Back in the Saddle

Cruising fine at eleven-five, I’m thinking it’s good to be up here getting to know the old girl again. The old girl? That doesn’t quite work. I really don’t think of the VariEze in terms of gender.

Maybe the plane is more a race horse. Yeah. A spirited steed, much like a thoroughbred, capable of strong, striding speed and endurance, but also due special care and attention. I had a pony growing up, but while similar in some ways, today I would define the experience with the plane in much more positive terms than with the stout little stubborn paint pony “Sonny Boy” of my youth.

With our high spirited steed, maybe we should also mix in ‘jousting partner’. We are often jousting up there, you know, happily pitted together against numerous and rather formidable adversaries. I have suggested in previous notes that Eze drivers can be challenged a little differently than most gen. av. pilots, in that they can literally be on the other side of the country in a day. In the removable canard cover (with fore and aft walls), in a big baggie there are the sectionals for the other half of the country that I’m not in. Once in the air and in the grasp of the drag demon, we and our steed must be ready to spar not only with normal nemesis of massive frontal systems and such, but also with the truly insidious juggernaut that continuously attempts sabotage from within - judgment. Along the way, hopefully we earn trust in ourselves as well our mount.

Today, no worries. Those assailants either laid in wait too long and I snuck past them, or they are on holiday. We will make it through this 1.5 hour flight in promised hot clear weather with no hitches. And the return trip tomorrow morning. After 47 flights in the self-imposed 25 hour restricted period, streaking out far and free again is exhilarating.

Climbing steady at 140 mph we rise into a thin transparent haze. At 9500 feet it becomes dark and distinct, transparent if looking anywhere but level. Still climbing well levitates us out for a clear breath and at 11,000 where the layer clears and almost goes away. The canard lofts us up past the target cruising altitude by a few hundred feet. Skimming along at 11,500ish trimming the nose to level and just slightly nose low the airspeed pushes up Ezely with the plane settling almost imperceptively and holding a few extra knots.

Just like in the good old days, once in our element, the plane is spectacular. Even though the takeoff temp was well over 100 degrees F, the engine is comfortable for the cruise climb. The cylinder and oil temps are settling and now it’s cold in here and I have to close down the cockpit air vent.

Back in the saddle again, the initial cautious approach to the lean of peak drill is now deliberate placement of the throttle and mixture and tweaking for appropriate gauge readings. Leveling off the throttle stays open and the mixture comes back to 2200 RPM for awhile. Then back to 2100 for a few minutes just to enjoy the experience and say I did. Then 2400, and now back to 2300.

2300 RPM seems to be the best cruise compromise for now without wheelpants. Twiddling with the robust carb heat gives no useful indications and the lever is thumbed off.

The balance ball is slightly askew. I wonder if the paint job has played all its deuces. With everything settled, a slight push of right rudder puts the ball in the center. Gently hovering the stick to keep the attitude constant, the airspeed slows three and then four mph. Releasing the pressure on the rudder, the plane returns to the more comfortable hands off loft and the airspeed needle reclaims its perch and settles. Now I remember years ago making a slight adjustment to the balance ball housing after the first flight. I guess it’s time to adjust it again.

Other nuances of the previous relationship come around again. On the first flight, in the excitement the rudder was overlooked for a few moments. It was soon rediscovered, a welcome ally again.

The old aileron trim works better than I expected. On the ground I had considered replacing the 10 year proven one-of-a-kind arm and double spring trim system, with the fiberglass “C’ spring mechanism that a friend endorsed. I made the glass C but haven’t gotten around to installing it. I wouldn’t know, but someone said that those little five minute projects can turn into weeks. Eyeing the old mechanism with the armrest off, I had forgotten that the system works better than it looks. Glad to have the old trim system working well.

“You got to have a healthy fear of your machine.” So says Craig Breedlove.

I do. A big part of the development with the new engine was reacquainting with the old eccentricities of the plane, a good thing. With the balance ball and aileron trim getting comfortably massaged again, here at altitude the old temperaments and glittering facets come in one by one to get reacquainted again.

It’s comfortable that a gentle finger aft on the stick will hold, and is better than a nose trim readjustment for getting the nose just slightly up again. Being a little ahead, it only takes a nudge here and a tweak there to get the steed level and lined out again.

Wandering heading is initially addressed with the sidestick. But before long I remember and the stick is left alone mostly and the sectional can be kept in place if wanted, using three or four seconds of a sliver of rudder to gently bring a wandering GPS track back straight up.

I still like sectionals. GPS is there too, but it isn’t drudgery for me to keep a sectional open. Flashing back to the day the 0-235 crankshaft accessory gear bolt came loose (no cam or Mag timing), with Claudene in the back, having the instant visual image with my finger already on the map and knowing instantly what direction I wanted was preferred to interpreting numbers on the GPS screen, and for me, quicker. Turned toward the airport at best glide speed, a check around the cockpit determined that I didn’t cause the problem and I wasn’t going to fix it in the air. Settled in for the fifteen minute descent, the GPS now calmly confirmed the decisions, and that our heading and such was as it should be, leading us to a normal power-off landing. Nice to have both.

Kinda like some folks like analog watches because you can snapshot the position of the hands without calculating numbers, while others like digits and calculating.

Cruising along today and still wiggling and squeaking in the new saddle, I remembered being surprised several times during previous preflights by a few cautionary thoughts. While putting the cowl on, I was wondering if the plane would come rolling back into the hangar as pristine and slick as it is now. I hadn’t done preflights for several years and I didn’t recognize these thoughts at first.
But then I remembered that through the previous 700 hours this had always been part of my preflight ritual, having a similar flitting artificial vision, listening to it, and then firmly ushering it into its rightful place as a tool for appropriate respect and awareness of this flying stuff. You don’t hear folks talk about this much but long ago I decided to allow these concerns to speak up in the interest of having an appropriate awareness and doing my part toward keeping all the molecules in their preferred positions and energy states.

Now as before, any interrupted preflight is started over at the top again. I am indeed fortunate to have hangar buddy Dancin Dave usually helping with starting. He knows the point where friendly gaggles around the plane end, and he and I get serious and block out distractions. The engine start is still accompanied by a silent urgent prayer for wisdom and having the presence of mind to use it, with the mention that any luck will be gladly accepted.
The takeoff roll is always made with the expectation of getting to do that pilot stuff maybe somewhere along the way. I guess some folks just settle back and trust the engine but I am not that comfortable until over 120 mph and a couple of thousand feet.

I used to think I wanted to fly the plane the way a guy in our church played the sax. After having to do it a couple of times I don’t ask for that environment anymore. Besides having a ritual for the preflight, the nose gear is still checked at the 180, the 90, and rechecked rolling wings level on final. Most every landing is made expecting that there will be no power available for adjustment on final.

Added to that caution, now that the restricted period is final, I do settle into the practical awareness of the consistency and results of the previous 47 deliberate flights on the 0-290 and the airframe’s 800 hours.

In cruise, a fun monkey-chase-the-weasel game starts with being a little low. Add power? Or just pull back slightly and squench up a couple of hundred feet. After chasing the needles and tach a little, and loosing, one gets smart and learns about being ahead of the airplane again.

Even though a primetime player in the recent past, the oil temp is now only a routine scan item and thankfully boring. After today’s hard climb from takeoff in the 106 degree furnace, after cruising fifteen or twenty minutes the cylinders come down to the mid to low 300s and the oil is around 200 F. I am a happy guy. With maybe another trick or two under the tarp to learn.

Just over an hour into the flight the GPS blinks “Approaching VNAV profile”. A little forward nose trim, a slight richening of the mixture and a little back on the throttle and the canard leads down toward the mildly darkening haze layer. We float almost silently into the murky pool, paralleling and catching the amber patterned light rays that are searching and roaming through the haze layer.

In the clear again at 9500 feet, off to the west the sun steadily works its magic around the darkening horizon. Sunglasses are removed so as not to subdue the show. The supernatural spectacle puts paltry human efforts in appropriate diminished scale.

Drifting down in the clear now, the cool smoothness is almost hypnotizing and the wide green out below richens and deepens darker richer green and the evening glow sprinkles city lights.

Back in the real world, twenty miles out, Tulsa’s Riverside Tower responds immediately. The joy of a strong clear radio. This first-for-me approach along the river into Jenks/Jones airport is beautiful. The day’s airborne horde has settled already and a couple of cars stop on the perimeter road below I envy their view and the landing is serene. And still a kick.

Tulsa is an interesting place - all the more interesting now with the arrival of #3 son Luke’s firstborn son today. This morning my wife Claudene got the call and headed out with our daughter and her week-old little girl for the six hour drive to Tulsa. That’s right, two new grandkids in 8 days. So after some pressing work stuff I head to the airport adn lift off with two hours of daylight left and am now banking the grand sunset turn into Jenks, three miles from son Luke’s house.
The previous part of this note is fun, but this condensed paragraph is the good stuff. I envy those of you that have done this for decades, but fully enjoy my ez run.

For a couple of years I have joked with ex-pointy-nose fighterjock co-workers, suggesting that they could take care of their distant interests if they just had their own high performance sportplane. For a while during my rework effort, they could return a jab, asking when I would finally be airborne again. This resulted in my acquiring the temporary call sign “Two Weeks”.

Back from Tulsa at work this morning with a fresh sunset tan (on the left side) and a picture of me and the new little one on the monitor, I smile at them, and enjoy another time when I don’t have to say a word. But I do I mention “nine gallons” as often as possible.

“Have a healthy fear of your machine” - Craig Breedlove, 600.601 mph, Bonneville, 1965

“Follow your Bliss” - Blue Man Group

“Spoil the grandkids!”
Bill James, Fort Worth VariEze.

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