It was a time when I knew I was immortal. The picture is of an aircraft that I test flew a few years back off a friends farm on St. Joesph Island in Northern Ontario.
It is an original design that is derived from a single seat 1930's homebuilt called a "Longster". In the picture is Mireille, the wife of the designer, builder, owner along with her dog. The aircraft was flown off a grass runway a little over 400' long and a little less than 30' wide (just under a wingspan) with no brakes, just a tail skid with a hook which was added after the initial high speed taxi tests.
The runway was nestled in a small valley with a fence at the threshold on the approach and some 10' shrubbery about 50' off the departure end. After takeoff a left turn was required to follow the lane way out to the road and over the power lines about 1/4 mile away. With the go/no-go spot marked on the runway with a bucket, allowing just enough room to stop without taking out the shrubbery, I was ready for the first takeoff. As I cleared the initial obstacle and keeping the nose down to maintain a good airspeed (the stall speed and climb speed were of course only educated guesses) the prop unloaded a bit and the revs climbed into an airframe resonance. The vibrations caused all the gauges to vibrate wildly loosing any usable indications. Oh well the aircraft was flying well, climbing and otherwise making relatively reasonable noises. With a very gentle left turn I headed down the lane way, along side the barn toward the next obstacle to clear, the power lines which were cleared by a comfortable 50' (more than a wingspan anyway) and out over the neighbour's field.
Although the airspeed, altimeter, tach etc. were all vibrating wildly I was still not prepared to change anything, attitude or power, so I allowed the aircraft to continue to slowly climb until I was several hundred feet up and comfortable I had options for a landing if an immediate requirement arose. Now a little more comfortable I reduced the power slightly, the revs dropped out of the resonance and all the gauges became usable. Now one has to understand that is in an era that I of course believed I was immortal or perhaps I somehow saw myself as the Billy Bishop of St. Joe's Island. The day was grey with heavy overcast and since we rural folk are an independent and self sufficient lot we had seen no need (or we just didn't bother) to call for the weather, This does predate the internet and the iPhone so a telephone call using a rotary dial, party line would have been the only option. A long winded way to say I discovered the cloud base at a little over 500',
With the aircraft running well I circled the hill in the middle of the field clear of cloud. I still needed to at least determine the actual stall speed so I could fly an approach to land. As I circled around to the south side of the hill for the second time the pressure to close out this flight increased as the rain drops beat out a message on the windscreen. On the North side of the hill and essentially over the runway I gradually reduced the power to idle and allowed the aircraft to slow until I felt the slight shudder and break. With a straight forward recovery and no bad habits observed I decided it would be safe to do it again so I could read the airspeed at the stall. The needle dropped to just below 30mph before I initiated the stall recovery. With quick estimation of a safe approach speed, 40 mph is a nice round number with a bit of margin, I was ready to make another pass to the south side of the hill, through the approaching rain to fly a left hand circuit to land.
Now this hill was a bit of a nuisance. The runway I need to land on runs east to west and the clear approach is a circling dog leg from the south. From the north there is high ground with trees which would require a steeper power off approach where I wanted to keep some power on for more confidence in the event a go-around is required. The hill completely obscured the view of the runway from the down wind, and with a relatively shallow power on approach, it was obscured until about half way down the base leg. The approach was clear of other obstacles, except of course for the page wire fence that was immediately at the threshold of the runway. The goal was to clear that with little margin, land on the runway and with enough room for a little 1/2" wide, 1" long hook to dig into the now wet earth and bring me to a stop before the shrubbery. Of course the aircraft should remain in one piece and I should walk away.
As I circled around onto a short final a little side slip set the aircraft up to clear the fence by low single digits and flare to a soft three point landing - or almost. With the elevator all the way back I just got to the three point attitude as the mains hit a little hard bottoming out the shock struts and snapping the safety/limit cable tight. The aircraft rolled a couple of hundred feet stopping a little more than half way down the runway and well before the shrubbery.
With light rain upon us we pulled the aircraft to the side of the runway, tied it down, and went to the house for some home made hot chocolate.
The aircraft had a stiffer set of shock struts installed, the elevator throw increased by a few degrees and the centre of gravity shifted aft a bit and it was a very gentle, predictable and forgiving aircraft to fly on wheels or skies.