Online Community of Zenith Builders and Flyers
The first flight in the aircraft that you've built yourself is an exciting moment in your life, one that rivals the other important "firsts" in your life. We love to hear first flight stories from our builders.
As we all know, the first flight can also turn into a very bad experience. (Way too many homebuilt aircraft accidents happen during the first few flights, and they are usually caused by pilot error.)
Please share with us how you prepared for your first flight. (A successful first flight doesn't mean that you personally had to perform the maiden flight: many wisely choose to have a more experienced pilot perform the first flight)
The Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) has many excellent resources available to help you prepare for the first flight and also to successfully complete your flight test program. For a successful first flight it is imperative that you have a plan in place so that you are prepared.
Here are just a few of the available resources to help you prepare for the first flight of your aircraft:
In preparation for my first flight, I did everything possible to assure the plane was ready and did not allow myself to feel rushed by an artificial deadline. After the airworthiness inspection, a friend and neighbor who has built several planes and is also an A&P, looked over the plane for me to assure I had not missed anything. Also, since I intended to fly out of my own 2100' turf airstrip unless advised otherwise, I was fortunate to be able to ask a professional test pilot giving an EAA webinar as to his opinion on the suitability of the airstrip. He told me that considering the STOL performance, 2100' was more-than-adequate. Also, he cautioned against high speed taxi testing. The STOL 750 wants to fly with almost any airspeed, and one could easily end up on a high speed taxi test with a plane that's not-quite flying and not-quite taxiing and one is more likely to end up with a dinged plane from loss of control.
Assessing my own capability for the initial flight, I decided that I did not need a professional test pilot. I had approximately 2500 hrs with the last 1700 of those in a Cessna 206 equipped with flap seals and VG's, and was very current on slow approaches into my airstrip. I also was IFR current and regularly did proficiency checks and training. I also had previous glider experience including a glider with 90 degree flaps that made for extremely steep descents to flare and landing - even steeper and shorter landings than the 750 with slats! Shortly before the first flight, Russell Calhoun graciously allowed me to fly a few hours - dual and solo - in his 750 both with and without slats. This was immensely helpful as I then knew exactly the flight characteristics and control forces involved.
The day of the first flight, I flew in the early a.m. with calm winds. Only my A&P neighbor and my adult son came to assist - I did not want any "crowd pressure" from inviting several people and having to feel compelled to make the flight or risk disappointing them. My A&P friend, armed with a fire extinguisher and a portable radio, positioned himself about 1/2 way down the runway so that he would be close by in case of a take-off accident.
I was very deliberate and unhurried about the preflight and warm-up. Once assured that all instrumentation was normal and externally, my A&P friend saw no problems, I proceeded to taxi to the far end of the airstrip. Having recent time in a 750, I was prepared for the short ground run. The moment the 750 lifted-off, I could recognize that the control forces and sensitivity of the controls was exactly similar to what I had experienced in Russell's 750. This gave me a huge boost of confidence and I can truly say I relaxed a bit. The remainder of the flight was a non-event! I simply made a generously large pattern with shallow turns, slowed it down a bit on the downwind to assure myself that my anticipated approach speed was correct to maintain control, then flew the rest of the pattern and actually made a pretty decent landing! Defintely a red-letter day in my life!
One caveat - I made my initial flights without slats. I had received my AW inspection without slats since they were delayed in the paint shop and since the DAR was familiar with the 750 and knew I had recent experience in a 750 without slats, he suggested going ahead into inspection and Phase I without them. He also suggested I install them some time during Phase I and document the testing and accumulate at least 5 hrs. I did this and later removed them and installed VG's. Due to the approach and landing characteristics with slats, I would say it is mandatory that a prospective flight tester get some 750 slat time prior to first flight if it is to be accomplished with slats!
The STOL 750 is truly a joy to fly and is safe, solid and reliable. My thanks to Zenith for this unforgettable experience!
Anxiety plays a major role in a test flight as I wish to relate my experiences.
Preparing for the first flight of my 601 XLB was more mental than anything else.
First of all, I had lots of help in the construction of my plane from Michael Heintz, Doug Dugger, et-al at Quality Sports, Cloverdale, California to those friends at Valley Air in Caldwell, Idaho.
Got the green light. With all those eyes belonging to highly experienced members of aviation community inspecting my plane – it was determined safe to fly…..
Then the following started to play mind games with me:
Gary Hubler, a high time “Ag Pilot” and five time Reno Air Race Champion agreed to the test flight – died in a freak Reno Air Race accident by loosing the tail of his aircraft in a collision with a competitor’s propeller.
James Nau, who was an Ag pilot employed by Gary’s organization, decided to do the test flight - lost his life in an Ag accident.
Then, there was all the flap about wings falling off, etc., etc…
I decided that I could not live with myself if someone else test flew my plane and something tragic were to happen!
I received five hours check out in a 601XL at Santa Rosa, California then thoroughly went over my bird one more time.
The first flight was exhilarating and successful and so were the following four-plus hours before tear down to complete the recommend upgrade.
The Heintz’s went beyond the norm in supplying materials, instructions, illustrations, personal input, etc. for the upgrade!
I have all the confidence in the world in the 601XLBs and anything that Chris Heintz designed.
Don’t cut any corners in construction, preparation, mind set, etc. prior to test flight.
I apprecieate your comments about faith in the Bird. I am hoping within the next 9 months or so, I can join the ranks of one completeing a build and flying.
My first flight was without wings. Yes, no wings on the plane which is a 701. This is the way this came about. The final construction was made in my garage where the wings were mounted on the plane and the correct angles were made. The DAR made his final inspection and all went well. I then had to remove the wings to get the plane out of the garage where I rigged up a temporary fuel system and ran the engine in as Rotax advises. On the property I have carved out a 1200 foot strip and the temptation after testing the engine was too great to not take the plane for a test run. I had read in several location that to do high speed taxi work with the 701 (a little over 600#) can be a surprise in the making with an unintentional flight. Take off is in the high 20's without a head wind. I did my high speed taxi without wings which gave me a real sense as to how the bird would track on take off and landing. This also helped me evaluate the braking system and landing gear. Using a Garmin 196 to measure speeed, I reached speed of 40+ mph and found that the bird tracked perfect with good braking. This procedure was repeated several time until I was comfortable with the plane taxiing at a high rate of speed such as in a landing configuration, although in real life the plane lands and take off at much lower speeds. The plane was then transported to the the local airport, which has much longer runways then my little strip, where I had rented a hanger and I proceeded to install the wings. My next evaluation was to do some crow hops which I had read were good and bad, in that a 701 might not like to hop but fly. My wingless high speed taxi experience was a good thing since I knew how the plane would more or less act on the ground. I did crow hops for probable 20 minutes and then on one crow hop I looked out the side door window and there I was 50+ feet off the ground which was not part of the plan. Once in the air my transition training with Bob McDonald (great guy and knowledgeable) in his 750 near Ottawa, Canada took over and there was no big event except for the joy and excitement of flying a plane built by me. My previous experience of owning a Grumman AA1-B and for many years flying Cessna's helped with the flying but created a different environment for landings and take offs. Transition training (this is a little more then a check out) is a must with a new plane especially if your going to transition to a plane that is many times lighter. Read all you can about the flight characteristics of your new plane and be current in what you have been flying, the last thing you want to do is hurt you new baby. Good luck and be smart about what you do. Only have people present who you might need to help on the ground, what you don't need is a crowd that you might want to try an impress. This is the time to be completely focused on the job at hand.
By the way my bird is named,"JOY" and what a joy she is!
Nice writeup. Will be in touch during my engine install and hopefully this summer for some test cards!
Important point about that first flight.
My first flight was truly an exciting and memorable experience. Not just for me but for my wife and some other acquaintances from around the airport. Unfortunately that's as far as it got at least as far as any video.
I had the camera all set up and my wife did a great job of recording the pre-flight, the take off, and about 40 minutes later my first landing that I must say was one of my best. I placed it onto the hard drive of my laptop and used an online backup service. Then some months later I had a hard drive crash which required re-formatting the hard drive and erasing everything on there. No problem since I had the online backup service right? Wrong! Although I backed everything up often their system never notified me that it did not work with the video format that I had recorded with so the video is now lost forever.
So be sure to backup that first video to more than one source and check to make sure that it actually works. In fact, even before you reach that first flight it would be an excellent idea to make sure that your Builder's Manual, notes, and photos have been safely backed up.
It's not totally a bad ending. At least I had my wife and some friends there to help make the moment a little more memorable.
I hope that this helps someone else to keep from loosing that moment.
American Light Sport Aircrafters
First flight video from Wednesday: STOL CH 750 with the first Rotax 912iS engine installation: http://www.zenith.aero/video/ch750-912is
For me, the first flight was a complete surprise. First, we did the pull tests of the engine/psru combo
and figured the pitch of the prop. Then, we ran the engine for extended periods of time to test the
cooling, fuel and electrical systems. It was finally time to taxi the 701 to the runway for taxi tests.
I had tips from Bob McDonald and read all flight reports about the 701 that I could find, prior
to doing so.
I lined up the runway and taxied to 30 mph or so. Halfway down the runway, I applied te brakes and
the 701 slowed to a stop. Went back to the runway threshold and again pushed the throttle in to 50%.
This time the nosewheel came up and I went down the runway in this attitude testing the rudder
The third time, I pushed the throttle to 60%, the nosewheel came up and a crosswind gust got me
in the air. I found out I was flying because there were no more 'bumps' coming from the main wheels.
I went up to 20 feet and throttled back ...but not to idle; the 701 came down slowly and settled gently
on the mains and then the nosewheel came down. That was IT !!!
That day. I did this 4 or 5 more times before retiring to the hangar.
I was with René,my helper/friend, he said 'you flew' and I replied 'not ME, the 701 did!'
In retrospect, you'd want all your first flights to go this way ! I was happy that I was warned to keep
some power on landing/flare. Later, I booked a checkride with an instructor and we got to test the stall
behavior of the 701 and its general flight envelop. The only disconcerting thing I found was that I had
to apply rudder in turns. Nothing bad just thing to get used to
46 hours later, I just LOVE this thing and I fly every chance I get.