Above & Beyond: Wings? Frail. Engine? Weak. Fly? Let's.
- By Larry Lowe
- Air & Space magazine, March 2008
(Page 3 of 4)
I pushed the stick hard to the left to check that the controls were free and clear. I was also checking to see, for the umpteenth time, that they were hooked up correctly. What I could not get used to were the massive ripples in the fabric as the entire wing twisted in response to the control input.
Adjusting my goggles, I reviewed what I had been able to glean from the few living pilots who had Blériot time. Let it fly itself off: Don’t ask it to do anything it doesn’t tell you it is ready to do. Keep the power on during descent and fly it firmly back onto the ground rather than glide to a flare. Never let the bank get too steep, particularly down low—there’s not enough rudder to pull you out of a spiral.
I opened the throttle, pushed the stick full forward, leaned into the blast as if to help the airplane accelerate, and watched as the ground speed gently increased. It was like being in a dream where you run harder and harder to escape and yet cannot go any faster. Eventually, though, the tail lifted lazily from the ground.
With no idea what the airspeed was or what was needed, I held the nose on the ground well past when I thought we should be able to fly. Then, in response to slight back pressure, I got unstuck. I eased off a little back pressure to hold the airplane in level flight, just a few feet off the runway, to let it gather what remaining speed it could. Sitting half out of the fuselage, awash in prop blast, I was exhilarated.
Suddenly a gust of wind battered the airframe and the right wing went down abruptly. I countered with wing warp and a healthy dose of the tiny rudder. The Blériot rolled firmly to wings-level and I centered the controls. The airplane gently pressed on into the wind as if nothing had happened. In that moment I fell in love with the design. With that stub nose and tiny rudder, it looked like a caricature, but it flew like a real airplane.
It was decision time. The plan had been to do a hop, and commit to flight only if everything was well. The expanse of runway behind was now longer than the stretch ahead. Eventually I would be out of options and the decision would be made for me: Fly it around the pattern or hit the power lines at the far end of the field.
The pilot in me urged: Go fly. Show the crowd what a Blériot could really do. The airshow director in me advised caution. The museum was about preserving airplanes, not destroying them. The fabric on the wings was suspect. The engine was weak. And by now my total Blériot time amounted to a mere 20 seconds.
In the most second-guessed decision of my aeronautical career, I eased up on the back pressure. The airplane began a gradual descent. Soon the stability of the ground overcame the buoyancy of flight. The main landing gear was on the ground. Only then did I ease the power back. When the tail finally settled onto the ground and the drag from the dual skids auto-centered the airplane on the ground track, I thanked Louis Blériot for the way the details of his design benefited the novice.