We fly the JN-4C Canuck!
Saturday, April 26, 2008.
Al Stix made me the offer of a lifetime today-flying his 1917 Curtiss Canuck. I got to airport just in time to see my friend Glenn Peck tugging the airplane out to the grass runway. Al climbs in and Glenn swings the prop to get the OX-5 running. I take some pictures, then Sky and I head on out alongside the airplane on the grass besides the taxiing airplane. There is a slight wind out of the west, so we drive down to the east end of the runway. Glenn has already briefed Al, so with a quick look for traffic, Al turns the corner and gives the OX-5 full throttle. The airplane rolls a little bit, the tail comes up and it's airborne. Glenn and I stand besides my car over on the side of the runway watching Al make his passes. Al goes around the pattern a couple of times and then lands and motions for Glenn to come over. I stay there, thinking the airplane needs a slight adjustment or that Al is going to take it back to the hangar. I see Glenn turn his head to look at me, then back to Al, then he starts motioning for me to come over. I'm thinking Al has a picture in mind and wants to go over it with me really quickly. Glenn meets me about five feet from the airplane.
"Just say yes"
"Okay, Yes. Now what's up?"
"Just say Yes. Al's going to ask you if you want to fly the airplane."
"No, by yourself. You can do it. There's no wind. It's easier to fly than your Fairchild. Just say Yes."
"Okay," I say. Wondering what's gotten into Al and why he's willing to trust me with his quarter-million dollar airplane.
We walk up to the cockpit, Al has the engine at idle and it sounds like a sewing machine.
"Want to take her around the patch?
"With Glenn?" giving both Al and myself an out.
"Just say Yes," says Glenn.
"No, by yourself," says Al.
"Just say Yes," says Glenn one more time.
I caved to peer-pressure.
"Yes, you bet. I'd love to," I heard myself telling Al.
"Here, you can borrow my helmet. I don't have any goggles with me, but your glasses are big enough."
With that, we let Al get out of the cockpit and I climb in and start to find everything in the cockpit.
Glenn is alongside now with a few words of wisdom. "Here's your tach, pull it back to 1,200 rpms once you get to a safe altitude. Don't make climbing turns. It's a rudder airplane, so be sure to lead with rudder."
"Airspeeds/" I ask. "It has one, never looked at it," is his reply. " Have fun. "
"Be sure to start your turn before you get to the hard-surfaced runway," adds Al. They both back up from the airplane.
I again glance over the instruments. I don't know why, I'm not
going to look at them anyway. I pull my feet in to the middle, away from the
rudder control cables so I don't get hung up between one of them and the side of
the airplane. I look over the nose to get my attitude. I don't even think about
it because I know instinct will take over once I start rolling. I pull the sick
into my stomach and add power. The airplane slowly starts moving. I bring the
stick forward to neutral and push the throttle all the way forward. The tail
just barely comes off the ground, eight sets of rocker arms are moving so fast
in unison I can no longer see them. All of a sudden I'm heading up in an OX-5
powered elevator. Climb straight ahead. Lower the nose to level to turn.
Throttle back to 1200 rpms to get rid of the vibration. Look outside! You're
flying a Canuck (Jenny)! I still haven't breathed. Ok, time to turn. check
you're at 1,200-back it off just a little, ease into a right turn with the
rudder and a little stick. Al was wrong, my glasses are not big enough and the
windshield does little to help. I duck down in the cockpit, just peeking out
over the front.
I make my first pass. Glenn has my camera and I want to be sure he gets at least one of me flying this plane. Even at 60 mph, he and Al just whip by my cockpit. It's almost noon and the wind is picking up, so I'm really concentrating on the airplane. It's like flying a kite. Definitely a rudder airplane. Lots of adverse yaw and just a tad bit underpowered. I've already decided to make at least three passes, using the first two as practice to get all set up. Throttle back to idle, start a descending turn towards the airport. Don't worry about airspeed, you're in a descent and the airplane feels good. In fact, I'm fast. I'm still getting the feel of the airplane and decide not to get too low on this pass. It feels so weird. Like flying a kite. I add power to go around and set up for another pass.
I line up with the runway for the second pass. This time I'm more comfortable and I could easily land out of it. I also slow the airplane down a bit to give Glenn more time to take pictures.
The third time is the charm. I take a deep breath as I retard the throttle and start my descent. I'm a little more comfortable now, so I glance at the airspeed indicator. It says 45 mph. Later I learn it always says 45 mph. Turning final, I leave a little power to slow the descent. The picture looks good, I'm inches above the ground as the power comes to idle. The airplane slides in on the grass like I'd done this a thousand times.
Yes! I know when to stop. And now's the right time.
I head over to the far right side of the runway and swing her
around to the left. Glenn was right (as usual). It doesn't want to turn with the
skid. I blast the throttle, forward stick to lighten the tail and back taxi down
the runway. I pull up alongside Glenn and Al, both with big smiles on their
faces. Al walks up and tells me to keep it running as Glenn was to fly it a
little bit. I slowly exhale as the reality of what I've just done creeps in.
I'm a Jenny's to Jets pilot. I pull the throttle all the way back and the engine just idles perfect, like a well-oiled sewing machine. I take Al's helmet off, hand it to him and then climb out of the airplane.
Glenn's grinning like a Cheshire cat. "I told ya," he laughs.
As Glenn climbs in and gets ready, I realize here is my chance to get Skyler his ride in the airplane. Al has said he doesn't want to give rides in it because it's so underpowered, but I have nothing to lose by asking.
"I know you just said you didn't want to give rides, but...can Glenn take Skyler? Just around the patch?"
"Sure, I don't care if Glenn doesn't mind."
I walk over to Glenn with a smile on my face. He knows what I've done.
"Go get him."
I run over to the car where Skyler sits in the backseat drawing a picture of the Canuck. "Come, on-get out. You're going for an airplane ride."
"In what---the Canuck???"
"Yea, Al said Yes and Glenn's willing to take you, so lets go."
He always treats Sky like his grandson and this time is no different.
Al helps Sky put on the helmet. and offers him his gloves. The two of
us help Sky onto the wing and into the airplane so he doesn't step
through the wing fabric.
As Glenns taxies out for takeoff, I turn to thank Al.
He has this huge smile on his face. "It's nothing," he says.