What Are You DOING?
This article appeared in the September/December 1999 issue of the Falco Builders Letter.
Yesterday finally after twelve years my Falco took off for the first time, and worst of all I cannot say this because I was not allowed to do so, having not yet received the necessary and usual paperwork from the various aeronautical administrations. The report of my first flight will not be about speeds or handling of my Falco which perhaps are very good, but about the adventure itself and about a special man who came along with me.
It's essentially a bureaucracy problem, but as you know airplanes, especially Falcos, are very good at flying, but they have not learned to read yet and thus mine was totally unaware of the missing documents.
Yesterday as today, and probably tomorrow was a foggy winter day in my area. The Falco sits in a country airport quite far from my city, at an airport I've chosen as her base for the nice people who go there, quite different from the ones of my city airport where I still go for the good location practically inside the city, but where a plane like the Falco is not welcome. You cannot drill holes in the sky over the runway, the hangars are dirty, and the people are too jealous.
So I drove there in the morning fog, listening to the music on the radio and dreaming of air adventures while watching the gray sky in the long line of cars ahead of me.
I was not nervous, the night before I slept quite well although I had a temperature. I was not really supposed to fly, and the weather was not that good.
The inspector arrived. He carefully checked the aircraft, and then he asked me to perform a few runway tests.
As a courtesy I offered him the left seat. At first he said "Yes" but then he refused. So he sat in the right one which has no controls, and for the first time I fired up the engine. For the last two months, I had avoided the airport because I knew that as soon as I saw the Falco I would have also flown it regardless of the bureaucracy.
The engine fired up immediately. It was as if my hand were acting disconnected from my brain. I had been sitting there forever. I knew where all the switches were located. My eyes were pointing at the instruments automatically.
Engine temperatures were good. We released the brakes. He asked "Are you insured?" I answered a firm "Yes" (liar) and we started moving. We had no radios, and I left the headphones at home. Really I was not supposed to fly.
I went through the takeoff checklist, and I entered the runway. We taxied down the runway twice, with full power to 55 knots and then brakes. The third time I lined up the Falco, I asked him "Do you want to close the canopy?" He said "Yes."
Takeoff flaps? "Yes."
What About the fuel pump? Again "Yes."
What would you have done in this case?
At this point I was sure he wanted to fly, but he couldn't say so because of his job. I gave it full power, the aircraft accelerated quickly and in a few seconds we reached rotation speed. I applied the necessary pressure on the stick and WOW the Falco after twelve years and 250 meters was finally airborne.
Two seconds, really two seconds, and the inspector turned his face shaking his hands. "Put it down!" He said. I kept my eyes straight ahead, pretending that I was not paying attention to him. He was astonished. He said again "Put it DOWN!!" I answered "Let it fly," and I started laughing in a satanic way. I didn't move my hand one inch from the throttle and at that point the runway was far behind.
He started to become very upset, and nervous. He said he was not supposed to make the test flight. This was very dangerous. He searched for the safety belt. He said that if the authorities hear about this, he would be fired.
I raised the gear and the flaps. The Falco accelerated. Again he asked "What are you doing?" I answered "I'm cleaning it up. We cannot fly at 130 knots with the gear extended." I said I was not able to maintain the speed. He started screaming to put it down. I left the circuit and did a few turns.
The Falco was flying beautifully-I was showing him my hands. I was very emotional. We were in the same tiny cockpit, and I told him that we were sharing the best experience of a lifetime. He was not as happy as me. I wanted to start laughing, but I couldn't. Once again I was asking myself why I was not doing this the normal way.
The two mechanics
I was flying. I was overwhelmed by emotion. I was making too many inputs. I was happy with how the Falco was flying, and I was trying to detect any defects. I was scared of the inspector's reaction because I was not following his directions. All this at the same time.
The Falco did not have any permit to fly, nor the insurance. I was not allowed to be seated there. The displays on the radio stack although very nice to see in the late afternoon darkness were useless, and we were not talking to the tower. But anyway the Falco was flying. How many laws had I broken?
The inspector was insisting that I had done this on purpose. He was constantly asking why I had not landed immediately, and I said that I did not feel safe doing so. The aircraft was flying too fast, and I was not sure I would have been able to stop it safely. He answered that with 6,000 ft, we had plenty of runway. Really it seemed to me that Falco wanted to fly, and it flew.
So I entered the circuit, extended the gear and the flaps and prepared the Falco for landing. I visually checked the pattern it seemed nobody was in. Turn final on runway 16, checked again the landing gear, fuel pump, one more notch of flaps, switch on the landing light.
At that point an aircraft in the opposite direction switched his landing light on, so it was go around, full power and up again, with the inspector asking what the hell was I doing. I pointed out the Cessna on the runway, I did a tear-drop turn and safely landed on runway 34.
We slowed down, opened the canopy, and raised the flaps. It was silent in the cockpit except for the engine. The wind was in my hair, and now I was thinking of the inspector. What would he do?
He was not speaking anymore.
I rolled to the FBO. All the mechanics who did the final checkout of the plane were there. I stopped the engine, and then there really was silence.
I started laughing again. I was too happy, but who cares what would have happened? The Falco flew beautifully. For this, there's no need for documents.
He remained seated for a while, and then we went to the bar to drink something. On the way, he asked "Tell me truly, did you do this on purpose?" He wanted to hear "Yes" but really, believe me or not, I didn't.
I said once again "No".
My legs were barely sustaining me. I was too emotional.
We entered the small club bar. The woman who serves at the bar is the wife of the mechanic who did the final inspection. She kissed me with arms open.
She exclaimed "My husband told me that you would fly it today, he was sure. While you were flying I phoned him. Come here and call him again. He wants to know how does it fly."
At this point I had no courage to look the inspector in the eye. He said "I was sure you did it on purpose. You didn't put the stick on the right side to be sure I would have not aborted the takeoff."
I said "No really, I was not prepared to fly." I woke up yesterday very happy and relaxed for the final inspection. I was waiting for this day since a month now.
At the end this inspector didn't take any action. He's too passionate about flying, and he followed every step of my construction. He's young, and he really likes the Falco.
And he admitted too that although he was scared while flying and that I should have not flown under such conditions, he was glad we were safely home.
I'm the happiest man on earth, but I can't tell anyone why!
'Anonymous' Falco builder