Not wanting to rely on either memory or hearsay, I contacted the Foundation to see about getting several flights in Luscombes of different models. I wanted not only to do some comparisons, but to actually develop a feel for the airplane.
First we went out in the 8A they had just finish restoring for Fred Voltz of Copple, Texas. It was so fresh, it even smelled new. The airplane was sans electrical but incorporated most of the Foundation mods including their fine- tuning of the control system.
"All we actually do is replace the older pulleys with modern ball bearing ones and make sure fairleads are lined up," Combs says. In other words, they take it back to new configuration.
To anyone who remembers Luscombes in their "dog days", the difference in control feel approaches astounding. The high-friction feeling of sawing wood with the aileron cables is replaced by a slick, syrupy feel that is delightful before even firing up.
Although a Luscombe's fuselage is narrow, for some reason the cockpit isn't noticeably tight for "normal" sized people. I'm FAA-normal. The floor is flat, so your feet stick ahead of you to the little rubber rudder pedals, that look like old MG brake pedals. They are located just a little off-center and close together and I had to keep my feet down to keep from touching something above them with my toes. But, then, I was wearing cowboy boots, so that's hardly a criticism. The heel brakes are back and more centered and, at first, you have to think to keep your feet clear of them. A few minutes in the cockpit, however, and you don't notice anything unusual.
Although you're sitting well back in the wing, you're sitting fairly high in the fuselage, so your line of sight is clear of the nose. Just a little stretching drops the nose completely out of your vision.
The ergonomic relationship between the stick, throttle and seat is much better than many airplanes of the period which makes transitioning into the airplane much easier because you're comfortable and aren't reaching for anything.
As we taxied out I messed around with the rudders and I could immediately see why the airplane has a reputation for it's ground handling: The airplane goes exactly where your feet ask it to and some pilots aren't used to that. As I was to later confirm on a bunch of takeoffs and landings, the Luscombe isn't even close to being directionally unstable. But a lot of pilots are.
If you move your right foot a little bit, the airplane turns right a little. Move your foot a lot and it turns a lot. Jab at it and the airplane jumps in that direction.
Any complaint about the airplane's directional control on the ground would be the same as someone transitioning from a Buick station wagon into a Miata or similar sports car: There's nothing wrong with the way the little cars handle, but the driver has to get used to a car that isn't lethargic.
The Luscombe responds proportional to rudder inputs while airplanes like Cubs and Champs don't. They have a measurable lag and the Luscombe doesn't. Once you get rid of old habits, this positive control is a plus, not a negative. Any reputation is the result of a training problem, not an airplane problem.
On my first takeoff in the 65 hp 8A I was pleased to see how easy it was to hold both an attitude and direction while running on the mains. The gear is really stiff, so you can tell exactly what the airplane is doing and correct accordingly. The secret to corrections, since it does exactly what's ask of it, is "measured response." Don't over do it and start chasing your feet. Apparently that happens a lot with Luscombes.
With those long wings, the airplane is eager to fly and there's no doubt that it's flying on the wing, not the engine. That's even more evident on climb-out. We were two average people on an 80 degree day at 1500 ft MSL and 400-500 fpm rate of climb was the best we were going to get. The Luscombe's climb rate was about par with it's similarly powered contemporaries.
I was not prepared to like the airplane's handling as much as I did. The slicked up controls really help, especially in roll. In yaw, the rudders feel light but that's because they have very little centering pressure. You have to rely on your butt or the skid ball to see how you're doing at first. The airplane has a lot of adverse yaw, when measured by modern standards, but it's about the same as a Champ and easily handled with a little rudder.
I don't know what prop was on this airplane, but it settled down to about 100 mph indicated at 2450 rpm, and I knew we were burning about 4-4.5 gallons per hour. How's that for fuel economy?
Stalls with that much wing happen around 40 mph and are anticlimactic, but I could see where it wouldn't take much rudder to kick it into a nice spin. Incidentally, a lot of people think the Luscombe would be a great aerobatic trainer, and, in fact many people do use the airplane for aerobatics. It may be time, however, for us to re-evaluate that kind of thinking. Yes, it will do loop, roll and spin type of maneuvers, but we're talking about airplanes that are 50-60 years old. Most have never been completely gone through and the airplane has a lot of boxed-in areas that can't be easily inspected for corrosion. Personally, I'd never aerobat a Luscombe that hasn't had both the wings and the tail completely opened up and inspected.
One thing I was concerned about on the landing was getting it to come down. I expect it to be a real glider. The Luscombe surprised me, however, because although it glided like crazy, it was still coming down faster than something like the Cessna 140. This is a welcomed characteristic.
What I liked much more was the way the airplane slipped. At first I just nibbled at the slip, but soon was perfectly happy to bottom the rudder and lay the aileron over to watch the numbers coming up at us. The nose has only a slight tendency to come up in the slip and the entire thing was not only easily controlled, but a real hoot to do. Eventually, I got to where I was comfortable slipping hard and then bleeding out the slip a little at a time until flaring. For a long winged airplane, the Luscombe knows how to come down, when you want it to.
Understandably, the airplane likes to float, but not much worse than a Cub and no where nearly as bad as a Taylorcraft. In the same situation, it floats only slightly more than a flaps-up C-150. This gives you all day to work at finding the runway and getting the attitude right.
Feeling for the runway in ground effect is another place where "measured response" is called for. The airplane moves when you asked it to, so it helps to visually fixate on the edges of the runway and use small, quick inputs to keep it straight, not drifting and in the three-point attitude. On at least several of those first landings we had a little crosswind and the airplane handled it easily as long as I did my part.
I could see where heavy turbulence and gusts would keep you working because of the light wing loading, but the airplane has the control authority to handle it, if the pilot has the same authority and confidence.
Wheel landings with that rigid gear were a simple matter of flying it down and pinning it on, although I did get at least one ugly one. The trick is not to anticipate the touch down. Work at decreasing the wheel-to-runway distance gradually and let the touch down surprise you. Once pinned, even on one wheel, it was easy to control.
Visibility throughout the approach is excellent. At no time, including during flare, does the runway hide behind the nose. In fact, the nose is just noticeable enough to act as a reference in setting up the three-point attitude.
Later I flew with Doug in the 85 hp, 8E the Foundation was raffling off. This would be their fourth raffle airplane. This airplane had complete electrical, paint and about half tanks. On my first takeoff it was only seconds before I could feel the difference 85 hp makes. Where the 65 hp was happy to get off and slow to climb, the 85 was anxious to get off and showed us a solid 800 fpm at 75-80 mph. It had much better performance than the 8A, although it was less than 5 mph faster. Again, I don't know what the prop pitch was but the bigger engine really made an airplane out of it.
Doug showed me how he usually has transitioning students raise the tail to at least level or higher attitude on take off, which makes the airplane extremely stable on the mains. He says many accidents involve over-controlling on takeoff and getting the tail that high helps stabilize the airplane.
On approach we were using a de-accelerating approach starting at 80 mph and working down to 70 over the numbers. I'm certain that given a little more time, I would have used 65 mph or so at the end to kill some of the float. On final I was surprised to see how quickly the airplane picked up speed if I let the nose slide down even a little.
One thing I did not fall in love with in the pattern is the trim system. It's a horizontal crank facing forwards at the front edge of the seat between the two occupants' hips. First, I could never remember which way to trim it and I could never actually trim out the pressures on final. Most of the time, I just ignored the trim, set it neutral and over powered the pressures.
Is the Luscombe a difficult airplane to fly? Absolutely not. In reality, because it reacts so positively and has so much control authority, it is probably safer and eventually easier than many of its peer group. That however demands the pilot learn to control himself first and then the airplane.
Based on my experiences years ago with less-than-wonderful Luscombes, I was prepared to be unimpressed. Just the opposite was true. I loved it. A great combination would be a rag wing Luscombe with both wing tanks, a C-90 and no electrical. Low weight, lots of power, good controls...what could be better?
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