The weather today was 17G23 from about 330 degrees at the nearest weather station. We were planning to do circuits on 36. So we had a little left crosswind. Not much on the ground, though it was unpredictable and occasionally gusty. This was our first session of circuits and I was looking forward to it. This is where the rubber meets the road - or whatever the appropriate flying metaphor is. In order to fly a taildragger you have to be able to take off and land reliably and safely.
Gusty days have never concerned me, however they play into one of my little weaknesses as a pilot. When things get busy, particularly in the landing phase I can slip from my usual "Mr Smooth" into over-controlling mode. Something to do with my early days in gliders I think.
The first circuit was pretty good, a few bumps but nothing much really. As we came down final we were high and even with full flaps we weren't getting down so we crossed it up and that made her settle down. Nice to know how fast you can come down. As I came into the flair two things conspired to make my landing less than I would have wished for. Firstly my over-control tendencies as the aircraft got busy in the gusts, together with the Classic's great control effectiveness at low speeds. Many aircraft need buckets of control deflection at landing speed but the Classic has good authority right down to the stall. So the first landing had a bit of a zoom in it as I over-flared. Nevertheless we settled nicely and pointed in the right direction.
The next few were variations on the theme. I worked on controlling my inclinations to take the controls to the stops and the Classic behaved better and better. The landings were still a little ropey, but nice and workmanlike. My daughter wouldn't have approved but they were OK.
On final there was a fair old crosswind from the left together with some sink mid-final and then a bit of lift just over the fence. We did lots of full flap landings and some with only first stage. All in all it was a good workout. On the last circuit we were talking about whether to take a break and go again or whether to wait for some better weather so that I could work on being Mr Smooth again. We decided to do a few more and then wait for the weather to improve.
On to final, we were nicely lined up with about 20 degrees of crab, I coped nicely with the sink and the lift and I was working on being nice and smooth. It was working too! Into the flair smoothly, left wing down to hold the centre line. Nice and straight, settling, settling some more. Left wheel and tailwheel down and then the wind vanished entirely. The left wing headed for the grass - accompanied by a terse comment from the back seat, I banged in right aileron and as we came level a gust from the left caught the left wing and the right wing headed for the grass, aileron back towards the left. At this point the Classic finally decided that it had had enough of the oaf in charge and gently pirouetted to the right. I just focused on keeping the wings level, stopping the ground loop from tightening and getting on the brakes so that we stopped before the fence.
And stop before the fence we did - about 20 feet away. We shut down and got out to check for damage. Whilst those wing tips had got mighty close, there were no scrapes and aside from some evidence of a slide on the tyres all was well.
Interestingly I don't think either of us got our heart rates up much. My greatest admiration is reserved for the back seat. He confined himself to a single terse comment. I suspect if it was me, I'd have let forth a mighty oath or two!
There's a reason I called this series Tailwheel Travails. There's also a reason I love the Classic. I reckon that lots of other aircraft would have made a complete fool of me, rather than given me a gentle kick up the bum.
2 weeks ago