I’m Celebrating! by Sandy Reutter

There’s hope (and excitement) for ALL of us!

About a month ago, when I hit “The Big Five-Ohhhh”, I decided that it was time to learn what those pedals on the floor were for and to see what flying was like without the training wheel.

I scheduled a lesson, drove over to 3V5, and was introduced to a 1946, 65hp Aeronca (that’s Aronica, for all you hangar flyers) Champ. “Cool, a nice little airplane” I was thinking to myself “No electrical system, no vacuum pump to worry about, everything’s out in the open, shouldn’t be THAT tough. . .”
. . .NOT!!!

My instructor, a personable young (32) gentleman, with 4000+ hours (and trying to get a meaningful airline job) did a thorough walk-around with me, explaining the differences between a tube & fabric plane that was built with a lot of wood and our more modern spam-cans. I learned even more about hand-propping (that ratcheting noise you hear when you’re pulling it through is the impulse coupler)–it feels a lot safer on the backside of the prop. Anyway, I squirmmed into the front seat, buckled in, and did my part for the start-up. I taxied on down to the run-up area learning (once again) to keep my speed down (the heel brakes aren’t all that effective and the steering’s a bit squirrelly) and to pay attention to where I was wanting to go.

We did the old CIGARS run-up (no mixture) and headed out to the runway. Rick told me to give it full throttle, keep it straight, and bring up the tail. So far, so good and then we just flew off at 50 mph. We accelerated to 60-65 (Vy) and left the area for some familiarization. It was like starting all over(I had about 975 hours)! That *%^&$ ball just kept rolling from one side to the other–the only time it was centered was during the microsecond it was passing through. Rick kept saying “Lead with the rudder.” I floundered around for the best part of an hour until I had an idea of what he was really saying. We went back to the airport and of course, he greased the landing (just like I do when showing off to a new student šŸ™‚ .

Next day, I got to swing the prop. I was a little tentative at first (read Ron Wanttaja’s “It Slices, It Dices”), but when we turned on the mags, it fired up on the first pull. I scrambled into my seat and we went off to see if I could fly any better. I still felt a little clutzy (a technical term), but amazingly enough, the controls felt almostnatural and the ball was staying pretty much in the middle. What a difference a day makes. We went back to the pattern to perform 3-point landings. Rick did one, (you guessed it) the proverbial greaser. My turn–things were looking good until I pulled the power, increased the sink rate, and BOUNCED. Full throttle, nose down, go around! We tried it again several times with varying degrees of success (& failure) although I did learn about “pinning” the tail wheel. Then it was time to call it quits for a few days.

The next time, we tried the the 3-points again. I bounced the first one, so Rick decided to demonstrate (once again) what its really supposed to look like. My next one was almost perfect! The tailwheel just barely touched down first and the mains didn’t bounce. The next one was even better! Hey, this stuff isn’t too bad! Several more good ones and then he says “Let’s try some wheel landings.” Oh boy, back to square one again. Rick got to earn his keep getting us safely back into the air after my amazing bounces (and PIO’s). We finished up with a high-speed taxi for about 4000 feet and went back and parked it.

Next lesson (after a three week vacation). Started up, flew around for a while to get the feel back then nailed several 3-points. “Do you want to try some wheel landings?” “Why sure”, said I (brimming with confidence). The first one was looking good until I got impatient with my lack of sink rate in the flare–BOUNCE BOUNCE! Rick demo’d another one then said “Your airplane.” I got lined up on short final then ever so SLOOOOOWLY started easing off the power. Squeek squeek, the mains touched, I added a little forward pressure in the stick, throttle back to idle, and we were rolling along waiting for the tail to come down. Maybe there’s hope for me after all. Three more then Rick said let’s quit and finish up tomorrow.

Last night everything came together UNTIL I touched down for the third wheel landing (slight left x-wind). I was congratulating myself on a fine landing when I noticed the plane was heading for the left edge of the runway. I started adding right rudder without much effect and as the left wheel was leaving the pavement, I gave it a shot of power and was suddenly heading for the right side of the runway. A couple more swerves and things were back to normal and we were doing a go around. Rick was sitting there in the back seat chuckling “I was just waiting for you to do that” he laughed,”Just when you think this is easy, the plane says “Hi, remember me?” “Humbling, isn’t it?” Needless to say, I had to agree and finished up with a good landing and paid attention all the way through to the end (at the hangar). I even noticed the plane trying to swerve again as the rudder started to lose authority.

After we put the Champ away, we went back to the office to do paperwork and Rick says “Congratulations, you handled the landings well, and the little excursion into the weeds taught you a good lesson. I’m signing you off.” YES!!! I can do it. This is almost as good as my first solo! Now I can go out a practice and get proficient at my new-found skills.

After I got home I added up the hours; 5.9 for the transition and 1000.1 total flight time! Two milestones in one swell foop. Now, by some peoples standards, I might even be a competent CFII. But then again, I learn something every time I fly, whether its an introductory ride with a new student, a check out with a 5000 hour ATP, or just a joyride by myself. The only thing I know for sure is that there is so much out there that I won’t ever come close to knowing it all. That’s the neat thing about flying, you can always find new ways to challenge yourself. When you get a little burned out get a new rating or endorsement, fly somewhere you haven’t been, try a new maneuver, treat an earthling to their first plane ride…

Sandy Reutter