D-VIII, ¾ SIZE
Gwen de Lucero
Photo Gallery Pictures
I am very pleased to report my first flights in my Fokker DVIII. After working intensively with my friend Bill David (airline pilot, stunt pilot, CFI, and one hell of an awesome guy) I made my first several flights yesterday morning and evening. First thing in the morning I did three solo takeoffs and landings in Bill's Pietenpol Aircamper. As I rolled off the runway from my last landing Bill came up and said "you're as ready as you're ever gonna be, let's do it". So I did a thorough preflight of the DVIII, filled up the gas tank and started the engine to let it warm up. While the engine was coming up to temp I closed my eyes and did my best to clear my mind of all the junk in there.
Once the engine was up to temp I rolled out on the runway and lined up for takeoff. I put the stick all the way forward and as I opened up the throttle to full two thoughts flashed in my mind for an instant, both at the same time. The first was "Wow, this is amazing!" and the second was "What the hell are you doing?" As the tail came up on my first takeoff I caught a left crosswind of maybe 8 or 9 mph. That combined with my unfamiliarity with left-handed prop airplanes caused me to drift off to the right fairly quickly toward the cornfield to the north of the runway. Fortunately as the tail came up and my view ahead improved I realized my error and got left rudder and a bit of left aileron in and narrowly averted flying into the corn. You can hear my friend Bill's commentary on this moment in the video he shot as I took off.
Once I was fully airborne and climbing out the reality of the moment really sank in for me and I was both completely elated and utterly terrified at the same time. This is a very strange mixture of feelings to have and it isn't easy to explain to someone who hasn't experienced it. Here I was, a new test pilot in airplane nobody had ever flown before. But the airplane was flying very well and at 70 mph I was climbing like you wouldn't believe. After only a few seconds I reached 500 feet and began my climbing turn downwind. I gave very gentle left aileron input and the airplane rolled nicely to the left and as expected, skidded to the right. A healthy amount of rudder input compensated for the skid and I made a nice gentle turn toward downwind and continued my climb. There was some haze up around 2000 feet that hadn't yet burned off in the morning sun so I had to level off just below 2000 in order to maintain good visibility. I spent the next 15 or 20 minutes making gentle turns and feeling out the control responses of the airplane. Pitch is very sensitive, requiring only very small, light control inputs to affect a noticeable nose-up or down attitude. Roll response with the gap seals I installed was about what I would expect from any other small light airplane. Yaw response was weak and required large amounts of rudder input. I also had to hold a little bit of forward stick pressure most of the time to maintain level flight, but nothing uncomfortable. I found it to have a very noticeable adverse yaw with aileron input but with practice I learned to compensate appropriately with rudder. Initially I had planned to explore near-stall performance on the first flight but decided against it in the air because I still didn't feel fully competent at keeping the airplane coordinated. At cruise RPM in level flight at 2000 feet my indicated airspeed was 88 mph and I got it up to about 102 at full throttle in level flight without any rough feeling or complaint sounds from the airframe.
After getting a better feel for the airplane I decided it was time to land and lined up for a straight-in approach to landing. I throttled back to about 10% power and maintained a 68 to 70 mph descent at around 500 fpm. As I crossed the runway threshold I cut the throttle and let the airplane settle in for landing. As Bill had foretold in our pre-test-flight discussions I ended up flaring a little too high, giving a little too much elevator input and ballooned up a bit before making a fairly hard, but well-coordinated landing. Once the airplane was on the ground I had no trouble sticking it there and keeping it going straight down the runway. I took a mental deep breath and grinned one of the biggest grins I've ever had on my face.
After taxiing back to the hangar area I climbed out and inspected the airplane. The only damage I found was a small dent in the bottom of my rudder where the tailwheel had hit it during my hard first three-point landing. Despite the rough landing the main gear, axle, bungies, and wheels were in perfect condition.
After a debrief with Bill and a few pats on the back and atta-girl's from the older pilots at the airport I took a break for a few hours, got some lunch and did my best to relax as my first flight replayed itself in my head repeatedly. It was without a doubt the most exhilarating, exiting, and terrifying thing I have ever done in my life. And I'm very proud of what I have accomplished. I'm also very grateful for a good solid, great-performing airplane and an engine that ran like a champ and stayed cool as I pushed it hard.
After relaxing for a few hours Bill flew back to the airport in his Pietenpol and I put in another three takeoffs and landings in the DVIII. Although I was initially a little reticent to climb back in the cockpit my performance in the three flights of the evening definitely had improved since the one of the morning and I found myself growing much more comfortable with the airplane. My turns were getting tighter and much better coordinated and my landings improved greatly. I still have a huge amount to learn from this little airplane but I have no doubt that if I can become proficient with it I will be a very highly-skilled pilot indeed.
Last but certainly not least I want to take a moment to thank the people who helped make this dream of mine to build and fly my own WWI fighter plane a reality. Thanks to Robert Baslee for designing a delightful little airplane like the DVIII and for providing all the support and advice you have during my building process; to my dear friend Glen Gibbs who taught me everything I know about fabric covering and without whom my DVIII would not be nearly as beautiful as it is; to Kendyl Peters and his family, who selflessly provided countless hours of assistance and the use of his paint shop and workshop for the last four months of my project; to Bill David, my hero, who provided the best flight training I have ever received and made certain my husband's wife came home safe and sound; and to all my fellow builder and pilot friends who critiqued my work and said "you really should put another washer on there ya know", you guys made my dream possible!
Bill David kindly video recorded all my flights yesterday along with commentary he made on my performance at the time. You can view all my videos (even the ones I'm not super-proud of) at the links below:
*Note: right click on the link and choose "save target as" to download the files to view the files offline. Otherwise they will not play properly since the host does not allow streaming video. Please be aware these are fairly large files.