The BIG NEWS of today is the fact that I’m doing my MAIDEN FLIGHT TODAY! On the 14th of February, the FAA came to the Glasair facility, and after a 6 hour inspection that looked at every last detail of my aircraft, my newly-built plane was deemed “airworthy”. That same day I was issued my temporary registration and an airworthiness certificate, allowing me to move into Phase 1 of Test Flying of my new aircraft. Within these strict rules, I have to stay within 100 miles of the airport, I can’t fly over ANY populated areas for any reason, and I have to log 40 hours of flight time to prove to the FAA that my plane won’t fall out of the sky. I’m excited to log those hours, but need to get past the very first flight of my Sportsman 2+2 first!
My Maiden Flight!
Maiden flight for my new Sportsman was this morning, February 16th of 2012. It’s incredible how many little details need to be tended to and buttoned up when one is trusting their life to a machine that will be lifting them thousands of feet off the ground. Up until this morning, I was experiencing mostly excitement. This morning, as First Flight drew near, I started to feel just a touch of anxiety. I made sure that I texted those close to me, so they’d know how excited I was to have built this aircraft, to know that I am truly living a lifelong dream, and that I couldn’t be more excited to fly, regardless of the risk or the outcome.
It’s impossible to describe the sensation of climbing into the cockpit of a plane that I just built myself (with the help of 2 commercial assistants at Glasair, of course). It’s a moment that will be forever etched in my mind and countless moments from this build have already made memories to last a lifetime. It’s been a physically demanding process, often days are grueling and long, but they’re not without the sheer joy of knowing what the prize at the end of all the effort is.
As I expect with electronics (electronics seem to like to break around me; difficult when I spent most of my life surrounded by electronics), when I first taxied the aircraft out today, my starter solenoid froze in the “On” position. That means the the propeller will spin whether or not I had the key in the ignition, and whether the engine’s running or not. Thankfully, in a way, the person who built their Sportsman just before me had the exact same problem, so the crew here at Glasair knew just what to do. Within an hour, we had a new starter solenoid installed and tested, and we recharged the main battery.
Glad that happened on the ground and not in the air.
So, I taxied back out towards the runway and tried it all over again. This time; success! Now, there was no turning back. All of the hours of planning, building, checking, inspecting…it all came down to this moment. I taxied my plane to the run-up area, did a radio check, tested all my controls for the 100th time, cranked up the engine up to high RPM’s, and announced my intentions over the comm radio: “Arlington Traffic, Sportsman 259KC is departing runway one six, any traffic in the area please advise, Arlington Traffic.” (Arlington Municipal is an uncontrolled airport with no Air Traffic Controllers, so pilots are required to police themselves).
No one responded, so I did a quick 360 before heading out onto the runway, and I smoothly moved the throttle to full. All my senses came alive as I was feeling the roll of the aircraft in my feet and the controls in my hands, sniffing the air for anything unusual, listening intently to the sound of the engine, and tasting an exhilaration unlike anything I had ever known.
At about 50 miles an hour and with the greatest of ease, my newly-built Sportsman gently eased off the ground. Intensely alert, all of the controls came alive and I was flying! I was flying! No matter how articulate I could manage to be in explaining the sense of sheer joy in that moment; any words that escape my pen or mouth surely would pale in comparison to the experience of that moment. The aircraft continued to climb just as I had practiced many times before in the Glasair demo plane. But this was different; it was quieter, it was smoother, it felt even more comfortable, oh wait…it’s mine!
I reduced power to 90% and continued to climb out. I set my trims and ascended to 1500 feet, just 300 feet above the traffic pattern of any other aircraft. I noticed that my left wing was heavy, and quite heavy. I had to hold the control stick far to the right, and with a reasonable amount of pressure to keep the plane straight and level, and circling the airport. I decided it was well within tolerance, and made myself comfortable as this Maiden Flight would consist of me making large circles around the airport, with the runway constantly in sight in case of any kind of failure; structural, engine, or otherwise.