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

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 justa 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’sairframe. Leaseback aircraft are all old models, generally bustedup.

So, anyway, Ray Harding, the owner operator of the flight school,had this barbecue. Flight schools were like that, once. Flightschools 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. Wewould leave at 30 before light, take every aircraft in the place, andgo 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 thiswould need to be a coordinated flight with one flight leader. Leadship would operate the only radio, and get tower clearance for thebuzz job.

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

As any pilot could tell you, instructors can only fly from theright 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. Sodid the tower. So did the departing commercial flight {I will notmention the airline} that we blew through.

Anyway, I flew with Ray. Ray is one of those guys that had flownso long, he could do anything with an airplane. I was one of thoseguys that took things slowly and methodically and carefully. And hewanted to demonstrate to this 16 hour student who hadn’t soloed yetabout 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 thesame back on the taxiway. Since the wind was from the north… Rayapproached at about three knots over stall. I don’t know which wasscreaming louder, me or the stall warning horn. He dropped the fortydegrees

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

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

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

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

So, naturally, the FAA had to fix this with an AD. The 152 was a150, with the O-200 100 horsepower engine changed to an O-235-L2C 110horsepower engine. Therefore, with more power to horse you out of abad condition, the FAA decided to bring in those 40 degreeFowlers.

‘Uh, we don’t know, somebody told us, once, maybe, flaps inducedrag. We don’t know, maybe a student would try to take off with 40degrees of flaps deployed. Uh, maybe, I suppose, possibly, it mightnot take off that way. You gotta put this here pinyon on theflapomechanworken to limit flap deployment to 30 degrees on the 152model. 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 overhere. I flew an hour to work, and an hour back home. Five days aweek. 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 atTims Air Park, continuing west over lake Travis, and being returnedeast to Austin 13R. This is wasteful of both time and fuel, nether ofwhich you want to expend after a few years of doing this in theevening returning home. And I never did figure out why the FAA wantedto scare all those students on every return trip.

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

“Request 18 hold short 13 right.” The tower controller held themic open long enough for me to hear the ground controller in thebackground: “50 bucks says he doesn’t make it." Oh, it’s a whole lotlonger 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 off13R. With practice, I got better. Gear down almost right on start ofpavement, and full stop well before 13R. After a suitable consistentdemonstration ability on command, the tower approved a 18 hold shortof 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 anotherairport.

However, there is a big difference between 30 degrees and 40degrees when you want to arrive slow and stop fast. What I did inthat 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.