Grumman Tiger

After a couple of months of trying to get this arranged, I went flying with a pilot who owns a Grumman Tiger (to be more precise, an American General AG-5B Tiger). I had been a fan of the Tigers ever since I discovered they existed — from its cockpit to its shape to its performance, this seemed like a fantastic airplane worth checking out. I asked on Reddit for anyone willing to let me ride in one, and then saw Tiger parked at a repair shop. One bout of public-records stalking later and I had contacted the owner via Facebook and arranged a flight.

tiger-spiro-photo
Not the plane that we flew, but one just like it.

I met the pilot at the airport as she was finishing the preflight. She said she’d wanted to go over to Chino for fuel, and wanted to make it an instrument flight, so I’d act as her safety pilot. I was happy to oblige. With a flight plan pre-filed, we took off and she flipped on her foggles, though not before I got a chance to perform a climbing turn. It’s hard to tell from a few seconds with the yoke, but the plane seemed a bit more responsive than Pipers (my only other significant low-wing experience) though more stable than the Cessnas.

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Our track from KHHR to KCNO

Apart from looking out of the airplanes for traffic, I spent my time just looking outside (the cockpit provides fantastic visibility while at the same time balancing it well with keeping things cool inside), asking questions about the instruments (there were a few strange decisions made by the original owner), and generally observing the flight. I’ve never been on an instrument flight (for what it’s worth, this was my second right-seat flight ever), and so a lot of the ways one conducts the flight were new to me. Having not had instrument training, I am not familiar with how to read approach plates or anything like that: vectors and altitudes and clearances are easy enough, but the details of how to execute the flight are not. There certainly seemed to be a lot of work required, and one needed to always be ahead of the airplane, knowing what they will tell you next and preparing for the next phase of flight. Surprisingly the pilot was pretty relaxed about it all, and though she was flying with foggles she was still able to chat with me, even before she got enabled the autopilot. I say surprisingly because I always assumed that instrument flight under the hood would take close to 100% of one’s concentration.

The flight overall went fairly smoothly. We got to Chino, filled up, and then flew pretty much directly back to Hawthorne (with a partially open cockpit, whee). In all, a pleasant flight with a friendly and very competent pilot in a fantastic plane.

Not loggable, but total: around 1.5 hrs in an American General Tiger.

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Grumman Tiger

Flight Review and club checkout

It’s come time for my 6-month club checkout flight with a CFI — and, incidentally, next month was the expiration date for my flight review, so I decided to just combine the two and scheduled a morning with one of our club’s instructors.

We met early in the morning, and spent an hour on questions about FARs. The instructor had a list of about 40 questions, ranging from fairly straightforward checkride-like ones (“what causes a stall? what are the entry requirements into a Class B airpsace?”) to trickier ones that were either exceptions to the general rule worth remembering, or something not clearly specified and thus requiring discussion. I didn’t know what to expect — this being my first flight review — but I enjoyed the session quite a bit. It was at once a refresher on some topics that I haven’t thought about in a while, as well as a chance to learn a few things in some of those tricky areas.

We then took off from Hawthorne and headed off to do some air work. On takeoff we flew towards Torrance and the instructor handed me a pair of foggles. 940I think it’s been a full two years since I’ve worn a view-limiting device, so it was actually pretty challenging to transition into flying on instruments alone. The instructor gave me some heading changes, and we flew like that for a number of minutes. I think that this is probably one of the better aspects of the flight review: a low-pressure but forced instruction on a variety of topics you may be out of practice on.

The instructor then had me do slow flight in a clean configuration, something that I rarely do (I show off slow flight to my friends from time to time, both to show that a plane can fly slow as well as to practice slow flight, but I always do it with flaps down). A power-off stall came next, and I kept power in for so long that it made the plane hard to stall. Then some steep turns, which I do from time to time, followed by an emergency descent, which I practice so infrequently as to not remember how to set myself up right away. I should aim to practice this more often.

We then headed back, but the instructor set up a scenario for a simulated control cable break where the yoke became inoperable. I then proceeded to fly on throttle and rudder alone. While obviously the airplane normally has some amount of positive stability and allows you to take your hands away from the controls for a while, it was altogether a different thing to spent 10 minutes of flight without ailerons or an elevator, and have to go through altitude and heading changes. I’ve read before of people landing with controls inoperative and this scenario was a pretty good indication of how that could be possible. It’s now to say that yaw + power makes for a very smoothly controllable airplane, but between the dihedral wing and other factors, it can work in a pinch.

Came back to Hawthorne, did a full stop landing, then taxied back, did a mostly-soft-field takeoff, landed again, and called it done. Flight review good for another two years, and club checkout accomplished!

Some takeaways:

  • Either get serious about a case for the Stratux, or get a real Stratus. It’s very helpful in the basin.
  • Finish making my own printed checklist. Consider approach plate inserts instead of lamination.
  • Develop a pre-takeoff checklist, especially to help with mixture, flaps, and trim after a taxi-back.
  • Acquire an inflatable flotation device. They’re small and yet give you peace of mind over water. And there’s lots of water around LA.
  • The second-to-last page of the Advisory Circular AC91-67 contains a useful flowchart to follow when determining if broken equipment should ground a flight or not.

Totals: 1.1 hr in C172.

Flight Review and club checkout

Around LA with Andres

Andres is a friend who hasn’t been flying in small planes before. I, on the other hand, haven’t gone in two months. In early December I had my flight of poor timing, which earned me a no-fly fee from the club since I didn’t use their plane. The cost of that flight, plus bad weather, kept me from flying in early January. Then weather plus plane availability (it was either bad weather or totally booked on weekends) caused me to earn another no-fly fee for January. So, flying we went.

The weather promised to be light-to-moderate turbulence, but most PIREPs were either far south (east of San Diego) or north of us by around 30nm, so I figured it would be ok to try — otherwise, the day was just fantastic. I warned Andres that we could expect some bumpiness, but that if it got too annoying for us then we’d just turn around and come back. I like using words like “annoying” or “bothersome” with first-time fliers so as to not get them unnecessarily worried about things like light turbulence. We looked at weather maps and decided to pick our route when we got to the airport.

A normal preflight followed our arrival at the airport. It really helps to have two people to remove the cover off the plane! We sat down and planned our route, deciding to just fly around the LA area and see how it goes. In my mind, I figured if it was not pleasant that we’d go out to Torrance and then come right back, but if it was fine that we’d head on to Palos Verdes and then Long Beach, climb up the LA river, fly by the Hollywood sign, and then come back over LAX. We asked ground for flight following (I wanted to see how that went with SoCal in the PV Practice Area, being a bit more nervous out after the mid-air collision there), and then took off.

There wasn’t a bump in that sky. Smooth sailing up to 2,500 ft and off we went to the practice area talking to SoCal Approach. Once past Torrance I asked to descend to 1,000 ft staying with them, but they advised that I might lose them on the radio that low so I stayed at 1,500 or so. I let Andres fly for a few minutes, all the while watching out for traffic. Having SoCal was at once helpful and strangely odd — I’m so used to calling out my position in that area and listening out for other planes reporting that I constantly felt naked in a way. The airspace was not busy in the least, with everyone probably preparing for the Super Bowl.

After some slow flight (I like practicing this and showing passengers that the plane can fly slowly, too) we told SoCal that we wanted to go upriver, and switched over to Long Beach who OK’ed our transition at 2,000 ft. I followed that, ducking to around 1,800 where the LAX Class B started at 2,000, and then continued around Downtown LA, past the Griffith and the Hollywood sign, talking to SoCal at that point. Then SoCal told us to go talk to Santa Monica, and we requested a foothill transition. Since the air was smooth, and we had a bit of time, I figured that we could go to Malibu, maybe do some turns around a point or steep turns for fun, and come back. But by the time we go to Pepperdine, all of sudden we flew straight into that light turbulence. It was such a strange contrast, going from perfect air into bumpy air, and it didn’t seem to be based on altitude as we climbed and descended with no change. So, we turned around and went our way back to Santa Monica, took the mini-route, and landed back.

Some faults I observed of myself:

  • I don’t remember checking the airspeed before extending flaps, neither during slow flight nor on landing.
  • I didn’t perform a cruise checklist, nor did I have a systematic check of other gauges. I did glance at a few of them, but could have easily missed one.
  • When dialing the SMO navaid frequency, I dialed it up as 108.10 instead of 110.8, and kept being surprised by not getting reception until I realized my folly. I should have just checked the chart.
  • When refueling after our return, I did not attach the grounding cable to the plane.

Some other notes:

  • KSMO didn’t tell me about a helicopter a few hundred feet below us when we were in their airspace, though they told me about other traffic. It took Andres to see it.
  • I really like having a printed checklist that’s in this plane rather than an electronic one on my iPad. Much easier to use.
  • It’s a good thing my flight review is coming up, because I could use some practice in stalls. It’s been a long time since I’ve done them in a Cessna.

Totals: 1.4 hrs in C172.

Around LA with Andres