Wednesday, May 13, 2009

A morning Cub flight

It's a cool spring morning in Alabama. We've had a number of days of rain and clouds, but this morning looks pretty good, so I make the decision to head out to the airport- I can sneak in a flight before work. At 7:30, it will take me 20 minutes to get to the airport. Traffic is light since I'm traveling against the main flow of rush hour.
I get to the airport to find it all quiet. I open the hangar door, greet the Cub and marvel at the freedom that we enjoy. So much of the world does not have the liberties and opportunities that we sometimes take for granted. I check the oil and gas, drain some fuel, and preflight the airframe. I push the Cub outside using the flying wires that square up the tail feathers. The plane only weighs about 700 pounds so this is an easy one man task. I check my portable radio and batteries, chock the wheels and verify the throttle connection. I push the mixture in and prime the plane by pumping the throttle three times. I turn the mags on and spin the prop three times. On the third pull, the engine fires just like it always does with a few puffs of black smoke and then things smooth out.
This is part of the beauty and simplicity of a Cub. I am not dependent on electrons stored in a battery for starting, or an alternator, or a voltage regulator, or even a belt, just the pull of my arms. It's not even that much of a pull. I give the plane a once over look. It seems eager to fly so I hop (crawl) in and buckle up. Original Cubs are flown solo from the back seat for weight and balance reasons. Besides, the view out the open window and door is best from the back seat. One would think that it would be windy inside a Cub with the door and window open, but it is actually very pleasant. Even in the Alabama summer Cub occupants remain comfortable. I taxi out to the runup area and do my pre-takeoff routine. There is no DG to set, no complicated procedures, just controls, mags and carb heat. I check final and the other end of the runway for traffic, make my call and taxi onto the runway, ridiculously long and wide for a Cub. I line up and apply power holding the stick back and keeping the plane lined up with the rudder pedals. In a few seconds I let the tail rise, and just a few seconds after that I am airborne.
I see the earth descend below the open door to my right, the Cub in its element gently climbing skyward. A grin develops on my face as I continue around the pattern. It's a little windier up out of ground effect than I anticipated. I have a 30 degree crab established to keep the crosswind at bay on upwind and downwind. I'll make this a quick hop since this wind will make landing more stressful as it gets down to the surface later. I set up for my landing. Abeam the numbers, I pull the power back to 1900 rpm and add carb heat, and the cub descends easily. There are no flaps. I could slip it if needed, but not this time. I am thinking, due to the crosswind, that I will make this a wheel landing rather than a 3-point. I line up on final and set the carb heat to off. You don't want to have to take your hand off the stick to mess with carb heat when you are on or near the runway. I skim over the lights at the end of the runway and hold a level attitude until I gently touch the pavement. Cub tires have a deeper sound when they touch the ground than higher performance airplane tires. It's still a bark, but it is deeper and more drawn out. I hold the tail off as long as I can, and it finally settles on its own. The tailwheel hits smoothly.
It takes some time to taxi down the runway to get to the first turnoff at 1200 feet. I gently turn the Cub onto the taxiway and taxi back to the hangar. The grin is still on my face. It was a short flight but I will think back on it for a couple of days as bad weather comes back in. I put the Cub back in its hangar, and apologize to it for not making it a longer flight. I close the doors, still thinking about how lucky we are to have this freedom. I feel a little sad for those potential pilots out there who have not yet tasted flight. I know it's not for everyone, but there are tons of folks who just haven't made it to the airport for that first flight. I get into my little car and drive to work, arriving on time.

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