“You going to be around later? Thinking of taking a quick flight around a little later if you want to ride along.”
Such an innocent question.
I’m an airplane geek. I love aircraft. There was a time when I could spout the statistics of probably a dozen World War Two fighters and bombers on demand. When I was in college the first time, I even started taking flight lessons, and considered changing my major to something aviation oriented. I ended up with a whopping 10.2 hours in basic Cessna and Piper trainers before the money ran out, and all of that was over 25 years ago.
One of the advantages to living where we do now, just a few hundred feet from the approach path to KTZR runway 4, is that I occasionally get to see some really cool planes come by. For example, a summer ago, the B-17G “Liberty Belle” came in to Bolton, and fortunately for me ended up using runway 4, which put it on long final about 100 yards away, in easy machine-gun camera range. I got a few nice photos – few because I misread the article about when she was arriving, and wasn’t expecting her. Ah well.
One of the other advantages is that two of my neighbors are pilots; they like living where they do for its proximity to the airport. One of those neighbors owns a Van’s RV-6, which he often blogs about over at the PapaGolf Chronicles. Pilot Dave has also taken it upon himself to start building his own airplane, this one a Van’s RV-12. What does that have to do with the story? Well, one of the deals of building your own airplane is that you get parts delivered to your building place, which for him is his basement. And as you might expect, airplane kit parts aren’t exactly small. Van’s sends things in assemblies. The first one Pilot Dave received was the tail assembly, an eleven foot long box that he needed help moving from the back of the truck to his garage, where he could uncrate it at his leisure. When he first started talking about building the RV-12, I told him I’d be glad to help whenever I could. I thought it would be pretty good to be able to say I helped build a plane.
So when the tail kit and eventually the fuselage kit arrived, I was there both times to help move the Very Large Boxes ™ up the driveway. I told Pilot Dave early on that all I really wanted in return for my help was a flight in the new plane. In the past, he’s offered flights in the RV-6, but things haven’t worked out, until today. I knew it was a nice day; I had been out on the bike earlier. When I got home, that message was waiting for me on Facebook. Would I be around? You bet.
He called about twenty minutes after I got home, and picked me up five minutes after that, which was just enough time to get the old pictures off the camera and get it ready to go. I wasn’t sure how far “a quick flight around” would be, but I wanted to be ready. He pulled up in his topless Miata, and we headed to the airport.
I had spent some time around Bolton about 25 years ago, working a security gig for a balloon show in 86. It’s grown up a bit since then. We scooted through the security fence and around to his hangar/remote worksite, and there was Papa Golf waiting for us, along with part of the tail section for the -12.
I learned something about old planes today. The RV-6 is painted a bit like a generic military aircraft, and is marked with FU-466 on the side, just like most modern AF jets. I asked Pilot Dave about the marking, and it turned out that the builder of Papa Golf was an old F-86 pilot, and his plane had been FU-466, so that’s what he wanted painted on the plane. The N-number is 466PG, too. The FU is the plane type designator for F-86s, which I hadn’t known until today. So there’s your USAF trivia for the day.
Back to the story. Pilot Dave did a quick but thorough pre-flight, and before I knew it, we were heading down Runway 22. Winds were almost straight down the runway, so takeoff was pretty quick, but with the extra weight along (yes, me), we didn’t climb quite as quickly as Papa Golf could. It was kind of an interesting feeling tooling along at just over 100 miles per hour, and yet we were still over the runway. Just past Johnson Road, we banked right on a heading that would take us right over my side yard. I expected to see my kids out, looking up; they were very excited to learn I was getting a flight today. But no one was out to see me wave. Their loss.
We continued around toward the west, eventually heading over our old house; Pilot Dave did a nice turn around a point as I pointed out the lots in that development. There are times I miss the old house, but I like where we are now, too.
About ten minutes later, he asked the next innocent question, although it came out more as a statement. “You want to try it for a bit?” I was used to Cessna and Piper yokes; the RV is a stick-and-rudder plane. The stick had been banging against my leg off and on throughout the flight so far. My stomach had been mildly unsettled by some of the steep banks we had pulled, so I said “Oh, maybe not just yet.”
“Well, you’d better, because I’m not flying it right now.”
So, there I was, around 1500 feet or so (right Pilot Dave? I wasn’t looking at the altimeter), hand on the stick and tooling along at 140 knots or so. The RV-6 takes a very light touch on the stick, much less than I was used to. But it was very nice to actually fly a plane again. I didn’t try any turns; it had been way too long since I had been up. I remembered the mechanics of turns (back pressure on the elevator, slight rudder in the turn), but I had this brief flash of me inadvertently rolling us, and Pilot Dave yelling all sorts of mean things at me as parts fell off his plane, which I thought would be a bad idea. Maybe next time. The turns, that is.
Pilot Dave shook me from my reverie by taking control back and said something to the effect of, “OK, so what I’m going to do next is pitch up about twenty degrees, then roll it hard left all the way around.” He went on to explain why he needed to be quick (positive Gs needed to maintain fuel flow to the engine – rather important, that). He gave a three-count, there was the pitch up and ensuing weight gain from the Gs, and the next thing I knew, the horizon was pivoting around the spinner.
I think, based on what I’ve read today, we did a barrel roll. There are specific differences between a barrel roll, aileron roll, snap roll, and slow roll. All I know is that it was exceptionally cool. I wasn’t thinking far enough ahead to look “up” to see the earth when we were inverted. If I ever get another chance, I’ll try an remember to do that. Pilot Dave mentioned that because of the seating in the -6 (side-by-side, as is common), the effects of the roll on the body are a bit more pronounced than they would be in a tandem-seating plane (typical of military aircraft), and he usually only does one or two when he does do them. Just. Wow. An amazingly fun thing.
We flew on to the north, climbing higher to get over Columbus to allow me to get a few photos, since I had brought the camera.
Those photos turned out to almost be my undoing though. See, when you’re bouncing around in a smaller airplane, you want to be able to see the horizon. Having that visual reference helps keep your equilibrium, which helps keep your stomach contents where they belong. After we passed around Downtown, I saw we were near Greenlawn Cemetery. Did I mention that I’m also a bit of a cemetery geek? Seven years in the funeral industry will do that to you. At any rate, I thought I’d squeeze in one more photo. But given the cheapness of the LCD display on the back of my camera, I had to use the viewfinder. Then I asked my intrepid pilot to dip the right wing for a second for juuuust one more shot.
The combination of quick right turn, one eye closed, and the other looking through an IttyBittyViewfinder™ was just enough to get just queasy enough that I had to ask The Question.
“Do you have a bag?”
“You’re not serious.”
“Well, not yet. But maybe.”
“That’s a shame, because I don’t have one.”
I felt terrible, and not just because of my stomach. Pilot Dave had really given me a great flight, and I had thoroughly enjoyed it. I’d hate to have to redecorate his plane. His regular co-pilots probably wouldn’t appreciate it much either. And I didn’t really want to use my Mustangs and Legends hat, but better the hat than my shirt. Maybe.
As it turned out, getting the air on, and keeping my eyes on the horizon, or at least pointed outside the aircraft did the trick. By the time we were on the ground, and Pilot Dave had the canopy open to bring gobs of fresh air into the cabin, I was fine. It was a little embarrassing in the end, since I’ve never had that reaction before. Then again, it was the perfect combination of circumstances.
But I had a great time. Hurry up and get that fuselage done. I’m ready to earn my next trip.