Keeping the Studends Off-Balance

Posted January 2004

Y'know, there's nothing like getting a long-time problem fixed for making flying a lot more enjoyable.

I've been fighting that slow-cranking problem for about a year and a half. It got to color how much I anticipated going flying...thinking about how sluggish the prop turned, how embarrassing it would be if I had to climb out when the prop wouldn't flip over, or, even worse, end up having to hand-prop it at some other field to make it home.  As time wore on, I had to use the pull handle to rock the prop back and forth to finally get it to flip past a compression stroke to start.  It was getting tougher and tougher to do.

But's fixed.  After getting things finally working right yesterday, I *had* to go fly.  Despite occasional low clouds and rain showers, the traffic pattern had been busy while I'd installed the new starter clutch and adjusted the lever.  I put the cowling back on, rolled the plane out, hopped in, cranked it up, and rolled out to the runway.

In reality, though...the weather was awful.  Light rain, temperature equal to dew point, with banks of scud/fog all around the airport.  After I'd flown a pylon turn around a hunk of cloud just turning from crosswind to downwind, and had someone call downwind on the OPPOSITE side of the cloud, I figured I'd proved everything that I needed to.

Today...well, it started out cloudy, but cleared off nicely by early afternoon.  Temp in the high '40s, so I wore a turtleneck and flannel shirt under my leather jacket.  Moonraker started like a dream, and we were off to the runway.

Today was *really* busy.  The fun thing was, the pattern not only had the usual pack of students, but a crop of high-performance airplanes (Like a Centurion and a Glasair) *also* doing touch-and-goes.

Now, unlike a lot of folks, I like students.  I don't squawk when they fly wide, careful patterns.  I remember flying the 747 patterns myself, and the utter joy on the day my instructor introduced me to tighter patterns.  They gotta learn sometimes, so I just go with the (traffic) flow.

The high-performance planes were having trouble, though.  They wanted to fly downwinds at 120 knots or so, while the students were (apparently) trained to hold 90 knots on downwind.  There was a lot of jockeying as the Centurion caught up to these guys...he left the pattern a couple of times when the spacing got too close.

The high-speed pilots were nice about it, but I suspect the continued coordination of position and intentions via UNICOM was tending to rattle some of the lower-time pilots.

I left the pattern to check out some of the local private fields to see if any buddies were outside working on their planes.  It was a gorgeous flight...bright sun, patchy clouds.  Trails of smoke rose all around the clock...folks burning off leaves and wood debris from a recent windstorm. Woodsmoke scented the cool breeze flowing through Moonraker's cockpit.

I decided to head back home to shoot a couple of touch and goes.  From the radio on the way in, it sounded like the Centurion and the Glasair were still working the pattern.

I shoehorned myself in, rolled the wheels on Runway 16, and powered up for another pass around the pattern.  As I turned crosswind, I could see one of the local flight school's 152s entering the pattern.

"Cessna One Four Seven turning downwind, One-Six at Auburn," he called.

A few moments later, I horsed Moonraker off crosswind onto the same leg. "Fly Baby Eight-Four-Eight is number two on downwind, One-Six Auburn."

A moment later:  "Experimental turning downwind at Auburn, this is Cessna One Four Seven on downwind.  Where are you at?"

"I'm about a half-mile behind you."

The next call absolutely stunned me:  "Experimental, I'm only flying eighty knots.  Will you be able to maintain spacing?"

He apparently had me mistaken for a much faster homebuilt. "Ahhhh...I've got an open cockpit and wire bracing.  I don't think there'll be a problem....."

And I just laughed and laughed and laughed, all the way to turning final....

Ron Wanttaja