Archive for September, 2011

Tornado Husky and the Big Apple

Tuesday, September 27th, 2011

I’ve long had a special reason to fly the Hudson River VFR corridor in New York, but for a variety of reasons – usually weather – it had never happened.

Then, last week offered what seemed the perfect chance.

Flying the AOPA 2012 Sweepstakes “Tougher Than a Tornado” Husky from Frederick, Md., to AOPA Aviation Summit in Hartford, Conn., required going right by New York City. And the weather was gorgeous on the day AOPA colleague Alyssa Miller and I planned to make the trip.

A presidential TFR in New York was going to shut down the corridor and virtually all other VFR traffic late in the day, but we could still make our transit with an hour to spare.

I loaded my special cargo – a small engraved box — into the Tornado Husky with our other gear for the week and studied the New York Terminal Area Chart to review the Hudson River Corridor procedures and reporting points. Alyssa would fly the airplane from the front seat, and I’d look out the window and handle the communications from the back.

Also, the Husky has a sliding window on the left side that seemed perfect for my purpose, which involved dropping something from the airplane in flight. That’s where the contents of the engraved box come in. You see, the ashes of my late step-father, John Melville, a New York City native, former aerospace engineer, and the person who made so many of our family’s dreams of flight come true, have resided in that box since his death in 2003. I wanted to honor him by spreading his ashes near the Statue of Liberty, a place close to the heart of freedom-loving people worldwide.

I loaded the airplane and was making final weather and TFR checks when the Lockheed briefer gave me the bad news. A United Nations TFR extended into the Hudson River Corridor shutting down all north-bound flights.

Reluctantly, I scrubbed the corridor mission that day.

We flew a nearly direct course to Hartford, and when we crossed the Hudson River 40 miles northwest of the city, the weather was so crystal clear we could easily make out the imposing skyline in the distance.

I hoped to have another opportunity to spread the ashes on Sunday, Sept. 25, the day after AOPA Aviation Summit ended when we planned to make our return flight to Frederick.

But a stubbornly slow low-pressure system had settled over the East Coast during Summit and refused to leave. The weather forecast called for rain and patchy low clouds along most of the route. So once again, I abandoned the idea of a Hudson River run and packed the well-traveled ashes in my backpack. Then I made the mistake of loading the backpack into another AOPA aircraft bound for headquarters.

Alyssa flew the return trip to Maryland from the front seat of the Husky, and the ceiling was high and visibility excellent coming out of Hartford. The cloud bases stayed elevated as we continued southwest toward home, and the XM Satellite weather display on the Garmin 696 showed the way was clear.

The Hudson River came into view from a distance of more than 20 miles, and on this day there were no TFRs. Alyssa said she was game for a north-south run down the river, so when we got to the Hudson, we made a hard left turn, descended to 1,100 feet msl, and followed the waterway southward.

I was kicking myself for putting my step-dad’s ashes in another aircraft, so there was no way to deliver them on this day. But I thought of him throughout our 100-knot tour of the city where he was raised in an Irish immigrant neighborhood during the Great Depression and went to college (Columbia University) graduating in 1940.

A swarm of helicopters plied the area around “the lady,” as New York pilots refer to the iconic statue in the harbor.

The Tornado Husky, an airplane made for the wilderness, hardly seemed out of place overflying New York City landmarks including the George Washington Bridge, USS Intrepid, and Verrazano-Narrows Bridge.

Fortunately, the Tornado Husky is scheduled to pass through the Big Apple again in the fall. And when it does, I’ll deliver the last remains of a remarkable man to the place that defined him.

And when those ashes fall to the water, I’ll remember how my step-dad did one of the world’s most difficult and thankless jobs – being a step-parent to four troublesome, quarrelsome boys – with steadiness and humor that my brothers and I can only strive to emulate with our own children.

Before he died at age 82, in one of our last conversations, I spoke with him about his many accomplishments. He summed up his record of achievement with a shrug, a wry smile, and a characteristically dismissive one-liner:

“Not bad for some jerk from New York.”

Landing a Husky: No! Bad dog!

Wednesday, September 7th, 2011

The AOPA 2012 “Tougher than a Tornado” Husky is usually obedient and well mannered – but sometimes it strays.


Within two feet of the ground on landing, it can become willful and ornery, usually resulting in a firm touchdown and/or bounced landing. A rolled up newspaper won’t change this dog’s behavior, and neither will a pocket full of dog treats.

But the Tornado Husky (and all other Huskies) is certainly capable of smooth and consistent wheel- and three-point landings as long as pilots know the tricks: Precise airspeed control on final, full nose-up trim, and power above idle for elevator effectiveness.

This unconventional combination is necessary because of the Husky’s unusual elevator trim system. Turning the trim wheel moves the entire elevator (and not just a trim tab). The elevator travel is the same regardless of the trim position, but unless you’re Paul Bunyan, you won’t have the arm strength to command full up elevator in the landing flare if you’re working against the heavy spring in the trim system.

And even if the pilot does succeed in getting the stick to the full aft position during the flare, that’s not enough to ensure a soft, three-point landing – especially if the Husky’s center of gravity is at the forward end of the normal range (such as when the pilot is flying solo). The airplane simply runs out of elevator authority. In order to raise the nose to the required 10-degree deck angle, the airplane needs more airflow over the tail. And the only way to get it at normal speed is from the propeller. Crack the throttle about a quarter inch (roughly the same position you place it for engine start) and you’re in the ballpark.

Flap position also influences the character of Husky landings.

They can be set at zero, one, two, or three notches – and adding flaps increases the nose-down pitching moment. I prefer two notches for full-stall landings and three notches for wheel landings – but the method for both is almost identical.

Fly 65 mph ias on short final with full nose-up trim and the throttle a quarter-inch open; round out in ground effect and work the stick aft. With two notches of flaps (or less), full back stick results in a three-point touchdown. With three notches of flaps, I tend to run out of elevator before reaching the full-stall angle of attack. When the main wheels touch, relax the back pressure on the stick to pin them on and fly the tail to the ground as the airplane decelerates. Once the tailwheel touches, apply full aft stick.

Slowing to 60 mph ias on final, or even 55, works well for short-field landings. But it also requires significantly more power on final to avoid an excessive sink rate. (I use 500 fpm on final as a target.)

The same techniques apply for crosswind landings. The Husky POH lists a maximum demonstrated crosswind component of 15 miles an hour – and that number seems conservative. The airplane has an authoritative rudder and ailerons, and keeping it tracking straight with the upwind wing held down is easily doable in such winds. (YouTube has many examples of Huskies landing in much stronger crosswinds.)

Flying final approach with full nose-up trim sometimes requires slight forward pressure on the stick, and that feels awkward. (It also requires that the pilot be ready to apply brisk forward pressure in case of a go-around.)

But the exaggerated trim position gets the elevator right where it should be in the landing flare – and that (along with power) is the key to consistently smooth Husky landings.