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COVER STORY

Tiger Moth

Craig VanderKolk

24 SEPTEMBER 2005
Flying Qualities of an honest airplane

I
Ed Kolano have my leather flying helmet. I have my
goggles. Mike Williams, of Mike’s Hangar &
Aircraft Restoration and owner of the airplane,
completed my cockpit briefing: Don’t pay any
attention to the airspeed indicator or the “very
insensitive” altimeter. Noticing my sideways glance
under raised eyebrows, he offered,
“The airplane’ll talk to you.” He probably
caught my broadening grin. Keep an
eye on oil temperature and
pressure. Any questions?
Just one. Where’s
my silk
scarf?

Mike Steineke

EAA Sport Aviation 25


Bravado aside, I had a few that. The sky was clear. The wind The throttle is where you’d
trepidations about this flight. Rich was calm. And the airplane had a expect it on the left side of the
Davidson and I were scheduled brand new propeller. cockpit above and forward of the
to fly this airplane during EAA Although there are little fold- pitch trim lever. Trim can be set
AirVenture 2002, but bad weather down panels on either side of the in 29 discreet increments, which
scrubbed that flight. At EAA cockpit, entry is really a vertical turned out to be about 25 more
AirVenture 2003 we made it 5 miles affair. After stepping onto a rather than I needed. There’s a similar
from Wittman Field, still at 500 aggressive-looking non-skid lever on the right side used to
feet above the ground to comply surface on the left wing, I grabbed limit upper wing leading edge slat
with the departure instructions, the handhold at the rear of the deployment. I flew with the lever
when the propeller threw 2 inches front cockpit, took one large step all the way forward, allowing the
of its metal leading edge from one onto the rear cockpit seat with independent slats to automatically
of its wood blades. Of course, we each foot, and then walked down deploy fully at higher angles of
didn’t know the source of all that from there. With the doors up, attack (AOA). Placing the lever
shaking at the time. A quick look there’s about 23 inches between all the way aft locks the slats in
at the wings and tail and a survey their upper edges, which were their retracted position for spins,
of the limited engine instruments shoulder height. Sounds narrow, lomcevaks, and other rapidly
gave no clues. But the little engine but that’s not how it feels. The changing AOA maneuvers. Sadly,
that could chugged us back to cockpit is wider below shoulder we did not get to enjoy these
the airport where the controllers height. It’s cozy but not cramped, maneuvers—no chutes.
cooperatively cleared us for an and everything I needed to touch The control stick travel,
immediate landing, which could be easily reached, including measured at the top of the grip,
Davidson completed flawlessly. the mag switches mounted on the was 16.5 inches longitudinally
Third time’s a charm, right? outside of the fuselage between and 17 inches laterally. Rudder
Well, it turned out to be just the cockpits. pedals could be displaced at least a
couple of inches fore and aft. Heel
brakes were installed in the rear
The top wing is equipped with leading edge slats outboard of the
cockpit only.
wing struts.
Instrumentation was vintage:
Airspeed, altimeter, turn needle
and sideslip pointer, tach, oil temp,
oil pressure, and a horizontally
mounted compass that protruded
from the wood panel. A pocket
watch also occupied the panel—
not original but a nice touch. We
also had a handheld VHF radio
and portable intercom to make
life a little easier flying during EAA
AirVenture. The radio’s temporary
mount precluded the adjustment
of the slat lever.
The field of view (FOV) from the
rear seat is quite limited for taxiing
in congested areas. The forward
fuselage obstructed the entire 50-
foot wide taxiway ahead except
for a wedge of concrete extending
about 25 feet ahead of the lower
wing. With the doors folded down
and my arm outside, I could lean
to either side up to my armpit to
Craig VanderKolk

sight forward along the fuselage.


This allowed me to keep my S-
turns to about 20 degrees. With
the doors up, the heading changes

26 SEPTEMBER 2005
Craig VanderKolk
Despite fold-down ‘doors,’ entry into the cockpit is still a rather vertical affair.

needed were at least double. seconds after power-up. Although up, but it was probably much
The tail wheel was not connected the 145-hp Gypsy Moth inverted less. Measuring the climb rate
to the pedals. The rudder pushed four-cylinder engine turned the was a brief bit of futility, because
the tail wheel left and right, so propeller counterclockwise, there one complete revolution of the
taxi turn radius was limited by the was no significant left pedal altimeter needle spanned 17,000
+/-30 degrees of rudder deflection, requirement when the tail came feet. I estimate we zorched upward
making pivot turns impossible up. Not twitchy in the least, the at no more than 300 fpm loaded
without blasting the rudder with appropriate two-point attitude was with two pilots and full fuel.
prop wash and scraping the tail slightly tail-low, and the airplane Heading changes of +/-20 degrees
wheel around the corner. There gently rose from the runway allowed peeks ahead during the
was sufficient authority for normal about 5 seconds after tail-up. The climb.
taxi turns. airspeed needle was slowly passing Leveling off what seemed like
Slightly more than idle power 50 mph. The largest control force a few days later, I set the throttle
kept the airplane rolling on level involved was 7-10 pounds of stick to keep the tach needle bouncing
grass or pavement. Pulling the push during the initial takeoff between 1950 and 2050 rpm.
throttle to idle slowed the plane roll. The airspeed indicator vibrated
to a graceful stop. More aggressive As a member of that unique between 85 and 90 mph. There
slowing took at least 50 pounds population of multitaskers known was also a vane airspeed indicator
of brake pedal effort for mediocre as pilots, I made easy work of on the left wing strut that showed
results. establishing the 60 mph climb 80 to 85 mph. Resetting the pitch
Easing the throttle forward speed while listening to this trim lever’s pin two holes more
for takeoff, the airplane tracked repeated comment: “This is so forward than the takeoff setting
straight with only minor pedal cool!” Pitch attitude during the was about right for cruising.
activity. I held the stick a couple climb was deceiving. All that The elevator, like ailerons and
of inches forward of neutral, airplane in front of me gave the rudder, was controlled by cables,
and the tail moseyed up about 5 impression of 20 degrees nose- and there was a good bit of free

EAA Sport Aviation 27


Mike Steineke
Fully loaded, the airplane climbed at a modest 300 fpm.

play, aka slop, in the system. There stick into the friction, apply a quick entire sphere of sky surrounding
was also some friction. These counter-correction in the opposite the airplane—just being thorough,
combined to create a potential direction to stop the pitch rate, I guess.
for pilot-induced oscillations and then consciously return the Despite the control system
when attempting the simple task stick to anywhere within the free- friction, which is also apparent in
of flying straight and level. Here’s play band when the elevator was the roll axis along with more than
how it went. To stop a slow nose- in the correct position. Option an inch of free play, the feel of the
up pitch, I’d have to push the stick B became the method du jour. airplane still inspired confidence.
across nearly an inch of travel (Mike Williams reports that he Roll control forces are low; I’d
where nothing happened (free- has since re-rigged the elevator estimate 2-3 pounds to start the
play band), and then a bit more control system, and the pitch- plane rolling and no more than
forward (2-3 pounds) to actually hunting tendency is gone.) 10-12 pounds of force for full-stick
change the elevator’s deflection. Actually, there was a third displacement. With the maximum
Now, with the nose coming back solution, which really became the average roll rate probably around
down to where it should be, I’d primary answer. Don’t fly straight 60 degrees/second using just
relax my push, but the friction and level. There was way too much enough rudder for coordination,
held the elevator at its airplane- fun to be had with the Moth to the low stick force beckoned tireless
nose-down deflection. So, I’d waste time in non-maneuvering exploitation. The roll performance
have to repeat the process in flight. should be no surprise. First, two
the pull direction. Each cycle of Using the same “just blowin’ wings had to be paddled through
this control stick hunting took the carbon out” logic teenage the air. There were ailerons only on
about 2 seconds. There were two drivers use with their parents’ cars, the lower wing. And the ailerons
immediate solutions. I could have I saw maneuvering as a necessary, behaved more like spoilers—full
continued to bounce back and effective implementation of my left stick deflected the left aileron
forth across the free-play band see-and-avoid responsibility. I have upward fully (except for the last
in a continuous series of tiny no analogy for repeatedly seeing fraction of an inch of stick travel
corrections, or I could nudge the and avoiding throughout the that actually decreased the surface

28 SEPTEMBER 2005
deflection slightly), but the right estimated 60 degrees/second. Of pedals resulted in just two yaw/roll
aileron deflected downward just course, the increased induced drag overshoots after the pedals were
a few degrees. Once established bled the speed off rapidly, but held fixed. Without fixing the
in a left bank, the airplane slowly this performance sure allowed for pedals, the airplane’s single Dutch
rolled toward wings-level with the expeditious seeing and avoiding. roll oscillation occurred as the
controls released. In a right bank Throughout the rolling and plane rolled slowly to the right.
it maintained the bank angle on pitching the slats moved out It would perform a slow (about 2
its own. and in, but their action was so degrees/second yaw rate) flat turn
There was a substantial positive transparent that I knew it was to the right unless a little—maybe
dihedral effect. I’d step on a pedal, happening only when watching 5 pounds—of left pedal was held
and the plane yawed and rolled them. during wings-level flight.
in the direction of applied pedal. Idle stalls were not stalls at
The difference in roll performance all. Full aft stick took at least
between full-stick, full-pedal roll 20 pounds of effort, and the
rate, and full-stick pedals-free roll
“There is one problem with airplane gently descended with
rate was huge. Although the spoiler the airspeed needle wandering
action of the differential ailerons the airplane, and it’s a serious between 50 and 60 mph. The vane
is designed to minimize adverse indicator showed its minimum
yaw, there was still enough to 40 mph speed. Roll and yaw
warrant a conscious coordination one. If you fly the airplane, controls continued to provide
effort. their intended functions with
Control forces during pitching no indication of an impending
maneuvers were also low enough
you’re going to want one.” departure. Relaxing the pull caused
for a prolonged round of Red Baron. the expected airspeed increase.
Aggressive pitch maneuvering was Repeating the stall from
not about g in the Tiger Moth, The airplane’s predictable, a steeper nose-up attitude had
but the pitch rate was impressive. friendly behavior was supported the airplane about 15 degrees
Rolled to nearly 90 degrees of bank, by its stability characteristics. nose-high when I felt the stick
I gave the stick a modest pull, 10- A single, small pitch overshoot reach its aft stop. The airspeed
15 pounds, and the nose swept followed an abrupt stick pull or indicator was showing in excess
the horizon at a conservatively push. Alternately kicking the of 5 mph/second deceleration

High nose angle limits forward visibility on the ground.

Craig VanderKolk

30 SEPTEMBER 2005
passing through the 40 mph mark one. Interestingly, you run out of
when the nose lowered to about lateral stick long before reaching
10 degrees below the horizon in a full pedal. Applying more pedal
manner that might be personified would probably have increased
as apologetic. From there the the descent rate, but it would have
plane sought the same non-wing- been while turning.
rocking descent as before. The marked difference in
Flying around at the final descent rate between straight and
approach speed of 60 mph, the slipping flight came in handy on
airplane’s response to flight control final approach. I could make small
displacements was slower. More adjustments in glidepath with
rudder coordination was required, the flight controls while keeping
but there were no particular airspeed and power constant.
piloting challenges to achieving Considering the slip was necessary
my desired response. to see the 50-foot wide grass strip,
Preparing for pattern work, I this character was a welcomed,
tried to compare the descent rates easily performed feature. With the
between straight flight and a full fold-down doors open for pattern

Craig VanderKolk
slip, both at 60 mph with idle work, I could poke my head to out
power. Due to the meager 1/8 inch the side and keep the runway in
between hundred-foot marks on the sight on final approach with less
altimeter, I couldn’t measure the slipping than would have been
difference with numbers. However, required with the doors up. There Vane airspeed indicator on the
I can say—emphatically—that were no flaps, fuel selectors, boost left strut didn’t precisely match
the slip transforms the machine pumps, or any other modern the panel-mounted one, but it’s a
into an elevator—the express contrivances on the Tiger Moth, nice touch.

EAA Sport Aviation 31


only was invisible. is one problem with the airplane,
Upon our return, Williams was and it’s a serious one.” With
aside the 64-year-old airplane as slightly squinted eyes and a hint
soon as the prop stopped turning, of furrowed brow he continued,
seeking my impressions. Trying to “If you fly the airplane, you’re
gather my thoughts while my inner going to want one.” He was right.
child-pilot was shouting, “Let’s do After my flight, I lamented the
it again!” I recalled what he said assumption of how few of these
at the completion of my preflight trainers remain. There are some
briefing. He turned toward me airplanes they should never stop
with an attention-capturing, eye- producing, and the Tiger Moth is
to-eye expression and said, “There high on the list.

Craig VanderKolk

Mag switches are located outside


the cockpit, but within easy reach.

reducing the traditional GUMPS


check to S for seat belt.
Carry power or fly the final
at idle—the plane doesn’t care.
Just keep the slipping descent
performance in mind. It’s a draggy
machine power-off, so there’s not
a lot of finesse time during the
flare. Even so, I found it easy
to judge height, line-up, flare
aggressiveness, and touchdown
attitude. In short, the Tiger
Moth couldn’t be a more honest
airplane. I suppose I should
mention the calm-wind caveat,
but both Davidson and Williams
say crosswinds are not a problem.
My landings were close to three-
point, but not quite. Nailing the
three-pointer would probably have
been the best idea considering the
airplane was not stalled at full aft
stick, but even with a couple of
extra mph the touchdowns were
soft with no tendency to bounce.
With both rudder and tailwheel
steering working for me during
the initial roll-out, I had no
trouble with directional control.
Out of habit I kept the stick in
my lap, but didn’t sense that this
was necessary. The transition from
mostly rudder to tailwheel steering

32 SEPTEMBER 2005