King for a Day (Of the Pattern)

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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.

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Comments (13)

"I'm sure I'm not alone in saying I grow weary of discussions about the extinction of avgas, how we're 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."

You are not alone in this. I find flying great therapy in forgetting about the rest of what's going on in the world and I always feel a little bit happier at the end of a flight, no matter how long or short it was. It's too bad more people don't just go flying rather than complaining about it, but then I suppose if they did, they'd be complaining about that low, tight Cub pattern.

Posted by: Gary Baluha | April 29, 2014 1:36 PM    Report this comment

Sometimes, the phrase "I'm not happy until you're not happy." isn't always confined to the FAA.

Posted by: BRANDON FREEMAN | April 29, 2014 2:05 PM    Report this comment

Paul, "Y'all can solve those other problems, because I'm about to head out the door to do it again."
We can wait 'til after your last full stop landing, I understand. I too have been blessed with being able to become one with the flying environment while in the cockpit. Best remedy.

Posted by: Rafael Sierra | April 29, 2014 2:12 PM    Report this comment

Paul - LOVE it; - Basie, Armstrong, Getz, and the Supreme's AND good ole "stick n rudder low and slow" a-v-ating - now THAT's real flying!

Posted by: Rod Beck | April 29, 2014 3:12 PM    Report this comment

Lefties rule, whether an airport gecko or desert roadrunner.

Good reminder on crosswinds, too. But the freedom - Heard from the Cub's engine and wind, Seen from 'above' the million dollar houses (who was it again suffering from pathetic envy?), finally, Felt by the return to grass from a sweet landing, are all a perfect reminder to keep fighting the good fight for GA. At least, eventually, sometime after that last full stop landing...

Posted by: David Miller | April 29, 2014 3:25 PM    Report this comment

I used to fly a 1940 J-3 and totally understand. My mount also had the "FAA friendly" big numbers on the wing. The rising clatter of the engine on takeoff with the door open, bouncing & trundling down the field, the smell of gas & dope, the kite-like rocking in the breeze on final, straining to reach the carb heat knob, the (terrible) visibility from the rear seat...ahhh, you're making me homesick, Paul!

Posted by: A Richie | April 29, 2014 3:42 PM    Report this comment


Posted by: Jack Healan | April 29, 2014 7:16 PM    Report this comment

Paul, if any of the folks in those million dollar homes ever flew a Cub, they were looking up at you with envy.

Posted by: Richard Montague | April 30, 2014 7:25 AM    Report this comment

Definitely "aero-therapy", right?


Posted by: Cary Alburn | April 30, 2014 9:51 AM    Report this comment

You paint a nice picture, Paul.

Posted by: ROGER BESTLAND | April 30, 2014 11:10 AM    Report this comment

Yeah. The LSA I get to fly in has Dynon glass avionics. Though it's neat, sometimes I like to dim them to zero viz and just go by the rudimentary backup gauges on good days.

Posted by: Matthew Lee | May 1, 2014 12:42 AM    Report this comment

This reminds me of my best friend, who rebuilt a 1939 Taylorcraft. I flew with him on its maiden flight in the late 1960s(after the FAA inspection) and several flights after while he learned how to fly and land the plane. He flew and I took photos. Great plane and he was a very good pilot who always made me feel safe over Central California's mountains. Keep enjoying the peace while in the air.

Posted by: Richard Yeast | May 1, 2014 5:21 AM    Report this comment

Maybe I should get my phone connected to the intercom in the Pawnee I use for towing gliders. Then again, the towplane is so loud not even AC/DC could be heard clearly!
In between landings I'll sit in the quiet cockpit with the windows down, watching contrails overhead or the buzzards circling in the local thermals. It's a nice reflective time, even better in the spring before the summer heat makes it more comfortable to sit under the shade of the wing. It think its funny that airports are often some of the quietest places around, even though they are supposed to be "noisy" places according to the locals.
10 good tows with >5 smooth landings are great day for me!
For all of those with negative thoughts about the future of aviation, I highly recommend soaring for cheap, quiet aviation fun.

Posted by: Scott Thomason | May 1, 2014 6:31 AM    Report this comment

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