Well, as I’d mentioned in my last report:
Monday, we’re taking out the much faster Cessna 172 for a longer cross country to the northeast. RHV to RIU; on to CPU; then a 10 mile detour to overfly my cabin in Arnold; on to O22; then E45; on to MOD; and than back home.
This was last Monday when I, my instructor Jim, and my wife Bea all piled into the C172. Started from Reid-Hillview in San Jose, CA, NE about 75 miles to Rancho Murieta, just a few miles SE of Sacramento, CA. Then it was SE about 30 miles to Calaveras County airport, midway between San Andreas and Angels Camp on the famous Highway 49 (think 49ers, i.e., 1849). Then we flew due east into the mountains about 10 miles, past Murphys and on up to Arnold to overfly our mountain cabin at 4,500 ft. elevation. It’s difficult to spot anything when overflying pine trees, and that "other" golf course faking me out didn’t help, either. But without even having to do a search pattern, we found Arnold and the cabin easily enough.
As soon as we’d spotted it, we headed SW 10 miles to Columbia airport. Quick turnaround and we were off, another 20 miles or so south to Pine Mountain Lake. What I didn’t know is that this is one of those flying communities. Nice houses with airplane hangers for garages line the taxiways. Some unbelievable airplanes, too. Also a very challenging place to land (and takeoff), as it sits in a bit of a gorge. This means you’re staring right at the slope of a mountain (close) on your right downwind, and as you turn on to right base, you’re very close to the ground, as it slopes down from there to the runway. As such, you can’t be too much lower than the standard glide, and if you freak out and get too high above the glide, that runway begins to look very short. I wasn’t comfortable with my first approach, so no shame in going around. Nailed it the second time, even though we were landing at 3,000 ft. elevation at 95 degrees. I calculated density altitude to be about 5,000 ft.
We parked, hoping to grab some lunch in the cafe. Closed Mondays. Well, a rest in the shade with a nice breeze will have to do. One thing about general aviation: these planes don’t generally have A/C. It’s usually not too problematic to get heat on cold days, even at altitude, but when it gets hot and you’re on the tarmac, it can get downright uncivilized.
We load back up, taxi, do a brief run-up, and because we’re so high, we lean the mixture out to tune for max RPM. Plus, we have a hill to clear on the climb-out. You want max RPM.
Then it’s due west, stopping in Modesto for a bit of fuel. Unlike the others (except Reid), this airport is controlled by a tower and I ask where I can get some gas. He directs me over. Should have checked on prices, cause 20 gallons cost $80. Ouch. I think it’s around $3.50 – $3.60 if you shop. On the other hand, this place treated us like royalty. Refreshments, lounge, etc. They also take care of jets that people own, charter them out, etc. They loaded us into a minivan and over to another hanger to check out a Bombardier Challenger they had in. I don’t know what they go for on purchase (probably $30 million plus), but you can rent one for only $4,000 per hour (engine running time), plus landing and parking fees at your destination. Actually, if you get 10 people together, you could do a Vegas trip for about what 1st class tickets would cost.
After parting from our excellent hosts, we took off to just about the same western heading, did a 100 mph climb-out to 6,500 ft., which is just enough to clear Mount Hamilton, and then dive down to 2,000 ft. as quickly as possible ’cause we’re only 5 miles from Reid (closed throttle, pitched down enough to get 120 mph, 1,500 fpm down). Got clearance for a right base approach and nailed the 3 mile out turn onto final at 2,000 ft., continuing descent to the 1,130 ft. pattern altitude.
Bea, my wife, did great. She didn’t complain a bit. The Cessna 172 is a fine airplane, but it’s not even close to being as fun and challenging to fly as the Citabria. The flaps add some complexity, but really, just make landing approaches a lot easier to control. At a full 40 deg., they are very effective at establishing a steep descent. Just add a little power to extend the glide angle. You’ll notice airliners have power on until they’re in ground effect. This is primarily because of flaps.
Also, the 172 is cramped, hotter inside, and the rudders have easily less than half the authority they do on the Citabria. Instructors at my school tell me that certified pilots transitioning from trike gear to taildraggers require an average of 25 hours. I always thought that was a lot. After experiencing how much the rudder is an "afterthought" in these sorts of aircraft, I know why. You can’t fly an average taildragger safely without being very accomplished on the rudder.
Update: Other than that, it was nice to get back into the Citabria today. Jim, my instructor, is in Hawaii so I’m on my own for a bit. Three go-rounds in the patters, then out to the practice area for some stalls. Found that I could not stall this particular 7ECA with a slow pitch up to full aft stick with as little as 2200 RPM. Very, very comforting. This means that with application of full power, you can climb yourself (if you know how to use the rudders!) out of just about any sort of shit.