27 April 2008

Flying the big bird at last

April 2008 After thirteen consecutive days of rain, Saturday 26th April dawned cloudless with light north-easterly winds; close to perfect flying weather. Test pilot, Steve Curtis, took DZY for the final phase of test flying to satisfy requirements of its airworthiness certificate. Following 50 minutes of flying, he returned satisfied that the bird was operating well.

Before I knew it, the time arrived for me to fly the beast for the first time. As I climbed into the cockpit and buckled up first the parachute, then the seat harness, I almost couldn't believe I was about to fly the beast at long last.

After taxiing out and lining up on the runway, I paused to lock the tailwheel and then opened the throttle. I had only advanced the throttle to about 50% and was still opening it when the big metal bird told me it wanted to fly by lifting off gently on its own accord. Retracting the landing gear, I turned onto the crosswind leg for a departure out of Camden airport.

On reaching the training area, I began exploring the bird's general handling with some simple stalls, steep turns and combat turns. Unsurprisingly, the Yak-50 handles quite similarly to its close relative, the Yak-52 with
light, tight and harmonised control forces.

Reversing turns in one direction into the opposite direction required minimal stick movement. Pulling up and then rolling into combat turns was delightful and effortless. All the while, the big engine simply loped along at 65% power.

I was tempted to continue with more aerobatic manoeuvres. But I decided to save them for another day because of a fast approaching winter sunset and duly headed back to Camden to practice landing the beast.

For my first approach, I decided to skim the aircraft just above the runway without touching down, to gauge the flare height and view perspective before executing a go around to set up for the second approach. Touchdown on my second approach was smooth and so I felt ready for a full stop landing on the third approach.

As I touched down on the third approach, I slowly eased back the stick to lower the tailwheel to the runway. Then I noticed the aircraft had actually become airborne again. Rather than retrying to land well down on the remaining runway, I decided to be cautious and execute a go around.

Coming around onto my fourth approach, the big bird settled on the main landing gear gently. This time, I just let the tail lower onto the runway of its own accord. When I felt the tailwheel contact, I eased the stick full back, slowed the beast to taxi speed and exited the runway.

Feeling a mixture of elation and relief, the return taxi gave me time to savour the realisation of a childhood dream of owning a "warbird" aircraft. Indulgent perhaps, but then every boy needs his toys.


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