I've finally started training on my real flying goal, Ken's 1978 Cardinal RG. Ken's had this plane almost 20 years, I'm lucky to be able to fly it. Ken gave me a key last week! Turns out it's a pretty challenging step up for a new pilot.

The Cardinal is the Cessna 177; not that different a model from the 172s I learned in. But 172s are designed as trainers, easy to land. The 177 is a travel plane. Every aspect of the design is more aerodynamic, from a cantilevered wing without a strut dragging in the air to the fuel tank vents hidden in the wings, not sticking out in the breeze. It makes for a faster plane (146kts vs. 122kts), but it also handles totally differently.

The other change in the Cardinal RG is the RG; retractable gear. I have to remember to put the wheels down every single time I land. I won't die if I forget, but landing gear up makes a hell of a mess and causes the prop to hit the ground, requiring an expensive engine rebuild. I'm doing fine with not forgetting so far, I'm hyper-aware in the new plane.

The hard part is the plane flies differently with the wheels hanging out. It adds major drag, like flaps, but without any lift to compensate. If I want to stay level at the same speed I need to add about 15% power. The drag comes in handy, it makes it easier to slow the plane down for landing. And with gear down and full flaps the plane descends quite quickly, helpful if you're too high. On my first simulated engine-out landing my instructor sat quietly while I tried to figure out what to do. I put the gear down first thing, so I wouldn't forget later. Big mistake: the plane dropped so fast I would have landed about 500' short if my engine were really dead. Lesson learned, now I respect the drag from the gear.

Ken and I are headed to Oshkosh for the big annual pilot's jamboree. I was hoping to be fully trained in the Cardinal by now so we could share the flying, but maintenance delays and insurance requirements mean I'm going to be a passenger on this trip. I've got a lot I can learn in the right seat, particularly all the fancy avionics Ken has: GNS 430W GPS, MX20 display, STEC 55x autopilot, EDM 730 engine monitor, even the clock is complex. Nice to learn all the systems without the distraction of flying the plane.

  2010-07-24 14:48 Z