Spinning the Falco

by Jimmy Shaw

This article appeared in the March 1987 issue of the Falco Builders Letter.

Jim Shaw became the third homebuilder to fly a Falco in April of 1985. Two weeks after the plane flew, Jim was transfered to a temporary training assignment in California. Then in the fall, Jim, Sharon and baby Jeremy Shaw moved to Rapid City, South Dakota. At some point Jim ferried the "Bubble Gum and Baling Wire Falco" to South Dakota, where it reigned as the local hangar queen for the next year and a half, while Jim was on "temporary" duty assignments flying for the Air Force.

This winter Jim finally got enough time to get back on the Falco. He fixed all of the temporary get-it-in-the-air patches and painted the plane. The paint was hardly dry, and Jim was back in the air making up for lost time. Since then he has been having a ball with the plane. As an Air Force instructor, Jim Shaw has more time in spins than many pilots have total time. He recently did a series of test flights in his Falco. Here is his report:

I am enjoying flying so much that it will probably be years before my Falco is totally complete. The aircraft weighs 1,132 lbs sans gear doors and fairings. The Stits Aerothane finish is not as good as I would have liked, but I'm picky. Someday I plan on lightly sanding down the imperfect areas and putting on another light coat of paint.

My flight test program is nearly complete. I have 20.9 hours of my 25 hours flown off. Many of you may remember my exciting first two test flights where I had some difficulty with my prop governor. Just remember, flying's no fun if you can't make it interesting. That problem resolved, the rest of the flight test program has gone well. I have explored all the positive G portion of the flight envelope.

Jimmy Shaw at the West Coast Falco Fly-In.

Having a rather extensive background in spins, I checked out the reaction of the Falco to varying control inputs. By far and away the Falco recovers from a spin faster than-or at least as fast as-any aircraft around. When using opposite rudder, the recovery is almost instantaneous. Positive forward stick (less that 3 seconds from full aft to full forward) will also result in a recovery in about one-half turn. It is possible to place the aircraft in a highly accelerated spin mode if this forward movement is not positive enough. In an inverted spin this cannot result in a recovery, so I would not recommend its usage as a primary spin recovery technique.

In the Falco the rudder is so effective that it is all you should use to recover from a spin. If you let go of the stick you will notice that it will automatically go to the full aft position due to the relative wind striking the elevator and pushing it up. This will give you the most exposed rudder surface. The spin will be flatter, and there will be less angular momentum due to the "ice skater effect"; that is, the mass is distributed farther away from the rotating axis. Because the spin is slower, the rudder will have less momentum to stop. I would not use aileron at all. They seem to have little effect in the Falco.

So much for spins. I also flight tested my Falco to +6 Gs at maximum aerobatic weight to see if it would stay together. She came through nicely-no chips, no cracks, no fractures. I did find some fuel lines here and there that needed to be tightened. And my alternator chewed a small hole through my cowling. My gear is still hanging down a few inches when retracted due to a clearance problem with my nose gear steering arm and my carburetor induction box, so my top cruise is only 170 mph TAS.

She flies real nice-once you get used to the very, very light controls. The rudder is the one control that is most sensitive. Nothing more than squeezing your toes is needed. At 6 Gs the aircraft will turn on a dime.

I don't recommend anyone pulling 6 Gs as I did unless they know they can handle it. Remember many pilots have blacked out while pulling 2-3 Gs. LOC (loss of consciousness) is not the same as greyout (loss of vision). If LOC occurs you may be incapacitated for up to 2 minutes. I've seen many accident reports on highly qualified military pilots that bought the farm because of LOC, and they were wearing G suits.

So take care, get some dual time in a Pitts and find out what your G tolerances are before going up. Have someone teach you the military M1 maneuver and practice it. So much for the lecture. And so much for the letter. There are unmolested clouds in an azure sky and green mountain canyons in which to fly. Clear Prop!

To spin an aircraft you must have yaw and stall. Stop either one, and you break the stall. To test the "break the stall" method, Jim pushed the stick forward while still holding full with-spin rudder and the Falco recovered in a half turn. That's a surprisingly fast recovery considering the nature of the technique. While this is an interesting test, no one should use this as a normal spin recovery technique.

Using full opposite rudder, power off and letting go of the stick, Jim reported that it recovered almost instantly, and reported that the Falco has the most effective rudder on any airplane he's ever flown. He found spins in the Falco "somewhat occilatory" (the rotation rate varies as the angle of attack changes). Jim reported that the Falco recovered in about 50 feet from a stall.

Jim's description of his "flight test to +6 Gs" was particularly hairy. He said it was difficult to get to 6 Gs. He had to dive to get 200 mph indicated and then horsed it around. He said the horizon went by so fast it was all a big blur. I never thought about "testing the strength" of the Falco in this way. The airplane is designed for such loads so it really shouldn't be considered a test at all since it is flight within the operational limit. But I suppose that if you want to know if the plane is going to hold together, you might as well be solo. Jim did wear a parachute.

Jim's spin tests were "normal" spins in both directions and his description of the spin recovery is the same as John Harns's, but I don't think the aileron should be completely dismissed. I agree that the rudder stops a normal spin so quickly that aileron doesn't make any difference, but in accelerated spins I believe in-spin aileron will make a difference. Jim plans to do more spin tests to find out it this is true.

Alfred Scott