Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Flying the Belite Ultalight Aircraft - Part 3

This is the third of three parts.

Approach and Landing

Flying an airplane is one of life's second most exciting experiences.  And, of course, the first most exciting experience is landing an airplane.

Fortunately, the Belite keeps the excitement level to a minimum.  It lands in a manner very typical of any tail wheel airplane.  A full stall landing, that is, touching down on the main wheels and the tail wheel simultaneously, is the best method to use and results in a low landing speed.  Given even a modest headwind, your actual touch down speed may be matched by someone jogging down the runway.  Due to the very light weight of the Belite, the airplane will decelerate rapidly after landing, especially if you make use of the brakes.  The rudder will remain active until you are almost stopped.  The heel brakes help with directional control; keep the airplane tracking straight.

Pre plan your traffic pattern.  Ultralight aircraft will often fly a lower, close-in pattern.  It may be on the opposite side of the airport pattern.  Seek council of other experienced local pilots.  Check with the airport manager.  Be vigilant.  Be prepared to give way to other aircraft, even if you have the right of way.  Be especially watchful for wake turbulence.  Fortunately, the Belite has excellent control authority.

Typically your approach begins when you are on the downwind leg, opposite your touch down point.  Reduce power to the point that your descent matches any other light aircraft.  Don't reduce power to idle, the descent will be very steep.  (This can be done later, after you have appropriate experience and know your altitudes and airspeeds and descent paths.)  As your turn base, use 1 notch of flaps and slow to about 50mph.  Select a second notch after turning final, and adjust power to hit your touchdown point.  Keep your airspeed at or above 45mph.  Add power if you are low.  Add a third notch of flaps when on short final, after the numbers are assured.  Don't pull back on the stick to stretch a glide -- the aircraft will stall.  Use power instead.

When you are over your landing point, at an altitude of 3 to 5 feet, level the plane off and reduce the remaining power.  The Belite will settle towards the ground and decelerate.  Just prior to touch down, pull the stick back to full flaw and touch down on all 3 wheels.  (The Trike works the same way - pull back and let the plane settle on the two mains, try and make the tail 'kiss' the ground.  Keep the stick back, whether in the Trike or the taildragger.) 

If you want to be more conservative, and have the runway available, keep a little power throughout the flare.  Reduce the power after touchdown. 

The approach and landing can be made from a power off glide, but the descent angle will be very, very steep.  By maintaining 45+mph (which you can do just by pushing the stick forward and the nose down) you will have plenty of energy for the flare.  You can use a shot of power to clear obstacles.  As a note of interest, the high angle of descent cause by idle power is caused by the windmilling propeller drag, not by the airframe.  If you stop the prop, the Belite is a fine little glider, with an estimated glide ratio of 9+ to 1.  Of course, a stopped prop is disquieting.  Or perhaps, very quieting.

The use of approach speeds that are slower than 45 MPH is possible, but not recommended.

Emergency Procedures

As with all aircraft, you should be prepared for emergency situations.  Preparation is key -- starting with your preflight.  Are both mags working?  Has the safety pin been removed from the parachute?  Are the wing bolts latched properly?  Are the flapersons properly connected?  Has the fabric been torn?  Is a wasp living in the wing spar?  Is the pitot plugged?  Are the tires properly inflated?  Are the bolts tight?  Are the winds acceptable?  Are you prepared for the flight?  Is the runup of the engine normal?  What is the forecast?  Will the winds turn?  Does the flight have continuous emergency landing options?  Does anyone know where you are going, and when you will return? These are just a few of the things on your checklist.  

It is hard to separate good planning and caution from safety.

The Belite is available with or without electric start.  If your engine quits, and you are unable to restart in flight, you will soon experience and unscheduled landing.  First of all, you must fly the airplane.  Lower the nose, maintain 45 to 50mph, and fly the airplane.  Did I say, fly the airplane?  The surprise of an engine stoppage causes some to forget to fly the airplane, which usually begins with a pitch forward (on the control stick) in order to maintain flying speed of 45+mph.  

With the prop stopped, your glide ratio will be improve.  From an altitude of 500 feet, you have a landing radius of up to a mile in any direction.  Don't overshoot the landing.  Use flaps as required.  Use S turns as required.  

The Belite carries a 5 gallon fuel supply, so be mindful of your available fuel.  Given the approximate 1:20 to 2:00 fuel supply, you have plenty of fuel for fun, but must be extremely careful when planning cross country flights, especially with headwinds.  A precautionary landing with the engine running (and I've done it) is a far safer option than letting a dead engine make the decision for you.  Carry water, a cell phone, and perhaps, a personal locator, such as Spot.  (And carry oil, for refueling at remote airports.)

Develop your flying skills.  The Belite is truly a very high performance airplane -- it is capable of more responsiveness than almost all other FAR Part 103 ultralights.  It is also capable of far more utility.  Use your developed skills to improve safety.  Fly within your personal limits provides the most fun with the least risk.

Enjoy your Belite!

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