First Flight Preperations

July 1987

Tom Jewett of Littleton, CO sent us the following essay concerning preparation for your fi rst fl i ght . We enjoyed it and we agree with him 100%. We have printed it here so that all potential flyers can benefit from his perceptive point of view. "March 22, 1986 7:35am Long-EZ, N35TM, takes off for its very first flight. After 2700 hours of work, it was time for some fun! That's right, fun! I believe that if all preparations are properly made, first flights of homebuilt aircraft should be fun. I would like to pass along my thoughts about the first flight of my Long-EZ, hoping that it will help others to have fun on their first flights. A successful first flight depends upon four things being 100 percent ready.

This simple checklist of four items includes:
1) The airplane,
2) The pilot,
3) The weather,
4) The circumstances.

Great discipline is required to assure yourself that all four items on the checklist are 100 percent ready before attempting your first flight. Pressure to fly your new airplane will come from the most unlikely sources. Obviously, the airplane must be ready, but what is less obvious is making sure that you have 100 percent confidence in you airplane. Prove to yourself that everything is in proper working order. If there is the slightest doubt about anything, fix it! The last thing you need on your first light is doubt. I found that the best way to inspect your airplane is to have someone else double check your inspection. I was lucky enough to have other EZ builders and flyers who were willing to look over my work during construction and prior to the first flight.

I was always amazed at the number of seemingly minor items to be corrected or adjusted that a different set of eyes would find. Even if you do not have other EZ builders or flyers in your area, enlist someone else to inspect your work. Do whatever it takes to develop 100 percent confidence in you airplane. Pilot preparation for the first flight is very important because of all the "unknowns" that will be thrust upon the test pilot. Basic pilot proficiency must be very high so that the pilot can concentrate on how the airplane performs, not on basic pilot skills. In my opinion, the best pilot proficiency preparation is recency of experience. During the four years of construction of my Long-EZ, I flew one airplane a total of 47 hours (less than one hour per month!)

Needless to say, I was extremely rusty. To prepare myself, I flew the following aircraft: CE 150, CE 152, CE 172, American Yankee. All flights were made from the right seat to practice flying with my right hand and doing other chores with my left hand. I felt that flying the Yankee was the most beneficial because it is very similar to the Long-EZ, both in ground handling and flight characteristics.

The major differences are:
1) The Yankee requires a higher power setting to maintain a comfortable decent rate during landing approach,
2) The climb rate of the Yankee is much lower than that of the Long-EZ.

After I felt proficient in all these airplanes, I was lucky enough to get a one hour flight in the back seat of a VariEze. The resulting critique of my pilot skill is from an experienced EZ pilot was invaluable. In summary , I flew 13.8 hours in five different aircraft in the two months prior to flying my Long-EZ. The other pilot preparation which I would highly recommend is to make a definite flight plan for your first flight. Use your owner's manual for procedures and target airspeeds, but do no forget that your airplane may behave differently from the airplane upon which the owner's manual is based.

Discuss your flight plan with as many experienced pilots as you can. You will get good and bad suggestions, but overall, it will help. I wrote my plan out in the form of a checklist and practiced flying through it in familiar airplanes. You will be a test pilot on your first flight (and many flights thereafter) so practice being one! The weather is a simple checklist item, but it should not be overlooked or neglected. Proper weather conditions are at least as important as any other item on the first flight check list. If, for any reason, you are uncomfortable about the weather, wait. Don't Take yourself fight adverse weather conditions on your first flight. Make sure you have plenty of ceiling so you can fly at a safe altitude, and try to make your first flight on a cool day.

All airplanes perform better at cooler temperatures. Last, but not least, on the first flight checklist is the "catch-all" that I call circumstances. It includes many intangible things, the most important of which is the condition of the pilot. If you are tired from a full day of preparing yourself and your airplane, it is probably best to wait a day until you are fresh and your mind is clear. Another circumstance to consider is traffic. Try to make your first flight at a time of low traffic. You will have your hands full with your new airplane, and heavy traffic will be an unnecessary distraction. Also, consider the number of spectators/assistants on hand to witness the big event. As you build your airplane everyone says, "Call me when you get ready to fly that thing." I, personally, think that having many spectators around provides more distractions than benefits. I chose to have only my wife and a fellow Long-EZ builder present at my first flight, and this worked quite well.

The "ground crew" used a hand held radio and a copy of my flight plan so they could follow the progress of the flight and make notes as I transmitted them down. Having a support crew member who is familiar with your type of airplane and its systems is very helpful (especially in the event of any malfunction). However you decide to make your first flight, make sure that all the circumstances are correct and that your support crew is the one that you have chosen.

As you approach your first flight, you will be anxious to fly, and many opportunities to do so will present themselves, as they did for me. I mentally went through the checklist: 1) Airplane, 2) Pilot, 3) Weather, 4) Circumstances. At least twice I had three of the four items ready so I decided to wait. When I had four of four ready, I went flying, and I had fun! I was well prepared, the airplane performed beautifully, the weather was great, and the circumstances were perfect. Be careful, and have fun!

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