Getting to know the T-cart

One of the things I’ve learned over the years is that dual sessions with really experienced instructors are some of the most valuable entries in a logbook. Such sessions aren’t necessarily the most relaxed (indeed, it can be like “drinking from a fire hose”), however, the experience often sticks around for years after the flight. For instance, when working on a tailwheel endorsement several years ago, I ended up spending one pattern session with the school’s owner (also a high-time instructor and DPE) in a Super Cub when my normal instructor had a family emergency. 45 minutes with the gentleman seemed like 2 hours, yet the one thing I very distinctly remember about this session was correcting for “reverse” P-factor. You see, a Cub in a power-off descent drives the prop just slightly, and the result is that a smidge of left rudder is needed to keep it straight. Bump the power just a touch and it goes away. It’s subtle, but it’s definitely there, and I never would have noticed it had he not “been all over me” about it.

So, while in AK without an airplane, I needed to do some flying. As it happened, I ran into Rick and Heidi Reuss, owners of Arctic Flyers in Anchorage, operating out of Lake Hood. Heidi and her late husband started this school a couple of decades back, and I’ve flown with 2 DPEs that got their seaplane ratings with Heidi. She and her son still run the school today, and they have a fairly busy operation. One of their two Taylorcrafts was on wheels for the winter (and was about to be switched to floats), and so this was a chance for me to fly an new, unusual, and unfamiliar airplane with an experienced instructor that I knew I’d indirectly inherited skills from. That was something I really needed to try.

Winds and a minor mechanical aced us out of the first two scheduled sessions, but Saturday (5/8) turned out to be a gorgeous spring day, so, we flew. It turned out to be several laps around the pattern for the Lake Hood Strip (which has a TPA of only 600′, and a seemingly close-in base because of Lake Hood itself) using runway 31, but, heck, it was all I needed.

There was a 6-7 knot generally-northerly breeze this day. We flew 11 laps around the pattern (with a 600′ pattern altitude and tight confines, you get a lot!), and the wind was coming from a slightly different direction with each circuit. With such a light airplane, the changes were noticeable. What was surreal, however, was that Heidi could tell that the wind had shifted from pattern altitude without even looking outside at the sock. She’s done this enough that she knew that the wind has shifted from NW to NE mid-sentence; the ground track of the airplane told her everything she needed to know.

That, my friends, is humbling to witness. Just when you think you’re starting to know a little, you’re once again reminded of how little you really do know.

We practiced several soft-fields, then transitioned to wheelies, both normal and semi-soft. Wheelies in the T-craft have to be watched; the gear isn’t as soft as a Cub’s gear, and it can start a porpoise quickly, but a little bump of power would catch it nicely.

One-wheel takeoffs got to be the touchpoint for this session. I’d done a fair number of them in calm winds on pavement in a Cub. But the sensitivity of the T-craft’s wing, the gravel surface of the strip, and the variability of the wind made their value obvious; just raising the downwind wheel an inch or so would stop the drift perfectly. She taught the point to perfection.

All in all, it was less than an hour flying, but multiple hours of value in the experience. Hearing her say that she was glad to fly with someone who actually knew what a rudder was for simply made my day.

Oh, and all it takes is just a short flight with old-fashioned mechanical brakes (heel brakes, no less) to make one understand how good modern hydraulic brakes really are.

A fun session in a nice old airplane taught by someone that Knows her Stuff. I need to be back in that area in late summer, so now I need to return and fly that same airplane off the water. The thought of doing this just might get me through summer!

Taylorcraft F-19 just before losing it's wheels for the season

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