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by George Schell
The 28th of September went something like this: Woke up to a beautiful day here in Suffolk, Virginia and thought about how special this day was going to be. I had waited for this day (that at times I thought would never arrive) for a very long time.
It would be a day of great expectations, elations and very high pucker factors.
I went in to work and checked in with the Boss. The whole office knew what was to happen that day, as for months before I kept getting asked "George is she ready to fly?" Well, today they knew the answer........."Yes, she is ready".
I had an appointment with Sandy McClure who was a retired FAA employee, but now DAR, at noon that day. Sandy has the best of both worlds in his profession, as along with being retired and being able to make his own schedule, he still also keeps the same credentials he had as when working for the FAA.
Well, being on pins and needles as I was, I left work at 8:30am to head back out to the hangar to make sure all was in readiness.
Keeping with my strict schedule, I was doing some finish sanding on the vortilons that I had just installed the night before, and in walks Sandy at 10am, two hours ahead of time. I put him on hold as I finished up real quick and cleaned the dust off the carpet underneath the wings.
One thing I recommend is to always have a schedule of building events, along with a lot of little goals to accomplish. This keeps the project going forward, lets you actually see progress and visually stimulates you more to work on the plane more often. I had all the documents paperwork etc. laid out on my snowy white wing all in order for his inspection. After introductory pleasantries and general BS (Breeze Shooting), Sandy went to work on eyeballing what was an extension of my abilities as a Homebuilder.
There was a light breeze blowing through the hangar, crickets were chirping away in the tall grass ( which the airport manager failed to mow), and silence reigned in the hangar as I sat on my epoxy-splattered milk stool and watched Sandy dig and prod deep into the innards of my baby. As I sat there I kept thinking "What have I missed, what have I missed?"
After about 15 minutes he shouted, "I found something here!"
"Uh Oh" I thought, "were not gonna fly today".
"A loose jam nut on the control rod to the ailerons George!"
"Whew!".......................easy fix. I grabbed a 7/16ths open end and tightened it up quickly. As he went on I checked all the other jam nuts........found two more. See? no matter how many bazillion times you look her over always your gonna miss something!
After another 45 minutes or so of looking and checking he looked at me questionably and asked "Can we fire her up?"
"Sure!" I said "My baby is ready!".
That seemed to take him by surprise as I guess in previous times running the engine up was not always a happening. So's I jump's in..............master on.......up comes the t/b gyro, on goes the fuel pump, on goes the dual electronic LSE ignition system. I hit the missile launch button on my fighter style control stick and my 170 horse Lyc comes to life after 2 blades!
Before Sandy had asked where my engine instruments were and I explained to him I had a Flight Avionics engine monitoring system. He said he had never seen one of those new fangled "all in one boxes" before. So anyway, the instrument that keeps my finger on the pulse of EVERYTHING that is going on under my engine cowling automatically cursors perfectly through it's functions before his eyes.............he's impressed. This system is also a super panel space saver as panel space on
a Long is just as valuable as property in Tahoe ;not a whole lot available.
After the engine is shut down he gives one more good "once over" and goes to his brief case. He rummages around in it for a moment and pulls out that
beloved pink Special Airworthiness Certificate. It's only worth about 3 cents in its material state but to a homebuilder it worth a million bucks!................"YES!!!" I yelled inside..................."Payday!!"
All the forms were finished and I put my John Henry on the required entry lines. I could hardly believe it was over.
After thanking Sandy, shaking hands and writing him a fat check, he left and I just sat there staring at my baby.
Here sits a plane I had only dreamed about owning since first seeing the VariEze back in the early seventies and never believing I would ever get to fly one of these advanced aeronautical wonders of the canard guru himself (our daddy) Burt Rutan....................but there it was beckoning me to take it to the flight levels. That was around noon that day. I told everyone interested that I would be flying it around 5 or 6 that afternoon as I wanted some of the afternoon heat to die down . I wanted to make myself as comfortable as I could in the cockpit as I already knew the sweat pumps would be maxing out anyway.
Fast forward..........................It's 5:30 and the faithful group that always dropped by my hangar from time to time to help, lend lots and lots and lots of advice and the ones that bug you to distraction were all there. After a brief with the more knowledgeable guys on what to do should my wonder get awry during the takeoff roll, they dispersed along various lengths of the runway at our uncontrolled field there in Suffolk.
OK, I'm outta here...........a quick prayer to the One who made all this possible and in the cockpit I go. I fire her right up and by this time my heart is really
starting to pound, and I mean pound, brother! I mean we are at the point of do or die! All the advice, thoughts, don't forget's were all racing through my mind, this was it! As I taxied her to the end of runway 22 I did my run-up..............all systems go, and turned her into a light crosswind.
Crosswinds don't bother me as I really do like them (strange) I learned to fly in Iowa Park Texas 20 years ago where the wind blows 24 hours a day and
always in the wrong direction, I mean like you can fly in circles there and still always have a head wind!! Anyway, time to go................with just 10 minutes in the back seat of a Vari what I was feeling now was nothing like what I was feeling then.
Slowly I advance to full throttle.......don't want no engine stammering.............full power.............she tracks straight down the centerline..........RPM 2250..........that's my "Black Bart" keeping those revs down. Oil pressure good............fuel pressure good...............at about 900 feet she levitates on her own...........smooooth.................YEEEHAH! we're flying!
I followed Tom Staggs advice and climb out at 100kts to target altitude of 500 feet. The VSI is nailed a 2100FPM. WOW! I've never flown anything this hot before, she just claws for altitude. I turn left in the pattern and continue on to 2000 feet. I'm there before I can blink.
The downdraft cooling system of my own design is working beautifully and all four pumps are in the low 300's. I made sure I would not have cooling problems that plague so many new Longs. I forgot to limit myself in all the excitement to the recommended 130 kts and quickly I am indicating 200MPH at 2400 RPM. Well, so much for the 5KT increment flutter test, now I know I'm flutter free to 200 by now and I throttle back to slow her down.
The controls are solid and seem to be evenly balanced between aileron and elevator. I have about 47 hours in a Lancair 320 I taught my next door
neighbor to fly after being checked out by Don Goetz of the Lancair factory, and the controls in that one are extremely light and G forces are easily induced. I like the more dampened feel of the Long.
I can't get over how smooth my baby is. After about another 20 minute or so of just feeling her out I decide to land as it is a good idea to keep the very first flight short because you haven't a clue as to if anything is coming off under the engine cowling. Then I think, "OK George how do I we get this thing down?" What did everyone tell me? What does the manual say?.
Well, let's try the normal things first......OK....downwind we carry about 1400 RPM......this thing isn't slowing down at all! No problem........I'll just extend my
downwind. Turn base to final. I can't get it below 120, down to the runway I am checking the throttle to see if it is closed...yep........it's closed but we are still way, way too fast! I try this 3 times, I tell you guys, what they say about the Long and not having those approach numbers nailed, brother you ain't even going to make the airport.
As I pass over again I say, Ok, George, go to plan "B" as this is the fourth try. You should always have a plan "B". As I sat there and thought up plan "B" on the spot I said "OK we have to really get slow this time." So on my left turn out to downwind I chop the throttle............closed. I know gravity has got to start
working sometime...............I hope. So with NO THROTTLE at all I fly.....uh....glide downwind, base and final. Oh yes, if I ever lose my engine at 2-3 hundred feet? No sweat, I can take my time doing a full pattern entry to land again.........this thing is a glider!.
Anyway, I still manage to get her down even still a 1000 feet down the runway...............chirp! chirp!... I grease her on (smile!) and roll out.
I can plainly see this ain't yo' Momma's Cessna 150! This gal is going to take some getting used to.
I taxi to the ramp and shut her down. The relief, the stress, the anxiety just pours out of me as all my fellow airport bums come rushing up with a barrage of congrats and kudos..................is this a great sport or what??!!
To all of you whom are still building.......and just as I was told before by owners........all the spilled blood, sweat and tears are well worth that first flight!!.....................