I think the Cessna 180 is a handsome airplane. It ranks number four on my list of All Time Best Looking Airplanes---right up there with Lockheed Constellation; straight tailed Cessna 310; and Great Lakes Biplane. Why number four? Well, first of all, I'm an airline guy. In my opinion the Lockheed Constellation is the finest looking transport category airplane ever built---no disrespect to the Boeing 757. Next, when I was a kid, Sky King (my father in law's cousin) flew his Cessna 310, Songbird, into my living roomevery Saturday morning. It might sound corny, but that TV show is responsible for who I am today---no disrespect to my parents (they know where I'm coming from.) And the Great Lakes? I've been in love with the Great Lakes ever since I saw one on the cover of Air Progress magazine in the 1970's. The mid-sized biplane with it's swept upper wing and beautifully sculpted tail feathers just screams aviation romance. That brings us back to the Cessna 180---a flying machine that looks great no matter what pair of shoes it's wearing; be it wheels, skis, or floats.
Every Airplane Has A Story
Jellystone Air Park neighbor, Gardy Wilson, has a 1965 Cessna 180H that looks like it just rolled out of the factory. It's hard to believe the airplane is fifty years old! I bumped into Gardy several weeks ago as he was finishing the 180's annual inspection. The cowling was off; not one speck of oil, anywhere. Brother Baker, had he been there to see it, would still be crying. . . I asked Gardy, "When and where did you find this?" He said: "I bought the airplane from a guy in Texas in 1997. Do you have a few minutes? It's kind of an interesting story." It is indeed. Here's what Gardy had to say:
"I saw an add in Trade-A-Plane. I was looking for a 180 and there was one near Dallas, Texas that looked like it might be a pretty good airplane. I called the guy and he gave me the particulars. The airplane had extra corrosion protection, which is something I really like. Prior to painting, the entire airframe was covered with Zinc Chromate primer, both inside and out. Cessna normally didn't do it that way, but they sold ten airplanes to the Government of Thailand, and that's what the contract stipulated. This airplane is one of the ten. It's primary use was for VIP transportation. The logbooks are interesting. Short hops, mostly. Thirty minutes here, fifteen minutes there---what you would expect for the area. It's a relatively low time airplane.
The guy selling the airplane was a retired American Airlines pilot who was familiar with that part of the world. When the Government of Thailand announced they were selling the 180's, he convinced a few of his buddies to join together and make an offer. They bought the entire lot, shipped them back to Texas, fixed what needed to be fixed, and then sold them one by one. He said this airplane was the best of the lot, so they saved it for themselves. Other projects were in the works, so it was time to sell. I liked what I saw. We came to terms on a price, and here it is. It's been a good airplane."
From out of the clear blue of the western sky comes. . .
Kirby Grant Hoon, AKA Sky King, my father-in-law's cousin.
Seven years is a long time. That's how long it took Jellystone Air Park neighbor, Rick Maury, to build his RV-7. A little over seven years, actually---but that's not important right now. What is important is Rick has reached a point in his flight test program where he can utilize the services of an Observer Pilot. What's even more important is Wednesday morning the Observer Pilot was me!
Before we go any further I guess I should say a few words about the Additional Pilot Program for flight testing Amateur Built Aircraft. The program was developed to improve safety by enhancing Builder/Owner Pilot skills and mitigate risks associated with Phase I flight testing. (Yeah, that statement was designed by a lawyer.) You can read the long version in Advisory Circular 90-116. For those of us that do not have a Master's Degree in Aviation Safety Management Systems, what that means is: Once you've mastered the basic skill sets---takeoffs and landings, stalls, that kind of stuff---test flying your newly built Experimental airplane is a lot safer if someone can fly, or monitor the autopilot, while you fiddle with all the "stuff" you need to fiddle with during the flight. Common sense from the FAA---I guess they really are here to help.
Observer Pilot Worksheet.
To perform the duties of an Observer Pilot the applicant must: 1. Have at least a recreational pilot certificate with the appropriate category and class ratings, and proper endorsements (tail wheel, etc.) 2. Have a current Flight Review. 3. Be current as PIC in the same category and class as the test aircraft. 4. Have adequate vision forward and to each side of the aircraft. 5. Complete the Observer Pilot worksheet prior to the initial flight and attach it to the airframe logbook---so my name will forever be associated with Rick's RV-7. Didn't think that one through, huh Rick?
Observer Pilot Observations:
While Rick ran through his preflight checklist, I familiarized myself with all the "stuff" that needed to be fiddled with once we were airborne.
The Dynon Avionics SkyView flight display system is certainly airline pilot friendly. This particular setup is similar to the display used on Big D's Boeing 737s. Flight information was easily processed.
Flying characteristics? I'm glad you asked. Rick's RV-7 is easily the nicest flying single engine airplane I have ever flown. Flight control rigging is perfect. Now I know what the RV fuss is about! Of course all of my stick time was in cruise; Rick did the takeoff and landing. Both seemed pretty straight forward. (Good pilots make that kind of stuff look easy.) The view over the nose during ground operations is similar to the Luscombe, except the RV sits much lower.
"Vision forward and to each side of the aircraft" is way better than "adequate." It is outstanding!