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Mar 8 2015

Flight Plans Shyness

Transport Canada requirements aside, in a real world of private flying, filing of a flight plan is a fairly rare occurrence. Some people do that regularly and almost religiously, others do that occasionally, but apparently most of the private pilots (and the whole ultralight crowd overshadowing them massively) never bother.

Why so? Isn’t it good to have a caring government eye watching you flying, ever so ready to lend a helpful hand if you are in trouble?

Apparently, most people don’t think so.

And there is certain logic in their reluctance. For example:

Flight plan includes estimated time of arrival. Are most of the people that confident as to estimation of their time on route so as to be 100% sure in the exact time? Obviously not – as this type of estimates requires solid navigation skills by pilotage, which most of the people only use during their student pilot days – and replace with GPS herding as soon as they can.

Similarly, this precise timing calls for airport-like schedule following – as you absolutely must take off and fly your waypoints as planned. But what if you want to double-check your plane condition during preflight? Or heard some weird noise while running up the engine? Or a buddy stopped by your hangar and wanted to chat, effectively delaying your departure by solid twenty minutes?

All that breaks your fragile planning schedule from the very beginning!

And then, while in the air – how many of us actually stuff the trusty E6B under their butt and regularly measure the ground speed while passing the checkpoints? C’mon, don’t lie – most of you don’t even remember how to do that since, again, our flight school days! GPS is more reliable in that sense, but how many of us, again, are comfortable dialing the right frequency (which, by the way?) and giving the flight service (what’s the name of these guys?) an advisory on your flight plan amendment, while in the air?

Radio which are you going to tell that your arrival at Bob’s Crooked Leg Airfield is delayed by an estimate of 17 minutes? Do you know if they’d actually listen? Would that surely prevent sending a Hercules to search for your plane if you arrive in 18 minutes instead?

Questions, questions…

And the outcome of such uncertainty is obvious – people simply go flying without flight planning pains. No schedule – you can spend any amount of time you want doing whatever you wish… Fun! No radio calls talking to authorities and having your skills challenged… Joy!

Nothing will happen anyways, right? I mean, unless you’re flying a century-old transport hulk over some serious arctic ice, do you really expect to get lost in the wilderness, hiding from bears and bitter cold inside the wreck of your airplane, wounded and bleeding?

Unlikely, I’d guess.

Mind you, that’s again – as almost everything in aviation! – about decision making. And decision making is almost always about “human factor”. And human factor is based on your own personality traits, thus entirely diverse and unreliable.

My personal suggestion would be to keep your teeth sharp – being able to file the plan and fly as planned. Have enough discipline to get in the air without unnecessary delays, and be able to communicate your trouble if required. I find this type of “always learning” activity improving my self-esteem.

Most people go for self-entitlement, though – relieving themselves from a burden of self-improvement, and ending up in the air with no flight plans, and a very remote notion on whom to call if in trouble. And trouble they often get, as that’s exact the type of attitude that’s spawning them.

So many of us – being quietly conscious of their true capabilities – fortunately chose to remain on the ground. Coming to the hangar for some important work like wiping the windshield and chatting with buddies about past adventures. That’s why there are often old couches and chairs in each hangar – you know, to “socialize” rather than fly.

And frankly, I can only endorse such behavior. Those who can’t fly shouldn’t try. Their true fear may be that they can’t land – which may be an absolutely valid expectation – yet reality being that they won’t be able to find their way back to their own airport from five miles apart, if not for GPS. Whatever keeps them grounded, be it blessed.

Those who are planning to get up, though, should rather be able to plan in advance. Or become short-living news one day.


Apr 24 2012

Flying a Merlin EZ

Almost a year ago I flew my first “taildragger” airplane, a homebuilt Merlin EZ. It was initially designed in Baldwin, Ontario, than the rights were sold to an American company, then a version with a different wing was sold back to Canada – now produced in Calgary by Blue Yonder Aviation.

I was barely 60 or 70 hours old as a pilot by that time, and my impressions were mostly emotional – I liked Merlin and was happy to tell how it feels to fly an experimental taildragger! Now with quite a bit more experience under my belt, I can compare it with a wider range of machines, and give a better account on its flying qualities.

When I first saw Merlin EZ, three things struck my mind: “Wow, it’s a so-called ultralight, but it looks big and heavy!” “Hey, it’s actually well built, doesn’t look flimsy at all – homebuilt quality is not worse than a certified airplane one…” “Hmm, the control stick is weird – a strange Y-shape, wouldn’t it be awkward to control an airplane with such thing?”

Getting inside Merlin was another awkward affair – you must grab some of the many steel tubes crisscrossing the cockpit area, then drag yourself up on the bench (there are no separate seats), pull the legs inside, and don’t forget to close the door before you click the seatbelts – otherwise you won’t be able to reach the door handle.

Sounds like a lot of hassle, though it is fairly common for the vintage and homebuilt airplanes – for those, being able to get in the air without falling apart is a task important enough to yield the comfort and ease of getting inside the machine. Besides, being able to quickly get out is way more important in case of crash and fire – and whatever difficult is the entry in the Merlin’s cockpit, exit is as easy as bailing out, which is good.

The airplane was equipped with a high-end fuel injected, computer controlled Rotax engine. Its operation is almost as easy as dealing with an electric motor – switch it on and move the throttle, that’s all it takes. Computer will take care about the mixture metering, provide an excellent power output and fuel economy. No carburetor – hence no carb ice to form and carb heat to be operated. The only drawback is a complete dependence on the electric power availability – one short circuit is all it takes to shut the engine down with no easy way to make it running again.

As soon as Merlin starts moving, it feels rock-solid and almost as easy to drive around as a tricycle plane. Visibility over the hood is just a tad bit less than in C150, control inputs are obvious, fat tires and bungee suspension deals easily with rolling over the raw terrain. Reasonably firm compensation is required to stop the swing if the tail starts swooshing around, and most taxiing is done without using the brakes. Crosswind inputs are not really needed – the airplane is short and stubby, squatting low and wide, so the wind has almost no effect on it while on the ground.

Take-off roll, though, is a different story! As soon as you apply the power, nose goes sideways in one strong movement. Try to pin it down to roll on the mains, overcompensate what feels like a tiny bit – and the machine will swing another way as fast and decisively. This short tail is wagging sideways so easy and with so few inertia, that it takes some effort and learning to get the machine rolling in a straight line on takeoffs.

On the positive side, thanks to the low and wide gear with big, soft wheels, you can keep on bouncing, popping in the air and plopping back, even hitting the bumps sideways without ground looping! Try to leap into ground effect crabbing, from one wheel – and Merlin will forgive you. Compared to the Piper Cub or Tiger Moth with their long tails, high and narrow wheelbase, Merlin is really an “EZ” to deal with taildragger.

Climbouts are uneventful – as soon as bobbing and bouncing stops, machine sits steady and firm in the air. No need to anticipate anything – just point it in a right direction and it will go there. If you pull the nose a bit higher, excess of power will not allow you to drain the airspeed quick enough to get surprised. Stall break is so gentle that you will be comfortable lowering the nose so no one will notice, if you’ve absent-mindedly slow down from 60 to 40.

In cruise, trim is working just fine – keep the horizon exactly in the middle of the windscreen, set the power to 5000 RPM and you will move forward at 75 MPH, steady and smooth. Acceleration and deceleration are not mind-blowing, and correspond to the overall performance of the aircraft – so there will be no surprises. Your hand can rest comfortably on that funny Y-shaped stick, and lightweight plastic prop will settle on the RPM required without unneeded spooling up or down, common for the heavy wooden or steel props.

Turns and banks may result being a thrilling experience for the seasoned Cessna or Piper drivers. Just move that stick to the left. Oops – where’s your nose going?! It actually swungs to the right immediately after the stick application, and does that so decidedly and quick that yoke-jockey will get puzzled and lost on a spot. Getting inverted response to the controls application is scary, and “dead feet” resting on the pedals without using them is making the things even more frustrating.

Merlin will really teach you about the adverse yaw – its full-span Junkers ailerons and short tail guarantee an impressive wiggling around on the slightest lateral move of the stick, or a power settings change. Meanwhile a rather small, but surprisingly effective rudder with no compensation will require a hefty push on the pedals to move it – and when it moves, the plane can be easily turned sideways!

However, despite the fat and square fuselage and powerful rudder, sideslips are less than impressive – the plane yaws a lot, but doesn’t sink at all. That’s not good, as even with a short and fat wing Merlin glides reasonably well (better than Cherokee, worse than C172). So if you are slightly higher and faster than needed on the approach, there will be no way to fix that and land shorter – you would buzz the runway, while hopelessly trying to extinguish the slightest excess of speed and altitude.

Merlin is not an aerobatic plane by any means – it rams the air up to around 80 MPH without any chance to go faster, despite any power applied. Pull the nose up with power on – and the plane will gently swoosh down after going below 35-40 MPH. No significant wing drop, no shaking, just a soft mush in slow motion. Flat horizontal surfaces are not particularly effective in exceeding the critical angle of attack and breaking the stall, they just can’t pull the nose up high enough – and the relatively fragile wings, with their single strut and foam-metal structure, twist easily and do not invite anything that feels like an accelerated stall.

If needed, you can turn rather tight – and there will be no tendency to lose the airspeed in a stealthy way after pulling on a stick, so common for the low-powered light airplanes. Merlin keeps on turning without tightening it up or losing the altitude, ever so easy and smooth except for the rudder work required. And when you’ll get accustomed to turn with your feet, while barely helping them with your hand, flying around would become easy and obvious.

On approach, the nose will drop quite significantly after removing the power – airflow over the wing pushes the tail down more than in Cessnas. Low cowl profile adds to the sensation of a pronounced nose drop, as soon as the plug is pulled off. If you raise the nose, elevators would only be able to do their job efficiently down to about 50 MPH – the slower you go the more stick will be needed to keep the nose up. And when you are slow enough – the plane will start sinking.

Combination of reasonably fast approach speed with pretty limited slow-speed handling makes Merlin EZ a non-STOL plane. Yes you can work out a 2000 feet runway in no wind without much trouble, but overall flying this machine requires more of a Cherokee mindset – nothing to do with expected Cub-like “feather” attitude.

So the typical landing sequence would be rolling out from the base at circuit altitude with cruise speed, slowing down to 70 MPH on final and waiting for the nose to start overlapping the runway numbers. Smoothly reduce the power, compensate for the adverse yaw, and pull the nose up till reaching 65-60 MPH. Visibility will be worse at 60, but 65 will eat up a good bit of additional distance while flaring.

Final is generally stable, crosswind compensations are simple and a wing-low method is the easiest – though crabbing works as well. Flare must be fairly decisive, if not aggressive – that’s where you’ll burn the remaining airspeed – and as soon as you are in the ground effect, wings will suddenly start to carry you on, fast! Keep on pulling all the way back until the stick hits the bench – this will give you a correct landing attitude with cruise trim setting. At that point Merlin may be floating a bit sideways, but be careful not to overcorrect with the rudder, reactions would be swift. Adverse yaw is also there, so aileron work should be as smart and careful.

It is possible to add power and drag the plane in the ground effect indefinitely at fast idle RPM. Nose will be high, stick almost all the way back, ground swooping fast and close, but nothing else going on. Not bad as a confidence builder or when learning the proper touchdown technique, but a clear signal that any excess of energy will float you way down the runway.

After the touchdown, Merlin may porpoise a little bit, because of the springy gear and short tail, but there will be no serious attempt to swap the ends. Even if you do land slightly drifting or crabbing, a measured rudder movement will straighten the developing swing – which makes things so much easier than in case of the machines with long and heavy tails, combined with narrow gear.

You can land even on the side of a hill, or humped runway – and that wide and low-squatted main gear will simply roll you on, banked at a scary angle – but again, without attempting the ground loop. Just keep the stick all the way back and work the rudder as required, maintaining the overall direction of the roll-out. No need to think too much about the crosswind aileron inputs, the wind can’t do anything to you.

Merlin does have brakes, but they are not really useful – except if you really want to swing the tail around fast, or stand on your nose. Otherwise, I keep my hand out of the brake handle till the very end of the roll-out. Shutdown is a simple as a start-up – flip the switch and you are done.

Overall if you ask me why Merlin never bypassed in popularity other decent homebuilts, let alone the Golden Age vintages, my guess would be – it happened because of that Cherokee-like handling. You expect a small and light airplane to fly like a Cub, but it is not doing that. Instead, you get a solid hauling capacity, stable and slow cruise, with rather fast and long landings, plus a hefty price tag. Apparently that’s not what most of the people want from this sort of planes, but I won’t say that it is a Merlin problem – it does what it’s designed to do, and does that well.

Another thought is that Merlin may be too forgiving for the “hardcore” taildragger training – it allows you to do lots of stupid things without giving even a hint of punishing attitude. Lowly Cub will show you right away when you are trying to do something wrong – and give you time to work on yourself and fix the problem. Merlin will simply hum its way, dealing with your ham fists and dead legs like that’s no biggie.

Modern homebuilts market is saturated with very nice machinery, and it is still perfectly possible to acquire something like Aeronca Champ for the same low price. In this world Merlin will have to stay humble – but I will caution from overlooking it! This little machine could be useful and fun to fly, besides a generally outstanding build quality and large trunk. You can go some nearby places, land in the seriously bumpy airstrips and go camping with all the stuff you can bring. Than push the throttle – and fly away from that weird place without being scared by the obstacles. You’ll just need a bit more place to land than may be expected, but if a 150 can land there – you would be able to do that as well. And you would also finish the roll without wiping out the landing gear – then take off and go home safely.


Jun 19 2011

Flying Together 2

Those were a short cross-country to Lindsay and a subsequent flight to Niagara Falls.


May 16 2011

Cockpit Sharing: Ground Rules

During my quite dynamic flying career, I have been honored to share a cockpit with a significant number of professional and recreation pilots. Their skills differed quite a bit, and sometimes I was learning a lot, while sometimes being scared shitless. I found it necessary to establish a set of ground rules which are supposed to organize the Cockpit Resource Management, when both guys in front seats know how to fly the airplane – so they won’t piss each other off with unnecessary intervention.

Here is what I came with:

  1. One pilot flying at a time. If you are sitting in a right seat, be a passenger. Do not touch the controls, switch the radios, chat or play with navigation gadgets, unless asked by a pilot flying;
  2. Look out. Help your buddy watching around – spotting the other planes, double-checking the ATC transmissions, monitoring the instruments. Stay alert, so he can stay relaxed;
  3. Hold on till it comes. You may see a disaster coming and a pilot flying not understanding that. Stay calm and advice the moment before bad things start to happen. Do not grab the controls yet – he may be better than you think, able to correct at the last moment;
  4. Debrief, don’t suggest. If you notice something not life-threatening, but untidy – like an early flare, not exact altitudes or airspeeds hold, ball off-center – keep it to yourself and discuss after the flight, not via the intercom;
  5. Ask for help. Do not hesitate to ask the pilot non-flying for help with minor tasks, such as transponder switching – just keep those in your flow of control.

It is tough to be a pilot non-flying. You have to stay calm, be delicate and understanding – even though sometimes the flow of events looks really ugly. No one of us is perfect, and we can scare our passengers no less than they scare us. Think instructor – keep your hands out of controls and talk your buddy out of unwinding trouble, unless he’s completely lost.

Most important, do not believe yourself to be an ace, bossing the pilot flying around. This will make bad things happen, question is only in their magnitude. In the best case your buddy will be able to tolerate you, for a price of increased workload and mental pressure – but he’d rather not be in the cockpit with you ever again.

And in some cases your buddy might be really hopeless, even though certified – than ask you a question, why have you decided to fly with him? Was the fun worth a risk? Just stay on the ground, or pay a bit more to fly the plane yourself – sharing the cost of flying is not more valuable than your brain cells, especially when you risk leaving them on the dashboard.


Apr 9 2011

Flying Together

Few things in this life are so beautiful as sharing the magic of flight with the one you love…


Feb 20 2011

Weather and Wallet Pressure

Those are the two most powerful things that hold you grounded better than any tie-downs!

Such a joy looking out of the office window and seeing a beautiful, sunny day. Such a pity looking out of the bedroom window and seeing a hunch of low-level clouds, creeping that vertical visibility down to none.

I hate it. Need just about an hour dual and two and a half solo to finish my night rating, and am unable to fly more frequently than once every two weeks. Sometimes even desperately jumping into the sky in the middle of the week, because weekends weather is so completely busted. What a waste of time…


Aug 8 2010

What I’ve Learned This Summer

Past spring I was feeling myself pretty bad regarding the whole flying thing. I’ve noticed that my maneuvering was not precise enough, that I dislike the way flying is organized in different places. I had troubles going along with ATC and overall my airman skills have degraded from what they used to be during the flight test. I decided to learn and improve myself, working in three general directions:

  • Discover and learn the new airports;
  • Fly the new types and makes of airplanes;
  • Rethink the organizational pattern from a flight school one to something more efficient.

Each of the steps worked, and proved to be exceptionally useful.

New airports: I have tried the narrow and short runways, located at the high elevation, surrounded with obstacles. I was not pretending to fly “soft field” or “short field” alone, I was actually flying the short AND soft field most of the time. It drastically improved my circuit work, taught me the actual hazards of errors, not the imagined ones. I can’t over-emphasize the importance of the actual field experience against any abstract training. None of those “keep the nose wheel up” things over the concrete taxiway comes even remotely close to the bouncing and banging over the muddy bumps, with flies and mosquitoes entering the cockpit and entertaining you.

You also need to constantly look around when flying unknown airfields – there are all sorts of people in the pattern, and sometimes ignoring the pattern all together. They won’t necessary talk on the radio, approaches could be curved to bypass the obstacles on final. Circuit altitudes need to be taken very carefully, you need to move your head and eyes all the time, noticing everything, and be immediately able to turn out of the possible crash. I have learned the value of looking at the shadow of my airplane to check if there is someone else close, and frantically glancing under the wing before even thinking about the turn. Yes, that is a lot of workload, but this makes you a much safer pilot.

Than there is a whole price/value relationship. Most of the modern flight schools are situated within some sort of controlled airspace, which means that students are paying for hours and hours of taxiing, holding short, circling, going around and such – accompanied by a training area located in about half an hour flight outside of the airport. That’s a lot of money thrown away for nothing, plus lots of nerves wasted in working through a complex environment when barely able to control the aircraft properly. Not good.

Out of the city private airfields, in comparison, does not drain your money in similar way, you can fly much more, dedicate your time and effort to the actual handling of the aircraft, without need to wrestle the system. Together with a lower level of requirements to the “recreational” and ultralight pilots, it makes for a much more useful and cheap flying school, than any of the commercial ones. You just go and learn to do what you love, the best way you can. Good!

Taildraggers: That was another great move. Simply put, no Cessna pilot can possibly attain or even realize the need of attaining certain skills, that taildragger pilot have to understand and master. Coordination, attitude flying, lookout, footwork – all these come far and beyond the “yoke flying”, common for most of the modern airplane drivers.

Let’s take an adverse yaw as an example. Cessnas have it completely engineered out with their complex and efficient ailerons and meticulously calculated sizes of the flying and control surfaces. You can drive it all the way through the skies without even realizing that something is wrong! And this “something” would be a very important link between the arm and leg movement, which should be perfectly coordinated and barely noticeable. Cessna pilots, including instructors, are in general not used to even think about coordination beyond “keep the ball centered” (if you want to) level. That’s why when it comes to uncoordinated flight things almost invariantly up end with the stall/spin accidents – just check the NTSB database.

I totally love and appreciate the fact that now I do check where the plane’s nose is pointing to, and that my arms and legs are moving properly. The machine I was flying did not initially have a slip-skid indicator, but when it was installed later on – I was keeping the ball centered simply by “instinct”, without even looking at it! More, when I was trying to coordinate looking at the instrument, it was much less precise and quick than when flying the “seat of the pants”. By the way I would not say that it describes the feeling correctly – mostly I am keeping an imagined “line” going from nose to tail of the plain aligned with the flight path, or angled to it, as desired.

Of all those interesting things, Cessna was only asking me to compensate for the prop effects, and only if I was not busy with something else – so I’m glad to learn that there is a lot beyond that point…

Attitude flying: This is another thing that taildraggers flying really taught me, and it become only better when applied to flying the conventional gear aircrafts. It is perfectly possible and good to set an exact airspeed by simply placing the nose higher or lover over the horizon. Yes that’s a common knowledge, but how much of you guys can set fifty knots just glancing over the nose of your plane, or at the wing? What about switching that to seventy or forty knots, on demand, immediately, barely double-checking the airspeed indicator? I am learning to do it right now and am totally happy about it! Cessna’s comfortable instrument panel was, again, way too helpful to let me learn the airspeed control properly.

Attitude flying, coordination and ability to synchronize the flight path with longitudinal axis of the aircraft lead directly to the three-pointer landings. I should admit I am still learning to do that with all the necessary elegance, but hey, how much I’ve gained on the way to it! Taxi, landing or taking off in a conventional gear airplane now looks like a silly joke – I am not exaggerating!

Think about the “adding a little bit of power” while practicing the soft-fields in the Cessna – you set certain rpm and land long and soft, that’s it. Now with the taildragger we may routinely float over the runway (or other surface) in the ground effect, touching down exactly where needed. You can land harder or softer, shorter or longer, keep the plane under total control and maintain any airspeed/attitude you want, not only during the approach, but through the flare and touchdown! You can save all but the worst bounces, easily control the ground looping tendencies, dance on the pedals, making the touchdown precise and smooth with small, barely noticeable movements! That’s a lot, and incredibly cool…

I still have a long way to go in this department, but comparing to the Cessna take-off and landing operations, it is just another world. Like an acrobat stunts compared to the baby first steps.

Ground loops: So much talking about them, and yes, the whole movement of the plane out of control looks and feels scary. It is immediate and requires being calm and proficient to counter it before the loop even thinks to happen. Is it somehow imminent? Depends on what you are flying, where and how. If it is a nice and controllable plane in reasonable conditions, you will have to work hard to ground-loop it. If that’s a little short-coupled bitch with barely enough directional control and stability over the harsh surface and with nasty crosswind – you’d be probably destined to ground loop even being a good pilot, just a question of statistical probability.

What the whole movement of the tail beyond the main wheels teaches you is the same ever important thing – thinking ahead of the plane, staying alert, not panicking, moving controls in a coordinated, smart and efficient way, always understanding the axis of the plane related to the flying path. It makes you incomparably better pilot as opposed to the Cessna driving. And there is nothing wrong with Cessnas – problem is that you only learn in them how to drive, not to fly! In all honesty, even being licensed, I was not a pilot before I’ve encountered the taildraggers and learned how to handle them.

Homebuilts: Ah, those weird and sometimes crude flying machines… Can’t tell you how much you can expand your horizons flying them! Tail-wheel and conventional gear, with pushing or pulling props, strange flight dynamics and sometimes outright weird cockpits and controls – those hand-made machines can be incredibly rewarding and fun to fly. They can also teach you way beyond that expensively and efficiently designed Cessnas, Pipers or Cirruses can possibly do. I’ve realized many things thanks to the ultralights and homebuilts flying, and am totally confident that without them my understanding of what aviation is about would be quite limited.

Another great thing about homebuilts is the people around them. Those guys are simply wonderful… Smart, dedicated, totally in love with flying and tinkering with their aircraft, full of hands-on knowledge and funny prejudices… I love to see them around, talk to them, listen, ask, and study their machines. Those are the best folks you can possibly find in the world of aviation – nothing to do with overly commercialized “professionals”. Any of those gray-haired dudes with 20-30 years of quite risky flying experience is a far cry beyond the abilities of the typical young hobbs-focused “instructor” in the commercial flying school, thinking only about his future career as an airline pilot.

I had an honor and privilege to fly with Wayne Winters, Eugene Novinski and other historical persons in the ultralight and homebuilt world, and am absolutely thankful that it happened. I’ve learned a lot from those Pilots and hope to learn a lot more in the future.

Resuming: Diversity is the key. Different planes, different airports and unknown terrain make you much, much better flier than you can ever dream to be while driving a same make and model within a fifty-mile circle around your home base. I am very glad that I’ve bothered myself to go through all that additional training – I’ve learned a lot and become much more of a pilot then I was after receiving my license.

Next steps would be improving the taildragger skills, learning the aerobatics, working on the STOL performance and trying more and more airplanes, probably purchasing one of those fantastic homebuilt kits later on. Let’s see. And I can only recommend to any PPL get out of the familiar routine of Cessna or Piper driving and try the real thing. If you are serious about flying, you would definitely love that, I promise!


Jul 31 2010

Discovering EZ Flyer

Anyone familiar with the history of American homebuilts knows “Breezy” – visually crude machine with exposed fuselage frame. It was built in mid-sixties by a group of friends who wanted to create a super-primitive airplane relevant to the earlier years of flying, unlike the heavy-metal jet hardware surrounding them.

Breezy inspired and keeps on inspiring homebuilders all around the planet. I have seen versions of it flying in Russia and Latin America, Canada and European countries. The one I’ve discovered today is a Canadian-built ultralight created by Wayne Winters. It retains the philosophy of Breezy – everything exposed to the flow of fresh air – but is a registered “advanced ultralight”, unlike the original airplane.

EZ Flyer looks and feels sturdy. That chrome-moly tubing gives an unmistakable feeling that the plane is next to impossible to break. Walking around, pulling on the tubes – everything as tough as it looks like. Cockpit… well, it isn’t – as the design supposes. There are two padded plastic chairs with lap belts; rest is metal frame, rudder and stick. There is an “instrument panel”, minimal legal set of dials, and just enough switches and levers to keep the engine running.

Our EZ had a powerful Rotax-912 installed, and its hear-ripping roar still sounds in my ears, even though we were using the headphones with a simple intercom to chat while flying. But even this engine is barely strong enough to push through the air this complex web of metal tubing, braces, cables and struts.

Taxi was as obvious and uneventful as it can possibly be. Literally like walking, nothing to talk about. Takeoff was an outcry of the engine whining roar accompanying a relatively sedate acceleration and simple, reasonably fast climb. There was no need to apply any sort of correction for the prop-induced yaw, and the only funny thing was that I was sitting there, in the nose of the plane, and all the rest was way behind – including the wing and invisible, but deafening engine.

EZ Flyer does not have adverse yaw. At all! You can fly with your feet only, or ailerons only, or both together – all works. It also possess that nice range of speeds which are the same for climb, cruise and approach – roughly between 60 and 70 mph. You can’t go faster and you needn’t go slower. Range of engine power is between five thousands and fifty three hundred. That’s all there is about the power settings and V-speeds.

Flyer… Like in Wrights’ Flyer – for sure it is. Embrace the sky – it is in the reach of your hand! Look around, watch down, overall feeling is like you are sitting in this little awkward chair and somehow thrusting through the air with a wild howl, yet still staying at the same place! Magic… I haven’t had enough of it. Wanted to keep flying like that for hours, just slowly circling and looking at the world below. Nothing like this in any “real” airplane.

Approach simply was not there. Go to the point when the nose start covering the edge of the runway about 500 feet above the ground and gently close the throttle, pushing the nose down. The plane will start plowing through the air as slow as always, only in the vertical direction. There are no flaps or airbrakes – the whole plane is one. Up to the point that when you are close enough to the ground and want to stop that sinking feeling, you add power – otherwise you will continue the descent – nose up or down, irrelevant, except for the “airspeed” going to zero the moment you’ll pull on the stick.

Add some power, ground is closer… and closer… and still closer… you feel like your ass is digging a trench through the runway – that’s okay, you are still too high… can you feel the sides of the runway at your ears level? That is when you need to start pulling on the stick!

Pull harder, everything in this plane is tough, including the controls’ pressures. When the stick will be somewhere in your stomach, you will hear the noise – that’s a tractor-size wheels running on the ground at a mind-blowing 30 mph. Keep the nose up and cut the throttle – now that prop stops pushing the tail down and the nose will leisurely drop. Bouncy-bouncy – even though the front wheel is as fat as the mains, there are no shock absorbers, except for the air in the tires.

And this is it – the magic has gone, you are a driver of the half-ton ugly vehicle swaying and squeaking. Don’t know about you, but I was smiling as stupid as possible and shaking my head after that flight was over. After about a hundred hours in the cockpit and much more in the passenger cabin I finally discovered what a real flying is about. Not even the hang glider trikes I have tried earlier were that blatantly honest in what lifting yourself in the air is.

I enjoyed the flight very much, and I loved that weird and beautiful machine, Breezy, EZ Flyer. It is not that “easy” to fly properly, you need to really get a grasp on the lowest possible energy management, but it’s definitely one of the best flyers I’ve ever experienced. A real aircraft, live magic of flight. If you’ll ever find yourself next to it – do not hesitate, try it, you’ll never forget.

EZ Flyer

EZ Flyer


Jun 19 2010

Taking Merlin for a Spin

Well, in fact, there was no spinning today – but lots of incredibly fun upper airwork! Simple set of the basic maneuvers produced an enduring smile on my face; this little Merlin EZ is just a beauty of an airplane…

We started from a couple of normal circuits and I immediately felt like even a week delay is good enough to became less sharp when operating a taildragger. Usual “dance on the pedals”, which is supposed to be all but invisible, grew out of proportion during the first take off and landing – only the third touch and go was a nice smooth three-pointer. Same effect exists on any airplane, it is just more pronounced on those who require additional attention.

Then we went to an improvised “practice area” next to the river and the upper airwork started – just about 1500 feet off the ground. This would scare me enough in Cessna, but for Merlin there is never “too low”.

Power on stall… well, it wasn’t. If you coordinate and have enough power, the plane just hangs on the prop and softly, controllably mushes at about 30 mph indicated. If you remove the power, it politely lowers the nose. If you keep the stick all the way back, it tries to mush and then again nicely drop the nose to the horizon. With more power the “break” is more pronounced, I just have trouble calling it an actual stall break.

Uncoordinated stalls were absolutely the same, with careful, obvious and slow wing drop – just about 15-20 degrees, not more. And it was so slow, so completely understandable, that the leg just moves to “step on the raising wing” all by itself, which returns us to a previously described mush.

Power off, nose down, pull on the stick and step on the inner pedal. No tendency to tuck the wing under, the plane just don’t want! The turn at about 40 mph is ridiculously tight, but it is impossible to get a wing drop or stall break without power – so the plane simply turns…

Power on, climbing back, let’s play with a slow flight. No stall horns, no specifically pronounced buffet, it is just a game of throttle and stick. Balancing between adding the power and pulling back on the stick I hang it on the prop at about 40 mph. Right turn is slow and requires more power to maintain the altitude; left turn is much faster with about 15% less power needed. Full throttle – we climb, rather fast. Cut it off, keep the wings from dropping, and we mush back. Beautiful!

Playing with sideslips – one more surprise, like if it wasn’t enough… I smoothly step on the pedal all the way, and the plane starts flying sideways! Barely any stick is needed to keep the wings level, and a bit more – to keep the nose down, but the rudder is so effective that even half way to the stop it literally turns the plane, like a boat! This is so silly, and took me another attempt to get a “real” sideslip with barely a bit of pedal and almost nothing on the stick. We still fly with the nose about 25 degrees sideways, plane loses altitude, but nothing interesting – it is not even remotely “falling out of the skies”, as it supposed to be. Add the power and push the rudder – and you can pretty much turn the plane tail forward!

After all that, we played a little bit with curved approach (runway beginning is cut between the trees, so you have a nicely waving green wall on the left and some farmer buildings on the right), wheel landing, was all fun, but the stall characteristics of this plane just left me speechless. I am not at all surprised there is barely a couple of stall/spin accidents on this type in the NTSB database, one must be a ridiculously inaccurate pilot to make this little machine misbehave…

Merlin EZ

Merlin EZ


Apr 24 2010

Taildraggers!

I was dreaming about them since the very beginning. My first “love” in the aviation world was a Yak-18 with a five cylinder M-11F radial, and as a kid I honestly believed that this nice little trainer was, in fact, quite a complex machine. Its skinless drawing initially scared me away from the whole idea of aviation – It was just way too weird to think about.

Years later, my default flight in the Flight Simulator was a gusty cross-wind in a Piper Cub with flight dynamics modified by Alexander Metzger. I loved that touch down with just one wheel, cutting under the wind gusts, maintaining the fragile balance from approach to the engine shutdown. I loved to land that model on top of the hangar roofs and take off zig-zagging between the trees. If I was not doing that, I was either going IFR over the Hump on the Radio Range, or thrashing the skies in the whaling F-104 two-seater.

The very first real aircraft I ever flown had just one wheel – it was a basic glider BRO-11M. All the rest had tricycle gear, and I was still dreaming about those classic airplanes with their noses proudly raised to the sky…

Well, today the dream came true in a pure celebration of joy and happiness. I was rather shocked and almost overwhelmed while taxiing, but when the tail went up and I was actually running on the mains, and then that little Merlin EZ just flew off the ground, I could not help but smile.

And the grin was not fading out, in fact I was more and more engulfed in a hurricane of positive emotions while practicing the “Dutch rolls” and making a jaw-dropping discovery that the real planes are flown with pedals – and I had never flown a plane this way before.

Golf ball-shaped throttle lever in my left hand, Y-formed stick in my right, and don’t even think to bank it into a turn – pedal it there and keep it nice! Who ever needs to look at the instruments when there are almost none? The whole horizon is in front of me, beautiful skies around, why even bother thinking about the “ball centered”? There was no ball anyway, just an airspeed indicator and altimeter – and a smart LCD panel for that new age fuel injected engine, replacing the old-style clunker.

If you have never flown an “old-style” airplane and think you know what the adverse yaw is about, think twice. Actually just go and try it – I guarantee an immediate enlightening. Don’t move, just think the stick left – and your nose will swing to the right before you’ve even finished thinking!

Surprisingly, the much feared around the aviation chit-chats horrors such as prop wash, torque, gyroscopic effect or asymmetric thrust were not even remotely as bad to deal with, as I was expecting. Yes you need to understand, predict and react, moving the controls simultaneously and smartly, but that’s not a big deal. Adverse yaw once in the air – that was a total mind-changer for me…

I loved today’s flight. So totally happy that the taildraggers resulted to be exactly what I wanted them to be – a true flying and a real fun. I still like Cessnas, but there is no way I will even look back to being a tricycle-only pilot. Dream of my life just come true and it’s beautiful!