Sunday, August 2, 2009

Tailwheel Travails - Lesson Two

We've been put off a number of times by the rubbish weather - wind, rain, more wind.
It looked as though this was going to be another miss. The forecast was 18G32 with a front coming through from the west. When I first arrived it wasn't flyable - a nasty squall line from the NW and the wind just as forecast. We waited a while and there, miraculously was a clear spot.
I started up, taxied to the run-up bay and then down to the end of the runway. "You're taxiing pretty well" from the back seat. Well thanks for that, all of a sudden I feel like I can taxi this demon! Two things contribute to the sudden improvement: first I always look over the nose and don't let anything continue that I haven't specifically instigated and approved. Second I work on the basis that this aircraft will keep doing whatever it's doing and probably do more of it unless I stop it. So when I start a taxi turn I don't use much rudder and then I give it some counter rudder to keep things seemly. All of a sudden my taxiing appears half professional.
Lined up on the runway, open the throttle, tail up and we're airborne. The problem is that out of apparently nowhere there's a squall line obscuring the far end of the runway. We turn immediate left and by the time we are at 500 feet the strip has disappeared behind us. There'll be no circuits today and we may miss our lunch!! Away to the west we can see for miles but to the NW it is completely closed in with a big ugly squall line.
We climb and do a couple of practice forced landings. With the wind at 1,500' blowing about 35 knots all the action takes place right above the intended paddock. The Classic instills absolute confidence in these situations. This is proper flying, the best fun you can have sitting in an aircraft. You know when you are sitting in an aircraft and it is so responsive and predictable that you can set all thoughts of flying and deciding aside and just do it? You don't have to think, you don't have to second guess the aircraft you just execute the plan. That's what forced landings are like in the Classic - the thought is the deed and everything goes how you intended it to.
Meanwhile the squall line is getting thicker and heavier. We are in no danger - in fact we are in clear, smooth air, with the sun shining and able to see for miles to the west. We've got a handful of alternative places to roost - local strips, other airports - so we don't even feel anxious except that our lunch will be getting cold!
We decide to explore the flank and the back of the squall line just to see how thick it is. Wherever we go we stay away from the cloud and make sure our back door is firmly propped open. We wander around the back and side of the line, looking for a way forward. At one point it looks like we can run straight home, but as we proceed it becomes clear that the cloud and rain have completely blanked off the ground where we want to go. We roll around in a lazy turn and head for the sunshine again. Our tanks have plenty of fuel and the flying is such good fun anyway. There is no hurry, no anxiety...except that we hope someone has put our lunch in the oven!
As we loiter on the flank we see another hole appearing. We can get in but leave our back door wide open. We slow down and drift downwind staying in the clear area. A couple of turns to slow us down and then there ahead of us the hangars and airstrip. The downwind end of the strip is still wreathed in rain and cloud but it's clearing by the second. We join and set off downwind. As we do the last of the squall line moves away and we make a flapless approach. This strip is notorious for a bit of a curl over on final in this kind of wind. Apart from a couple of little gusts it's all pretty placid, into the flare, and as I touch down a crosswind gust gets under one wing. I counter with some aileron, a little bounce and we're down. I concentrate for the taxi and realise I can still do even that.
This has got to be the best flying I can remember for a long time. Pure flying for the sake of flying, in an aircraft that makes me grin widely just thinking about it.
The best bit: two plates of lunch, covered with foil sitting nicely in the oven keeping warm!! I'll be back for more - flying the Classic that is.
Part 1 of Tailwheel Travails and a brief review of the Classic.