Keep the Skinny Birds Flying Safely
By Steve Krog
When an individual makes the commitment to learn to fly, there are several memorable events that occur during flight training. The very first flight always leaves a lasting impression. Same with the first take-off, or getting the airplane to do what the instructor says. But then, after 8-10 regularly scheduled lessons, the time arrives when the instructor says, “I’m going to get out now and I want you to make three take offs and landings.”
Tobie Stamsta heard me say those words on Thursday, August 13 - her 16th birthday - and I made that statement five more times that day.
Tobie Stamsta is a bright but unassuming young lady. She was raised in an aviation family, as her father was very active in the early ultralight movement. Flying was something that interested her, but not enough to become actively involved. Then, just over two years ago at age 14, she was “bitten” by the bug and wanted to learn to fly.
After expressing this desire to her father, Mark, they discussed the options. Although the desire was true and her father was completely supportive, money was tight. Together they came to me and we talked about how we might help Tobie pursue her dream. We eventually worked out an arrangement for her to work every day at the hangar during the summer in exchange for flight lessons.
The day after school ended in the summer of 2008, Tobie was at the hangar at 7:30 a.m. ready to go to work. The jobs were not hard but required persistence. Almost every day another airplane needed to be washed or the belly scrubbed; the hangar always needed cleaning and re-arranging; and tools needed to be put in their proper place at the end of the day. She assisted with oil changes as well as wiping down airplanes after every flight and ridding the wings and windshield of bugs. After several days, she showing no sign of wanting to quit, so we began to fly.
Throughout the remainder of the summer Tobie was never late, nor did she ever complain about the work. When she was done with one job she would find something else to do. I never ever had to remind her to finish a job that she had started.
We began flying the J3 Cub regularly, which she took to like a seasoned pilot. Soon we were doing steep turns, stalls, and even spins. By summer’s end she had mastered the Cub and had it not been for her age (FAA regs say you have to be 16 to solo) she could have easily soloed.
Throughout the school year we remained in touch, but Tobie was very active in school so we put the flying (and cleaning) on hold until the school year ended in June 2009. Once again, Tobie was at the hangar promptly at 7:30 a.m. ready to work and fly.
After a few hours of refresher flying in the Cub, it was apparent that she hadn’t lost anything during the school year. To continue challenging her, I began instructing Tobie in different airplanes, following up each with a discussion on how it flew and how the airplane compared to the Cub’s handling. Soon she could tell me the subtle differences between each of the airplanes.
The first airplane after the Cub was the Piper PA-12 Super Cruiser. Somewhat larger and faster than the Cub, Tobie had no problem becoming comfortable in the Cruiser. Within a few hours she was flying it like a pro.
Then we moved on to a Luscombe 8E. This two-place, side-by-side, airplane proved to be a bit more challenging, but it wasn’t long before she could perform the maneuvers and land it smoothly.
An Aeronca 7AC Champ, owned by Bill Becker, was the next airplane we began flying. She adapted to this airplane very quickly and no maneuver gave her difficulty. Tobie flew it as if she’d flown it throughout all of her flight training.
Once comfortable in the Champ I began searching for other tail wheel airplanes that she might be able to fly. Charlie Slinger from Randolph, Wisconsin, stepped forward and said, “Why not have her fly my Porterfield CP-65?” A very rare two-place tandem airplane, it is the only CP-65 currently flying in the U.S. as far as we could determine. Charlie brought the Porterfield to Hartford and Tobie and I went to work. It didn’t take long for her to comment that the ailerons felt lighter than the Cub, but the rudder felt heavier and a bit less responsive. That’s quite a developed feel for someone of this age. It didn’t take long for her to figure out how to land the Porterfield. It floats a lot more than the Cub, but about the same as the Cruiser, provided she had her approach speed pegged at 60 mph.
About the time the Porterfield felt comfortable, Bob Gehring from Rubicon, Wisconsin, came to me and suggested that Tobie might also like to try flying his Taylorcraft BC12-D, another two-place side-by side airplane. But it was the first airplane that Tobie would fly that employed a control wheel rather than a control stick. She had no problem converting to the control wheel. Wow, six airplanes!
Thursday, August 13 arrived and everyone was excited at our airport. Throughout the summer most everyone based at Hartford had become acquainted with Tobie and they were almost as excited as she was. The weather couldn’t have been better if we had ordered it. The winds were light, out of the south directly down the runway, and remained so throughout the entire day.
We began with the first official solo flight in the J3 Cub. Three quick trips around the field and I got out. With a quick briefing about traffic, Tobie was taxiing for her first solo flight. Each of the three landings was near perfect. After arriving back at the hangar, all exchanged congratulations and I performed the official “shirttail cutting.”
Then it was off to the next airplane, the Piper PA-12. Three take offs and landings later I again exited the airplane and turned Tobie loose for another three flawless landings.
Following another round of congratulations, Tobie and her father were off to the local Wisconsin DOT center so that she could take her automobile driver’s test. Two hours later, with a fresh new driver’s license in her pocket, Tobie was ready for several more challenges.
When she returned we moved the Luscombe 8E out of the hangar and prepped it for a solo flight. Soon we were in the air making the three or four practice landings, then I climbed out and sent her off to do three landings to a full stop. When completed, she was back at the hangar ready for another challenge.
The Porterfield CP-65 was the next airplane and again the flight and required landings were near perfect. She did make one go around, though, exercising good judgment when she caught a gust of wind. This flight proved to be quite memorable for her as it was such a rare airplane. There is a chance she may be the only young woman to ever solo a Porterfield on her 16th birthday!
The flights resumed after a few photos. This time it was the Taylorcraft BC12-D, the only one of the six aircraft that had a control wheel rather than a control stick. Tobie flew the required three landings to a full stop like she had been flying it all summer. She didn’t really like the control wheel but sure liked the way the Taylorcraft handled.
Finally, as 5 p.m. approached, it was time to climb into the Aeronca Champ. It only took one trip around the field for me to be comfortable exiting and turning her loose for the three full stop landings. Each landing was a work of art. When Tobie taxied up to the hangar she had a grin that will remain in my mind for the rest of my days.
Six tailwheel airplanes and a driver’s license, all in one day. What an accomplishment for a talented young lady that earned every minute of flying time by working for it at the airport. This will be a day and a memory that will remain with her for a lifetime!