If y'all have been following my build thread, you knew it was just a matter of time! Like always, what an adventure!
New aviation term - Squirrelly Speed.
On my last fast taxi attempt everything got squirrelly with lateral control being really difficult, and coupled with too loose bungies and a left brake that was rubbing hard, lead me to a ground loop.
So this morning I decided to give it another go, since I have a new set of main wheels and a new solid rubber Harbor Freight tail wheel. I had one of my EAA brothers on hand in case the aircraft needed to be unceremoniously pushed back to the hangar.
After a nit-picky pre-flight we discussed my plans, which were simple: 1) Slow taxi to make sure my new tail wheel was up to snuff, and 2) See if the bungee and brake fix had solved the bad lateral instability when the wheels are off the ground. If I get into trouble or things look really good, I might take flight.
A very, very long taxi and I make the turn onto the runway.
First issue - over a standard leather flight helmet I can't hear the radio over the engine.
Second issue - with the radio next to me in the seat, Mike could barely make me out when I spoke. So it'll get moved to the rear cabane strut. I'm thinking bungee cords to begin with and then maybe velcro.
Back to the aircraft!
She's tracking true as I slowly advance the throttle and at about half she starts acting squirrelly again. I backed off the throttle and she started to behave. I advanced again and back to squirrel mode....but this time she wound up pointing towards the grass!
Ghaa! I'm not bending another wheel, and I'm definitely not rolling off of the runway into the grass and down a slope.
I firewalled it, did a quick stick forward-stick back and she immediately went into flight! I mean just jumped off of the ground.
Nose down a bit to make sure I wasn't just in ground effect and a small adjustment to align over the right edge of the runway. She's climbing in a stable state, not much pitch up and the ASI is telling a fine lie (70 MPH? I don't think so!) but other than that she's singing to me.
Literally singing. Wind on wires!
What the hell, I'm already up, might as well do a circuit and land.
Stable, stable, stable. Holy smokes, she's a beauty to fly. I pulled a bit of throttle and she flys straight without adjustment, meaning the rigging and ground trim are as spot on as I could hope for. Like a Champ (7AC kind), a little lead with the rudder and she turns nicely, and all the controls did what they're supposed to do.
Coordinating turns felt like cheating!
Indeed, all those people who say a 7AC Champ is a good analogy for this aircraft are dead on the money.
So long right half circle, pulling only the power required to lose altitude gently until I was on a very long final. Forget the numbers, let's land somewhere on this strip. At 8,000 feet long I think I'll be able to be a bit cautious.
Gently pulling power, I flew it down to the runway, just a tad nose high. The right wheel just kissed the pavement. I picked it up a little, gave her a little more nose high, and the mains rumbled without a bump. Chopped the throttle and she she slowed quickly, the tail floating down to meet the asphalt.
She slowed straight and true without any of that goofy stuff.
So there's a particular speed where things aren't good. I think it may be right when the rudder is biting and might be fighting with the tail wheel. The solution is to be in one of three states - slow taxi, taking off, or landing and not muck about with the mid throttle.
It's a long airfield and that makes for a long taxi. I made my way to the turn off and things got weird immediately after. The tail was trying to dance around like a drop of water on a hot skillet.
I killed the engine and rolled it onto the grass next to the taxi way.
WTF? Oh, the solid rubber Harbor Freight tail wheel had disintegrated and fell apart on the turn off from the runway. I was grinding down the steel mount for it.
So once again me and my helper tote the aircraft to the hangar, one on each side of the vertical stab.
But who cares! Hurray! I'm officially a test pilot - me and a famous test pilot, peers.
Mike volunteers to make a new tail wheel mount and happens to have a spare tail wheel to donate to the cause. A real aviation one with bearing and everything. It came with his KR kit and he went for a larger one. He said he would be able to work it up this afternoon and bring it out to the airfield tomorrow. I had to explain my incredulous expression - every time I've had to farm something out or get a spare part it's a month. One day? Incredible!
The last note is that I guess I either pressed the record button on the GoPro twice or missed it entirely, so no video. And Mike was so enthused with watching he didn't take any video with his phone. I'll make sure to take some video next time.