Amazing feelings are sensed as all this creativity and craftsmanship come together in this milestone. Take all these tangible things you’ve been building, all the long hours, all the decisions, the priorities, the money, the commitment and enjoy yourself. In fact, on first flight I enjoy everything…but expect anything.
What should you expect? Reading the Chapter on FLIGHT TEST in the GlaStar Owner’s Manual is a good start. I’m going to assume you’ve read it and take my remarks from there.
Many people get excited about flying an airplane’s first flight. I purposefully slow down, rest, and start a methodical check of all the important items. Excitement (and the resultant adrenaline flow) can block your thinking and cause you to forget critical things. To help me slow down, I use a first flight checklist (see appendix) that I check off.
While including many of the critical things necessary for a successful flight, it also allows me to mentally slow down and ponder everything. It’s not unusual on first, (second or third), flights to find some new problem I’ve never experienced before.
It’s important, therefore, to be free enough in our minds to handle something different along with all the ordinary things EXPECT THE BEST: I’ve had plenty of first flights where nothing unusual happened. The good news is that all the GlaStars fly, or can be adjusted to fly, almost exactly the same. And this means flying one of the best, most versatile airplanes in the world. While knowing the GlaStar can fly well, in early flights I expect anything to quit or systems to malfunction. This is why I always stay over or near the airport.
(I started to make a list here of things gone wrong on past flights and it sounded so bad I deleted it.) The point is all these things didn’t happen on the same plane at the same time and we (the airplane and I are partners) have never crashed. Let’s make these first flights boring (nothing important going wrong) because they’re sure exciting for what has been accomplished.
Write it down
It’s hard to remember the normal stuff and the squawks. Here are six forms that I use to keep track of what’s happening.
- First flight checklist (To make sure most things are ready, legal and practical.)
- Glastar checklist (My standard checklist which includes emergency procedures.)
- Engine break-in (Lycoming parameters for either a 320 or 360 engine.)
- Aircraft performance chart (So what was your oil temp.? Fuel flow? Airspeed? Etc.)
- Squawk report (List of deferred and critical items to fix, change or ponder.)
- Hold harmless agreement (When I’m flying someone else’s airplane.)
Know your airplane and its unique systems
I like to ask, “So what has been done different than the factory recommended?” I’m especially interested in the engine, prop, fuel, oil and flight control systems, airframe changes, etc.
Since I know the GlaStar’s basic design and strength is OK, the question is, “What has a builder done, or left undone, that might affect control, power or safety?” The more things are unusual from a successful norm, the more I study the implications for problems. Sure, we always respect a builder’s desire to have his/her own ideas incorporated into the design.
That’s what makes this a unique, one-of-a-kind airplane.
The questions are: Is it safe? Dependable? Practical?
In all flight conditions? It’s very important to switch your mind from a builder’s mode to a pilot’s way of thinking.
For example, from your seat, can you see everything your need to see and reach everything you need to reach? Without removing the shoulder harness? At first, with lots of power, I’m flying at high cruise speed and using a lot of fuel. At the initial power reduction an hour or so later is where I’ll slow up to do one stall, just to know where the airspeed indicator is showing the stall will occur.
Know your area
Get a fight test area as large as possible, but with terrain below 3,000’ if possible. A normally aspirated engine needs to stay below 5,000’ to maintain 75% power for engine break-in. Pick out appropriate fields where the airplane could be landed safely in an emergency.
Proper engine break-in
If you have a new or rebuilt engine, read and then follow the manufacturer’s instructions. Because most builders use Lycoming, let’s discuss this engine briefly. Use mineral oil and only put minimal ground time on these engines. The first ten hours I fly at 75% power, mixture at full rich, oil temp up to 180 degrees if possible and only reduce power to land. My procedure is to fill the main fuel tanks and fly first flight for 45 minutes to an hour, as long as the engine is running OK. I put up with out of trim conditions or other, deferrable problems, writing the squawks down. Upon landing, everyone celebrates, it’s time to relax and congratulations are made appropriately. The cowling is pulled, engine checked and the airframe looked over. Squawks may be attended to, the plane is fully fueled and then flown once again at high power for as long as proper fuel reserves allow. Many mechanics like to change the engine oil at three to four hours to get rid of any foreign material that got into the engine while in storage. The next two or three flights are as long as practical with high power settings and cool engine temperatures. After ten hours the cylinder temp should have dropped twenty degrees or so and the oil consumption should be down to a quart every five to ten hours.
First flight frequently reveals an out-of-trim airplane. The GlaStar can be trimmed for hands-off flight, at cruise, in calm air. If the plane isn’t in trim, here are some things to check. Are your wings straight? How was your cage’s wing incidence? Equal is great. Are both your flaps tight against the up slot in the wing tracks? They should be snug. When flying around 80 or so, lift gently on the flap handle and then return the flap handle to full retracted. Is the air load pushing the flaps up tight or is there a visible gap between the rollers and the up end of the track? One flap, a little lower than the other, will cause a roll to the other side. Are both your ailerons deflecting 1/2 inch or more above the wingtip in flight? (Lowered flap or aileron slows down the GlaStar.) Do your ailerons feel “stiff” moving side to side when flying at 80? They should be very easy to move and should return to neutral when “bumped or shoved” by your hand. Usually the problem is too much drag or cable tension in the aileron system. Around 30 lb is good.
First, tape on a temporary trim tab to the rudder, go flying at cruise speed/ power and get the ball centered while holding the wings level with the control stick. Now, if you’ve corrected any wing cove/ski ramp problem, using 3” wide padded pliers, slightly, very slightly, bend up (to raise wing) or down (to lower wing) the whole trailing edge of the aileron to correct the final tendency to roll left or right.
The end or the beginning?
This isn’t the end, it certainly isn’t the beginning, but it is the end of the beginning. You will continue to make changes and improvements. During the rest of the test flight period, remain vigilant. That is what this time is all about. Compare trends by reading your flight reports and correct things as they occur. And, congratulations on your new airplane!