A little while ago, Bill Vandenburg donated a plane (Cessna 150) to the local RAA (Recreational Aircraft Association) chapter. There’s a licenced AME (Aircraft Mechanical Engineer), Jim Aitken who’s donating his time to fix it up. They’ve got it fixed up, and it’s being made available for female pilots who want to fly it. Women who want to fly it have to be members of the 99’s, local and national RAA, and the Springfield Flying Club, and are chipping in on the insurance, and get fuel for club prices. Kind of like joint ownership, almost, only the plane is officially owned by the RAA, and the women flying it are paying whatever expenses to keep it in the air.

It’s not for training, but to make things like commercial time-building more affordable for women pilots, and for women who would like to stay involved in aviation – stay current, but wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford it. When Jill first invited me to join in on the deal, I was a little stressed out at the time, what with Nathan getting pneumonia, and then Nathan getting pneumonia again, and I really couldn’t cope with figuring out how much it was going to cost to buy into it. Plus, a 172 is nicer to take passengers flying in, and I had hoped to have passengers chip in for fuel sometimes to help make it more affordable.

But lucky for me, Jill didn’t give up, and a bit later let me know there was a fuel scholarship available. Quite frankly, none of my friends are any more financially stable than I am (who is these days?) and while I want to take them flying, they’re not able to chip in for gas much. I realized how much cheaper it would be to fly this plane. I have about fifty hours of solo time to build up, including around thirty hours of cross country, and if I did it all in this plane, it would end up saving me around $6000.

Jill is awesome. She’s friendly and welcoming, and one of those people who just loves everyone. She took me flying in her little open cockpit biplane just before my flight test, and her compliments on my flying were a real confidence booster. Sometimes I get shy and even if I really do want to get involved in something, sometimes it takes someone like that to drag me into it. I’m glad there’s still people like her in the world.

Anyway, I got the paperwork done, and headed out for Lyncrest airport. There’s actually two airports inside Winnipeg city limits. CYWG, and CJL5. Lyncrest is down at the south end of the city, and it has two little grass runways – nothing paved or anything fancy like that. The taxiways are marked with little flags that stick out of the snow. There was snow the day before, and here I assumed that grass runways were just closed for the winter right?

Ha. Not in Canada. They pack down any finger drifts, and you drive out and make sure things are okay before you go to make your take-off run, but a couple inches of snow, pft, that’s not gonna ground us. And we don’t even have tundra tires.

So I get out to see the plane, and here I thought the thirty year old cessna 152’s at Harv’s Air were old. This thing is apparently fifty nine years old. She’s a venerable old lady, C-FLUG is. But people don’t treat planes like they do cars. There isn’t the consumerist push of insurance companies to get rid of older cars, and write them off if there’s even a little bit of damage. Planes, if the thing will still fly, someone will happily fly it, and if it won’t someone will usually fix it. This one’s been fixed up nicely, but still, some of the instrumentation is entertainingly primitive. The radio was a jury rigged handheld plugged into an intercom. There were wires all over the cockpit. Someone’s donated a proper radio, and it’ll be installed shortly,

Anyway, taxiing through snow is interesting. It’s not like a car, where you need traction on the wheels for forward movement. You have the propeller on the front pulling forward, so it’s rather more like taking an untrained puppy for a walk and it’s constantly yanking on the leash in the general direction of forward. And then the wheels slide around, and you learn exactly why soft field techniques are what they are. It’s also much easier to remember to keep back pressure on the elevator when you realize how much difference it makes on how badly the nosewheel digs into the snow.

So we’re lining up on the runway, getting ready to take off, and the checkout pilot who was helping me get familiar with the plane says “Oh, another thing I should mention – this plane has a funny habit of the engine failing on take-off.”

Good to know, I said. He gave me a little more description, and right away I realized that was what they were talking about in the emails when they said the old girl loves lots of carb heat. When the engine’s running at low RPM’s the engine gets cooler because of the vaporization of the fuel going through the carburetor, and if you don’t apply carb heat, then apply full power, the engine can be too cold and fail. Normally you wouldn’t use carb heat on the ground because we all know that bypasses the filter and you can end up the with propeller throwing grit from the ground into the engine. But in this case, if you don’t, you can end up with an engine failure on take-off.

And I know what everyone’s going to say. “Whoa, dude, they’ve gotta fix that!”

It’s fine. You just have to know the machine, and treat it with loving kindness. Again, it’s not like a car. In a car, you can usually hop into any car and drive it, as long as it’s not standard. Planes, especially old ones, I think, they develop character, and it’s part of their charm.

Anyway, we take off, and the snow really drags at the wheels. Suddenly all that soft field techniques you learned in your private training – it’s not that it didn’t make sense before, but it’s one thing to practice soft field technique on a paved runway, and a whole other thing entirely to get to do it on a real soft field. It’s easy to remember to keep the back pressure on the elevator when the plane slows or stops if you let the weight come down on the nosewheel.

I’ve done a fair bit of landing and takeoff practice now in the 150, and I’m getting lots more comfortable with it, and the flaps and such.

The flaps. They’re not electric like the 152s. They’re operated with a big lever between the seats. They go up to forty degrees instead of just thirty like the 152s, so I guess if you’ve got a short runway on a windless day, you can jack them all the way. They’re kind of a bastard to get that last ten degrees, though, because you’re fighting the airflow. We did one approach with an overshoot with full flaps, just for the experience, and the experience getting them back up too, in the overshoot.

Another thing the checkout pilot taught me is the trick for if you’re having trouble getting the plane to lift off, if the field is soft, and slowing you down badly, with the manual flaps, you can take the lever and just jack it suddenly to give it a quick extra bit of lift to pop it off the ground, faster than the drag the extra flaps causes can slow you down.

So yeah. Grass covered in packed snow. Fun stuff. I feel so frelling Canadian right now.