Costs and benefits stack up slightly differently when renting to shareoplane flying and I’d decided it would make sense for me to get checked out with the club at Haverfordwest, since I’m down there at one family bash or another quite often. I often flitted down in TOMS, but twenty minutes there and back is a bigger chunk out of a rental fund than it is of a shareoplane hourly rate.
So I gave them a call. I decided to opt for the four seat 172 since it was mainly family flying I wanted in that neck of the woods, and given the unexpected luxury of a choice, went for the variable pitch and more powerful XP. Partly because my flying at present is tending towards wanting to fly stuff I haven’t before and partly because it seemed an obvious choice to keep my newly acquired wobbly-prop skills fresh. Another advantage I found out afterwards is that the club’s currency rules cascade downwards and having checked out in the XP I’d be good to fly the rest if I wanted.
There’s a lovely relaxed atmosphere and Haverfordwest which I’ve always enjoyed as a visitor and which carried over into the club feel too. Availability is excellent if the ease of getting a slot on a sunny May Sunday is indicative. There was no one booked after me so no time pressure on the checkout or need to hurry back. (Particularly delightful as that was something I’d suspected I was going to miss)
It appears to be close to compulsory to be called Dave to teach flying in South Wales and my instructor for the morning was the fourth such to appear in my logbook. He checked through my license and logbook, where the ‘8KCAB’ shorthand for the Super Decathlon called for a translation.
Then out we went to G-FANL and talked me through the aircraft’s salient features. The main emphasis was on the fact it had a lot more get-up-and-go than a normal 17, boasting a six cylinder, fuel injected Continental derated from 210HP to 195. As a consequence of which it would need plenty of rudder at high power settings and take some slowing down as well as having a fair amount of inertia at the roundout if the speed wasn’t well under control.
It’s a largeish aeroplane (to me) but the stepping place on the strut means a scrabble to check the top surfaces and fuel is possible, if undignified.
Inside, Dave outlined the cockpit layout which apart from variations in engine instrument layout was similar to the few other VP prop aircraft I’ve nosed round. (The blue knob isn’t blue though!)
One less familiar item were a two part fuel pump – low and high pressure, both only used at starting – Low (yellow) on until engine running, and High (red) for a few seconds before starting),
The second new-to-me feature was the use of cowl flaps for cooling (open for takeoff, climb and in the circuit for touch and goes, closed otherwise normally.) In the cockpit this meant a large lever over by the P2/passenger’s left knee.
We installed the mandatory cushion (the Tomahawk remains the only aeroplane I’ve flown in which I don’t need one!) and began the challenge of starting a hot fuel injected engine (the previous flight had only just returned.)
It took a certain amount of coaxing, but the throttle-full-mixture-ICO method and liberal use of the fuel pump got us there in the end!
Taxying was straightforward especially compared to my last flight and what little wind there was was varying between 03 and 09.
Powerchecks brought up nothing really new, except the noticeable difference in the response of the prop when cycling it during the power checks – the RPM dropped off a lot more slowly that in G-IZZZ. I don’t really know which is closer to ‘normal’ or if variations between aircraft and engine is in fact the norm in itself!
In the absence of anyone else around and not much to choose wind-wise, We picked 03 for departure and I got my tongue around another new callsign and lined up.
Opening the throttle did as promised produce a firm shove in the back and a definite need for rudder input. There was a certain amount of wandering from the centreline until I discovered how much and in the climb I could easily see the advantage of the the supplied rudder trim.
We weren’t going far though, just out to the coast to do a few climbs and descents to check I was happy with prop stuff before slowing back into the circuit. At 23″/2300RPM cruise the leaning was done on fuel flow, aiming for 9USG/hour
It’s a stable, easy to trim aircraft and I felt fairly comfortable fairly quickly, so back we went for circuits. Which is where the speed handling issues really showed up. It took me an age to get back under the flap limiting speed. Having managed that, the 20 degrees of flap applied were like throwing out and anchor and after a moment of blissful ignorance, the speed dwindled rapidly – a push forward to get that back, looking for 75 knots, and I’d overshot it and sped up again, with the result that I overshot the turn to final and arrive eventually on the runway flat and fast.
Messy. Not helped by the fact a bit of a crosswind had picked up, but still messy.
Round we go again. This time the turn is a bit more accurate but I’m still not getting the speed back quick enough to deploy flaps and then not lowering the nose quick enough to keep it once I’ve got it. Dave takes control late downwind to demonstrate the timing needed on the next one and my next attempt is better except in my relief I turn early on the climbout and bust the noise abatement spot!
Eventually I catch up to the aeroplane and while there’s a certain amount of ‘bobbing’ on base as I get the flaps and speed sorted, and the occasional tiny balloon in the flare the landings are deemed consistent enough for Dave to let me loose.
We taxy back in and I get a much needed cold drink while all three nephews, who’ve arrived by this time, shout and wave. (The littlest at a bit under a year less coherently than the others and the littlest niece sleeps through the whole business…)
Both the older two (8 and 2 1/2) love aeroplanes and off course want to go out and see ‘NL so after a quick airside safety briefing from the 8 year old to the 2 year old (“Don’t wander off. Propellers bite. No beeping buttons.”) off we go.
The older nephew, Troy, my sister’s son wants to go flying. The younger, my brother’s, is not so sure and does not take to Troy announcing “taking off now” and will not be persuaded that he’s only playing!
“This aeroplane’s name is November Lima I say as we walk back. He makes a good attempt at it and then asks the name of every other aeroplane we see for the rest of the day.
Troy has already been promised a flight and my brother and sister-in-law decide to come too while Nana and Aunty Kari mind the others.
I run through a quick brief, warn them that if the engine seems reluctant it’s my ineptness with hot starts, not a sign that anything’s wrong and remind Troy in particular that I need a bit of hush when doing checks, taking off, landing and when other people are talking on the radio. This is always something of a challenge since the only normal time he’s quiet is when asleep…
The engine is, as expected reluctant but coaxeable, and since everyone both flying and on the radio appears to have vanished I make blind calls and taxy out. The wind has strengthened somewhat and is now clearly favouring 09 so I head out for that one, at least there’ll be less crosswind this time.
A swift poke at the non-entirely released handbrake between my knees is needed as I start the takeoff roll but we’re soon accelerating merrily and in the air in what seems like no time. This is no “2+2” version of a 4 seater – this you can fill with four adults and with 3 of us plus the sproglet performance is still good.
We head out towards Fishguard and I ask for suggestions for a heading. We settle on following the coast around to the south west and down to the Haven then back. We play beachspotting and “I can see my house” until it’s time to head back.
The landing, happily was a nice one, “I was waiting for something to happen and nothing did” was a comment I shall feel smug about up until the next time I have a clanger!
It was lovely to be back up as P1 and nice to have appreciative passengers!