Schlagwort-Archive: Taildragger

France: Surfing the Wave

By Garrett Fisher

On most days, when the forecast calls for 50-knot winds (57 mph, 92 km/h) in the mountains, I pass on the idea of flying. It is the logical choice, as the aircraft cruises at about 80 knots, which means one wouldn’t go very fast. There is also the matter of rotors and waves, as the winds get bent initially upward, then equally downward, with rotating tubes of air in between. A small aircraft cannot overpower these realities on engine power alone.

That is not to say that all wind is untenable. Conventional wisdom states a maximum of 20 knots, though that finds no reference in the law or in official regulations. 30 to 35 knots is a reasonable maximum if the conditions allow, though as mentioned before, anything more risks sitting still, “cruising” at 80 knots airspeed into the face of raging winds, going nowhere fast.

I will never really understand why, on some days, I look out the window, get a feeling, check the weather, and find the idea of 50 knots, not a problem. On the day in question, it was closer to 35 knots over the western Alps, with higher speeds toward Mont Blanc, owing to an interaction with the famous Mistral wind. Winds also at 10,000 feet were of much lower speed, so I could pop up into the current, surf a bit, and come back. A quick calculation of GPS speed into the wind and briefly with it behind me at 16,000 feet confirmed that it was indeed 50 knots at altitude.

The interesting factoid that materializes on this flight is that it was the first in the Super Cub to Mont Blanc. I owned the aircraft for a year before I bothered to take it to the summit, though I did take the PA-11 there multiple times in the intervening period. Sure, the fact that the Super Cub spent a fair amount of time outside of the Alps is part of the equation, though wouldn’t the presence of more heat, power, speed, and climb rate instill the necessary motivation to take the easier aircraft? I took the Super Cub to Morocco and Norway before I took it a short distance to Mont Blanc.

Anyhow, it was an interesting ride clearing the turbulence layer at 13,000 feet. Once I reached about 14,000, it was up like an elevator in the ascending wave, staying on the north side of the summit. Had I slinked over to the Italian side, well, things would not have gone well. Winds are smooth on the windward side and are what I call “Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride” on the other, where if one gets caught in it, he must take the “royal flush.” Once sucked over the ridge, expect severe turbulence, the loss of 3,000 feet or more, and a vain attempt to get back. It likely won’t work due to downdrafts….so one merely flies to Turin, Italy instead. Best not to toy with it… which I did not.

I would have gladly ridden the wave as high as it would go, though warnings about Class C airspace from my iPad and airliners overhead meant that ATC would not have allowed it there. That is for another day.

„Make sure your straps are tight“

As a self-proclaimed taildragger enthusiast, I naturally gravitate towards burly, backcountry beasts, old warbirds, and vintage/modern Cubs. Although aerobatic airplanes typically fall into the tailwheel category, I have never been drawn to them. After all, the mere thought of pulling Gs makes me slightly nauseous.

When Richard McSpadden, senior vice president of AOPA’s Air Safety Institute asks if you’re interested in flying AOPA’s Extra 300L at Sun ’n Fun, the only conceivable answer is „yes.“ McSpadden, a former commander and flight leader of the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds, a Super Cub owner, and a family friend explained that I would be one of the test subjects for a new aerobatic and upset recovery training series that the ASI is developing. The forthcoming series will introduce pilots who have little to no aerobatic experience to unusual attitudes and various aerobatic manoeuvres. The Extra 300L was recently donated to AOPA by Bruce Williams, a flight instructor, Microsoft Flight Simulator program manager and aerobatic pilot who made the generous gift to promote aviation safety education. The Extra, which he had owned for nearly two decades was an airplane that Williams also used for upset recovery training and spin instruction through his own organization, BruceAir.

After a few back-and-forth emails with McSpadden and the ASI team, we developed a tentative Extra flight game plan: get to Sun ’n Fun and then go from there. With weather forecasts looking dicey and plenty for everyone to do before the show, McSpadden and I agreed to play it by ear. After an easy (but hot) two-hour flight from Peach State Aerodrome in Georgia to Lakeland Linder International Airport in Florida with Erick Webb (my fellow AOPA social media marketer) in the AOPA Sweepstakes Grumman Tiger, McSpadden met us at the airplane with a smile. Although slightly distracted by the Tiger in its new livery, it didn’t take long for McSpadden to point out his Sun ’n Fun chariot tied down across the ramp—the Extra 300L.

Suddenly, the thought of training in the Extra became a reality. I knew at some point in the very near future I would don a parachute and strap myself into the high-performance machine. Slightly nauseous at the thought, I looked away and marvelled at the metallic Tiger sparkling in the sun. After a day and a half of waiting on the weather to clear, the time had come. McSpadden and I met at the Sheltair FBO where we briefed the flight and went through an extensive checklist of manoeuvres that I would complete. Let’s just say that I was relieved to have passed on the bacon, eggs, and pancakes at breakfast. After setting up the GoPros, McSpadden handed me my parachute and said, “Make sure your straps are tight. You’ll find yourself trying to cinch them even tighter when we start the manoeuvres.” Although I would have expected a comment like that to make my nerves jump sky-high, it had the opposite effect. I couldn’t wait to climb in.

One might assume that strapping into an Extra is like hopping into any other airplane, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Thanks to the parachute and a ratchet-type seatbelt system, securing my 5-foot-4 frame into the front cockpit turned into a time-consuming and uncomfortable process. I quickly realized how essential it was to provide ample time for this task. After a final walk-around and GoPro check, McSpadden climbed into the aft cockpit, closed the canopy, and exclaimed “clear prop!” Before I knew it, McSpadden said “your controls” and I was S-turning the agile machine all the way to the hold-short line. The airplane did just exactly what I told it to do—nothing more and nothing less. I was already impressed. “Follow through on the controls with me,” said McSpadden. “Once the tail comes up we will give it a second and we’ll be ready.” As I shadowed the controls, I couldn’t help but notice how quickly everything happened. As the power came up, so did the tail and before I realized it, we were already departing the pattern. This was definitely not one of the taildraggers I was used to.

“Pick a nice opening around the clouds and work your way up to 5,000 feet,” said McSpadden. Shocked at the fact that he had already turned the controls over to me, I picked an opening and turned towards it. It didn’t take long for me to realize how snappy, yet refined this airplane really was. Once we reached 5,000 feet McSpadden and I completed 90-degree turns, steep turns, and “as steep as I was comfortable“ turns. Although it took a few turns to get caught up with the airplane, I found myself catching on much quicker than I would have thought. Next up on the checklist was one of my favoured manoeuvres—Dutch rolls. “Keep the nose on the very top of the cloud at your 12 o’clock position,” instructed McSpadden. A manoeuvre I was expecting to be quite easily turned into quite a feat. But after watching McSpadden demonstrate the manoeuvre, my feet started waking up in the way they should have at the very beginning.

The next to-do on McSpadden’s list was an incredibly important one. “Anytime you point the nose down in this airplane, the power needs to come back. The airplane is just that fast.” As McSpadden pointed the nose down, he left the power in and demonstrated how quickly the airplane builds speed. Before I knew it we had reached 125 knots and we were still accelerating before McSpadden pulled the nose up above the horizon. “Nose down, power back” was one of the biggest mantras of our flight. Next on the manoeuvre list were power-on and power-off stalls. McSpadden demonstrated both types of stalls and then passed the controls over to me. There was a very defined buffet—very similar to that of a Cessna 172 with no harsh characteristics. The tameness thoroughly surprised me.

Left feeling quite confident from power-on and power-off stalls, we went straight into accelerated stalls. As McSpadden pulled through a tight and steep turn, the airplane slowed, and as it stalled the wing shook and rumbled intensely. It was aggressive and abrupt. Admittedly I was caught off-guard and left wondering “what just happened?” I asked McSpadden to demonstrate another before I took the controls. Flying through it proved to be much easier than riding through it, but eye-opening, nonetheless.

The final item on McSpadden’s checklist was unusual altitudes. I had high hopes for this part of the training, but as McSpadden started demoing the manoeuvres, I started feeling queasy. I managed to ride through one more demonstration before taking the controls and manoeuvring the airplane for myself, but after one attempt of my own, I told McSpadden that I was feeling nauseous. “Alright let’s call it. We got a lot done, much more than I would have thought for a first flight,” said McSpadden. “30 minutes is a lot in an Extra.” Although I wish that we could have continued, I knew better than to test my limits. I wanted to walk away from the Extra with positive thoughts instead of stumbling away with a Sic-Sac in hand.

My first introduction to the Extra was filled with plenty of grins, laughs, and “oh wows.” I didn’t know what to expect, but I stepped away from the flight feeling like a more educated pilot. I look forward to my next lesson in this airplane—one that I am both nervous and excited about—an introduction to aerobatics. Source: ‚Cayla McLeod on the AOPA Website‚.