King for a Day (Of the Pattern)


One thing I like about Florida is that summer comes early, marked by two events-the snowbirds go home and take the traffic jams with them and the weather gets warmer. Eventually, itll get hot, but Im reptilian by nature and the weather suits my clothes, as the old bluesmen say. Its Cub weather.

With less road traffic, theres also-for at least a period until high summer-less air traffic. And that suits my sensibilities for, in addition to being reptilian, Im 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 thats 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. Id 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 go…and 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 consistency-not dry enough to raise dust, but not wet enough to stain up the gear legs and belly. When the winds out of the south here, it favors 23, but 13 works too if you dont 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 Cubs natural altitude for such machinations is about 300 feet, so if I have my druthers, thats what Ill fly the pattern at. And druthers means theres 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 airplane-but especially a taildragger-are 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 theres not enough energy for it to fly anymore. Theres no fear of a bounce and you could stop on a dime, if the Cub had brakes. It doesnt, but who needs em?

When crosswind shopping, Ill usually pick one from the left, maybe because Im 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. Thats 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.

Im sure Im not alone in saying I grow weary of discussions about the extinction of avgas, how were 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. Yall can solve those other problems, because Im about to head out the door to do it again.

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