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A Totally Different Airplane

"Whoa!" I exclaimed as the A36 Bonanza began pulling hard to the left during the takeoff roll. I shoved in more right rudder than I'd ever used before and it straightened out. Things didn't get any easier once we broke ground. "Where's Vy?" I rhetorically asked my buddy Hal as we began our initial climb.

I had about 50 hours in our club's Bonanza at the time, but I'd never flown it with more than three people on board and never with any baggage to speak of. I'd experienced load-related handling variations in the gliders and the Cessna 172s I'd flown, but the Bonanza had a much wider loading envelope and I wanted to experience its handling at the maximum load I was ever likely to carry. I'd asked Hal, the airplane's crew chief and a former Naval aviator, if he'd fly right seat with me as I explored the Bonanza's handling characteristics at maximum gross weight. He readily agreed.

"I strongly advise you to use dead weight for this exercise," Hal cautioned. "You don't want to be managing passengers your first time flying this airplane at max gross." So, on the way to the airport, I'd stopped at the hardware store and bought 500 pounds of rock salt in 50-pound bags. We put 400 pounds in the rear seats and another 100 pounds in the baggage area, which combined with our weights put the airplane exactly at its maximum gross weight of 3,600 pounds. The center of gravity was much farther aft than I'd ever experienced, but still well forward of the aft limit.

As I sawed back and forth on the usually very heavy but now unbelievably light elevator control looking for best rate of climb speed, I immediately saw the wisdom of Hal's advice about dead weight. I had my hands full with a completely unfamiliar airplane.

My first traffic pattern at nearby Hollister airport was just as eye-opening as our takeoff from San Jose. The Bonanza is very much a "by-the-numbers" airplane and I had trim, pitch, and power settings that I used as approximate starting points for all major phases of flight. At the new heavy weight and aft CG, however, none of my numbers worked. As I sailed passed the final turn with way too much speed and prepared to go around, I realized I would need to develop new profiles for this loading.

With Hal's coaching, I started finding my new numbers. Whereas I was accustomed to carrying about 19 inches of manifold pressure on downwind with 6 degrees of nose-up trim, I now found that 20 to 23 inches were required with only 3 degrees of trim. I usually rolled in as many as 12 to 15 degrees of nose-up trim on final approach, but now, 7 or 8 were plenty. After several times around the pattern, I was finally starting to get comfortable.

"This is like learning to fly a totally different airplane!" I marveled as I turned final.

"Looks like you get some crosswind practice today, too," Hal said, referring to the windsock which was now showing a stiff 45-degree crosswind from the left. Right on cue.

"Here comes the sea breeze," I responded, as I cranked in a hefty left slip and started to flare. "This is such a valuable exercise!" I commented as we rolled out and turned off the runway. "Thanks so much for your help today!"

Hal chuckled. "A chance to do some flying? Happy to do it!" he replied as we taxied back for our final takeoff and return to San Jose.

I left the airport that day with a vastly better understanding of the airplane, but what might be more important was the practice with observing a series of unfamiliar situations and quickly learning how to respond to them effectively.

"How was your flight?" my wife Janet asked when I got home.

"It was awesome! Let me tell you about it!" I replied. She just smiled and made herself comfortable.

I love my wife. She's a very patient woman!

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May 10, 2010

Bob Rodert @ 10:30 pm #

Great story Kennan!

I had a similar experience with the A-36 shortly after we bought it. As I recall, all of us that were checked out had the opportunity to fly some gross weight ops including pattern work and stalls. Enroute ops were fairly routine once we were established on climb, cruise or descent with the exception of reduced ROC's. You didn't mention stalls – probably a good decision – although if you ever have a chance to fly with Rick or someone else with max gross stall entry and recovery experience, I recommend taking him up on it. As I recall, straight ahead low power stalls are routine but when power, climb and turn rate are added it gets a lot more interesting and well worth getting comfortable with the entries and recoveries. (This is just my suggestion and not at all essential. In fact, today's instructors may not include stalls for various reasons.)

Thanks for keeping me in touch. I still miss flying and accounts like this are very nice to hear about.


May 11, 2010

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