Jerry David's First Flight

(Jerry mailed this to me in September 1998)

Well, here I am, sitting at the end of the runway, engine turning at 500 RPM, oil pressure at forty pounds, facing west toward the setting sun with only a slight breeze from the south that will probably stop in a few minutes. It's late evening when the air turns calm and the heat induced thermals rest for the night.

I chose this time of day to do the first test flight of my Bowers bi-plane for many reasons. One, the wind would be calm and I could get a good feel for the control inputs and the basic stability of the plane. Two, a couple of friends who had helped and encouraged me along the way would be there to offer last minute advice and to share the joy or sorrow that would follow this first flight.

Thirdly, it is the time of day to relax. The day's work is done, the sun would soon be setting, and one could find solace in the quiet evening hour, the time between full daylight and full darkness, when the setting sun begins to cast shadows over the familiar landmarks below. This is my favorite time of day to take a short flight.

Today was planned to be a short flight. I had bought N65FB a couple of years ago. I had owned Cubs, Aroncas, and even a Tri-Pacer before this. All were bought and rebuilt to flying status. I had found that rebuilding was almost as much fun as flying. But, I have always yearned to have a bi-plane and when the opportunity presented itself, it was taken. We hauled it home and over the next year and a half we recovered all four wings, patched, painted, polished, and declared it air worthy.

It that year and a half the biggest problem was the rigging. All available sources were checked, hangar round tables were held, planes looked at, and finally we said it was ready. That was a condensed version of how I came to be sitting at the end of the runway on this date at this time taking a Bowers B1-B on a test flight.

Well, here goes. One final check for traffic, add a little throttle, swing the bi-plane around to line up with the runway, and put in full throttle. The C-75 reponses smoothly and the plane begins to accerlerate nicely. The plane is tracking nicely down the center of the runway. I steal a quick glance at my friends as I speed past them as they stand on the side of the grass strip.

I add a little more forward stick as we gain speed. Funny how all of a sudden it is "we" instead of me and the plane. The biplane is getting lighter on its wheels or the bumps in the grass strip are getting bigger. I decide that the plane is definitely getting lighter. A quick glance at the panel shows everything is in good order engine-wise.

The moment has come. I ease the stick back and suddenly there are no more bumps in the grass. N65FB, model B1-B flys again! I wiggle the rudder with by feet and the biplane responds nicely. I wiggle the stick and the wings rock back and forth gently . I'm holding a lot of forward pressure because the engine is at full power and I don't want to climb to steeply. There are no obstructions in front of me so a gentle climb is in order. The bi-plane is responsive, the engine is purring, the air is smooth, and things are definitely looking good!

A quick check of the gauges shows good oil pressure and temperature, a good cylinder head temp, the altimeter shows about 150 feet above field elevation, the airspeed indicator shows a steady 165 mph. Time to settle back and climb to 1,000 agl and get a feel for the controls.

Wait a minute. A steady 165 indicated?

Holy Cow ( or something to that effect)! The airspeed indicator is not working! How could that be? Things were checked and rechecked, but there it was in front of me, steady as a rock. A few gentle taps.

Nothing. A few hard knocks. Nothing. Great. Here I am , climbing out in an airplane I've never flown before with no airspeed indicator. Now, this has happened a few times over the years but always in airplanes that I was very familiar with. Well, forget the airspeed for now. Fly the plane and see what happens. I throttle back to about 2250 and it only takes very light forward pressure to keep the nose on the horizon.

I make a left turn and the little biplane reponses nicely. Now a turn to the right and again the plane responses nicely to the rudder and ailerons. Now a nice wide pattern for a little straight and level around the field and get set up for a landing. I circle the field twice and the biplane is flying nicely. All I need is a little forward pressure and she flies straight and level. If I only had an airspeed indicator, this would really be fun.

It's time to make a decision about which way to land. I will have to "fly it on " the runway so I decide to land it to the North which is the longest runway. However, there are some minor obstructions (small trees) that have me a little worried, but hey, I'll just offset my approach to the runway and when I'm past the trees I'll just swing back over the runway and land. There used to be some much bigger trees there and I would do it all the time in the Cub. This way if the sink rate got high (which is the one consistent thing everyone said, "Cut the throttle and it will sink like a rock") there won't be anything under me but a level ,overgrown weed field.

I don't know about you, but I'll take weeds over trees anyday.

Well, here goes . We head downwind nice and parallel to the runway. Opposite my intended touchdown point I pull the carb heat and notice a slight drop in engine rpm which indicates that it is on. Now a turn to base and things are looking good. Seems kind of strange not to reduce power yet. It's time to turn on to final.

I'm really pleased with the way the biplane response to the control input. The runway is straight ahead but I need to slide a little left of the runway so my glide path won't take me over the trees.

Things are looking good. I'm about 600 agl. I think I'll throttle back a little. Okay , she is beginning to sink but all is well. The nose is pointing down and the controls are responsive. Time to forget what's inside the plane and to look over the side and ahead .

My landing spot is sinking so I throttle back a little more. That's better. My landing spot is looking good, neither rising or falling.

Okay, now its rising so I know I'm sinking but it looks like I'll make it . Still looking good but sinking a little faster then I would like.

We are about a hundred feet from the threshold now. Come on Fly Baby, just a little more and we are home! There go the trees sliding beneath me on the right side. Now is the time to swing back over the runway.

Okay, time to pull the stick back to flare. Good! We are about two feet above the ground, center of the runway, with the stick all the way back. I am keeping one eye straight ahead and one on the tire on my left side.

Ever so slowly the ground reaches up to touch the tire and I watch as the tire begins to spin. I continue to hold the stick all the way back and pull the throttle control back to idle. We slowly roll to a stop.

What a beautiful little airplane. I just set and savor the moment. It is not to often in life that a dream comes true and you realize it at the same moment it happens.

It's is time to clear the runway least my friends think something is wrong. The airspeed indicator will be fixed and there will be other great flights, but there is nothing like the moment that one of you life-long dreams come true.

Jerry David

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