My Challenging Sonerai

I look in my pilot log and I see maybe 25 different types I’ve flown. Certainly my sailplane, a Schreder HP-11, is different and perhaps the D-35 Bonanza I owned. The Bonanza and HP-11 were my first two. You’d think that both having a V-tail made it simpler but it wasn’t so. The multiplying mechanism in the Bonanza was in the aft fuselage. The book said that if you stalled, it put the elevators in neutral before you kick on rudder to stop a spin (it always wanted to spin). If you had the stick forward, the rudder travel was reduced by elevator travel. While that was true, it was never an overriding concern because the multiplying mechanism was generous and a little forgiving.

The HP-11 had the multiplying mechanism under the pilot’s seat and space was very limited. Perhaps for that reason rudder travel was also limited. In ridge lift, sailplanes are flown right on the stall at maybe 45 mph, or say 5 mph faster than stall speed. If you flew out of the ridge lift or mountain wave, the leading wing would stall first and you were in an incipient spin. Now you are only a few hundred feet above the Sutton Mountains, but that’s where the lift is. Mercifully for me I learned to bang on full opposite rudder which usually picked up the stalled wing. If you lowered the nose too, why you’re not going to stop the spin and in you go. It forgiveth nothing.

The Bakeng Deuce I had been flying the last few years was complemented by flying in the C-172, a Jabiru 450, and on one occasion a Stinson 108. I’d stopped flying the Sonerai when the Deuce came my way. Why? Flight prep for a Deuce is you walk around, check fuel and oil, kick tires, do a wig-wag, and fly. Not uncommon to be in the air 30 minutes after arrival.

A Sonerai is a V-class racer. Like the HP-11, it is not forgiving, not at all. Usually I’d spend a day doing a pre-flight and arrive early the next day to re-check everything before takeoff. If one gets to the end of the runway and your eyes turn yellow, taxi back to the hangar and put the cover on. If you are on approach and at any point your approach is not perfect, then go around and get it perfect. If you need to go around 10 times, so be it. Better that than break it.

It had been two full years since I’d flown the Sonerai. The reason is that Transport Canada asked for flight data with the Jabiru 3300 engine. It topped out at 200 mph at 3300 rpm and 127 hp. When I landed I noticed that the fuselage fabric tapes had pulled off in the air. Fifteen minutes later all the fabric was in a garbage can. Thanks to my fellow chapter members, Jim and Gord, for helping me decide.

In the first flight after two years I could not believe how light and sensitive the controls were. I also was amazed at how high you need to be at the top of final and how much power you need to stay on the glide path. Most of the way down, 1800 rpm works, reducing from 90 mph to 80 mph then 75 over the threshold. I’d forgotten that you don’t really flare, you use some power to assist rounding out at 75. When it touches in the first 500 feet, reduce power and brake like mad. If it doesn’t touch down by 500 feet, use full power and accelerate to 90 then pull up to clear the trees and power lines then climb out at 90.

If you are two up it is heavy enough that it does not balloon if you flare, but settles in nicely.

Turns are initiated one control at a time. You have full-span ailerons and a 40 percent enlarged rudder, so you use enough aileron, get the wings into the turn rate you want, then add rudder smartly to center the ball. If the rudder is not there you can slip off 1,000 feet in no time. If the ball drifts out 30 degrees, you are in pre-stall buffet at 130 mph.

And the list goes on. I’ve flown a Bakeng Deuce for say five years and got really spoiled. It’s an old pilot’s airplane. It has no real sins and can be flown while map reading, or chatting on the intercom.

You set the elevator trim perfectly on the Sonerai and study a map a little, you’ll have lost 1000 feet when you look up. Thank God for ForeFlight. Nothing requires study. A glance tells all.

My calendar says I broke the landing gear off the Deuce on takeoff on August 6. Anybody really need a project? We both walked away. The boys/girls in OPP blue were very polite.

Thus I was motivated to fly the Sonerai again. The Sonerai reminded me that you do not want to be near the stall after takeoff, most especially if there is shear at treetop height. Wind shear can stall you, repeatedly. Stall speed plus 50 percent can give you enough speed to compensate for the shear.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing. If the first time the Deuce dropped a wing, I’d have reduced power and landed, why, I still might have it to fly. Determination may not always be our friend.

I’ve got my eye on another Deuce and/or possibly a Starduster TOO. Whatever else they need, I want some airspeed after liftoff. It can keep your gear attached. I hear tell that the Deuce I’m looking at has 40 more horsepower than the last one. Power compensates for many sins as well.

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