Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Glass Versus Grass(roots)


Mixing the extremes in aviation can be both fun and eye catching


First, it has to be said that Dennis was really a good sport about this and was more than a little excited: Even though he had zero tailwheel time and the same amount of time in Pitts-equivalent airplanes (there actually is no Pitts-equivalent), he welcomed the prospect of a new experience. I liked his attitude and I knew my airplane would like it, too.

After doing the rudimentary cockpit checkout (“To get it started, turn this, push that, and tower is 119.9. Have a good time.”), I turned it over to him on the taxiway, and he did an above-average job mastering the lack-of-visibility-induced drunken weave that is part of avoiding collisions with anything smaller than a medium-sized building. I did the actual takeoff, but gave it to him as soon as we were off the ground. His flight path may have been a little askew, as the pronounced P-factor tried to drag him off-center to the left, and he had a little trouble believing you could actually climb an airplane with the nose that high and not fall out of the sky, but otherwise, he appeared to be enjoying himself.

Out in the practice area, while doing keep-the-ball-centered exercises, I introduced him to his butt. (“Butt, meet Dennis, your owner. Dennis, meet your butt. Learn to listen to it.”) Then I sat with my hands in my lap as I talked him through a series of aileron rolls and loops. The completion of each was met with a terse sound of approval over the ICS with very few adjectives offered. (“Dennis? You okay?” “Yeah, I’m okay.”) The same thing was true when talking him through the landing approaches. He again did an above-average job on something he clearly had never even imagined, much less done.

Back at the hangar, after he had struggled out of the chute and got his head straightened out, his thoughts literally tumbled out: “I don’t know what words to use. I have so many things to say, but don’t know where to start. First, you’re right about the way the airplane shows everything you do wrong. In all honesty, inside my head, I’m beating myself up, right now, because of so many basic things I did wrong, when I clearly know better.

“I didn’t know I was holding outside aileron in turns. And I didn’t know my right foot was often resting on the rudder and driving the ball out. I don’t know that I’ve ever listened to my butt, when it has been talking to me all these years.

“I guess what I’m saying is that this is really flying! I should have done this 40 years ago! It would have made me a better pilot.”

Among the things I learned when Dennis and I traded cockpits was that the basics apply, regardless of how much glass is involved.

So, anyone with a modern airplane wanna give me a ride? Or a Columbia? I’ll trade you a Pitts ride! Help put this old country boy back in the type-hunting groove.




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