This story and all photos, Copyright 2001 Robert Laird......
|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. I'm ready! Here's the Challenger II that I trained in:
|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 past the 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!
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!
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.
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!
|Feb 3, 2001||
I fly my Quicksilver, for the first time!
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.
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!
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.
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!
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!