Just How Slooooowwwww Can You Go

I learned a big time lesson last month. I’ve been flying since 1975, instructing since 1998, and you’d think in all that time that I’d learn how to fly slow … and teach people how to fly slow. And I honestly thought I knew how. Well, people, let me tell you that until last week (we’re publishing this late in February, 2015), I didn’t know squat about slow flight. You’d think, too, now that I’m a partner in a Super Cub, that I’d know a thing or two about slow flight. Bruddah, Seestah, I’m here to tell you that I do not.
I was goosey about the power on, full flap stall characteristic of our new Super Cub, and I wanted to conquer that tremor. The former owner had shown me the stall on the day we arrived in Fargo to bring it home to San Diego. He had me add full flaps, 50°, pitch the nose up to a climb attitude and apply full power – as you would if you had to execute a go-around after a botched landing attempt to a short field. Let me tell you, when the stall happened her left wing dropped like a rock and, because I believe that the rudder and ailerons were blanked out, the only recovery was to get the stick rapidly forward to get her flying again, then level the wings. It made a big impression. Heading rapidly towards the ground in North Dakota could be as ugly as it gets.
So I went out with the Master, once again, Bob Turner, the man who helped bring her back from Fargo – he of the 19,000 hours and closing in on 6,000 of tailwheel time. If you’re not confident how to recover when your airplane stalls, then you shouldn’t be flying the thing. I needed that confidence boost.
The first thing we did was slow flight – plenty slow flight. We flew so slow, so long, that my right arm was aching from holding the nose up. (Our trim wheel is a touch tough to crank, so rather than ratchet it enough trim, I had to ratchet up some muscle. What fun.)
The indicated stall speed of our super cub shows 42mph. Hah. That was probably before the wing tips were extended 18″, and before the addition of the vortex generators. We had it flying, I swear, at 25mph indicated, with full flaps. And she wasn’t stalled. Or she was, but didn’t realize it. We held a constant altitude (in excess of 1500′ AGL, of course) and flew the thing straight and level, then flew it while turning, the whole time maintaining altitude and maintaining control – her nose WAY the hell up in the air and my right arm throbbing … oh, and my right foot deep into the right rudder.
Bob swears we flew it, stalled, but the Super Cub never left the sky. She buffeted and bucked, she wallowed some, but she never quit flying. In a way, she reminded me of the Husky we used to own – which was extremely hard to get into a power off stall with two on board. (The only way my pal Frank and I managed to do it, was when Frank goosed the throttle with the nose way up in the air. She must have been stalled then, because she started a spectacularly quick left spin. We recovered conventionally, but spins can be exhilarating when they’re unexpected.)
So after the two weeks of slow flight (or so it seemed), we practiced some stalls, both power off and power on. We slowed it WAY down, but the controls tend not to mush, probably because of the vortex generators, so you lose that normal indicator of an impending stall. The stall break is conventional: a little buffet, then the nose drops. Recovery is normal, lowering the nose while, of course, keeping the ball centered, then stopping the impending crash. With full power, and the ball centered, the stall was again conventional no matter how much flap we added. But we couldn’t get the Super Cub to make that hard left break with the flaps full and the power on.
Maybe I had imagined that left wing drop off.
In any case, the next chance you get, drag an instructor up into the sky – Turner would be great, but most instructors will do – and ask the instructor to work you hard in the slow flight regime. Remember, every landing ends in slow flight (or it should unless you’re some wankah scare-us driver), so the more slow flight practice you get, the better a pilot you’ll become. Just ask me.

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