105 days from Intro Flight to Solo
|October 15, 2000||I decided to do an intro flight in an ultralight. I loved it! Here am I in front of the hangar sign:
|October 2000 –
|I take UL ground school, and 11 lessons. Here’s the Challenger II that I trained in. Below are the details of many of the lessons.
|A shot of the sun rising over the Gulf of Mexico, near my training area… stunning!|
|Oct 21, 2000||Intro Flight
For this adventure, I sat in the back of the Challenger II, while the instructor, John Wall, flew the plane from the front seat. To this point, the smallest plane I’d been in was the Cessna 150 I was training in back in the 70’s. So this was a real experience. I was a little timid walking up to the plane, but once I got in, it felt really good (snug, to be sure) and I had no qualms. We flew down to the beach near San Luis Pass, flew out over the ocean at 500 feet and could wave to the people on the beach. Cool! I liked flying low and slow!
|Oct 25, 2000||Lesson #1 : straight and level
I was a little nervous at first, but flying straight and level is pretty much a no-brainer. There was a fairly stiff — but steady — wind, and it felt very natural to crab the plane to keep it flying straight. We flew down the coast and turned when we got to the mouth of the Brazos River. (It was fascinating to see the river water trying unsuccessfully to flow out into the Gulf, but the tide was coming in and the ocean was, for the moment, winning.) It was more fun being in the front seat… more challenging, too.
|Nov 19, 2000||UL Ground School
Doing the ground school and lessons with me was my brother, Jim. Like me, he had taken GA flying lessons in a Cessna some years back, but found it too expensive, and not that much fun. But we liked the idea of ultralights, and the smaller plane, with the outstanding unobstructed view, and flying close to the ground, well, it was a lot of fun! So he and I decided to parallel each other through UL ground school and the in-flight training. The instructor gave us a test at the beginning of the course — ostensibly to gauge how much we learned after it was over — and I came within one question of passing (!) and Jim passed the test and came within one question of passing the instructors level! So, the ground school covered a lot of stuff we already knew, but I was also pleased that there was a lot of information in the ground school just about flying ultralights, so I consider it time and money well spent.
|Nov 21, 2000||Lesson #2 : turns
Lesson 1 had a couple of turns, but they were very long and wide. In lesson 2, we did “normal” turns, coordinating ailerons and rudder. The Challenger seems to be controlled best by rudder control, with just a bit of input from the ailerons, whereas I remember more of a 50-50% arrangement with the Cessna. Starting with this lesson, I began to learn about the “training area”… essentially a lot of open ground bordered by lightly traveled roads on two sides, a bayou on the 3rd and a pipeline easement on the 4th side. I did shallow turns in the shape of a giant figure 8 over the training area.
|Nov 22, 2000||Lesson #3 : steep turns, figure 8’s
I had been told “we’ll do some steep turns” on this lesson, so when we were over the training area and he said to do my first turn, well, I did a steep turn! When I finally leveled out, I heard my instructor say, partly with humor, partly with concern: “Well, they don’t have to be THAT steep!” So, my turns became a bit more reasonable, and I did figure 8’s over two ponds that were separated by about 200 yards. With a stiff wind, it was quite a challenge to keep my ground track a correct figure-8… each turn was a little different from the others, so being able to adjust to real conditions is a lot harder than what you read in a textbook.
|Dec 8, 2000||Lesson #4 : ascending/descending turns
Ultralights don’t have a lot of power, so keeping your speed up is pretty important. To do ascending and descending turns involves coordination of power as well as rudder/ailerons, also taking into account wind direction and speed and other environmental concerns. This was the first lesson where I felt that I wasn’t just practicing something (that I already knew), but actually learned new things. Coordinating all the elements was a mental and physical challenge. When I was finished with the lesson, I was exhausted and realized I had been very tense the whole time. John let me do the final leg of the landing, and didn’t take over the stick until we were about 40 feet AGL! That was kind of a thrill (because I got to do it sooner than I thought), but the air was perfect…. no, no, it was Perfect (with a capital “P”) … like riding a rail. It was the kind of day that, if I had my own plane and my cert., I’d have skipped work to go flying all day.
|Dec 10, 2000||Lesson #5 : takeoff, and power-on/power-off stalls
The only thing I don’t like about the Challenger is that the windshield fogs over very easily. John doesn’t want me to wipe it off, and so here I was, about to face my first takeoff, and I can’t see squat. Yeah, yeah, I know that you don’t need to see much, but looking out the side window through a little patch of plexiglass that doesn’t happen to have fog on it isn’t my idea of the way to take-off. But I give it a try, anyway. Predictably, I didn’t line up too well, and at the moment that I rotate (45 mph), John grabs the stick because I was way far to the left. He knows I was handicapped, and says he wants me to try it again, so we do a quick loop, he lands the plane downwind (!), turns it around then tells me to try again. This time, it’s perfect, because I can see…during the little loop and landing, the front windshield had cleared up. No problems taking off!
The stalls were — if you’ll excuse me stating the obvious — a real rollercoaster ride. The power-on stalls were more violent, but we recovered faster. Conversely, the power-off stalls were more gentle, but recovery took a bit longer and our nose-down speed got really fast before I could get the nose up again. I admit to being very reluctant to really yank the stick back to force the plane into a stall, especially on the 2nd and 3rd stall in a row, where they were building up to be steeper and steeper stalls. The 3rd power-on stall we did was a real thriller, as my stomach came up into my throat and my body was trying to tell me I was about to die while my brain was trying to control it from panicking! That part only lasted a couple of seconds, but it reminded me of the time I jumped (or was pulled from, depending on who’s telling the story) a perfectly good airplane with a parachute on my back. Of course, the added “thrill” in the plane is that you are then trying to pull it up and out of the stall. More than anything, it made me respect “airspeed”… Just prior to the stall, John had me flying the plane at 40 mph with a severe angle-of-attack… looking at the wingtips told me just how severe… and I got my first big dose of admiration for the design of the Challenger. Yes, the controls were a little mushier than normal, but it was still flying, straight and level. Very nice.
|Dec 11, 2000||Lesson #6 : ascending/descending S-turns … and a landing!
Although the sky was fairly clear, there was a good layer of fog hanging around the field, so John decided he’d better take off. That was fine with me as I’m not yet comforable with nearly-blind takeoffs <g>. We quickly ascended to 1,000 feet and headed for the training area. We had good viz, but there was a steady 10-15mph wind out of the SW. Once over the training area, John had me start doing S-turns – essentially 180-degree turns to the left, then 180-degress to the right, slowly proceeding down a “line” on the ground. We used a pipeline right-of-way as the line. I did several S-turns at 1,000 feet, then he told me to slowly descend to 500 feet while I continued doing S-turns. This is much harder than it sounds, especially when you’re trying to make these nice S’s on the ground, but the wind keeps blowing you around. And descending takes some coordination, especially when turning, so I had my hands full.
When we were at 500 feet, I was still doing S-turns, but he warned me that there isn’t much room for error. Consequently, I made sure the turns were shallow, smooth and well under control. Ascending S-turns were much easier than their descending cousins. After doing this for almost an hour, we headed back.
John has a way of letting a new task just kind of creep up on you when you’re not really expecting it. So today, he had me line up for the final on the landing… we got down to about 40-feet AGL (which I had done before, but then he took over), when he said, “Okay, you’ll need to flare here in a moment…” ! Yikes! I did flare, but a tiny bit too much, then adjusted, then landed. Wow. He hadn’t told me I was going to land! Well, I’m glad it worked out that way, so I wouldn’t have to sweat it. Whew, that was a tough lesson… the toughest yet… and not because of the landing… that was sweet! But the multilevel S-turns really require a lot of concentration, effort and continuous fine-tuning.
|Dec 23, 2000||I buy a ’94 QuickSilver MXL Sport FAR 103 ultralight, with Rotax 447 engine, strobes and a Warp Drive prop.|
|Jan 5, 2001||Lesson #7 : emergency procedures
Another early morning lesson, the winds were light and a cloud bank over the Gulf was keeping the sun at bay… which made seeing the ground much easier. And, of course, this was a good thing since we were about to practice emergency landings. First, I took off, and flew the Challenger to the southern edge of the training area. John gave me a few pointers and without any ceremony, cut the engine back to idle. I saw a dirt road that looked promising, but it was at a 90-degree angle to me and it had a 45-degree curve to it at a point near where I was guessing I’d end up. Sure enough, I found myself approaching the curve when I was at about 100-feet AGL. Too low to make any other changes, I committed to the field in front of me. As we floated 50-feet above the scrub, John says, “Ok, that was a crash. You’d walk away from it but the plane would have a lot of damage.” and he goosed the engine and I brought the plane back up to 500-feet. Next, we flew out to the beach, and this time I did a perfect approach on the beach at idle… we floated 20 feet above it then powered back up to 500 feet. The next three were all fairly successful, and then the lesson was over. Today, I did the landing at the airport just fine. It took 3 hours before my adreneline came back down to normal! <g>
Here’s my instructor, John Wall III and his Challenger II.
|Jan 6, 2001||Lesson #8 : takeoffs and landing approaches
The very next morning, I was up again at 5 a.m. and driving down to Angleton. The temperature was very cool, around 37-degrees. As we did the pre-flight, we could see a little fog starting to form, but it was barely noticeable. I took off (the front windscreen was a little fogged over, but I managed a fair takeoff) and at about 150 feet the windscreen totally fogged up! It was a temperature inversion, with the air at 150-200 feet about 15 degrees warmer than the temperature on the ground. I was patient, essentially flying IFR, watching the gauges and using the few visual clues I could pick up from the ground below, and by the time I got to 400 feet, the windscreen started to clear. I banked left and started the counterclockwise pattern around the field.
There are at least two minor complications to the pattern and approach to Bailes Airport: very large power line towers paralleling the runway, and populated area (subdivisions). On the positive side, there are no major obstructions in the approach or take off (regular telephone poles are on the south edge, but about 2000 feet pastthe end of the runway, so lots of room). I was doing my landings north to south, and I had to skirt a subdivision on the final leg. It wasn’t too much of an “obstacle” since I was powering down to 4000rpms at that point anyway. John had me pick a reference point for the glide path and I stuck to it until I was about 20 feet AGL. At that point, my natural instinct was to pull up, but John convinced me to keep the nose down until I was at about 5 feet and then level off, always keeping my airspeed up. He wanted me to fly down the length of the runway at 5 feet AGL. The first time, it was tough, but on each approach, it got easier and easier. On the 3rd approach, he said “You got it!”
But each time we powered up and gained altitude, we went through the “IFR” routine again. Worse, the ground fog was getting thicker every minute. After the 3rd approach, he asked if I was uncomfortable with the increasing fog, and I said that as long as I had a reference point for the approach, it was okay with me. What I was referring to was a fence-line that was paralleling the final approach on the starboard side of the plane. Using that, I could get a good idea about where I was for the line-up. But on the next go-around, I completely missed the tree-line I was using for the final-leg, and the fog was almost completely obscuring the fence. So, I told John “Ok, now I’m uncomfortable.” But, I knew once I got to 100 feet AGL that I would be below the fog bank, and — sure enough — I was, and could line up and see the runway. But, I was a lot lower, a lot sooner than I had been on all previous approaches, so it threw my timing off a bit. I probably should have kept the rpms a little higher. Turns out I hit stall speed just as I touched down. Now, maybe for an experienced flyer, that’s the ideal touch-down, but it was too soon for me! But, still, it was a nice landing.
We taxied and killed the engine. Shortly after that, my brother drove up. His lesson was next. But the fog was definitely too thick to be doing his emergency procedures lesson, so we topped off the tank in the Challenger and stood around chatting. After an hour of waiting, he decided it just wasn’t going to happen today and we decided to head on out. But I decided to take another close look at my Quicksilver, and as we were looking, John came over and said, “Why don’t you take it out and taxi it?” Well, I was surprised at his suggestion, but decided it was probably a good idea.
I drained the gas that was in the tank, cleaned the carburetor bowl, put about 1 gallon of fresh fuel in it, moved three other planes out of the way, and pushed it out onto the grass. I expected it to be difficult to start, and I was right. But, it did eventually start… probably took 15 pulls. Not too bad for a 2-stroke engine that hadn’t been used in over a year (and the plugs hadn’t been changed, either!). It ran pretty rough for a while — I’m sure the plugs were fouled from sitting so long — but I buckled up and started taxiing.
The ground, and the plane moving over it, was a lot rougher than I thought it would be… certainly rougher than the Challenger was… but I was happy to have my plane stretching its legs after a long slumber in the hangar. I went down the runway and back, then let my brother do the same. As he was coming back (I was standing near the middle of the runway) I saw something that looked wrong, something around the starboard wheel. A few seconds later, I could see that the tire was coming off the wheel. I signaled to him to cut the engine… he hesitated… I signaled emphatically, and he then complied. I ran over and told him what was wrong and he was surprised! It was so rough that the tire coming off didn’t make it noticeably rougher!
I knew better than to try to move the plane with the tire off, so I tried to put the tire back on, but couldn’t. John and a couple of other pilots saw that we were having a problem, jumped in John’s truck and drove across the field to help. Between the 5 of us, we got the plane safely off the runway. I took another shot at the tire and, this time, got it on the wheel. John and I drove back to the hangar to get some tools, an air tank and a tube. The tires on the plane were tubeless, but they didn’t look like they would be very reliable without tubes. We eventually got the tube put in the starboard tire, pumped up, and I taxiied it back to the hangar. (This time it only took about 5 pulls to start the engine.) Jim and I actually taxied one more time each before we finally put it up for the day.
In general, I considered the outing to be very successful. I definitely want things to fail on the ground! I still need to clean the carburetor better, replace the spark plugs and go over it in more detail, but I’m pretty excited about flying it! It won’t be long, now!
|Jan 14, 2001||Lesson #8.75 : takeoffs and landing approaches
Another early, early Saturday morning, temperatures in the high 40’s, overcast… the weather looked iffy, but even if I didn’t get to fly, I had things to do to my QuickSilver. It sprinkled on me a few times on the way down to Angleton, and when I got there it still looked like we wouldn’t go up, but John was more upbeat about it. I got my gear out of the car and situated it next to the Quick when John suggested we try it.
The north half of the runway was muddy and soft, so we taxied past that and took off. The clouds were going west to east, the wind sock showed winds east to west, so I figured there’d be some turbulence, and I was right. Just past about 80 feet AGL, we started getting tossed around pretty good. I hung on and climbed out to 1000 feet, trimmed out the plane, then circled back to the pattern. The air smoothed out at about 800 feet, ceiling seemed to be around 1500-2000 feet. As I descended for an approach, we once again hit the turbulence, and — in my inexperience — I was having a hard time bringing the plane down to a lower altitude for the line up. Well, I said hard, not impossible, for I did do it. We got down to the runway and John said he wanted me to just skim it at 5-10 feet AGL, so I did, and I did pretty good considering the hammering we were getting (John’s opinion, not mine!).
I went around again, and it wasn’t any better since we stayed at 500 feet, so I never got a chance for smooth air. This time, he said to land, so I did. It wasn’t a great landing, but I didn’t stall the plane and land hard on the gear, although John said I was slow enough to have stalled. ??? Anyway, the two go arounds were actually part of the previous lesson, so I called this entry “Lesson 8.75”.
Back in the hangar, working on my Quicksilver… I took out the old sparkplugs (Autolite… YECH!), gapped the new NGK B8ES to 0.018″, installed the front one, then hooked the cylinder-head-temperature sensor into the rear plug, tightened both, and made sure the sensor cable was well routed. I then removed the float bowl and sprayed carburetor cleaner into the Bing 54, then cleaned the bowl. John showed me where to spray for the best effect. We filled up the tank and rolled it out. It started after only 3 pulls, but then quit and didn’t want to start again. John said the carburetor cleaner was interfering, so he and I worked on it for a while. When it finally started, it sounded SO SMOOTH compared to last weekend! Wow. What a difference new spark plugs and a cleaned out carburetor meant to it! TLC definitely pays off.
We noted a drip in the fuel shutoff valve, so I’ll have to order a replacement… and John noticed that the cooling fan belt was too loose. So, we shut it off and took the fan out, and moved the shims around to tighten the belt. He said I needed a new one, so something else to order. After the shims were moved around, the belt tightened up quite a bit, and John was satisfied. And, as planned, I asked John if he’d fly it, so he buckled up, put on some hearing protectors, taped an ancient Hall airspeed indicator to the wires, then took off.
It was nice to see it flying… finally! He did several turns around the field, went slow, then fast, did some tight turns, and generally gave it a good workout, most of it where I could watch. Did I say it looked really good? It did! After John came down, he announced that it was in great shape, and more fun to fly than the GT-400!
John talked the 4-5 guys standing around to help him rearrange the hangar, so we did a bit of manual labor, all the better to fit the planes in the hangar. It certainly helped me a little, making it a tiny bit easier to get my Quicksilver out, but I still have to move 3 planes.
After that, I decided to take the Quicksilver out and taxi it some more. This time I wore my helmet, so it wasn’t nearly as uncomfortable from a noise standpoint. The wind was now from the southeast, so it was mostly coming down the runway. A couple of times, the airspeed indicated showed 25 mph., so I was close to takeoff velocity, but I resisted the (rather STRONG) urge to take off! <g> Over all, a pretty nice day, considering I only got to fly for 15 minutes!
THE QUICKSILVER IS READY! Although, to be honest, it still needs a few more tweaks.
|Jan 24, 2001||Lesson #9 : takeoffs and landings
Lesson 9 (and 10) followed the same pattern: the first couple of landings weren’t even a “touch”, just skimming a few feet above the runway. After that, I would (try) to come down the glide path — sometimes I did, sometimes I was hot, sometimes I was short — then reduce rpms until I was just 2 feet above the runway, then cut the power completely but not let the nose jump up, and let the back two wheels touch, leaving the nose wheel in the air, and let it come down by itself.
The weather was fair, but I was not “in the groove” and seemed to have little consistency.
|Jan 25, 2001||Lesson #10 : takeoffs and landings
Today, I thought for sure I would be finished, but it wasn’t exactly a secret that my landings weren’t consistent. Of all the landings I did, two of them were perfect, but two were terrible, and the rest were only ok. John suggested I needed another lesson.
The weather was really a problem, today. It was very rough, and there was a distinct cross wind. I joked that John was going to have to sign off on cross-wind landings for me. I’m not 100% sure that I would have finished today had the weather been still and calm, but having to fight the crosswind and turbulence didn’t help me do the flare any better, that’s for sure. I was very disappointed that I didn’t finish, and knew it would be another week before I got my shot at it again. It also didn’t help that it was dusk, and the light was failing pretty quick and I don’t do too well with my vision in the early evening. Not an excuse, just a factor.
|Feb 3, 2001||Lesson #11 : takeoffs, landings, and… I solo!
My brother and I drove down to Angleton together, today. Most weekends, he managed to get the 8:30am slot, leaving me with the earlier 7am slot… and that meant getting up at 5am or so. But somehow, I got in there before him and got the 8:30am slot. But, I felt sorry for him and told him that I’d drive down with him if he didn’t mind hanging around for my lesson, and… possibly more.
He did his lesson (number 8), and I watched some of his approaches and landings. It looked to me that he was having all the same, ahem, issues, that I had been having. While he did his lesson, I worked on the Quicksilver. I had gotten a new fan belt, and worked on replacing it. I also had planned on replacing the fuel valve, but — after spending 10 minutes draining the tank — I discovered that my fuel valve is the screw-in type, and LEAF had sent me the force-fit type. Sigh. I decided to put the old, leaky valve back in and start prepping the plane just in case I could fly it later on. (Turned out to be a good decision!)
He said the plane would be a lot lighter with him out of it, so… watch out! Not much of a warning, and I had little to go on, but I didn’t think I’d have a problem.
Well, the Challenger II with only one passenger is a dramatically different plane than with two! It lifted off quicker, it climbed out quicker, turns were almost too quick, and turbulence was felt more acutely. And, as if Mother Nature was laughing at me, what had been 40 minutes of silky smooth air was now kicking up and bouncing me around. John didn’t say what I could or couldn’t do, but just told me to be back at the hangar in about 30 minutes. I considered flying down to the beach, but decided that it would be wiser to practice my approach and maybe do one or two touch-n-go’s. Before I even came around the pattern for the first approach, the turbulence was really knocking me around, so — fighting hard to bring this now-very-light aircraft into the glidepath — my first touch-n-go wasn’t hardly a touch at all. I didn’t feel in control, so I gunned it and went around. On the second attempt, it was even worse… I was trying to skim the runway but found I had little control as the wind would suddenly pick up and I’d find myself 20 feet up, rather than the 2-3 feet I had planned. I was actually starting to worry about getting the plane down!
Ok, we all know 3rd time’s a charm, so I decided that if I was even somewhat close on the next attempt, I’d land it and call it even. The landing was a bit sloppy, but I fought the wind and did a valiant job of bringing the plane down, touched the back two wheels, and let the nose wheel come down… very nice… but I was all over the runway. Not a wonderful landing, but not too bad either.
So, I had solo’d! <g>
My brother took some photos (the ones you see here)… he said I looked nonchalant and the landing (and flying) looked good. Boy, was he wrong on both counts!
Before I left the airport, my instructor John Wall and another pilot, Jon Riley, ripped my t-shirt off, and it’s now nailed to the wall at the hangar… a tradition that they had somehow neglected to tell me about. Wow. I can’t tell you what it feels like to have solo’d. If you’ve been there, then you know. If you’re not there yet, well, you’ll have to experience it yourself!
|Feb 3, 2001||I fly my Quicksilver, for the first time!
After my solo, I asked John if he thought I was ready to fly my Quicksilver, and he hummed and hawed, as he usually does when he doesn’t want to come right out and say “No!”. Then I asked if I should do some crow-hops first, and then he nodded and gave me a few tips on what to look out for. Then he acquiesced and said that, if it felt right, then go ahead. He had another check-out ride to give to another customer so he got pretty busy and forgot about me.
I went back over to the Quicksilver and finished replacing the fan belt, poured the gas back in it, cleaned it up a bit, moved the other planes out of the way, rolled it out on the tarmac, and cranked her up. The air temperature wasn’t too cold — about 55-F degrees on the ground — but I thought it’d be prudent to bundle up anyway. I had a heavy windproof coat on, my helmet and sunglasses, and my brothers gloves. I taxied out and did my first crowhop. Early that day, another Quicksilver owner had related to me his story about crowhopping. He essentially said it couldn’t be done in a Quicksilver since they “float” so well. With that in mind, I had decided to be firm with my craft and not take any shortcuts.
The first crowhop was okay. I probably got up about 15 feet, then cut the power back and landed fairly well. I turned her around, and did another (going downwind — and I found out later I was causing some confusion among the planes already in the air, watching me… they couldn’t decide if the wind had changed or not).
This one was pretty sloppy, got too far off the right side of the runway, but I still came down okay. I turned her around, and my mind was now feeling like this was a doable thing, flying this Quicksilver. It started as a crowhop, but I had turned the plane around too soon and was pretty far down the runway when I realized that I might run out of runway if I came down right then and there. So, my mind was made up, and I pushed the throttle forward, and off I went! Wow!
The sensation was indescribable. The excitement, the heart pounding terror, the incredible view, the wind rushing past, the sheer idea of being up there with almost nothing around you, no reference points… it was one of the biggest thrills of my life! I was more nervous than a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs, and the turbulence hadn’t gotten any better. In a way, though, it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would get. Here I was, on the same day, in yet another kind of plane, and it took some getting used to. I was terrified at the same time I was thrilled and overjoyed. I was too busy taking care of the flying business to look around much, but it was still an awesome view.
I went around the pattern and came right in for a landing. And the landing was pretty good, too. I took the advice I had been given by lots of Quicksilver pilots, and flew it right to the ground… that worked quite well.
Whew! So, I pulled off the runway and parked it next to a trike that had come visiting.
The adreneline was still pulsing through my body, and I was practically walking an inch above the ground. You may ask, why such a short flight? Well, I think my mind and my body had had enough for the day…! Can you really blame me? I had a lesson, I solo’d, and I flew my plane for the first time. Quite a day. Quite a day. Losing the t-shirt to the wall wasn’t such a big deal compared with what I had accomplished. It was a grand, grand feeling.
|This pretty much ends my tale… I don’t know if any of this will help anyone out, but I read enough of others’ journals of their experiences to know that every little piece of information a new pilot gets is a good thing, as it gives you different perspectives and let’s you get an idea of what it will be like. I can tell you, it’s worth it!
Feel free to contact me if you have any comments or questions: firstname.lastname@example.org
This is a video from 2001 of my first flight in the Quicksilver….
One final note: A big thanks to my brother who supported me by following me into this adventure, standing by my side, helping with the ground school, cheering me on when I was down, and sharing in my tribulations… and, and he takes pretty good photos, too! <g> Thanks, Jim!
Below are two short stories of outings in my Quicksilver:
March 4, 2001
Went flying again on Sunday… that was my 5th flight in my Quicksilver… No one else was around (as is usual, but I can’t figure out why since it’s calmest in the early morning), so I had to push 3 airplanes out of the hangar just to get mine out, and then I had to put them back in and lock it up before I took off. It’s a pain, but it only take about 10 minutes (to get them out… another 10 minutes in), but I have to do it all over again when I put the Quicksilver away. Sigh.
Most hangars in the area are full, so even if they weren’t more expensive, I couldn’t get a spot. There’s one airport not far which is supposed to have a door for each airplane, so there’s no pushing things around. That would be wonderful, but even if they had an open hangar spot, I’m not sure it’d be worth the extra $35 month.
The wind was about 5mph from the North, and the runway was pretty soggy toward the north end. However, since I have to taxi to the south end and take off from the south end (towards the north, of course), and since I’ve got an ultralight that takes off in 75 feet, it wasn’t an issue. I was 50 feet in the air before I even got to the halfway point on the runway!
It was a little bumpy, but not much, and it didn’t bother me. I don’t know if I’ve said this, but I’ve also gotten over the “OMIGODI’MREALLYUPHEREWITHNOTHINGAROUNDMEANDI’MGONNAFALLOUTANDDIE” feeling… It’s still a thrill, that’s for sure, but I’m now confident that I won’t fall out! <sheepish grin> On this flight, I didn’t dawdle, but headed straight for the beach. However, above 1000 feet, there was a pretty strong headwind from the north, so although I might be able to get TO the beach, I wasn’t too sure about getting back. Consequently, I flew to the “training area”, which is about 2/3rds of the way to the beach, before I turned around. Sure enough, when I turned around, the headwind slowed me down considerably… I think my ground speed was only about 30-35 mph. Plus it was colder up at 2000 feet (the altitude that I settled on as smoothest), and although most everything was pretty well protected, my wrists were exposed because the wind blew my sleeves back a bit. They really got cold! (I wonder if that helps or exacerbates carpal tunnel? <g>)
Flying at 500 feet (and lower) is a LOT of fun! But flying at 2000 feet, you get to see a lot more. If it were easy to go up and down, I’d be doing that all the time! <g> But it isn’t, so I have to settle on one way or the other, or, at least, don’t count of the change being all that swift. When I was coming back, I could see the airfield and realized I needed to lose altitude pretty quick, so I pulled the throttle back to about 5200 (6200 is high-cruise) and pointed the nose down. My airspeed jumped up to about 55mph (normal cruise is 45mph), and I lost altitude, but being so inexperienced I wasn’t sure if I’d really get down in time. I kept my nose down at a pretty sharp angle, keeping the air speed below 60mph (my never-to-exceed speed is about 73mph), and managed to get down to 500 feet just before my final leg. The rest of the landing was pretty normal, except that the wind speed must have been almost 15 mph when I landed, so since my stall speed is about 25 mph, I was only going about 10 mph ground speed when I landed… Needless to say, it was a really short landing! And, since I’m getting better at putting the plane down at the very beginning of the runway (good practice for when I start flying those 747’s), I had a lo-o-o-o-ong taxi back to the hangar.
On the ground, it was probably 65 degrees…it felt warm and wonderful. Only my wrists were actually cold, but the rest of me was pretty cool. I had on long-john bottoms (for my legs), jeans, then a t-shirt, polo shirt and sweatshirt, and all that was topped by a flight suit. Don’t know what the temps were aloft, but I’m guessing 50-degrees (but you have to remember I was dealing with a wind chill of 40-50mph!). The sky was blue from the ground, but when I was up at 2000 feet, and looked out, parallel to the ground, there was a dark pall, a yucky layer of pollution … yech! And I was flying around in it… made me cough just thinking about it. The air was hazy, not really all that clear, but again that was something you didn’t notice from the ground.
I went home after that, but planned on going back out in the afternoon when the winds were SUPPOSED to die down, again. My brother was scheduled for another lesson, and I actually talked my wife into going down there.
Well, the winds were gusty, about 10-15mph from the north and west, and stayed that way. So she was bored, I was busy doing things to my plane, my brother chatted with his instructor, and eventually… about an hour later… we left and drove home again. My brother is a little discouraged because this is the 4th time in a row that he’s driven down there only to be disappointed by the wind. I think that if it wasn’t for my flying, he’d have given up by now… but he sees me flying, and sees the excitement, and he just can’t wait.
So that was my Sunday … it rained all day Saturday. Today I’m a real sicko… coughing, sneezing, blowing ma doze, and wishing I were home in bed. But I don’t get paid there. So, I’m toughing it out here at work… but I might go home a little early and catch a nap before I have to pick up Cameron and do all the family stuff.
April 29, 2001
Ok, where do I start?
Sunday morning, 5am, I turn off the alarm and don’t even know it. The night before, I looked up the wind forecast and it seemed like it’d be a good morning to go flying, so I set my alarm for pre-dawn-thirty. Now it’s 5:40am and I wake up again… my alarm has all kinds of weird lights on it… I have no idea what I’ve been hitting. But I decide to go ahead and get up.
I’ve missed my opportunity for completely calm winds, but the forecast seemed to indicate that the winds would be manageable prior to about noon. So off I go on my 50 minute trek to Angleton. As usual I stop to fill my gas can, got some extra AA batteries for the GPS, and got to the hangar by 7:15am. Skies are cloudy but fairly calm. I still need to gas up my eagle, though. Having recently acquired a 55-gallon steel drum — thanks to John! — and a pump, I mix my gas and pour it into the drum, tighten the bung, and then pump the gas.
Up to this point, I’d had brother Jim around to help me, but this time I was solo… nary a soul at the hangar, save the little dog from down the street and he wasn’t too helpful.
I had dreamed up all kinds of solutions for figuring out when the gas tank was full — most of them VERY complicated and expensive — but the one that won out in the end was the simplest of them all… the pinky solution. As I hold the hose in place, I also stick my little finger down the tank throat as far as it will go. As soon as I feel the gas on my finger, I stop pumping! It worked! It took me a while to primp the pump — I’ll have to work on my technique — but once I got it flowing, it only took about a minute to fill the tank.
I push all the planes out of the way, get mine out, push all the planes back in the hangar and lock it up again. The Quicksilver starts on the 3rd pull (yeah!), I warm it up while I fiddle with all my radio cables. Radio’s working, helmet is strapped up, camera around my neck, GPS is fired up, check the windsock (N-NE breeze, about 5mph), and I’m soon taxiing down the runway.
As I take off, I realize that I haven’t really decided what I’m going to do. I think it was partly because I wanted to see how rough the air column was. Well, it was rough, but not TOO rough, so as I gained altitude and cleared the power lines, I decided to head for Alvin.
Up to this point in my ultralight experience, I have always taken off from Bailes, and then landed at Bailes. Today, I was going to fly up to the Alvin airport and land there… or, at least, that was what I had in mind as a plan.
The air was pretty bumpy… kind of like a prolonged, but mild, roller-coaster ride. A few sudden ups, a few sudden downs, and few sudden lefts and rights, but nothing that felt uncomfortable. Yes, I would have preferred calm air, but you often have to take the cards as they’re dealt. The air was very hazy for most of the trip up to Alvin, quite a bit better on the way back (but still not crystal clear). I stayed between 500 and 850 feet for most of the trip. I didn’t want to get too near those puffy white clouds that are so inviting, and yet so dangerous (or, at least, so very very rough).
Up to now, most of the areas I have flown over have been mostly deserted fields. But the trip to Alvin showed lots of small communities and subdivisions. Almost always there were at least two fields on either side of each group of houses, so I reasoned that it wasn’t congested (ULs aren’t supposed to fly over “congested areas”). I also knew that pilots from Alvin often flew to Bailes, and Bailes pilots went to Alvin, so it _must_ be okay! Anyway, it was different, flying over so many houses. I did make an effort to avoid as many as I could, but compared to the area southeast of Bailes where I had been doing most of my flying, this was _crowded_. It was a slow, zig-zaggy trip.
My decision to go to Alvin was pretty much spur-of-the-moment, I’ll admit. However, prior to this, I had spent some time reviewing where it was and the type of airspace I was flying into, the landmarks, etc., so I wasn’t totally impetuous and irresponsible… only a little. <g> Actually, my trusty GPS knew exactly where the Alvin airpark was and was doing a fine job of telling me to make minor adjustments if I started steering off track. It also told me how far, and what my ground speed was.
Ground speed? Yikes! I was cruising at about 45mph air-speed, but I was only doing about 30-32mph ground speed! Trudge, trudge, trudge. It seemed to take forever to get to Alvin, especially being over “new territory.” I’ll admit that I trusted that GPS 100%. But, in my defense, I could see the road (Highway 35) that would lead me back to familiar territory, so even if the GPS stopped working, I could get back to Bailes. I will also admit that without the GPS, I don’t think I would have found the Alvin airpark.
But, to end the suspense that I’m sure has been mounting, yes, I did make it to the Alvin airpark, and I made my first landing at a _different_ airport. Yea!
Alvin has 3 runways, so I did a quick fly-by at 800 feet to scope out the windsock, and the wind was coming right down the longest of the 3 runways. That was okay by me.
I quickly lost some altitude and entered the pattern. I saw another plane ahead of me so I lengthened my pattern a bit to give him more time to get down. I then noticed another tiny airport, close by, with X’s on its runway (meaning, don’t land). As I flew by it noticed that it was being used by radio-controlled aircraft enthusiasts. They were not bashful about flying their diminutive craft around their airspace… I decided it would be bad thing — for many reasons — to run into one of those, so I kept high. As soon as I passed them, I came off the RPMs and pointed my Quicksilver toward the runway.
The air during the approach was fairly turbulent, but I took a very long, slow descent and found that below 100 feet it wasn’t bad at all. So, the landing was smooth and uneventful… the best kind of landing there is!
It was lucky for me that another plane had just landed in front of me, so then I could see where it went, and follow it. It parked next to a couple of other plane near the main hangar. I knew it was the main hangar because that’s where everyone was hanging out!
I parked, shut it down, un-entangled myself from my radio gear, walked over to the group and introduced myself. A friendlier bunch of fellows I’ve never seen. They were polite and asked me about my plane, and were actually thrilled that I was a new pilot, saying they were always glad to see new people enjoying their favorite pastime. I admit to being a bit surprised — pleasantly surprised — by that attitude. I was almost expecting the opposite. So, it was very pleasant to be standing there chatting with these fellows. After a bit, I walked around the hangar and looked at some of the aircraft there… saw an old Quicksilver 2-axis with a canard on the front! And I saw a guy whom I had seen at Bailes, someone that John had told me nothing but good things about. So we chatted a bit while he tinkered with his Rotax 912 engine (4-cycle vs. my 2-cycle, and twice the horsepower).
After 20 minutes or so, I figured I’d better be heading back, so I bid everyone adieu, and walked over to my plane. Well, these guys were so friendly, they all hopped up and followed me over there! They were chatting and talking to me, admiring my eagle (no, really! They were saying all kinds of complimentary things!), and were trying to be helpful in getting me rigged up.
I had noticed that in prior situations where I had flown my plane, landed, turned it off, then tried to restart it, it wouldn’t start very easily. So I was afraid that would happen now… and it did. I tried and tried and tried, but I couldn’t get it to catch. But everyone was very understanding and one guy (unfortunately I didn’t catch his name) walked up with a spark-plug wrench and two new spark plugs. He said my plugs might be fouled. So we took them out and, by golly he was right! The plugs, which were fairly new, were fouled, big time. I put the two new plugs in, gave it two pulls and it started right up! Wow. I learned two things: my plugs get fouled easy, and these are some of the nicest people I’ve ever met!
I sat down, re-rigged my radio, waved to everyone and was going to pull out, but some guy in a golf-cart was smack-dab in my way… he was saying something, but I couldn’t make it out… someone else walked over and yelled in my ear, “He said to be sure and come back soon!” Wow, again. I gave him a big smile and the thumbs-up sign, and he politely backed away. I headed for the closest runway (the wind was split between two of them, so I just taxied to the closest), powered up and took off. Not a great takeoff, but the wind was breezy at about 50 feet, now.
I turned the plane to where I figured Bailes was at, powered on the GPS and let it get a fix, and soon saw that I had picked my track perfectly… I was heading straight home.
The ground speed was now about 60mph! So I made pretty good time going back, as you can imagine. The air column was still pretty turbulent, but not really any worse than the first leg of my trip. On my trip back, I picked an almost straight line, so I was back before I knew it. I had plenty of gas, still, and considered for a moment heading for the beach, but knew I also had a little work to do on the plane, so I entered the pattern and took a gander at the windsock.
Well, like the forecast said, the wind had shifted to the East, so I had a pretty good crosswind to deal with. But my landings have really gotten better lately, and my attitude is simply to be patient and sort of let the plane straighten itself out. Of course, the plane isn’t really doing that, but it kind of feels that way, so I just let it happen. Sure enough, I get down to about 10 feet and the crosswind seems to diminish, and I touch down easily.
The rest of the time at the hangar was spent repairing a broken t-bar that supports the instrument pod. But, that doesn’t make for very interesting reading.
My little venture was a roaring success and one of the nicest outings I’ve had… no, it WAS the nicest outing yet, even better than flying along the beach! The people at Alvin made the difference. What a nice bunch of guys!