J.H. Phillip's First Flight Report...
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This was originally published in the EAA 168 newsletter. Reprinted here with the permission of the author.
At the last monthly meeting Michael asked me to write a piece for the newsletter about my "first flight". As I scratched my head, and fought to get the first sentence on the computer screen [remember how difficult starting a "composition" in English class used to be], I decided that I would approach his assignment from a different perspective.
My first flight actually took place in March of 1969, at Stinson Field in San Antonio. A fellow, not much older than myself, gave me an orientation flight in the T-41. I didn't get sick. I'm sure I grinned like the Cheshire cat. I was hooked. We were soloed after about 12 hours - or we washed out and became desk jockeys. The next first flight was with Capt. Garland Griffin - who had just returned from flying A-37s over Viet Nam. I thought I was pretty "sierra hotel" with my new helmet and parachute. "Griff" and I took off - turning jp4 into that incredible whistling noise that only the "tweet" made - and as soon as we were out of sight of the tower he slapped the stick against the stops. The tweet rolled right and my helmet bounced off the canopy on the left side. When we were upright again, Griff looked over at me, and I'm sure he could see me, a little dizzy, but grinning right back at him - through the helmet sun-visor and the O2mask. I know he could see that grin because he told me I could take the stick and do the next roll. I loved flying the T-37. After 90 hours in the tweet, we moved on to the T-38. That was a truly incredible flying machine, but I never had the same exuberant fun in it that I had in the tweet. I was awed by that plane. We did "burner climbs" to FL350, passing altitudes literally faster than center cleared us for them. I watched the shock wave on lead as we went supersonic. It would form first on the pitot tube, almost perpendicular to the pitot, and then it would bend back as the plane pushed into it like a pencil poking into a flat sheet of rubber. On a solo flight once, toward the end of the training program (and before "c" transponders) I nursed it up and up, just past FL510. The plane felt like it could just fall out of the sky - supported only by its own willpower. I was exhilarated to be there - I'd never trade having been there - but I was certainly relieved when I finally coasted back down and the controls bit into thicker air again. When it came time to pin on our wings I ranked high enough to get a pretty good assignment. There were no fighters being given to new pilots in early 1970, so I picked "tweet IP" as my assignment. I spent the next 3 years, 880 hours, at Webb AFB in Big Spring, flying the tweet. I loved it.
Had I to do it again, I might have stayed in the AF, and kept on flying - but, no regrets allowed. I left the service, resigned my commission, and hung up the wings for almost the next 30 years. I never developed any hobbies - no golf, no tennis, no skiing, and certainly none of the "extreme" sports, but I never gave up the love and fascination with flying. On commercial flights I always asked for the window. I was the guy staring out the window. I would drive to Shreveport every spring for the big military airshow at Barksdale AFB. Along the way I became acquainted with John Peyton at the courthouse. When we discovered that we had the same passion we began going to airshows together. John once mentioned that he had finally gotten a ride in an "RV" with Dick Flunker. I had no idea what an RV was but it sure sounded good, so I searched it out on the internet. It looked pretty good. I did more internet searching. Ben and Pat Johnson were hosting an RV builders' get-together at their home. I dragged my wife along. When I saw Ben's fuselage - on sawhorses in his living room - I knew I wanted one. I placed my order. I joined the EAA, the 168th, and AOPA. My new life began.
Not a word has been said yet about any mechanical skills. I love cruising the aisles at Home Depot and Elliott's Hardware, but the extent of my skills had been to assemble some pre-fab shelves in my garage, and change the oil in my car. Nonetheless I decided that I could build an RV6A and so I ordered one for myself. I found Jay Pratt through the internet and made a deal with him for hanger space (at T67) and building assistance/supervision/motivation. I knew that I wanted to be flying in a year and I knew that I couldn't do it in my garage. From day one (April 16, 2001) I was grateful for Jay. I would still be checking off parts on the inventory if it weren't for Jay. Almost every Saturday and every Sunday, from early morning till past dinner time, I would drive from home in Dallas to Hicks Field (45 minutes each way) and work. I worked on the plane most of the time, and flew just enough to get my private ticket. Periodically I'd get to fly with Jay. We flew to Longmont with Don Christiansen last June. We'd been airborne about 15 minutes when I looked over at Jay and said - "if I had any doubts, I don't anymore. I want one of these".
The building experience has been great. I have thoroughly enjoyed every weekend in the hanger. I have a lot of new friends and a bunch of new tools. I have managed to develop some skills and I've certainly learned a great deal. Best of all, I have a gorgeous new airplane. I am not a technician and I can't recite chapter and verse about all the Lycoming variations, or the pros and cons of priming aluminum, and I wouldn't touch aluminum vs plastic. I can tell you though that N809EP is a sweet airplane. It's left wing heavy right now, but aileron trim "fixes" it for the moment and I'll fix it permanently soon. The elevator trims easily to hands off and holds altitude perfectly. I'm only 10 hours into the 40 hour non-certified engine fly-off, and I'm flying it hard during break-in, so the flying has been pretty much straight and level, but I do quick aileron rolls periodically to break the monotony, and when I reach the end of the 50 mile tether I bring it back around with a really steep level turn. It flies like the tweets I loved so long ago. I can hardly wait for the loops, barrel rolls, split "s's", Cuban 8's, cloverleafs, and Immelman's.
If I haven't used up too much space already let me tell you about N809EP and some of the decisions I made along the way. First it's a noseroller. I've never flown a taildragger and I saw no reason to start, and frankly I like to be able to see what's in front of me. I had originally ordered an Eggenfellner Subaru engine package. He makes a really nice, complete, bolt-on firewall forward package - and it's a lot cheaper than a new Lyc. I made that decision for lots of reasons, including cost, convenience, quietness, smoothness, auto gas, modern technology, etc. At the last minute I changed my mind - not because of the engine, but because Eggenfellner's purchase contract would have required me to indemnify him in the event I had an accident and he was sued. Now I wouldn't have minded agreeing that I wouldn't sue him, but I was not about to indemnify or defend him from other folks who might be injured. So, I swallowed hard, reached down deep and ordered a brand new XP360 from AeroSport Power. It's attached to a Hartzell constant speed prop. The engine is connected to an EIS engine monitor. That took a little getting used to. The instructions were all Greek to me, but I have managed to reprogram the display to put everything I want on a single screen. The display is easy to read and I have programmed the unit with parameters for EGT, CHT, oil pressure and oil temp, etc. When the parameters are exceeded a bright red light blinks at me and the offending item also blinks to direct attention to the "problem". [For senior moments, the red light is on whenever oil pressure is "0" - a very handy reminder that the master switch has been left on]. I fly from the right seat, but set up the panel for traditional left seat flying. I got very used to right seat flying in the tweet, and personally find it more comfortable with right hand on the stick. I put Mac 5 button grips on both sides, with push buttons for the elevator trim on top, and a ptt on the front of each stick. Now that I've flown with them, I do not like the trim buttons - too awkward to work the down elevator trim button with my thumb. I think I would prefer a "coolie hat" switch - oh, well. I have electric gyros, heated pitot and a UPS SL30 nav/com. My intention is to get my instrument ticket and be able to file IFR and to fly "lite" IFR. I'm not interested in shooting approaches to 100-1/4, but I do want to be able to get up and down through a deck. I opted against a fancy gps system and moving map. [I do carry a Garmin handheld and an ICOM transceiver for backup]. My rationale is that the more I have, the more there is with which I need to be proficient, and the more likely that I will overlook something. With the SL30 I have one active and one monitored comm, and one active and one monitored VOR. The active VOR displays on the separate CDI and the monitored VOR displays its "from" radial on the SL30 itself so aircraft position from the two VORs can be easily determined. I installed a Navaid "wings leveler", but haven't practiced with it much yet. I expect it will be real handy on cross-countries. The plane is unpainted at the moment. I had planned to polish it, but I'm not getting much encouragement - even from my bride. I will probably give in and have Aircraft Paint Service at Meacham paint it - really bright yellow with metallic green trim to match the engine.
I think that about covers it.