This Will Get You Thinking About Flying...
Another installment in the Eugene Ely- Curtiss Pusher adventure. The Curtiss is safely in HSC-22s hangar at Chambers Field, NAS Norfolk, VA, pre-positioned for the Centennial of Naval Aviation kick-off ceremonies on 12 NOV.
Phase One fly-offs we're completed, the mandatory 40 hour local area testing. It got pretty tedious towards the end, boring holes to log time, but Andrew King and I did manage to evaluate the Pushers envelope in a long chain of 30 minute to 1+20 flights. There we're no routine flights and the Curtiss and the winds always managed to teach something new. There we're several days of absolute calm, with mild temps, when I wished for longer time aloft. More likely, though, we found that 1 hour was about the limit of physical comfort and sometimes endurance, depending on the turbulence. I'm finding the Curtiss and I aloft live in a river of air, sometimes benevolent and still, peacefully tolerating our noisy passage as we rend it with wings and wires, bamboo and the whirring prop. Calm days in the river allow poetic contemplation of the marvels passing below at 55 mph, and I can understand why Ernie Gann and St. Exupery and John Gillespie MaGee wrote so eloquently of this thing we call flight. Sitting in the wind, you can see what you smell, the barnyards, the smoke and the swamps.
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That river has a dark side, too. This Curtiss has limited control authority. Thats not to say it has inadequate control surfaces, but it does have considerable limitations. The rudder is the closest to modern airplanes in feel and function. The ailerons are now acceptable, but very stiff and they produce the considerable adverse yaw you would expect, given their size and location. Pitch remains the wild card. There is no feedback, no real control force feel and no predictable pattern. Flight in all but smooth air remains a continuous series of upset recoveries. There is way more pitch authority than you need with the large canard and the rear elevators, which means you have to fight the upset first and yourself next to avoid overcontrolling the recoveries. With a conventional airplane, the flow of air over the cylindrical fuselage act to dampen the pitch vectors as you fly into a pitch up or down event. In this Curtiss, for example, the canard will enter a thermal updraft first and instantly pitch up, which you react to counter just as the wings and then the tail get hit with their own jitters. Eventually, you wrestle to a draw and continue to the next round.
Thermals are for gliders and eagles. Both are best watched at a distance. The Curtiss is a drag machine and it plows the air with power. It flies into either heat or mountain thermals as an upset event, not seeking a free ride higher, spitting you out the other side without so much as a thank-you. Depending on where the wing enters, you can expect sometimes startling wing transients as well. Catch one wing in a down thrust with the pitch troubles and it gets interesting. Recovery is a matter of getting the ailerons and rudder in tune with the displaced wing and coaxing things back on course. Sometimes a little aileron into the dip causes the adverse yaw to lift the down wing until you can coordinate. Opposite rudder does little to help raise a dropping wing at first. Get the yaw string centered, match the ailerons and have patience as the old bus swoons. Eventually, you do the falling leaf trick and can return on course.
Shears are another, less benevolent story. I have only encountered this once, thank you very much. Clouds tell a lot, if you can read them. Last Sunday morning I was headed from New Market to Culpeper, a flight of 45 miles which required crossing two ridge lines at 3500 feet and over 4500 feet, respectively. At sunrise, I had flown a photo hop for Gilles Auliard in perfectly smooth air, refueled and then started for the hills. There we're puffy clouds above, moving east at a steady pace, which I should have taken more seriously. On climb out toward the first ridge I blundered into a strange world. From smooth air, we instantly left the road into corduroy, with that same rough regularity. The controls got heavy and the plane slewed about 30 degrees. We we're now flowing sideways toward the ridge in steady but rough air. Like so many experiences in the Curtiss, this was a first. Discretion being the better part of valor, I ducked out and headed back to the patch. That set the stage for Andrew King to try the run on Monday.
Steve Roth and Andrew King arrived mid-morning with the outside air at 40 degrees and winds fairly calm. The plan was for Andrew to fly the Curtiss to Culpeper for the first leg of the flights to NAS Norfolk. Steve and I would fly chase in his Cessna 172. For Andrew it was an hour and fifteen minutes of wrestling the controls over the mountains and the cold at 4800 feet. For Steve and I, who lost sight on the Curtiss, it was 2 hours of backtracking to every local landing spot, looking for signs of a divert. Finally, the Unicom at Culpeper announced the arrival of an unusual contraption. When we got there, Andrew was still thawing frozen fingers. While Steve and I put things to bed and planned for a dawn departure toward Norfolk. The plan, which we we're able to execute, was for flights to Hanover County, near Richmond, on to Williamsburg and then Chambers Field.
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Posted in Suppliers Post Date 09/09/2019