First Flight

June 7, 2008 - 7:00 a.m.

Well, the BIG day has finally arrive.  That's right, after 4 1/2 years of cutting aluminum, pounding ribs, bending metal, 100's of hours welding, several thousand rivets driven and long, long hours in the shop, this is the day I've been building up to.  This is the day that Bearhawk #682, registration number N57EN, otherwise known as the Miss'ippi Mudbug, takes to the sky for the very first time.

I invited a very limited ground crew to witness the big event.  My EAA fight advisor (and Tech Counselor) Mickey Whitenburg, my building partner (and Father-in-Law) Lonnie Gibbons and of course my wife (and soul mate) Michelle are here to support me and watch this bird fly for the first time ever.

I have been mentally preparing for this day for quite sometime.  I have taken the necessary tailwheel training and got my endorsement a couple of weeks ago and have gotten lots of advise from fellow Bearhawk builders and pilots as to what to expect. I flew this first flight a thousand times in my head, unfortunately most of those times were last night since I didn't get much sleep.

So, here we are, the big day.  The wind is light and variable, the sky is blue, the airplane is ready and its time to make the big leap.  The airplane was pulled out of the hangar and the ground crew did a very thorough pre-flight inspection:

With everything thoroughly checked and looking good, I hopped in and went through the starting check list.  Like always, she started within a couple of blades and sounded smooth and strong, eager to get into sky and do her thing. Mickey had a hand held radio and we agreed to just stay on the Ocean Springs Unicom frequency since no one else was out and flying this morning.

Here I am taxiing out for the first flight (the time is set up in the camera military style - day/month/year):

Nervous?  You bet.  but I'm as ready as I'll ever be and the airplane is certainly ready.  I know I built it right and have no doubts about its capabilities.

I taxied out to the runway hold short point and did my pre-take off checklist (oops I forgot to put on my seat belts) and engine run-up.

After back taxiing on the runway, I got to the end, turned it around and lined up with the centerline.  I keyed the PTT on my control stick grip and said "Ocean Springs traffic, Experimental 57 Echo November taking off runway one eight". Well this was it. Time to go. I slowly advanced the throttle to about 1/4 and then 1/2 and let it get rolling. My plan was to slowly advance the throttle and gradually bring the tailwheel up just a bit then just let the airplane fly itself off when it was good and ready.

Well at about 3/4 throttle, before I could ease the stick forward, I was already leaving the ground so I went ahead and shoved the throttle all the way forward and quickly glanced at the airspeed indicator - 70mph and climbing fast:

It didn't really take-off in the normal sense we are used to, more like it LEAPED off the ground. I can't wait to try it with a couple of notches of flaps.

WOOOHOOO - I eased the nose down just a bit to get to my planned climb speed of 100 MPH to keep the engine cool and the climb gradual.

At the end of the runway, I was already at 1000 feet and started my left turn to crosswind and then to downwind at which time I was at 2,000 feet and levelled off, bringing the throttle back to 2400 RPM.  Oil temp was about 180F and the highest CHT was about 345F at this point.  Everything in the green, I just started just flying around, always within gliding distance of the runway, just getting the feel of it.  

As the adrenaline started to wear off, and my heart rate got down to a more normal level, I relaxed even more and started paying closer attention to how everything felt.  First off, I noticed that even though I had the nose below the horizon, I was still climbing at about 150 feet per minute and was now approaching 2300 feet.  I found that the nose needs to be below the horizon quite a bit for level flight. I tried the electric trim and found it to be exactly the right speed. A one second push of the button and the stick forces were neutral.  

I did notice that I was having to hold the stick centered and that it was pulling to the right.  When I let go of the control stick, the airplane gently rolled to the right until I stopped it with a little left pressure. Hmm - heavy right wing.  That will be the first squawk that I will be working on.

Holding it wings level and at cruise speed, I took my feet of the rudder pedals and the ball stayed centered so it appears that I will not need rudder trim.

I then went ahead and climbed up to 3,000 feet and levelled off for some slow flight.  After a couple of 360 degree clearing turns left and right, I checked the carb heat and then reduced the throttle to idle, holding the nose on the horizon until the airspeed bled off to 70 MPH.  The elevator trim was very easy to use and a couple of one to two second button presses had the control forces neutral for a 70 MPH glide.  I then pulled the first notch of flaps and let the airspeed drop to 65 MPH and did a couple of turns.  No mushiness and the controls all still had plenty of authority.

Finally I pulled in the 2nd notch of flaps (25 degrees) and let it slow to 55 MPH, again adjusting the elevator trim with a one to two second button push on the control stick.  The controls were softer now as might be expected, but I still had plenty of control authority and was easily doing 30 degree bank turns left and right, with no bad tendencies at all.

To simulate a go-around, I pushed the throttle in about 1/2 way and as expected the nose pitched up immediately but not violently. Some forward pressure on the control stick kept it easily controllable and I was immediately climbing.  With a 3 second push of the elevator trim button, the stick forces neutralized.  I then raised the flaps to the first notch, put in full power and then to 0 flaps and I was climbing at 90 mph and about 1200 ft per minute (I think).

For the next 45 minutes or so, I just flew it around enjoying the beautiful scenery, the clear blue sky and the wonderful feeling of peaceful solitude that I always get when I fly alone. Checking the engine parameters, everything was still in the green with the oil temps hovering around 195F and the highest CHT about 370F.

At this point, it was about time to end this nearly perfect first flight.  I have been on a waiting list to get into a hanger at a local airport (Shade Tree) with a 2800 foot turf runway. The owner called me last week and told me that he finally had an opening. The airport is about 26 NM northeast of Ocean Springs so I decided to go ahead and relocate the airplane over there. Click here to see some photos of the airport.

After she was sure that the Bearhawk and I were doing well, my wife Michelle drove over to Shade Tree airport and was able to get some good video footage of my first ever landing in N57EN. Click here for the landing video

First Flight:  June 7, 2008

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