Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Cessna Riding

In my last blog entry, I mentioned that I'd had the opportunity to fly in a couple of Cessna aircraft during Oshkosh. Here's how it happened.

Rod Rakic of MyTransponder.com has been hard at work organising media rides for himself and other Podcasters/Bloggers, with Cessna and other manufacturers. It turned out that two of these rides were in a Cessna 206 Stationair and Cessna Citation Mustang, both of which are six-seater aircraft.

David Allen of the Pilot's Flight PodLog called me about sitting in the back of the 206 while he flew it, to get some photos. Of course I was game for this! So on the Wednesday afternoon of Oshkosh, we got the bus up to Appleton, to Outagamie County Airport where Cessna were basing their demo flights from. We were met by Angela Baldwin, one of Cessna's media people, who looked after us splendidly.

Dave @daveflys, Rod @rodrakic, Damon Favor @pilotdamon and I got into the Cessna 206, with Cessna's chief propellor pilot, Kirby Ortega. Meanwhile, Frans Dely and Gisela Kirsten from South Africa, and Mike Miley @mike_miley got into the Cessna Citation Mustang.

The 206 is similar to the 172/182 models of Cessna, but it contains a larger, 300HP engine up front, and an extra row of seats in the back. It has much more 'ramp presence' than the other models, being that bit longer and deeper in the cabin. This particular one was also really shiny and new, with leather seats and airbags in the seat belts.

Sitting in the middle row of seats, it felt on the ground almost like you're riding in a taildragger, since the aeroplane sits down low towards the back of the cabin. Damon was in the last row and sat significantly lower again. It's a comfortable cabin with easy access and plenty enough room for two to sit without bashing elbows.

Dave got into the left seat of the 206 and we taxied out. The Mustang overtook our Cessna while Dave was doing his power checks near the runway hold, so we had a grandstand view of first the EAA's B-17 landing in front of us, and then the Mustang taking off. Then it was our turn. Dave lined us up and off we went.

The Cessna climbed out quickly from Appleton and we headed west, away from the busy airspace around Oshkosh.

This aircraft came with a full Garmin G1000 equipped panel, which Kirby demonstrated many things with. As well as the main flight instruments (heading, airspeed, artificial horizon etc), you can have it show sectional charts, engine readouts, GPS tracks and small curved lines to show where you will be in 30 seconds while making a turn. It even shows where you are superimposed upon an airfield plate diagram while taxiing about, and has virtual scenery so if there's a hill or building outside, you see it drawn on the screen too. Handy when there's cloud about. I'm sure that is only a fraction of what this will do; it's a really nice piece of kit.

Dave flying on autopilot while Kirby looks on:

Self-portrait, with Rod on the right and Damon in the back. You can see how big the cabin is here, and even though the rear seats are not as wide, they are still comfortable:

David made a lovely landing at a small airfield way out to the west after making a practise approach. There were some interesting aircraft parked up which we examined, after taking this group shot. (L-R) Rod, Dave, Kirby and Damon pose in front of the Cessna 206:

We then swapped pilots. Here's Rod enjoying himself, flying the aircraft on the way back to Appleton:

This is a small video I shot on my phone during the flight, which gives some idea of the space inside this aeroplane:

Here's a link to another video shot and narrated by Damon. (Warning: you can see me in it!)

On arrival back at Appleton, we found the Mustang had also returned, and Steve Tupper, better known as Stephen Force of Airspeed, had arrived. Steve was booked in to fly the Mustang, with Cessna's chief jet pilot in the right seat. Rod and David were to fly with them, as well as Steve's 7-year old son, Cole. That left one seat, which Damon very graciously gave to me, since I had a camera with me. Thanks, Damon!

Stephen Force, in the left seat, primed and ready to fly the Mustang:

David grins in the doorway. He wasn't the only one smiling!

Small but perfectly formed jet turbine Pratt & Whitney engines power this thoroughbred with 1460 lb of thrust. This aircraft will do 340kt true air speed. Compare this to the 206, which does 150kt, and you can see we're really about to go places in this airplane.

There's those Garmin G1000 panels again, which enables an easy transition from the 206 to small jets. Steve has just finished G1000 training with the Civil Air Patrol, so he was able to really work the system, and he did it so well.

Steve concentrating on his stick time:

We flew north towards Sawyer AFB, 134nm away from Outagamie (about 150 standard miles), with Steve getting accustomed to the aircraft. We reached 32,000 feet in a matter of minutes; the Mustang leapt off the runway and scooted into the flight levels with ease.

The cabin in this aircraft was very plush, as you might expect from a private jet. Leather seats all round, with the four seats facing each other. Neat stowaway tables are hidden in the cabin walls, and each seat has two cup holders (I assume one holder for your gin, the other for your tonic...?). There's even a tiny fridge between the rear seats which holds a few cans of drink, and a drawer full of snacks. Cole took good advantage of these ;-) The windows are nicely placed for each passenger to have a good view, and it's unusual but fun to be able to look at the engines so closely.

Here's another video showing the cabin area, as well as Steve up front doing some flying:

Once we had made a turn back to the south, we descended to 15,000 feet and were cleared for a 2,000ft block of airspace, so that Steve could explore the flight characteristics of the aircraft. He started with some steep turns in both directions, the aircraft turning very neatly with the wings pointing not-quite-vertically towards the ground. It's always difficult to judge the bank angle when you can't see the instruments, but it was fun and the Cessna felt solid and safe.

Next up came some stalls. I have read about stalls but not really experienced them before, but as the aircraft first buffeted and then came that feeling of weightlessness, I recognised and thoroughly enjoyed the motion. Cole in the next seat was whooping with excitement. Steve did the next stall during a 20-degree right turn which really brought on the weightlessness. By this time I had noticed the speed brakes on the wing outside my window. It's only about the size of a large book but it makes a big difference. One more stall at slow speed and we were done. Cole had a big grin on his face :-)

We turned back for Outagamie and descended through the clouds. Just before we went through, there flashed a Sun halo and shadow on the cloud tops. I love to see these; it was there only for a moment; but then so were we.

Steve made a great landing - he says the aeroplane makes it easy but he was in command, right? - and we taxied in. As you can see, Steve really enjoyed logging that hour of jet time!

Many, many thanks to Angela and Cessna for making these flights possible, and to Rod Rakic for setting it up, and to David for calling me. It was a fabulous opportunity to experience the higher end of Cessna's aircraft range, and I know we all really enjoyed it.

Follow @Fly_Cessna on Twitter for Cessna news.

Here's a video shot by Damon after the Mustang flight showing people's reactions to the flight.

Steve Tupper wrote a blog entry on flying his son for the first time.

Steve also wrote his own version of events spoken as a pilot.

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