Success. I got my checkout in the RV7. This is less a testament to my skill as a pilot than to Mike Seager’s skill and patience as an instructor. We did have some interesting days. Departure from 05S was IFR on Friday and Saturday. We shot the localizer approach to Scappoose (KSPB) and got in under the ceiling so we could do pattern work.
My last post was done on an iPhone, so it’s a bit sparse on details, but this is the meat of it:
Pattern work in the RV7, with my current pilot skills and experience, was an intense, sometimes terrifying experience. My repertoire of flying machines consists of a few Cherokee variants, a C172, a C152, and recently, a 115hp Citabria. The pace of flying the Pipers and Cessnas in the pattern is a relaxed, almost languid affair, with plenty of time between procedures to really settle in. The Citabria less so, because we always do power-off approaches. Not so at all with the RV. That was like being a short-order cook in the busiest diner in town. Stuff happens FAST.
The takeoff, which I sucked at in the beginning, is some work. The left-turning tendencies of the RV 7 are pretty intense. The Citabria only has 115hp, so the torque, P-factor, and rotating slipstream aren’t as bad. They’re there, but it doesn’t take much to correct them out. Gyroscopic precession is less, because the Citabria’s prop weighs less.
But the RV is tricksy. To get that thing off the ground in anything resembling a straight line, it requires a lot of right boot. As soon as you light up the throttle, it wants to head for the bushes, and you better be on top of it or you’re going to have problems. At the same time it wants a lot of right boot, it wants really small corrections. It’s really easy to get a left-right PIO going while you’re hunting for the centerline, and as soon as you get that together, the tail comes up and it wants to wiggle again. Then the bad habits take over, like pushing the stick to the right, thinking that’ll fix everything.
In fact, the adverse yaw will make it turn left even more, so you’ll compensate for that with more right rudder. By that time, the plane is already headed for the weeds, and it’s nearly ready to fly; in fact, it’s been ready to fly for a while, but you didn’t get the memo because you were still trying to figure out what magic farking combination of control inputs will put this bucking bronco back on the straight and narrow. You wind up crow-hopping across the runway slightly sideways, waggling into the air, one wing low. To the casual observer, the overall effect is that of a pelican who has recently gulped down a beak full of absinthe.
Assuming you get it into the air, and you will, because Mike won’t let you do anything truly horrible, you must now manage your climb. Check engine instruments, pitch to 110mph, MAP to 25″, RPM to 2500. What’s that? You never used a constant speed prop before? Oh boy are YOU in for a treat. Never used an EFIS/EIS in flight before? This is going to be fun. Actually, it’s not that bad. The only thing that made me nervous was how much time I was spending inside the cockpit squinting at the tiny numbers for MAP and RPM. I like knowing my RPM by the sound of the engine, because that leaves my eyes free to get my sight picture, but that can only come from practice and familiarity with the airplane.
Once you’ve established climb, pull the power back to 2500RPM, then just twist the prop control CCW until you hear the engine sound change. Chances are, you’ll be close enough to 2500 rpm to count.
At 700′ you turn crosswind. Our traffic was right closed, so it required more right rudder than if we’d gone the other way, where you can be lazy and let all the left-turning forces do a bunch of your work for you. Here you need to do a couple of things, possibly simultaneously. At 900′, start leveling off, dial power back to 16″ and set the prop RPM to 2300RPM. Again, just listen for it. It might take a few extra twists. Oh, and while this is going on, you may or may not be turning. It’s assumed you can turn and manage your altitude at the same time. This is not easy at first, but it becomes less difficult with practice.
Pattern altitude at KSPB is 1000 feet. 16″/2300RPM should keep you there nicely, burbling along at a stately 120mph. At this point, you’re almost in Piper/Cessna territory. The downwind turn should happen wherever it’s supposed to, which means you should be far enough in the crosswind direction to turn and put your right wingtip on the runway. You might still be climbing. You might not. It’s that whole walking-and-chewing-gum-at-the-same-time thing.
Once you’re leveled off at 1000′ and on the downwind leg, it’s time for downwind checks. Fuel to fullest tank, carb heat hot, (mine’s fuel-injected, I won’t be doing that), boost pump on. Make sure we’ve got good readings on the EIS for oil and fuel pressures, and temperatures. If you’ve done this right, and you don’t spend a lot of time hunting for power and trim settings, you might, just might, have a little breathing space before you need to set up your approach to landing.
Approach is set up on the downwind leg, abeam the instrument landing marks. Those would be the two big white stripes just after the numbers on the runway. This is where it gets interesting, because you now have to change a bunch of things inside the cockpit without changing the attitude of the airplane. Here, you throttle all the way back to idle, keeping the nose up, because what you want to do here is slow down enough so you can use your flaps. This is also when you push the prop control back against the wall, because your engine management will now be based on RPMs instead of Manifold Air Pressure. Vfe is 100mph in the RV7, so as soon as it slows down below that, you can drop the flaps to half. Using the standard Van’s flap motor, that’s roughly a 4-count. Not 1-Mississippi, but one, two, three, four. When you’ve slowed down to 85mph, push the throttle back up to 1800RPM. If you’re going 85mph and your RPM is 1800, you should be descending at 500′ per minute. 85mph is the best glide speed for the RV7 and should put you right in the pocket for a landing, assuming you get the next part right.
When you’re at a 45 degree angle from the end of the runway, turn base. On the base leg, drop your flaps to full. If you don’t, you’ll blow the approach, and you’ll come in too fast, too high, too low, or too slow, maybe some combination thereof. It will take a few runs at it, but if you forget the second notch of flaps, it will feel weird. Pitch will be wrong, speed will be wrong, and if you’re lucky, you’ll be able to figure out what’s making the approach feel weird before it’s too late to do anything about it and you have to go around. One thing I learned is that a good approach goes a long way towards a good landing, and even though it took me most of 3.5 days to figure this out (having had it explained to me repeatedly by a very patient flight instructor), I can attest to the veracity of this concept. A good approach also means you don’t have to run the throttle all over the place to maintain your desired angle. Yes, pitch to speed, power to altitude and all that, but the desired outcome here is a smooth transition from being aloft to not being aloft and if your approach is good, you won’t be hunting for the right glide path.
And then there’s the landing. The RV7, with its stubby, Hershey-bar wing, has a steeper glide than the C172 or the Cherokee, and the constant speed prop acts like a brake as well. This is why you might want to carry some power across the threshold. Why? I’ll get to that in a second.
I think we can all agree that landing the aircraft is one of the most important tasks a pilot must perform. When I started with Mike, the thing I was doing to get the plane onto the ground could only be called “landing” in the most generous terms possible. I’ve gotten half decent at landing Mickey’s Citabria. matter of fact, I think I could go out there and pull off 5 out of 5 right now with no go-arounds. I thought that when I started with Mike on Wednesday.
Well, the RV ain’t no Citabria. There is a tiny window in which you can transition from gliding descent to leveling off into ground effect, and if you blow it, you’re going to drive it into the runway and bounce off the main wheels. That’s if you don’t hit so hard you spread the gear out and strike the prop. Of course, the fear of this very situation will cause you to land on an imaginary runway that’s 20 feet in the air. You need to get low and level off. Low. Like, lower-than-snake-shit low.
Once you’ve made the runway, you cut power to idle, but don’t let the nose drop. Don’t yank it up like the head of the old nag you rode to town on either. Pull it up level. Maybe you leveled off too high. Very very small corrections, lower the nose a bit, then level off again. Get down there. If you carried some power and a little extra speed over the threshold, you have some time to make these corrections. “Some time” means you have one or two opportunities to fix what’s broken, and that’s not a lot of time at all. if you touch the front wheels first, you’ll bounce, the classic tailwheel balloon. if you flare too early, you’ll balloon back into the air and slow down. You can fix this by lowering the nose a little, and if you’re carrying speed, you can save it. If not, it slows down too much, then it just stalls 10 feet in the air and drops to the runway like a sack of skulls.
The other thing that makes this interesting is that the stall attitude is actually higher than what it’s at sitting on all 3 wheels. This means you can’t see over the nose when you flare for landing. You shouldn’t be doing that anyway. You should be hanging your head out to the left and finding a spot way down at the end of the runway so you can judge how high you are. I picked up the bad habit of looking over the nose, because in the Citabria, I can see over the nose when it’s in stall attitude. Once I figured out how to look down the left side of the cowl for my reference point, my “landings” became landings, with no quotes. They’re still not greasers, but they’re safe enough at this point, but like Mike says, don’t be satisfied with “good enough.” Always do better.
Oh, and for all you noob pilots out there, I highly recommend William K Kershner’s excellent book, The Student Pilot’s Flight Manual. Mike sent me home with it during my stay there, and I’m truly converted. I got more out of that than any other flying text I’ve seen. It’s also fun to read and the illustrations are clear and instructional.
I want to say a huge thanks to Mike Seager for three of the most challenging and rewarding days of my thin flying career, and for teaching me several new ways to look a the tasks of flying.