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Suggestions For First Flight

by Paul A. Fisher
Q-200 1400+ hours
20+ years

20 October 2011

[EDITOR'S NOTE: The recent fatal accident of Jerry Brikerhuff while test flying his Q-200 prompted several experienced Q-fliers to submit their thoughts about test flying experimental aircraft and Tandem Wing Aircraft more specifically. The following was submitted by Paul A. Fisher and experienced Q-200 builder and pilot with over 1400 hours amassed over the last 20+ years. It is good advice from someone who knows more than you or I do about Quickies!]

After all the conversations about Jerry’s accident, I was finally motivated to write down my suggestions for first flight. I got most of these from Barry Weber in Livermore, who prepared me for my first flight over 20 years ago. They are specifically written for the tail dragger, but are applicable to pretty much any homebuilt. I have shared these ideas with a number of other flyers over the years. It seems to have helped some people – at least it gave them something more to think about.

Suggestions for First Flight

  1. Short flight – get up and get down. The goal of the first flight is to get to the second flight.
  2. Prepare for failure – what are your emergency procedures? Where are you going to land if the engine fails on takeoff? On cross wind? At what point can you make it back to the runway?
  3. You are only testing for control authority (can you turn?, can you hold altitude?). That’s all - get up and get down. Try for 10-15 minutes maximum.
  4. Prepare and brief the ground crew (4 wheel drive, fire ax, extinguisher, chain saw, etc.)
  5. Prepare and follow the flight plan (more later). Don’t try to improvise during the flight!
  6. Assume something will fail – get back on the ground as quickly as possible.
  7. Survey the airport from the air – pick out emergency landing spots (roads, fields, etc.). Commit to those landing spots in case of trouble – don’t force yourself back to the runway.
  8. If it bounces – full power and go around. Airplanes always break on the third bounce – stop the bounce before the third one!
  9. Use the whole runway – there are no extra points for landing short – let it roll! You should have already practiced high speed taxiing – this is no different!
  10. Taxi until you puke, then taxi 5 more hours.
  11. PIO on takeoff. Ideally, get a ride in a Q and feel the takeoff. Elevator control is extremely sensitive if you are not used to it. It’s not bad – it’s just different than what people are used to.
  12. Don’t assume your airspeed or static gauges are accurate (don’t use approach or landing speeds someone gave you). You must find an appropriate approach speed for your aircraft.
  13. Make sure you have your seatbelt fastened!
  14. Make sure you have about 1 hour of fuel on board. Enough for a go around or two, but not enough to make too big a fireball!
  15. Verify your weight and balance one more time.

1st Flight Plan

  1. Take off and climb (circling the runway) to ~3000 AGL
  2. During the climb, confirm control (elevator and aileron). Take note of control issues that need to be addressed before 2nd flight. Ideally relay those issues to the ground crew so they can write them down (you won’t remember!). This could be excessive elevator back pressure, or wing heavy conditions. Don’t attempt to adjust trim or reflexor unless it is critical to flight safety.
  3. Ignore engine temperatures – there’s nothing you can do about them on this flight, so don’t worry about them. Gather temperature numbers on later flights (just get up and get down, remember?)
  4. Simulate a pattern (downwind, base, and final) down to 2000 AGL. Keep a little power in (~1300RPM). Verify controllability down to your “touchdown” point which is 2000’ AGL directly above the end of the runway. Note the indicated approach speed that gives you a solid feel (not too mushy) and where you can still see over the nose. Your airspeed indicator may not be accurate, so just note whatever the IAS is.
  5. Continue your circle to enter downwind at pattern altitude.
  6. Slow to your indicated approach speed (see above).
  7. Don’t try to land on the numbers – give yourself some room in case you end up short
  8. If it bounces severely on touchdown – add full power and go around
  9. Let it roll to the end of runway – there is no extra points for making the first turn off
  10. Shutdown and celebrate.

2nd Flight Plan

  1. Remove cowls and do another full aircraft inspection
  2. Address any squawks from first flight
  3. Repeat the first flight exactly as before – there should be no squawks this time.