Deb McFarland is the proud owner of Lester, a 1948 Luscombe 8E, and part of the “Front Porch Gang” at Pickens County Airport in Georgia.
I was going to write about something pleasant this month but a comment, casually stated as fact on an Internet forum, really cooked my goose and has become the basis of the following rant. My flying buddies and regular readers are probably rolling their eyes right about now, thinking, “Lord have mercy. Here she goes again.”
First, some background. I have been flying since 1997, not that long compared to some of the gray beards out there. I have accumulated 1,600 hours, again not as many as the CFIs or professionals who fly on a daily basis, but enough to have learned a few things from experience. About 600 of those hours were flown in the airplane I learned to fly in called Boy because the 80Y in the registration looked like B-O-Y. This 1962 Cessna 172C was my best buddy for five years. I loved the 40° of Johnson bar flaps. He and I, along with my friend Boonie Darnell, flew to a lot of places in that airplane.
Then Lester came into my life. Flying took on a new perspective. I became very conscious of wind and its direction, and I learned that Luscombes land straight. Not a little cocked to the left or a little cocked to the right, they land straight. Or else. So for the last 1,000 hours I’ve tried to keep him into the wind and as straight as humanly possible. I like flying locally with the window open and the earth sliding slowly under me just as much as I like traveling abroad.
Over the years I have had the opportunity to fly and land other aircraft, mostly tailwheel varieties, but the majority of my experience is with my two-seater, light vintage airplane. In the past few years, there has been a resurgence in popularity of these airplanes. Cubs have always been popular, but our Luscombes, Champs, Taylorcrafts and the like are becoming attractive to aviators who want an economical, fun airplane to fly that also qualifies for sport pilot privileges.
Because of this growth in popularity, Internet forums and type club lists are bombarded with questions about our vintage tailwheel airplanes that qualify for sport pilot flying. Wow, that’s great except the requests that follow usually boggle the mind. Buyers want an airplane with full electrics including a starter, a radio (just one will do), a VOR, a Garmin 430, an autopilot, an espresso machine with a five-hour range, and a “decent” cruise.
In most cases in the classic market, they will get a fun, 65- or 85-horsepower, hand-propped airplane with a handheld radio and GPS. You can bring your own iPad with Foreflight for those complex flight planning needs. The espresso machine is out. The range is about two hours because your butt can’t take much more than that without a break. Cruise is immaterial because there is always a headwind when you fly these things, so you might as well sit back and enjoy the view.
A lot of the requests for information are from pilots who are looking to downsize and are unfamiliar with type. In that case, when you find the classic airplane that fits your fantasies, join the type club. There you will find accurate information about purchasing, maintenance, and training. If a tailwheel endorsement is needed, you will also find the CFIs qualified to make the transition to the new bird a smooth one, especially since most of these do not have brakes on the right side.
Please, please take any information that is handed out on other forums with a grain of salt. A lot of folks think because our vintage trainers are tailwheel airplanes, they are also STOL bush planes. They are not. Yes, a Cub can land in a small space, but take off on a hot day with two fat chicks and see if the rate of climb overwhelms. Remember, there are Cubs and there are Super Cubs, most of which are highly modified super performers. A 65-hp Cub is not Super. It’s sport pilot legal. It’s a delightful airplane, but it is not Super.
Next, know your limitations and the limits of your airplane. Most of these light two-seat classic airplanes are a delight to fly and simple to land. Some just have quirks. Landing is straightforward. Land straight with the direction of travel. More, as in more speed, is not better unless the crosswind is excessive, then you need to go elsewhere for that landing.
I read of heroic landings in crosswinds of monstrous proportions. Personally, I would pee my pants if such a landing were necessary in Lester. Frankly, winds of that nature are usually gusty and turbulent. I can’t even get him to the ground to attempt such a Herculean endeavor. You don’t see the Twetos flying a small vintage taildragger in the Discovery Channel’s TV program “Flying Wild Alaska.” If anyone has experience and perspective, it’s those folks.
Then there are the generalities, statements casually thrown out to encompass all situations. Using brakes on the landing roll “is a matter of course in a cross wind landing” is the statement that really got this rant rolling. My sensitivity to this statement is bias because I do fly a Luscombe. Brakes and Luscombes are not a happy combination. I use them to maneuver on the ground, but in my 1,000 hours, I have never used them to land. In 30 years of Luscombe ownership, neither has my Old Man. That has to mean something.
Besides, the term braking on these old birds can be a stretch. Firestone Shinns often required that the owner perform a rolling run-up. Parts for the other brands are either so scarce or expensive that the use of brakes is banned all together.
So if my experience carries any weight, classic tailwheel airplanes are a delight to fly. Are they great traveling airplanes? That’s up to the pilot to decide. Which is more important, the trip or the destination? Are you going to get all the bells and whistles and still fly sport pilot? Probably not in these birds. Will you be landing in 50 mph crosswinds, landing on gravel bars and stomping brakes in the landing roll?
Maybe. But only once.
Deb can be reached at ShortFinal@generalaviationnews.com.