Lesson 200
30 April 2003
1.1 hours

It Flies !!!

It's been a long time since my last "Learning Flying " entry.  (The trouble with the retirement business is that it takes up all my spare time.)  But today's flight has brought me back to the website with this announcement. There have been about ten or fifteen other flights since the last Lesson, but I'm bumping up the number to 200 today because this is the beginning of a new era for me. 


All morning there was a moderate left crosswind on runway 15, and the forecast for late this afternoon was for a moderate right crosswind and thunderstorms.  But there hadto be a transition period when the wind would be light and more or less straight down the runway.

That was important because if the wind cooperated AND if the airplane seemed ready AND if I seemed ready, it would be time for the airplane's very first test flight

The airplane!  It's a SeaRey that I've been building from a kit for the past three years--about 850 hours of actual building time.  Here's how it looked a couple of months ago, essentially finished, with only a few things left to do:

The engine is a Rotax 914--115 hp turbocharged.  The prop is a 68" Ivo Medium, ground-adjustable.

Two-place, side-by-side seating.  It flies just as well with the sliding canopies open as with them closed. 

That silver-colored thing ahead of the tailwheel is the water rudder.  And as you can see, the fuselage is shaped like the hull of a speedboat--because it's an amphibian.  The landing gear is down here, of course, but it raises up to the sides in flight and for water operations.

Around noon today there was a lot of traffic in the pattern--several students doing touch-and-goes and other airplanes coming and going.  But by one o'clock they had all disappeared.  And the wind was beginning to die down and shift around to the southeast.


I was feeling pretty anxious by then.  I had run out of things to fiddle with on the airplane.


Okay.  Let's just push it outside and see if the engine runs right.  Pushed it outside.  Pumped a fuel sample from the sump and the gascolator.  Clean and clear.  Walked around, checking again to be sure that all nuts were tight, and so on.  Climbed in and buckled up.  Flipped on the master switch and the auxillary fuel pump.

"Clear prop!"

Turned the starter switch and the Rotax caught fire and the tach wound up to 2000 rpm--normal idle speed for this engine that cruises at 5000 rpm.  Pulled on my headset and listened to the AWOS on the radio.  "Wind one one zero at six..."  Okay.  Getting better

Opened the throttle a bit and taxied down the line of hangars to the taxiway leading out to the runway.  All right, I'm this far, let's just taxi to the runway...

Taxied out to the runway.  All right, let's taxi down to the end of the runway and see what happens...

Did that. 

Turned into the runup pad.

Ran up the engine.  I should say here that I was worried about the engine because a few weeks ago it had taken to not running right and I never did figure out what was wrong.  It just took to running right again on its own.  So I stood on the brakes hard and tried full throttle.  5800 rpm and 40 inches of manifold pressure--just what it should be.


Okay--did I say that already?  I still didn't know whether I'd be able to go through with it.  I had no ground crew--hadn't intended to fly when coming to the airport this morning.  I had, however, planned the flight and had a "Flight Card" taped to the instrument panel, listing every step in the first test flight.

I looked it over again.  Looked at the pre-takeoff and pre-landing checklists, too.

Better do a radio check, I thought.  Called UNICOM and got back, "Loud and clear."

O... kay...

Just then a Citation passed over the end of the runway and landed.  It used up the entire 5500 feet and turned off at the far taxiway. 

Nothing else in the pattern. I taxied to the hold line and held for a while.  Took a deep breath and keyed the mic.

"Chesterfield traffic, experimental SeaRey three four five delta mike departing one five on its first test flight, Chesterfield."

Checked again to be sure no one was landing.  Taxied all the way out onto the runway.  Lined up on the centerline.  Stopped.  Looked around.  Looked at the far end of the runway.  Took another deep breath.  Double-checked the pre-takeoff list:  Flaps 20 degrees.  Trim 3/4 nose-up. 

Opened the throttle and the Rotax wound up, and then the turbocharger wound up and the tail came up and even before I could think about rotating the pavement was falling away...

Airspeed 65.  Positive rate of climb.  Everything feels normal just like a SeaRey.  The trim setting was just right--beginner's luck.

At about 500 feet I raised the flaps to 10 degrees and throttled back slightly.  At 1000 feet I throttled back to 5200 rpm and the manifold pressure dropped down to the low 30s--just right for the situation.  You get five minutes at full takeoff power, and after that the turbo control computer flashes a red light at you and makes a note in its memory--didn't want that to happen.

Kept on climbing.

Tried a gentle turn to the left, and it turned gently to the left.  Announced turning crosswind. 

Kept on climbing and turning around the legs of the pattern until reaching 3000 feet.  Everything felt good.  Tried some gentle turns to the right, and it turned gently to the right.

O-KAY!  It's controllable.  Took a deep breath.  (Have I been breathing all this time?)  Relaxed a bit.  It seemed to be flying just fine.

Checked the airspeed indicator against the GPS.  When crossing the wind, they were within 1 or 2 mph of agreement.  That was good because it meant that I could probably count on making the final approach at the usual indicated speeds for SeaReys.

After a while I climbed up to 5000 feet--it was hazy up there, but not enough to cause any problems.  I wanted the extra altitude to make an approach to a stall in landing configuration, to find out how the airplane was going to feel on landing--but didn't want to try a full stall.  The last thing I wanted to worry about on this first flight was spin recovery.

Made sure that the airspeed was within the white arc, the range for flap deployment.  Lowered the flaps to 10 degrees and trimmed for that speed.  You have to do a lot of trimming in a SeaRey because of the high thrust line.  Open the throttle and the nose wants to go down, and vice versa, so you need to trim out the stick pressure.

Reduced the throttle to 3500 rpm and slowed to 75.  Twenty degrees of flaps--normal for landings.  Let it slow gradually, easing very slightly back on the stick.  65, 60 55, 50...  It still hadn't given any indication of a stall coming on, and it was fully controllable at that speed, so I powered up again and raised the flaps to 10 degrees for the climb back to 5000 feet.


Okay, I flew around at 5000 for a while, just enjoying being up in the air in an airplane I'd built myself--and appreciating the precision of the kit, too, because the parts went together perfectly to make an airplane that was flying nicely, with nothing seeming out of adjustment.  It flew straight and level, so the rig of the wings was right.

Eventually it was time to come back down and face the part of the flight that had been giving me the most anxiety--the landing. Yes,  I knew I'd made more than 50 land landings in SeaReys.  Yes, I knew this was just one more normal landing.  But it worried me all the same.  Part of my worry was that the landing gear might collapse upon touchdown, leaving me stranded out on the runway with who knows how many airplanes waiting to land.  Yes, that was probably an unreasonable worry--but then after all, it hadn't been tested yet.

Well.  I eased the throttle back to 3000 rpm and trimmed for a descent at 80 mph.  That was about 500 feet per minute, so it was going to take a while to get down 3/4 of a mile to pattern altitude.  Kept flying above the pattern legs while descending, but at 2000 feet turned away to the east to come down the last 800 feet away from anyone who might be in the pattern.  At 1400 I turned back and entered on the 45 for left downwind for runway 15. 

Went through the pre-landing checklist.  It's GIFT--Gear down (for land), Instrument scan, Flaps to 10 degrees, then to 20 degrees, Trim away the stick pressure.  I was flying the downwind in close, just in case the engine decided to get cranky, so announced turning base-to-final.  Got lined up with the runway.  A Citation, probably the same one that had landed just before I took off, was waiting at the hold line, but I put it out of my mind and concentrated on my glide angle, crabbing slightly but straightening out as the wind dropped off as I got lower.  3000 rpm, a little low, so 3500, over the numbers, good height, good descent rate, 3000 rpm, easing down to the runway, holding it off, letting it slow and settle on its own, holding holding then a soft chirp thump and it was down on all three wheels, rolling straight and slowing nicely.

Then I remembered that Citation.  Sorry!  I was past the first turn-off and the next one was nearly half a mile farther on, and there I was slogging along at maybe 10 mph.  Sorry, Citation, but there's no way I'm going to throttle up and fly it in ground effect--not this time.

And that was it.  Taxied back to the hangar, shut down the engine, and pushed the SeaRey back inside.

Piece of cake.

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