I Like Speed

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by Stu Simpson

I have an airplane that flies fast, and I really like it. I spent many years extolling the virtues of low and slow, and I was right. Or, at least, it was right for me then. But that’s all changed now. I’ll explain.

Geoff Pritchard and I flew our planes from Calgary to San Francisco and back on an epic two-week long flying adventure. That was in the summer of 2012 and I don’t expect I’ll ever top that experience.

We flew the trip in old, relatively slow airplanes; he in a ’47 Aeronca Champ, and me in my ’91 Macair Merlin.  We cruised at about 85 – 90 mph.  That’s not too bad when you compare it to a car.  It’s about 40 – 50 percent faster and we get to cut the corners that ground transport just can’t ignore.  For instance, we made Cranbrook in a little over two hours, which normally takes about four hours by car.

The problem for me came when we were flying north through Oregon and Washington states on our way home. No matter what we did, or at what altitude we flew, we could not escape an insidious 20 – 25 mph headwind.  The socks and flags on the ground were all hanging limply, but the minute we busted 200 or 300 feet, there was the wind punching us incessantly on the nose. A steady stream of cars below relentlessly left us behind. The view wasn’t even good because a combination of forest fire smoke and the area’s natural summer haze limited visibility to a milky seven or eight miles.

I decided just south of Salem, Oregon, that I’d had enough of low and slow.  I dearly loved my Merlin, but I’d had enough of watching traffic pass me.  I decided then that I’d either get a faster airplane or give up flying altogether.  It sounds pretty extreme, perhaps, but the simple fact is that low-speed flying was neither teaching me anything nor challenging me much anymore.

Fast forward a month and, as much to my surprise as anyone else’s, I suddenly owned a much faster airplane, my beloved Cavalier.  Fast forward another few months and my equally beloved Merlin was gone, sold to the US.

So, why speed, then? What do I get from going faster?  Of course, the most obvious answer is that I just get there sooner. I find I like that. A lot. The Cav cruises anywhere between 130 and 140 mph true airspeed. That’s at least 50% faster than Merl cruised.

Speed helps beat the wind, too. I really like that, especially in this part of the world where winds frequently exceed 20 knots. Simply put, for the Cavalier, the wind is rarely a limiting factor in my flying anymore. It usually only matters now in terms of crosswind landings at destination airports. Well, that and the fact it may rip my hangar doors off if it’s too strong.

Speed opens up more places where I can fly. The Cav’s speed allows me to fly a much larger radius in a given amount of time compared to Merl. Pretty easy math, that one. Since I’m an avid aerial explorer, that extra range really appeals to me. Thus, places like Drayton Valley, Edmonton, Lacombe, Medicine Hat and Lethbridge are all so much closer. I can go there and back in a day, easily.

And places hundred of miles away are much closer now, too. I made it to the Oshkosh area in about two days. That’s 1300 miles and would have taken me about four days in Merl. On the return trip, also two days long, I made it from Regina to Kirkby Field in 2.7 hours. There was maybe five miles per hour on the tail. That’s a trip that would normally take seven hours to drive. Such efficiency and time saving has become more important to me because I want to range further across North America as my flying advances.

I suppose I’m afflicted with a bit of vanity, too. Other guys in our club are speeding up, and I don’t want to be left behind. With Merl, I’ve sometimes envied my flying buddies as they’ve gotten to places ahead of me, and I’ve also felt a bit guilty that I may have delayed them.

There are a couple of down sides to the Cavalier, but they’re minor.  The cockpit is smaller, which took some getting used to because of my size.  While most folks fit comfortably, it can be cramped with two people in there, depending on the other person’s size. But at least I can carry another person with me, something I couldn’t do in Merl because it was registered as an ultralight.  I’ve been able to use the Cav to upgrade to my Private Pilot License, too.  Something I just could not have done in Merl.

The other thing I miss, compared to Merl, is the ability to land practically anywhere. I landed some pretty cool places with that airplane; farmer’s fields, extremely short runways, and dangerous backwoods airstrips. Its  STOL abilities provided terrific landing freedom and I do miss that, plenty.

The Cav has pretty impressive STOL characteristics, too, but nothing that can touch Merl’s. I can slow down enough to fly alongside Bob Kirkby in his Piper PA-12, but I can almost keep up with his Cherokee 235, too.

The Cavalier doesn’t have the speed that a Van’s RV does, but it’s reasonably close. And for the pittance of money I have into the Cav, the low operating costs it demands, and the mileage and economy I get on its 125 hp, most other airplanes just can’t compete.  It’s an unbelievable compromise.

I’ve flown several days in the first year of owning the Cav when I faced very strong head winds, yet my ground speed has never dropped below 100 mph in cruise. The Cav travels well. It’s efficient. It’s fast. And I smile every single time I look down and see me passing cars.

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Voyage Across the Sky – A Light Plane Odyssey

In the summer of 2012 two pilots set out to fly their small airplanes - a homebuilt ultralight and a 66 year-old-classic - from Calgary, Alberta to San Francisco, California and back. It was an aerial odyssey that would cover more than 2700 miles and take more than two weeks to complete. Fighting mechanical problems, mountains, deserts and incorrigible wind and weather, Geoff Pritchard and Stu Simpson challenged the sky and temped fate to pull of the adventure of a lifetime.  Take a seat, strap in and join them on a Voyage Across the Sky!
Pilots from Voyage Across the Sky – A Light Plane Odyssey

In the summer of 2012 two pilots set out to fly their small airplanes – a homebuilt ultralight and a 66 year-old-classic – from Calgary, Alberta to San Francisco, California and back. It was an aerial odyssey that would cover more than 2700 miles and take more than two weeks to complete. Fighting mechanical problems, mountains, deserts and incorrigible wind and weather, Geoff Pritchard and Stu Simpson challenged the sky and temped fate to pull of the adventure of a lifetime.

Take a seat, strap in and join them on a Voyage Across the Sky!

Update from CRUFC Member Troy – May 2, 2013 0640 MDT

Flew home from Vegas Wednesday. We left around 10:30 Calgary time and cleared customs at 19:00.  It was windy again in Vegas. Kids kept loosing their hats so we had to keep a hold of everything while loading the plane. The wind was out of the north so we settled in or a long light to Idaho Falls.  With all the wind came all the bumps. It was a fun ride.  Snow showers in Salt Lake through to Idaho falls.   Approach warned us about moderate turbulently below 10k.  We had been in it the whole flight, no different in Salt Lake.  The plan was lunch in Idaho falls, found out the restaurant was closed so we settles for beaf jerky and muffins from the terminal store.  Next stop was Cut Bank for the last cheaper fuel.  Had to drop to 6500 to get out of the mountains around Helena.  Bumps and headwind persisted until on final into High River.

It was a great trip with over 2500 nm flown.  We seen way more scenery than anyone sitting in a tube at 40 thousand ft and had lots of fun doing it.  Kids are great flyers, the bumps do not bother them and never once asked how much farther on a 3.5 hr flight. Well maybe once;-

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Update from CRUFC Member Troy – Apr 30, 2013 0937 MDT

Leaving the sandy beaches of San Diego today.  We are heading for Las Vegas.  There is a cold front coming through producing strong winds.  Plans are to get on the ground before it gets to bad.  Weather is suppose to go VFR by noon here.  We plan to be ready to go by then.

Runways are all north south, north of Las Vegas so an emergency pee stop will not be an option.  Good reason to tour Vegas again.  Winds are forecasted to be strong again tomorrow but at least we will be flying out of it.  They will be out of the north, it will be a slow bumpy ride tomorrow.

Rv10 in the sand
Rv10 in the sand

Trip Update & Photos from CRUFC Member Troy – Apr 26, 2013 2252


We flew out of Fullerton today around noon. We had to make a left turn to 120 on departure and then get in touch with SoCal approach. It wasn’t long they had us resume our own navigation and we went direct to Dana Point, which they were aware of. They approved our cruising altitude of 3500 ft. After Dana Point we turned down the coast. We stayed out over the ocean to be clear of the restricted. It was topped at 2000ft but it felt better staying clear. We switch to many different frequencies for the short 30 min flight. This part of the country has very busy airspace. I have to silence the kids most of the time as it is very important not to miss an instruction.

Once over Carlsbad we got cleared through the Bravo airspace. We made a slight deviation over Carlsbad so my wife could pictures of the flower fields. Approach allowed us to do so. We were soon on an unrestricted descend to a cross on a mountain before inbound to Montgomery . Unfortunately all the looking for the cross had me miss looking at Torrey Pines soaring site. We flew right over it. Some time there is just no time for site seeing.

We landed at Montgomery Field, the service was great. They were beside us before we even got the plane shut down and the rental car was a minute later.

We are here for a few days on the beach before heading north some time mid next week. So far the trip could not be better.

Update from CRUFC Member Troy – Apr 23, 2013 1950

Update from Troy – Apr 23, 2013 06:00
Round trip flight from Calgary, AB to Los Angeles, CA

Landed at Fullerton today. We left Redding direct to the Golden Gate Bridge. Once past the bridge we got approval for a climb. Shortly after we were told to stop the climb and turn to 240. We headed out to sea. He soon turned us south bound. A minute later we had to turn to 270. That was basically a 180. There was a heavy with flap problems and basically wanted everyone out of the way. I finally got going south and back over land. The ride got rather bumpy until we got back over the valley. We got really beat up passing the last pass before the LA basin. We stayed clear of the Bravo and worked are way through with SoCal approach. Wow is LA ever big. I was glad to land, as it was a long flight with several high work load portions. I think we were airborne for about 3.5 hrs. I have to check. 3 days here then off to San diego.