With my nerves starting to set off that jittery fluttery heart feeling I set out down the coast early on Saturday morning. A few hour's stop over at my in-laws house let me refresh from the two hour drive and fix my father-in-law's computer problems. At about 2:30pm I set off for Moruya airport, an easy 30 minutes drive further down the coast. Arriving there I saw what looked like a great aero club atmostphere. There were people everywhere, watching parachutists land, chatting about aircraft and flying, and just generally hanging out with people with a similar interest. It took me some time to find Sheldon, the instructor I had organised to meet!
I eventually found him in one of the hangars and we set down to the business of talking about flying. He explained to me that the C172, the aircraft I had booked, was only 6 hours off of needing its 100 hourly service and they had a CPL test to do on Sunday. Sheldon asked if I'd mind flying one their other aircraft. My choices were a C150 and a Beechcraft Sundowner. The C150 I had given up on at Brindabella because my 186cm (6'2"), 105kg frame really makes them cramped and pushes the little plane right up to its maximum weight (if not a few kilos over). For that reason, even after Sheldon did his best to convince me to try the C150 again, I chose the Sundowner. Now, I'm very glad I did for the reasons you'll see below.
Now ... Sheldon also couldn't take me up and passed me on to the instructor that currently had the Sundowner out on a Nav exercise. This turned out to be Michael, one of the instructors I had known and flown with at Brindalbella airlines! While waiting for him I sat and read the Sundowner's POH and started filling in the aircraft endorsement questionaire. This asks things like several relevant airspeeds (stall, max speed, max cruise, max flaps, etc.), weights and balance stuff, the position of various bits and pieces, and so on. Once Michael was on the scene we started talking about the oddities of the Sundowner and I started to wonder if I had bitten off more than I can chew!
Meet the Beechcraft BE23 Sundowner (it's VH-AIO, 4th aircraft down here). This aircraft has several differences from the C172 I'm used to. Aside from being a low wing aircraft, it has a quadrant throttle in the cockpit, which includes the carbi heat and mixture as quadrant levers. The flaps are operated via a great big lever on the floor between and forward of the seats instead of the little lever on the dash of the C172. The elevator trim wheel is between the two front seats, not on the dash. Lastly, the fuel selector does not have a both setting like the C172 so you have to choose and manage your fuel usage from the two wing tanks individually. Performance wise the BE23 stalls at a higher airspeed than the C172, its best glide speed is 10 knots faster at 75 knots, best climb speed is faster and the landing speed is faster. Speaking of landing ... this girl has the most counter intuitive landing method I have met yet. Taking off is also a bit faster with a 65 knot rotation and needs to be gentle or you get the stall warning horn twittering.
As for that landing, ... with the C172 you pretty much cut power to idle over the threshold and it just flies itself down with you flaring to bleed off speed. With the Sundowner, you keep approach power on (i.e. 1500rpm) down through the flare and only once in the flare do you very slowly reduce the throttle to idle and let it settle. Basically, as Michael said, this is a plane you have to fly off the ground and back on to it. I figured all this, along with being forced to better manage fuel than just setting the selector to both and ignoring it would be a great learning experience.
Enough of the plane though, and on to the flying I hear you say! First let me say this is a spectacularly beautiful airfield to fly from!!
For my first flight back we decided to head in to the "training area" which, by the way, extends from Bateman's Bay down to Narooma and in between the coast and the Pacific Highway. I did the takeoff using runway 05 which, by the way is only 800 metres long and is gravel for the last third. This flight was fairly boring training wise. It was a really hazy afternoon with visibility at about 10km as we headed north. Over the toll gate islands at the mouth of Bateman's Bay itself I did a few steep turns in each direction, Michael showed me a clean and a dirty stall and I did a clean stall myself. We were, by then, back down near the airfield so I set up a best glide at 75 kts and tried a steep decending gliding turn to get us back down to 1000 feet where we joined the circuit for runway 05 on upwind. By now there was an absolute howler of late afternoon sea breeze blowing and while on downwind we decided it was probably best if Michael handled the landing this time. I'm glad he did too because it was bumpy, choppy and gusty all the way down. At one point, while we were on finals at 70 knots the ASI suddenly dropped to just under 60 knots as the headwind suddenly stopped. A burst of throttle and a sort of "whoooaaa-oooaaaa" noise from Michael had us back on track and he showed me how the Sundowner landed with a powered flare. Four steep turns and three stalls in 0.7 hours of flying time ... try that out of Canberra airfield!
That was it for Saturday. I returned to the in-laws house where my mother-in-law had cooked the most amazing lamb shanks caserole I have ever eaten, spent the late evening until after sunset flicking a lure out from the banks of the Clyde river (unsuccessfully), watched some telly then went to bed with my mind spinning about flying stuff.
Sunday morning dawned crystal clear, 100% cloudless and hot. When I arrived at Moruya at 9:30am it was already going through 25 degrees and a light north easterly was blowing. I went straight out and started preparing the Sundowner for today's lesson. This one is going to be circuits so I can practise that powered flare landing. After filling the plane up with fuel, making sure the oil level was alright (it was near the lower limit but still ok) we taxied out to runway 05 again. I think Michael caught me out at one point just after we refuelled. I went through the post start, pre-takeoff checklists and announced myself ready to taxi. He said "are you sure" which immediately sent me in to a flustered hunt for what I'd missed. I found the directional indicator set to "30" whilst the compass was on "03". Nasty, trick that!
Once that was sorted and we were heading for the runway Michael assured me that 05 was long enough for a touch and go. He said "you should be able to touch then lift again before you even reach the gravel. Sometimes, you might just get a bit of a rumble of dirt.". Michael was handling the radio too since I have grown up in the nice controlled airspace around Canberra. Moruya is fully CTAF, something I had no experience with!
All in all, the circuits are pretty normal. The differences are that they are all to the left, where as Canberra tower can send you in either direction depending on sequencing and that the upwind turn off 05 is made at 300 feet rather than 500 feet. If you leave it until 500 feet and have engine troubles you will be a long way out to sea and going for a swim! Overall, I was happy with my circuits and landings. That powered flare takes some getting used to and I found I had to try and forcefully relax an iron grip on the yoke during finals. After about 3 circuits Michael told me to start operating the fuel pump (something else new) during the circuit. This had to be turned off once at 200 feet (keeping your hand on its switch until you're sure the fuel flow doesn't drop) then back on as part of your pre-landing checks.
Another big differences was dealing with parachutists whilst doing circuits! It's kind of weird hearing the CTAF call of "4 chutes jumping from 5000 feet directly over Moruya airfield" then seeing them at 1000 feet, level with you while you are on downwind. There was also quite a few other aircraft in the circuit, joining it and leaving it too that kept you on a constant look out and thinking about situation awareness as you heard them calling on the radio.
The last two circuits were flapless approaches, done 5 knots faster than the normal 75 knot base leg, 70 knot final of a flapped approach. Both of those were quite acceptable I thought! Oh, there's another difference between the C172 and the Sundowner ... full flaps on a C172 feel like you have been tied to a huge building whilst the Sundowner's flaps give you the nose down attitude with a much reduced effect on speed. That means a little more speed management but, given the sink rate of the Sundowner, I found you can still recover from a too high entry on to finals. Oh yeah, another memory! On the first circuit we had a mix up with a C172 as we turned base. He was technically behind us but had a lot of speed on on an extended downwind. He asked if he could cut off as he wasn't sure he could slow up enough behind us which caused us to kind of have to overshoot our finals turn, then turn 180° back then right on to finals again to keep seperation. It made for a fun first landing attempt in a year!
After the two flapless landings we called a full stop and taxied back to the hangar. As we were filling in the log book with the 0.9 hours of flight time we started to count the number of circuits we'd done. We settled on 9 ... that's nine, repeat nine circuits in 0.9 hours. Again I say, try that at YSCB! No wonder I was exhausted.
That's it. We talked about my next flight. More circuits with me starting to get in to the CTAF radio stuff. That will probably be in 3 weeks as I'm busy the next two. Mind you, I could move the thing I have in 2 weeks if the reawakened itch really starts to bite!
Sorry for the length. I'm just over the moon, excited to be back in the air!!