The humble--and humbling--aircraft checkout

If at first you don't succeed at buying, go rent something instead. Having tried and failed multiple times to settle on the right airplane to buy, I have contented myself to renting for the foreseeable future. Still, owing to our unenviable geography in South Texas there isn't anything to rent at our local airport, and even if it was a generic 172 I don't think I'd go for it anyway. Why rent something you wouldn't buy and doesn't meet your mission requirements? When I enjoy flying at work as much as I do, beggars can be choosers.

My mission is primarily fun flying, must be a taildragger, aerobatic capable, and big enough to fit my tall self. If the door can come off for kicks and giggles, even better. If you are picturing a Citabria as you read this, we're on the same wavelength. Thankfully, there is just such a plane at my not-so-local airport to rent (it even has the STC for flying with the door off).

But even with the litany of acronyms that appear on my pilot resume, like everyone I must get checked out before the owner turns me loose with his toy. It's a standard procedure in any rental outfit, the check of the legal ability to operate the plane, and the check of the practical ability to operate it, too. Humble in its banality, the humble aircraft checkout is nevertheless humbling in its ability to expose the blind spots and rust in my flying skills.

As for so many, for us this meant some stalls, steep turns, and touch-and-goes. From Uvalde, TX one does not need to venture far afield to find some clear airspace, even if one must clear aggressively for the very active crop duster operation at KUVA.

Stalls in the Citabria are unexciting, with its flap-less wing giving a very mild pitch down and flying again immediately after adding power. Its relatively low power loading (as compared to a 172/Cherokee), moreover, makes the recovery even faster.

After the instructor simulated an engine failure I established a glide and pointed toward a plowed field, keeping in mind that often a narrow road is likely to have power lines along it, an obvious yet less-than-desirable landing site. I was high as I lined up on my field, so I put in a slip that I deemed aggressive enough--after all, it was about the same as I used to slip the Cirrus--and from the back seat I hear, "YOU CALL THAT A SLIP?" Needless to say, I increased rudder and aileron deflection and aimed more toward the front of the field rather than its middle.

Entering the pattern, my instructor's cautions of the spring gear's bounce were in the front of my mind. Three-point landings were uneventful, and the Citabria's forgiveness in stall has a corollary to landing in this regime, too. Wheel landings took some extra time, however, as the Cub's bungees spoiled me a bit and the first two were bouncers and ended up in go-arounds. It also didn't help that I couldn't remember whether it was "stick it" or "pin it" and once I sorted that out, trying to "stick it" before the wheels touched down. Happily, the layer of rust wore off quickly and I was back in business.

1.2 hours in the logbook, recurrent in single-engine, and confident again in my tailwheel flying, I'm ready and hungry for the next time.


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