FLYING MY TITAN T-51 MUSTANG TO SUN N’ FUN 2010
By Ross Hesom
Building one’s own airplane is quite an achievement in itself. The sense of accomplishment one feels when your creation takes to the air for the first time is akin to that felt when your first child is born. As you become more comfortable with the aircraft you slowly expand the envelope of the distances traveled and the conditions you are prepared to risk your baby to.
This is exactly the scenario that I have been through over the last year. I received my Titan T-51 Mustang kit in June of 2007 and after 1800 hours (18 months) of extremely enjoyable building, “Lancer”, as I have named her, took to the air in a flawless first flight on January 20th, 2009. Slowly but surely I went through the 25 hour test period, expanding the envelope of flight one step at a time. The first flight was done with the landing gear extended and the prop set at a useful pitch for the short hop around the patch. The next flight required in-flight adjustment of the prop and the following flight I pulled up the landing gear, each little change a seemingly insurmountable hurdle that might, or might not, go well. A huge sigh of relief as the landing gear is extended again and the 3 green lights blink on one at a time. Okay, that worked, so now onto the next stage. Straight and level flight, approach and take-off with various flap and power settings, stalls, crosswind landings, flight at gross weight and so on. A slow progression to the point where the 25 hour mark crept up and the Certificate of Airworthiness was issued. With this document in hand, the restrictions were lifted, allowing departure from the now comfortable home base pattern and the 25 mile radius that Lancer and I had become so familiar with. Slowly, cautiously at first; a landing at a nearby airport; a short cross country of under 100 miles, all the time expanding the envelope, growing more confident and learning to trust the aircraft and ultimately, your own building and piloting skills.
There comes a time when all the testing is done and the next step is to take your baby out into the big wild world. This is not a decision that is made lightly and I found myself resisting the urge to take this next giant leap. The now so common ; “What if …?” questions rising in my mind, keeping me awake at night and invading my dreams. Being the Canadian Dealer for Titan Aircraft, I make almost daily calls to the factory in Geneva, Ohio. The pressure from the owners and designers of the kit was on and in the end I gave in and agreed to plan the trip and fly Lancer to Sun n’ Fun 2010. A multi-stop, multi-state cross-country. The next big step in the evolution of an Amateur-built aircraft. I left home on the bright morning of April 9th, 2010.
With eApis confirmation, CBP decal in place, verbal notice of arrival called through, flight plan filed and the weather looking perfect, there was nothing stopping me. A heap of maps was mounted on my kneeboard with the track drawn and highlighted on each section and folded for best and easiest viewing, I turned on the GPS and took off from my home base of Morden, Manitoba (CJA3) at the correct time to be at the Piney / Pinecreek border airport (48Y) at the pre-arranged 9:00 A.M. with the knowledge that I wasn’t to get out of the aircraft until told to do so by the border guard. I didn’t have to wait long and the guard was there to meet me in a small SUV. I was taken across to the border post and allowed to proceed within a few minutes. A total non-event! What was all the worry about? I think that had my paperwork not been in order, things may not have been so easy.
Next stop Osceola, Wisconsin. Cruising at 130 knots with a tailwind of around 20 knots, I made good headway and arrived a mere 2.1 hours later. It was on short final to Osceola (KOEO) that I suddenly realized that I hadn’t put my wallet in my pocket that morning. For a few moments I let the worry get the better of me but then decided to fly the airplane and try to make a plan once on the ground. I didn’t have enough fuel to get back home and didn’t have any money or credit card to put in fuel. Once I was on the ground, I realized that I had put my US dollar cash in my flight bag together with my passport and pilot license. It would be enough to get me to Geneva, Ohio where I could borrow some cash from Titan.
Lancer parked at the fuel pumps – Osceola, WI
After fueling up, I then took off for Warsaw, Indiana. The longest leg of the day, that took me down Wisconsin into Illinois, around Chicago, and along the south end of the Great Lakes. The day had now warmed up and I climbed to 5500 feet to get out of the turbulence, but I still ended up having to hang onto the controls while trying to read maps and ensure I wasn’t getting into controlled airspace inadvertently. The GPS was a big help here and after 3.1 hours of some of the testiest flying I have ever done, I tuned to the Warsaw airport AWOS to find that the wind was blowing 14 knots at 310º, with gusts to 29 knots. That’s fine if it is right down the runway, but my runway choices were 27 or 36. I tried runway 27, but after 3 hours in the same position, my legs just weren’t alive enough to make the tricky landing and I aborted in favour of runway 36, which had a stand of trees down the one end to perhaps shield my round-out . By now I had “woken” my legs up and I executed a perfect one wheel cross-wind landing, rolling it over onto the other wheel and retracting flaps as the tail came down all at the same time. Upon arrival at the airport terminal, a group had gathered, as they always do when I arrive in the Mustang, and as I climbed out they erupted into spontaneous applause. Boy, did I feel important! It had been my intention to continue on to Geneva, Ohio the same day, but after a little bit of thought I decided to call it a day and tie down for the night.
Calling at different airports in the United States is an absolute treat and I believe that we have a lot to learn from the experience up here in Canada. All it took was the mention of staying overnight and I was handed the keys to the courtesy car, I turned around and Lancer was being chocked and tied down on the apron. In the old Ford Taurus was a map with the local hotels highlighted.
April 10th dawned clear and crisp. I was at the airport by 8:00 and after refueling, set off for Geneva, Ohio two hours away. Lancer had almost come full circle by returning to her place of birth, Titan Aircraft Corporation. About 30 minutes out of Germack Airport (7D9), owned and operated by Titan Aircraft, I tuned the radio to 122.9 and immediately heard a familiar voice calling me. A few minutes later I had Bill Kaleno, the company test pilot and chief engineer in the company test bed “Camel Smoker”, off my right wing. What more could I wish for? I was escorted in to Germack and landed to a warm welcome from everyone there, including the owner of Titan and designer of the T-51 Mustang, John Williams.
Bill Kaleno in Camel Smoker escorts me in to Geneva, Ohio.
April 11th was another perfect day and after making sure that we all had fuel for the first leg, we set of as a 4 ship formation. This being my first experience of formation flying and I soon realized why the military aviators do it. The air was increadibly smooth and it didn’t take us long to get into the art of following the leader and then taking it in turns to lead for a while. One couldn’t help thinking back to the 1940’s and imagining that we had been transported back in time. Four Mustangs in formation on a mission. Our mission was to get to Sun n’ Fun and there were no unfriendly aircraft out there but one can always dream. A few other aircraft did cross our path and it was difficult to stay in formation and not instinctively dive down and give chase. The miles rolled by very quickly and we made our first stop deep into Kentucky where the culture is as rich as the accents of the airport staff we encountered. A trip down the road in the airport courtesy van had us eating homemade burgers to die for. I couldn’t help remarking that this was not a $100 burger but a $1000 burger. The afternoon had us flying over some really rugged country in Tennessee.
Very Loose Formation at 7500’ over Tennessee
We climbed to 7500 feet and opened the formation up to increase safety as it was also becoming progressively bumpy but again the miles just seemed to evaporate and after a few more hours we landed in Peachtree City, Georgia (KFFC) for the night. The courtesy car was an old police interceptor, obviously retired to it’s present position after faithful service to the Sheriff department. The four pilots climbed in to quotes from the 1980’s move “Blues Brothers” such as; “It’s got cop shocks, it’s got cop tires …” and “Look under the seats for donuts”. It still had quite a bit of performance left in it too!!
April 12th again saw a beautiful forecast but when we got a weather briefing they showed thunderstorms down in the Florida area. John Williams has a Garmin 496 with weather and we decided that he would be lead for the day. Our next stop was in Douglas, Georgia, where we were treated to a tour of the local museum facility. To our surprise, we found amongst other things, that they are restoring the original prototype XP-82, Twin Mustang. The Titan boys were particularly interested in this, because Titan is presently well into the process of developing a full size P51 Mustang kit for the Amateur Built aircraft market.
Refueling in Douglas, GA
We then moved on with the intention of stopping at one of the Titan T-51 builders airports near Daytona, Florida. As we got closer and closer, the weather deteriorated more and more and we ended up diverting to the west and heading straight to Winterhaven airport about 15 miles from Lakeland Linder Regional Airport where Sun n’ Fun is held. Once clear of the thunderheads we arrived in Winterhaven where the birds were tucked away inside a hangar for the night but not before a few rides were given and a local flight instructor had performed a little aerobatic display in one of the T-51’s.
April 13th. The first day of the Sun n’ Fun airshow had us at Winterhaven early to collect the Mustangs for the short flight to the Paradise City airstrip. This is the ultralight strip near the entrance to the Sun n’ Fun show ground and is 1300 foot turf. I had not filled Lancer’s drop tanks preferring to stay light for the landing on the shorter strip and the close maneuvering I knew I was going to have to do within the ultralight circuit. There is a 500 foot ceiling in the circuit and one has to overtake slower traffic on the inside of the pattern which in itself is fairly small. Once again we arrived in the four ship line astern formation and it was decided that I would be the first to peel off and land. This was made extremely difficult due to at least three ultralights being in the circuit at the time. Everything went well until I had established final approach, had my landing gear down and had slowed Lancer to 80 mph in preparation for landing. One has to make a decision as to whether you have to go around based on the traffic ahead. There was an old ultralight directly ahead of me doing about 40 mph. There was no way that he was going to land ahead of me so I decided to go around and start again. As I made this decision, the pilot of the ultralight jinked to the right slightly and I thought he was going to turn right and use the “Flyby” route. I changed my mind and decided to commit to the landing as he would be off to the side by the time I got onto short final. To my horror the ultralight straightened up and proceeded ahead with his approach for landing. This had all taken mere seconds and if I now aborted my approach, I would have collided with the ultralight as I pulled up and to the right to go around. I decided to continue and flew under the ultralight, landing well ahead of him, backtracked a short distance and cleared the runway before he had even touched down. It wasn’t long and the airboss was there to haul me over the coals. Yes, I broke a rule, but as pilot in command, I felt that I had opted to take the safer of two bad options available. What a great start to the airshow! My decision not to fly for the rest of the week was made there and then, partly because I needed the rest before the long trip back home and also because I didn’t want to run foul of the FAA again.
Lancer on the Titan Booth – Sun n’ Fun 2010
Wednesday April 14th was to be an eventful day. Bill and Ron, our fourth wingman, left in Ron’s Honda powered T-51 “Unusual Attitudes” for South Lakeland airport, just 5 minutes south of the airshow, to go and test fly a newly completed T-51 Mustang called “Mrs America” and done up like the famous air racer flown by Howie Keef in the 1970’s. Shortly after departing the Paradise City circuit, the engine on Unusual Attitude suddenly quit. Bill was pilot in command and with 700 feet AGL to play with, he decided to put her down in a small tomato patch. A perfectly executed belly landing was carried out and the two occupants of the plane walked away with minor scratches. The plane was recovered and trailered back to Ohio where it will be repaired and should be flying again in a couple of months. Testament to the handling of the T-51 in a no-power situation and the strength of the design. It was found that the exhaust manifold had developed a leak and the hot gases had burned off the main wiring harness to the engine computer. A bit of a damper to the week and cause for me to take the cowls off Lancer and make doubly sure that everything was in order for the return trip. Apart from this, there was a tremendous amount of interest shown in our aircraft and I picked up quite a few leads from Canadian attendees. I was privileged to have John Lovelace and the film crew of “The Aviators” use Lancer as a prop for one of their upcoming episodes.
April 18th, the last day of the airshow dawned with showers and storms moving in from the south west. The decision was made to wait for a hole in the weather and move north before the main front moved in. It looked as if it was there to stay for a few days, so it was wise to get ahead of it. At 11:30 there was a break and we made a run for it. Once again John was lead with his storm scope and we followed line astern until we broke free after about an hour of flying and emerged into clear skies. After this we continued on to our first fuel stop and then on to Smyrna, Georgia for the night. Quite a distance out of the way for John and Bill, but they insisted on sticking with me for as long as possible, which was very much appreciated.
Smyrna Airport just prior to going our separate ways
April 19th was to be the longest day of all, with Lancer and I leaving Smyrna Airport on our own. This was the only controlled airport I visited and leaving was a breeze. I contacted Ground control and was given taxi and take-off clearance, a transponder code and then handed off to Nashville International, they vectored me around their airspace and I was then cleared to continue on my way. All very friendly, even when I had to ask the controller to slow down a little. My first stop for fuel was Danville, Vermillion County airport (KDNV) where I taxied up to a rather run down, unmanned control tower. The reception as usual was really friendly and the crowd that gathered was asking all sorts of interesting questions. “Are those functional drop tanks?” “ Is this airfoil the same as the genuine P51?” and so on. I filled up and went into the office to pay for the fuel and commented on the hundreds of pictures all over the place of P51 Mustangs. I was duly escorted through to the workshop where there was a T6 and two genuine P-51 Mustangs under restoration. My eyes nearly fell out and I spent an hour or so just looking around and dreaming. The company doing the restorations is Midwest Aero Restorations and the work they do is remarkable. They are so into authenticity that they replicate the grease pencil marks made by the factory line workers on the original assembly line. The workmanship is first class and I learned a lot just by looking around for that hour. Time to move on and I took off for Osceola, Wisconsin where I intended spending the night. One of my waypoints was Lone Rock, Tri county airport and as I passed over the airport, the GPS recalculated time to destination as 1 hour and 40 minutes. I decided to take a break and landed. After a soda and a couple of granola bars, it was time to move on and arrived at Osceola just before 5:00 P.M. after 5,5 hours of air time for that day. I tied down for the night and used the courtesy Jeep to get to a lovely hotel on the other side of town for the night.
April 20th started with a call to Canadian Customs and Canpass to arrange entry. An email was sent to US Homeland Security to get departure clearance which arrived shortly thereafter. I refueled and filed my flightplan for departure at 14:05 Zulu (9:05 A.M. local) and proceeded to taxi out for runway 10. A student was busy doing engine run-up and mag checks in a Cessna 150 on the taxiway blocking my way onto the runway and I had to wait nearly 20 minutes while he completed his checks. I got to Pinecreek within the window and the Canadian border guards were more interested in taking pictures of the Mustang than anything else. I was desperate to close my flight plan and used their phone while they climbed all over Lancer.
The final leg of the trip from Piney to Morden was the bumpiest of the whole trip and even though it was a mere 40 minute flight, we climbed to 6500’ where it was a little smoother. Arriving at Morden there was one training aircraft in the circuit and a warm welcome home from the folks at the flying school. I taxied my trusty steed to her stable and put her away with a gentle pat on the cheek. She had done me proud and will soon be treated to a bath, a complete physical exam, some fresh oil and a new oil filter. We had covered just short of 4000 miles in 31,5 hours of flight time while visiting 20 different airports with no major issues. A proud moment for both pilot and aircraft.
The route taken from the GPS log
Ross Hesom owns Ross Hesom Aerocrafter (RHA), is the Titan dealer for Canada and operates from Morden airport in Manitoba. He can be reached via his website www.titanmustang.ca.
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