Greg Carter—standing by his pristine Cessna 175 Lark, parked amid the 2,000 show planes at the 2003 AirVenture in Oshkosh, Wis.—tries to tell me why he’s so happy to be here. “Well, you know, I tried to quit flying once. I really did. But after a while, I found out that I just couldn’t do it.” This is how first-timer Greg Carter begins the story about how he and his wife, Barbara, flew their Cessna 175 Lark to the AirVenture fly-in at Oshkosh.
The Carters flew their Lark from Arkansas to Oshkosh and camped with the Vintage Show planes all week. “We flew it up here together and put up a tent. I’ve never been to Oshkosh before and this is the most fun I think I’ve ever had,” beams Greg.
With a smile and a twinkle in her eyes, Barbara nudges him and adds, “He’s like a kid in a candy store. I haven’t seen him in two days; he just has so many airplanes to look at.”
Unbounded enthusiasm for flying isn’t something you’d expect to hear from someone who tried to quit flying as if it were an addiction. Addiction is a harsh word, usually describing a destructive influence on a person’s life. For Greg, however, flying has been a positive part of his life, almost from the start.
“I joined the Navy when I was 17 years old,” remembers Greg. “They sent me to Jacksonville, Fla., to be an ordinance man on subchasers. I also flew as an aircrew man on P2Vs and P-3 Orions. I guess I just liked flying so much that I had to try it, so I joined the base flying club. It was great! It cost $5 an hour wet and $15 with an instructor. I learned how to fly in a Piper Vagabond and I just loved it. Then, I joined the reserves, flying Navy P-3s all over the world. I just loved flying.”
Greg and Barbara’s Lark isn’t their first airplane. The first airplane they owned was a Piper Tri-Pacer. They began flying to visit their daughter in New Mexico and Greg’s brother in Kansas.
Greg remembers, “I moved up from the Tri-Pacer to a 1947 V-Tail Bonanza. I really love the Bonanza. In fact, I owned two of the ’47s—it was a sweet, fast airplane. Later, I sold the last Bonanza and bought a 1956 Tri-Pacer. That was fun, and I sold it, too. I can’t remember exactly why. Family and work kind of got in the way, and this was when I tried to quit flying. I couldn’t stop thinking about it and I eventually started renting airplanes again. I just love to take off and fly around for a while. As a matter of fact, that’s how I found this airplane. Some fellas had formed a club called Blue Sky Aviators and were renovating this Lark. Sometime before they got it flying, they ended up selling it to an FBO that used it as a rental. That’s where I found it and bought it. The Blue Sky Aviators had done a great job. I took the airplane to the fly-in at Bartlesville, Okla., and won the Contemporary Class Award with it. So, I got in touch with the guys who had done all the work and gave them a copy of the certificate. Now I’m friends with a couple of them.”
For most pilots, a Cessna 175 Skylark has an undesirable reputation. Cessna built 2,106 of them between 1958 and 1962 as a product filler between the 172 Skyhawk and the 182 Skylane. The Lark, with 175 horsepower, is 15 mph faster than a Skyhawk and can take off and land in shorter distances. Externally, the most noticeable difference between the 172 and the 175 is the slight hump on the engine cowl behind the propeller. The hump is there to accommodate the heart of its improved performance, the item responsible for most of its problems—the geared GO-300 Continental engine. Designed to swing an 80-inch propeller at 2,400 rpm, the engine had to turn at 3,200 rpm.
There are significant differences between the operating procedures for a carbureted engine and a fuel-injected engine. The geared engine is no different, but unfortunately, most pilots tried to use the engine just like normally aspirated engines. The most important thing to remember when flying a geared engine is to avoid power settings in which the propeller drives the engine. Folks with time behind big radial engines are familiar with this concept. A direct-drive engine typically operates at much slower speeds, and 175 pilots tried to operate the GO-300 at slower speeds. Not only did the engine produce less horsepower, but it also imposed unacceptable strain and stress on all the rotary parts. Today, parts for the GO-300 engine are harder to find. So a significant number of Lark owners have converted their airplanes’ engines to other, more common ones, like the Franklin 215-hp or Lycoming O-360 A1A.
And just like most owners’ Skylarks, Greg’s Lark sports a converted engine. During the renovation, Blue Sky Aviators decided to convert the engine to a Lycoming O-320 B2A four cylinder, which has a reputation of being nearly bullet-proof, with 15 less horsepower, burning less fuel and carrying 2,000 TBO hours. Its performance does take a hit in comparison with the original Skylark. However, the Lycoming engine is more user friendly and less expensive to operate, giving the Carters some peace of mind.
|Factory Comparison:||Cessna 175A Skylark*||Cessna 172N II Skyhawk||Piper Warrior II PA-28-161|
|Gross Weight (lbs.):||2350||2300||2325|
|Std. Empty Weight (lbs.):||1338||1430||1344|
|Useful Load (lbs.):||976||870||981|
|Fuel Capacity (gals.):||42||43||48|
|Cruise Speed, 75% Power (kt):||105||122||118|
|Climb Rate (fpm):||1000||770||644|
|* Customized with a 160-hp Lycoming engine and STOL kit
Sources: Aircraft Bluebook Price Digest and Pilot’s Operating Handbook
According to Greg, “Most of the time, I just fly around the local area. But we have a lot on an airpark called Lost Bridge, right next to Beaver Lake in Arkansas. It’s really not very far away, but we like to pack up the airplane and fly over Lost Bridge and then go sailing on the lake for the weekend. It may seem silly, but we like to combine these fun things.”
Barbara chimes in, “I like to navigate on trips, and you don’t get to do that much on local trips. It’s fun, but I like to be doing something. I’m really enjoying this trip and we’ve already blocked out time for next year.”
Greg agrees, “She doesn’t touch the controls; she really liked the Bonanza for that. That throw-over yolk really gave her a lot of room. We’ve really had a blast here [at AirVenture]—there are airplanes all over the place and the people are so nice. It’s great.”
Greg babies the Lark in a T-hangar with a checkered linoleum floor, complete with an office—perfect for hangar flying. Flying is an expensive hobby for a retiree, but Greg hopes to continue to put 100 hours a year on the Lark for as long as he can. “Flying has become such a part of my life. I’d hate to give it up now.”