Editor’s Note: In the Sadie’s Science Corner Section we will take a look at some of the aircraft that I have flown and my thoughts on them, as well as Sadie’s normal posts that deal with scientific discoveries and achievements in aerospace.
In January of this year I got the opportunity to fly one of the Civil Air Patrol’s GA-8 Airvans. I was attending Mississippi Wing’s Cadet Convention, and one of the best parts of the weekend was the O-flights. Over two days each cadet got to go up, and many got to fly the aircraft from the right seat. I went to the airport the last day of O-flights; as we are all sitting in the airport lobby they begin calling out aircraft assignments. I believe they were getting toward the end of the list, and I was afraid that I would just have to ride back seat for the day. Finally I heard what I had been hoping for the whole weekend, “Martin, you’re flying in the GA-8.” A rush of excitement engulfed me, because CAP only operates a handful of these aircraft, it is a rare chance to get to fly it. As we walked out onto the flightline the temperature gauge outside of the lobby’s door read 30º. I shivered, and made a beeline for the aircraft.
After our pre-flight check, the pilot, four passengers, and I climbed in, grateful to be out of the cold but relatively calm wind. After making sure everything was in order we turned over the 300 hp. Lycoming engine, which quickly roared to life. Having a larger engine than the Cessna aircraft, we needed a little more time to allow the oil temperature to build up, so we taxied out to sit in the holding position. As we taxied onto the apron we were saluted by the flight line marshallers, which were mostly cadets training that weekend. At that moment I thought, CAP is the greatest thing that any person could do to get involved in aviation. As we sit in the holding (I’ve also seen it called De-Icing) position, all of the other flights took off.
After the oil temperature had risen to a safe level it was finally our turn to take off. We taxied out onto the runway, and I will admit, I was a bit nervous. All of the other times that I had flown aircraft, I had yet to be nervous. Why was I this time? Then I thought about my surroundings. For one, it had always been only the instructor and I, and now I had four passengers in the air with me. Also, while looking similar to a Cessna, the GA-8 is much larger. I took a deep breath; at that same time the pilot had began our takeoff run. I realized as we began rolling down the runway that once the plane starts moving, the nervousness disappeared. It was time to go to work!
Takeoff! With as cold and thick as the air was that day it seemed like it took fifty feet to get off the ground. We climbed to about 2,500 feet, and he handed over the plane. With all of the CAP aircraft in the area, each flight left the area at a different altitude. The GA-8 being the largest and heaviest took the lowest altitude to try and avoid any unnecessary icing. Once we reached our altitude the temperature gauge on the aircraft read 20º outside. Being from South Mississippi it may as well of said -100º, as by that point it was just a number. Thank God for the heater that was installed on the GA-8. As part of the O-flights provided by CAP, during each of your five powered flights you go over modules, or a lesson on a certain topic. This flight was my flight to talk about weather, and it was a good day for it. Many pilots talk about it (and non-pilots, it is true, trust me), flying the airplanes by feeling. While you are flying you look and see where you are going, you pick a point (usually some type of noticeable landmark) and fly toward it, but for minor trim and ‘input’ from the plane comes from two different sources. These sources, as those who know what I am talking about already know, are the yoke (or stick) and your own seat. You fly by what your rear end feels? To a point. If you fixate on input from the plane, and not on your vision (or instruments for IFR), you could get confused during maneuvers, but we’ll cover that more at a later date. Through this ‘input’ you can begin to feel the aircraft’s movements, it is telling you what it wants!
My Thoughts on the GA-8
The GA-8 is a very useful aircraft for CAP to have in its fleet. It is easy to control, and as I spoke of above when in the front seats you can feel the least bit of turbulence through the controls, and you sit far enough in front of the wing you could feel some of the moderate turbulence, but nothing of concern. I say that to say the GA-8 was designed quite well, as you can feel every detail through the aircraft and know what is going on the entire time. On the return trip I rode as a passenger in the back while another cadet took the controls, and the passenger area is built superbly. Being directly under the wing you could feel almost no bumps, much less any turbulence. At that point I realized, there is a big difference from the pilot/ co-pilot seat to the back! The pilot gets the most input back from his aircraft, and the passengers get a smooth ride. Overall the GA-8 is a win/win all the way around.