The weeks dragged by like molasses in January. All the arrangements had been made and all the inspections performed. N988AB would just have to wait to come home.
Phil Salter sent pictures and all the information on her. So, based on Phil's honesty, Eric Cobb's help and knowledge and the pre-buy inspection by Robin Lockwood, I sent the down payment sight unseen. Now my friend Rick and I are boarding the Delta 737 that will take us to Beaumont Texas to meet Phil and fly my new Long-EZ home.
I've been waiting all my life for this and the anticipation is killing me. Looking down from 35,000 feet the earth crawls by at 500kts. Rick has been quizzing me from the Owner's Manual on speeds, check lists and everything else that matters when the %^*# hits the fan. I think we're ready.
Phil meets us at the airport about 11 p.m. and drives us to Beaumont. I want to go by and see the Long, but Phil says it's locked up. I'm sure he would have gladly stopped by but she was parked in the FBO's hangar. So we head for Phil's home and another night of cover kicking.
Ever since I was a kid, I've never been able to sleep when something BIG is happening the next day and this is HUGE! Phil's lovely wife Gina is most gracious and we are literally given the run of the house, including the refrigerator! I think I might have thought twice before letting two strangers loose in my home, but the Salters had no problem letting us run wild.............straight to bed (it was late).
5am. Up and dressed, ready for the day and literally bursting! Before dawn we arrive at BMT and it's still locked up. Phil knew it would be and drove us to the store for some last minute essentials like bananas, granola bars and water. You know, stuff for the trip.
Back to the airport and wait for the FBO to arrive. You can just see parts of her streamlined shape through the cracks in the hangar doors and by this time, the anticipation has almost done me in. I feel like a peeping tom but too bad, I continue to stare. There is light ground fog but the sky is clear and it looks like it's going to be a good day for flying. We checked the weather and nothing was coming in until maybe late this afternoon or evening, but there are storms lined up from the Pacific Ocean marching eastward. Oh well, the worst that could happen is we would spend some unscheduled days waiting for it to clear before moving on.
FINALLY! 7am and the hangar doors slowly open. I cut under the raising door and there she is. OH GAWD! She's beautiful. White with red and blue trim. Exactly the colors I have painted every model I have ever made and the colors of my mimiMax (red to still be applied) I built five years ago. Walking around 88AB, I'm touching, feeling and running my hands over the smooth waxed skin, trying not to let the stupid grin get completely out of hand. Rick says it even looks fast just sitting there. Yes, fast and sleek. You can tell she's no hangar queen just by the way Phil's kept her. Like every airplane should be; Ready! We push her out into the soft morning sunlight and this plane is everything Phil said it was and more. I am completely happy and satisfied and haven't even fired her up yet! Phil shows me the 'stuff'' as we walk around and by this time, I'm sure I'm drooling but don't really care. Not too much to go over because after all the countless emails, phone calls and requests for more 'stuff' on the plane, everything has pretty much been covered. Nothing else left to do but FLY!
I climb into the back seat and Phil lifts the nose and lowers the gear. Strapping in and adjusting the headset, I am finally calming down and relaxing. It's time to go to work and now all the pieces are falling into place. 8AB is a well built, well cared for aircraft and is ready to go.
The 160hp O-320 lights up after one blade and breaks the morning solitude. She barks out the unmuffled symphony that only those who would rather listen to airplane noise than music can appreciate. Oil pressure, amps, volts, tack at 1000 for warm up and we taxi to the active while Phil goes over the speeds, what to expect at lift off, climb out and cruise. How to slow her down so you can GET down is a major topic. At this point, I have a total of two hours in canards. With the help of Wayne Walker and expert training from Eric Cobb, I've mastered the back seat. That is, as long as all I have to do is stick work from altitude. Don't ask for approaches, landings or anything else that resembles actually flying the thing!
Phil says we're ready and we close the canopy, taxi into position and he gently applies power. As he feeds in throttle, we accelerate down the runway and I'm impressed at the push into the seat back. I love the power! He raises the nose and we float off the runway, build up some speed and as the canard comes up he raises the gear. "Oh God", I say with the grin still in place, "We're flying!"
Phil hands me the stick and she's just as light as I hoped she would be. Stable, responsive and light. Think about what you want to do and you're there. What a great aircraft! And she's mine....almost.
We do a little air work and then it's time to head back to the pattern for some approaches. Phil's a good teacher and lets me get somewhat out of sorts before correcting me. We do approaches and landings until I think I have the hang of it and head back to the FBO for a coffee break and review. We go over everything. Airspeed, airspeed airspeed. Gear down at 110, board down below 120 as required. Use both rudders if you need to, but get off of them before touchdown. Fly the thing onto the runway, hold the nose off and let her slow down. One more sip of coffee and I'm ready to go.
The back seat is good but it's nothing like the front! With cushion, I fit perfectly. One inch clearance between head and canopy, rudder pedals are fine and everything falls to hand. Phil and Rick leave me alone as I get use to the cockpit layout and memorize placement of controls. Carb heat, throttle, mixture, airspeed, turn and bank, altimeter, rate of climb, engine and navigation instruments. Speed brake, gear crank and stick. Yep, there all here and after twenty minutes or so, I crank up the Lyc. and taxi around the airport. Easy to control with differential braking and without too much trouble, can pivot turn and recover to the heading I want. No more excuses, it's time to go.
I taxi back out to the run up area and do a mag check, final instrument scan, fuel check, control check, check, check and check. We're ready. Taxi to the hold line, board up, fuel pump on. Call BMT traffic and head out onto the runway. I line up on the center line, last scan of the engine instruments and gently apply power.
Wow! With quarter tanks, no Phil and just me aboard, she literally screams down the runway! Directional control with slight braking until the rudders come alive is easier than I thought it would be. Without looking at the airspeed, I feel the elevator come alive and gently apply back pressure until the nose just breaks ground. I'm a little rough but she takes care of me like a loving mother with a new baby. Phil preset the elevator trim so as the gear comes up, we climb out at 130kts and smoothly turn crosswind headed for the practice area. Fuel pump off, throttle back to cruise climb at 2250 and get use to her. What a great airplane! I've got around seven hundred hours mostly in spam cans and tail draggers but nothing compares to this. Smooth as silk and so responsive!
We climb back to 6500msl and do some turns, climbs and descents. Each turn is tighter, each climb is steeper and each recovery is just as crisp. Everything falls to hand and I'm loving every minute of it! We were made for each other! We fit.
So now it's time for the final test. Can you get her down? Sure, no problem. Where's the airport? Oh oh, no airport. Someone stole the airport!
A new area, new terrain, no sectional of course (it's with all the other junk for the trip) to set up a VOR approach. Ok, I headed west to practice, I'll head east and see what happens. This area of Texas if very flat. No mountains or hills to use as references so I dead reckoned my way until BMT comes back into view. Whew! Call CTAF and advise a newbie will be working in the pattern and has no idea what he's doing. Back home in California, we have things like dry lakes that are miles long for things like this. Time to 'buck up' and start thinking.
Enter downwind midfield on a forty-five, 110kts, GUMP, everything is right. Turn a wide base and adjust decent with power, 100kts. Final approach is high and I built up some speed in my turn, back to 120kts. Ok, board down and raise the nose. She slows and begins a steady decent and the airspeed is finally bleeding off. Short final at 90kts, board down and over the fence with the numbers coming up.........gentle flair and fly her down to the runway, soft thump as we touch down. A little fast, but not too bad for the first landing. I let the nose drop too much and get a little bounce, catch myself and softly lower the nose to the pavement while applying breaks and slowing. I use up the whole four thousand feet and turn off calling "down and clear". YEAAAH!!!
Rick and Phil are just as elated as I am and we celebrate with another cup of coffee and a trip to the men's room! We review and I go up for more pattern work and spend a couple of hours just working and getting acquainted.
With weather coming in, I decide to pack up and head west before things turn to do-do. Rick and I didn't bring much and it's a good thing because with the strakes packed, full fuel and charts, gps, food, water and all the stuff you need in case of a forced landing, there wasn't much room for anything else. One last check of everything and we're ready to taxi out.
Saying good-by to Phil and thanking him for all the help and downright AWESOME southern hospitality, we taxi to the active. Rick reads off the checklist and we're ready to go. We taxi out to the absolute end of the runway and line up on the center line. Cool morning, low density altitude, weight and balance done and performance numbers checked. Loaded to the gills, out on the runway it is now 'Come to Jesus Time'. Set the brakes, slowly apply full power, last instrument scan and release the brakes.
She moves off down the runway gaining speed, but working at it. I raise the nose and learn that by not over-rotating, the speed builds up more quickly. At about 60kts, the prop really starts to bite and in three thousand feet we are very light. By thirty-five hundred we're off and building speed. A little hairy, but it was ok. Lindbergh would have been proud of us (I think Phil had his finger nails down to nubs).
We climbed out at 130kts headed west to DMN (Deming, NM) and with the exception of some scud running north of Austin, the trip was uneventful but beautiful. The flight plan called for a low altitude due to westerly winds averaging 20kts at 10,000msl so with the use of Anywhere gps and sectionals we made the trip in 4.6hrs and 36 gallons. Lots of twists and turns and ups and downs to avoid wx made the trip somewhat longer than anticipated. The beauty of the Long is it's 52 gallons and normal 6.5 -7 gph fuel burn gives you plenty of range. So after taking an eternity to get across Texas, (I think it is almost half the world) we cruised into New Mexico and landed well before dark in Deming.
With the wx moving in from the west, we killed some time at the Holiday Inn and then headed back to the airport. Sunny with scattered clouds at 5,000agl and 15kts from the west, we took off headed for California! New Mexico passed below us some 10,500 feet below to get over some wx and we did some VFR on top for a short distance while 'rock hopping' from clear to clear. We passed through Arizona and went from high to low to get under some isolated thunder storms and finally came up on the Colorado River.
I just couldn't resist it! Carb heat on, throttle back slowly to avoid shock cooling and descending in wing-overs and tight turns to 100' agl to follow the river north from Blythe. What a picture! 90degree banks to follow the meandering course through lush alfalfa fields and Mobile home communities and boats on the river. From a pilot's point of view, it was spectacular! From the limited view in the back seat, I guess it wasn't so great.
From the Back, "Hey, I'm getting a little woozy". Front seat, "Ok we'll land and walk around for awhile". Back seat, "No, I'm OK, just fly straight for awhile." Front seat, "Okie Dokie".
About thirty minutes later we were just east of Palm Springs and hit some of the worst turbulence I have experienced in my flying career. Slow to 100kts, gear and board down, rudders out and we're still climbing at 100fpm up into a building cumulus. We turned east and headed for the edge of the buildup and eventually got our of the rough stuff, but it was too late. My capable and adventurous back seater could hold back no longer. "AK, sput, cough" and it was over. Good thing we didn't have much to eat or it would have really been a mess. But talk about quick thinking! Rather than spoil the beautiful aircraft, "Rick the Quick" removed his movie camera from it's bag and used it for other than it's intended purpose. Bless his heart! Not even a drop on the airplane.
So it's on to RIR (Flabob) where I had a hangar waiting. I knew it would be a challenge, but we had to do a flyby. North winds at 25 gusting to 30+ provided a 90 degree cross wind so all we could was make a couple of passes and head for the high desert and APV (Apple Valley) where it was severe clear and gusting to 3kts! After a picture perfect landing and tied down in the transient parking area, we egressed and kissed 8AB on both wings! Another 4 hours and 27.4 gals made our fuel burn 6.85 gals per hour even with more wx skirting and ups and downs.
What a great adventure! A lifetime experience that will take another lifetime to beat. I didn't build her, but Mr. Agusto Benard did and has done a wonderful job. Congratulations Mr. Benard, your time and effort has paid well in the form of a beautiful flying machine. I will treat her well and appreciate the love you created her with. Thank You Agusto, if you read this, please get in touch. My number is 760 954 2840 and I would love to come see you and go flying.
Also, to Phil Salter. The times are few and far between when a person can entrust another with only phone conversations to rely on. I feel very lucky to have met you and your family. And to have begun a friendship that I'm sure will last many years. You are a man of your word and you and yours are welcome at my home anytime for that Ditch Bug BBQ! (crawdads for you non Cajun folk)
For Rick Harrison, my courageous back seater. Ya did good! It's not easy sitting in a small cockpit with a madman at the controls for almost 2 days! Sorry about the camera case, let's try it again!