick and crisp. The loop was large, the hammerhead delightful and the roll rates rapier-swift. All-in-all, there was excellent control that made the sequence seem much easier to fly.

Flight Three: In The Box
I wanted to fly two additional, familiar sequences to again compare the performance with my Pitts and to let me evaluate this airplane against some “known territory.”

I did some warm-up maneuvers first. The wing fuel was finally gone, so I got to quantify the vertical performance. From 185 knots at 6 G’s at the pull, the altimeter showed 2,000 feet of vertical. Increasing that to the 220-knot red line at 6.5 G’s yielded 2,500 feet AGL before a quick hammerhead.

The first sequence was the proposed 2007 Intermediate sequence, which includes such maneuvers as an Immelmann with a two-point roll on top, a snap roll, a hammerhead with a 1⁄4 roll on the upline and a shark’s tooth with a two-point roll on the 45-degree downline. (I found this routine fun to fly.)

My personal solo sequence usually includes eight minutes of 29 air show maneuvers. Rather than a list of figures, let me say that overall, I was impressed with how easy the routine was to fly in the monoplane. While it’s all I can do to squeeze this sequence out of the S2A, the 300S left me with enough surplus energy to spontaneously add rolls here and there. The “set time” between maneuvers, or between segments of the maneuvers themselves, was much longer. This, in turn, made the rhythm of the sequence less hectic and more deliberate. The contrast between the Pitts and the Extra was the difference between work and play.

Then, for fun, I flew spontaneous figures as the plane moved through the aerobatic box. If the altitude got low, I used a maneuver that gained it. If the speed was high, I was able to draw long up-lines or perform multiple snap rolls on top. With the capability of the 300S, it was easy to string a sequence together that utilized each and every corner of the box in an ebb and flow. All in all, it was a great way to end our brief time together. The landing even worked out well.
Is this 300S a bad girl? Yeah. But is she “girly”? Let’s see...electrically adjusted rudder pedals? Girly. Rudder pedal stirrups? Not girly. Autopilot turn coordinator—with no autopilot? Girly. Blinding control response? Not girly. Weather strike finder? Girly. All-attitude military-style mini-horizon gyro? Not girly.

If this plane were a woman, she’d wear black leather and ride a Harley. She could bench-press 250. If you’re nice to her, she might show you her tattoo; if you’re not nice, she might just punch you in the face.

So it would be worth your while to treat her well and learn her ways. She’ll respond to respectful handling and repay you in kind. She may be “bad,” she may be a “girl,” but she’s definitely not girly. She’s all woman, all business and worth every minute.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Ovation3: Reaching For 200

Mooney’s new Ovation3 pushes the cruise-speed battle closer to 200 knots—without a turbocharger

By Bill Cox

Photos By James Lawrence

On the face of it, retractable gear seems almost an ideal solution to the problem of making an airplane fly faster. The whole idea is to reduce drag and increase cruise; cleaning up the underwing accomplishes that mission, though with varying levels of success.

Some models realize as much as a 10% speed improvement, others a little less. The Cessna Skylane RG enjoys a 14-knot advantage over the stiff-legged model, as does the Cardinal RG over the stock Cardinal. Piper’s Lance outruns the down-and-welded Cherokee Six 300 by 12 knots, and the original 180 hp Arrow typically enjoys a 15-knot advantage over the Archer.

Retractable gear doesn’t hold all the aces, however. There are some
trade-offs necessary to realize the benefits of putting the wheels to bed. In contrast to well-faired, fixed-gear airplanes, retractable gear can introduce a variety of compromises; for example, there may be reduced ground stability, greater complexity, additional empty weight, higher maintenance costs, increased pilot workload, reduced structural integrity and less wing space for fuel.

In the normally aspirated class, manufacturers such as Diamond, Columbia and Cirrus have proven that by doing their aerodynamic homework, they can field quick, fixed-gear singles, sometimes capable of matching the best efforts of the retractable competition.

Of course, none of this has escaped Mooney Airplane Company, builder of perhaps the most iconic retractables in the industry. Mooney’s two tentative ventures into fixed-gear models, the Aircoupe/Cadet and the Master, were dismal failures. The Kerrville, Texas, company correctly concluded that it should concentrate on doing what it does best—building the world’s fastest, most efficient, single-engine, piston airplanes.

That title has been in question for the last two years. Columbia Aircraft offered the turbocharged Columbia 400 and claimed that it was the new speed champ. Arguably, Mooney reassumed the title late last year with the new Acclaim, a 280 hp version of the Bravo with a new Continental TSIO-550G engine out front, small winglets on the tips and a number of other less significant changes.

This left the normally aspirated Ovation2 to deal with the Cirrus SR22-G3 and the Columbia 350. Certainly, one of the quickest and easiest methods of increasing the knot count was simply more horsepower.

By itself, horsepower is probably the least efficient method for improving cruise speed, but it can offer some peripheral benefits, such as better climb, shorter runway requirements and, in some cases, improved high-altitude performance. Although horsepower alone does generate more speed, the relationship is far from proportionate.

In this case, Mooney borrowed a page from Cirrus by adopting an STC’d mod rather than expending the huge amounts of money normally required to recertify an airplane. Working with Midwest Mooney of Flora, Ill., holder of the power upgrade STC, Mooney bumped power on the Ovation from 280 to 310 hp. That’s, perhaps, only fair since it’s the rating of the same Continental IO-550G engine used in both the Cirrus and Columbia applications. Mooney has effectively streamlined production by adopting the Continental 550 for all three models.

In fact, the IO-550 engine, in both normally aspirated and turbocharged trim, is rapidly finding favor with more and more aircraft manufacturers. Columbia, Cirrus, Beech and now Mooney have embraced the 550 as their standard piston powerplant.

I flew a ferry-time-only Ovation3 with Lee Uecker, Mooney’s new regional sales representative for California. His company, curiously named California Mooney, is based in Santa Maria, halfway up the West Coast, and Uecker agreed to bring the airplane down to Long Beach for a few hours of fun and editorial investigation.

Though I’m far from an expert on the Ovation, I have more than a passing acquaintance with the type. Back in the ’90s, I delivered about a dozen M20Rs overseas, logging about 600 hours in the process. One went to Durban, South Africa, one to Athens, Greece, and I delivered the other 10 (along with two Bravos and a pair of MSEs) to Graham Lowry-Jones, then Mooney distributor for Australia. Most deliveries Down Under went to Bankstown in Sydney, though a few were scattered around to Melbourne, Dubbo and Adelaide.

Fortunately, my flight with Uecker didn’t involve a 110-gallon tank in the rear seat or a 2,200 nm ferry flight. Instead, we spent a pleasant afternoon driving the plane down the California coast to San Diego for Mexican food and we took a circuitous course back to Long Beach in time for dinner.

The standard Ovation was an excellent climber, but with 30 additional horsepower under the bonnet, the new Ovation3 offers even better ascent. As you might expect, climb performance is nearly always the first beneficiary of more power. With two folks aboard and three-quarters fuel in the tanks, a typical load, Uecker and I leaped out of Long Beach at an initial 1,200 fpm, all the more impressive considering that density altitude at sea level was 2,300 feet. Service ceiling is a tall 20,000 feet, so you should see good climb even at density altitudes above 10,000 feet.

It’s unlikely I’ll ever need to fly an Ovation across an ocean at 900
pounds over gross again, but I’ll bet the new airplane would climb away with even greater ease than the Ovation2s I delivered in the ’90s.

Of course, the overriding question remains—how fast is it? Turbocharged airplanes punched through the 200-knot barrier long ago, but normally aspirated models have been challenged to fly much quicker than 185 knots. The original 1994 Ovation boosted cruise to the neighborhood of 190 knots, and the later Cirrus SR22 and Columbia 350 scored close to those numbers six years later.

Without benefit of thin air in the flight levels, however, the 200-knot ideal remains a major aerodynamic challenge. (Even the Comanche 400 with, you guessed it, 400 hp on the nose, could manage only about 185 knots.) Now, Mooney has upped the ante a step closer to that ideal.

We had a hot day with a typical Los Angeles inversion on the day of the test flight, so temperatures were well above standard for the bottom two vertical miles. I high-jumped to 9,500 feet over the Catalina Channel and let the airplane accelerate for several minutes. After speed had stabilized, TAS worked out to 188 knots at a density altitude of 12,300 feet. That was obviously far above optimum height, equal to about 55% power, so we began reducing the cruise altitude 1,000 feet at a time in search of the magic max cruise height.

Seventy-five percent altitude worked out to an unusually low 5,500 feet where the temperature was still a surprising 30 degrees C. That generated a density altitude of 8,400 feet and a max true airspeed of 194 knots. Mooney’s spec is 197 knots under ideal conditions, which we most definitely didn’t have on the day of my flight.

In other words, at this writing, the Ovation3 would appear to be the world’s fastest, normally aspirated, piston, production single. Period. Now, if Mooney can come up with a few aerodynamic tweaks, it just may have the first normally aspirated, piston single to break 200 knots at cruise.

The race isn’t always to the fastest, however. My transpacific experience suggests the basic Ovation is capable of remarkable efficiency up high at 55%, about 165 knots on 12.5 gph, and with slightly more horsepower and a little more altitude, the Ovation3 will probably do even better. On those 7,000 nm Santa Barbara-to-Sydney ferry trips in the Ovations, I carried the standard 89 gallons in the wings, 110 gallons in the aft ferry tank and 30 gallons in the copilot tank. At 15 gph, I had just over 15 hours’ endurance at an average 180 knots cruise.

Pulled back to 55%, I could run an easy 165 to 170 knots for 17 hours’ endurance. (Thank you, God, for never requiring me to fly that long.) That made the Ovation the second most efficient airplane I’d ever ferried. (First was the Mooney MSE.) In light wind conditions, I typically arrived in Honolulu with a solid 3.5 hours’ reserve, again second best only to the MSE.

The new Ovation3 boosts standard fuel from 89 to 102 gallons and offers an option that pushes total capacity to a staggering 130 gallons. In theory, this extends the Ovation3’s range to more than 1,500 nm. That’s New Orleans to Los Angeles or Miami to Minneapolis. Talk about seven-league boots.

Of course, as you may have already guessed, you can carry a string quartet of people or copious fuel, but not both. The upgrade from 280 to 310 hp doesn’t cost you any extra empty weight, because the engine is essentially the same, only less derated. Useful load on the demonstrator was 1,002 pounds, so payload with a full 102-gallon service amounts to 390 pounds, two pilots plus baggage. Increase fuel to the optional 130 gallons, and you’d have to settle for about 220 paying pounds.

Okay, that isn’t necessarily such a bad thing when you consider that many pilots fly Mooneys alone or with only one other person aboard. Still, if you must aviate with the standard 680 pounds of people in the buckets, you’ll need to limit fuel to about 50 gallons, two hours plus reserve, as long as most groups of four can stand each other, anyway.

That’s not because there’s anything claustrophobic about the Ovation3’s cabin. The size of the Mooney cockpit has been unfairly criticized for years. It measures 43.5 inches wide at the elbows by 44.5 inches tall, and that’s better than the old F33A Bonanza’s enclosure, often held up as a paragon of aeronautical virtue. (The straight-tailed Bonanzas were fast, wonderful-handling airplanes, but their cabins were more than a little horizontally challenged.) Conversely, both the Columbia and Cirrus models are at least 48 inches wide, and a comparable measure tall.

Mooney has embraced the Garmin G1000 as standard equipment on the Ovation3, and the bottom line is $469,000. Actually, that’s more accurately the top line. You can still add such options as Stormscope, SkyWatch, TKS ice protection, air-conditioning, the Monroy long-range tanks, oxygen and a chandelier. Load the airplane with all those options and you’ll be pushing $600,000. You’ll also wind up with a payload of less than 200 pounds.

And who cares. You’ll be able to blaze by everything else in the sky fitted with only one piston engine and no turbo. That alone ought to be worth something.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Get The Balance Right

If you think weight and balance are boring and unimportant, you need to read the following.

By Bill Cox

It was 1985, and I was refueling a Cessna 425 Conquest I at Tenerife in the Canary Islands on my way to Johannesburg, South Africa. I’d instructed the fueler to fill the wing tanks first, then begin topping the three 110-gallon internal ferry tanks starting with the front tank. I turned away to fill out the necessary paperwork, heard the pump running for a few minutes and as I finished the fuel request, heard a sickening crunch behind me.

I turned around to discover that my big Cessna turboprop twin had become a taildragger. The airplane had fallen back onto its tailcone, crushing the tail tiedown ring up into the aluminum and suspending the nosewheel high in the air. The fueler was still standing precariously on the airplane’s airstair bottom clamshell, its aft lip now resting against the ramp. He was holding the fuel hose in his hand, obviously confused by what had just happened.

It was all too obvious. He’d climbed up onto the airstair and begun refueling the first tank he saw, in this case, the aft ferry tank. With wing fuel well down and the three ferry tanks empty, the result was inevitable. Loading 730 pounds into the aft tank with so little in the front containers was more than the CG could handle.

It was my fault, of course. The young man actually doing the fueling spoke little English, and his supervisor hadn’t translated my instructions on how to fuel the airplane. On many delivery flights, we often fuel the ferry tanks ourselves to make certain there are no errors. I’d been complacent by counting on someone else to do it right.

Most weight-and-balance problems aren’t that dramatic, but many pilots are aware that improper balance can be deadly. Overloading is a no-no as well, but it’s usually more of a venial rather than a cardinal sin. Usually.

The airplane doesn’t know that it’s over the maximum allowable gross weight and may not manifest any noticeable differences in handling or performance until the overgross condition reaches about 5% to 10%, 150 to 300 pounds on a typical single. At that level, climb can become sluggish, service ceiling is reduced, stall speed rises and the airplane may lose five to 10 knots or more in cruise.

The heaviest I’ve flown above the limit was in a Beech Duke I ferried back and forth to Amman, Jordan and Abu Dhabi, UAE, a half-dozen times in the ’80s. Topped off with ferry fuel, the airplane was about 2,000 pounds over gross. Fortunately, the Duke handled the weight reasonably well because the ferry tanks were mounted at stations in the cabin that kept the extra fuel well forward. Still, the weight had a pronounced effect on all flight parameters. The Duke demanded at least half again its normal runway requirement (which was already substantial), lost at least half its normal climb and suffered an initial 30 knots to the heavy load, slowly accelerating to its normal speed at the end of the flight.

Flying overweight can present more problems than simply performance and handling, however, even if it’s only 100 pounds. Normal-category aircraft are certified for a maximum positive G-loading of 3.8. To use the simplest possible example, a 2,000-pound gross weight aircraft is approved for a G-load equivalent to roughly a 7,600-pound load (3.8x2,000). (Ultimate load is theoretically 1.5 times that, or 5.6 G’s, but that’s another story.) Increase the weight of the aircraft to 3,000 pounds, and allowable G-tolerance drops to approximately 2.5 (7,600/3,000). Double the weight to 4,000 pounds, and the G-limit is a mere 1.9.

Believe it or not, such a heavy loading isn’t unheard of. Back in the ’50s and ’60s, Max Conrad, a famous ocean flyer and former contributor to this magazine, flew his Comanche from Casablanca, Morocco, to Los Angeles, Calif., with an amazing 104% overload.

Under the best circumstances, a little extra weight may not present the problems you might imagine, though G-loads inside severe weather such as thunderstorms may easily reach destructive levels, no matter what the aircraft’s weight. Back in the last century, I installed a G-meter in a Globe Swift and was amazed at how little G was generated during what I regarded as moderate turbulence. In those days, I flew back and forth to the Reno Air Races up California’s Owens Valley. The bumps seemed spectacular, sometimes alternately slamming me into the seat, then bouncing charts, luggage and occasionally people off the ceiling. Before I installed the G-meter, I assumed the positive loads were three to four G’s. After I installed it, I was surprised to learn I was experiencing only 1.5 to 2 G’s maximum. In the four years I flew the Swift with the G-meter, I never registered more than 2 G’s. Although turbulence may not be the problem you imagined in terms of excess G-loading, it shouldn’t be ignored.

Overstressing the airframe in flight isn’t the only risk. Several times, I’ve been forced to return and land shortly after takeoff with a major fuel overload. The need to touch down with a load that’s 1,000 to 2,000 pounds over the limit gives you a strong incentive to grease it on. If you don’t do it right, the stress on the shock struts, brakes and aircraft center section can be well beyond the limits, resulting in destructive forces. I once saw a Cessna 402 parked on the ramp at Honolulu with the gear punched half way up into the wings from a poorly executed overweight landing.

For that very reason, many airplanes are saddled with maximum landing weights that may be several hundred pounds below the aircraft’s approved takeoff gross. The Piper Mirage has a max takeoff weight of 4,340 pounds and a max landing weight of 4,123 pounds. The majority of aircraft, especially single-engine models, concentrate the bulk of their weight in the fuselage and store their fuel in the wings, so another occasional limitation is “maximum except fuel,” a restriction on the amount of weight that may be concentrated in the aircraft center section. These limits usually apply to heavier twins. For the average pilot, most of these paperwork limits will rarely prove to be operational problems.

None of the above is to suggest that weight isn’t important, and it most definitely shouldn’t be construed as suggesting you should violate your airplane’s approved gross weight, not by one pound or 100, much less thousands as delivery pilots do regularly (under an FAA ferry permit). In addition to the obvious possible certificate action, insurance companies might use a known overgross condition to deny coverage in the event of an accident. The simple fact is that additional weight isn’t as liable to get you into serious trouble as is an unbalanced CG.

For that very reason, aircraft with ferry tanks installed are configured to keep the extra weight inside the envelope. Some models become less stable when you load them heavy and near the forward or aft limit. (To offer the pilot the option of carrying more fuel on an especially long leg, some ferry companies used to employ the expedient of installing 55-gallon drums with a placard on the aft tank that stipulated, “Maximum capacity 55 gallons, maximum allowable capacity 20 gallons” or whatever the appropriate number was to maintain a CG within limits. This left it up to a pilot concerned about strong headwinds to exceed the limit if he dared. No one ever said it was smart or legal, but if the winds weren’t cooperating, it often was the only way to get the job done.)

Senecas, Bonanzas and Malibus sometimes need a tailstand in ferry configuration to keep them from falling over on their tails during fueling (like my Conquest in Tenerife). A Seneca often will rest so low in the rear during taxi with all ferry tanks full that it will drag belly-mounted antennas on the asphalt. Load too much weight too far aft in a Malibu, and you may induce a very slight bending moment in the fuselage, not enough to see but enough to make it difficult to close the tight-fitting door.

I once escorted a pilot with a Malibu JetPROP on a round-trip voyage across the Atlantic from Monterey, Calif., to Berlin, Germany. The ferry tank wasn’t large, but it had been beautifully installed in the worst possible place: far back below the rear seat. The result was we had to carry a half-dozen precut, plywood tailstands to allow us to climb aboard, get the door closed, start the engine and taxi away without problems. This, of course, left the tailstand lying on the ramp. When we came back thru Iceland and Greenland, the rampers had saved our tailstands for us.

Another common problem for some airplanes in normal configuration is a tank location that moves the CG aft as fuel is burned off. Bonanzas store most of their fuel in the wing’s leading edge, a station that’s well forward of the typical CG location. This means, by definition, the CG moves aft as fuel is burned off. If you depart at max gross weight with full fuel in most four-place Bonanzas, the CG will slowly move toward the rear as you fly, and it may be beyond the aft limit if the flight is more than an hour or two. This can lead to unusual sensitivity in pitch and, in the worst case, a tendency to phugoid (or porpoise) on landing.

For that reason, you need to make two CG calculations for some Bonanzas, one for takeoff and another for landing. A standard rule for many Bonanza pilots is to keep the heaviest passengers as far forward as possible to prevent the CG from moving aft out of limits.

But don’t overdo it. Load too much weight too far forward, and the airplane may run out of both down elevator and trim and be difficult or impossible to flare. Any flap application may only exacerbate the problem, most often tending to pitch the nose farther down.

Conversely, a CG that’s near the limit isn’t always a bad thing. All airplanes benefit from an aft CG in terms of cruise speed. According to Jim LoPresti of LoPresti Speed Merchants in Vero Beach, Fla., loading the airplane as far aft as possible (but within the allowable limit) cuts drag by reducing the download on the tail, an airfoil designed to fly down as the wing flies up. This doesn’t mean you should fly with any more weight than you have to, by the way. On some airplanes, Jim commented, the difference between a max aft load and a more forward balance point can be three knots.

Many pilots, this one included, feel the Piper Cherokee Six and Saratoga models fly better with a more aft CG. Like the Malibu, the Six/Saratoga offers a nose baggage compartment to help balance the load. Piper is the only manufacturer of piston singles I can think of that provides such a hedge.

If there’s a message here somewhere, it may be that violating either weight or balance limits is a bad idea. Flying overweight can compromise all parameters of performance, and operating the aircraft outside the balance point can result in control problems that may be impossible to counter.

We like to think of flying as a relatively safe occupation/pastime, and it is, but only if you live by the limitations that some very smart folks have learned by the best- or perhaps worst-possible method: trial and error.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Myth Bustin'

Exploring 20 Aviation Myths

By Budd Davisson

Right up front I should post a very clear caveat: Myths within any technological field almost always have a grain of, if not truth, at least enough fact that they have some ardent supporters who swear by them. (They “know” it’s true and can prove it because a friend of an uncle knew someone who had it happen to a cousin.)

Complicating the discussion even further, some so-called myths aren’t actually myths: They’re differences of opinion. This means some of you are going to read the following and immediately shout “Aha!” before firing up the e-mail machine. That’s cool. Bring it on. There’s nothing we like more than a little reader interaction.

Myth 1 If you make a sudden turn from upwind to downwind, the airplane can stall.
The theory is that if you suddenly turn from a headwind to a tailwind, the airplane will see a reduction of airspeed and there’s the possibility it will fall from the sky and smite the ground. Unfortunately, this subject will never die, nor will it ever be conclusively proved or disproved to the satisfaction of all concerned.

There are two distinct schools of thought on the matter: One says it’s pure bunk because the airplane is like a canoe in a moving stream, and it doesn’t change speed (airspeed) in relation to the water, only in relation to the river bank (groundspeed). However, there’s a very verbal school led by crop dusters, among others, that says, if you’re low and make a tight turn from headwind to tailwind, the inside wing (which is lower than the outside wing) will experience a shear effect because of the horizontal wind gradient: At ground level, the wind is zero, but it builds up to the measured velocity at some height, possibly as high as 100 feet. So, if the airplane is in a steeply banked turn, the airspeed on the two wings is different during the turn to downwind and there’s no “canoe effect” because the airplane can’t accelerate quickly enough to balance out the difference. Is this true? This one we can’t answer because only those who operate in the specified environment can report their findings. So, the myth is neither busted, nor verified.

Myth 2 You can buy a fixer-upper airplane and save money by restoring it yourself.
This is possible, but will only work if the following are true:

• The engine is far enough from TBO that it shouldn’t need work for 400 to 500 hours’ minimum.
• The airframe has no damage or corrosion.
• You have a friendly A&P willing to inspect and sign off on your work.
• You have the appropriate skills to do the work required.
• You have a workshop/hangar in which to do the work.

This definitely won’t work if you have to hire someone to do any major work other than shooting the final coat of paint (you do all the prep).

Myth 3 Tailwheel airplanes require much more skill and are inherently dangerous.
False, busted, not true! It’s called “conventional gear” for a reason: It was the standard configuration through most of aviation’s history and is easily conquered with six to eight hours of dual instruction. What’s true, however, is that it can’t be flown with the same lackadaisical approach to aviating that the nosewheel (unconventional gear) allows. It’s also true that the majority of history’s most interesting airplanes have had tailwheels. Wouldn’t want to miss out on all of them, would you?

Myth 4 Extending flaps while turning base or final can cause the airplane to stall.
Busted! This is true only if you pay no attention to the nose attitude or airspeed. Lowering the flaps causes a nose-up pitch in some airplanes and, if it’s left unchecked and the airspeed is ignored, the speed will degrade and you’ll have a problem. Nevertheless, the same thing is true of lowering flaps straight and level. If, however, normal techniques are used and airspeed is maintained, there will be no problem. So, this myth’s only true if you make it true.

Myth 5 A few hours of aerobatic training will save you if flipped upside down on final.
A huge “maybe” applies here. A little aerobatic training breaks the urge to pull when things go wrong, but, if you’re actually upside down on final, it’s going to take more than a few hours of training to save your butt. Plus, most airplanes aren’t capable of the required push-and-roll maneuver, although they’ll come close. If you’ve had akro training, however, as the airplane is in the process of being upset, you’ll see the roll rate building and you’ll instantly go to full opposite control deflection to stop it, so you won’t get upside down in the first place. That’s the real advantage of aerobatic training: It makes you more aware of attitude changes and more willing to use full control. Plus, it makes you more precise, and it’s a helluva lot of fun.

Myth 6 Short-field approaches require hanging the airplane on the prop from a mile out.
Wrong! Short-field approaches require you to control the speed, gradually slowing and transferring glideslope control to the throttle as the speed decreases, so you arrive over the threshold at a predetermined speed (stall plus five knots) with your touchdown point picked out. Dragging it in is dangerous. Besides, it’s better to roll off the end of the runway at 5 mph than to land 10 feet short (old bush-pilot proverb).

Myth 7 Flying approaches at higher approach speeds is safer.
Busted! Any speed above or below POH recommendations wastes altitude and carries its own disadvantages. A fast approach means you’re going to float longer and leave more runway behind on touchdown. In addition, while you’re floating, the crosswind has more time to mess with you and the extra speed promotes ballooning, a popular cause of landing accidents.

Myth 8 2,000 feet is a short runway.
Busted! According to their POH’s, the average general aviation airplane has a landing roll of 500 to 750 feet, and this includes everything from C-152s to Bonanzas. That being the case, what makes a 2,000-foot runway short is the amount left behind on touchdown. Hit the runway in the first 600 feet, and you’re in fat city.

Myth 9 Pumping brakes is more effective and easier on brakes than steady pressure.
Busted! Pumping brakes rather than using a steady pressure goes back to the old days of drum brakes, which loved to heat up and fade. Disk brakes don’t. If, however, the runway is wet or slick, gently pumping or a very light touch may be necessary to keep from locking them up.

Myth 10 Wear lighter-than-normal shoes for increased rudder sensitivity.
Sort of busted! Wearing super-thin-soled shoes can offer you more feel of the rudder, but it’s a different feel than normal, so you have nothing to compare it to. It’s more important to make sure the heels of your sneakers are not the fat, shock-absorbing kind that extend back behind your heel and give an offset pivot point.

Myth 11 A calm day is safer/easier than a crosswind day.
Mostly busted! Although a calm day is definitely easier, it’s safer only if your crosswind technique stinks. With the exception of 90-degree crosswinds, there’s always a component down the nose that’s making your groundspeed slower. Since practically everything having to do with landing is a function of the square of the speed, knocking off a few knots definitely makes the landing both safer and easier.

Myth 12 Power-off landings shock cool engines.
Busted! This is somewhat controversial. Larger general aviation engines may have a problem with power-off shock cooling in approach, but these are usually airplanes most people don’t land power-off anyway. The amount of time an airplane spends cooling off during a power-off approach is short and the temperature lost is small. Long, power-off descents from altitude, however, can do some serious shock cooling.

Myth 13 GPS is all that’s needed for cross-country flying.
Busted! From a practical point of view, you’d be placing your entire enchilada in the hands of the GPS and, should it fail (dead batteries, meteor hits one of the satellites, etc.), you’re in deep guano. So a map, compass and course line should always accompany the GPS. None of them have batteries to run down.

Myth 14 Ice only occurs in clouds.
Wrong (although usually right). Ice is found wherever moisture and freezing temperatures occur. Usually that moisture is visible as haze or cloud mist, but it’s not always clearly visible. Moisture can be hanging in the mist just under an overcast and, if it’s in a supercooled condition and you fly your chilly airplane through it, you’ll pick up ice almost instantaneously.

Myth 15 Stall-spin accidents always start with a nose-high attitude.
Totally wrong and then some! A stall only requires that the critical angle of attack be exceeded, and that can happen going straight up or straight down under certain conditions. On many airplanes, in a normal, flaps-down approach, it’s quite easy to exceed the critical angle with the nose below the horizon. This is especially true at full flaps. If you have the ball well off-center at the same time, you not only stall, but can also possibly spin. Both mistakes are totally avoidable with basic flying techniques: Monitor the nose attitude/airspeed and keep the ball in the center.

Myth 16 Running up your engine on the ground once a month prevents rust.
Busted! Under normal conditions, it’s nearly impossible to get an engine hot enough on the ground to cook the moisture out of the oil and drive it out of the breather. You usually can’t pull high enough power settings on the ground long enough to get the temps up to true operating temperature, especially on cool days. Generally, it takes at least two laps around the pattern to get the temps high enough to even begin to clean out the engine. Yet another excuse to go flying: “But honey, if I don’t go flying, the engine will rust.”

Myth 17 On takeoff, it’s safer to leave it on the ground until fast, and then rotate off.
Busted! This is wrong, if for no other reason, because the definition of “fast” is nebulous and it means the pilot is deciding when the conditions are right for the airplane to fly, rather than letting it make the decision. Plus, it’s ugly aviating. Pick the small wheel (whichever end it’s on) off the ground, and hold a slight positive angle of attack throughout the takeoff run and the airplane will leave the ground when the conditions are good for both a clean liftoff and a positive rate of climb. It compensates for everything from weight to density altitude.

Myth 18 Power-off landings are unnecessarily difficult.
Busted! Yes, power-off landings require that the pilot develop both the judgment to know where his or her airplane is going to power off, plus the skills to control the glideslope without power. If the engine ever quits, however, these might be handy skills to have, don’t you think?

Myth 19 Only licensed mechanics can do mechanical work on an airplane.
Busted. 14 CFR Part 43, Appendix A, Section (c)(1-32) “Preventive Maintenance” offers a comprehensive list of maintenance items that can be performed by the holder of a private-pilot license on an airplane he or she owns. The key is that the work done can’t require the disassembly of any major structural or operating component. The list includes everything from changing oil and tires to doing brakes, as well as a myriad of other mechanical tasks that many assume can only be done by a licensed mechanic.

Myth 20 Once you fall off the “step,” you must increase power or lose altitude to regain it.
Although you’ll get a lot of folks to say otherwise, this is busted! The so-called “step”—where an airplane falls out of the proper attitude like a speedboat falling off the step when the speed decreases—doesn’t exist. It’s a true aerodynamic myth. Don’t, however, get it confused with either the “drag bucket,” which some airfoils exhibit, or being on the “backside of the power curve”—these are different phenomena and actually do exist.

What’s very true about the “step” is that some very subtle pilot-technique issues can make it appear to exist. If an airplane is given enough time, and the angle of attack isn’t played with, it will always accelerate to the speed of which it is capable for a given amount of power. In aircraft with lower power-to-weight ratios, however, or aircraft in approach configuration (slow and dirty), it’s easy to put just the tiniest amount of backpressure on it and cause the airplane to gradually slow down, while gaining what appears to be zero altitude. The trick then is to gradually release that backpressure at the rate the airplane accelerates without losing altitude at the same time. Losing altitude to get the speed back is cheating, but for some airplanes, much easier.

Considering that aviation is really nothing more than a mechanical activity that’s governed by the laws of physics, you’d think there would be no myths or points of disagreement. Get any two pilots in a room, however, and they’ll find something to disagree about.

Monday, August 27, 2007

10 Undervalued Classics

Sometimes you really do get more than you pay for.

By Budd Davisson

Given the way that prices on just about everything keep going up, it’s hard to believe there really is such a thing as an “undervalued” airplane. But such a thing does exist, especially when you look back at the older classics.

There are several reasons the marketplace has decided a given airplane isn’t worth as much as its seemingly similar brethren. Part of this is based on fact, some on hearsay and even more on the unquantifiable, sometimes irrational, “logic” that seems to permeate aviation. For a nuts-and-bolts type of community, emotion often plays a surprisingly large role in the decision-making process. Factors that influence an older airplane’s value follow:

It’s Not A Recognizable Brand. If there’s a “Cessna” or “Piper” in an airplane’s name, it usually, but not always, removes it from the undervalued category. A name brand practically guarantees popularity.

It’s Got An Unpopular Airframe Structure. There’s nothing like fabric or wood in a structure to bring down its perceived value in the modern marketplace. Take, for example, the Bellanca Viking. It can blow the doors off most of its competition, but its fabric and wood features combine with a lack of name recognition to keep its market value at 65% to 75% that of a comparable Bonanza.

It Has A “Reputation.” Some airplanes have a questionable reputation for either handling or mechanical quirks (it’s almost always undeserved). Real or not, however, it keeps the values down.

These kinds of value-limiting factors affect the entire airplane population, old and new, but in the field of postwar classics, there are some definite sleepers that are great, low-cost, entry-level planes. Some you know well, and some you may have never heard of. Still, each represents a good value for the money spent, as long as you pay attention to certain basic details and make the right decisions.

Good Airframe Fabric. If it’s a fabric airplane and the fabric is questionable, pass on it. Unless the asking price is really low and you’re going to do the work yourself, it won’t work out financially. The material to recover something like a Champ costs around $2,200; if you hire someone else to do the work, it’s going to cost $15,000 to $19,000, and that’s often more than the value of the airplane.

A Low- To Mid-Time Engine. The engine should be in the first half of its life, and, more importantly, should have been flown regularly over the last 10 years. Give preference to a regularly flown, higher-time engine over a lower-time engine that’s been sitting around for a few years. This is especially true for Lycomings, which love to rust the rear cam lobe if not flown. Thirty-five hours a year should be about minimum, depending on local humidity. Overhaul costs can run from a low of $9,000 (for a locally done 65 hp Continental) up to $25,000 (for a six-cylinder Lycoming).

Low Airframe Corrosion. Older airplanes, are bound to have a little corrosion or rust, but go through the airplane with mirrors and poke into every nook and cranny to make sure it’s only cosmetic and doesn’t affect structural integrity. Each airplane type has areas of concern that are unique to that type. Contact the type club for that airplane and develop a type-specific inspection list to guide you and the A&P (who’s familiar with the airplane) while conducting the prepurchase inspection.

Buy An Already-Rebuilt Airplane, If Possible. Let someone else take the dollar-hit for restoring/rebuilding an airplane. Make up your mind that, if it’s available, you’re going to buy the best of a given type and pay top dollar for it. At the same time, don’t pay so much that you could buy one of the more popular, mainstream models for the same price.

Buy To Fly Or Fix, Not Resell. It’s easier to get upside down financially with one of these airplanes than with the more popular ones, so buy with the idea of flying the wings off of your plane and enjoying it, not reselling it. Your operation costs will be low and you’ll be getting some inexpensive flying time. But if you plan on getting all of your money out of it, watch what you spend on “fixing it up.” Most airplanes, if well cared for and consistent with the above guidelines, will return all of your purchase price, but the more popular ones are more likely to return the dollars you put into them along the way.

1. AERONCA CHIEF Of the name-brand classics, the Chief has been the slowest to catch up to the value curve. Considering it’s basically Champ wings bolted on a side-by-side (rather than tandem) fuselage, there’s no logic to the huge price differential between the two. (The Chief lags the Champ by a solid 30% or more.) The Chief doesn’t give blazing performance (85 to 90 mph), although the standard 65 hp 11AC Chief (not the 85 hp 11CC Super Chief) still has adequate get-up-and-go. With the Super Chief’s 85 hp, it gets a decided boost and is much more expensive. Because the Chief’s value is lower, you’re likely to run across more questionable examples of the Chief than the Champ as they’ve been allowed to go downhill. It’s better to find a totally restored airplane that costs twice the average Chief price. You’ll realize three times more airplane and less headaches. The airplane has tons of adverse yaw, so be prepared to use your feet, but it’s a pussycat on the ground.

2. AERONCA SEDAN The 15AC Aeronca Sedan is a big airplane. It has a huge, comfortable, well-lit cabin and carries four people with ease (900-pound useful load). It has well-done all-metal wings, although they’re difficult to inspect, so plan on spending some time eyeballing them because lots of Sedans have been sitting derelict for at least part of their lives. If there’s one drawback, it’s that the 145 hp Continental is about 40 hp short of what’s needed for an airplane that size. Still, it’ll give you an honest 110 to 115 mph and a lot of comfort along the way. Its handling is sedate and solid, and it offers excellent runway visibility for a taildragger. In an effort to keep the price down, designers decided not to include flaps. This is too bad, as flaps would make the plane an even better off-airport performer.

3. BELLANCA The older triple-tail Bellancas come in two commonly available versions, the 14-13 with the 150 hp Franklin (14-13-2 with the 165 hp Franklin) and the 14-19 with the 190 hp Lycoming O-435 (six-cylinder). Assuming a more or less straight and clean airframe, they’re surprisingly fast. Typically, however, they’re not as fast in real life as the spec charts would have you believe. Assume 140 mph with the little engine, 145 to 150 mph with the 190 hp. The later airplanes are also a little wider. These planes scare people because of their wooden wings, but the fear is unjustified. On the other hand, they do require that an A&P crawl all over the airplane because the wings don’t like being left out in the open and ignored. The airplanes are delightfully smooth to fly, quick to maneuver and easy on the runway, although they get much of their performance from small cockpit dimensions so they aren’t big-guy airplanes. Both engine types require some specialized knowledge.

4. FUNK Following World War II, Funk aircraft were produced with C-85 engines, but make no mistake, this is a 1930s antique with more or less modern reliability. The cockpit is smallish, and the big control wheels that are mounted on the ends of a T-shaped control column look as if they’re out of an old airliner. This is a “fun” airplane because it’s unconventional yet useful. Plan on 95 to 100 mph cruise at 4.5 gph. It’s one of the least expensive types, but you’ll be dependent on the Funk type club for information: not many mechanics even know it exists.

5. MAULE M-4 JETASEN The original Maule was powered by the same 145 hp Continental that was then (early ’60s) also powering the C-172. Then, after a few years, the horsepower race took off, and the Maule sprouted the big angular tail we’re all so familiar with. The original Jetasens were light, easy-to-fly airplanes. Though they don’t rocket off the runway like their big-engine siblings, they still do fine with four people. In fact, they have nearly the same useful load (approximately 1,000 pounds) as all the later airplanes and more useful load than some, courtesy of their 1,100 pound empty weight (they’re as much as 300 pounds lighter than the newer airplanes). Also, the older, rounded tail looks much better than the later, rectilinear shark fin. The airplane is at least 25% cheaper than the next-larger-engine model and doesn’t give up that much in performance.

6. PIPER TRI-PACER The PA-22 Tri-Pacer continues to be the best bang for the four-place buck in aviation. (Although in the 125/135 hp versions, “four-place” may be stretching the definition because temperature and altitude eat into the plane’s performance when it’s fully loaded. The 150/160 hp versions are much better in those situations.) The airplane was produced throughout the ’50s into the ’60s and is available in everything from “backline-ratty” to “as new” condition. The airplane requires some definite inspection for rust inside the door frames and wing carry-through structure at the bottom of the fuselage. Though it has short wings, the performance is much better than many assume, and it’s an honest 120 to 125 mph airplane, but at a much lower cost than its peer group competitor, the C-172. Metal conversions are available on many Tri-Pacers.

7. PIPER J-4 CUB COUPE The J-4 is the Piper everyone has forgotten about. Okay, so it isn’t postwar, but since it’s mostly a J-3 Cub, and some J-3s were built after the war, I thought I’d include it. The J-4 is a Cub, pure and simple, but with two-abreast seating. In fact, a lot of the major components, like wings, etc., are virtually interchangeable. One notable difference between the two is that the Cub Coupe is much less expensive to acquire than the J-3, which is far from being undervalued. Unlike its competition (such as planes in the Taylorcraft BC series), the J-4’s cockpit isn’t too tight for two new-millennium pilots, and it’s much more comfortable. In fact, the Coupe is actually a very likeable airplane compared to its peer group, though at 75 to 80 mph cruise on four gallons per hour, just about everything is faster. Supposedly more than 1,200 J-4s were produced, but you don’t run across many today. It’s a great-looking airplane with surprisingly good handling.

8. REARWIN/COMMONWEALTH “The what?” you may ask. The Commonwealth Skyranger was another postwar continuation of a prewar design (the Rearwin) and is another of those models that died when the 1946 aviation boom didn’t happen. A tallish, two-place tandem design with surprisingly good handling, it can be bought for a fraction of the cost of a Cub or Champ from the same period. There are the usual caveats about wood spars and fuselage tubing, but at less than five gallons an hour, it’ll give a lot of 100 mph enjoyment for not much money.

9. STINSON 108 The Stinson 108 series offers what are possibly the slickest controls on any certified airplane and a four-place cabin that’s vaguely reminiscent of an old station wagon. In fact, one of them was dubbed the “Station Wagon.” There are four variations (108, -1, -2, -3), but only the 108-3 is visually different from the rest—its huge, upswept fin was necessitated by the 165 hp (versus 150 hp) engine. The Franklin engines generally can’t be supported by your local FBO, but there are plenty of specialty shops for both the airframe and the engine. Give preference to a Lycoming conversion and Cleveland brake conversion. The STCs for the 220 hp Franklin or 230 hp Continental O-470 convert the mild-mannered limo into a serious hot rod. It’ll cruise at 115 to 120 mph, but cleanups and big motors push it closer to 150 mph. Metal conversions are available on many Stinsons.

10. STRAIGHT-TAIL CESSNA 182s Although the 1956-59 straight-tail 182s may appear frumpier than their swept-tail cousins, they give almost identical performance at a fraction of the purchase price. The older airplanes cruise within a few knots of the later models and carry almost as much. For much less money, you get modern performance in a classic package. These are the only undervalued Cessnas in existence, but condition is everything. Check for corrosion and general wear and tear because you can get financially upside down in a hurry fixing lots of little stuff.

Incidentally, while you’ll find lots of these “also rans” in Trade-A-Plane, often the best place to find them is tied down at local airports. As if we need another excuse to go flying!

Sunday, August 26, 2007

From The Editor - Keeping Self-Promises, The Easy Way

By Steven D. Werner

Admit it: how many grand pledges have you made on December 31, but forgotten about on January 1? We realize that if New Year’s resolutions aren’t fun, they’re going to be difficult to keep. In hopes that 2007 will be different, Contributing Editor Budd Davisson offers easy-to-keep resolutions—one for each month—that will challenge you
with new experiences as you develop into a better, safer pilot.

As with anything in aviation, safety comes first. The unfortunate, recent accident involving Yankees pitcher Cory Lidle and his instructor Tyler Stanger demonstrates that box canyon hazards can be found anywhere, not just in the mountains. A “virtual box canyon” can be defined by airspace restrictions, such as those along New York City’s East River. Michael Vivion’s comprehensive article offers safety tips and techniques to practice before maneuvering in confined areas.

A growing number of aircraft manufacturers are incorporating additional safety features into their aircraft. Senior Editor Bill Cox flies the Flight Design CT, a light sport aircraft that comes standard with a ballistic parachute. Not only is the German-built composite aircraft one of the most sophisticated LSAs available, but Bill reports that it also has one of the largest, most comfortable cabins in its class.

And Bill should know all about comfort! He recently ferried a Piper Saratoga II TC for more than 14 hours across the Pacific Ocean. Although he was probably a bit stiff upon delivery, the Saratoga’s spacious cockpit provided a pleasant journey. Flight handling of the 300 hp, turbocharged six-seater is gentle and easy to manage. Bill also loves flying formation with the Saratoga for air-to-air photo sessions, such as the one on this issue’s cover. With the aircraft’s back door removed, the rear-facing seat makes a great platform for our photographers.

We at Plane & Pilot greet each year with hopes for continued growth in aviation. Our resolution to bring you new planes and products for evaluation each month will not be broken. Happy New Year!

Note from Lizzy:

Here was a good article I thought we all should read from January...especially all you pilots out there. Not a bad reminder.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Flight Design CT Best Of The LSAs?

Worth Every Penny

By Bill CoxPhotography
By James Lawrence

Light sport aircraft come in a variety of flavors. If you’re inclined to go traditional, you can opt for the Legend Cub, an upgraded copy of the venerable J-3. At the opposite end of the LSA spectrum, many pilots are selecting the Flight Design CT.

Flight Design’s LSA is a German product constructed in the Ukraine almost entirely from carbon fiber and Kevlar composites, and in many respects, it seems almost antithetical to the whole concept of an LSA, by definition, a minimal, entry-level airplane. Though Flight Design’s airplane complies with all parameters of LSA certification, it’s nevertheless one of the most sophisticated aircraft in the class. It was one of the first LSAs approved by the FAA, and it was granted its certificate at the 2005 Sun ’n Fun air show in Lakeland, Fla.

Apparently, many European pilots have long since acknowledged Flight Design’s talents, as some 600 of the type have been sold in Europe since the company began offering the CT (Composite Technology) in 1998. In fact, the CT has been so successful that Matthias Betsch, president of Flight Design in Echterdingen, Germany, recently announced a 90,000-square-foot expansion to the Ukrainian factory.

Betsch feels the expansion should allow production to double in 2007, with as many as 100 airplanes earmarked for the critical U.S. market. Those will join probably another 100 CTs already operating inside American airspace.

Flight Design USA ( of South Woodstock, Conn., is the United States’ sole importer of the CT aircraft. Owner Tom Peghiny is one of the advisors for the LSA movement in this country. Peghiny also manufactures the very popular FlightStar series of lightweight aircraft, and imports the HKS four-stroke engine.

Sebring Aviation ( in Sebring, Fla., is the Southeast regional distributor, and Sebring’s John Hurst says the airplane has been well received in his area. “It’s a very modern design,” says Hurst, “more reminiscent of a fully certified airplane in many respects. It features a ballistic parachute as standard equipment, offers one of the largest cabins in the class, can easily accommodate two big men and has plenty of power to provide excellent performance.”

Big question first: price? Flyaway list price of the Flight Design CT is $92,900, delivered to the East Coast and ready to fly. That’s a fairly basic airplane with no options, but in this case, basic is reasonably outfitted for day VFR. In addition to the standard BRS emergency parachute, the airplane includes full instrumentation, strobes and position lights, plus three-axis manual trim. More on prices later.

At first sight, the Flight Design CT looks a little unusual, something like an aerodynamic pod suspended beneath graceful wings and a waspish tail. Indeed, the CT has a short ratio of length to wingspan, about 1.37. In contrast, the old Aeronca Champ and J-3 Cub scored more like 1.6.

The Flight Design CT’s wings are a European C180 airfoil, 107 square feet in area with a 13.8% thickness, just under two degrees of dihedral and downturned tips. The airplane uses flaperons that automatically deflect down to improve lift when flaps are deflected to their full 40 degrees. Tail surfaces include a Piper-style all-flying stabilator and a conventional rudder above a small ventral fin.

The CT’s gross weight is 1,320 pounds, the legal limit for an LSA. A typical unequipped empty weight is 646 pounds, so the airplane boasts a useful load of 674 pounds. Even with a full 34 gallons of fuel aboard, the airplane still sports 470 pounds of payload. That translates to a pair of 200-pound pilots and a reasonable allowance for baggage. If passenger and fuel weight will allow, baggage capacity is 110 pounds, with dedicated doors on both sides of the aft fuselage, a nice touch.

You climb aboard the Flight Design through either of two top-hinged doors that fold up against the bottoms of the wings. Despite the LSA designation, which sometimes implies sporty and cramped, there’s nothing compact about this airplane’s cabin. The front office measures a respectable 49 inches across, making it perhaps the widest LSA available. There’s plenty of shoulder, leg and headroom for even a six-foot-tall pilot.

Flight controls and panel layout are compact but conventional. Pitch trim, choke, throttle and brake controls are mounted on the lower, center quadrant, with most other engine and system controls located higher where they’re convenient to both pilots. All electrical switches are spaced across the top of the center console.

The CT employs dual control sticks mounted directly in front of pilot and passenger plus standard rudder bars without differential brakes. A brake T-handle applies equal pressure to both wheels simultaneously.

The CT uses a Rotax 912S for motive force, but this definitely isn’t your great uncle’s Rotax. With the help of a 10.5-to-1 compression ratio, two carburetors and dual electronic ignition, the little, 1,350 cc powerplant churns out 100 hp at a brisk 5,800 rpm. A 2.43 reduction gearing drops the Rotax’s enthusiasm to 2,400 rpm, driving a three-blade, Neuform composite prop. Engine cooling is with both air and liquid, protecting the engine from even the hottest desert temperatures. TBO is 1,500 hours.

One of the nicest nonoperational features of the Rotax is that it’s an extremely lightweight mill, less than 150 pounds installed. That’s a critical quality in an airplane that grosses only 1,320 pounds.

Takeoff performance is better than you might expect, a function of an efficient wing and relatively low power loading. The CT jumps into the air in less than 300 feet and starts uphill with surprising enthusiasm. The Rotax offers 100 hp for the first five minutes, generating a low 13.2 pounds/hp. Compare that to the Cessna 152’s 15.2, a Piper Tomahawk’s 14.9 or a Beech Skipper’s 14.6. Not surprisingly, vertical speed is superior to that of the other three, specifically 960 fpm.

In-flight visibility from the Flight Design CT is reminiscent of a bubble helicopter, with huge side windows that extend forward, a king-size windshield that continues well back into the roof and a large, overhead, Plexiglas skylight. In combination with the smooth, high-revving Rotax and a fairly quiet cabin, the CT’s flight environment is comfortable and inviting.

This little airplane can move, too. Though my flight with Sebring’s John Hurst didn’t allow time for cruise checks, I had little trouble keeping up with a Skyhawk photo ship during the air-to-air shoot. Book spec is for 112 knots at about 4.9 gph, more than acceptable speed with only 100 hp out front. Such brevity means you can plan no-wind cross-country trips over distances of 600 nm with plenty of reserve. Throttled back to 55%, you could easily push that figure out to 700 nm.

Part of the reason for the airplane’s speed may be its efficient, semi-NLF (natural-laminar flow) wing. The airplane offers a high 14-to-1 glide ratio, better than that of most certified airplanes and even most other LSAs.

That slick airfoil also generates enough lift to reduce dirty stall speed to an impressive 39 knots. Such a low no-fly velocity means short-field approaches are possible at speeds as slow as 50 knots. More-normal efforts demand 55 to 60 knots, but the slow approach speeds mean the airplane can use 1,500-foot runways with ease. This is one airplane that can probably jump off in the same or less runway distance that it needs to land.

As mentioned above, base price is $92,900, and while that does buy an operational airplane, it won’t allow you to fly in anything but a non-radio, open-skies environment. If you want an airplane capable of anything more than a fun weekend country bird for uncongested airspace, you’ll need to add a few things. Typical add-ons include an ELT, the night-flight package, leather seats, a panel-mounted Garmin 396, a Becker com and transponder, and a Tru Track Digiflight autopilot. The resulting well-equipped Flight Design CT winds up with a list price just under $110,000. There’s nothing you can buy in certified ranks that has anything like the same talent for anywhere near the price.

The whole point of the LSA market is to offer a simpler, less-expensive alternative to conventional certified aircraft and standard pilot’s licenses, and the Flight Design CT may be ideally positioned to cash in on that market. Typical of so many German-designed machines, it’s a highquality product, well constructed, easy to fly and available new for a price that’s well below that for most used singles.

...Not to mention it’s one of the most unusual new airplanes you can buy.

Friday, August 24, 2007

2006 Piper Saratoga II TC

Base price: $572,400

Engine make/model: Lycoming

TIO-540-AH1A TBO (hrs.): 2000

Horsepower@altitude: 300@16,000 ft.

Horsepower on takeoff: 300

Fuel type: 100/100LL

Propeller type: Constant speed

Landing gear type: Tri./Retr.

Max ramp weight (lbs.): 3615

Gross weight (lbs.): 3600

Empty weight, std. (lbs.): 2481

Useful load, std. (lbs.): 1134

Useful fuel, std. (gals.): 102

Payload, full std. fuel (lbs.): 522

Oil capacity (qts.): 12

Wingspan: 36 ft. 2 in.

Overall length: 27 ft. 11 in.

Height: 8 ft. 6 in.

Wing area (sq. ft.): 178.3

Wing loading (lbs./sq.ft.): 20.2

Power loading (lbs./hp): 12

Seating capacity: 6

Cabin doors: 2

Cabin width (in.): 49

Cabin height (in.): 42

Baggage capacity (lbs.): 200


CRUISE SPEED, 75% power (kts.):
10,000 ft.: 175
15,000 ft.: 185

FUEL CONSUMPTION, 75% power (gph): 20

Vso (kts.): 57

Best rate of climb, SL (fpm): 1120

Max operating altitude (ft.): 20,000

Takeoff ground roll (ft.): 1110

Takeoff over 50-ft.

obstacle (ft.): 1810

Landing ground roll (ft.): 880

Landing over 50 ft. obstacle (ft.): 1700

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Box Canyon Hazards

Beyond mountains, airspace restrictions & tall buildings can also define tight spots.

By Michael Vivion

The visibility isn’t the best going up the mountain pass. On the far side lies better weather and home. Behind are a tent, camp, cold and wet weather, and insufficient gas to go elsewhere. The pilot continues deeper into the pass, hoping conditions will improve. The ceiling is steady, but the terrain is rising. They’re headed south, and winds are westerly at 20 knots, with gusts. The pilot hugs the right side of the pass for traffic.

Suddenly, clouds obscure the rising terrain, and it’s obvious he isn’t going to make it through the pass. It’s time to turn around, but the opposite canyon wall looks awfully close. The aircraft’s vertical fin is already in the clouds, and the surrounding terrain is much higher—climbing isn’t an option. Neither is a descent. From cruise configuration, the pilot initiates a hard left turn, banking 45 degrees in an imitation of a check ride aced years ago. Unfortunately, the aircraft has just turned into a tailwind.

Two days later, searchers find the remains of the aircraft near the top of the pass. The wreckage pattern leads downhill, on a northerly heading. The NTSB accident database is littered with stories of pilots who failed to turn around in the space available to them.

Years ago, I was introduced to the de Havilland Beaver by Jack Corey. I remember most of the information conveyed to me during the checkout, but two topics stand out. The first is a flight regime that has destroyed many de Havilland aircraft: operation in the region of reverse command, or flying on the back side of the power curve. The other lesson, repeated until it was second nature, involved turning the Beaver around in a tight spot. With Corey growling at me from the right seat, I turned again and again in airspace I would have thought only a helicopter could work in. Years later, the lessons learned that day likely saved my life and the life of my passenger.

It’s important to be aware that not all box canyons are found in the mountains. High-rise buildings and metropolitan areas may rise above a VFR flight corridor, such as in New York City’s East River. Airspace restrictions may also create a virtual box as well—in those cases, I’d rather maneuver safely and risk facing an entire team of FAA lawyers.

The weather doesn’t have to be bad for things to go awry—many incidents occur on sight-seeing flights in VFR conditions. Either way, know any canyon very well before venturing into it. You can fly above the canyon to discern whether there are any new obstructions, such as wires or towers that you’re unfamiliar with.

No matter what the scenario or aircraft, there are several key factors that will help you turn around in minimum airspace.

Before The Turn
First and foremost, slow down before you get into a tight spot. Because airspeed and bank angle dictate the radius of a turn, slower speeds and/or steeper bank angles will result in a tighter turn. Many pilots wait until they’re actually starting the turn to slow down—that’s too late. What speed should you target? I use 1.3 Vso initially. Practicing turns with slight variations in speed helps find the best speed for your airplane. Don’t forget that stall speed varies with weight, and adjust accordingly.

Configure the airplane for the turn before you initiate the turn. This will vary from aircraft to aircraft, but look for the configuration that offers the best tradeoff between lift and drag. Most airplanes will warrant a flap setting at about half deflection, but some aircraft turn tighter with full flaps, so practice at altitude until you find the best configuration for your aircraft.

Wind direction is the most important consideration in determining which side of the canyon to hug while proceeding up canyon. If you’re flying south with a westerly wind, as described in the scenario above, starting the turn from the east side of the canyon provides a headwind as you turn across the canyon. If there’s a lot of wind, there may be downdrafts on the west side of the canyon. But remember, the radius of the turn is a function of speed over the ground. If you cross the canyon with a tailwind, your best effort may not be good enough.

Practice the procedure for minimum radius turns repeatedly at altitude so that the maneuver becomes second nature. When you’re looking at sheer rock walls through the windshield, you need to have confidence and competence in your technique. A GPS will help evaluate your turn radius during practice.

Everything described to this point must be done before you initiate that lifesaving turn. Slow down, configure, move to the wall that offers the best starting point, and practice. Preparation is the key to success.

During The Turn
Let’s revisit our scenario: Clouds immediately above—can’t go up. Rocks below—can’t go down. What’s the best strategy to get turned around?

Pose this question to a dozen pilots, and you’ll hear as many answers. Some advocate a chandelle—a climbing turn at the conclusion of which you should be within a couple knots of stall speed. In our scenario, we can’t climb and we don’t want to be so close to stall speed in the mountains and turbulence.

Others suggest a diving turn. But we’ve continued to descend as we’ve gotten deeper into this deal—to the point where we can no longer descend. Furthermore, a descent suggests more speed, and speed equates to a larger turn radius.

The technique I use has worked in the light aircraft I’ve flown, including that harridan of canyon turns—the Beaver.

Here’s the technique, as I’d perform it in a Cessna 172:

Slow down and configure the airplane before you get to the tight spot: 70 mph and flaps set to 20 degrees. Depending on the operating weight, 70 knots is a little over 1.3 Vso.

When the airplane is trimmed, roll smoothly into a steep, coordinated turn. This doesn’t have to be a maximum-rate roll—steady and smooth works here.

As you pass 30 degrees of bank, apply full power, and up-elevator to initiate the turn. Continue the roll to 50 degrees of bank. With practice, you’ll find a pitch attitude (generally a little higher than cruise attitude) that will maintain altitude. The idea here is to turn with minimum radius, while holding altitude. Keep pulling hard as the airplane turns, and at the 180-degree point perform a smooth rollout and power reduction.

The airplane should come around as if on rails. If it buffets a little in the turn, back off the pull just a tad. With full power, the airplane will tolerate a lot before it stalls. Practice at altitude to perfect the technique and to determine how much pull it takes. And remember, in actual practice, this is a last-ditch lifesaving maneuver. Done well, the airplane will finish at the same altitude that you entered the turn. Practice the maneuver until you nail the altitude every time.

All aircraft—from basic trainers to taildraggers to high-performance models—can get into trouble with box canyons. With each aircraft, the flap setting and target airspeed may be different, but the basic technique is the same.

So, remember, practice turning around till you have the technique down pat. Should you anticipate a tight spot ahead, slow the airplane down and configure it for a turn. Most times, you’ll get through the pass just fine. Flying slow with flaps will take a little longer, but should the space close in on you, reduced airspeed and bank will get you out of there in one piece.

Virtual Box Canyons

Mountain walls aren’t required to form a box canyon, as was evidenced by the October 2006 accident involving New York Yankees pitcher Cory Lidle and his flight instructor, Tyler Stanger. Sightseeing over New York’s East River, the two pilots flew within a narrow VFR corridor, surrounded by LaGuardia Airport’s Class B airspace. These limitations defined an invisible, but potentially hazardous, box canyon.

Within confined areas, it’s always preferable to make any necessary turns into the wind. At the time of Lidle and Stanger’s flight, winds were recorded at 095 degrees at 13 knots. As reported by the NTSB, radar data showed their aircraft entering a 180-degree turn to the west—downwind—to avoid bravo airspace. The easterly tailwind would have reduced the airspace available for turning by 400 feet. Prior to the turn, the aircraft had been positioned approximately mid-river, and as such couldn’t take advantage of the entire width of the corridor, further reducing maneuvering space.

NTSB reports suggest that if the aircraft hadn’t banked steeply at 53 degrees upon commencing the turn, even greater bank angles would have been required throughout the turn, making a stall a possibility. All of these factors may have contributed to the aircraft’s crash into a Manhattan high-rise building.

Radar tracks of the aircraft’s path over New York’s East River can be viewed at N929CD_final_turn_3radars.pdf.