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Pulling On Your Pants

November 24, 2009

Pulling on Your Pants  (what the Manual doesn’t tell you)

by Robert Murray

Flying the same aircraft for a number of years or a lot of hours becomes like pulling on your pants.   A routine so familiar you can do it in the dark before you are fully awake.  But every once in a while it’s not a bad idea to read the labels.  And by labels I mean at least some of the paper work that goes with flying and should be aboard you aircraft.

For example, when was the last time you did a weight and balance, remind yourself where the datum line is located and calculate the fore and

aft limits for loading your airplane.  It’s all very well to have a neatly printed  profile in the aircraft manual (which was probably written for the land version of your float plane) but where in the cabin and baggage area do those limits exist and how does the way you load  the duffel begin to affect the performance and flying characteristics of your particular aircraft?

Which reminds me of a sign over a rusty Coke cooler in one SPB I visited years ago that said, “Pilots!  Don’t Leave the Dock If Your Floats are Underwater”.  It  seemed relevant because their chief pilot was attempting to get a C185 off the water with an old Servel refrigerator tied to the spreader bars.  I hadn’t seen him leave the dock.

And it’s what happens when you finally get off the water and into the air where things can get pretty  exciting.  A Super Cub will fly away with just about anything you can stuff in it or tie to it, but I still remember the first time I flew  mine with a passenger, more luggage than I had carried before and right after filling the tanks.   We had an offshore wind and I thought I had given myself plenty of room before I turned back towards the town.  The Cub came off the water pretty much as it always did, but it  didn’t want to climb.  My friend was chatting away in the back, I was sweating bricks and  I’m pretty sure the floats clipped a few spruce trees as we slowly gained altitude and crossed the shoreline.   I didn’t bank into a turn until we had another five hundred feet under us.  As they say, if you live, you learn something and that lesson stayed with me for a long time.

That night I took the POH to our motel and calculated a W&B.  But what the manual doesn’t tell you is what happens to the stall speed and spin characteristics of your aircraft when you are over gross and the load is outof limits.  Or why too much weight forward is usually better than too much weight aft.  Sometimes you have to learn this stuff by experience.  Or better yet, learn it from someone who has experience.

I drove past Essington  the other day, on I95 just west of Philadelphia.  It is where Philadelphia SPB is located and for a very long time it was operated by Robert ‘Bob’ Mills.   I kept my Cub there for a few years, when it was on floats year-round.  Bob is dead now.  Henry Grenfell is running the base, but I remember  Bob’s  patience with students and  conversations he had with the rest of us hangers-around.  He never grew tired of  discussing the basics of flying.  He didn’t suffer fools and braggarts easily, but no question was  off limits  and he was the kind of guy who could tell you  what will happen if you do  overload or miss load  your aircraft and why.

I miss him and I miss those discussions.  Hope there is a Bob Mills around for you to talk to.  Happy Thanksgiving.

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