Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Luscombe Phantom II: A Modern Time Machine

With its radial engine and timeless design, Luscombe introduces an LSA with attitude

luscombeAs in most tailwheel airplanes, visibility over the nose while taxiing is pretty nonexistent. The big rudder gives control authority without much speed, so ground handling is easy. A touch of throttle and some forward stick will whip the Phantom around pretty easily. The Cleveland hydraulic disc brakes were firm and responsive.

Part of the fun of flying a taildragger is the moment in the takeoff roll where you can raise the tail, and that seemed to happen quickly as we headed skyward. The cabin is a snug but comfortable 40 inches in width—half an inch wider than a Cessna 172’s cabin. The wooden Performance propeller gave the Phantom II a climb of about 850 fpm at 85 knots.

One thing I immediately noticed is that the Phantom didn’t feel at all like an LSA. In fact, it felt like a much larger airplane. Perhaps part of that is the muscle—and sound—imparted by the radial engine. The Phantom felt something like an 18-wheel truck roaring along an interstate.

Another trait I noticed is that the airframe felt strong. “This is basically a 10-G LSA,” says Dearden. “You could do aerobatics, it’s so strong.” Indeed while the control response is light, it’s also sure and positive. The airplane rides the bumps nicely and has benign stall characteristics. Dearden says cruise is 110 knots, and that seemed correct as we sashayed above Lake Mathews, 20 miles from Flabob.

I loved looking down over the curved wheel pants and at the wood panel; it was like visiting another era. Seeing that big radial up front just added to the illusion. An interesting thing about the Rotec radial engine is that it turns faster than traditional engines. At cruise, I looked down and was surprised to see the rpm in the 3,000 range. The Rotec has a TBO of 1,000 hours.

Heading back to the runway held no surprises. Luscombes have an undeserved reputation for being tough to land. The large tail surfaces give them a lot of control authority. The airplane’s characteristics mean you just have to be on your toes. Inputs must be light and quick, and you have to stay ahead of the airplane. It’s simply not meant for lazy pilots.

Back at the hangar, after everybody had gone, I decided to stay around a little. Night was coming on, and the sky was a deep violet punctuated by orange streaks from the setting sun. Walking toward the Luscombe’s hangar, I thought I heard an old tube radio warming up, filling the hangar with static and a warm amber glow. Wasn’t that President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s voice followed by strains of Bob Hope singing “Thanks for the Memories” from 1938? Couldn’t be. Something pulled my eyes upward, and I could swear I saw a pristine Luscombe Model 4, circling the Phantom and waggling its wings as if to say, “Now, it’s your turn.”


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