It is in flying the Fairchild that the soul of a '46 Packard comes out. When you open the door, you're struck first by the old-timey atmosphere engendered by the unborn mohair interior. If you're really observant, you'll notice the door must be nearly three inches thick and closes with a solemn thunk and subtle click, like a refrigerator . . . or a '46 Packard. The classic luxury car feel is furthered when, after firing up the engine, you reach over and crank down the window glass (real glass, not plastic) in the doors.
Taxiing out, the view is obstructed by just about everything in the airplane. The instrument panel is much further forward than in many ai-planes and the windshield frame zigs and zags back and forth across your field of vision. Since you are sitting only midway forward in the doors, even the front door posts dance around in front of you. On the plus side, the old girl waddles ahead as stable and unhurried as a mini-liner. She's slow to react to the elements around her so she gives you plenty of time to correct any meanderings.
On takeoff she reminds you how heavy the tail is. Left to her own devices, she would probably takeoff in a three-point position because the tail might never lift itself up. It takes a reasonably heavy poke with the stick to bring the tail up into a level position. Tail up, nose more or less level, she tracks straight ahead and eventually flies off at something between 65 and 70 mph. It's fortunate that it tracks straight on takeoff because the view of the runway is something less than unobstructed and clear.
The Warner natters away up front, making more of a rumble than a roar, and the airplane strains to climb upwards. At about 700 fpm, it's not exactly a Pitts but then it's certainly as good in the climb department as most Cessnas or small Pipers and it certainly has a lot more class. It unfortunately needs more glass, to see where you're going.
We weren't out to do a blood and guts evaluation of the airplane, since nobody in the world probably gives a damn what its balance field length is or its best NBAA range with IFR reserves. Not once did I give any thought to what the airplane's critical Mach was although I did happen to notice that the old fashioned (and totally original) airspeed needle seemed to hover in the neighborhood of 120 mph most of the time.
In flying the airplane, I had to consciously fight myself to overcome the intimidation cleanliness and detailing brings. The rudder pedals are so finely polished that I didn't want to put my size ten Justins on them and I tried to keep myself from sweating so my hands wouldn't leave imprints on the controls or throttle.
Cruising down the beach, I kept asking myself what you do in an airplane like this, if the engine quits and you can’t get the pilot light relit? I mean, you know that the immense tubing in the fuselage is going to keep you from getting hurt as long as you don’t fly into the 40th floor of an apartment building or something. My concern was that, assuming I survived the accident, how was I going to survive the beating Marty gave me shortly thereafter for dinging his airplane. I just tried to keep those thoughts out of my mind, so I could enjoy the flight.
The controls of the Fairchild are surprisingly smooth. It responds much better than you’d expect, a little on the sedate side, but it does so with such grace and smoothness that you can’t help but get a feeling of complete luxury. A lot of that smoothness comes from the torque tubes and bearings the Fairchild was born with although a significant amount of it probably comes from the detailed TLC given the machine when it was rebuilt.
Landing the airplane is a simple matter of flying formation with the ground until that long out-rigger gear touches. It's soft enough that there's little, or no, tendency to bounce and even less of a tendency to waddle from side-to-side like some of the peers of the F-24. Again roll-out is a very civilized maneuver where anything the airplane does is done with grace, so you are never dancing on the rudders in an effort to keep it from swapping ends. However, with all that side area and with its center of gravity so high from the ground, a heavy crosswind can make you a believer in long legs and toe brakes.
There is a tendency, when seeing a plastic-like machine, such as Marty Probst's restored F-24, to assume that the airplane is a recently restored entry in the I-want-to-win-atrophy fad. That could be true except in this case Probst has owned the airplane for 19 years and it was restored in 1965. That incredibly detailed finish is an even more incredible 14 years old! How many of us keep anything for 14 years, much less keeping it in that kind of condition? Probst truly deserves an award, even if it’s only for "Neat Freak of the Year". And, although it has a lot of the earmarks of a hangar queen, his airplane had 300 hours on it when Marty bought it but it now has over 1,000 hours on its finely detailed bones.
Somewhere in this darkened land is the grave of a 1946 Packard. It's not written how it died. Maybe it was an impromptu confrontation with a speeding locomotive, or maybe it was something more lingering but equally as fatal, like being bought for somebody's wife. Whatever brought about its demise, the Packard died. But it would be happy in knowing that its kharma (whatever the hell that is) lives on in the tube and fabric form of Marty Probst's Fairchild 24W. On the other hand, maybe reincarnation is a crock and the Packard doesn't give a hoot. Either way, Probst's F-24W is king of the clean machines. BD
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