Not all Airplanes are Created Equal.
(Nor are their pilots! )

By Roger Halstead

Copyright 1995

If you're willing to grant "equal opportunity" to those "created equal" and you've spent more than ten minutes in "rush hour" traffic you'll certainly be ready to concede that not all have made equal use of that "equal opportunity". Should you subscribe to the "created equal" part, then it's obvious that you've never been in a public shower!

Now what, other than a dose of bad traffic, sent me off in this direction? Well... " I'm glad you asked" cuz I ran into my ol' buddy Sam the other evening and something other than a six-pack had him in a real reflective mood. Sam is a man, as is Joe of many guises. Perhaps I should say that they are pilots of many guises and could be just about anybody you run into around an airport, so when I talk about Sam and Joe "They" could be just about anybody... You have any bad days at the airport lately? You make a mistake and I'll guarantee that you'll have more witnesses than you could fit into the terminal and the two nearest hangers!

Anyway, I ran into Sam at the local watern' hole...

"Sam, why the long face?" I had asked. "You look like a fella that just finished puttin' ten years of his life into creating the "plane of his dreams" and discovered he'd built a size 38 plane for a guy with a size 48 back-side!"

"Wors'n that." Sam replied. "I think I'm gettin' too old to keep on flyin' " and reached for another beer.

Now I knew that something serious goin' on, but I also knew Sam well enough to be sure that it wasn't his age, (or the Beer) even if Sam was convinced.

Sam and his buddy Joe had grown up around aviation. They lived near a small airport and had spent much of their early teens hanging around the FBOs waiting for a chance to wash a plane for a ride or just hanging over the fence "dreaming" about being a "real" pilot. Time passed and part time jobs paid for instruction in 150s and the occasional hop in a 172 or Cherokee. Sam was the first to get his "Private' license. Joe followed Sam by a few weeks and then went on to finish the instrument rating in minimal time.

Sam was a fairly conscientious pilot and he flew close to a hundred hours per year. He stuck with the well mannered planes like the Cherokee and 172 and would take his wife on an occasional "flying" vacation.

Sam had been licensed about ten years when his wife mentioned that a vacation at "Oshkosh" might be a fun. She remarked later that he had a look in his eyes on the way home that hadn't been there since he proposed.

Six weeks later their two-car garage became a one car garage and airplane building center.

Joe was much more active. He finished up the commercial, CFI, and CFII ratings. Even used them on occasion, but ended up working at a desk for an oil company after college. Made enough to pick up an older light twin that he and his wife used to go south at every opportunity during the winter.

Joe would stop over every few evenings to give Sam a hand or just set there and watch Sam working on what was turning into the sleekest piece of machinery that he could imagine. But the details... At first Joe could see changes every time he stopped by, but once the sleek lines of the fuselage, wings and tail revealed themselves... It just seemed as if nothing changed. Sam seemed to get busier and busier. A small piece here another there. A modification here a modification there... The months stretched into years. To be more specific just over a decade had passed before Sam announced that it "was time".

Time for tests, taxi tests, high speed taxi tests, avionics tests, inspections, etc, etc... ad en-nauseum.

It was about this time some one (insurance company probably) asked how much high performance, complex, retractable time Sam had accumulated. "Why should they care how much time I have in high performance retract's" Sam had asked Joe. "I've flown over a thousand hours in the last nine years. I should know how to fly airplanes by now." "But Sam, you've been flyin' Cherokees and 172s. They ain't the same as that rocket ship you been a buildin' fer the last ten years." "Rocket ship! I'll have you know that the Cruise Master 400 is listed as an easy-to-fly go-places airplane in every brochure that I've ever read!" Sam was really gettin' wound up tighter than a cat that had been left in the clothes dryer for an extra cycle.

"Whoa Sam, I'm not a doubtin' yer abilities. Just remember It takes a slippery airplane to go fast ... Or an awful lot of horsepower and you just might have a bit of both. That's a pretty big engine on a pretty small airplane. With all the mods, that thing has about the same weight to thrust ratio as the space shuttle and the wing loading of an F-15. Why don't you go for a ride with Tom or Jim? They have a couple of pretty fast planes. Tom's is a production plane and Jim's is a really fast homebuilt. I'm sure they would let you take the controls. Give it a try. Then tell me if you still feel the same."

Which brings us to Sam's sorrow. It seems he was able to wrangle a ride in Jim's 300 hp homebuilt and things had gone a little less than perfect.

The concept of an airplane that could be flown using the pressure from his thumb and forefinger for roll and pitch control had never occurred to Sam. He'd never flown an airplane that didn't have the ailerons and rudder interconnected. He described he first attempt to make a turn as the fastest aileron roll he'd done, 'course it was also the only aileron roll he'd ever done and Jim had salvaged it before something really foolish happened but... Pitch control was also a little less than perfect and after about 10 minutes Jim had tactfully suggested that Maybe Sam should try Tom's Bonanza as it was much less sensitive to the controls. It also had a yoke like Sam was used to rather than a stick.

Well... Tom happened to be at the airport that afternoon and he was one of those pilots who "just can't say no". Mater of fact he loves to take people for rides so when Sam explained the situation Tom had jumped at the chance to play instructor.

It was about 45 minutes later when Joe pulled up in the terminal parking lot. Sam was standing by Tom's Bonanza at the gas pumps and there were eight or ten others standing over by the Dumpster.

Sam didn't look very happy, but the group over by the Dumpster sounded like they were having a good time. It looked like they were holding onto somebody's feet sticking up out of the Dumpster.

"How'd It go Sam and where's Tom?", Joe asked. Well Sam ventured, the diagnosis is that I'm not quite ready to tackle that "rocket" as you keep calling my project. The prognosis is that it shouldn't take more'n about 25 hours in a high performance airplane like Tom's Bonanza and I'll be ready to tackle some dual in the factory demonstrator. All this did get me to think'n that I probably ought to get some one who's really familiar with the design to do the couple of test flights though.

Joe sensed that something wasn't quite right and decided to venture a few tentative questions. I'd think you'd be a little happier than you appear with that kind of news. What is it that you aren't telling Sam?

Sam kinda scuffed his toe in the dirt and finely it just came tumbling out. Well, ya know Tom's such a nice guy and all and well, I think he's kind of embarrassed. Embarrassed? Questioned Joe. Well, it's like this… Jim's homebuilt was so sensitive that I really didn't do all that much flying, but Tom's Bonanza is such a nice airplane and I thought it would be a lot like the Cherokee. Turns out that it was a lot more sensitive in pitch and a lot quicker on the controls than I've been used to. So in just about 30 seconds we were riding a roller coaster. I ended up pulling 2 Gs out of the bottom and zero over the top. Tom just sat there and let me work it all out. I'd gotten in the habit of looking at the VSI, but the Bonanza was so quick that by the time I'd see the VSI starting down it would take 2Gs to level it out, but then we'd just go right on back up. Finally Tom pointed out that if I'd just hold the horizon in place in the windshield we'd do just fine. I did and it did. But Tom mentioned that he had to hurry back to the airport because he'd forgotten about an appointment with a friend. He didn't say who, but I heard what sounded like his voice coming somewhere from over by the dumpster calling for Ralph!

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