May 16, 2016 Earning the DAMF B-25J SIC Rating

Just after finally getting my May 15 post out, having struggled with that forever, I received a call scheduling my B-25J checkout for last night. Right after that call, another consulting business opportunity popped up that could be exciting. Yesterday was a good day.

2016-05-16 Panchito_ - 3I’ll defer the business discussion until I know more, but let’s talk about flying the B-25J. What a amazing opportunity it was. You too could experience the same thrill in Panchito at the Delaware Aviation Museum Foundation by clicking on this link!

This rating and my time with the Delaware Aviation Museum Foundation (DAMF) are very valuable additions to my logbook and experience in general. I can’t thank Larry Kelley enough for his investment in me. I also want to thank Matt and others that have helped to include me and integrate me into the organization. This experience is thrilling and deepens my aviation affliction.

The B-25J Panchito is a joy to fly, and if you are proficient in twins you will be able to do this too. It is an honor to sit in this chair and work with these people. Just thinking about the history of what men have done with this machine is powerful and it gives me chills to be able to experience it. I have no doubt I will become a solid SIC, proficient in flying this machine with the men and women of DAMF. Very very cool to be in this position.

Getting ready on the ground: Self-preparation and study is essential before attending any ground school. In my case that included reading checklists, a nicely reproduced Pilot Information Manual PIM, and a 242 slide presentation not unlike what I’d seen at Piedmont. I had the additional advantage of being able to spend several hours performing supervised maintenance on the airplane with either Matt or Larry supervising. I also have been able to spend a few hours just sitting in the cockpit thinking through procedures.

Ground school for me actually happened last week. It was spread over two days with two different instructors due to scheduling conflicts. Calvin did the first day, and we spent a morning reviewing slides and content from the ground school presentation. We’d talk through the systems and discuss how they might affect technique. There were other duties going on that morning, and a few interruptions and/or distractions during our time together. We ended up not getting through all of it.

Larry stepped in on Day Two to complete my training and get me back on schedule. Calvin had made a few updates to the presentation that night, and we used that version to continue. Larry’s approach was to ensure I really understood the systems and components of the airplane by interjecting real examples. In one case we were talking in detail about the feathering process in this airplane, and he actually went onto the hangar floor to find me a prop governor I could hold in my hand. We reviewed the presentation material, and then demonstrated with the real thing in his office. The same process was repeated brake packs; superchargers, CUNO filters,  and various other components.

Larry ended up spending his entire day with me to ensure I understood the material. Systems knowledge is key to operating this airplane safely, and I could not have asked for better one-on-one ground training.

Starting up for the first time: Shortly after ground school, I 2016-05-16 Panchito_ - 4happened to be around when the engines needed to be run on the ground. Larry invited me jump in the cockpit to observe the start-up and taxi process. Actually, you don’t really jump in when you are 58 years old, but more on that later.

Starting a Wright Cyclone R-2600-35 14 cylinder 1700 HP engine is freakin’ awesome. What a beast!  Larry’s fingers played the switches like a piano, and fired that radial right up. The technique was all new to me, and I added to my list of things to dig into more.  What a machine….

With both engines fired up and warming, Larry guided us out to a Taxiway at Delaware Coastal Airport (KGED). Once there he briefed me on the use of brakes, and gave me an introductory taxi lesson. I was completely confident that all these warnings they’d been giving me about the B-25 being difficult to taxi were a bit too ominous, and looked forward to impressing them with my deftness.

Once again my confidence fell short of spackling the gap in my experience, and I drove that thing on the ground like a drunken sailor. The brakes have 14 rotors and 15 stators in two brake packs per wheel. They are enough to stop a locomotive – like right now. You can be warned about them a million times, but really have to play with them to know. Forget differential braking – there is no feel to them at all……   Press lightly; lightly; lightly; and BLAM – they are full on!!!

The technique calls for gently massaging the throttles left and right to stay on the center line, and only using the brakes oh-so-gently.  The lead time required to go where you want to go is allot like Bev’s pontoon boat on a windy day. It is a skill that only comes with experience.

Larry was patient and got me going again each time I got sideways, but this brief experience gave me perspective I needed.

Actually Flying Panchito: Paul called me yesterday morning to schedule our ride for that night. I reviewed the checklists and went to the gym to mentally fly the airplane while working on the elliptical machine. Lost in thought I put in a good hour, and came home ready to read through the material one more time.

Arriving at Delaware Coastal and the DAMF hangar about 2 hours ahead of time, I pulled up the checklists on my iPAD and went up to the cockpit to review procedures. Then I came back out and did a very detailed walk-around inspection using the checklists and the ground school presentation to make sure I found and checked every item.

Paul, the instructor for this ride, arrived and we spent about an hour on the ground talking about the maneuvers we’d be doing today. The Takeoff process was discussed, with an emphasis on engine failure before safe single engine speed was attained. Similar to my twin comanche, you pull the airplane off at 100 mph (80 mph for the PA30) and lower the nose in ground effect. Accelerate to 145 to reduce your exposure to engine failure below that speed. Then climb out.

We’d be doing an imminent stall series straight ahead in clean; 1/4 flap and gear; and full flaps and gear configurations. The admonition is to be gentle and smooth, and take it up to the buffet. No full breaks and no turning stalls. We will explore the drag experienced in these configurations and simulate a failed engine while fully dirty. The airplane will not fly well on one engine while dragging flaps and gear, and isn’t a stellar performer on one engine clean either. I’d get to see that.

Starting the engines: Paul had me work the mixture while I watched him walk through the start process. It was much more clear to me what was going on now, but will take practice to be able to start these proficiently. I won’t be doing that for awhile, so it is watch and observe for now.

Taxiing out: I do not yet have the skills required to taxi from the DAMF hangar, around other hangars, and between rows of airplanes to get to the runway. I am sure I’d end up having to shut the engines down, straighten the nosewheel, and get pointed in the right direction at least once. Paul was able to get us right out onto the taxiway, where he started teaching me to taxi and to use the brakes.

Taxiing this beast means getting well ahead of it and anticipating where the nose is headed. You blip differential power on each engine to guide the nose in either direction – while it is still headed in the other direction. You aid this process by using a 3 position rudder technique; Full left; Full right; or neutral.

My face was already getting sore from smiling, while I strained to hear Paul over the Wright Cyclone engines. He re-introduced me to the brakes next, and advised me to touch them ever-so-gently. I consider myself a smooth pilot and am certainly able to feeeeeeelllllllll  for those brakes and be slick about it. #HUMBLEDAGAIN. I jerked the nose left and right using more force than was necessary and differentially on top of that.

Paul didn’t let me struggle too much and got us pointed into the wind for the run-up.  He involved me in this process and all went well until the mag check. The brakes let us slip forward then, so he had me reduce power to stop the movement; release brakes; and then do a 360 to get the nose re-aligned. We completed the run-up, but it was a good reminder that this airplane can be a real challenge on the ground.

Taking off: the advice is to keep moving once you enter the runway. Paul made the radio call and I manipulated throttles and the 3 position rudder to line up on the centerline for runway 22. As the pilot flying I add just enough power (25″MP) to make the rudders effective while the PNF – Pilot Not Flying – then brings them up to take off power (2600 RPM and 39.5″ MP). The engines positively howled and I could no longer hear the instructors voice commands.

Off the ground at 100 mph we left the ground and I had to be reminded to get the nose over to fly to 145 mph. Damn – this is a natural procedure for me and I should have remembered. To busy smiling while we hit 145 and climbed straight out of the pattern. Gear and flaps up we headed up to 4000′ toward the Indian River Bay.

At this point Paul told me to have some fun getting to know the airplane, and I started to do a series of steep turns.  It was a real eye opener how much physical force was required to do this. P-Factor is noticeable, and the roll rate is lethargic. I think I only achieved 45 degrees or so, but rolling from one bank into the next gave me a real feel for the machine. I will normally be flying right seat, but I was sure enjoying this flight on the left.

I should also admit that Paul was orchestrating the lion’s share of the work. My job was to get a feel for the machine in it’s various configurations, and be able to bring it home and land it if need be. Stalls were next.

Stalling the B-25 Panchito is a non-event. We only did imminent stalls, and the airplane remained controllable in all configurations. The key is to not rush – Paul never rushed me and emphasized to take it easy. In the clean configuration, Paul set power and I set about 10 degrees pitch up. The airspeed started to decay slowly, so this seemed about right for today. There was some level of light buffeting throughout, so I found it difficult to clearly feel a stall buffet. What was very clear is when we started reaching the limits of positive control. At that point, I pitched down 10 degrees and regained airspeed.

Imminent stalls in the airplane with 1/4 flaps and gear happened around 80 mph, and with full flaps around 70 with today’s conditions. That is being heavy and slow! Recovery from the last one was followed by a simulated engine failure that demonstrated how poorly this thing flies on one engine while the flaps and gear are out. It just won’t do it, and we saw sink rates of around 2000 fpm.

The pattern work was done down at Salisbury. Here we entered the pattern on the upwind, and slowed to 135 mph. On the downwind, gear down and 1/4 flaps.  Full flaps come in when committed to touchdown.

The approach profile we used left me wanting to add power and reduce our sink rate. To me it seemed we were low each time, but Paul assured me we were fine. At the very end of the runway we began the round-out and held the nose rather high. By the final landing at Delaware Coastal I had gotten better at this. With that little bit of confidence, I left the nose high attitude up too long and Paul had to remind me to start lowering the nose before the elevator ran out of authority all at once. Some folks might have a challenge with how high the nose feels, but I wasn’t too concerned.

As the nose comes down and just before it touches, you bring the yoke all the way back (snap it back) to use us what is left in the elevator and cushion the nosewheel onto the runway.

Paul emphasized a tap on the brakes at this time will send you into the weeds – so don’t do it! I developed the habit of confirming ‘No Brakes’ when the wheels touched and we were down. Plenty of rudder authority to track the centerline

Throughout the flight I felt the instruction was clear and straight forward. Challenges included not being able to hear all radio calls; bright sunlight on take-off out of Salisbury; taxi technique and certainly brakes. Oh – and my legs were cramping doing the longer taxi runs.

I’ll read through this a dozen times and make corrections as i think it through.  Just wanted to share this wonderful experience as soon as I was able.

Thank you Larry and DAMF for this experience.

Fly safe!