License to Learn

The lighter side of aviation

August 1, 2011

Rod MachadoThere are only three things that can get me to run out of the house and gaze skyward. The first is a UFO mother ship. Next is any World War II-era piston-powered airplane. The last is a small piston-powered airplane. Piper Cubs, Luscombes, and Cessna 150s draw me outside like a moth to light. I love watching these airplanes fly by for several reasons, not the least of which is that the flyby lasts so much longer.

When it comes to small airplanes, my affection is an affliction. I get near giggly over these machines because you actually have to fly them using all three flight controls—especially the rudder pedals, which some pilots consider to be the place where they rest their feet when they aren’t using them. This explains why there are those who’ve flown a Piper Cub and those who’ve been flown by a Piper Cub. The smaller the airplane, the more control movement and throttle action are necessary to make the airplane do what it’s supposed to do. This is especially true with many of today’s light sport machines.

I’ve had the chance to fly quite a few light sport airplanes over the past few years, and one thing has become clear to me. When taxiing in strong or gusty winds, you have to treat these machines like a crazy relative whose visits for dinner mysteriously precede the loss of valuable cutlery. In other words, you can’t trust them to behave the same way heavier airplanes do. It’s all too easy to have a wing lifted by quartering head- or tailwinds, especially when aided by the momentum from a relatively sharp ground turn.

That means you’d better know how to place those flight controls during taxi in order to keep half of your airplane from becoming airborne before the other half is ready for liftoff. Make sure to move those ailerons by turning the yoke into any quartering headwind (elevator is neutral), or to turn and dive with any quartering tailwind while on the ground.

Weight watcher that you are, you’ll also want to be especially wary about taxiing behind larger airplanes or even substantial office fans. Many years ago, my student, Vic, and I were taxiing in his Ercoupe (1,260 pounds takeoff weight), following a Cessna 310 toward the runup area. The twin pilot decided to stop on a thin stretch of taxiway and perform his runup. Sitting in the Ercoupe, I felt as though I was landing in a tornado without the tornado. Fortunately, Vic (a Special Forces guy) slid the canopy back, jumped out of the airplane, ran up to the 310 and banged on the side of the airplane. Once the guy took a look at Vic’s angry face, his runup became a giddyup, and he left pronto. Vic wanted to go after the 310, but I reminded him that we were in an Ercoupe and thus not capable of going after anything unless it was parked. So watch your behind when taxiing behind the behind of any airplane.

Landing is another area where light sport airplanes can surprise you. When reducing power during the landing flare, some airplanes will decelerate slowly and settle gently onto the runway. Nice. Others, however, will decelerate quickly, displaying an altitude attitude, suddenly deciding that they no longer want to fly.

There are several light sport machines with high-performance wings that must be watched carefully during the landing flare. Flare too high and you’ll quickly run out of aft stick performance. These airplanes tend to settle rapidly and reveal just how little joy your joystick brings as you move it aft to arrest the descent. An aerodynamically sophisticated wing on a light airplane coupled with the rapid rise in induced drag at slower speeds, means it’s easy to plop these airplanes onto the runway—sometimes resulting in a “plop and stop.”

AOPA Aviation Summit

Rod Machado will entertain and educate pilots at AOPA Aviation Summit, September 22 through 24, in Hartford, Connecticut.

That’s why many light sport airplanes require that you be quick on the draw with the throttle during the landing flare. A quick burst of power will arrest those sudden and unanticipated descents. That’s right; in some airplanes your throttle becomes a flight control that’s just as important as the elevator during the landing flare. To remain an aviation citizen in good standing with your insurance company, the moment you sense you’re running out of aft stick response during the flare, move that throttle forward to arrest the descent. Consider it a citizen’s arrest. Keep in mind that there are a lot of weighty subjects to discuss in aviation, but a light sport airplane isn’t one of them. These airplanes are way too much fun to fly. Just keep in mind why they call them “light” sport airplanes.

Make it a point to actually control something with your flight controls and throttle by moving them properly on the ground and during the landing flare.

And during one of your early morning flights, if you see some guy in his Spider-Man pajamas on the ground waving at you, that’ll be me.

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