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Old 08-06-2005, 12:53 AM
John Slade's Avatar
John Slade John Slade is offline
Flying TurboRotaryCozyIV
Join Date: Apr 2004
Location: KWST
Posts: 3,836
Default The Hindmost's Guide to Flight Testing

I've read posts by a lot of non-pilots and low-time pilots who are building Cozy's and planning to get certified along the way. It occurs to me that a short tutorial in flight testing for dummies, or should I say cowards, might be useful. Those who've read Larry Niven's Ringword will understand the title of this post. Hindmost was a three legged creature from a planet where the biggest and best coward got voted the leader... and he always leads from behind. I feel eminently qualified to give this tutorial since I've been though it, and I'm the biggest coward I know when it comes to flying.

Flight Training. Get current in whatever you've flown most. Do some flaps-up landings, then get at least 2 or 3 hours left seat in a Cozy or similar with 4 or 5 satisfactory landings under full control. Whether you're current in an Airbus 340, a complex Piper Lance or a 152, do NOT fly you're plane until an experienced Canard pilot says you're safe.

If you have a complex alternative engine installation consider approaching the FSDO for approval of a second pilot as essential crew. I recently spoke to someone who did this and did receive approval because "someone had to monitor the computer". If you ask in writing, and they say no, they're butt's on the line, and you've lost nothing. I wish I'd thought of that. Read the FAA circular cover to cover, then read it again.

Taxi Testing. Do lots of it. Don't lift the nose, and if it starts to come up cut the power immediately. Too many taxi tests turn into inadvertant and ill- prepared first flights. Get a feel for how long it takes to stop from 65 kts. Do lots of full power engine runups. Make a nuisance of yourself. Get the engine hot, let it heat soak for a while, then try another long run-up and practice take-off. Try to break something. Only when you've been unable to break something with your best efforts is the plane ready to get airborne.

First flight. Ideally use a field with at least 5000' of runway, very little traffic, an intersecting runway, no class B or C airspace above, and lots of places to put her down if things go wrong. (I can say this with authority after doing it with 3000' of runway in a built-up area - it's nerve-racking and not for the feint of heart). No wives, press, kids or audience of any kind. At most a qualified friend with a handheld to double check you, let you know if anything appears wrong (smoke, bits falling off, etc), but knows enough to STFU and leave you alone otherwise. Have half tanks and mid C of G.

Go when you're ready and not before. Have printed pre-flight and in-flight checklists with you and use them religiously a few times on taxi tests first. Back out at the slightest hiccup either in the plane, the weather or your own performance. If the only negative you hit that day is that the traffic lights aren't all green on the way to the airport, put it off. Forget one thing - ok - maybe. Forget a second - stop and do it another day when you're fresh. Any issues whatsoever on the take-off run - abort. Let her fly off at 75 kts then keep still and don't touch anything until you're ready to throttle back a bit on the downwind. Others may disagree, but I'd suggest one tight pattern and landing. Period.

Leave the gear down, and don't mess with the speed brake. Touch as few buttons, switches and knobs as possible. As you turn base you might feel that you're short on aileron authority. Use rudder to help you in the turn. Do a long flat approach at around 90 kts. Not below 80. Shoot for 75 - 80 kts over the threshold. Don't let it get too slow, especially if you have a long (> 3000') runway. Use both rudders at the same time if you get fast or high on short final (but remember to release just before touchdown). Taxi in & shut down. Take the cowl off and give her a good check out, then go get a beer because that's enough for one day. Sleep on it. Let her (and you) cool down. Next day check under the cowl again, then you'll be ready for your second flight.

Second Flight. The objective here is to see if anything goes wrong over time. Stay in a tight pattern and stay at pattern altitude, always in gliding distance of a runway. After two or three patterns, climb above the field. If it's class B or C airspace, get clearance. If they won't give it, land and call them, or even go and see them. Do NOT get outside your cone of safety for the home field for any reason. Raise the gear as you climb out past say 300' (the change in wind noise is very noticable), then lower it again on the downwind to get into the habit. I highly recommend a voice activated gear warning piped into the headset. Never allow an automated system to raise or lower the gear for you. Do the downwind checks from the physical checklist. Keep the flight fairly short - say one hour at very most. Use your physical check lists. Don't worry about doing practice stalls or slow flight. Just fly the airplane and keep a close eye on the engine gauges.

No touch & gos, high-speed low-level fly-bys or practice approaches. Climb-out is your most vunerable time. Avoid it like the plague. Being in that "Oh Sh.t" zone once during each flight is enough to begin with. If anything seems just a little bit wrong, and I mean ANYTHING - bring her in for a landing. If something feels wrong at a bad time, say when you're turning crosswind with a 172 on the downwind ahead, don't hesitate to call Mayday, take the active out of turn and put her down immediately. I DID call Mayday on one occasion. Spam cans scattered in all directions and the field was mine. One less thing to worry about. It turned out to be a non-event, but there were no phone calls from the FAA, no forms to fill out and no worries. If you need priority, just do it.

Subsequent flights.
Get some altitude (over the field) and get used to "cranking and banking" the plane as you might have to in a precautionary landing. I got my practice for real, but it would have been nice to get ahead of the game. Get a feel for slow flight and canard bob, the effect of one and both rudders and the slight pitch change from the landing brake. For at least the first 10 hours or so, or longer if you like, stay in your cone of safety. Treat that cone of safety like your mother's milk. You're not going anywhere during the first 40 hours anyway. Calculate the height you need to be at to "airport hop" around the local airports. For example, I have three airports, each about 35 miles apart in a triangle. From 10,000' I can glide half way with room to spare, so 10,000' was my play height and I didn't venture far outbound till I reached it. The controllers get use to you after a while. Speaking of controllers - use them. We pay they're salary. If you tell them you're an experimental on flight testing they'll help you any way they can. If they won't talk to you, try "Experimental Cozy Nxxxx on initial flight testing. Request a response" This worked well for me.

You'll have teething issues to deal with. Every time you do something to the engine, treat the next flight as a first flight. A large percentage of engine-outs happen after maintenance, and you'll be doing lots of maintenance during those first few hours. Torque the prop after the first couple of hours and change the oil. Leave the wheel pants off for the first 10 hours or so, then do some high speed taxi testing with them on before flying.
Write down your squawks on a clip-board and physically check them off before the next flight. Do not fly with a known squawk of any kind.

Be a pedantic Hindmost, and proud of it, but finally, when everything is just right, open that throttle, hold on and enjoy the ride.

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