Replica Spirit Of St. Louis Flies
In 2010 I had the opportunity to fly the Spirit replica once around the patch with Sean Elliott as PIC. It absolutely responds like a Mack truck without power steering. How Lindbergh wrestled in to Paris is incredible.
This aircraft is one of two at Oshkosh. It’s not a true replica in that the fuel tanks have been reduced in size to convert it to a tandem configuration with the command pilot forward and secondary aft. The second example hangs in the museum and is a much more accurate replica. Mrs. Lindbergh autographed the fabric inside the cockpit.
I was able to fly EAA’s replica. As explained by EAA’s pilot–it isn’t the same airplane–the fuel system is obviously different, and the engine is different–HOWVER, the handling is the same. It is the worst-handling airplane of the 342 unique types I’ve flown.
Some have said “Lindbergh made it difficult to fly on purpose to stay awake.” The reality is that Lindbergh laid out the specs for it, and because of the short time he had to beat the competitors, they settled on a rework of an existing mailplane design.
Prior to the flight, we discussed the handling–and the pilot asked “Which seat would you like–the front seat, or the “Lindbergh seat”? Obviously, I chose the rear seat–though the front seat does offer better visibility. Takeoff and climb were not an issue, but we took the aircraft to altitude to do some airwork before landings–and I’m glad the instructor insisted on it! Because the rear seat is blind, we did a series of alternating 90 degree turns in the climb. I initially had problems with coordination for adverse yaw–the pilot explained “Ryan extended the wings to carry the load–moving the ailerons out and giving them a longer arm. They didn’t do anything with the tail, however, and Lindbergh mentioned it after his first test flight. Ryan offered to rework the vertical and horizontal controls–Lindbergh asked “How Long”? They replied “3 days”–and Lindbergh said I don’t HAVE 3 days.” To compensate, they extended the control stick to give more leverage. To start a turn, lead with the rudder, and LOTS OF IT–the long control stick is moved to the side (far farther than any other aircraft I’ve ever flown–perhaps 12″ measured at the top of the stick–and the stick then is moved back smartly. The aircraft bleeds speed in a steep turn–“keep them shallow.” All of this has to undone in the rollout–resulting in large movements of the controls–not “a gentle pressure” as we have come to expect. There is a large slip-skid indicator in the cabin–I could almost HEAR the ball hitting the end of the race! After a few minutes, I got the hang of it. (It should be noted that at the time the Spirit was manufactured, there were no standards as to how an aircraft should fly–that work was done by Bob Gilruth for NACA (and later head of NASA)–setting the standards for aircraft certification that allowed the US to set the standards for the world.
We did a couple of approaches to stalls (the pilot didn’t want to do full stalls) before heading back for landings. “Full stall or wheel landings?” I asked. He said “You know, I have more time and landings in Spirit-type aircraft than anyone in the world, and I never know!” When flying from the rear seat, I try for a wheel landing, and if it doesn’t work out, I do a full stall.” Following his advice, I did a continuous turn from the downwind, so I could see the runway out the left window–base to final at about 250′. From the rear seat, I was able to see the left main wheel, and simply “flew it on” to the runway–a good landing. Next time, I tried a full stall–the airplane quickly “unhooked” on me, and dropped it in. The third landing was back to a wheel landing.
The takeaway–EVERYTHING ABOUT THE AIRPLANE WAS A COMPROMISE–IT WAS BUILT SPECIFICALLY FOR THE NY-PARIS FLIGHT. Every effort was made to save weight–right down to “no starter, battery, or even a carburetor heat box (which nearly got Lindbergh during the ferry flight to New York–he had one installed). The fuel system was a nightmare–the controls were poorly done (as discussed above). Lindbergh had a specific request–keep the fuel in front of me–too many long-distance pilots were killed when they crashed and the fuel tanks crushed them. I’m SO GLAD to have had the opportunity to fly it–and SO GLAD THAT AIRPLANES TODAY DON’T FLY LIKE THAT!
Hanging Up The Spurs
Beautiful, Captain. Blue skies and tailwinds, and may others be as kind as you are.
Thank you for the post, especially the very touching second part. Like everyone I certainly do hope not to succumb to Alzheimer’s but should that wish fail to come true, I’d certainly appreciate to have some of my long-term-memory rekindled by a flight like this.
Poll: What Should We Do About Replacing 100LL Avgas?
- Moving to an unleaded fuel will happen sooner or later, due either to EPA mandates or the TEL manufacturer getting out of the business. Time is running out. For those engines that can use premium mogas, the FAA needs to issue a blanket STC to allow that and require all states to permit alcohol free gasoline sales for marine and aviation uses. For high power engines, some modifications will be necessary. The government should allow any costs involved to be tax deductible to the owner to help with the costs. It is also time for the engine manufacturers to engineer modifications that will work for their engines.
- Fed grants to install UL pumps because PAFI disincentivized such investment.
- Provide regulatory relief so that innovation can solve the problem with more modern engines and easier STC approval for retrofits of new or modified engines.
- More homebuilts. Then you don’t have to worry about STCs, FAA fuel approvals, etc. But as long as we’re welded to the idea that we have to have “one fuel to rule them all” we’ll never get anywhere.
- Gradual transition. The GA threat isn’t that acute as we deal with truly small amounts, but needs to be resolved – gradually.
- Authorize immediate use of unleaded auto fuel for aircraft that can use it.
- Incentivize adoption of newer technology engines that do not require specialized fuels and let the market solve the problem.
- Mass production of new technology engines at a normal price point. Let the free market decide not the FAR system for non-commercial, certified aircraft. Lycoming and Continental will never change the design from the 1930s era as long as the FAA is protecting the status quo.
- Change engines that do not need 100LL Avgas.
- Government initiatives ($) for engine and aftermarket manufacturers to develop mods or new engines to accept mogas or 100UL.
- Allow R&D to solve the problem.
- Gradually phase out 100LL completely. Focus resources on developing airplanes/engines to use Jet A. In the long run, one fuel pump at the airport is the best solution.
- Move rapidly to diesel/jet A.
- Diesel engine replacement.
- I was there for the transition from 80 octane to 100lll. All the fears were unfounded.
- Get serious about mogas at airports.
- Convert all piston aircraft to DIESEL engines.
- Promote the use of MOGAS in the airplanes that can use it safely to reduce the lead emissions and lower the demand for 100LL.
- Demand that 94UL be more widely available.
- Immediately: STC aircraft capable of using 87 ethanol free mogas; 2 Assure availability of ETOH free supplies of 87 & up Mogas at airports or for transport to airports.
- Continue technical development. Shell can figure this out!
- Treat it like the neurotoxin it is, add about $20/gallon, and let the market sort it out.
- 100UL uncertainty helps kill GA.
- Get ready yourself for when 100LL vanishes – whether its legislated out of existence or economics force it out it will eventually go the way of the dodo- and you’d best prepare yourself ’cause Uncle Sam (and the rest of the population) doesn’t care about your rich boy hobby.
- Buy a Rotax.
- Electric engines will make this a moot point.
- Use 94UL.
- Let’s fix the big contributors to the problem first. GA has a pretty small foot print compared to many other industries and transportation companies.
- 93 Oct E10 Autogas.
- Future engines should be made for either jet A or car gas only.
- SWIFT 94UL is already certified for 70% of fleet. Make it more price competitive.
- Develop a LL that won’t lose its knock rating for many years.
- Total UL 91.
- Go electric!
- Continue researching a viable replacement.
- Reduce overregulation of new airframes.
- Make non ethanol no gas more readily available. I’ve never seen it but I can use it.
- Switch to Diesel engines using jet A. And ban new 100LL construction.
- Electric propulsion.
- Mandate that all GA airports offer 92UL mogas.
- I have read a lot and cannot tell if my aircraft will work with new formulations. Publish a best guess list per formulation. Then ask.
- Ban it and subsidize turbine conversions.
- Support GAMI’s formulation.
- Push for FAA certification of Diesels that are in final development.
- For planes that can use it make 92UL (swift) available at all airports.
- Leave it alone. We’re wasting money.
- Make 94UL readily available across the nation. Continue incentives to develop the 100UL. Let’s get the lead out!
- Require compliance for all new engines and at overhaul for all aircraft currently in service.
- Develop small, fuel-efficient, low-cost turboprops and replace recips for good and slowly.
- Just drop 100LL.
- Swift fuels.
- Convert to electric.
- Keep doing what we’re doing. i.e. do nothing while making it look like we’re doing something.
- Fund development.
- Start charging more for 100LL, but leave the non-lead fuels at the market rate.
- Switch to ethanol-free mogas.
- Development needs to continue because it will be a cleaner fuel better for the engine & environment.
- Provide UL MoGas for all of us that can use it.
- Distribute UL94 widely.
- As a kid growing up in the late 40s/early 50s, I lived in an apartment filled with lead paint and lead water pipes. I survived. Look how I turned out!
- Take up sailing!