“Saturday Afternoon Flight”

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OK so it was a beautiful, sunny, brisk afternoon in February and I had not exercised the Cirrus in 2 weeks so an afternoon flight was called for… the Cirrus has 2 complete electrical systems (2 generators, 2 batteries, 2 buses) so when the preflight revealed a voltage that was a bit low in the emergency battery, but primo voltage in the main, that was NOT a no-go for me. Pre-flighting the Cirrus is always pretty easy since it is so neat and clean and simple and accessible.. just the right size to climb all over and inspect. The tanks hold 6.5 hours (the way I fly it, which is only half power in cruise… the plane goes about the same speed as full power but with only one THIRD the fuel flow. Why one THIRD the fuel flow at one HALF max power? Because at low power settings, you can LEAN OF PEAK (minimal fuel-air mixture) but you cannot do that at high power settings without melting engine parts! So at lower power settings you get lower fuel-flow from lower power, and even LOWER fuel flow from leaner mixture. Result: 9 gph rather than 25 or so. Bottom line, when the tanks were pre-flighted as half-full (40 gallons) I still had plenty of fuel on board for an afternoon of flying.

Once the pre-flight was done and the friendly controllers at Columbia Met had me taxi out, it was ease onto the power and away we go! The Cirrus SR-22 is a lively airplane under normal circumstances, but my new and carefully-broken-in engine puts out 111% power as a matter of routine, it was a cold day (dense air) and the plane was light that day (just me and half-tanks of gas)… the plane was airborne before I even got the throttle to the stops, and climbing at over 2,000 fpm at what SEEMED like a 30-degree climb angle, busting through pattern altitude in about 25 seconds. Leaving the Columbia Metro area at 6,500 feet, I studied “North AF”, some strange military installation under my wing… just a few runways in the middle of nowhere (one big runway and one little one). A few C-17’s were doing touch-n-go’s down there, chasing each other around the pattern like big lazy sharks in a tank… sure enough, they were using the SMALL runway (4,000 feet by 75 feet?). They keep a tight pattern, and can fly really slow, so they were just slowly cruising around in circles with their practice landings in the middle of the circuit… pretty cool to watch from above.

Then down to Allendale for a practice GPS approach, today’s challenge: no autopilot. (I “break” something for every approach I practice… flaps, autopilot, GPS, EFIS, moving map, whatever). The Cirrus was just SCREAMING up after every touch-n-go, the VVI pegged at over 2,000 fpm on every climb-out… I finally just started taking off at 70% power just to keep from staring at clouds directly overhead on every climb-out… if I didn’t then I would bust through pattern altitude faster than I could ease back the throttle. Allendale has trees on either side of the runway, making approaches sort of like driving through a valley, so a few low approaches were called for.

Then, back to Columbia. Coming in, I had the field in sight from 50 miles out, and got the straight-in approach from the controller at 30 miles out, but was asked to keep my speed up. “How much?” “As much as possible”. Well, OK… 175 knots all the way down final approach is no problem in this airplane, just ease the throttle back to about 40% power and leave it clean as you angle down the glideslope… if there were any airliners on approach, I would be dusting them. One mile out, I started easing the power the rest of the way out. In this case, the prop pitch goes flat, the engine revs, and you get a pleasing WHHIRRRRRRR from the engine as you get pulled forward a bit from the engine-braking… just like engine-braking in a car, the big prop soaks up that energy and transmits it to the big 550 cubic-inch Continental which soaks it up by furiously pumping air through at 2500 rpm. I crossed over the fence at 100 knots, just 10 knots fast for a no-flap landing. No-flap landings are interesting in the Cirrus. This is because the flaps are so HUGE AND EFFECTIVE that landing WITHOUT them it COMPLETELY different… you are screaming at around 90 knots for touch-down, and you really FEEL that 105 mph touch-down speed. The nose is up a good bit higher than normal, since the lack of flaps mean you really have to raise the nose to get lift. Going too fast with the nose up high and still descending is a worrisome sensation, like the plane is 5000 pounds too heavy or half the wing is missing.. it feels like a “lead sled”. As you feel the ground start getting closer and closer, screaming under you much faster than normal, and not very well visible because of the nose-high attitude, your ass starts getting hot. The controls are still firm at that high speed, and if you pull back on the stick during braking to try to get the weight on the main gear, the plane will hop right up into the air again because of the extra control authority at that high speed… so you are airborne but without any flaps or power, thus a bit low on lift to STAY airborne at that marginal speed… an unenviable position to be in as the runway disappears behind you at 100 mph! On this day, with 8,000 feet of runway, though, using up a huge amount of it was my exact intent: my hangar was down at the far end of it, and I could glide down there at 100 mph or taxi down at 5 mph. So, engine still WHHIIRRINNG under the hi-speed engine braking, I coasted just a few feet over the runway at 100 mph as the speed bled off until the plane settled. Touching down at this high speed is also different: The plane does NOT change it’s pitch when it touches down fast, because the tailfeathers are getting so much air that they still control the plane’s pitch attitude, not the landing gear! So, as the plane touches down, the landing gear stops the VERTICAL descent, but there is no other way to know you are down since the nose attitude does not change a bit. A few moments later, as the speed continues to bleed off, the aerodynamic forces finally start to weaken and the plane “settles” comfortably onto it’s landing gear, and starts to feel “springy” again and now finally you have a plane that is rolling and controlled by the landing gear, rather than still flying but with the pavement just stopping a further descent.

Taxiing clear of the runway I finally braked the airplane to a full stop with the engine puttering contently, an interesting sensation after screaming in at over 200 (mph) with the engine racing at 2500 rpm. (but only 40% power in a descent on a cool day, so not a shock-cooling problem)

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