A 70-year-old airplane teaches that flying is a gift to be savored
My palms were sweating as I approached the hangar. Behind locked doors sat one of the most storied airplanes in aviation: the Stearman PT-17, and I was going to fly it. I felt like I had been invited backstage to meet Elvis. I had been dreaming about this iconic airplane since I was a kid who spent Saturday afternoons staring up at the type from the weeds of my local airport.
It’s cold. It’s white. And it’s north. (Very north.) Underneath us is 10,000 feet of ice. Surrounding us is an additional 1.7 million square kilometers of ice, and not much else. Looking out the cockpit window, I can’t tell the difference between 1,000 feet and 10 miles, vertically or horizontally. For me, this is the middle of nowhere. For the researchers we’re bringing to their frozen summer home, this is where it all happens.
I love movies! I especially enjoy it when writers use their imaginations to create futuristic technology. For example, do you remember 1985’s Back to the Future with Michael J. Fox as Marty McFly? He finds himself traveling back in time with the help of a DeLorean car that’s converted to a time machine by his mad scientist friend, played by Christopher Lloyd.
If you think banjos and DC-3s have nothing in common, you have yet to meet Dan Gryder. With a penchant for impromptu bluegrass sessions under the wing of his legendary aircraft—or anywhere, really—the witty Boeing 777 pilot and his team offer one-of-a-kind tailwheel instruction. Jim Wynbrandt visited Dan’s home base just outside of Atlanta, Ga., at Griffin-Spaulding County Airport, where students learn everything from preflight to tiedown.
Sometimes cutting an expense costs more in the long run
Are we now seeing apocalyptic signs that the world, as we know it, is about to collapse in on us? I checked my avgas price this morning (yeah, I know, dumb move) and it was $6.72, which means, at present rates, by the time you read this, it’ll be over seven bucks.
The market for new general aviation airplanes seems to be changing. Today’s new airplane buyer has different needs, goals and experience. To pinpoint this psychographic, Marc C. Lee spoke with sales representatives from various aircraft manufacturers, and it’s clear that there has been a shift in who’s buying what, and why.
This could be the greatest thing to happen to general aviation since the 1940s,” says Mike Zidziunas. “This” refers to the rise of light-sport aircraft (LSA). Industry “pundits” set the number of LSA sold so far in the United States at nearly 1,400, give or take an airframe or two. Although the credit crisis and fuel woes are doing a sumo squat on the picture as we speak, recreational pilots, aviation career seekers and flight schools intent on bringing fresh hardware and energy to aging trainer fleets forge ahead.
You may already fly an aircraft with a turbocharged engine. If not, and you plan on expanding your aviation horizons, there may be a turbocharger in your future. A turbocharged engine can maintain sea level manifold pressure up to critical altitude. When equipped with an automatic density controller, nearly constant horsepower will be automatically produced up to the critical altitude.
Start early on your list, it makes for a wonderful life
The other day, a student called to book some flight training, explaining that flying a Pitts has been on his bucket list. I haven’t seen the movie by the same name, but I love the concept: You make up a list of things you want to do before you kick the bucket, and little by little, you whittle it down. Naturally, when I heard that, I thought about what I’d put on my own such list. After a few minutes of thinking, however, I didn’t know whether to be happy or sad that I couldn’t come up with many items.
Every other summer or so, as I fly north with friends over the lush immensity of southern Wisconsin, find Ripon and then push along the railroad tracks, a sensation of satisfaction and memory overtakes me as the skyline of Lake Winnebago fills the windshield. I realize then that I don’t fly into Oshkosh just for the usual reasons—the air shows, strolling the avionics bazaars, enjoying the epic storytelling of Rod Machado. To me Oshkosh is a celebration of personality and spirit.
The accelerated stall usually surprises a pilot because it occurs at a higher airspeed than a normal stall (in which a wing loading of 1 G is maintained). Remember, a wing can be made to stall at any speed—all that has to happen is for the angle of attack to get high enough. As G-loading increases, so does stall speed. If a wing reaches its critical angle of attack when the wing loading is 2 G, twice normal, the stall will occur at a speed that’s proportional to the square root of the wing loading.
After a takeoff run of about one foot, the attitude pitches up to 10, then 20, then 30 degrees. I know we can’t maintain this pitch angle very long, but the pilot holds the nose up with no apparent concern for impending disaster.
I can only imagine the first day back to school for Rinker Buck in the fall of 1966. As his classmates recounted tales of riding bikes around the block and jumping in the neighbor’s pool, Rinker’s version of “what I did this summer” must have been a showstopper. “Well, my brother and I flew an airplane from New Jersey to California in only six days,” the 15-year-old could have said.
On a recent flight from Los Angeles to Dallas, I was nearing a pit stop in Albuquerque when the radio crackled with the following: “Thunderbird One, you’re cleared direct Red Ridge.” “Hmm, can it be the T-Birds?” I thought as I sped toward the Lone Star State. The controller inquired about their loose formation, and the lead T-Bird confirmed their staggered positioning. Must be them, I gathered, and I looked down to the screens for traffic info, flicking the sensitivity from NORM to UNLTD in hopes of seeing something. Well, wouldn’t you know it, up pops a return moving quickly in the opposite direction, 7,900 feet above at my 11 o’clock.
At the 2005 AOPA Convention, barely six months after the first light-sport aircraft (LSA) airworthiness certificates were issued, AOPA President Phil Boyer observed, “This has got to be one of the most interesting things you can do: help bring a whole new segment of aviation to market.”
Experience is a great teacher, but only if you listen to it
I knew it was windy, but it wasn’t that bad. I mean 15 gusting to 25 isn’t even close to the top of the sphincter-tension scale in my little airplane. In fact, it’s so good in a crosswind that to a certain extent, those of us who fly the type tend to ignore crosswinds. Or at least pooh-pooh anything under 20 to 25 knots. My record, which I mention constantly, is 38 gusting to 50, 60 through 90 degrees to the runway. And therein lies the difference. At 90 degrees, I’m flying one airplane. At 120 degrees, as it was Sunday, it’s something quite different, and I knew it. Still, I didn’t have a doubt in my little airplane. We could handle it.