I took my wife, Vicki, her two kids, Laura and Stevie, and Stevie’s friend Lindsey flying today. I’ve been waiting for good weather for the last two weeks and not got it, and today it was finally good. Unfortunately the plane wasn’t available until late afternoon, which is less than optimal because it means lots of convective turbulence and higher winds. But even if I didn’t have four other people I wanted the Lance – when you’ve got people who’ve never flown before, I think they’d be more impressed by the roominess of the Lance, not to mention the club seats and the rear door so that they can get in and sit down while you’re still pre-flighting.
So I took off and immediately things weren’t going well. Between the cross wind, the bumps, and the fact that the plane was EXTREMELY unbalanced side to side, I was getting thrown around and had trouble maintaining heading and keeping it climbing. The previous pilot had only used fuel on the co-pilot side, plus I’d loaded the two heavier of the passengers on my side (as well as me) and the two lighter passengers on the co-pilot side. I quickly flipped on the autopilot to take off some of the load, but with the thing in wings-level mode, I quickly ended up 30 degrees off course – that gives you some indication of how much the bumps and the unbalanced plane were throwing me one way over and over again. Most of the time the yoke was about 30 degrees off level, which indicates a HUGE imbalance. I engaged heading-hold mode, asked Vicki to move to the other side of the plane, and made sure I was burning fuel on the pilot side. That helped a lot, but even when we leveled off at 4,500 it wasn’t very smooth. The clouds weren’t too much much higher, and generally the air is smoother above the cumulus clouds, but I didn’t really want to go up to 6,500 on a sight seeing trip, especially since I want to be at 3,500 when circling Niagara Falls.
It’s very hard when flying a low wing to figure out how to position the plane to give a good view for people in the back. Usually in the past when I’ve been flying sight seeing missions, the main sight-seer was in the co-pilot seat, so I knew if I banked enough so that I could see the sight, they could see it too. But it’s not that easy when they’re in the back – I’m likely to bank the wing just enough to put it in the way of the view.
The pattern at Niagara Falls was crowded – two other planes circling around. That’s another reason why I prefer to go early – I’ve never seen more than one other plane there before noon.
After leaving the pattern at Niagara Falls, I flew back up the Niagara Gorge and then down over Darien Lake, over the wind farm, and then to the Mount Morris railway trestle, and up the Letchworth Gorge. It was a nice trip, or at least it would have been if the air was smoother.
The bumps made the landing ugly, but safe. On hot days you always get a bunch of sinking air on short final as you cross over the river, then two areas of rising air over the Interstate and then the taxiway which makes a stablized approach impossible. I’ve *got* to stop talking to myself when I fly with passengers, though, because I’m sure I said some things that unsettled the passengers both when struggling with the bumps and uneven balance on take-off, and again on landing.