Continued from previous. (The bored readers have bailed by now, but for the faithful, who may yourselves be tiring of this matter, this is the next to last in the series. I think.)
I breakfasted with Dave before sun-up. He needed to get to the office for a big meeting with clients from Costa Rica. His company was proposing to design and build them a machine that harvested a fiber tree of some sort. Wife Marsha, the office manager, would trail in about 9am. Again I was on my own, but I liked it that way. I didn’t feel like I was too much of a burden on my hosts.
I got to the hangar at 0545 and Phil arrived at 0600 via his golf cart. Phil was a senior pilot with Alaska Airlines on the B-737 and also a check airman. He had a beautiful RV-6A, which is an RV-6 with a nosewheel. But he had plenty of time on Strearmans and Pitts, so he knew the tailwheel culture. We examined the rocket rod. He wasn’t familiar with it. He pushed the tail around and noticed the tailwheel swiveled freely. “That’s strange,” he said. “Most tailwheel assemblies have a locking mechanism so that they stay more or less straight on landing. This one swivels almost 360 degrees. Seems like that could cause weather-vanning into the wind on a crosswind landing.” He was telling me nothing I didn’t already know and had been worrying about. He scratched his head some more and then suggested we go flying.
The virtually new Lycoming O-360 fired off at the touch of the starter and I had no trouble taxiing the plane. We stopped at the pump to fuel it and then proceeded to the
runway’s end. The runway at the air park
was very narrow and afforded little room for error. Phil told me via the
plane’s crisp, quiet intercom that we would go over to the Marana Airport, a
former military base which had wide runways to practice landings. I did the
run-up checks and lined the RV up. The wind sock was limp in the early morning
calm. I whipped all 180 horses into a whirling frenzy and within
seconds I was able to raise the tail and let the plane fly off.
|LaCholla Air Park|
It climbed like a bottle rocket and even gained speed in the climb. In a couple of minutes we were miles away from the field. It responded like a jet to the mere touch of the stick. The visibility out the canopy was sensational. I leveled the plane at 7,000 feet and set the power for a 75% power cruise. The speed quickly went up to 175 knots. Wow! What a machine. We put it through a stall series. It exhibited normal stall characteristics. Phil wanted me to hold the wings level with rudder and let the plane enter a full stall regime. “If it falls off into a spin,” he said, “just use normal recovery techniques.” It started to spin, but a little forward stick and opposite rudder made it a happy flyer again.
I got apprehensive when we entered the pattern at Marina,
and sure enough I botched the first landing. I hit the power and went around
before touching down. It had so much power it was out of there in seconds. The
second landing was rough, with a bounce and some uneasy lateral oscillations. I
powered up and took off again. The third was no better. He suggested I try a
“wheel landing” on the fourth. "Pretend you’re trying to fly the plane a foot off the runway," he said, "and
then gradually reduce power and let it settle on. Hold the tail off as long as
you can.” I did that but bounced and went around. I tried it a second
time and did better, but when I let the tailwheel down we went into a swerving
oscillation from one side of the runway to the other. All this, and the wind
still had not gotten up!
|Marana Airport (Formerly Avra Valley)|
I started to sweat bullets. “Wow!” Phil said. “That tailwheel is touchy, isn’t it?”
We did two more squirrelly landings and time ran out for Phil. He had to catch a commuter flight to LAX that afternoon. We headed back to LaCholla Airpark and its shoestring of a runway. On the way over he said, “The air park rules allow for only three landings due to noise control. That’s all you’ve got left with me.”
I botched the first approach—too fast on final (the plane is hard to slow down). We bolted. One down. The second attempt was a big bounce and a go-around. Two down. On downwind for the last try he said, “Try a wheel landing again." I did as he suggested. The plane wanted to swerve when the tail touched but I caught it and let out a big sigh. “Good!” he said. “Just keep doing that and you’ll be okay.” I wasn’t so sure.
After Phil left I sat and eyed the plane for a long time. Noticing the wind picking up, I glanced at my watch. It was nearing my appointment at Ryan Field to get the pitot-static system re-certified, a procedure required every two years. Two weeks earlier I had called the avionics shops around Tucson to price the test. The one at the big airport didn’t consider me important enough to return the call. Another at Marina Airport told me he could do the job for $395, with the caveat that if he found a pressure leak I would have to get an A&P mechanic to fix it. Then I called a guy named Juan at Ryan Field. He could do it for $295.
I fired up the Six and taxied it out to the runway, swallowed hard and powered up. I pointed the plane southwest, turned on the auto-pilot and began fiddling with the Garmin 430 trying to set up a direct course to Ryan, 20 miles away. Still confused by its many functions, by the time I figured out how to set up the Garmin, Ryan was insight and I had not yet looked up the tower frequency. I was so far behind the Six I was in yesterday and it was in tomorrow.
wind sock standing about half way out from the right quartering front. I tried to wheel land the plane, hit too hard, bounced high and settled into a 3-point landing, which also resulted in a bounce, followed by a nervous swerve left, then right before I brought it under reasonable control. I knew I had entertained the tower controller. “Wow!” I said, on the radio. “That was fun. I’m new to this plane.”
“I see that,” he said. I visualized him smirking. I turned off the runway, asked him where Juan’s shop was and taxied to it wondering how I would ever learn this plane without breaking it.
“Oh! Nice RV,” Juan yelled as I rolled up and shut off the engine. He got out his equipment and started to work right away. I stood nearby nervously surfing the internet on my Android, checking weather for tomorrow’s attempted ferry flight back to Alabama. Within a few minutes Juan said, “Uh oh! A leak.”
I cringed. Another problem. The pitot-static system, which supplies information to the altimeter, airspeed indicator and the altitude reporting function of the transponder had a pressure leak somewhere. I remembered that other avionics technician I talked to—the one who said if he found a leak he would not fix it. I would have to employ a mechanic to do that. This could not be good. My mechanic was off in Yuma flying a C-130. I would have to find a new one.
Then I saw Juan taking off the rear bulkhead. I watched him crawl back into the fuselage. I heard him mutter, “I think its back here somewhere.” Juan was trying to find the leak! I waited on pins and needles for a few minutes till I heard him yell. “I found it!” He yelled for me to fetch him a wrench. A few minutes later he emerged and tested again. “It’s fixed,” he said. “Just a loose connection.” Once again, the Good Lord was watching over me. I had found the right guy for the job.
While Juan finished up his work, I looked at that confounding rocket rod and scratched my head. I got out my Andrioid and looked up the rocket rod’s manufacturer. I called and told a guy there that the wheel was free swiveling. Was it was supposed to do that? “No!” he said. “Are you flying it like that?” I told him about my troubles trying to land it. “Man you need to take it apart and see why it is not locking.” He e-mailed a diagram of the assembly, but I didn’t have any tools to do the job.
I asked Juan, “Is there a mechanic around who might help me with my tailwheel?”
To my utter surprise, Juan said, “Sure!” He pointed toward a man working on a Turbo Centurion over in the opposite corner of the hangar. “Check with Marvin over there.”
I walked over to Marvin. He was so engrossed in the Centurion’s complicated ignition wiring harness I didn’t want to disturb him. Juan yelled across the distance, “Marvin, there’s a man here needs your help!”
Marvin turned and said, “What can I do for you?” I told him my problem, thinking the best that will come from this will be that Marvin will tell me he can look at it tomorrow, not to mention the shaking down he would give my wallet. Marvin got up and wiped his hands. “Let’s take a look.”
I showed him the tailwheel, explained my problem and showed him the diagram the manufacturer sent me. He waved the diagram off. “Don’t need it.” He jacked up the 6’s tail and took the tailwheel off, then took it apart, all the while chattering. He was a part-time music minister in his church. “Ah! I see! There’s a bunch of old grease gunckin’ up the locking slot.” In 15 minutes the assembly was cleaned, regreased and reassembled. He pushed the tail. The wheel locked. “There you go! That’s $30 bucks for half an hour’s work.” I gladly paid him, realizing again that somebody up there was still looking out after me.
I paid Juan and taxied out to the runway. Now it was time to do some serious landing practice. I decided to go back to Marana for that. When I got on downwind I saw the wind sock standing straight out at a quartering angle. The air was rough. The Six bumped and jerked. I dropped the flaps and rolled in.
The landing was better, but not by much. I was learning to flare at the right height and touch down relatively softly, but the awful swerving after landing was really getting to me. After a while I seemed not to be improving. I did a full stop and taxied in.
While I had lunch Dave called. He wanted to know how it was going. After I told him about my struggles he said, “Stay where you are! Don’t try to land it back at LaCholla. Tie the plane down for the night where you are. I’ll come and pick you up, but I can’t get there till 6pm.”
“I don’t know, Dave,” I said. Let’s just see what these winds do.”
I was thinking of telling Dave I would stay an extra day to do more local practice before heading east, but that idea evaporated when Dave told me a requirement had suddenly come up for him to leave town early next day. He didn’t come out right and say it, but I knew I couldn’t stay there any longer. It wouldn’t look right, me staying there alone with Marsha. Besides, the moose meat was gone. I had to leave for Alabama next morning, come hell or high cross-winds.
Feeling like a man without a plan (a feeling I abhor), I taxied the plane to the FBO for fuel. The two people inside acted like zombies. No personality. No discussion. No “Nice plane, you’ve got there.” No nothing. It demoralized me even more. I wanted badly to be back at Moontown Airfield, where people were alive and talked airplanes and recognized you were a live human standing in front of them. But it seemed so far away.
I went out to the plane and saw the wind sock was still horizontal. Not knowing what to do, I decided to do nothing. I fired up the Six and taxied it to an empty hangar port to get out of the burning sun. I shut it down and sat in it, waiting for the winds to die down. I spent the time reading the manual for the Garmin, checking the weather, watching the windsock.
By 4pm the winds had not shown the least inclination to get calmer. I couldn’t sit there any longer. I decided to fly around for a couple of hours and hope the bad winds died while I was up.
I spent the two hours flying box patterns over the desert, testing the auto-pilot and the GPS. After becoming reasonably assured I could navigate using the plane’s systems I pointed it back toward Tuscon. A quick check of the weather revealed the winds were still high and gusty.
Would I go back to the wide runways of Marina, as my host wanted me to do and leave the plane there for the night? Or would I attempt LaCholla’s ribbon-narrow airstrip with direct crosswinds gusting to 25 knots and park the Six back in Dave’s hangar for the night? Those were the questions I asked myself, but I still simply didn’t know. I flew in the general direction of both airports until a decision for one or the other had to be made.
Next post: The flight home.