King for a Day (Of the Pattern)
One thing I like about Florida is that summer comes early, marked by two eventsóthe snowbirds go home and take the traffic jams with them and the weather gets warmer. Eventually, itíll get hot, but Iím reptilian by nature and the weather suits my clothes, as the old bluesmen say. Itís Cub weather.
With less road traffic, thereís alsoófor at least a period until high summeróless air traffic. And that suits my sensibilities for, in addition to being reptilian, Iím not all that much for chit-chat. A deserted airport is my idea of an industrial-age idyll and maybe a nice little pot to cook up something perfect. And thatís what happened yesterday. Quite on a lark, I was driving near the airport, had my hangar keys and headset with me, so I dragged the Cub out for a little toot.
Once a month, to get topped off in pathetic envy, I fly north up the beach, gawking at the million dollar houses on Casey Key. Iíd buzz them, but the Cub is so quiet, no one would notice. Plus, the numbers are painted bold as Dallas on the bottom of the wing.
Back at the airport, I found the pattern empty and the frequency dead, including our sister airport over in St. Pete, Peter O. Knight. I meant to land and put it back in the barn, but after a nice three-pointer, I firewalled it for a touch and goÖand another, and another. Seven landings later, I finally taxied back.
It was perfect day for such fooling around in a taildragger. Ten to 12 knots of wind out of the south and dry for the past couple of days so the grass was just that right consistencyónot dry enough to raise dust, but not wet enough to stain up the gear legs and belly. When the windís out of the south here, it favors 23, but 13 works too if you donít mind a little crosswind. Remember Pattern A and Pattern B from your instrument training? I like to do a runway version of that with a takeoff from 23 and then a right turn into the downwind for 13, which has right traffic. A takeoff from that runway intersects the downwind of 23 and so forth and so forth and so forth.
The Cubís natural altitude for such machinations is about 300 feet, so if I have my druthers, thatís what Iíll fly the pattern at. And ďdruthersĒ means thereís no one around to whine over the Unicom about the damn Cub flying a low, tight pattern again. Three hundred feet is high enough to be safe, but low enough to see the geckos chasing bugs on the taxiways. It also makes for nice, tight carving turns to final that are way more interesting than a half-mile drag-in.
Repeated, unmolested landings in any airplaneóbut especially a taildraggeróare the great teacher of polished technique. In a perfect three pointer, the Cub stick does an unmistakable give-up aft as the wheels touch just at the stall, plainly declaring thereís not enough energy for it to fly anymore. Thereís no fear of a bounce and you could stop on a dime, if the Cub had brakes. It doesnít, but who needs Ďem?
When crosswind shopping, Iíll usually pick one from the left, maybe because Iím left handed. But with a south wind, the cross blows from the right so I took the opportunity to plant one wheel on the grass and fly it along the runway. A little bouncy at first, but once you get the bank and rudder matched to the speed; perfection.†I did a couple of those just for the challenge. Stay on your game with exercises like that and crosswinds hold little fear.
Into this communing with ancient aviation, I allow only one technological intrusion, other than the radio: an iPhone Bluetoothed to a LightSpeed Zulu headset for music. Thatís the other good part of no radio traffic; no broken squelch to mute the music. I have a special Cub mix playlist, equal parts of blues, jazz and a little Motown. Wheel landings are better with a soundtrack.†
Iím sure Iím not alone in saying I grow weary of discussions about the extinction of avgas, how weíre regulating ourselves to death and the cost of new airplanes. Sometimes I just gotta clean my head out by actually flying an airplane just for the hell of flying an airplane. Yíall can solve those other problems, because Iím about to head out the door to do it again.