Almost 30 years ago, I participated in one of
the first international electronic forums, USENET. I used
to post a lot of stories about flying the original Fly Baby,
I've discovered a few of these still lurking around in the
corners of the Internet. Here's one of them, about the
first time I flew a Fly Baby with a radio.
It's dated May, 1990....
Last weekend, the Seattle EAA'ers had the Sport Aviation Weekend
again,at the Museum of Flight at Boeing Field. Last year,
Boeing tower brought the Fly Baby in with the light gun.
As this weekend approached, I started getting nervous. The
light-gun routine was a little nerve-racking last year, and I
didn't want to repeat the experience if I didn't have to.
Hence, I started checking around for someone with a similar
airplane, to land as his wingman and avoid dealing with the
tower at all.
Instead, my EAA counselor offered the loan of his
handheld. "Doesn't work," I said. "Ross says there's
too much noise from those unshielded mags." But then I got
to thinking... I'd never actually *tried* it. Everything was
just hearsay. So I borrowed his older Terra unit, and went
out to the airport the day before the show.
The first problem was finding a place for it (Note...this was
before the era of tiny handheld aircraft radios). The Fly
Baby's cockpit doesn't have any unused spaces... and the floor
is full of control tube and cable routings. Finally, I
managed to hang the thing from a string wrapped around the
coaming on the right side. It pretty much kept out of the
way, but the elbow of my stick arm was a little constrained.
Moving the stick to the right became a bit awkward... a fact
which takes some significance in a little bit.
He didn't have a headset, just a set of stereo headphones and a
carbon mike. No place to hang the mike, so I set it my my
lap. It immediately slipped down, *right* behind the
stick, blocking aftward motion. I found if I stretched the
cable all the way across my lap, the mike could dangle on my
left side out of harm's way.
Thus set up, I got out and started the 'Baby.
Climbing back into the cockpit became a challenge, since the
headphones and mike had to be picked up and handled while trying
to lower myself onto the seat. It's somewhat similar to
tuning a Walkman while exercising on the parallel bars.
Finally, I was in place. I turned on the radio.
"Poppopopopopopopopopopopop...." I turned the squelch
down. No change. I tuned to the Unicom frequency.
Hmmm... noisy, but understandable. I went for a short test
flight. Higher engine RPMs make the noise slightly louder but
higher in frequency as well. Other aircraft didn't come through
very well, but Unicom was perfectly readable.
Well... I couldn't find anybody to wing in with, and I didn't
want to go through the light gun routine again. So what
the hey? I taped the Boeing Tower, ground, and ATIS
frequencies to the back of the mike.
Saturday morning dawned clear and beautiful. My hangar
mate had already pulled the 'Baby out of the hangar when I
arrived, and was setting yet ANOTHER pretty young thing into the
rear set of his Long-EZ (every time I meet him at the airport,
he's giving another young woman a ride). They're going to the
show, too. I loaded the gear into the plane and taxied out
behind them. Boeing field was about fifteen miles north.
After takeoff, I tuned ATIS. It was unreadable. As I
flew north, though, it improved. Every time it repeated, I
got more and more information. Finally, it was time to call the
tower: "Boeing Tower, Experimental Five Zero Zero Foxtrot
over the racetrack with Uniform, inbound for full stop, going to
the Museum of Flight."
And saints be praised: "Experimental Five Zero Zero
Foxtrot, enter right downwind, runway 13 Right." It was
perfectly readable. And it was my first radio
communications with an FAA facility in eleven years....
Everything else was anticlimactic. I entered the pattern,
did a pylon turn around the tower on base leg (hey, they
*wanted* a short pattern) and landed. Called ground, and
got clearance to the Museum. Just before reaching the
parking area, I slipped the headphones off. Gotta maintain
appearances, don't cha know?
We had about thirteen homebuilts on display... two Fly Babies,
three T-18s, two Long-EZs, an Osprey, a KR-2, a Tri-Q, an RV-4,
a Barracuda, and the Mazda rotary engine conversion I mentioned
I was prepared to be more relaxed at this show than last year's,
secure in the knowledge that leaving the field would be
easy. But Mother Nature didn't cooperate. As the day
wore on, the wind rose. By mid afternoon, the tower was
reporting 15 knots gusting to 25 from 220 degrees... which is a
ninety-degree crosswind for the runways at Boeing Field.
Knots of nervous pilots formed around the airplanes, feeling the
wind. Cessnas flew by, rocking in the gusts, with enormous
crab angles. As their nerve broke, the homebuilders fired
up and taxied for takeoff. As the other Fly Baby took off,
the wind lifted the right wing. The guy almost dragged the
left one on the concrete before he got it leveled off. The
KR-2 aborted when he ran out of left rudder on his takeoff roll.
"Need a ride home, Ron?" asked one of my fellow EAAers. I
considered. While they had problems, all the other homebuilders
had made it off OK. And the pilot of the other Fly Baby
had all of sixty hours total time. And the weather was
supposed to close down the following day.
"Naw, thanks. I'll give it a try." Only one thing
worried me. The crosswind was from the right... which is a
little awkward to handle with a stick (it needs a backhand
motion). And that stupid handheld got in the way of moving
the stick to the right.
I mounted up, got a prop, called ground, and taxied to the
runway. When cleared for takeoff, I rolled over to the
left side and pointed the plane diagonally across the 150 foot
wide strip. Stick full right. Hold the brakes. Drop
the hammer. Brake release.
The tail came up almost immediately. I moved the stick
slightly forward for a lower angle of attack. I kept it
full right. The left wheel broke ground. The right
tire squealed a bit from the sideload. I kept the upwind
wing a scant two feet or so from the ground. After about a
two-hundred foot run, the 'Baby broke clear.
It was rough. There were Sigmets for severe turbulence
below 8,000 feet, and I certainly found out why. I flew
back to Auburn with the wires singing from the changes of
tension as the winds slammed us around. A T-18 pilot
following me had his head slammed into the cockpit three times
on the short flight to Auburn. And he's a short dude.
Unicom was silent. The frequency was clear... no one in the area
was flying in that wind. Auburn Unicom didn't even answer
my call. They'd closed down for lack of business.
The tetrahedron was showing its green side, so I knew 16 was the
active runway. The pattern was empty. Wind about
fifteen knots at sixty degrees to the runway. Right hand
I flew an extended downwind. Today was no time for my
usual tight base leg. I turned off the radio, since the
continuous popping interfered with concentration. Set up
on a one-mile final, the crab angle was about fifteen
degrees. Carry 70 mph over the fence. Kick out the
crab, drop the upwind wing. Don't grease it; plant it!
Hard contact. Small bounce. Then moderate contact
and no bounce. Down. The Fly Baby slowed quickly. It
didn't even do it's traditional rollout swerve... it knew I was
awake that day. Taxi slowly to the hangar, keeping the
controls carefully positioned.
The T-18 taxied in behind me. "You made it in that
thing?" He sounded surprised. After I got home, two
fellow EAAers called to find out if I'd made it in OK. One
of them had to go around twice at his home field.
The radio? I gave it back. Too damn much
noise. Too little elbow room.Too tempting to be yakking
when I should be flying. Bernouli, not Marconi.
And I have even more respect for a little plane called "Fly