N500F Gets A Radio

Posted 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.  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 wy 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 im 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.  "PopopopopCessnapop threepop fourpop Yankeepop downwindpop forpopt ouchpop andpop gopop threepop fourpop Auburnpopopopop..."

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 last week.

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 slamed 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 crosswind, again.

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.  Airplanes fly by Bernouli, not Marconi.

And I have even more respect for a little plane called "Fly Baby"...

Comments? Contact Ron Wanttaja .

Return to The Stories Page