---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Thu, 26 Aug 2004 05:00:21 –0000
From: Jeff Page <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: [DreamAircraft_Tundra180] Factory Tour and Flight
Tuesday, I took a demo flight in the Tundra 200 and toured the Dream Aircraft factory. This is a long winded post of all of my impressions and opinions.
I saw the Tundra 180 on exhibit at the Canadian Aviation Expo in Oshawa a couple of months ago and was immediately interested. All the articles and specifications indicated that the Tundra met all my requirements. I want a plane on amphibious floats that can take four people, and fuel.
Many articles claim that most flights are only 2 people, so why buy a plane with four seats ? The four seat requirement became painfully obvious as I did my flight planning the night before.
Myself, my instructor and a friend of mine were planning to fly from Oshawa (near Toronto) to St Hubert (Montreal). We would meet another friend at St Hubert and have lunch and then the four of us would fly 20 minutes to Bromont to see the Tundra.
I knew the payload of the rented Cessna 172 is limited, so I was expecting to have to carefully manage my fuel, so that I would have the minimum I required to be able to take the four of us. As it turned out, I only had 59 pounds available for fuel. There is no convenient way of arranging for, or measuring that small amount of fuel. So only 3 of us could go :-(
If I am going to build an airplane, I want a real one !!!
So it was a beautiful summer day for flying, with a completely blue sky, little wind and warm. So the climb performance of the 172 left quite a lot to be desired. After getting off the ground, I was still flying level along the runway for a while to get to Vy before I could actually climb. However, this was a great comparison with the Tundra, because the loading conditions were basically identical.
So Robert took myself and my instructor up for a flight. Robert is an excellent pilot and I was impressed with the professional way he demonstrated the aircraft. There were no "tricks" to try to make the aircraft appear more than it is. For example, the fuel tanks were full, rather than low and he didn't try to amaze us by standing the plane on its tail on take off and flying at Vx. He didn't brag about the airspeed. He let us recognize the great handling and performance on our own, because the plane speaks for itself. By the way, the Tundra really is faster in normal cruise than the Cessna is flat out.
As a low time pilot, this was my first experience in a taildragger. The Tundra 200 has a new bend in the cabin floor to allow more tail clearance on landing, so this means it is a little harder to see over the nose while taxiing. I cannot compare with other taildraggers, but I really could see very little over the nose. However, the seats are very low to the floor, which would allow basketball players a relaxing ride, so I will mount my seats higher. As a benefit though, weaving like a drunk down the runway will be expected, rather than laughed at, like it is now when I do it in a Cessna ;-)
However, Robert easily backtracked straight down the center of the runway. In the end, I won't care, because I will be putting floats on.
I expected some corrections to be necessary on the rudder after the tail lifted early in the take off. The plane appeared to happily track in a straight line down the runway, although that is a short lived issue anyway, because we were off the ground quickly. Normal climb was continuously showing 1500fpm with the three of us and full fuel, double what the Cessna 172 did under the exact same conditions. Clearly no problem taking the fourth person.
This was also my first experience with a control stick rather than a yoke. Virtually all of my flying has been from the left seat, so it was a little different using the other hand for power etc. Turning the control yoke to bank the Cessna requires very little force, in fact, it gets tiring holding your arm in mid air on a long flight. The stick of the Tundra requires more force to bank. Provided the aircraft is tuned properly, I don't think this should be a problem at all, since little ongoing correction is required and you can rest your arm on your leg. The elevators required a similar push/pull to the Cessna, so all four directions require similar force. I think I will get very quickly used to the stick. Apparently there is an option to put in a yoke, but I can't imagine choosing that, since in the Cessna I am constantly trying to look around the yoke to see everything hidden on the dash. In the Tundra, with the stick, all of the dash is plainly visible and I could easily read everything, even from the right seat.
One pleasant surprise was the visibility. The Cessna 172 has a slightly lower dash than the 152 I have done most of my training in, so I have been getting used to the new visual when climbing etc. The dash on the Tundra is significantly lower, and it visually appeared that we were diving because of the great view out the front. For VFR flight this is fabulous !
I was also expecting the brace bars that go diagonally across the windshield to be annoying. I was pleased to discover that they instantly became just as invisible as the pillars and are not a problem at all.
I have seen bubble style windows available for aircraft which make it easier to see down. The doors on the Tundra are thin, so I could clearly see right down below the plane, more than the Cessna. I doubt bubble windows would be possible, because of the way the doors fold up to the bottom of the wing, but I don't think they are necessary and I wouldn't give up the fold up doors for anything.
The doors were a very pleasant surprise. I had seen the fold up doors on the Tundra 180 at the show and thought they were a brilliant design. However, they wanted to widen the doors to make it easier to get into the front seat. Since the tail was raised to avoid touching the tail wheel on landing, it must mean that the cabin is at a steeper angle and higher on the 200, making it slightly more difficult to enter. However, a wider door meant that it would hit the strut. The solution was to take a very small notch out of the front of the door. Even though the cabin is higher, it is a lot easier to get into than the Cessna. I also like the door latch. On the Cessna, you have to slam the door and you are never sure if it is really closed or going to open in flight. On the Tundra, there is a small actuator that just slides to pin the bottom of the door closed. It is clearly obvious when this is engaged.
I didn't know what to expect with flaps actuated with a "parking brake" style handle. In the Cessna, you push a switch and wait while the flaps move. I wasn't sure what the effect would be to move the flaps much more quickly. In reality, it works quite well. There is a detent to make it easy to change from negative cruise to neutral, from there on, it ratchets like a parking brake. No electric motors to wear out and no waiting, watching a stupid gauge to know when to let go of the switch to reach a desired setting.
We did some slow flight. In the Cessna, this is a great training exercise as you gingerly learn to keep the controls coordinated trying to avoid a wing dropping. In the Tundra, it is so stable it is not necessary to continually control. Very few minor movements are necessary. This was the aspect of the plane that impressed my instructor the most. This behavior is explained by the washout in the wingtips. Hang gliders are designed this way and it means that the center of the wing stalls first and the tips are still flying.
Luc enjoys explaining that at AirVenture, an FAA test pilot flew the Tundra. Apparently he held the stick back and left the rudders neutral to see exactly what happened as the plane fell to earth. The wings stayed level as the plane floated down, so there is no doubt that the design is superior.
After the flight, Luc and Yvan took us on a factory tour. I have been in quite a number of factories of various sorts and I have been to visit Murphy Aircraft earlier this year. I liked what I saw. They have quite a lot of the equipment to make manufacturing aircraft parts well. Things are organized and clean. Each part is nicely labeled so it is easy to identify the part compared to the assembly manual.
The material is in clean condition. In comparison to Murphy, the facility is quite a bit larger, more equipment, more work in progress, more organized, less mess, less dirt. I have the impression they will be in business 10 years from now, which is important to me, since I want to build a plane there will be many of.
Another concern I had, was getting replacement parts, especially as the design of the aircraft changes over time. They are tracking exactly which parts each customer buys. So if I ruin a part, they can quickly make me another, since they know exactly which one I have, or whether I need a new version if there is an improvement.
One of the things I was interested to know, was the stress testing that the aircraft had undergone. We were shown the wing that was stress tested until they finally had to force it to fail. I am convinced the aircraft can take more stress than my internal body parts.
Engineering analysis showed that they could use a lighter gauge material in the wing and still be well beyond requirements, yet they chose to keep the thicker/stronger material.
They had a mostly assembled wing to look at. I have seen a number of partially finished wings and the Tundra wing is elegant. I think the wings are a little easier to do than the cabin. Unfortunately they are not building a cabin now.
I took a look at the assembly manual. When I was at Murphy, I sat for an hour reading their manual. It seemed I could understand each page. However, I couldn't read all of it in an hour and I left thinking that there could easily be assembly steps that are too complicated or impractical for me to build. I didn't know if I would have all of the information I would need, or whether I would be on the telephone frequently. Dream Aircraft is very proud of their different approach to the manual. It is much less material than the Murphy manual. However, "a picture is worth a thousand words" applies here. Each bit of the plane is shown as a color coded assembly diagram. So you can look at the diagram and easily understand how to fit the parts together. The colors tell you what type of fastener to use. The first part of the manual describes drilling, deburring etc., so there is no confusion as to what they mean when they indicate that a particular action is required to the part. So unlike the Murphy manual, I am not expecting to be reading the book more than building the plane. Keep in mind that I am a detail oriented person that always reads the forward and the acknowledgements of novels, so I like to read in detail. I think it is much easier to convey in pictures how to assemble something. I am not concerned that I will run into anything I cannot do.
There are still some minor changes to come. For example, they are currently pondering a baggage door of some sort, which is very desirable. The door on the 172 is very small and this is due to the ribs, which make it difficult to just put in a large door. I don't know what the answer is. Certainly the door on the Cessna is less than ideal, since there is only barely enough room to wiggle in to access the stuff in the back, and even then it is only possible since you can put your arm up into a shelf which allows using two hands. For now, they are pondering the best solution. I have no doubt that they will find the best approach.
My wish is that Dream Aircraft also produce amphibious floats. Unfortunately, this is quite a lot of effort, so this can't happen immediately. However, I can't whine until I have finished building the plane first !
One of the things I am very pleased with is the people at Dream Aircraft. When I visited Murphy Aircraft, although they welcomed me to visit and knew well in advance when I was coming, I spent little time talking with people and the technical person who was supposed to answer all my questions left before I talked with him. They had no finished plane for me to see and no demo flight, since they had no plane. Did they really think I was going to buy a kit after looking at a few photos ?
In comparison, everyone I have talked with at Dream Aircraft was very pleased to talk with me and answer my questions. Luc could easily have given us the factory tour, but Yvan wanted to participate as well. Their pride in their aircraft shows and they enjoy talking about it. I am sure that if I do run into problems, that they will be willing to help.
So my intention for this visit was to confirm that what I had seen on paper was real in the air, and that the aircraft is designed and manufactured by people who know what they are doing, since ultimately my life will be in their hands. I am very pleased with what I saw. I think the aircraft is an excellent design, certainly one of the best on the market and the most suitable for my requirements.
Now I need to learn more about bucking rivets, find a location to do the assembly and solve the biggest challenge, which is to convince my wife this is a good idea. She recently discovered what "experimental" really means :-(
Can anyone point me to some statistics that show that building and flying uncertified aircraft is popular and safe ?