Monday, December 31, 2012

Thoughts on flying the Cessna 162

Yesterday I had a chance to fly the Cessna 162/Skycatcher. This isn't a review, just some thoughts on the experience. We just had almost 75 days straight of rain in Seattle. My drive to renton looked like: Joy; Despair; Joy; Despair; Joy as I drove through alternating spots of fog and sun. Luckily for me KRNT ended up in a spot of very clear skies centered around the Lake Young area. Pretty much everyone else looked socked in.

A little about my perspective: I've got about 70 hours, all in J-3 Cubs or Champs, only the first six were in a round gauge Evektor Sportstar. I got to the point in my training where I could take the sport pilot checkride back in August 2011, life intervened and I couldn't. This was my first flight since then.

I'm also out to fly as many different flying contraptions as I can. Gyroplane, weight shift trike, powered parachute, glider, motor-glider, balloon, did I miss any?. Therefore my training is biased heavily towards fundamental stick and rudder skills and learning a lot about aeronautics and aerodynamics. I'm not very focused on getting from point A to point B in an easy and quick manner.

I have a love hate relationship with the classic taildraggers. They definitely made me a much better stick and rudder pilot, hands down. But I occasionally wish for some creature comforts, like cabin heat, and not being passed by a big rig when following I-5 with a small headwind. Or an electrical system. Had I not stopped to explore what the rudder exists for, I'm pretty sure I would have my license by now.

RFS has three 162's on the line, and they do most of their primary flight training for private pilot in them. They are currently renting at $99/hr wet with no fuel surcharge.  I met with John Miller, one of their full time instructors who recently moved here from Arizona.

The 162 is well thought out for life in a flight training environment. It's barren inside. In their desire to maximize useful load with the 1320 pound LSA gross weight limit, there is a lot of bare metal and unadorned plastic. I like the Mad Max look and a rattle can of flat black would get you there in a heartbeat :). Nice thing about barren? There isn't any upholstery to get stained and ugly looking. The only fabric was the carbon fiber seats done in a black cloth.

Fuel management is very reliable. There are fuel gauges in the wing roots that are just floating plastic balls in a tube of fuel. They are only calibrated for in-flight level reading. But the filler necks in both tanks are marked with little holes at 1/2, 3/4, and Full. RFS keeps the planes at 3/4 tanks to improve the available load for students and instructors. That's around 18 gallons, or 3 hours fuel. Fuel is just on or off and is always fed from both tanks via gravity.

I'm torn about the glass cockpit. So far in my training I've chosen to eschew use of a hand-held gps to try and hone my map reading skills. This has been a lifelong weakness for me, so I really wanted to learn how to do it better.

Surprising things for me about the glass:
- no need to slave the HSI to the 'compass'
- the compass is driven by a magnetometer. That means no whiskey compass errors. Ever.
- You can set heading and altitude bugs and the computer will announce on your headset as you approach them and deviate
- It shows TAS too (derived from the OAT prove and pressure from the kollsman window).
- It has synthetic vision, supposedly useful for accidental VMC->IMC. I fear that it will breed more deliberate flying through a layer by non IFR rated pilots.

The plane was pretty easy to fly. Very little adverse yaw, and man, I'm a little jealous of tricycle gear pilots right now. Takeoff was easy, with none of the excitement when the tail comes off the ground. I think density altitude was approaching -2000 feet, so we launched pretty quickly.

Landing was also straightforward, though it was a very different experience for me as we did a power on approach and had flaps to use. It was a little confusing, with power off abeam the numbers and no flaps (my comfort zone), there aren't too many variables to play with, pitch to set airspeed, add power if you are short, slip or go around if you are too high. We did full stall landings, so felt very familiar from that angle. It theoretically has a higher wing loading than a champ (11lbs vs ~8lbs), but aside from a very gentle crosswind I didn't get a chance to test that. Another day.

One big problem I had with the landing? I stayed off the heel brakes like was drummed into me. That means I was applying brakes on touchdown with those handy toe brakes... Even with that abuse the plane refused to depart the runway and groundloop (did I mention I'm a little jealous of the physics of tricycle gear). I'm a little worried about retraining myself when I fly a taildragger with toe brakes.

In flight? Not much to say. Doesn't buffet as hard as the champ before dropping a wing when stalling, but the horn screams for quite a long time. Departure stalls were more exciting as the pitch was held at 25 degrees until stall. Steep turns were easy, though I had a tendency to lose some altitude there. Site picture being 6'4" tall was difficult with steep turns to the left.

I'm 6'4" tall and weigh 170 lbs. Most of my height is in my torso. Comfort was about what I expect. Much more roomy than a 152. The stoke (stick/yoke) just barely hit my knees on full aileron deflection. Better than the back seat of a cub (but really, what isn't), more cramped than the Champ, though getting in and out was easier. I'm finding that high wing tandem works best for me. While in all cases I stare into the wing root, the tandem gets me further away from it and gives me more sky to look at.

The 162 looks like a nice addition to the planes used for training. I know if I was just starting (and didn't get bitten by the taildragger bug), going for the 162 with the glass would be a pretty straightforward decision for me.

Am I going to jump ship for the rest of my training? Unlikely. I'm a sentimentalist at heart. Not only does the slow drafty Champ have a long history, this particular one was owned by my friends father back in the 50's before it was sold to Snohomish Flying Service. I expect I'll get checked out in the 162 at some point (and the Evektor Sportstar) so those days when I'm looking for something a little more snappy I'll have choices.

Now if only I could find a SportCub to rent... (


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