.....well, ok, not a Bentley, but the aviation equivalent of one at least.
‘Twas a while ago now that several mates of mine bought me a gift that rendered me speechless at the time. A flight in a Harvard T6. About the coolest birthday present I could imagine receiving.
Ridders (aka Almost, Mad Dog 3, or simply Dave) was instrumental in organising the emptying of various wallets to make this oft dreamed about excursion come true, but thanks have to go to all involved, including the pilot, Stuart, who I have known for around 7 years now. Along with Greeners, he is one of the main reasons I spend my life scrimping and saving for the next fix, why I drive a beaten up car, why I seemingly need that aroma of 100LL more and more as time goes on.
Anyway, after several false starts, I received a call last afternoon asking me if I fancied taking advantage of my Harvard flight in the morning. Last chance, mind, as it was returning to its winter home the following day. Having been fighting flu most of the weekend and into this week, I immediately headed off to the chemist and spent last night with the night nurse after a hot toddy!
The day dawned bright and sunny. What a result!
Taking the precaution of blowing the diet and lining the stomach with a full English breakfast (just in case you understand), a very nervous yet excited AndyR made his way to the Harvard parking area.
After some wistful looks, Ridders decided to let me enjoy my treat to the full and we were both absorbed in the walk round very soon. Stuart (in his usual manner) made sure everything was covered and explained in full, before asking whether I wanted the choice of front seat or back.
The front seat has the radios, the starter, the undercarriage lever, the flaps and so on, which would mean a lot more effort and concentration than just getting into the rear and flying it from there, well away from all those complicated levers and things.
So as I levered myself into the front seat (they are flown solo from there, but need 100lbs ballast in the baggage hold with no passenger apparently).
OK, so Ridders and I had been wide eyed at all the levers and switches from outside. When you are actually squeezed into that cockpit they are everywhere!
Stuart knelt down on the wing alongside and proceeded to spend the next 15 minutes talking me through the start up procedure, the gear and flap levers, the trim levers, the carb heat – I thought the Bulldog was over-engineered. It looks positively flimsy compared to one of these! There is even a gauge for the carb so you can keep the carb above zero degrees.
Ridders was shooed away and the starting procedure began. Using the left hand to operate the lever that keeps the fuel pressure within the green bit of the arc on another gauge, the right hand is used to operate the primer, low down between your feet. Twelve times, steadily and slowly.
Rev counter settled at around 1000 rpm, everything in the green, Stuart climbed into the rear seat whilst I nervously tuned into the ATIS. Radio intercom checks done, we dial up Shoreham Approach and ask for taxy for a runway 25 take off. It has been over a year since my last tailwheel take off; I sure have picked a big old girl to do it in!
The nose on the Harvard is huge, but I am glad I have the front seat as I can see more than Stuart. Little wonder he sounds so nervous about it all. Weaving from side to side, I suddenly realised that the taxiway narrows considerably at one point and progress becomes very sedate as we taxy past the Bulldog with our noses in the air. Ridders is flying the Bulldog and we will hopefully join him for some stunning pictures.
Runway 20 is in use, but we are given 25 grass as it is into wind and more suited to the Harvard with a virgin at the helm!! Power checks are fairly normal, exercise the prop, check for mag drops, check the carb heat, everything in the green; and then we raise the power to 30” and adjust the rpm to 1850, so that when I throttle up to that power setting the rpm is already set.
Throttling back to idle, all ok, set 15 degrees of flap, double check all settings, levers and dials, stick back.......’Harvard Romeo Alpha ready for departure’........’Harvard Romeo Alpha clear take off runway 25’ and the adrenalin really starts to flow.
Opposite to the Chipmunk (my memory tells me anyway), throttle advanced until 30” is showing, the huge nose swings slowly to the left as the powerful 600 horsepower engine makes itself known. Stuart had already warned me that once the nose goes you are more than likely going to lose it, so keep it central by dancing on those pedals. As I started to dance, pushing the stick forward almost to the stop to heave that heavy tail into the air, she lumbered forward. Momentum picking up, the stick gradually came back. A little too gradually as it turned out as I held the Harvard on the ground for a little longer than I needed to have done. 80 mph and we are off, climb at 100 mph, gear away..............gear away Andy................Andy.............damn, wrong lever <blush>, gear away and I feel like a student pilot again. Finally groping around for long enough I found the trim wheel and levelled at 2500’. Oh well, I was there for 30 seconds, before I knew it I was at 2700’, but finally trimmed out sufficiently to make it manageable.
Time to relax and look around. Wow.
I had picked a marvellous day. Fluffy cumulus cloud inland and bright blue sky on the coastal fringe. The view was framed by that cockpit, transporting me back 60 years in a flash. The sound was incredible, throttled back to 24” now and just rumbling on through the sky, unperturbed by anything, the freshly polished blue paint bouncing the rays of sunshine from it and startling the soaring seagulls.
A thank you to Shoreham ATC, who gave us one of their ‘other’ frequencies to talk to the Bulldog on. Those guys come in for a bit of stick sometimes, but are some of the best around, as are the fireman. They really are a great bunch, enthusiastic, helpful and friendly.
As I tried out the handling for size, Stuart spoke to Ridders and as we cavorted out of a steep turn to the left there was the ‘Dog, in my sights, outlined against the sky. Finger reaching round the stick for the machine guns, I.....er..........dragged myself back into the 21st Century and played with the back pressure with another steep turn. A brief flirt with the effective elevators and we were gaining on the Dog rapidly.
Stuart took us in for an echelon left turning join, setting us up rather nicely before Ridders and I flew in the best formation we have ever done to date.
The Harvard is a fantastic formation mount, rock steady yet responsive and I felt pretty much at ease very quickly. Formating with your own aircraft is an amazing experience. A wave and a cheery smile later, we dived to 160 mph and nose gently up, feet on the horizon and the Harvard does a beautiful slow graceful aileron roll, up into a wingover and then diving for 200mph, I pull for a loop, overdoing the pull up a little the controls are so delightfully light. Floating over the top, throttle back to half power, fields and trees getting bigger before we pull the nose up into another roll.
As we climbed for a bit more height I marvelled at the ‘heavy Chipmunk’ feel of the Harvard. No wonder she is referred to as the Bentley of the skies.
Diving for speed again, into a half Cuban, this aeroplane flatters a novice no end I am sure, heads craning around, left and right before spoiling myself again with a better executed half Cuban, the grin making my cheeks ache.
Giving it back to Stuart we beat up a local strip, waggling the wings to the waving figure below us as we climbed away. To my utter dismay Stuart announced it was time to head back. Furiously nailing the speed on 100mph as I went for height I managed 3 more rolls onto high downwind, workload suddenly increasing rapidly as I realised he was going to let me take this as far into the landing phase as possible.
Slowing her down, I managed 20 degrees of flaps before we lost some more height for a high right base, downwind checks done just in time, 45 degrees of flaps, slow it down to 85mph, trim, the nerves kicked into touch by the sheer concentration, need more power, that’s better, 85 mph steady, picture looking good, start the flare, overcooking it a bit, but keeping it steady and the Harvard rewards me with a landing. OK, it was about 6” too high, but not disastrous, I remembered to keep the stick hard back and the dance routine started as we slowed and exited the runway.
It was then that I realised I had just landed the beautiful beast. Grin. What a feeling. Little wonder I was sweating somewhat, the front seat may have meant a somewhat less relaxed trip on the take off and landing but worth every bit of it.
Marvellous. Absolutely awesome trip, beautiful beast of an aeroplane. The smile said it all.
Thanks to Stuart for giving his time and his faith in me. Thanks to some very good friends. Thanks Ridders.
For those who fancy a laugh at the less flattering piccies ->>>>>
The video is awesome!!