Formation flying is one of those enjoyable skills that needs a few refresher flights at the beginning of each fair weather flying season, not only to 'get the rust out', but also to remember the fine motor skills and smooth handling required to optimize your formation flying. A new member of our Cascade Warbirds group, Bob Stoney, was looking to re-vitalize his formation skills in preparation for formation flying at Oshkosh 2021. Bob is a co-owner of a gorgeous restored O-1E/L-19 Bird Dog, and has lots of Navy/Naval Test Pilot School formation experience, but was looking to get current under civilian FAST Formation and Safety Team rules.
Bob was having issues finding a lead aircraft with comparable speed performance, and Cascade Warbirds member Tom 'TP' Jensen noted that his Cessna 180 might be a perfect aircraft to fly as lead while Bob honed his wingman skills. Although TP has some formation experience, I was requested to fly as lead, while Bob Stoney and Dave Desmon conducted training on my wing. Twist my arm!
We met and briefed our two planned formation flights at TP Jensen's home at the Evergreen Sky Ranch airport near Black Diamond, WA. Evergreen Sky Ranch is a private use airport community with a well maintained 2600' grass runway and gorgeous views of Mt. Rainier looming to the southeast.
We took off as lead in TP’s Cessna 180 in the late afternoon, and I had to throttle back in the climb as we were running away from the Bird Dog, especially since they had two large pilots onboard, which Bob Stoney later equated to '500 feet per minute' of lost climb capability. I led the Bird Dog through a number of formation maneuvers, including station keeping, close and route formation, cross-unders, and a number of pitchouts and rejoins. Bob flew well in all the maneuvers, and the in-flight views of the Bird Dog over the greens of the Great Northwest looked impressive.
With willing support from the tower, we cruised to initial in two-ship close formation to the Tacoma Narrows airport and pitched out on runway 17. Debrief was included with dinner at The Hub restaurant on the field. I led a second formation flight in the 180 with Bob and Dave on the wing as we cruised to Lake Tapps, practiced more station keeping, turns, pitchouts and rejoins, and trail. We flew initial to runway 16 at Evergreen Sky, for two enjoyable formation training flights with lots of learning all around.
After the second debrief, as we helped the Bird Dog launch, the NW skies provided a glorious background of orange fair weather clouds as the Bird Dog departed to the north. Thanks, TP, for loaning your capable Cessna 180 to the cause, and to Bob Stoney for maintaining the Bird Dog as an impressive legacy aircraft.
As Spring warmed the chill air in the Great Northwest, thoughts of long cross-country flying danced in my head! My fall and winter flying had been mostly local jaunts throughout the Pacific Northwest, enjoying the many surprisingly nice weather days in between the mild seasonal rains. Out of the blue, my friend and fellow aviator, Doug 'Bee' Happe, texted and asked if I'd like to join him on a three-day trip from Auburn, WA to Northern California in his gorgeous RV-7. I've flown a number of flights with Doug in his RV-7, including a great formation photo flight that earned the RV-7 a slot in the Van's Aircraft 2018 calendar.
Doug was heading south for a three-day trip to check on painting progress on his roadster project in Yuba City, CA. I told Doug I'd gladly fly the RV-7 with him, especially as a chance to visit my daughter and son-in-law in nearby Oakland. We choose an early morning Tuesday departure, hoping for good weather and winds, possibly allowing a non-stop flight, and filing IFR to take advantage of high altitude winds. We pre-flighted and setup the RV-7 with a full oxygen tank and filed for 17,000 feet, with oxygen cannulas and Aithre's new Illyrian Smart Pulse Oximeter monitors.
We blasted out of Auburn (S50) before 8:00AM, through a shallow layer of low clouds to clear on top, and were cleared to climb directly to 17,000 feet by Seattle Center. Although the frequency sounded typically busy, we were both surprised when Center cleared us, when abeam Mt Rainier in the climb out, direct to Battleground, and then again direct to Red Bluff, CA, a straight line distance of 336 NM without a turn! Doug's RV-7 has an impressive Garmin G3X suite, and a Garmin auto-pilot, which was rock solid on altitude and course tracking. In addition to the direct routing, the winds in the high teens starting turning in our favor. The mostly clear skies through Washington, Oregon and into California gave us great views of the Cascade volcanic chain en route. We started picking up a good tailwind in Oregon, and ended up with a great 45 knot tailwind and a 203 knot ground speed, crossing right over the top of Mt Shasta, with awesome views from 17,000 feet. The Illyrian oximeters transmitted our oxygen levels right to our iPhones, providing proof that Doug's cannula setup was working perfectly-no headaches and clear senses at 17,000 feet. We started a descent just past Red Bluff, hit some turbulence over Travis, but had light winds for our landing on runway 32R at Buchanan Field in Concord, CA after an excellent 3.7 hour flight, burning an average of 6.3 gal/hr for the journey! You've got to love Van's aircraft!
Doug continued on to Yuba City without refueling, and I spent two enjoyable days visiting my daughter and son-in-law. On Thursday morning, Doug returned to Concord, and we started flying north, with another pleasant surprise that the high pressure circulation that had given us such a great tailwind from the north had now shifted east, providing south winds for another tailwind scenario to head home. We decided to cruise at 10,000 feet for our return, again getting excellent routing from Oakland and Seattle Centers, with more great Shasta and Castle Crags views from 10,000. Instead of primarily auto-pilot use on the southbound flight, I hand flew most of the northbound legs. I talked Doug into stopping for lunch at the Flight Deck restaurant at the Salem, OR airport (KSLE), then continued north, still with helpful tailwinds, to arrive back home at Auburn with the RV-7 in perfect shape.
Thanks for the enjoyable opportunity to fly your RV-7 again, Doug, and exercise her in a fun, fast and efficient trip to California and back!
In November 2020, Tom and Marian Jensen had flown their beautifully restored N3N in support of our Auburn Veterans flyby. After our formation briefing, Tom mentioned that he'd be glad to let me fly with him in his N3N, since Marian rarely wanted him to fly solo. In December, Tom called to offer me an N3N flight, but I was already in the air in my Warrior. I successfully made an intercept of Tom using ADS-B while flying back from Tacoma Narrows, and was able to rejoin for a decent air-to-air N3N photo.
The N3N is a primary training biplane that was designed and built by the U.S. Navy at the Naval Aircraft Factory in Philadelphia, PA. The general configuration was traditional for the mid-1930s: Radial engine, tandem open cockpits, conventional tailwheel configuration and fabric covering for much of the structure. Under the covering, the design was very unique for the time with an entirely aluminum structure for the wings, fuselage and tail. A number of the beams, shapes and formers were leftovers from the Navy dirigible program. The entire left side of the fuselage has removable aluminum panels allowing quick and easy access to all internal components. Tom's aircraft, an N3N-3, was the final variant of the N3N, with a production of 816 aircraft. All early N3N aircraft were delivered with the Navy-built Wright R-760-2 engine, later upgraded to the much more reliable R-760-8. The Navy had the manufacturing rights to produce the engines from Curtis Wright. The N3N-3 was the only WWII era naval aircraft that was approved for intentional inverted spins.
The N3N is often confused with the more prevalent Stearman. Both aircraft were designed in 1934, with the N3N produced in two major versions, wheels and floats. There are three major differences between the N3N and the Stearman:
Wing construction - The N3N has an aluminum wing, extruded aluminum spars and sheet aluminum ribs. The Stearman has a wing made entirely of wood.
Fuselage construction - The N3N has a riveted, extruded aluminum fuselage, while the Stearman has a welded steel tube fuselage (like a Piper Cub).
Aspect ratio is one of the biggest differences. The N3N has a wing that is nearly 2 feet longer but the chord is 3 inches narrower.
Most N3N-3 aircraft were declared surplus during and immediately after World War II, but about 100 airframes were kept by the Navy. The N3N was no longer used for primary training but stayed in service to provide orientation rides for midshipmen at the Naval Academy in the seaplane configuration. They continued in use until 1961, making the N3N-3 the longest serving (and last serving) biplane in the U.S. military.
N3N N44707 was restored by Ron Ochs in 1985 after a seven year restoration. After flying F-86s in Korea, Ron wanting to restore an antique plane, and bought an N3N crop duster, then started collecting parts. "It was hard to find parts, so I had to buy entire junk piles for parts. I sold that plane and built another N3N out of the junk pile." Ron had the original data plate, so N3N N44707 became a restoration, not a replica. According to Ron's son Ben, the N3N was always hangared, flown well and cared for, with Ron applying the paint and engine work and winning numerous awards for his restoration. Tom Jensen acquired the N3N after a demonstration flight with Ben. The brakes were original drum brakes when Tom acquired it, and were OK after adjustment, but only worked well for a couple of flights after they were adjusted. Tom Jensen installed new disc brakes, which did wonders for ground handling.
After a thorough pre-flight orientation and startup, Tom had me maneuver down the taxiway at Evergreen Sky to get a feel for ground handling and vision over the nose. The new brakes were excellent, and the only thing I noticed after taxiing was the amount of back stick pressure needed while taxiing could cause development of 'Popeye arms' quite quickly. Tom let me fly two takeoffs, with coaching to relax back stick pressure at 40 knots, then raise the tail. I had decent peripheral vision with my tall sitting height, then good forward visibility once the tail came up. Almost immediately, with a very slight bit of aft stick pressure, we were airborne and climbing smoothly, enjoying the open cockpit airflow, blocked quite effectively by the small windshield in front. Visibility was outstanding, except by the area blocked by the wings, of course. The four ailerons provided excellent roll control, so clearing for traffic while maneuvering became a joy. I settled to a cruise throttle setting at 1750 RPM, and reveled in the handling and visibility on this glorious Spring afternoon.
Besides the primary goal of aircraft orientation, we had two other missions to accomplish. I was coordinating a missing man flyby the next day over the Tahoma National Cemetery, and Tom had received word that the memorial service would be held in an area surrounded in trees on three sides, necessitating a change to our normal north-to-south run in. Tom and I flew a practice run in from east-to-west in the N3N, noting landmarks and headings, with great vis from the open cockpit of our 'target'.
The second mission also entailed a 'target', specifically air-to-air against a falling roll of streaming toilet paper. Tom gave me too much credit for my former F-15 air-to-air, with no coaching other than 'Go For It', and made me jettison the first roll at 3500 feet over open forest and try as many 'intercepts' as possible before a 2500 foot safety floor, with no help. The streamer descended much faster than I had first anticipated, but luckily, fighter pilot instinct kicked in, and I was able to make two successful 'intercepts' on the target before 2500 feet. The maneuverability of the N3N was excellent, especially in roll! Tom jettisoned a second 'target' from the back seat for his passes, nicking the top of the descending streamer on two of his passes.
With the earlier missions accomplished, we then proceeded on our 'backup' mission, namely flying over the White River, using the great N3N maneuverability to stay with every bend and turn as we followed the White River toward Auburn. As the population on the edges of the river increased, we headed back to Evergreen Sky. Tom demoed a smooth turning final and greased the N3N on to the grass runway.
Thanks, Tom (with a newly assigned tactical callsign of 'T.P.') for this great introduction to the N3N. It was the perfect aircraft to fly as the 100th different aircraft that I've flown over the years! I'm ready for summer and more air-to-air!
Although you may have spent four long years as a cadet at the USAF Academy, you weren't guaranteed a pilot training slot until you successfully completed the Flight Screening program. Back when I went through the Academy (a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away), the Flight Screening program was conducted while flying the Cessna T-41C, a higher-horsepower 172 configured with a 210-hp IO-360 for the rarified Colorado air. Although the screening program usually involved 25-30 hours of flight time, I felt ripped off when I only received 15 hours of flight time, due to my experience as a cadet soaring instructor. The T-41C was fun to fly, and I wanted more flight time, especially since they were paying for the gas!
In 1993, the USAFA T-41 fleet was replaced with the Slingsby T-3A Firefly for the flight screening role, but the USAFA Slingsby T-3A fleet was grounded and scrapped after a number of fatal accidents. The Air Force now trains all prospective USAF pilots and combat systems officers through a program known as Initial Flight Training, which makes use of the Diamond DA20.
The two-seat DV20 was originally developed and manufactured by the Austrian aircraft manufacturer Diamond Aircraft in the early 90s. Diamond used its experience on the Diamond HK36 Super Dimona motorglider to develop the DV20. Diamond built a Canadian facility for the North American market, and the Canadian-produced aircraft are designated as the DA20 Katana. Diamond's previous sailplane and motorglider design heritage is evident in the DA-20s long, graceful wing, sailplane-like T-tail, and bubble canopy.
As I prepared to support DG-1000 sailplane checkouts at Arlington for the Seattle Glider Council, I found out that one of the previous DG-1000 group members owned a DA20, and was looking for a flight refresher after his annual and limited recent flying. Nick Long sent me a copy of the DA20 flight manual, and we agreed to meet on the next good weather day at Arlington.
Nick's DA20 is a Canadian-built DA20-A1, powered by an 80 hp Rotax 912F3, and sporting a constant-speed prop. The DA20-A1 uses a 2.27:1 reduction gearbox to reduce the engine's relatively high 5,800 rpm shaft speed to a more conventional 2,400 rpm for the propeller. Nick and I completed a detailed engine and overall aircraft pre-flight, both to familiarize me with the aircraft, and also to catch any post-annual discrepancies.
Entering the cockpit is straight forward, and I was pleasantly surprised with the shoulder and legroom in the relatively small aircraft. Ground steering is by differential braking, and I noticed my size 12 feet were a bit squeezed in the rudder pedal foot box. Taxiing the Katana in a straight line via differential braking took a bit to get used to, almost as humbling as learning to taxi the Nanchang CJ-6!
Although the winds favored runway 29 at Arlington, Nick wanted to use the full 5300' runway 34 for the first takeoff post-annual, and he did a commendable cross-wind takeoff and climbout. You could feel the gusts with the Diamond's light wing loading, but the ailerons required only slight movements of the stick to correct for the gusts. Nick had mentioned that he had been flying a bit above the recommended approach speed of 57 knots, which is well above the 37 knot stall, causing some extra floating. The first crosswind landing on 34 still had a bit of float, but with the great visibility you can pick and easily anticipate your touchdown point. The fixed landing gear seemed quite strong, obviously built with student training in mind.
I took over the flight controls as we moved to runway 29, and the great bubble canopy helped pick up the seemingly always busy Arlington traffic, especially since both runways 29 and 34 were in use. The flight control harmony felt nice, and a bit of rudder added while starting turns seemed to correct well for the bit of adverse yaw. Due to traffic ahead flying 'bomber patterns', I had a long final to adjust the power, pitch and trim to fly an almost hands-off final, then added a little power for a soft-field landing on 29. The DA20 is a joy to fly, and would be fun throttling back and climbing in thermals with that great wing.
Nick flew a few more patterns for his currency, and even in gusty, choppy winds, the airplane performed well, and was quite controllable. Thanks for the DA20 orientation, Nick, and I hope to join you again for a thermaling workout in your Diamond!
Van's Aircraft has designed a hugely successful suite of homebuilt aircraft, with over 10,800 RV's built and flown as of early 2021. I've been privileged to check out the RV-6, RV-7, RV-8, RV-10 and RV-12 in-flight over the past few years. All the RV series aircraft have very responsive flight controls, crisp aileron response, great visibility, and are just a joy to fly.
The latest addition to the RV-series is the RV-14. I have been planning checkouts for the sale of a late friend's Pipistrel Sinus, based at Sequim, and the new owners offered to shuttle me from Renton in one of their personally owned aircraft. Two of the new owners, Dave Miller and Bill Benedict, had recently built a gorgeous RV-14A, painted in bright Porsche Racing yellow, so their offer of a couple of RV-14 flights sounded great!
I met Dave Miller on the ramp at Renton, next to my Warrior. My first impression was that the RV-14 sits taller than the RV-6/7. Cockpit entry was easy, and I noticed the welcome head, leg and shoulder room. The upright seating position and large bubble canopy provides outstanding visibility. Dave gave me a quick RV-14 safety overview, then a short orientation on his impressive avionics suite. Dave's RV-14A is equipped with a Garmin G3X, G5 and GTN-750, a Garmin autopilot, and a glareshield-mounted Angle-Of-Attack (AOA) indicator, which is a great head up instrument for maneuvering and optimal flying in the pattern and landing phase.
Once cleared for takeoff, Dave gave me the flight controls right after a spirited acceleration and very short takeoff behind the powerful 210HP IO-390 engine. Similar to the other RV-series aircraft, the airplane just feels right as soon as you take the flight controls. It flies like a small fighter, being very responsive and crisp but not jerky. As I climbed out from Renton, my only issue was staying below the 3000 ft base of the Class Bravo, since the -14 really likes to climb. I throttled back to 55% power, which still gave us a respectable 148-knot cruise speed, burning only 8.5 gals per hour! Although larger than the RV-6/7, the structure meets the aerobatic category standards of +6/-3Gs when flown at the aerobatic gross weight of 1900 lb. Although we didn't fly any aerobatics on our two flights, I did a few steep turns and reversals, and combined with the great cockpit visibility, I had visions of flying fighters resurrected again.
The RV-14's generous wing area and large slotted flaps kept our landing speed low into Sequim and Renton with smooth landings on both runways. RVs are known for short-field capability and the RV-14 is no exception. The combination of good cockpit room, great visibility, lots of power, superb handling and awesome avionics made it hard to give the RV-14 back to Dave as he headed home. I'd like to check out RV-14 formation flying in the future, since the handling is so superb.
Dave - Thanks for the opportunity to fly the newest bird in the RV series, you built a great one, and yes - I WANT ONE!