Pilot Journal
Thursday, March 1, 2007

Logbook Love Affair

Confessions of a type hunter

logbook love affairYou don’t have to have lived very long to realize that some moments stay with you forever. A few airplanes are like that: As with a first kiss, you replay those flights over and over in the theater of your mind. For instance, it seems as if only 15 minutes—not several decades—have elapsed since my first takeoff in a Grumman F8F Bearcat. I was researching a school article on warbird pilots—the Bearcat wasn’t on the list to be flown. The Vought Corsair that was on the list, however, blew a hydraulic line, so the owner, Jr. Burchinal, proprietor of the wildest flying school in history said, “Come on, fly the Bearcat.”
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On takeoff in a Lightning, the engine noise is entirely different than a Mustang’s. Rather than reaching in and crushing you, as in a Mustang, the noise builds to a mind-numbing, indescribably visceral feeling that’s excruciatingly painful if you’re not wearing a headset. It’s not exhaust noise—the exhaust is routed out through the turbochargers behind you on each boom—but a combination of prop noise, turbochargers and an audibly toxic sound that can’t be identified.

logbook love affairIn the air, even though the airplane is huge, it’s surprisingly nimble and the controls are surprisingly light. It was, however, incredibly intimidating to a low-time, multi-engine pilot. If I made a power change and didn’t have the two engines exactly matched, the mismatch in power would cause the airplane to yaw uncomfortably. It took several flights before I came to grips with that particular characteristic.

Landing the airplane was essentially child’s play. It did, however, take a while to get used to the massive amount of drag that resulted from the gear doors staying open when the gear was down. (Mustang gear doors reclose once the gear is down.) Just flying the Lightning level on downwind took an enormous amount of power. But even my first landing looked good: touch on the mains, hold the nose off until gracefully lowering it. Unfortunately, all signs of grace vanished the instant I barely touched the brakes. They’re multi-disk units that take practically no pressure, so every time I’d touch them, the nose would dip and I’d look like a fool. Oh, well. When I’m reliving the experience, I edit that detail out of the mental playback.

The footage in my mental projector seems endless. There’s the nimble-beyond-belief Bucker Jungmeister and the I’m-in-it-for-the-fun Piper Clipped-Wing Cub. And let’s not forget the brutish North American B-25 Mitchell and the Packard-like feel of the Beech Staggerwing. Even though I know it all by heart, it’s one show I never tire of watching.


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