Flying in a Stearman
We climbed out at a 500 feet per minute, leveled off at two thousand feet, and ambled along at a steady 90 mph indicated as we made our way to Lake Lewisville about twelve miles to the northwest.
At that altitude, the temperature was just right for an open-cockpit Sunday flight. A few thermals bumped our bottoms as gently as a kitten batting a ball of yarn. Cotton ball clouds lay contentedly suspended in the brilliant blue sky, and the bright yellow sun smiled upon us. The blue-and-yellow Stearman was color coordinated for a day like this one. It was such an actual, satisfactual, Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah moment, I expected a blue bird to light on my shoulder.
As we flew along, I regained an appreciation for airplane windshields. I'd recently done some true open-cockpit flying in a gyroplane, one without any windshield, and even at a relatively modest airspeed of 60 to 75 mph, the head-on wind made it difficult to turn my head and the wind noise made it necessary to turn the headphone volume way up. As stubby as the Stearman's windshield was, it still diverted enough air away from the cockpit to provide a comfortable lee. Comparatively speaking, the Stearman's windshield was like riding in a convertible with the benefit of the open air but without the wind blowing up your nose.
Once we made the lake, Kevin knew exactly where to go. He took us directly over the cove where a few boats and a couple of dozen jet skis loitered together. We circled the flotilla several times but -- to my disappointment -- we didn't entice any bikini-clad admirers to come out and wave at us.
It was while we were over the lake that Kevin acknowledged my superior flying ability. Even though Kevin has 1400 hours in the Stearman and even though we were flying straight and level and in perfect trim, Kevin must have felt he was on the verge of losing control of the Stearman, because he asked me if I'd like to fly it. Even though he phrased it as a polite invitation, I could detect the silent plea in his voice that I would jump on the controls and save us. So, I took over and showed him how to do it. And, naturally, the aircraft responded to my expert touch and continued on its straight and level, perfectly trimmed flight. If I hadn't known better, I would have thought the plane didn't need me at the controls.
After a few minutes, Kevin suggested we turn back because we were getting too far from the airport. Little did Kevin know that was my strategy: to fly as far away as I could to stretch out the flight. But, he'd caught me, so I began a gentle one-eighty turn back toward the south. Then, the turn grew steeper, the nose fell down, the wing dipped over, and the ball scooted all the way over to the far end of the race. Kevin grabbed the controls and took over again, putting things right. Of course, that was my plan all along; I purposely put us in that predicament, knowing Kevin would step up to the situation. It was my way of restoring his confidence after he'd had to call on me to take over the flying before. I silently congratulated myself on the successful outcome of this maneuver as I slowly removed my hand from the parachute's D-ring, which I must have grasped -- subconsciously, of course -- during this carefully planned maneuver.
page 10 of 12 pages