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Skybolt Flight

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Well-Known Member
Aug 21, 2007
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As per Bill’s post, I have written down my thoughts and recent experience in the Skybolt.It will probably end up being a ramble, I am not the best at writing nor I am a good pilot, I am in it for the fun and adventure. I was initially hesitant but thought I would share what type if aerobatic and tailwheel aircraft I have time in to put my experience into context.Been flying since I was 16, mainly privately (I have ADD so charter or airline flying isn’t for me), haven’t competed in Australia for about 10 or so years.I have time on Pitts S2A/B/C, S1D/S1S, Eagle II, Acrosport, Stearman, Tigermoth, De Havilland Chipmunk, Extra 300L, SU-26, Zlin 50, Yak 55M, CAP-232, Pitts Model 12 (1 flight), Beech Staggerwing, P-51, P-40, T-6 and non taildragger aerobatic – Victor Airtourer, SF-260, CJ6, Yak 52, CT4, Zlin 242L, L-29, L-39, TS-11 and some others probably missed.I failed a check ride in a C-172 a few months ago, just couldn’t land it, they don’t want to land.As I said, I am not a good pilot.

All are very unique in their own way, some dogs, loads of surprises and then there was the Skybolt…..

It is a bit of a long story how the Skybolt came about, a friend (Craig) and I thought it would be a good idea to bring in a Yak 52, he had recently got his restricted private licence. That kind of evolved and though it would be a better idea to get 2 aircraft so filled a container with a Yak 55 and a Skybolt.The Skybolt went together last year, had a few issues which were resolved by one of the most awesome mechanics around.In the meantime, Craig got his tailwheel endorsement in a Citabria, the idea was for then to teach him in the Skybolt. Perfect plan until I got transferred and moved 1000km’s away…… After all of that, finally had time to spend some good solid time teaching him – 12 months since he last flew.

The Skybolt was built in 1979, 180hp, Pressure Carb, inverted oil with a fixed pitch Prince Carbon prop, smoke system and a [Steen] enclosed canopy with clipped wings. All up has about 1050 hours on the airframe and engine put in good shape. The color scheme is kinda ugly, looks like it should be used as a prop in a childrens show. It does grow on you though and zero chance of missing it in the pattern. May actually burn out your retina’s if you stare at it too long.

After a long flight and drive, I still wasn’t overly exciting about flying it. I am not sure why, perception built up over time with no real basis. Did a thorough preflight on it, figured out all the oddities of where the original builder put things, worked out how to open the canopy.I wasn’t that impressed with the way the canopy opened and closed, a little bit clunky and too much thought involved trying to get it under the upper wing and a bit hard to latch.I am not too bright and naturally lazy.

Before I was going to take Craig up, needed to figure out how to fly it myself.Seemed roomy when hopping in, I am about 6’ and 82kgs so pretty average. Plenty of space, definitely don’t need to cover yourself with aeroshell number 6 to squeeze in.Stick and seat were in the right position, everything seemed natural. Was a good start.Primed and fired up in 2 blades, started warming it up going through preflight mental checks, there was one switch that wasn’t marked. I stared at it for a little while, had me stumped. Everything else was there…… I had to press it, figured it wasn’t going to blow anything up. Flicked it, nothing happened waited and waited then I looked up and saw Craig prancing around signalling for me to shut it down. Mixture back and harness unlatched quicker than someone could blink, another 30 seconds and I had that canopy open all while thinking I’ve broken it…..

I jumped out, there was smoke everywhere and what looked like a crazy man running through a haze yelling abuse, based on what he was saying he appeared to know my mum or something.It was one of the mechanics from the Corporate hangar next door which was also full of smoke.Ahhhhh the switch was for the smoke system – better mark that.After a “discussion” with the gentleman from the hangar, was time to strap in again, wrote on my kneepad “buy angry hangar man beer just in case need to borrow tools”

Started taxiing away, I found visibility was pretty good for a biplane. Nice unobstructed vis out of the canopy, s turned nicely and made a lot of noise. Went through the runups, all was good. I was starting to feel comfortable in the aircraft.

I lined up ready to push the throttle to the stop, once last round of checks and on with the throttle. It wasn’t what I expected, it pushed me back in the seat a little, tailwheel slightly up – only small rudder inputs were required. It wasn’t squirrely at all.

I glanced down at the ASI and my eyeballs almost dropped out – it was indicating 100 but hang on, it doesn’t want to fly – how heavy can it be? Is something wrong? I was just about to power off then it clicked – MPH on the outside, KTS on the inside.

It lifted off nicely. I didn’t have a VSI so couldn’t tell you the climb rate, objects on the group were getting smaller pretty quickly.The field elevation was 2100’ and I was at 6000’ before I knew it.

I started with some steep turns left and right, it was very light on the controls, not twitchy at all. No other aircraft around so the next things was some stalls to determine the stall stick position. Power off, stick back – very announced buffet with no dramatic wing drop recover was standard with forward stick followed by power.

Then into an aileron roll, pitch up and check at 20 degrees with stick hard left.I was surprised with the roll rate. It wasn’t measure and I would try and guess but certainly respectable.

On a first flight, I generally keep trim neutral to feel what is going on. I rolled inverted, needed a bit of forward stick to keep it level. Not a lot, probably between a S1D and S1S.

Then into some spins. Upright first, power off, stick back wait for the buffet…… needed pretty much full rudder to get it into a spin. Didn’t want to break. 1 and half rotations and recovered. I wouldn’t say it was a pussycat but recovery was straightforward and predictable, lost about 1000’

Inverted spins were pretty much the same, required a lot of forward stick force was needed. 2 rotations and lost approximately 1200’

Next up a loop. Dived to pick up speed, didn’t lose a great deal of altitude before hitting entry speed, wings level, ball centred and over it went.I was over farmland and either to cow I was using as a reference point moved or the loop I did was terrible. A few more and the cow remained stationary.All very predictable, no quirks and no special compensating techniques were needed.

I was really starting to like this aircraft.

My head needed a rest so tried some knife edge left and right, again rolls into them nicely and stops relatively crisply. I am not sure if it was the pilot or the aircraft, I just couldn’t get it to stop nice and crisp.It would check crisp on the pitch, 20, 45 etc.

I attempted my first hammerhead in it which wasn’t too great, I ended up in a nice flat inverted spin. Really cant recall what went wrong, just messed it up. The second attempt wasn’t much better so I will call that a wedge instead. 3rd go was a charm, I was doing something wrong but not sure what. It climbed vertical nicely and has good rudder authority when pushing it over. It was almost effortless.

I could only get 2 vertical rolls out of it, it is summer/autumn down this way and I was at altitude.It doesn’t go around all that quickly on the vertical uplines and for some reason is the same on the downlines even at speed.

Snap rolls – standard entry, it does seem a little clunky in the snaps, maybe the 22’ wings?Not like a Citabria clunky – eat a sandwich as it goes around. With some practice, I am sure it would recover a little better.

I was a bit tired after this session and felt comfortable enough in it to teach some basics to Craig. I went in and did a few circuits – I wouldn’t say landing were a sinch but way better than I expected. It is a long aircraft with a wide stance.I usually fly a tight circuit and do a curved approach in followed by a slip on final.Gets down on 3 points, stick back and just minor rudder inputs as needed.

Had bit of a rest with more briefings to Craig. There was no time put on how long it would take before I would let him go solo, he was a low time pilot and things can go wrong quickly in an aircraft like this.We had a few days and we would get as much done as we could.

I loaded him in the front – looked a lot tighter than I thought. He was anxious, hadn’t flown for a while and not a great deal of experience. I made sure to brief him about the ASI.

I generally break the sortie up into 2 – acro/circuits or circuits/acro.The first session was acro to get him comfortable with the aircraft. Lining up there were lots of nods, I had to remind him to use his lips – there is no rear view mirror when I am up the front.I let him takeoff, as soon as we were airborne he was instantly relaxed and those lips started working.We did our thing, he loved it – the only other taildragger or acro mount he had flown was a Citabria.His landings were decent for first session, I was surprised he grasped it so quickly.

The next session was him in the back and me in the front. Man, that front hole is tight and visibility, seat position etc just didn’t feel right.We taxied out, turned the corner and he stopped and asked “what to I do here”…… It had been raining heavily (flooding) the last few days and a C421 was bogged blocking the taxiway, the only tar in the place. Angryman from the hangar next door was covered in mud trying to dig it out. We taxied back to our hangar and hopped out. We spent a good amount of time debating whether or not to go and help out given captain angry’s attitude problems and inability to forgive.I think we got distracted and started talking about something else, out problem was solved when the big Cessna went past us under tow.

We did one more session for the day, then by the second session the following day Craig was consistent with his landings, safe with his aero’s and I sent him out solo. The grin on his face was priceless, that’s what aviation is about.

While I was hanging around keeping an eye on Craig, I found an aresti card in my headset bag with an advanced sequence on it. I got thinking and thought it would do no harm to give it a go in the Skybolt.

I am pretty sure it was the IAC 2007 Advanced Known, I will try and attach a copy (handwritten, sorry).

I gave it a fair go, it wasn’t easy but the energy management in the Skybolt was pretty good. I didn’t do it down to 500’ but maintained a safe level.The outside manoeuvres require the most work, I still couldn’t get it to stop crisply and the rolling turn was kinda tricky. Probably more technique than anything.

So in summing up, the Skybolt was a pleasant surprise with no bizarre issues or strange quirks. I didn’t spend a great deal of time in it and I am pretty sure everyone will have different experience in one.I think they are benign enough to make a good training mount if you could find someone to teach in it.

I cant comment on the Prince prop, it was a prop and did the job.Maybe experiencing before and after would have been noticeable.

I don’t think they are underpowered, 180hp is plenty just takes more skill to fly them well rather than let the aircraft do all the work.

I think it would be competitive, like anything it just takes practice.I also think in this sport it is not always about competing with others – it should be fun and about improving on yourself.

The 2 main things I would change would be the canopy set up. The 2 latches aren’t straight forward and slightly annoying, I think getting out quickly on the ground would also be a pain. It is almost a 2 person job closing the thing making sure it tucks under the wing, there is a bit of weight in them.

I would also do something with the wings to get a better roll rate and make it a little more crisp. Possible stretch out the cord shorten the span, 30% hinge point symmetrical ailerons slightly longer – maybe Rob at Raven could modify his 2XS wings to fit?

I would also get rid of the ply floor panels in this one. I had to check to make sure the belly skin was on just in case it was a quick patch or something. Don’t see the point or purpose.

Again it all comes down to personal preference (I am happy flying anything except a 172 now) and what you want to do, the Skybolt is a good looking aircraft and flies well and shouldn’t be underestimated.I think we do live in a materialistic world and always seeking better performance, bigger, shinier etc.Makes no sense. Sure 400hp and 420 degrees a second is nice, fun is fun, loops are loops and G’s are G’s!

If you were looking for something with a 6cyl, I don’t think I would go down the path of a Skybolt. The Raven 2XS can be kit or plans built, that’s were I would put my money (and did!).Having now flown a 4cyl experimental bipe, I would love to convince Rob to build a 4cyl version of the 2XS. Now I think that would be a winner.

Sorry for the ramble!


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