First Flight in MY HP-16
Let me start off by thanking my three new heroes. First is Dick Schreder, for designing this wonderful machine. As will become clear, I am likely not sufficiently expert to have an opinion, but as in the amateur art critic, I know what I like, and this particular HP-16 has a lot that I like! Secondly is Don Conroy who did such a terrific job of building N8DC. No one who looks at this airplane can find any flaws in the construction technique. It is beautiful and finely crafted. Finally there is Dick Bean who improved on Don's wonderful work to add a blown canopy and couple of nice touches, including winglets and then chose to sell it to me. Thanks, Dick, Don and Dick!
I picked up N8DC in mid-January. A combination of weather and my choice to add a BRS parachute kept us on the ground until 4/10. Local conditions were making it difficult to fly at my home field in LaGrange, GA (Southern Eagles Soaring a great group of guys and gals), so, having a vacation available, I packed her up and drove to Caddo Mills TX (Southwestern Soaring a terrific, accommodating, friendly commercial operation. I recommend them very highly). The weather on Wednesday was pretty sporty, so just to polish my skillset (more about that soon) I took several flights in their G-103.
OK, I have a total of 800 hours, give-or-take, with around 87 of them in gliders. Most of my "glider" time was in a Dimona motorglider which, while it logs as a glider is essentially a very long winged (18 meters) Piper cub. Spoilers only, no differential braking. Pure glider time included a few hours in an ASK-21, several hours in G-103's, several hours in 2-33's and an hour or two in an I-26. Accordingly, all that follows are the comments of a relatively inexperienced sailplane pilot. Oh yeah, those hours have been amassed over the last 20 or so years and came in bursts. I had been inactive for the 10 years preceding last June, when I got back into it and got my flight review in Estrella. More G-103 time. I had flown the SES club's L-23 a total of 3 times since joining (weather again) and had a few hours in several power planes (C-172, Cherokee's, and three tows flying the C-175/180 tow plane). I figured since the fates were conspiring to keep me out of gliders, I would fly everything that I could get my hands on.
OK, the morning of 4/10 dawned fairly mild, a bit of a crosswind but otherwise pretty good conditions. I took my baby out to the runway, got it pointed EXACTLY down the middle (v-tail, fixed tail wheel) and having shown the lineman Jim (great guy) exactly how to work the tow hook, got in and strapped in. We did a positive control check and I closed and locked the canopy. They took up the slack and I just sat there. In truth, I figured that my pulse would be about 1000 right then, when I was planning this first flight, but in actuality, I felt pretty calm. Intense, but calm.
Wing up, flip the rudders and here we go! Get ready for the right wing to drop hey, the LEFT wing dropped good thing I've got wheels there! Still straight, wing up, and up she goes. No sweat with elevator control (I was really worrying about the possibility of PIO's…not a problem). With 6 degrees of flaps, she just wants to sit in a nice high-tow position. Bit more of a bow in the rope than I have seen with the bigger two place gliders, and little bumps accelerate me so I actually have to work at keeping it taut, but not really a problem. We get up into smooth air at about 2500 feet (I briefed to tow to 5,000). Note to self…not much lift today, too bad...but good to learn the airplane anyway, smooth air, and it practically tows itself. I am flying it with thumb and forefinger and little else. Very nice. This is with full forward trim and 6 degrees of flap. 5000 feet comes pretty soon. As an aside, I am watching the tow plane and it seems like we are going straight for most of the climb-out. I actually call him on the radio and ask him to head back to the airport, but no response, and we are STILL going straight. Oh well, even a ham-hand like me can't get in trouble from 5000 feet! Release and clear.
Sweet. Very light on the rudders. Nicely balanced on the ailerons. Slow her down and nibble at a stall. Good enough, gets real quiet. Not going to check out the break yet. Flaps on and approach configuration check. No problem, just point the nose down. Full flaps. Point the nose WAY down. Simulate flare...easy. Speed up again, roll the flaps off, very intuitive, very easy to modulate (mine is the more common crank control). Wow, what a nice airplane. Now, just fly around enjoying the moments. Wait a minute! Where is the airport? Remember, I thought we went a far piece beyond it, and I don't see it. Oh lordy, an outlanding on my first flight? No, wait, I'm at 4,000 feet. I ought to be able to find the durn thing. Oh my, what is that HUGE airport directly below me? Is it that big airport they pointed out to the northeast of Caddo Mills? Well, it'll do, but is it controlled? Why didn’t I bring the sectional? Well, let's check out the landmarks…where are those water tanks? Ought to be way over there…nope, right THERE! Well, then the airport ought to be just below me. But that CAN'T be the airport! Oh, it is. Ok, I might have been just a little tight at this point. Anyway, now I am at 4,000 right over the airport, and just flying around. Sweet. A couple of little bubbles and I work them, and stretch it out to 50 minutes or so, and then it is time to land.
Before the landing, I want to rave about this airplane. Smooth, responsive, well coordinated, just a treat to fly. Much more quiet than I expected. A few little mechanical groans when it hits bumps, but it pretty much keeps any complaints about me to itself. Trim it to 60mph and you can take your hand off the stick. It wants to wrap up in the turns, so thermalling hands off ain't gonna happen, but otherwise very easy to fly. Very comfortable cockpit too…and I am a big man.
Ok, IP, speed up to 60, roll in some flaps, 'cause I'm high, no problem. Downwind, (oh yeah, the gear is down, never put it up, didn't want the distraction). Base…booming thermal…ok, there IS some lift. More flaps, keep the speed up…roll final. High, full flaps. Wow, down in a big way, Roll them off a bit, now speed is up a bit too much, and still high, so just roll in more flaps. Perfect. Oh dear, there are gliders on the runway at the half-way point. Lessee here, first flight in a flapped, taildragger glider. I am not gonna be able to guarantee a precision landing. Let us take the grass to the side of the runway. Yeah, that's the ticket! No problem. Over the threshold, a bit high and fast. Keep the flaps in. 10 feet or so, level off. Settling…a bit of right drift, kick it to the left. Hey! The grass under me is well mown, but the grass to my left is about 3 feet high! Oh well, committed now, flare, flare, flare Tail wheel thumps, main comes down. Ok, one of my faults as a pilot is when I get behind the airplane, as in right now, I get kind of passive. I keep flying, but get bad habits. As in this case, when the main hit, I did NOT pin the stick back. Nor did I roll the flaps off. Bad moves, both. Left wing gets involved with the tall grass, the plane starts left, I kick it right, right wing hooks the short grass, and, as you would guess, voila! Ground loop. Pretty slow, low energy one. Just 90 degrees and we are stopped. Whew! Out of the plane, nothing bent or busted. It's all good.
I flew it a few more times that day, and the other landings, while not purty, were acceptable. For now, I am doing minimum energy landings, pin the stick back, roll negative flaps and stop. I flared too high on one and dropped it in from about 10 feet. A bit of a bounce, but no problem at all. Well designed gear. We have lots to learn together, me and N8DC, but this will be a fun education.
A few points. Keep in mind that I am NOT a CFI, and these are my impressions only. I am also not a super glider-guider, so you can take these comments as from someone with no high-performance experience. In MY opinion, and for what it's worth: This glider is a dream to fly. Tow is easy (especially with negative flaps at the start and roll it to plus flaps once we are flying and the when is not critical. It flies great on tow neg or pos). Positive flaps just makes it sit in the high-tow position a little happier. This is a very nice airplane to fly. I haven't explored the stall characteristics yet, but I know what it sounds and feels like near the stall. For now, until I get some more time, that'll do. The use of flaps for landing is so much superior to the spoilers that I have used in the past that I cannot exaggerate how great they are! It is practically impossible to be too high on final. I flew a couple of finals from 800 feet. Full flaps and down she goes. Speed control is important, but err on the fast side. A bit more flaps, or a bit of decrease in the nose down with full flaps and she slows down like…well, like nothing I have ever flown. It is sort of like rolling in Beta thrust on a turbo-courier. Keep the stick back on roll-out, and roll the flaps off, but you knew that. Again, I am a relative naïf, but flaps are amazing. It is hard for me to believe that anyone who tells you that the HP gliders have problems with glide-path control have ever flown one. If you keep your speed reasonable on approach, you can roll them in and off just like spoilers…only they work way better. I suspect that part of the complaints come from the fact that these ARE homebuilt gliders, and quality varies between them. My -16 is very well built, and I suspect it approaches being the airplane that Schreder intended. And that airplane has AMAZING glidepath control. I have been flying it a few days after the first, and I am a little appalled at how casual I have ALREADY gotten at glidepath. It seems like it just doesn’t matter how high I am on final. As long as I am high (although I would have little fear at being low either, if you roll the flaps off, given that you have kept the speed up, it feels like you add throttle) I CAN make the runway. I have been, already, literally, at 800 feet on short final, and I actually had to modulate the flaps off a little, because I was getting short. If I have any concerns at all, it is that when I fly other gliders I am gonna have problems unless I get back to being more precise. Which I will, just for safety in other airplanes. I am not looking forward to that first outlanding, but I have absolute confidence that I have all the airplane I need to make it good.
I suspect that N8DC and I are gonna have a great time together for a long time. Wow, when guys talk about bang-for-the-buck, they have it right. I am a very pleased owner.