Thursday, May 29, 2008

Low and Slow

Ventured back to the edges of Texas Hill Country on Wednesday to take advantage of a hidden gem: Rental of a 1946 Piper J-3 Cub from Boerne Stage Airfield (info here, website here; note that Boerne is pronounced "BERN-ie," not "bohrne"). My host for the afternoon was CFI Jordan Schultz, who's been instructing for about seven months.

We began with a brief overview of the IFR Pilot's overall flight experience, experience flying a Cub (none), and experience with tailwheel aircraft (none). We quickly decided that in the couple of hours that we had available, a complete checkout and tailwheel endorsement wasn't in the cards, but we could certainly tackle some aerial flightseeing. Given that the airplane cruises slower than most pickup trucks drive on a Texas Interstate Highway, the reality was that we weren't going to go that far. Then again, it wasn't about seeing anything in particular, but more about honing some stick and rudder skills, flying low and slow, and communing with one of my aviation heroes, Rinker Buck, author of Flight of Passage, a memoir of two young brothers who fly their Cub from New Jersey to California in the mid-1960's.

Predictably, we started with the preflight inspection. Our faithful steed for the day was NC70997, a 1946 J-3. She was in immaculate condition, with nary a scratch on the doped linen, and the classic yellow Piper Cub paint scheme.


There wasn't all that much to check on the preflight: oil (at least 3 quarts), fuel, rigging lines (free movement, no corrosion), cotter pins in the cowling, and a couple of other do-dads. As the panel shows, this Cub is all-original -- no electrical system. Just an RPM gauge, airspeed indicator, whiskey compass, (non-functional) altimeter, and oil pressure and temperature gauges. The red-lines on the RPM and airspeed gauges appeared to have been added by red pain pen on the outside of the glass!


Jordan also reviewed the cockpit controls (pretty simple: stick, carb heat, magneto switch), although the separate pedals for the heel brakes were a revelation. He also reviewed the mechanics of hand propping, which he'd be doing. The IFR Pilot was quite attentive to this, as it would have been quite a downer if Jordan had been run over during the start sequence!!!

Preflight complete, the biggest challenge of the day arrived: Stuffing my non-1946 sized body into the cub. This involved no small amount of gymnastics on my part, all of them attempted with a delicate touch lest so damage be done to the airplane. The challenge is that you can't step in the base of the strut like you may be used to doing in your favorite Cessna. I finally grabbed the upper bars and literally pulled myself into the seat.

Jordan dutifully hand propped the Cub -- after making sure several times that yours truly was standing on the heel brakes hard enough! Then we taxied for some fuel. S-turns were in order, as was a lot of the IFR Pilot's head sticking out of both sides of the cockpit to look for obstructions. After adding a couple of gallons of 100LL, we started up again and taxied to the runway. A quick run ensued, basically just a mag check and a check of the flight controls -- and then it was onto Runway 17 for takeoff.

Jordan primarily handled the takeoff, although I kept hands and feet on the controls to get a sense of the delicate touch needed with a tailwheel airplane. Moments after takeoff, however, Jordan turned the controls over to the IFR Pilot and away we went. We climbed for a while at 55 MPH, eventually leveling off at 1000 to 1500 AGL. We flew with the right side door down and the window up, so it was a new experience to stick my head out of the cockpit and look down at the trees and scrub passing below us.

Our destination was Medina Lake, a man-made lake southwest of the airport. We circumnavigated a particularly large transmitting tower, and then dropped down to a couple of hundred feet off the surface of the lake and flew over the entire length of it. See for yourself:




And, there's even some video available as well!



After we finished out tour of the lake, we climbed back up to altitude and I put us on a reciprocal heading back to 5C1. All too soon we were in the pattern, and Jordan handled the landing. We called it quits after that, as he had another student arriving for a lesson.

All in all, it was a great time, and well worth the $120 that it ended up costing. If you find yourself in the San Antonio area with some free time on your hands, get out to Boerne Stage airport and get some stick time in NC70997. When it's done, you'll end up with a smile on your face bigger than mine!

10 comments:

John said...

I wish I had known about this when we went to Texas last time...almost flew into Boerne but elected for another airport south of SAT (I forget which, now).

A flight in the cub would have been a welcome escape from the in-laws. I've always wanted to fly a cub.

Dave Starr said...

Very nice indeed. As someone who has been intimately involved with Cubs since he was 6, I love to see folks keeping them alive, s\using them for what they were made for "making better pilots and having fun" and writing about them.

For those who haven't flown a Cub, why haven't you? If you don't want to go through a checkout, fine, just get an hour's stick time and see if you don't grin ear-to-ear too.

Todd - MyFlightBlog.com said...

Man, that looks like fun. I need to follow Dave's advice and go spend some time in a Cub!

flight delay said...

I miss the days of being able to tear around in GA airplanes. I'm at an airline now and it just doesn't compare to the days of flying low and slow. That's the best flying you'll ever do so enjoy it! Cheers.

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