My second lesson with Bill today in the Pitts covered air work, pattern work, approach & landing, and ground handling/taxiing. We went down to Cambridge for the pattern and ground work. It was quiet and we mostly had it to ourselves.
He started with the visual references I need to get on, and stay on, the downwind. We fly a relatively tight pattern, with the runway just off the lower wingtip when viewed from the cockpit, and bank to about 55 degrees. Much steeper than in a Cessna. The higher speed, tighter pattern, and steeper banks are all new challenges for me. The Pitts is both demanding and tremendously rewarding in that regard. It will do everything we tell it to, instantaneously. We need to be very sure what we’re telling it to do.
The first couple trips around the pattern he had me do a low approach, flying the length of the runway at about 10′, while holding altitude and runway alignment. I felt OK holding the altitude but struggled with alignment. The P-factor at the relatively low speed and high angle-of-attack is remarkable and takes a lot of right-rudder to compensate. I was drifting left consistently. An even larger bootful of right-rudder is needed when applying full power to climb out again.
All of these forces (adverse yaw, torque, slipstream, p-factor, gyroscopic precession) are present in the Cessnas I fly but are so damped they’re almost hidden. Every Private pilot learns about them, and right-rudder is always needed climbing at full power and low airspeed, but the relatively low-powered, heavy Cessna hides everything from me. The Pitts puts all these forces, and my ignorance of them, on full display. I feel like I’m only now learning to actually fly.
Bill had me fly a landing to touchdown and then took the controls when I botched the rollout. Giving them back once clearing the runway he introduced me to the ground handling and zero forward visibility. We also did a couple high-speed taxi runs down the runway to get me the feel of the rudder. It’s very clear why the feet and rudder work is so important…there is a magic to feeling and responding that has to be learned to the point of reaction; if I have to think, it’s too late.
Bill had me do the takeoff (he’s following me on the controls through all of this work) and that felt good. Not that I performed well, there were no directional upsets I needed to correct, simply that it felt good. Applying full power, hearing the engine spin up, feeling the tail start flying, accelerating quickly to takeoff and then climbing like a rocket just plain feels really, really good.
We climbed up to 7500′ and did another “rudder walk”. I want to write about this in a little more detail but suffice it to say I’m still chasing it but getting better, marginally. Afterward we headed back to Annapolis where we planned I would fly to final and Bill would take it from there, (Lee is a short, narrow field) and then have me taxi back to the hangar. (As I’m sure is true of any instructor, I can only imagine how painful it must be for Bill watching me stagger through a new skill like S-turning on the narrow taxiways.)
It was only 1.3 hours of instruction but, even with a 10-minute break while fueling in Cambridge, I was completely wrung out…sweaty and tired. Both mentally and physically. (Yes, I’m pretty sure I was mentally sweaty.) Eventually I will learn to relax into all the new sensations and my workload will reduce as my skills improve. For now though, I’m sure I’ll continue to experience an odd combination of two conflicting needs: desire to fly the Pitts all day long everyday, and the need to rest and absorb what I’ve learned.
It’s amazing to me how satisfying this airplane is. It feels right. By contrast a Cessna 172 feels like running through knee-deep mud. 2.3 hours in the Pitts and I’m completely sucked in. Obsessed. Addicted. Already worried about what happens when I’m not flying it anymore. So much so that I’m consciously avoiding thinking about any possibility of continuing to train with Bill after the tailwheel endorsement. I’ll try to find a taildragger to rent for the time being and let my obsession moderate. Maybe when I can think clearly again I’ll look into the realities of what it would take to continue chasing the dream of aerobatics in the Pitts.
At the same time I also can’t wait until my next lesson on the 18th!