Tuesday, June 29, 2010

If you want to be cool, fly a J-3

It is so hot out that I think the tires of all the airplanes I flew in would melt into a huge black goo. Just been thinking of flying in the heat of summer, and how the coolest and most fun flights were in a J-3 out of Tew-Mac airport. Tew-Mac (B09), was in Tewksbury, Mass., northwest of Boston, and closed in 1997. It was a paved 1850 ft runway heading 3-21. Now converted to condos, the only flyers have feathers.

My flight would begin by doing a quick walk around the plane, including checking the fuel in the gas tank in front of the cockpit, oil and a quick kick of the tires. If alone, I would tie the tail down and proceed to hand prop the engine. It would usually start at the first pull or two. Quickly retard the throttle and untie the tail hook. Hop in to the rear seat if alone, put on the seat belt, feet on the brakes and ready to taxi.

What made it so wonderful to fly in the warm weather was the ability to fly with the side panels open. There were two, one to open up, the other down. Once the challenge of taxiing was over and the throttle advanced, I was airborne in seconds. Stepping hard on the right rudder and some back pressure on the stick was all that was required.

Once airborne, flying at about 65 knots and 500 to 1000 feet altitude one was able to look at the world below as if in a balloon rather than a plane. Slow and peaceful, almost dream like, the delightful, cool air gushing over me. So much better than flying in the tight, stuffy, un-air conditioned cockpits of the newer, faster planes. With a slight headwind, the cars moving on I-93 beneath me were moving faster than me. But that was ok, I wasn’t in a rush.

Some of the real fun was flying at a few hundred feet above the ground, over unpopulated areas, free as a bird and barely faster. The feeling of freedom was unparalleled. It was a stark contrast to the controlled airspace of today. I didn’t even have a radio, as there was no electrical system. No lights either so night flying was out. Navigating was with a map laid across my lap and my eyes scanning for landmarks. The bouncing compass was some help, but tricky to interpret.

I learned a lot about flying with the J-3. Any change in power or attitude required some input on the controls. The auto-pilot was me. The side slip was standard on final as there were no flaps to increase the rate of descent. All that said, it was a dream to fly. Noisy but forgiving. I know, as I soloed in the bird.

My first long cross country was humbling. I was heading west to Fitchburg. I thought I knew just where I was. But after flying for about 45 minutes I wasn’t so sure. Finally I spotted an airport ahead and lined up on the runway and landed after clearing myself visually. After taxing to the ramp and shutting down I walked in to the FBO and found out I wasn’t in Fitchburg but Leominster. Ahem, the effects of a crosswind were impressed on my brain then. Then a nice flight back, to the correct field.

When it was time to land, I had to review effects of cross wind and avoid hitting any planes parked just off the narrow runway. A short taxi back to the tie down and it was over for the day.
Ah yes, those were the good old days.

Stay cool and fly right.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Gear Problems Revisited

As gear problems continue to frequent the accident sites, I thought a brief discussion of landing with a failed nose gear would be of interest.

I just read about a Beech C90 that had a gear problem that resulted in a landing only on the mains. The nose gear mechanism failed, but the mains could be cranked down. Another gear failure with a similar result involved a C-177. It was reported that the plane had a gear malfunction indication, and upon landing the nose wheel failed.

As I thought about these two partial gear failures, and the resultant damage to props, engines, fuselage etc., I thought how damage could be minimized in the case of the single. Yup, you guessed it. Once you can identify that only the nose gear is involved, which may be easier said than done, land the plane as a glider. That means shut the engine off on short final, indexing the prop to horizontal with the starter. Land on the mains, keeping the wheel back until the plane stops and finally noses over. This would prevent damaging prop and engine, assuming one doesn’t stall it in. The latter can be avoided by carefully monitoring your airspeed. Not a procedure recommended for twins unless your last name begins with an S.

Regardless of the gear malfunction, it would be a good idea to do a flyby over the airport where a reliable observer is available. Tower operators usually will cooperate in this regard, weather and traffic permitting.

Remember, look for the gear down lights on final and before. Otherwise you may not “have a nice day”.

Happy and safe flying.