flying

Nine-O-Nine's Greatest Mission

I think I speak for all Collings Foundation employees and volunteers when I say that we are going through a multi-stage grieving process. To take nothing away from the still unimaginable tragedy of losing friends and colleagues of Collings Foundation, or to those that lost loved ones on board that day, I wanted to share some thoughts I jotted down about an airplane that meant so much more than just some metal parts riveted together. 

Her Greatest Mission: Nine O Nine’s Legacy 

This past week, I took my two girls to Concord Airport to eat In N Out and to enjoy the airport viewing area. As we approached the airport, I was reminded that for the majority of my life, I was coming to this airport as a young kid to see the amazing WWII bombers each summer. And I realized how fortunate I am to be able to be able to share them with my daughters now. 

The B-17 was an icon for me, as it is for so many people. Nine O Nine was always one of my favorite B-17s, and I looked forward to seeing her each year on display. I would walk through, look at the cockpit, and rub her down with the rag a volunteer would hand me. I was a decade into my professional flying career when I achieved the dream of being able to fly her, and I couldn’t have been more excited. These reflections about Nine O Nine started to make me think about N93012’s greatest mission, though it was an unanticipated one. 

Nine O Nine was a weapon of war built too late to see combat, but she took on many different post-war roles in her day. She started life as an air-sea rescue platform, then was used for weapon effects testing where it was subject to not one, but three nuclear explosions. After being sold into civilian hands for less than $3,000, she was restored and converted to a water bomber, a position she filled for ten years. The Collings Foundation purchased her in 1986, where she underwent restoration to her final configuration. 

Nine O Nine’s time with the Collings Foundation represented her longest “mission”. She spent over three decades showcasing living history, and wowing millions of men, women, boys, and girls all over the United States. Chances are that if you crawled through a B-17, or even had the opportunity to fly in one, it was in Nine O Nine. That beautiful bomber educated and delighted multiple generations of aviation lovers, historians, veterans, and family members of veterans. 

It seemed Nine O Nine had a soul, and a personality, and was happily enjoying her time on this final, unexpected, educational mission. The pilots and volunteers each had a special bond with Nine O Nine, and the care with which they treated her was a testament to that attachment. 

Nine O Nine, thank you for serving us for so long. You left your mark on all of our hearts, and for that we are eternally grateful.

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Extra 300 approach and landing techniques

Are you in the market for an Extra 300 and you have never flown one? Or perhaps you fly an Extra 300 and you are looking at improving your approach and landing technique. Hopefully this video helps. Three important elements must be nailed consistently in order to get a good approach to landing in the pattern:

Altitude: Part of having good pacing in the pattern, downwind, 45 or base entry, is having consistent entry altitudes to start your approach. Typical pattern altitudes are 1,000 feet AGL so barring a non-standard pattern altitude, you will fly a consistent height, which means a consistent altitude to lose from the pattern, to touchdown. With a base entry, you have to estimate where you want your altitude to be based on where you would make your turn, if you were in the pattern. This makes it a bit more challenging but it’s not so bad. The strait in approach can be the most challenging when it comes to gauging altitude, but that is for another blog post.

Airspeed: Airspeed is critical in the Extra. Consistent airspeed control will ensure proper rate of decent, and set you up for proper pacing from round out (flare) to touchdown. 120kts is a great pattern speed as it wont cause as many problems with fitting in the traffic pattern. You will typically be the fastest airplane in the pattern anyway, so don’t increase issues by flying 150kt patterns. 90kts is advertised as engine out speed by the POH, so that is what we can derive as best glide speed. At around 100kts, you will notice a divergence of angle of attack, and flight path attitude, so 120kts keeps the nose more in line with flight path angle. Where this comes into play, is once you start your decent. At 120kts, and abeam the aiming point, I teach “power, pitch, and turn.” If you were lets say, 100kts abeam the aiming point, your angle of attack to maintain pattern altitude will be about 6 degrees nose up, so when you power, pitch, the flight path angle will be about 6 degrees lower than where you think it might be, due to where you are putting the nose on the horizon. This typically causes students to fall short of their aiming point due to the increased rate of decent. The goal is to be 85-90kts over the fence so 120kts also gives good spacing to lose the 30-35kts of airspeed from abeam your aiming point, to over the fence.

Aiming Point: This is where the approach really starts, and if you are on target altitude, and target airspeed, your approach will seem familiar to you and you won’t be as uncomfortable going into an unfamiliar airport. The aiming point is up to you, but think about it conceptually as you literally driving this airplane to the aiming point, to where if you didn’t arrest your decent and flare the airplane, you would smack the airplane into the ground where your aiming point was. I typically pick the runway edge as my aiming point, but that again is just a personal choice. Once abeam your aiming point on the downwind, that is your trigger to start the approach by making a power reduction, pitching down, and starting your turn, or what I call “power, pitch turn.” From there, you are making minor adjustments to power, pitch and bank, and flying a constant radius turn while slowing form 120kts to 85-90kts and descending from pattern altitude, to the flare above your aiming point.

One of the most beautiful things about aerobatic aircraft with high wing loading, is that they can go down and slow down, so losing airspeed becomes more of an organic event. Throw the old mantra of pitch for airspeed, power for altitude right out the window. You can reduce power, while keeping some power in and not going to idle while watching airspeed reduce as you approach the runway. This really gives you the ultimate control over the airplane. Rarely will you ever find yourself in a situation where you are high and fast in an Extra 300, especially by managing your airspeed and altitude as described above.

If entering from a left or right base entry, the above applies, there is just some interpretation on height and airspeed based on your position.

Here is a video showing a 3 point landing, and wheel landing, from the pattern using the techniques above: