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Pilot Reports

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Thursday, February 22, 2007

Dave Thatcher and I went to the Milton, FL airport, 2R4, to pick up the CX4 on a trailer to bring it back to the Pensacola Regional Airport (PNS).

When we got to the airport, Dave decided to take a flight in the plane. It cranked easily and ran very smoothly. He took it around the pattern once and landed very nicely. When he returned to the hangar, he asked me if I wanted to taxi it some, or maybe even fly it if I wanted to do so. I definitely wanted to taxi it as I had previously done this on at least three occasions.

My goal was to get thoroughly comfortable with the tail dragger configuration since I am currently building a CX4. When I got into the plane, I felt really comfortable as soon as I got into it. This was because of the previous taxi time I had done in the plane. I also recalled that one of the reasons I chose to build this airplane was because of the roominess of the cockpit. I felt right at home.

I am about 5' 9" tall and weight about 203. I have wide shoulders and cannot stand to be crammed into a small space. This is not a problem with the CX4. There is plenty of room in this cockpit. Plus, the canopy gives the aircraft a bright, sunny, and spacious feeling.

Anyway, after about ten minutes of taxiing around the tarmac, I decided to take Dave up on his offer to fly the plane. The plane was full of fuel, including the auxiliary tank. The airport AWOS reported the wind as coming from 330 at 12 knots. The wind sock showed the wind was gusty and variable from about 330 to 360. I liked the 360 part because the runway in use was 36. I did not think this was a problem because I had spent an hour before lunch doing take offs and landings at PNS in a Cessna 172. The same conditions existed at PNS as at 2R4, except for being a little more gusty than it was in the morning.

The airplane is solid on the ground even during these windy conditions. It is easily controlled even though it is a tail dragger. It is the easiest of any of the tail draggers that I have flown. I have some experience in Cubs, Champs, and Citabrias. I would estimate I have about 35 to 40 hours in these types spread out over a long period of time (74 to present).

The take off roll was very short even though I would liked to have gained a little more speed than I actually did before lift off to be sure I did not settle back onto the runway in the gusty winds.

The take off was amazing. When I got about ten feet off the ground the wind got really squirrelly and blew me from over the runway centerline to over the edge of the runway. I did not know it was that windy!!! When I corrected with the left wing low and a little crabbing the airplane immediately came back to the center of the runway. It responded very solidly and quickly.

The airplane is not overly sensitive. It does what you expect it to do. There is no sloppiness in the controls. I love flying airplanes with a stick. An area of concern for me prior to this flight was the effect that the prop turning opposite of what I am used to would have on my ability to handle the plane. This is not a problem.

I took the airplane around the pattern six times before I made my first landing. I was experimenting with different speeds in the pattern. I felt real comfortable on downwind with 80 mph showing on the airspeed indicator with the rpms set at 2100 in level flight. The airplane flew at this speed like it was on a rail. It was solid and stable in this configuration.

I hardly used the trim control at all. On climb out I was at traffic pattern altitude so quickly that I did not need to use the trim for such a short period of climbing. The same occurred on my descent in the pattern because it was of short duration.

One interesting thing I noticed is that when the nose of the aircraft is lowered the airplane picks up speed very quickly. Therefore, plan on reducing power quickly as you lower the nose for your descent. Otherwise, the airplane will go from 80 mph to over 100 miles per hour before you know it. I used to own a Piper Warrior in which excessive speed build up was never a problem.

The quickness of the CX4 is greatly appreciated after having flown sluggish airplanes for just about my whole life. After making five low passes and getting familiar with the airplane (meaning I could track the center line of the runway without wavering) and flying it at various heights above the runway from about 50 feet down to about ten feet over the full length of the runway, I decided it was time to try landing "THE TAIL DRAGGER".

This turned out to be the biggest surprise for me. I was expecting it to be an opportunity to get current with at least three take offs and landings on one approach to the runway. I set up a stable final approach at 80 mph with just a little bit of power on. I used a left wing low to maintain my track. As I began my flare I very slowly reduced the power to idle and held the airplane off and let it settle in on its own.

Because the airspeed was excessive for this airplane I floated down the runway probably about 500 to a 1000 feet before touch down, but when the plane touched down it bounced just a little and slowed very quickly once it was on the runway. I did not have any feeling at any time of being out of control of the airplane. It was very responsive to my control inputs.

As for visibility from the cockpit, it just doesn't get any better than this. Because of the roominess of the cockpit and the stability of the airplane, even in the gusty wind conditions, I did not feel tired whatsoever after this flight.

The vent in the airplane let in plenty of air in level flight. On this record breaking day in Pensacola, the temperature got up to 81 degrees. The noise level in the cockpit was not excessive. I had on a passive headset as opposed to an active noise reduction headset. An ANR headset would have made it even quieter.

The airplane cranked easily and purred like a kitten throughout the flight. All of this experience in this airplane further confirms that I made a great decision to build a CX4. I have sworn all my life that I would never fly any airplane that I built.

I have had no previous experience in sheet metal work and especially in building airplanes. The beauty, simplicity, roominess in the cockpit, the cost of getting into the airplane, and having Dave Thatcher right here in Pensacola was what attracted me to this airplane in the first place.

Now that I have flown the airplane, I am elated with my decision even more than before. I also know now who will be doing the test flight on my own CX4 when it is completed.

Ted Beck on Flying Dave’s CX4

Flying a CX4 for the first time was like walking and breathing. It is so instinctive, it's almost as if I had flown it many times before. I am 17 years old with no more than 60 hours logged in a Cessna 152.  Dave Thatcher was kind enough to give us (my Dad and me) this wonderful opportunity to fly the CX4. An opportunity almost no one at my age has. For this I would like to extend my gratitude to Mr. Thatcher.

Dave brought his CX4 up to the now famous rained out Lee Bottom flyin and left it here to provide others the chance to fly the plane. Eventually, a couple a couple local airline pilots had a crack at it too, but that’s their story.

Before this, my only tail wheel experience was in a J3 Cub. I received my tail dragger endorsement in about 4 hours. Not because of my own skill mind you, but by the fantastic instructing ability of those at Red Stewart Airfield in Waynesville, Ohio.

Compare what it's like to drive a really heavy truck to what it's like to drive a sports car. I knew the switch was going to be drastic ahead of time, but when I actually flew the CX4 it didn't even matter. The CX4 practically flies itself.

The fact that the CX4 is a single place airplane was a little intimidating at first but then I thought of what it was like to have two people in a Cessna 152 and thought "Hey more shoulder room!" The only briefing I got was from my father.

He described to me his experience of what to do. Which was "Let it get up to 65 or 70 MPH on the airspeed indicator and let it lift off the ground itself." So I wondered how hard that could that be.

He could not have been more accurate in describing how it flies with that simple statement. I did just that and it took off all by itself. It naturally wanted to climb. I didn't want to do anything to make that "easy" feeling go away so I decided it was best to stick to pattern flying until I could really get a feel for how it flew.

The first thing I noticed as I turned crosswind, was how fantastic the visibility was. Then I noticed that was also partly due to the fact that I had reached about 1000 feet in a about a minute by the time I turned crosswind. I still am getting used to the fact that the CX4 wanted to climb so much. You really have to use your trim to level it out on downwind.

Other than the fact that it would not stop climbing, the CX4 felt so smooth. The plane almost seemed like it was gliding upwards. Although the plane responds quickly I never felt like I was gong to lose control. I guess that’s what finger pressure is all about. It sure doesn’t take the pushing and hauling on the stick that the Cub does.

I wanted to give myself some room to set up an approach so I extended my downwind just a bit so I could figure out just how it descends. If found that to be the most challenging part. Mainly because it was difficult to establish a good rate of descent at first. Once I got it to descend at 70 or so MPH indicated by using idle power and about 1/2 trim, I didn't have to do anything else but turn on to final.

My first approach and landing resulted in a long glide down the runway before the plane settled onto the ground, and roll-out was straight and easily controlled. Having no prior experience in a plane with a truly light touch, I think I may have had a tendency to over control, but that passed quickly as I got used to the feel.

In subsequent approaches, I feel I still tended to over control a bit and porpoise before touching down, but people watching from the ground claim the porpoising wasn’t obvious or severe. I guess that that’s because the plane will float when near the ground. It seems that the plane cannot be made to land in a true three point fashion with the airspeed just a couple miles an hour over stall just as the three wheels touch simultaneously. That can be explained by the very flat attitude of the plane as it sits on the ground. But that doesn’t seem to me to be a big handling problem. It just causes a somewhat longer roll-out than a true three point landing would require.

I still landed and rolled to a stop in less than 1500 feet. Early on, I pretty much remained in the pattern, and the lack of any traffic allowed me to make the pattern legs longer than usual. I was able to reduce power and try out stalls, after going to about 2500 feet AGL. I did not try to do any fully developed stalls, but getting the airspeed down to just under 65 mph (at least that’s what Dave’s airspeed said), I was able to approach a stall, and it felt that the airplane would just mush thru a stall without any sharp break. My Dad and a couple airline captains who also flew the plane confirmed that this is true.

In Dave’s plane, there is also no apparent tendency to fall off on one wing. I got to fly the CX4 a total of about 3 times for about 45 minutes each time. After about 2 hours of flight time my landings were smooth as silk. The whole secret to flying the CX4 is to minimize your input to the controls. Once I felt comfortable flying it I had to force myself to land and get out before I'd want more time with it. But it sure is a motivation for me to work with my Dad to get our own CX4 airborne!