Few and Far Between
The 27.7 foot wing is nicely tapered and, at first glance, the flaps and ailerons would appear nothing out of the ordinary until one notices how much of the chord they occupy. The units then begin to assume new dimensions. The aspect ratio is higher than most aircraft, meaning the wing is narrow for its length which not only gives excellent efficiency, but means the flaps and ailerons have much more authority than on a more normally dimensioned wing.
I always prefer to fly the way God meant us to — with the stick in my right and the throttle in my left. As I began to board, I was disappointed to see there were no brakes on the right side of the cockpit. In a second glance I noticed there were no brakes on the left either! As I was trying to assess how well the airplane floated (we have lakes at both ends of the runways), Art pointed out the brake handle which is a small lever with a finger-grooved black knob laying horizontally on the console between the seats. Pulling up on the lever gave both brakes at the same time which left the ground handling duties to the steerable nosewheel. Satisfied, we weren't about to skip across Long Pond like an expensive flat rock; I saddled up on the right.
The engine was still hot so when we got ready to crank, Art mumbled the same thing all owners of fuel injected hot engines say — each word having something to do with "will it or won't it start?" Over the years those of us who own IO-360s in our Pitts have developed foolproof hot start procedures which involve leaving the mixture lean and not touching a thing. Just crack the throttle and crank. This procedure has never failed me in the past and didn't fail us this time. As the Monsun let us know it was waking up, Art smiled, obviously pleased at discovering a new starting technique.
As we taxied out, I was racking my brain trying to think of the last time I was in a nosewheel airplane with a bubble canopy and a control stick rather than a yoke. The one that immediately leaped to mind was the Siai-Marchetti SF-260. Later in the flight, there would be further mental mentions of the Marchetti. On the way out to the end of the runway (which didn't take long, it's only 2000 feet), I tried to hurry up my cockpit familiarization tour to figure out where everything was and was dismayed to find the airspeed marked in some system that initially made no sense. There were no orderly rows of numbers running around a black circular dial in five mile or five knot increments. Instead, the gauge looked more like a temperature unit on an oven in that its circumference was divided into large colored segments with a single giant number on each one of them. In the middle of the gauge, Art had a hand-lettered circle that translated the markings to miles per hour. I was halfway through the flight before I realized those big numbers in the segments were simply five knot increments and the big numbers were on the appropriate cardinal point, ie, the big seven is 70 knots. Gee, why didn't they just say so?
Threading throughout Patstone's nonstop commentary were glowing pronouncements of the airplane's wonderfulness at low air speeds and, as we rolled onto the center line, he said he'd like to make this takeoff and show me "something:' Now bear in mind that at this point I still saw the Monsun as a rectalinear European variation of a Tomahawk with the tail in the right place. There-fore, as Art yanked us off the ground at 45 knots and then announced he was going to do a hard 2G pullup, both hands came off my lap and headed for the controls. As he sucked the nose up into what seemed to be a made-for-an-accident attitude and held it there, both palms instantly grew cold, sweaty spots. But the airplane did nothing — it obediently held 60 knots and clawed for altitude. Even without my hands on the controls I could tell the Monsun was rock solid. This isn't a European Tomahawk, folks. Later, I was to find myself perfectly happy doing the same maneuver.
Satisfied he had impressed the hell out of me (he had), Art stated it was now my airplane and I was free to go and do what I wanted. Almost as soon as I wrapped my right hand around the stick and bent the airplane around to head toward the practice area, I had the feeling of flying a much larger airplane. We had minor turbulence below the cloud deck and the airplane behaved as if it had a much heavier wing loading than it actually did.
Holding 25 square, the best rate of climb we got out of the airplane was in the neighborhood of 1200 feet per minute during initial climb, but that was somewhere down around 75 knots which puts the nose at a ridiculous angle. I was much happier to put the nose down to a solid 110 knots where I could not only see a lot more, but we were still going up approximately 600 feet a minute.
We had a fantastic day to go flying. The broken deck at about 4000 feet separated two horizontal layers of absolute unlimited visibility. You could see 100 miles on top of the deck and 100 miles beneath it — a condition that is all but unheard of in New Jersey. Normally our puffy CUs are actually toxic whip cream floating on a hot chocolate stew of green air. We had earned that day by weeks of unrelenting rain and the Monsun was the airplane to let me enjoy the weather.
I took my time feeling out the airplane as we climbed up between the mini-CUs and had the feeling I was going to like this airplane. Once on top of the deck I pushed the nose over, leaving the throttle forward to see what kind of speed we would get at the power available (which was only about 65 percent). At that power, we were showing 130 knots which my trusty calculator said was about 152 miles an hour. That speed fits nicely with the factory literature's claim of 158 miles an hour and Art's comment that he always used 150 for flight planning purposes. With 39 gallons hiding out in the wings under those flush mounted caps, that gives something like 600 plus miles of absolute range.
Everything I had read about the Monsun during the period it was being introduced leaned heavily upon aerobatic capabilities. Art, however, said the airplane was really never truly approved for aerobatics and, even if it had, the aerobatic weight was such the Monsun could only carry one person and a few gallons of gas to stay under the aerobatic category weight limit. Keeping that fact in mind and knowing that we were well over the aerobatic limit, I made sure to avoid purposely doing any aerobatics. Unfortunately we did encounter some severe turbulence at the edge of one of the CUs necessitating high angle, unusual attitude recoveries sometimes segmented into 90 degree arcs.
In normal flight, the controls initially feel quite light when, in reality, what I was feeling was an airplane with relatively solid breakout forces but almost ideal response. When control was displaced, the airplane's reaction is instantaneous, giving the impression the controls are light because the airplane has reacted almost immediately — which is not always the case with American spam cans.