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2004 - Sun and Fun Trip

Date: April 15, 2004

Day One of my trip to Sun and Fun in Lakeland, Florida was supposed to start on Wednesday, April 14th, but the weather was terrible up in the northeast, with 400 ft. ceilings and rain.  On the morning of the 15th (Thursday), ceilings were reported at 1500 ft. at my home airport of Fitchburg, MA (FIT), with ceilings rising to 4500 ft. 30 miles to the west, and then breaking out to clear at the edge of the front.  There was light rain reported as well.

I headed out to the airport with all my stuff, figuring that I'd stay low for 10 minutes, get past the edge of the front, and then climb up higher.  After loading up the plane with all my camping gear, computer, flight bag, etc., the ceilings were down to 1200 ft. in light rain, but 30 miles west was still reporting 4500 ft., so I decided to poke my head up and take a look around - if I couldn't see any distance when I got up to 700 ft., I'd land and wait a while.  In fact, visibility was very good, for the most part, and I headed west at about 700 ft. AGL, hunting for the edge of the front.  I planned to hop from airport to airport, and my first waypoint was Gardner, MA (GDM). Just past Gardner, the rain became VERY heavy and I couldn't see west more than about 4 miles, so I turned around, planning to land at Gardner and wait.  As I turned south onto downwind, I noticed that the visibility to the southwest (which was my actual route of flight) was pretty good - 10 to 15 miles at least.  I decided to head off in this direction toward Tanner-Hiller (8B5) This was most probably a mistake, as it took me parallel to the front line, rather than through it.

Anyway, I hopped from Tanner-Hiller to Metropolitan (PMX) and down toward Bradley's (BDL) Class C airspace (I suppose, in retrospect, that you could call this whole section of my flight "scud-running", although I wasn't thinking that at the time - I was always completely legal, if without a lot of margin for error).  Bradley was very nice, always asking if I could take a vector rather than just giving me one, and even warning me about some towers on a ridge (which I had in sight, but it was nice of them to do so).  As I passed Hartford, CT and Robertson airport (4B8) in Bristol, CT, I tuned in to the Waterbury (OXC) ASOS, which was reporting heavy rain and "significant weather" (which they did not define).  The visibility was definitely worse, and in just about every direction, so I turned back and landed at Robertson to check out the weather and wait a while.

I called Jon Matcho (administrator of the Canardzone Forum), who was waiting for me in New Jersey, to let him know I'd be late, and that I'd call when I was off the ground.  The computer indicated that the weather was completely clear not 15 miles to the northwest (and if I'd been able to continue west from Gardner, I'd probably have broken through long ago, rather than paralleling the front).  The rain was heavier, but as I was gazing wistfully out the window, I noticed a rather large patch of blue sky under the dark clouds.  I raced out to the plane, started up, did a runup and took off, heading directly for the blue patch to the northwest at about 700 ft. AGL.  After 5 minutes of the patch getting larger and larger, I broke out into clear blue sky, climbed up to 6500 ft., and headed southwest toward NJ.

I circumvented the NY Class B and headed into Central Jersey Regional Airport (47N) to pick up Jon (a almost to be builder, and administrator of the CanardZone web site and forum) who had cadged a ride down with me.  His wife and his mom were also waiting there for me, and they were amazed at the plane that Jon wants to build (his mom especially wanted there to be a "door" in the plane - the fact that the top opened up was disconcerting for her).  We loaded Jon's camping/travel stuff into the plane, including two folding chairs (why is it that the people I take to S&F or OSH always seem to want to bring chairs along with them?). We took off and headed south-southwest at 8500 ft., off to stop at Suffolk, Virginia (SFQ) to gas up and visit the inestimable Wayne Hicks, who we would try to convince to come with us.

The flight down to SFQ was uneventful - the sky was clear, the visibility was 50 miles, there were a few clouds off to our left, and Jon was a bit concerned about our altitude as we crossed both Delaware Bay and the Chesapeake Bay, but we passed over Salisbury, MD (SBY) - site of past canard fly-ins - and to the east of the Patuxent restricted area uneventfully.  We descended past Norfolk, VA and down to SFQ, for an nominal landing.  Wayne was waiting for us - we gassed the plane and parked it and then we went inside and had some lunch.  Jon and I then visited Wayne's hangar, where he is making good progress on a very well built COZY MKIV, and we also looked at his hangar mate Steve Volovsek's L.E. project. Steve should be flying before year's end.

No matter what we said, Wayne insisted that he couldn't come with us - he had some lame excuse about some "meeting" he had to have at work the next day (Friday - like he couldn't call in sick or something) and that his wife would give him a hard time if he disappeared for the weekend.  We taunted him mercilessly, but he wouldn't relent.

So, around 2:30 PM we left SFQ and headed southwest toward Columbia, South Carolina (CUB) to meet up with Randy Smith (and daughter and daughter's friend) and Ed Michaels.  Ed is a brand new builder, and Randy is a long time prospective builder.  We talked to Ed and Randy for a while, let them ask a bunch of questions about the plane, and then around 5 PM we headed off on the last leg of the journey.

Jon and I went south along the SC, Georgia, and Florida Atlantic coastline, past Jacksonville to Deland Airport (DED) just west of Daytona Beach, FL, and then cut west past to thread our way through the 40 ft. wide (well, maybe a couple of miles) corridor between the Orlando Class B and R-2910. We were heading toward Clearwater airport (CLW) on the west side of Tampa - NOT directly to Lakeland. Jon's sister and brother-in-law live in Clearwater (near Jerry Schneider - a long time builder) and we were going to stay with them that night, and then head over to Lakeland in the morning.  The descent, as the rest of the flight, was uneventful - the S&F traffic was well below us and to the south - we saw almost no-one.  We landed at Clearwater, parked the plane off in the weeds (all their tie-downs were in use), and headed off to Jon's sister's house.

We had a very pleasant time with Jon's sister - she and her husband were both extremely friendly and hospitable, giving us dinner, access to the internet for our PC's, and a comfortable place to sleep.

All in all, a good day. I got some experience scud-running (don't like it, but for short periods of time and small distances when near an airport might be convinced to do it again) and got to visit a bunch of great people.  I tried to give Jon (not a certificated pilot) a lot of the navigational tasks, so that he'd learn how to deal with maps, figure out where the heck he was, and give him something to do other than just stare out the window.  For a complete novice, he picked it up pretty well.

End of Day 1

Date: April 16, 2004

Start Day 2

We woke at about 6:30 AM, ate some breakfast, and then Jon's sister drove us over to the airport.  She was suitably impressed by the notion that Jon would fly in this thing that I had built (and that it flew at all :-) ).  We packed up, pre-flighted, and then took off.  I had made the decision to wait to get gas at Lakeland (I guess I was trying to get going fast to get in to LAL before the rush hit).  This, as it turns out, was a stupid mistake.  Although I had about 1 hour of fuel aboard for a 15 minute flight, you never know how long you'll have to hold heading into LAL.  As we rounded the top of the Tampa Class B and headed east, we listened to the S&F approach frequency and learned that there was a hold at Lake Parker.

We were close to Zephyr Hills (ZPH), so I landed there and we waited at the pump behind a couple of spam cans to fuel up.  Having now put on enough fuel to loiter for the rest of the day if necessary, we headed over to Lake Parker to join the hold.  On the way, approach told everyone not already in the Lake Parker hold to hold at Lake Hancock, so we headed southeast and started circling at 100 kt. with a few other aircraft.  Every once in a while they'd let a few planes out of the Lake Parker hold, and then after 3 circuits around Lake Hancock they opened Lake Parker up for people to join the hold.  We headed over there, joined the circuit by overflying the power plant, and just as we were starting to turn south to continue the circuit the ground controller told "the white canard" to follow the plane in front of us inbound on the procedure.  A bit of luck!

Westward we went at 100 kt. at 1200 ft., with about 6 or 7 planes strung out in front of us in a ragged line stretching a couple of miles. We followed them west, turned south toward the airport, and then turned west onto downwind for 9L. The two planes right in front of us extended their downwinds a bit too far, but in order not to cut them off, I followed them. After turning base and final, I realized that the folks behind us (a Bonanza driver - big surprise :-) ) had decided NOT to follow us, but had turned base early, and then complained (on the frequency he was just supposed to be listening too, not talking on) about people cutting HIM off. Anyway, he turned final about 100 yards in front of me, so I slowed to 80 mph.  He then decided to do an extremely low approach, so I had to weave back and forth trying to keep him in sight below my nose.  Eventually he pulled far enough ahead that I could see him, and they sent him long and had me touch down on 9L (the usual taxiway) relatively short, so that I had no shot at overtaking him.

Certainly an interesting experience for Jon - planes everywhere doing who knows what :-).

We taxied to the canard area of the homebuilt parking, tied down, and took all our camping stuff over to the Antique area to set up. Here's a shot of our home away from home:

By the time we got back to the plane, it was about 11 AM. I had told Yair Gil (who showed up at the plane almost immediately) that I'd be willing to give him a ride, but there wasn't enough time before the airshow, and he had volunteered to help out at the COZY barbeque, so he didn't have time after the airshow, and he was leaving that night (Friday).  I know he was very disappointed, but since the weather had held us up, we had lost a full day that would have given us the time for the ride.  I promised him a ride the next time he was in the US (from Israel), and he was very insistent that he would take my promissory note for it :-).

Anyway, the rest of Friday I spent either yakking with folks at the airplane (other canardians, or just wandering wannabees), wandering through the vendor buildings, or getting sunburned while trying not to go deaf from the airshow.  I stopped by and talked to Nat and Shirley for a while, remarking on how good his plane looks after so many years.

Jon wandered around with John DiStefano (another relatively new builder from New Jersey).  Around 5:45 PM, after the airshow, we congregated around the airplanes again, and I went over and introduced myself to Ken Laundrie, who's been flying his IO-360 powered downdraft cooled COZY MKIV for about 4 years, and we commiserated on the intensely lousy quality of both the Top-Gloss finish paint and Smooth-Prime primer from Polyfiber.  A number of us who have used these products will be contacting Polyfiber to try to obtain satisfaction - we'll see what happens.

Around 6:30 PM, we all wandered over to the Composite Workshop Tent, where Keith Lukat, Jerry Schneider and Larry Wimble had set up their grills and the COZY barbeque was in full swing.  There were at least 40 - 50 people there. The food was good, the company was better, and there were groups of folks all over the place yakking about airplanes. I got to meet a number of the people from the COZY mailing list that I had conversed with via email a number of times, but had never had a face to associate with the name, and they had the same opportunity with me.  John Slade discussed his newly flying Mazda powered MKIV, and I made arrangements with Steve Brooks to give him a checkride the next day. Les Orosz spent some time filling a bunch of us in on his plans for a 15% larger COZY MKIV powered by either a Mazda or an O-540.  He's on Chapter 5 and had his parts in the workshop as a demo - I THOUGHT they looked a bit large for fuselage sides :-).

 Although Nat and Shirley left around 7:45 PM, the barbeque/yakfest kept going until well past 10 PM, and everyone had a great time.  In my personal opinion, this was much friendlier and easygoing than a dinner at a restaurant.  After the BBQ, we hit the hay.

End of Day 2

Date: April 17, 2004

Start of Day 3

The only task for Saturday was to give a checkride to Steve Brooks, a South Carolina builder who's just about finished and ready to fly. Steve amazed us by telling us that he built the whole airplane, without buying much in the way of prefab components, and WITH a Mazda rotary conversion, in just about a year and a half.  What the heck was _I_ doing for 8 years? :-).

Anyway, we woke at 7 AM, got ready to go, and Jon accompanied me over to Kissimmee Gateway Airport (ISM) to pick up Steve, who was staying nearby. I briefed Steve on what we would do - I would let him taxi to the runway and do the runup, but I would do the first takeoff, while he could lightly grip the stick and rudder pedals (well, he wouldn't GRIP the rudder pedals, but he could touch them with his feet) to get a feel for things. I would turn the stick over to him as we passed 1000 ft., and we would then climb up to 4500 ft to do some maneuvering and some slow flight, and let Steve get a feel for the aircraft.  After that, we would head over to Winter Haven (GIF) which has a 5000 ft. runway to do some landings and takeoffs. Then, we'd head back to Kissimmee to drop Steve off.

I had to spend 5 minutes moving the rudder pedals so that Steve's knees wouldn't poke out his eyes, and then we got in.

Steve remarked on the fact that the plane sometimes pulled to one side or another as we taxied - I explained that this was a function of slightly draggy brakes, crosswinds, and the fact that I had tightened up the shimmy damper on the nose-wheel a few days before, and I think it needs to be loosened back up a bit. We took off (with Jon in the back seat, Steve in the left seat, and me in the right seat) and headed up.  Steve took the controls, and after about 5 seconds was flying it as though he had been doing so for hundreds of hours.  From that point, I didn't touch the stick or rudder pedals again (well, just once) until Steve got out of the plane. He finished the climb to 4500 ft., leveled off, and then I had him throttle back to about 2000 RPM so that we didn't go shooting across the Florida sky like a rocket. Steve got used to straight and level, tried some shallow and then steep turns, and kept remarking on how easy the plane was to fly. He was doing such a good job that apparently Jon was dozing off in the back :-).  I then had him throttle back to idle while maintaining altitude, and showed him what the stall looks like. He then added power to maintain altitude, and we just sat there at about 76 mph IAS with the nose bobbing at 4200 ft.  Steve seemed skeptical when I told him to bank the plane 15 degrees and turn while holding the stick full back. He did it, and was suitably impressed when the plane didn't fall out of the sky, and when we rolled to 30 degrees (again, with the stick full back) he was amazed. I pointed out that I had done just that at 60 degree bank angles during my test period, and although the speed is much higher, the plane will NOT fall out of the sky.

After a bit of that, we headed over to GIF for the second portion of our flight. Steve had no problem flying the patterns, and except for one clown who pulled out in front of us on our first approach and forced us to do a go-around (apparently these fly-ins bring out every yahoo who THINKS they're a pilot), he did 4 pretty decent landings. The only real issue was his desire to continue to pull back on the stick as we entered ground effect and got within a couple feet of the ground. I had told Steve that he would pull back until the canard was just below the horizon, and just leave it there - no further pulling back - I had to continually remind him to "leave it there", "leave it there", "leave it there", "leave it there" :-).  Aside from that, the landing were fine - downwind at 100 mph, base and final at 90 mph, and short final at 85 mph with a touchdown between 75 mph and 80 mph. We never used more than 3000 ft. of the 5000 ft. runway. Steve wanted to treat the brakes gingerly, but I told him they're more than adequate - he can stand on them if necessary to get off the runway.

After this, we headed back over to Kissimmee and Steve performed a good landing there and taxied us over to Attractions Jet Center, where we debriefed and then topped off the tanks. Steve was extremely pleased and felt that he could now fly his aircraft with the feeling that he knew what to expect. This was my first checkout of someone else in my aircraft, and _I_ was extremely pleased at how well it went.

I moved the rudder pedals back to my midget size position, and Jon and I headed back to the fly-in. We had no problem joining the flow of traffic and landing on "spot 2" on 9L (I thought I was about 20 feet past the spot, but Jon said I hit it right on - I haven't done spot landings since my glider days, and certainly none at 80 mph :-) ). We got in around noon, got something to eat, and then hung around the airplane talking to folks again until the airshow started. The rest of Saturday Jon and I wandered around poking at things, talking to people, and ordering parts for him to begin building. We also went to the Internet Cafe (next to "Margaritaville", and got on the net to get our daily fix of email/on-line web surfing).

That evening, we got some grub and watched the night airshow. It is beautiful and amazing - people flying around with considerable quantities of pyrotechnics going off from their bellies and wingtips.  You wouldn't catch ME doing that :-).  We sat in the chairs that Jon had brought and watched the crowds dissipate (and the kids on electric scooters zip around) and then went looking for the "Skystar" aircraft, which Jon's uncle is apparently interested in. Then we hit the sack.

End of days 3

Date: April 18, 2004

Start of Day 4

The plan for Sunday was to wake up at 8 AM, pack up our stuff, and load it in the plane (all except the tent, which was still a bit wet). We went and got some breakfast and then I dropped my Garmin 195 GPS off at the Jeppesen booth to get a software and database update for $35. I checked the weather while Jon went to see if Wicks had any more of the MGS epoxy that he had cleaned ACS out of the day before, to save on the hazardous shipping charges. We went back to the tent, packed it up, and finished packing the aircraft. After yakking with some folks for a while and letting the lines for takeoff get shorter while we saw to the bodily duties required before a 3.5 hour flight and said goodbye to Nat and Shirley, we headed back to the plane and saddled up.

We were off the ground at about 11: 10 AM, and headed straight out for the required 3 miles before turning northeast toward the top of the Orlando Class B. We climbed up past the scattered clouds at 4000 ft. to 7500 ft., threaded our way between the "B" and R-2910, and turned northward. Visibility was great, we had no headwinds, and we followed the coast northward to Myrtle Beach, SC. Jon was becoming an old pro at navigating, and was getting much better at the pattern matching skills of finding smudges in the distance that were actually airports. He's going to have a good leg up on his cross country navigating skills when he finally takes his PP lessons.

As we moved northward, we began to pick up the tailwinds from the high pressure region sitting off the coast (not much, but still better than a headwind - this was the first trip in my life that I had tailwinds in both directions!). Over SC I climbed up to 9500 ft. to try to get over the top of the haze layer, but no dice - visibility was more than 30 miles, but it was pretty grey with not much of a horizon. I hand flew much of the way, since the Navaid was jittering a bit (I'll have to adjust the sensitivity the next time out at the airport [I might be convinced to switch to a Trio Avionics head for the autopilot - Jerry Hansen did a good job of ameliorating my concerns regarding their use of GPS instead of magnetometers to stabilize their solid state gyros]). At any rate, at Myrtle Beach we turned inland and north back to Suffolk, VA to get gas. 3.4 hours in the plane got us there, at an average ground speed of about 200 mph - not bad.

When we landed, Wayne Hicks and Steve Volovsek were talking to Rob Cherney (L.E. flyer and Berkut builder) and Howard Caulk (L.E. builder) who were there with their flying L.E., heading back north to Maryland and the Washington ADIZ (don't we all feel safer now?). We got gas, almost got run over by a large radial twin engine plane that had the elevator mass balance weight held on with duct tape as he tried to taxi up off the grass onto the taxiway, and then decided to just get going, rather than eating there.

We bade Steve and Wayne a fond adieu' and took off for the wilds of New Jersey. We climbed up to 7500 ft. again, and the haze was just getting worse as we went north.  Visibility was 20 miles, but looking straight ahead was useless.  We avoided some clouds at 7000 ft., headed up over Chesapeake and Delaware Bays, and threaded our way between the Philadelphia Class B and McGuire AFB's airspace, up to Central Jersey Regional.  Once again, Jon did an admirable job of telling me where we were at 2 minute intervals, and telling me where we'd land if the engine croaked at any given moment.

We landed at 47N with Jon's parents waiting for us (his better half and children had gotten lost on the way to the airport, and showed up 10 minutes later). His mother gave me a hug (for not killiing her only son, presumably) and marveled again at the lack of a door. We unloaded Jon's stuff and ate some hors-deouvres that Jon's mother had brought (I didn't have any champagne, which she had also brought, since I still had an hour left to fly). After replacing the nose ballast, I decided that to get home before dark would mean forsaking dinner out with Jon and his family, so Jon's mother gave me some snacks and I put my butt back in the plane for the third and last leg of my journey home.

I took off from 47N and headed north-northwest to climb up over the NY class B. I climbed up into the soup, which was getting thicker as the day wore on.  I was picking up 20 mph tailwinds from the top of the high as I headed northeast over the class B airspace, but visibility was less than 20 miles to the ground. It struck me that Jon and I hadn't listened to the MP3 player at all in either direction (too much talking), so I put on some tunes for the last hour of the trip. Boy, the Rolling Stones singing "Rock This Joint" at 100 db is even better in an airplane doing 225 mph groundspeed than it is in a car doing 80 mph :-). With the tailwind, it was only 55 minutes to FIT, and although it was hazy, getting dark, and starting to cloud up as I got close, I knew I was home free when I saw the tiny bulk of Mt. Wachusetts looming up 10 miles ahead out of the murk.

As I was setting up to land, I remembered that both Steve and Jon had remarked on the tendency of the nose to come down fast and hit relatively hard just after touching down. I had hypothesized that this might be due to being on the brakes a bit when touching down, or just some quirk of my aircraft.  I knew that other had mentioned their landing techniques of holding the canard off the ground for a while after touching down, and I decided to try to make that happen. I made sure that I was NOT on the brakes just as the mains touched, and I exerted just a bit of extra back pressure on the stick to try to keep the canard off the ground.  Voila'! It works as advertised - I was able to hold the canard off the ground easily and let it down easily.  Obviously, the hard nose gear touchdowns had just been bad technique on my part, and I just wish I had tried that earlier so that I could have demonstrated it to Steve.  I hope that I'll be able to replicate it :-).

I unpacked the plane, packed the car, put on the cover, and drove home.  Less than 8 hours after leaving Florida, I was home in Massachusetts, with two stops along the way.  I was rested and relaxed, even after having flown about 14 hours over the past 4 days. I had a terrific 4 days, met a bunch of great people, talked to zillions about how great the airplane is, and had the satisfaction of giving a great checkout ride to Steve Brooks.

Who could ask for more?

End of Days 4

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