How I Learned to Fly: You Can't Do That in a Cessna 150, Can You?

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A mixed gaggle of Texas students and instructors decide to buzz the Austin tower on an early morning "Dawn Patrol."

TrainingI took my primary flight training in Cessna 150s. The 152 was just a new bird, the first one at Birds Nest just fresh from the factory, and unsold. It would be mine, but not until primary flight training {test of the landing gear trunion} was over on somebody else's airframe. Leaseback aircraft are all old models, generally busted up.

So, anyway, Ray Harding, the owner operator of the flight school, had this barbecue. Flight schools were like that, once. Flight schools had students, once. There were flight schools, once. Anyway, after much food and beer, this idea was hatched - dawn patrol.

We would pair into twos - a flight instructor and his student. We would leave at 30 before light, take every aircraft in the place, and go buzz the tower over at Austin. This was before ARSAs were invented {Austin was the first ARSA}.

Most of these birds didn't have exactly operable avionics, so this would need to be a coordinated flight with one flight leader. Lead ship would operate the only radio, and get tower clearance for the buzz job.

The performance mix of this gaggle was extreme. The fly baby was about 60 knots flat out. Some of the other stuff was nearly at stall at that speed. The gaggle would need to hold together, at least in the airport traffic area. Therefore, instructor would fly left seat, student would assist from the right seat. Too much beer during mission the planning stage.

As any pilot could tell you, instructors can only fly from the right seat. Students can't yet fly from the left seat {so it wasn't going to from the right seat either}. We had a really good time. So did the tower. So did the departing commercial flight {I will not mention the airline} that we blew through.

Anyway, I flew with Ray. Ray is one of those guys that had flown so long, he could do anything with an airplane. I was one of those guys that took things slowly and methodically and carefully. And he wanted to demonstrate to this 16 hour student who hadn't soloed yet about the qualities of this aircraft.

The 34 runway at Bird Nest had about a 150 foot section before the first turn off. Well, now its a turn off. That was intended to be the winter time turn on for departure on 34. Landing turnoff on 34 was intended to be at the far end of the runway, 2500 feet away, and the same back on the taxiway. Since the wind was from the north... Ray approached at about three knots over stall. I don't know which was screaming louder, me or the stall warning horn. He dropped the forty degrees

of flaps well before the threshold was reached. Final approach was in pure ground effect. He planted the mains 2" in from the edge of the "pavement", laid on the brakes, and took that turn off with full ailerons. He left a little rubber on the runway, but not much. There was never any doubt as to the resulting outcome being other than safe. Ray could just do that kind of stuff with an airplane. He knew exactly what the margins were.

Nobody, of course, believed me. The officially FAA sanctioned book of performance figures said you can't do that. Every instructor tried. You couldn't do that. Yes, he could, I was there!

The 150 has 40 degrees of flap travel. The first 10 degrees gets you lots of added lift, and a little additional drag. Twenty degrees gets you a bunch more lift and a bunch more drag. Thirty degrees is a little more lift, and gobs of drag. Forty degrees is air brakes. When them barn door Fowlers gets out 40 degrees into the wind, that bird is going to zero airspeed rather maximally quickly.

New students are always trying to land 3/4 of the way down the runway. That 40 degrees has saved more than one trainer airframe. Old beat up airplanes misused by students tend to have their share of engine outages. The 40 degrees allows this airframe to be landed in the space of a normal Texas driveway, if you have to. I was there, and saw it done. OK, when the airframe stopped moving, the stall warning horn stopped blowing, and it was just me screaming. But I saw it done.

So, naturally, the FAA had to fix this with an AD. The 152 was a 150, with the O-200 100 horsepower engine changed to an O-235-L2C 110 horsepower engine. Therefore, with more power to horse you out of a bad condition, the FAA decided to bring in those 40 degree Fowlers.

'Uh, we don't know, somebody told us, once, maybe, flaps induce drag. We don't know, maybe a student would try to take off with 40 degrees of flaps deployed. Uh, maybe, I suppose, possibly, it might not take off that way. You gotta put this here pinyon on the flapomechanworken to limit flap deployment to 30 degrees on the 152 model. You didn't have to do this on the 150 model, because it had less horsepower.'

So, anyway, I got this job teaching over there, and lived over here. I flew an hour to work, and an hour back home. Five days a week. For a couple of years. I got pretty good.

In the summer, Austin favors 13R. In coming from College Station, that meant being vectored through all the students in the pattern at Tims Air Park, continuing west over lake Travis, and being returned east to Austin 13R. This is wasteful of both time and fuel, nether of which you want to expend after a few years of doing this in the evening returning home. And I never did figure out why the FAA wanted to scare all those students on every return trip.

I started requesting 18 clearance. At first, they allowed that only when there was no other traffic in sight. Then, only when there was no other traffic for 13R scheduled to arrive. Then, I decided to try a Ray Harding.

"Request 18 hold short 13 right." The tower controller held the mic open long enough for me to hear the ground controller in the background: "50 bucks says he doesn't make it." Oh, it's a whole lot longer than 150 feet, I think. And I wasn't a student no more.

I used all of the runway, right up to 13R, but kept the nose off 13R. With practice, I got better. Gear down almost right on start of pavement, and full stop well before 13R. After a suitable consistent demonstration ability on command, the tower approved a 18 hold short of 13R with traffic inbound to 13R. Once, there was a dual arrival, but I didn't need any of the runway anywhere near the intersection. We kept this up until I stopped teaching and moved to another airport.

However, there is a big difference between 30 degrees and 40 degrees when you want to arrive slow and stop fast. What I did in that 152 {the tower should not know this} was challenging, even though trivial in a 150. All towers today don't know that there is a difference. If you have to crash land in a populated municipal area, I recommend a 150, but not a 152.