It had rained a half inch the night before. The tires glistened wet with dew as we taxied to the end of Lynn's beautifully groomed buffalo grass runway. The engine checked out fine and the capable pilot just ahead of me powered up for takeoff. An increasing rumble until the wheels cleared the grass and we were airborne into clear cool morning air. Lynn turned to skirt around some pure white little clouds hanging over the hills to the south. For me it was pure bliss riding in the back seat with the window wide open sitting behind a very capable pilot.
Yogi said best for it was "déjà vu all over again" the perfect flight happening again just this past week. The experience meshed perfectly with memories of learning to fly in another J-3 only 58 short years ago. Then a student in my dad's J-3, I sat in the back seat with Ben Frank instructing from the front. Last week Lynn flew from the front and I observed from the rear. The big window on the right side was left open, folded up against the wing, unobstructed visibility and the taste and feel of a zephyr rushing through an almost open cockpit.
The favored color of Southwest Nebraska last week was green. A bluish green bragged of pastures populated by sleek cattle in belly deep grass. Weedy places were the more intense pure green of vigorously growing kocia. Counterpointing was the contrast of ripe wheat fields proudly showing their buff to golden colors. In some harvest was complete, but most showed just a round or two cut where the farmers had just started to combine but at the moment were stopped by the night's rain. Row crops with their straight as a string, GPS planted, rows of growing corn not yet covering the buff colored bare earth showing between the plants. All showed the prospect of a fruitful harvest portending a prosperous future for our Ag community.
It was all a pleasure flight should be. No talking of the radio--no radio at all. Peeking around the pilot, I tickled at the backward numbered tachometer showing a healthy Lycoming engine clattering up front. The altimeter proudly proclaimed a legal altitude above the few farmsteads passing beneath. The airspeed indicator, well one doesn't travel very fast in a Cub! Most ingenious of all is the fuel gauge. The fuel tank is located in front of the windscreen, literally in the pilot's lap. To measure quantity a wire pokes up through the cap, standing tall when the tank is full and gently bobbing against the cap when near empty. My mind was free of the bickering of politicians in Washington and all was well with the world.
A pilot's license once earned is good for a lifetime. The FAA, however, couldn't let well enough alone and attached a few strings. For one, a pilot to fly legally has to have a current flight physical, twice a year for airline pilots, every year for a commercial pilot and every other year for a private pilot. Yet recently a new category called "sport pilot" was created that allows individuals with a current automobile driver's license and a picture ID to fly and carry one passenger in a category of very light aircraft during daylight only, no flight physical needed.
Another restriction imposed by the FAA is that all pilots have to undergo a flight review every 24 months to be legal to fly solo or carry passengers. The idea is recurrent training, to go up and practice instrument flight, steep turns and stalls, maneuvers that most passengers detest and all pilots should have continuing familiarity with the characteristics of the airplane that they fly. That biennial flight review is a boon for us individuals who are certified as flight instructors. We are privileged to ride along with a variety of pilots and airplanes as they demonstrate their skills. Incidentally, a pilot can't exactly flunk the review but the instructor won't sign him off until he is able to meet defined standards of performance. Actually, it isn't the FAA who puts teeth in enforcing the program it is insurance companies who refuse to pay if a pilot does not have log book endorsement attesting a current flight review if an accident were to occur. It is kind of like having an automobile accident while driving with an expired driver's license--good luck!
Last week on that very special flight I was privileged to be giving a flight review in my all time favorite airplane a Piper J-3, better known as a "Piper Cub." Lynn's pristine Cub was manufactured the last day of 1946 and sports a 90 horse power verses the 65 horse engine with which it was born. Other than that it is completely stock sporting only the very minimum flight instruments required by regulations, no radio, in fact no electrical system at all and no interphone system for talking between pilots. The time honored "holler in his ear" for communication between pilots serves adequately. The engine is started by manually turning the propeller just as the Wright brothers did it.
This was the 12th flight review together for the two of us, so I knew Lynn and his airplane well. My dad's J-3, just like Lynn's, is the airplane that I first learned to fly and made my first solo so long ago. Actually, it was a ride that my dad gave Lynn in our old Cub that infected him with the flying virus that still affects him today. Lynn's first occupation is farmer, but he also is an ag pilot spraying his own and a few neighbors crops each summer. He is almost an anomaly in the crop dusting fraternity in that he has never cracked up an airplane doing that hazardous work.
Climbing to a safe altitude Lynn executed the steeply turns that I had requested earlier. Then with full power, he pointed the nose up steeply and at the point of the stall skillfully let the nose drop through the horizon to regain flying speed. With the power at idle the nose rose again and flying speed decreased until the wings could no longer sustain enough lift and then Lynn applied full rudder to produce a hammer-head stall and an abrupt 180 degree of direction. Spray pilots at play! Ah, pure pleasure, and in two years we will get to do it all again.
That is the way I saw it. Dick Trail