Monday, December 15, 2014

The Busted Pilots of Instagram

By now I'm sure many of you have seen "The Pilots of Instagram" piece that's been going around the interwebs. I'm choosing not to post a link because the author printed the names and airlines of the pilots involved, even in cases where it's pretty clear that safety was not compromised and not even certain that regulations were violated. Even if the pilots did mess up, viral press like this has the potential to ruin careers where more measured discipline might be more appropriate. You can find the article easily enough if you want to.

That said, the piece was surprisingly accurate and nuanced for a general news source (if that's what you call it; I'd never heard of Quartz before this). The author had a solid grasp on the particulars of the new FAR 121.542 regulation and how it interfaces with the more established sterile cockpit rule. I dare say the author has much better knowledge of the legalities of in-flight photo-taking than most airline pilots do. I wrote about the new regulations back in June, when I learned about them several months after they took effect. Since then most airline pilots to whom I've mentioned the new 121.542 were either unaware it existed or had an inaccurate idea of its provisions (erroneously thinking that only laptops were banned, that phones are ok in airplane mode, etc). Most airlines, it seems, did little to educate their pilots about the new law.

In some cases, such as my airline, many personal electronic devices were already prohibited by the Flight Operations Manual (FOM). Though it contains airline policy, the FOM is approved by the FAA and technically has the full force of the FARs (and even supersedes them, where there is conflicting guidance). Despite this, it is my experience that pilots tend to be less heedful of FOM rules than the FARs, and in many cases the FOM has considerable grey areas open to interpretation, whereas the FAA's stance on most major regs is well known. Here's a good example. In my June post, I wrote that my airline's FOM already prohibited any camera with electronic functions, which would rule out nearly every modern example. Later, a check airman pointed out that my interpretation hinged on the meaning of a single word, and that based on the use of that word elsewhere in the FOM and the FARs, this provision would not appear to prohibit cameras that were otherwise permitted by FAR 121.542 (that is, cameras with no wireless capability). So my new understanding is that in a non-sterile phase of flight, I can take a photo with my Nikon D5000 SLR, as it has no capability that would render it a "personal wireless communications device." I could then, after the flight is over, insert the SD card into my laptop and upload the photo to Instagram, or Facebook, or use it for one of my Flying articles, all without being in technical violation of the regulation.

There's another loophole mentioned in my previous piece that very well may have been at play with some of the photos and videos referenced in this article. The FAA specifically said in the final ruling that 121.542 does not apply to jumpseaters. When I see a photo or a video that appears to be taken from near aircraft centerline rather than the left or right side of the cockpit, I tend to suspect it was taken by a jumpseater. For that matter, what of a first-generation GoPro with no wireless capability that is set up on a suction mount in non-sterile flight and then allowed to run through landing and all the way to the gate? Depending on the provisions of that airline's FOM, I can see one arguing that this meets the letter of the regs. In most cases, it's very difficult to tell just from the photo or video whether it was taken legally. Even in seemingly egregious case, such as a photo on short final, it can be difficult to tell whether safety was compromised. What if it was a still from a video shot by the aforementioned mounted camera? If mounted out of the way, I find it hard to accept that any lives put in danger.

Here's the thing though. It's one thing to take a photo or video in the privacy of your own cockpit under circumstances that are arguably safe and legal. It is another thing to put that photo or footage, with identifying information, on a website that allows anyone to view it (or in the case of Instagram, encourages maximizing public views). I myself have had to become a lot more careful about this over the years. I once took a picture at PHL while parked on a taxiway with engines shut down on an extended ground hold, and later posted it to this blog. The FOM of the airline I was with at the time made clear this was a non-sterile period, and allowed us to open the cockpit door under these circumstances. I was immediately lambasted by a commenter for violating sterile cockpit, and why not? I certainly couldn't prove that we weren't in a sterile phase of ground operations. Likewise, the outed pilots of Instagram that posted landing footage taken from aircraft centerline can't prove that a jumpseater was holding that camera. When it comes to the court of public opinion, the concept of innocent until proven guilty definitely does not apply; nor does it hold much weight when facing company discipline.

Honestly, I really dislike that my job has come to this, that recording the neat things that I do and see on a daily basis and sharing them with my friends would put my livelihood at risk. It is what it is; going against the grain and posting this stuff online is almost inevitably going to end up with someone trying to destroy you. I'll certainly continue to share inflight pics and vids with you, my friends...but they're generally going to be taken from a single-engine airplane flying under FAR 91. For the past few years that's been my flying club Cub. As of today, however, you're going to start seeing another pretty yellow airplane cropping up in my multimedia offerings. More on that in my next post!

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Sixteen Again

At my new airline, as at Horizon, many of the captains I am flying with are my parents' age or a little younger. Most of these have adult children and part of the standard "getting to know you chit-chat" is inquiring how many kids they have, what they do for work, what their marital status is, and whether any grandkids are on the way. Most of these children's lives were spent while their father (or mother) worked at a major airline. Which is to say: most had an upper-middle-class upbringing, often involving private schools and world travel and the chance to attend a good university. They tend to fall in either the brilliant-and-going-places category or else good-for-nothing-and-probably-moving-home, at least in their parent's retelling. What I not yet heard is even a single example of a child who is now an airline pilot. This makes sense, in a way. Most captains in this age bracket have offspring that came of age around or just after 9/11, when the airlines were in full economic free-fall and pilot group after pilot group was facing bankruptcy or liquidation. Nobody in this situation would encourage their kids to follow in their footsteps. Many have said as much.

Lately, though, I've also flown with quite a few newer captains who've been with the airline for "only" 14 or 15 years. These pilots suffered the effects of 9/11 much more acutely than their senior brethren; many spent months or years on furlough, and they've stagnated in the right seat since. However, their kids were young at the time and are just now getting to the age where they have to pick a career field. Surprisingly, I've flown with three or four younger captains whose kids are actively pursing being an airline pilot. They're either taking flight lessons, are planning to, or are a Private Pilot already, and are selecting an aviation college for their advanced training. All have their parents' enthusiastic support despite the formidable costs involved. Some of this is probably attributable to the upbeat attitude around my airline at the moment. There's a lot of hiring and upgrading going on, the company is making a lot of money, the profit-sharing checks are handsome, and the pilot contract has been slowly inching up towards pre-9/11 levels. My friends at other major airlines report that morale there is considerably worse, understandable since they're all still working through the merger glitches that my airline had to deal with five years ago.

It's made me wonder what I would do if I was sixteen again and looking for a career to pursue, knowing what I know now. When I was sixteen in 1997, the major airline bankruptcies and furloughs were starting to fade from memory, profits and hiring were on the upswing, and Kit Darby was declaring that the biggest pilot shortage in history was right around the corner. I loved flying and thought I was good at it. The idea of flying heavy iron across the world fascinated me. Flight training was a lot of money even then, but I figured the eventual payoff justified it. Had I been able to predict 9/11 and its fallout, had I known that payrates would be gutted and retirements stolen and huge swaths of the domestic networks outsourced to lowest-bidding regional airlines and flown for inferior pay with zero job stability, I'm not sure my decision would have been the same. Had I foreseen it would take 15 years of hard work and low pay and cross-country moves and occasionally dangerous flying to get to the majors, I might not have taken the leap. If my gift of prophecy had included insight into the runaway executive pay in this country coupled with the continuous shrinking of the middle class, I might have gone to business school.

It's probably good I didn't know the future, because I've enjoyed life and flying over the last fifteen years despite the career bumps along the way, and I seem to have arrived at the majors at a good time. But what would I tell a sixteen-year-old version of myself starting out right now? That consolidation has ensured continued profitability and stability at the remaining major carriers for years to come? That the mandatory retirement numbers are incontrovertible and the pilot shortage is real this time? That the upheaval in the regional sector will have played itself out by the time he's qualified and he can expect a more defined, secure career path? Or would I say that the inexorable march of automation has ensured the continual decline of the airline pilot's worth, or that the capacity discipline exhibited by the major airlines of late will attract new entrants and fresh upheaval, or that cabotage is inevitable and the US airline industry will go the way of the US maritime industry? Hell, for all I know airliners could be pilotless in 30 years. By the same token medicine could be automated by then, tort reform may put thousands of lawyers out of work, or the revolution could come and MBAs will swing from every lamppost. I don't know what's going to happen.

I do know this: Aviation has been an unstable, irrational industry since the day Wilbur cracked up on Flight Four and will likely continue to be thus for a long time to come, consolidation be damned. Even in the salad days airline pilots were known to bitch about pay and working conditions, and will continue to do so until they're finally replaced by robots. Very few pilots will have smooth careers from beginning to end. Most of those getting into aviation for money, lifestyle, prestige, or excitement will find one or all of those things lacking at some point in their career, and it may be enough to kill whatever love of flying they had in the first place. For those who love to fly, though, and can't imagine doing else, the joy of flight transcends what's going on in the industry at any given moment. If you are that sort of person, and you can be happy despite low income, birthdays and holidays spent away from family, and uncertainty about the future, you are probably well-suited for a career in aviation. The good news is that at some point along the way, there's a good chance that you'll happen into a sweet well-paid gig that affords a decent lifestyle. As long as those things are considered side benefits, and the flying is the main goal, it's still a pretty decent way to make a living. Of course, if you're an airplane-mad sixteen-year-old like I was, you probably don't need some old codger to tell you that.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Kick It Out?

The following video has been making the rounds on the interwebs, showing a landing on runway 27L at Chicago O'Hare on a windy day last week:

I initially thought the plane was an AA 737, but closer inspection shows it to be a JungleBus operated for AA by Republic Airways. I have about 5000 hours in the airplane and have made my share of crosswind landings up to and including the published demonstrated crosswind limit of 38 knots (one of which was on 27L at ORD, actually). At NewCo this was considered a hard limit inclusive of gusts, and our FAA principal inspector later lowered our limit to 28 knots steady with gusts to 38. The airplane handled crosswinds very well, with more than enough rudder authority even at 38 knots crosswind component, and enough nacelle and wingtip clearance to use proper wing-low crosswind technique. In big wind, you'd start to kick out the crab and establish the aileron input just before beginning the flare, at about 50 feet.

The technique shown in the video has been criticized by some pilots, and it's definitely not ideal (especially considering the crosswind component was only 15-20 knots), but I don't think the landing was nearly as hairy as the video shows. This was shot from a long ways off using a very high-zoom lens, which greatly exaggerates angular differences (note that 27L looks about 4000' long and 400' wide!). I would guess they landed with somewhere around 5-10 degrees of crab - again, not ideal, but likely within design limits for JungleBus' robust landing gear. Looking at the video, it appears that the pilot attempted to kick out the crab late in the landing flare and didn't put in a corresponding aileron input, which rolled the plane a bit left, where the wind caught the upwind wing, so they touched down on the downwind gear while still crabbed.

I think most airlines would prefer the occasional sideloaded landing to a wingtip or nacelle strike, and for this reason many actually teach a wings-level crosswind technique. The idea is to wait until late in the flare and then kick out as much crab as possible just before touchdown; if you time it right, the plane will be aligned with centerline but on the ground before any side drift develops. You still use some upwind aileron, but only enough to hold wings level. This is a commonly taught technique on the 747 and 737 due to low nacelle clearance, on Airbus products due to the flight control software making cross-controlling difficult, and on the CRJ-200 and JungleBus' little brother JungleJet due to low wingtip clearance. I do not know whether Republic teaches the "kick it out" method on the JungleBus or the JungleJets operated by sister company Chautauqua.

In the JungleBus you have 16 degrees of bank before striking a wingtip or a nacelle. The former requires an unusually high pitch and the latter a nose-low attitude. When landing in 38 knots of crosswind, the most bank I ever saw was about 6-7 degrees. You're typically using Flaps 5 with a lot of wind additive, so you're looking at approach speeds of 140-160 knots depending on weight. There's no reason to use the "kick it out" method; the plane sideslips and lands beautifully on the upwind main wheel with perhaps 3/4 rudder deflection and 1/3 aileron deflection on touchdown, and increasing the aileron deflection throughout the landing roll greatly aids in keeping the plane tracking down centerline. It's not very different to how I land the Cub.

The Mad Dog absolutely hates being landed with any crab at all; doing so nearly always results in a nasty bounce and dramatic gyrations as the tires skip across the runway. For this reason my airline teaches a very similar wing-low technique to the one I used in JungleBus, with cross-control inputs made somewhat lower but still fairly early in the landing flare. There is less wingtip clearance on the Mad Dog than JungleBus, and the ailerons are far less effective (they're manually controlled via cables to servo tabs); the control wheel is close to full deflection on touchdown at the crosswind limit of 30 knots. I know this because a few days before the above video, I landed in Atlanta with winds 310 at 38 knots (twice in one day, actually).

It's easy to pile on the pilots in the video above, but I can say that over the course of thousands of landings I've made some real doozies and was just fortunate that no cameras were rolling. The same goes for any professional pilot flying. The pilot may have well been planning on using a wing-low technique but got a last minute sinker and he was just trying to save it from a hard touchdown. The last few seconds before landing get really busy when the winds are howling, and not just because of the crosswind - it's because your airspeed is often bouncing around +/- 10 knots, and you're making fairly dramatic pitch & power changes in response to floaters and sinkers. At the end of the day, this guy landed on centerline, in the touchdown zone, at what looked like a fairly low sink rate, and the plane appeared to handle the sideload fairly well. This was one of the first windy days since last spring, everyone's knocking the rust off, and no doubt we'll all refine our technique considerably as winter approaches.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Almost Home

Besides the better pay, work rules, and benefits, one of the reasons that so many young pilots aspire to fly for one of the remaining legacy network airlines is the variety of flying available to its pilots over the course of their careers. The "Big Three" have large networks covering the US, North America, and the entire world, with a large number of different aircraft types of various sizes, capabilities, makes, and levels of automation. Once the new American Airlines is fully integrated, for example, a newhire may find themselves flying an old-school MD83, a Boeing 737, an Airbus 320/319/321, or an Embraer 190. Moving up, they might fly internationally in a Boeing 757/767, A330, 777, or 787 - or they might stay on domestic narrowbody equipment for better seniority. They might delay upgrade for a better schedule, or they might chase the highest-paying left-seat position available. They might give up a pay raise to hold a base they live in or which features an easier commute. The options are many, and few pilots will make the exact same choices over the course of their career.

Personally I enjoy variety in my flying, which is one of the main things that made me wait out a class date at a legacy carrier rather than trying to get hired at an airline like jetBlue, Southwest, or Alaska. Those are fine companies that treat their pilots well, but they are also (for now) single-fleet operators with narrowbody equipment confined to North America. That's what I'm doing now and that's just fine for a few years, but I can't see doing it my entire career. My current airline has even greater fleet variety than American. Assuming that both my health and the state of the economy and my employer stays strong, I'll hopefully bid to widebody international equipment in a few years, do that until I upgrade on the Mad Dog or similar domestic narrowbody, and eventually go back to international in the left seat. Changing it up will help keep the flying from getting stale over the next 32 years to mandatory retirement (I hope to retire sooner...said every 33-year old pilot ever).

For now I'm just hoping to get home to Minneapolis as soon as possible. There is a Mad Dog base there and it's not really that senior, but there is a huge glut of newhires who happen to be from the Twin Cities who are trying to get home. Among the 2010 hires, I have a several friends who have been trying to get back ever since; they've been commuting to reserve in New York for much of the last four years. Considering this, I was thinking it would be a year or better before I could hold Minneapolis, but nevertheless kept it active in my online vacancy bid. Imagine my surprise when, several months ago, a vacancy award was published that had my name and "MSP Mad Dog FO" on it! Some 19 pilots senior to me and 8 junior to me got back to MSP in the same bid. I talked to a chief pilot shortly afterwards, and he showed me slated for a December 1st "conversion date." I was a bit doubtful; letting 20+ pilots go all at once would decimate the New York base. But as time went on and the December 1st date held firm, I allowed myself a glimmer of hope.

The December category lists were just published - and disappointingly, I'm still in New York, along with most of the senior pilots awarded MSP. The contract gives the company wide discretion on when they chose to convert vacancy awards, and they apparently realized that short-staffing New York immediately before the holidays and the return of winter weather was not in their best interests. That's ok. I know plenty of people forced to commute their entire careers. I'll likely commute again at some point in mine. For now, it's good to know that I'm coming home, and I only have to wait a few more months. For December, I'll be over 50% seniority in the New York Mad Dog base, raising the possibility of holding Christmas off in my very first year. I got Thanksgiving off in November. Minneapolis, like widebody international flying, will be there for me down the road. In the meantime I'm enjoying much better seniority than a probationary pilot would usually dare to hope for.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Out of Touch

I just got back from 10 days of sailing in the British Virgin Islands, attending the 33rd Annual Interline Regatta. It's my third year at the regatta, and was a blast as usual. It had an interesting beginning in that I and several teammates just barely beat Hurricane Gonzalo to the islands, flying to St Thomas on Oct 13th on one of the last flights and then catching the second-to-last ferry between St Thomas and Tortola. We rode out the storm on our charter boats in The Moorings' well-protected base in Road Town, and there it was actually a non-event with a bit of wind and very little rain. It turns out that although the hurricane rapidly intensified to Category II+ on Monday night, it also veered about 60 miles north of its predicted track, and so the BVI were spared though islands further east suffered damage. In St Martin, 37 boats were destroyed at anchor and one mariner aboard was killed.

The last rain bands passed by Tuesday afternoon, and after that it was beautiful weather for the remainder of the regatta, though unusual northwesterly winds prevailed in the storm's wake and faded to light air for the first few days of racing before the southeasterly trades resumed. Our group had three charter boats this year, and I alternated skippering a 41' Beneteau and our 50' Beneteau race boat. This is the third yacht charter I've skippered this year, my sixth sailing excursion since last September totaling some 43 days spent afloat. I'm getting more comfortable with big-boat handling as I gain experience, and have been able to get some of my closest friends and family members hooked on it too. For me, the real attraction of the Interline Regatta is not just the beautiful tropical surroundings or excellent sailing, it is the chance to spend ten days enjoying the company of some of my favorite people in the world, free of the hustle and bustle of everyday life.

It was time exceptionally free of outside distractions this year as my phone steadfastedly refused to connect to BVI voice and data networks, and most wifi connections proved similarly unusable. I'm not sure if it was post-hurricane network snafus or a problem with my phone. I've never had those issues in the BVI before. It didn't bother me much, except that Dawn stayed home this year and our only contact was nightly text messages and one phone call when within range of USVI cell towers on St John. I was also out of contact with Flying's editorial office during a critical stage of the publishing process, which resulted in my December column going to the printer before I had a chance to offer input on proposed changes. My editors will attest that I'm an obsessive perfectionist where the column is concerned - much more than I ever have been with the blog - and so while nobody will ever notice the difference but me, it was a bit frustrating. Lastly, the Yellow Cub Club's president was unsuccessfully trying to get ahold of me. I'll write more about this soon, but we recently sold Cub N77532 as it needed a restoration and few club members were willing to be without a plane to fly for a year or more. We bought a nice 1940 J-3C that was restored in the late 90s with the proceeds, but the club needed someone to fly it back from CVG. I had volunteered, but October proved to be a very bad month considering nearly all my off time was devoted to the regatta. Oh well; another club member is bringing it back in the next few days.

Since coming back from my ten days spent out of touch in the BVI, I've been unusually aware of how many people I see with their faces stuck to their smartphones, oblivious to the people around them. It's the world we live in and it's completely useless to go off on a screed about it. But maybe, just maybe, I'll make the extra effort to leave the phone in my pocket the next few weeks and engage with the real live persons around me. The electronic contacts will be there when I get back to them. But you never know when a potential life-long friend is sitting three feet away from you, just waiting to connect over a shared passion for sailing, motorcycles, travel, or flying.

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

A Trip to Catalina

Back in August I chartered a Beneteau 43-foot sailboat for five days out of Marina del Rey in Los Angeles with Dawn, my little brother Steve, and friends Lance, Ivy, Kelly, and Rob. We did a 4-day trip to Catalina Island, and then Steve and I spent an additional night anchored up at Paradise Cove near Malibu. We enjoyed beautiful weather and phenomenal sailing conditions, and I was able to get the entire crew training & practice time at each of the crew positions. It was actually my second time taking this boat to Catalina, as "Liberty" was the boat used for my ASA104 Bareboat Chartering course last September. Here's the really cool part: the charter company / sailing school, Blue Pacific Boating, hired Steve to make a promotional video from our trip. Steve is a multi-talented guy, and he did a really nice job with it (including enlisting our brother-in-law Jordan to write & record the music). I don't know about you, but it makes me want to head for the nearest body of water and jump on a sailboat! Watch it full-screen in 1080p.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Carbon Envy

I have only flown a handful of taildraggers in my life: the Piper PA16 Clipper, Aeronca Champ, and Bellanca Super Decathlon before I had my tailwheel endorsement, and the Cessna 170B and my club's current 1946 Piper Cub since. I look at Luscombes, Piper Pacers, and Stinson 108s on all the time, but I have yet to fly any of these. I just haven't put the necessary legwork and gumption into making contacts and scoring rides, I guess. Compare this to "Weasel," otherwise known as Eric Whyte, chairman of the AirVenture Cup race that I recently participated in. He's only a little older than me and has flown 105 aircraft types, many of them rare classics and warbirds. You can guess how he got his nickname!

I'm interested by the many variant aircraft that the Cub eventually spawned, from the Cub Special to the Super Cub to the Aviat Husky, but I have not flown any of them - until now. I recently had the opportunity to fly a brand new CubCrafters Carbon Cub SS, the newest and perhaps most impressive descendent of my humble J-3. Because I have no experience with the intervening and more equivalent aircraft, I can only compare the Carbon Cub with my own well-used 68-year-old club airplane, which inevitably pales in comparison. The Carbon Cub's empty weight is only 100 lbs heavier than the J-3, with 180 horsepower available vs. 75! But more about that in a minute.

I'll admit that I used my newfound "aviation journalist" status and accompanying press badge to score this little junket at Oshkosh. I did so on the advice of Jeff Skiles (most well known as the FO on US1549, but more recently a part of EAA leadership and a writer for Sport Aviation). Dawn and I hung out with Jeff for an hour at Oshkosh and afterwards sat in on an interview with CubCrafters' General Manager, Randy Lervold. Afterward Jeff arranged a flight for that evening and suggested I go up as well. "Being an aviation writer is all about collecting new experiences," he noted. "Airline flying and early career stories will only take you so far." Touché. Lervold immediately granted my request, though it was obvious I didn't have a Carbon Cub story in the works.

So on Monday evening, Dawn and I rode her motorbike to Hickory Oaks, a 2200' grass strip a few miles north of town that seemed to be in an entirely different universe than the bustling convention grounds. Five brand new Carbon Cubs sat prettily on the freshly mowed grass, looking perfectly at place as potential customers and sales reps milled about. The CC appears nearly identical to a Super Cub, as intended, but its underlying structure is in fact almost entirely different. It shares very little commonality with CubCrafters' Super Cub-derived Top Cub design. This is how it saves so much weight over the 80-year-old Cub airframe: a modern computer-aided design that eliminates unnecessary structure. For sure, there's some use of space age materials (cowling and spinner use the eponymous carbon fiber, for example) but it's still mostly a tube and fabric design. There's just a lot less tube than the Super Cub. Time will tell whether it makes a difference in durability. The Super Cub is so popular in places like the Alaska bush precisely because it's so over-engineered.

Lervold rightly points out that serious bush flying is not really what the Carbon Cub was intended for; that's the Top Cub's balliwick. The Carbon Cub was made for the recreational Light Sport market; the target audience is older, affluent, and downsizing into something fun that reminds them of the taildraggers of their youth while offering decent comfort and excellent performance. It certainly has that in spades; it is without question the best-performing LSA out there and arguably the most "airplane-like." This has stirred up considerable controversy in the LSA world. Like all LSAs, the Carbon Cub did not go through the rigorous Part 23 certification process; it was designed to meet less rigid ASTM standards. In order to qualify as an LSA, though, it was limited to a maximum gross weight of 1320 lbs and a max top speed of 120 knots. The airplane is clearly very capable of hauling much more and going considerably faster, and the Carbon Cub's critics argue that CubCrafters is promoting the airplane's performance with a wink and a nod regarding the certified limits.

They may have a point. As Lervold and Skiles climbed into the airplane for the first demo ride, I couldn't help but wonder whether an enterprising FAA inspector conducting ramp checks at this small grass strip would find the aircraft to be loaded within legal limits. In fact both Lervold and Skiles are relatively svelte men and the airplane had partial fuel, so I'm guessing the 424 lb useful load was observed on this occasion. I can't imagine many owners would be so fastidious. But is having the performance to exceed a limitation really a flaw? Most airplanes have a fair bit of margin built into their maximum gross weight. Pilots speak with admiration of designs that will "haul anything you can stuff in 'em." Conversely, underpowered designs seldom win fans, which is one reason most LSAs have not sold as well as the CarbonCub. I certainly enjoy a good extra bit of oomph even at sea level with a long runway, much less on the short, tree-hemmed, high-altitude strip that every potential Carbon Cub customer imagines themselves taking the airplane to. The old Cub has some very attractive qualities, but sprightly performance is not one of them. You fly it on the wing, not on the engine. It's worth noting that our club's J3 has almost the exact same legal useful load as the CarbonCub, and is also likely flown over max gross weight at times, but with a far more negative impact on safety margins.

Just from watching Skiles' takeoffs and landings it was clear I was in for a treat. When they returned, I took his place in the front seat, which felt fairly familiar as I usually fly the J3 from the front seat with Dawn aboard (it must be soloed from the rear). The instrument panel is roughly the same size as the J3 but packs in far more information using an interesting design. The airspeed and altimeter are conventional steam gauges; the digital tachometer, comm radio, and transponder are contained within similar compact round dials. Mixture, primer, light switches, and "magnetos" (actually dual electronic ignition) are squeezed around the edges of the panel. But in the middle is a large empty rectangle for mounting an iPad running Wing-X Pro, Foreflight, or similar software. Just about everyone I know (other than myself) uses an iPad for light plane flying these days, and the middle of the panel is a far better mounting spot than most setups I've seen. It's strictly VFR, of course, but it worked great.

The Carbon Cub on conventional tires has better over-the-nose visibility than the J-3, but this demonstrator was on 26" tundra tires, giving it a very familiar attitude and the necessity to S-turn to the runway from either seat. For my first takeoff, Lervold had me use 10 degrees of flaps (the J-3 has none) and an otherwise conventional takeoff technique of stick slightly forward to bring up the tail and then very light back pressure to fly. It happened about as quickly as you read that, maybe 5 or 6 seconds, during half of which I was still getting the throttle fully open! After liftoff I pulled up, and up, and up to a fairly nutty deck angle to achieve the Vy speed of 71 mph. The plane didn't have a rate of climb indicator, but I'd guesstimate it around 2000 fpm - remember, this is at max legal gross weight.

We flew a few miles northwest where Lervold invited me to explore the slow flight regime. The Carbon Cub maneuvered beautifully at partial flaps & 50 mph, including steep turns up to 45 degrees bank. At 35 mph I could still turn it without much complaint other than the occasional chirp of stall warning. Leveling the wings, I cut the power and did my best to get it to break into a stall. It finally did so, but the airspeed indicator was buried at the lower limit of 20 mph. I doubt that was actually accurate, but the VGs do keep the wing flying incredibly slowly. When the plane did break, it started to drop a wing but was easily righted with the powerful rudder. That was actually the biggest adjustment coming from the J-3; the rudder is considerably more sensitive. Other than that, the control feel was quite familiar, albeit with none of the stiffness or slop that comes from 68-year-old bellcranks, stretched control cables, and an out of square airframe. 

Maneuvering complete, we dropped down to Lake Butte des Morts and loafed along at partial flaps and 70 mph checking out the lake shore homes and boats - exactly the sort of sunset patrol that I take the J-3 on all the time, really the one mission at which the Cub thoroughly excels. It was quieter and more comfortable in the Carbon Cub, and I really enjoyed it, but I can't say I would have enjoyed it any less in the J-3. Landings on the other hand...whew, what a rush. Hickory Creek isn't really a STOL strip, not by Cub standards, but we treated it like one, turning base-to-final low between a strand of trees and a gravel heap that made the 45 mph approach speed seem a lot faster than it was. I nursed it over the boundary fence and chopped the last bit of power, brought the nose up to the attitude I use to three-point the J-3, put the stick in my lap as we touched down softly with nary a bounce, and very quickly rolled to a stop. Nice! Either it was beginner's luck or those tundra tires really soften out landings! We didn't bother back-taxiing for the next takeoff. Lervold had me use maximum performance technique: 20 degrees of flaps and stick back a half-inch, full throttle, and let the airplane levitate off the ground from a three-point attitude. CubCrafters claims a ground roll of 60 feet. That sounds about right, it was incredibly quick.

For the encore I did a wheel landing, this time being less aggressive about getting the airplane down and barely touching the brakes after another smooth touchdown; we still only used about 600 feet of runway. We taxiied back to the other Carbon Cubs, which had finished their own demo rides, and shut down the engine. Lervold complimented my flying (like any good demo pilot!) and remarked that I could put .5 hours of CC11-160 PIC time in the logbook. Dawn and I hung around for a while chatting with Lervold, Skiles, and the CubCrafters sales reps while munching on burgers, quaffing cold beer, and eyeing the pretty taildraggers sitting quietly in the grass.

A few days later I was headed home from Oshkosh in my underpowered, beat up flying club Cub, watching pickup trucks pass me on dusty country roads as I strained against a 20 knot headwind at 500' AGL. No iPad or GPS in this plane; my finger followed our route on an open sectional and I peered into the haze for a 300 foot tower that the chart said was somewhere out there. Afternoon thermals tussled the wings and sixty-eight years of oil and dope and sweat swirled about the cockpit. I opened the window and was instantly rewarded with a warm blast of freshly cut hay. I don't mind saying that I didn't miss the Carbon Cub just then. Don't get me wrong; it's a fantastic airplane, I enjoyed flying it, and if I ever strike it rich and have $200k(!) to spare on a fun new airplane, it will be on my short list. But though it's distantly derived from the Cub and looks similar to the Cub, they're really entirely different airplanes. The Carbon Cub is built to safely take you to adventurous and challenging places through modern engineering and superior performance. The J-3, on the other hand, turns entirely routine flights into grand adventures through its very inadequacies and anachronisms. Maybe someday there will come a time when a Carbon Cub makes sense for me. Till then, I'll be perfectly happy to just weasel the occasional ride!