So Many Types, So Little Time
In the world of flying, the range of experiences and the fun to be had are never-ending
One of the perks of this job is the chance to fly a wide variety of airplanes. My hours and ratings aren’t anything special, but I’m happy that I’ve been allowed to fly a little of everything at one time or another.
A friend in Oklahoma invited me to fly his newly restored Cessna 195, and we met in Ponca City, Okla., for the flight. Jack was a recently retired Braniff captain who had owned the Cessna for about 20 years, and he flew it like breathing. Typical of Oklahoma, the wind was whipping down the plain on the day of my flights, and I expressed some concerns about the ground handling of his big taildragger. Jack dismissed them with a knowing wave of his hand, and we climbed aboard and prepared to launch.
The 300-hp Jacobs radial started without complaint, and after things settled down, I began to taxi toward the active. I knew that I was in trouble as soon as we cleared the wind shadow of the hangar. Naturally, the airplane wanted to weathercock into the wind, and no sooner had I applied appropriate corrective rudder and brake than it did just that—while continuing to track straight ahead. I had completely forgotten that Cessna 195s featured a crosswind gear system that allowed the wheels to caster as much as 15 to 20 degrees.
Jack coached me through the subsequent takeoff and landing, and it was eerie to fly a landing approach in a crab and not kick it out at the bottom. The airplane would land happily with its nose at what seemed like 45 degrees to the left or right of the runway heading and roll out straight down the centerline.
A few years later during a delivery flight to Alaska, I spotted an immaculate Antonov Colt on the ramp at Chehalis, Wash., made some inquiries, located the owner and arranged for a pilot report. The AN-2 Colt was and remains the world’s largest single-engine airplane, a huge biplane with a max 14-seat capacity. This one belonged to a former Sealand ship’s captain who had seen it sitting derelict on a ramp at the Bombay, India, airport, purchased it for next to nothing, shipped it home to the port of Seattle on his freighter and rebuilt it from the ground up in Chehalis.
My flight went well, and everything worked as advertised, although the airplane seemed much faster than I had expected, and it was interesting trying to interpret the Russian markings on the instruments. When it came time for some stalls, the owner in the right seat had me lower the flaps, throttle the big 1,000-hp Shvetsov radial engine back to idle and watch the airspeed bleed off.
Finally, with leading-edge slats fully extended and the airspeed needle vibrating just below 30, the huge, 7,250-pound biplane bucked a few times and ducked its nose gently toward the rolling, green hills of southern Washington. “Wow, that’s amazing for such a big airplane,” I said. “The stall is only 30 knots.”
The owner smiled and said quietly, “Those aren’t knots.”
“You mean to tell me that this thing flies at 30 mph? That’s even more impressive,” I effused.
“Those aren’t mph, either,” commented the owner.
The airspeed indicator was calibrated in kilometers per hour. The dirty stall was about 17 knots.
Then, there was the Goodyear airship Columbia. When I flew with chief pilot Nick Nicolari out of Goodyear’s Carson, Calif., base for ABC’s TV series “Wide World of Flying,” Nicolari allowed me to take the left seat for most of the flight (notably excluding takeoff and landing). Nothing happens too fast in a blimp, and it was fun to drone along at 30 knots at 1,000 feet above the city with my elbow casually extended out the side window, occasionally waving at folks below.