Some of you may remember that one of the travails I faced in deciding to buy a taildragger was the onerous insurance company requirement of 50 hours of dual instruction prior to solo flight. I would not have bought 466PG if I had been faced with that ridiculous requirement. AIG wrote me insurance requiring 10 hours dual prior to solo. I'm up to 8.9 of those hours now, and the next 1.1 is purely to satisfy the insurance company. The instructor is confident that I am ready to solo. And, depending on the wind conditions, so am I.
I had a very good flight tonight, but the winds were light enough to not really be a factor. I intend to limit myself to winds under 10 knots as my personal minimum for at least the next 5 or 10 hours. Not all of the landings were beauties, but all were finished safely without instructor input.
We flew a series of mini cross countries, each airport about 15 miles away from the next. The first was Delaware County (KDLZ), where the landing and takeoff were pretty good. Takeoffs were easier tonight since I decided to try a new technique, and the results were very good.
I decided not to push the stick as far forward during the initial takeoff roll. I got to thinking that forward visibility in an RV-6 is relatively good even with the tail sitting on the ground. The idea behind raising the tail early in the takeoff roll is to get better visibility and to get the rudder up into the airstream to give it more authority. This is a carryover from the old days when planes had locking tailwheels. The tailwheel was locked so it couldn't swivel - this would assist in keeping the plane straight, but at some point you're going to have to steer. To do this, they had to lift the tail to get the locked tailwheel off the ground. The tail wheel was unlocked while taxiing to allow it to swivel so the pilots could steer with the brakes and asymmetric engine thrust. Apparently it wasn't all that uncommon for a plane to have a landing or takeoff accident due to forgetting to lock or unlock the tailwheel.
By raising the nose early and high during takeoff by pushing forward enthusiastically on the stick, I think I ended up holding the plane down. I thought that if I relaxed the stick a bit more, the tail would eventually come up of its own accord, and the plane would just fly off the runway. Well, that has been proven to be true. I have much better control early in the roll, which keeps me from getting on the brakes to try to correct and ending up in a left to right oscillation down the runway. By the time I would give up and yank it into the air, we would already be 5 - 10 mph over the speed at which the plane would have taken off by itself, and I would be riding the brakes so hard I could feel a boost of acceleration when the tires broke free of the runway. I no longer feel that on takeoff, I'm right down the runway, and the plane is quite controllable when we lift off. I'm guessing this to be around 55 mph.
From Delaware, we headed west to Marysville (KMRT). I've never had a good landing at that airport, and tonight was no exception. By far the worst of the night. There was a lot of wind churn just off the approach end of the runway, and it really got hairy. It was the only landing tonight that I had to wrestle with.
Next stop was Urbana (I74), where I was afforded the opportunity to kick myself for not bringing my camera. A B-17 was there for a visit. I could have parked right next to it and gotten a kickass picture!
Out of Urbana, and into Weller Field (38I) just 3 miles away. Weller has to be seen to be believed. If you follow the link to AirNav, you'll see that there is no picture available. Let me tell you why. That was the most intimidating takeoff ever, and anyone that looked at a picture of that place beforehand would not even consider landing there.
The runway is a grass strip right behind a row of houses. And I mean right behind. These people have a runway literally in their back yards. And surprisingly, none of them seem to have airplanes. The runway slopes heavily uphill to the west, and has a lot of trees right off the end. And I mean right off the end. Visualize a green, uphill sloping bowling lane, with pins shaped like trees. We landed to the west, facing the trees (and a good thing too - landing downhill would have been a disaster!), taxied back, and took off to the west.
Uphill, grass, and with very little headwind, at nearly gross weight (the most the plane can legally carry), looking at threatening trees, I kinda wondered how this takeoff was going to turn out. It's a 2500 foot runway, though, so in theory there was plenty of room. But the thing about an experimental is, each one is completely different from the next. There has not been a government mandated test program for this airplane, nor is there enough consistency between individual airplanes to allow for a "test one, apply to all" testing process. Mine has been built with no modifications or deviation from the factory plans, however, and I have a strong, healthy engine. So, off we went.
It went ok. I kept the takeoff roll straight down the runway, which turned out to be a good thing since that's where the shorter trees were. I'm not 100% sure we would have cleared the bigger ones had I drifted off to one side or the other. That was never really a problem, though, since by this time I was pretty sure I had this thing figured out. I now know how to ride this bike without training wheels.
Madison County for gas, then back to the grass strip with the fairway hazard trees that I've talked about before. That went fine, and the instructor called Bolton tower. To give at least an estimated position to help the tower quickly get a handle on where we were, the instructor told him we were one mile west of Darby Dan. It's more like southwest, but it shouldn't have mattered. Thinking we were due west, the controller asked us to report midfield right downwind to runway 4. All this time I had been heading south, so by the time I turned east to head towards the airport, we were south of the runway. From this position, it's easier to enter on an extended base leg (from which a 90 degree is turn is made to line up on final) than head back up north to make a downwind (180 degrees from landing direction) and from there make the base leg. At my request, the instructor told the tower that a left base would work better for us than a downwind, and asked if that would cause him any problems.
It seemed to. This is a routine request, he had no other planes in the pattern, and there was no reason in hell to get the snide "you said you were off of Darby Dan" response. The instructor is an air traffic controller, and he sure wasn't impressed with that. Neither was I. I've had problems with this guy before. He's the type of controller that seems to hate airplanes and pilots, which naturally makes one wonder why he chose air traffic control as a profession. But, no biggy. Hard to wipe off that RV grin. And, of course, the good landing helped. Had a little crosswind and got some of the same tire chatter that broke the right side wheel pant, but all in all not bad.
So, one more hour tomorrow to satisfy AIG and I'm solo. I'm not sure where I'm going to go, but I am definitely going to go somewhere. I don't think I was ready for Oshkosh, but maybe someting in Tennesee or Michigan. I'm only getting 140 knots without the wheel pants, so I don't want to go too far, but I want to go somplace I wouldn't have taken the Tampico because it was so much slower.