Not quite ready for prime time

35 miles per hour…

40 miles per hour…

45 miles per hour…

Oil pressure good. Engine cylinder and exhaust temps coming up, but in range.

50 miles per hour…

55 miles per hour…

We’re at the top of the green arc. Tessie should be able to fly.

60 miles per hour…

65 miles per hour…

The control tower zips past on my left as we barrel down the runway.

70 miles per hour…

75 miles per hour…

We’re still glued to the runway, speeding down the blacktop like a dragster without the slightest hint that the plane is ever going to fly. Ahead, the band of lights marking the end of the runway is fast approaching.

I smile ear-to-ear.

Yes! This is the way it should be! Properly rigged, with the main landing gear appropriately sprightly, holding the twin tails the designated height off the tarmac, the ‘Coupe’s wing has zero angle of attack on the ground. In other words, if you want the plane to fly, you need to pull the nose up.

Of course, I don’t want to fly. Not yet anyway. Flying will come later. After all, Tessie’s wings haven’t seen the light of day in many months, and I’ve learned from experience that rather than assume that everything will be all right when a shop declares that an airplane is fixed and ready to go, you should assume that nothingwill be right following maintenance.


And these last few months of maintenance were like no other maintenance Tess has ever seen.

Parts of her that haven’t been seen by human eyes since she was built in 1947 were exposed to the light of day again as the very skin and bones of her nose were removed and replaced, her engine sitting for months on a pair of sawhorses. Her engine, naturally, is back on, sitting in a new engine mount. But every hose, cable, and wire was disconnected and then re-connected—and that means there’s no end of potential trouble.

So this time I decided to take a stepwise approach to returning to the air. First, I taxied lazily around the ramp, spinning slow motion doughnuts at low RPM, assuring myself that the complex control interlinkages were functioning. Going straight forward the ailerons were flat and the control yokes straight and true to the beckoning horizon. In a turn, one alerion flipped skyward and the other pointed to the earth, as the yin-yang of aerodynamics commands. Looking back over my shoulder I could watch the twin rudders flip left then right as I danced across the tarmac.

Naturally, given my hard-earned distrust of this particular aircraft engine, I kept one eye on the oil pressure gauge the whole time, but all was well.

Next, I asked the tower for a high-speed taxi test: Basically, to run down their runway as fast as possible without lifting off. This puts more air over the control surfaces, lets the engine run at higher power, and hopefully—while you’re still safely on the ground—shakes loose anything that might fall off. It’s as close to a test flight as you can come without actually flying. Which I didn’t want to do. Yet.

Which is a good thing, because, right now, I’m running out of runway.

I slide the crystal art deco throttle handle back, down to the base of the throttle quad, tap the brakes, and exit the runway.

My high-speed taxi test is complete. Next will come the flying.

But that’s a Plane Tale for another day.


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