• Ratty's Ramblings - Remember Me?

    Ratty's Ramblings

    Ratty's Ramblings - Remember Me?

    By Ian Radcliffe

    2021 was a strange year for just about everybody. For me it was made additionally interesting by our move from a house in California to a condo in Florida, with the associated sorting, downsizing, packing and shipping, and a six-day drive across the continent with our two cats. And then, after we moved in and were beginning to impose order, we found ourselves the owners of a second, larger, condo that also needed a fair amount of TLC.

    All of which is really just a long-winded way of saying: I've been busy, I'm sorry I haven't written sooner. Here's some stuff.

    Test Pilot

    There she stands, gleaming on the ramp. Your newest aircraft. Time to read the READMEs and the manual, and then venture inside and begin your cockpit familiarization. Or, alternatively, time to jump in, fire this baby up, and take to the skies!

    Wherever one is on the spectrum, we're all test pilots. Although the latest addition to your hangar may already have been flown by thousands of others, this is your first time, and you don't have a check pilot sitting beside you. Regular readers will probably not be surprised when I admit that I lean towards the "Get up there NOW" school of thought, but there is benefit in approaching the early flights with deliberation, and taking time to note some of the unique characteristics of your new mount.

    Before you fly, set up your plane. Load fuel to half tanks or less, and load the airplane to the middle of the CG envelope or slightly forward. Set the weather to something benign. Choose a long runway; a bit of extra width might help, too.

    Start up, run up, and check the controls visually. As you taxi, check the brakes, the direction indicator, and the turn coordinator. Before you start your first takeoff roll, check that everything in the plane is set the way you want it. WW2 ace Douglas Bader's brief first flight in a Spitfire ended in a prang off the end of the runway when he tried to take off with coarse propeller pitch selected. Check your mindset and put aside your expectations. There is a recording of Bader describing his first experience with a jet, the Gloster Meteor. He talked about how sleek and fast it looked and how, when he pushed the throttles forward for takeoff, it "rumbled off down the runway like an old lorry".

    Approach your first takeoff with caution. My favorite plane of all time, of which more anon, is A2A's Civilian P-51. The flight model has been endorsed by several real-world Mustang pilots, but posts will appear from time to time on the A2A forum that each say, essentially, "I just bought the P-51 Mustang and there's something wrong with it: every time I try to take off it flips upside down".

    Line up your plane and open the throttle, not too slowly but not too quickly either, managing the torque with steering, brakes, and rudder. Watch the airspeed and very slowly lift the airplane off when you think you are fast enough. It may be nose heavy or light. Climb straight ahead to at least 3,000 feet and make sure there are no significant controllability issues.

    Find the stall speed. Apply carb heat, if you've got it, and throttle back gently, noticing the tendency of the nose to rise or fall. Apply back pressure to stay level and reduce your speed. Don't use the ailerons, keep the wings level with rudder. Watch the airspeed and the horizon. Notice the stick back pressure, any buffeting, and oil-canning or other noises. In the A2A fleet, both the Comanche and T-6 make very distinctive noises close to stall that have saved me more than a few times.

    Most well-designed aircraft will have a gentle stall, though one wing may drop before the other. At the stall, note the indicated airspeed then release the stick pressure to increase the airspeed and get the wing flying again. Smoothly apply full power and climb at 130 percent of the stall speed. Trim, and note the setting. You now have your takeoff trim for this configuration, at this weight and CG.

    Now that you're up here, check out how your plane flies. How does it roll, pitch, and yaw? How are stalls with power on? How much power does it take to maintain altitude with gear and flaps hanging? What happens when you raise and lower the gear and flaps? Experiment and explore.

    If you're really daring, on subsequent flights you can go into extreme test pilot mode and try some "out of the envelope" stuff. Is it possible to get into an unrecoverable attitude? How much can you actually load on board and still take off? How does she fly loaded outside the CG envelope, both forward and aft?

    Ratty's Rambles

    And be ready for the unexpected. Flight Simulator 4.0 allowed users to "build" an airplane by tweaking the parameters of a basic airframe. Inevitably, at one point I tried a canard arrangement, moving the wing to the back and the "tail" to the front. Although the runway at Meigs was a bit less than 4,000 feet I was pretty sure my little jet would take off easily in that space. But, racing down the runway on the first flight, I discovered that pulling back on the stick produced no result at all. Just before the far end, on a hunch, I tried PUSHING, and the plane leaped into the air. It was tricky but, mumbling "The stick is backwards, the stick is backwards . . . ", I actually managed to lurch around the pattern and land again. Apparently I was not the only one thus endangered; the next edition of the program included a "canard switch".

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