Archive for the 'Airplanes' Category

Airworthy Elegance #1

One of the great things about flying in AZ is the number of airworthy classics in the area. I had noticed this lovely not-so-little airplane in the pattern at KFFZ the prior weekend. As a student and I pulled into the runup pad for runway 4L at Chandler, there it was waiting to leave on 4-left behind a spotless Waco:


Stinson Reliant SR-x Holding Short

Stinson Reliant SR-x Holding Short

That’s a Stinson Reliant, built from the early 1930s up through early WWII. This is a gull-wing variation, which I think makes it an SR-7 through 10 model. Could not tell which engine it has, possibly a big Lycoming radial, or an R-985. This one looks to be immaculately restored in stunning red with black/yellow trim.

It looks like a wonderful X/C traveling machine oozing with class; a signpost of an age only 30 years removed from the Wright Brothers, while our nation was still innocent, young, and, despite a depression, still optimistic about the future.

(Please excuse the prop artifacts on the school 172 we were flying…I was watching my student’s checklist execution, while making absolutely sure we had no brake creep during the mag check).

That type is definitely on my bucket list for stick time, along with the C-195 and B-18…


Toys of a Different Sort

The weekend of 6/5 found me teaching a dual cross country here in central AZ. Unknowingly, as I advised my student to plan a route Chandler->Safford-San Manuel->Chandler, the Wallow Fire was getting started, located about 60 nautical miles north of Safford. I didn’t expect visibility 10 to 15 in smoke for the day of the flight, but that’s what we had, and it became a useful exercise in VFR pilotage without the usual great visibility.

Landing at the end of the first leg, I noticed 2 Single Engine Air Tankers (SEATs) tied down at the fire suppression base near to the fuel pump. Seeing them, I couldn’t resist a couple of photos of machines one just doesn’t see everyday. At first, this looks like an ordinary crop-duster; perhaps a typical ordinary little airplane with a tailwheel:

Air Tractor AT802 parked at KSAD

Just an average small airplane, right? Not so fast…

Walk up to this machine and you realize it’s more than a little larger than just “average”. With a 5-blade Hartzell propeller being driven by an uprated P&W PT-6 breathing through 2 huge exhaust stacks, there’s clearly a chunk of horsepower hanging off the nose. Walking up to the tailwheel, I realize that it’s a 6.25, more than the mains on the 172 we just showed up in:

AT802's 6.25 tailwheel - proof this airplane carries a little weight...

At the time, I didn’t have the presence of mind to note the size of the main gear wheels (big…with double-caliper brakes), yet this machine really makes an impression once you get close-up. Observing that the entire center-section of the fuselage over the C/G is one big monster tank (and can be emptied almost all at once), you realize that this is one serious piece of flying hardware.

Located next to it at the base is a big poly mixing tank with 2 good-size gasoline-engine pumps feeding hoses that load the slurry mixture onboard. Behind that mixing tank are several other more permanent tanks containing various materials for final mixing to spec before loading. It looks as if, once the loading operation is running, someone is mixing into the poly loading tank between airplanes, possibly continuously, and as soon as an airplane pulls up, the hose is connected, and pumps started to load several hundred gallons into the airplane as soon as practical. With this setup, a crew can turn over loads of retardant very, very quickly.

After we left, I began thinking about what it might be like to fly one of these. Obviously, it’s not a hot rod like we’d typically think of it; it’s a machine meant to move large liquid loads over tight spaces at low altitude. It has to lift lots of weight, maneuver it to a specific point at less than a few hundred feet, unload all at once, and then head back for more (at which point it probably does seem like a hot rod). Thinking about the size, it seemed as if it’s slightly larger than an airplane many pilots would consider the definitive piston-engine hot-rod; the North American P-51 of WWII.

How close would they be? Let’s see:

Air Tractor AT802:
Length: 35′ 11″
Wingspan: 59’3″
Empty Weight: 6505lb
Gross Weight: 16000lb
Cruise: 221mph
Power:  1350hp
Service Ceiling: 25000′

North American Aviation P51D:
Length: 32′ 3″
Wingspan: 37’0″
Empty Weight: 7635lb
Gross Weight: 12100lb
Cruise: 362mph
Power:  1490hp
Service Ceiling: 41900′

Thus the P-51 has a smaller, lower-drag wing, optimized for speed and maneuverability at altitude and speed. The AT-802 has a large, high-lift wing optimized for load carrying and maneuverability at low altitude and low speed. Other than that, they do spec a lot alike.

Both are quite a bit more airplane than the N-model 172 we were flying…but that’s OK, we could afford that.

All fun aside, note that the haze in the background of the photo is residual smoke from the Wallow fire, which was under 100K acres when this was taken. As I write this, six days later, it has become a 430K acre monstrosity that now spans into New Mexico, and is still only 5% contained. In the southwest, we haven’t seen a wildland fire this bad for a long time, and my best wishes and prayers go out to the displaced families, and the guys and gals both on the ground and in the air fighting this awful beast, as these airplanes are likely doing right now…


Well, nothing really bad happened

This is from a nice December day in 2009, in my personal airplane…

Nothing bad happened. Not even a bump. Nada.

My web-friend Frank Van Haste recently posted a tach photo from his Skylane, showing the recorded hours rolled up to 4000 (still pretty young for one of these airplanes). Made me remember this, so I took a few minutes to dig it out…


Hey, that could be…me

This article on AVweb references a flyer apparently distributed by DHS around Hickory, NC, in the last few weeks. It says to be on the lookout for suspicious operations and aircraft that may be exhibiting “indicators of suspicious activity”. Those indicators have a disturbing level of familiarity, to wit:

A customer that does not want to provide any identification, or provides identification from a Southwest Border state of foreign country

OK, I never have any problems providing identification if asked, but if I do, it’s likely to be a combination of a U.S. passport and an AZ driver’s license.

A customer who insists on paying cash.

I don’t do this all that much, but a lot of guys I know do. It’s common practice.

A customer who displays numerous cellular telephones

Only one for me. I do have a drawer full of dead ones, though.

Transfer of luggage or bags from one person or aircraft to another.

Uh Oh. Been there, done that. Especially if I’m at a marginal strip, and have a friend with a heavy hauler that can safely pack out some gear.

Guards posted around the aircraft.

Not so much guards, as a few guys standing around with beers when we’re done flying for the day. I don’t think we look much like guards, though.

Rents hangars for short periods of time.

Admittedly, that one’s pretty rare.

Excessive amount of luggage for only one person.

Anyone ever seen my camping setup? “Excessive luggage” is fitting.

Vague about their travel itinerary.

Well, yeah. “Trying to get around this weather to <xxxx>, might take a couple of days. Maybe go east, maybe west, maybe I just won’t get there…”


Depends on just how bad that weather was…

Altered “N” numbers.

Probably not so much.

Dirty undercarriage or tires.

(Ding!!!) We have a winner!!!

Uses self refueling very late at night or very early in the morning.

I almost always self-serve when I can, and it’s often early or late. I’m cheap^H^H^H^H^H thrifty, and only a 325nm range, so we’re talkin’ a lot of fuel stops.

Flying an aircraft that is worn out but has a very nice GPS system.

Define “worn out”? Sounds to me like half the airplanes in the western U.S., Canada, or AK.

That looks like about 9 of 13 for me, depending on interpretation. So, I think it’s safe to say I better avoid North Carolina for awhile.

Does that thing suck?

Noticed this machine on the “Bravo Ramp”, right next to the annual USFS portable fire management office trailer, at Payson, AZ, on Sunday 7/11 while out on a stop with an X/C student:

Sikorsky SH-3 (Sea King) Configured for Fire Suppression - Payson, AZ, 7/11/2010

Somehow, I looked at that intake hose (right there under the hull), and absurdly wondered: Just how fast it would evacuate your average residential swimming pool? How much fire it could extinguish? And, of course, what the cost would be…?

And how much fun that could be!

Somehow, we’ve had a pretty mild fire season. Our usual summer monsoon is really slow getting here this year. The requisite humidity exists (and the temperatures are really awful), but a capping layer of warm dry air has been keeping these seasonal thunderstorms from doing much so far.

If that changes here soon, the resulting lightning strikes will have this little yellow helo pretty busy…

Preflight tip #537 – Ping your Prop

Preflight checks are a bit of an art form. There are commonalities to how we all do the “walkaround”, but I propose that no two pilots perform them exactly the same. We all individualize them to a degree.

I know my own method has mutated over the years, largely as a function of what I’ve learned from real live squawks. Cooling baffle cracks, dead bulbs, and low tires are always common. Loose hinges aren’t so common, but they do seem to subtly show up here and there, as do leaky brakes and fuel weepage. I don’t know if too many pilots look around a fuel sump and wing root for signs of hidden leaks, but I’ve certainly come to do it.

One place I’m particularly paranoid, yet have never yet found a real problem, is around a propeller. This one seemingly simple aluminum forging can really ruin your day should something bad happen. We all know that any nicks severe enough to catch a shop towel should be dressed out, but besides that, there’s not much we can do to catch an impending problem.

So, I caught this little “never-thought-of-that” gem in an article discussing seaplane preflights from the May/June issue of “Water Flying” (the bi-monthly member publication of the Seaplane Pilot’s Association). Besides the fingernail test that I’ve oft heard described, the author also suggests a “ping test”. That is: tap the propeller blade lightly along it’s length with a coin, and listen for anything unusual regarding the character of the resonant “ring”. Anything wrong should cause a significant change in the sound.

I just might have to try this…

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