First RS-15 Flight of a Low Time Pilot
Barry Ronellenfitch


My first flight in EE (RS-15) came when I had 62 hours of flight time – 19 1/2 solo including 9 since license.  Most of these were in a Blanik L-13, although 6 flights (2 hours total in stable conditions) were in a Blanik L-33. 

My L-33 flights were relatively uneventful as I became comfortable with flying a sensitive aircraft.  Also, as the L-33 has extremely effective spoilers with most of the impact early in their application, it was a good precursor to a flapped ship.

I felt I was ready for EE.  I spoke with a number of instructors, some of whom had HP experience, and all nodded their heads and offered advice regarding the first flight.  Most of this advice centered on the difference between flaps and spoilers.  The recommended take off procedure was center the stick, set the flaps to -10, and roll the flaps to +10 after reaching takeoff speed.

I had also down loaded and reviewed (a number of times) “Preparing for your first HP Flight” from the internet.

The Flight

EE came out of the box and with the help of others, almost “fell” together.  I once again reviewed suggestions from senior instructors at the field that day (including the previous owner) and received the basically same advice as before.  

One suggestion I had received was to instruct the tow pilot to give “positive acceleration”.  I radioed the tow pilot, informed him this was my first flight in EE, and requested positive acceleration.  The response was “what do you mean by that?”  After a little thought, I asked the tow pilot to bring the throttle up with the breaks on, and then release.  My reasoning was that this would give me almost instant speed and make it easy to keep the wings level.  The tow pilot agreed.

Bad idea.

On the first two attempts I started with the stick “neutral” and -10 flaps as suggested.  However in both cases I was forced to pull the release as my wing dropped and I quickly moved out of position.  The good news was that I was happy with my response (if not my flying) and at no time felt that I or EE was at any risk.

After the second attempt EE went to the back of the line and I had time to chat prior to my next try. 

My wing runner mentioned that he could feel significant buffeting on the wing from the prop wash while waiting for the tow plane to release the brakes.  Also, with a slight amount of slack developing when the tow plane applied the brakes after taking up slack, EE was fired out of his hands after only one or two steps.  It was suggested that “positive acceleration” simply meant firm application of the throttle. 

I now had a new tow pilot – one with over 40 year’s experience both towing and gliding.   After a brief call explaining this was my first flight and asking for firm throttle application, I was ready to go. 

My third attempt began with a conventional start. I began rolling with reasonable control over the wings and acceptable position behind the tow plane.  Again I started with neutral stick and -10 flaps.

As the ground roll continued, all of my attention was focused on keeping the wings level and EE centered behind the tow plane.  However I soon recognized that I was at flying speed but still on the ground and so I brought the stick back to lift off.

I immediately found myself about 30 ft in the air, looking down at the tow plane still on the ground, and thinking I’m going to tip him.  So, stick forward to regain proper position, and thus began severe PIO’s (with a little side to side thrown into the mix).

Two thoughts immediately crossed my mind:

  1. it is too late to pull the release – I have to fly through this
  2. I’m glad I’m not watching this or I’d be scared sh**less.

I was told afterwards that my first “descent” almost resulted in EE striking the ground, but fortunately that did not happen.  The resulting “bounce” would have definitely added to the PIO’s.

At an early point in the PIO’s I realized that I still had -10 flaps so I brought them back to +10.  The resulting change in attitude didn’t help!

The PIO’s continued as I tried to stabilize EE in a more or less reasonable high tow position.  By the time I regained control, the tow plane was about 2 to 300 ft above the ground.  At that point I radioed the tow plane pilot that I was now stable, and apologized for the ride.  I was extremely grateful that he had the self confidence and experience to stick with me for those few moments.  The last thing I needed was to land EE with no experience with the flaps.

The only other tense moment in the flight was on tow when I briefly mistook my electric vario, which I had neglected to turn on, for a non functioning air speed indicator.  (The vario is located in the same position as the airspeed indicator is in our L-13’s).  Fortunately I recognized my mistake prior to the heart attack.

I had a 4000 ft tow, and so had time to get a feel for the controls.  Upon release I did a flaps up stall, steep turns, and practiced extending flaps while maintaining air speed.  By the time I was ready to join the circuit, I was confident.  As suggested I had left the wheel down after take off – one less thing to remember.

The circuit and landing was uneventful.  Across from the aiming point I put on about 15-20 degrees of flap so that I would be about 500 ft as I turned final.  At that point it took about 50 degrees to stabilize my aiming point.  I flared, touched down and rolled to a stop in about 500 feet.  Despite the difficulties on takeoff, I knew I wanted to go again.

I then took a lunch break (although for some reason I wasn’t hungry) and thought about the take off.  My big question was why I had no trouble with the L-33 on take off, yet did so poorly with EE.  I soon realized it was the initial position of the control stick.  On the L-33 the appropriate position is clearly marked – all I had to do was hold it there and wait for it to lift off.  With EE, I had first held it down, and then reacted to lift off.

After lunch I got back in, but this time deliberately put the stick back from neutral.  I set the flaps to -10 as before.  As the take off roll commenced and I felt EE beginning to “skip”, I eased the stick forward and lifted off gently as the airspeed and stick position matched.  I also suspect that the “forward momentum” on the stick helped me prevent EE from going too high.  There was some mild “bobbling” but nothing that was uncomfortable.  Again I was off the ground before I remembered to rotate the flaps to +10.  This time it was easy to compensate for the attitude change.

What followed was an easy 2000 ft tow and adequate landing after 20 minutes.  I then did 2 more flights, but this time just 1000 ft tows to circuit height and landing.  In each case, I forgot to rotate the flaps until after I was off the ground.

The following day I had a single flight that lasted 1:40.  She is a delight to fly.   I did remember to rotate the flaps prior to lift off, but did it a little too soon and still had to use the stick to lift off.  Someone remarked that this time the take off looked like it was done by a pilot.

What did I learn?

    1. Jack rabbit starts by the tow plane don’t work.
    2. After my 1st two aborted starts, I was so focused on rudder and aileron movements, that I forgot to be careful with the elevator (yes, EE is a V tail, but this is the easiest way to explain it).
    3. My time in the L-33 was essential.  Without some prior experience in a sensitive ship, I doubt would have been able to recover from the PIO’s.
    4. As a low time pilot, I should not have tried to use the flaps to take off, but instead concentrated on proper stick position and movement.  I had been told before – when under stress we fall back to what we first learned.  Once I decided to move the stick, I suspect I tried to take off in EE like in an L-13.  I probably used about the same amount of stick movement, and like in an L-13, adjusted the flaps after lifting off.  So if at all possible go with your previous experience.  Otherwise you are just unnecessarily making the required learning curve steeper.
    5. In case of doubt, you are better off with the stick back rather than forward on take off.  As I was uncertain, I should have moved it back a bit rather than trying to center the stick
    6. I should have checked the stick position.  It would have been easy to ask my wing runner to confirm that the rudavators were neutral – I didn’t think to ask.
    7. Be sure to have an experienced tow pilot, and have good communications.  This wasn’t planned on my part, but it certainly made a big difference.  A less confident tow pilot could have cut me loose and added to an already borderline situation.
    8. Preparation did save me from an accident.  Although the take off could have been much better, obviously it could also have turned out much worse.  Being consciously prepared to pull the release kept me safe and (reasonably) relaxed during the first two attempts.  Once the PIO’s started, I knew that my best option was to keep flying rather than pull the release and be forced to land with no flap experience.
    9. Don’t buy green bananas.