Flying the worlds only VariViggen to OSH Cool Story #3
Flight testing a new airplane often requires the use of a Chase plane. I prefer it that way. It gives a second set of eyes and a second perspective to a very demanding environment that can’t be duplicated in any other way. The word used in military flying is “mutual support”. I’ve flown Chase for quite a few test programs. I enjoy it tremendously because I really enjoy formation flying, I like being involved in flight test programs and even though as Chase, I may not be the Test Pilot, I’m in the action and can contribute to the success of the test flight.
We used a Chase plane until we knew the VariViggen had proven its flying qualities and reliability. The first flight Chase Pilot was John Allbritton in his very sleek and fast LongEZ. Bob Stevens was in the back seat for photographs and backup. John’s background is Air Force F-4s and F-16s. Bob Stevens is an ex-Marine who flew OV-10’s and taught in the T-2 Buckeye. We have flown a lot of formation together. I enjoy flying with other military background Pilots because we share a similar mindset. There’s not much talking when we fly together. We both know the drill. Lady Vi’s first flight was almost eventless because having John on my wing made things easy. Bob flew a lot of the later test flight Chase and escorted me to OSH. He’s also my regular wingman at formation clinics and airshow flights.
We didn’t advertise it a lot but Lady Vi flew to OSH with her main landing gear hanging out. We had issues with the gear operating correctly and had to make a strategic decision. There just wasn't enough time to troubleshoot the main landing gear and still make OSH. In front of the crowd at OSH is not the place you want to land gear up. That’s the subject of a later story so stay tuned. With the mains stuck down, and the gear doors not installed, Lady Vi could indicate about 105knots max. Bob flew all the way to OSH on my wing in his LongEZ at 105 knots! It took us two legs because Lady Vi’s angle-valve IO-360 and meager 30 gallon tank doesn’t get much range at 105 knots. We went high to get the best true air speed 105 knots indicated could provide.
With pusher aircraft configured like ours and especially with something brand new like Lady Vi, one of the best benefits of having a Chase plane or Wingman is what we call the “clean and dry check”. Right after takeoff the first thing the Chase or Wingman does is join-up in the slot position and creeps in really close looking for traces of anything leaking. It’s extremely reassuring when your wingman pops back up on your wingtip and passes you a “thumbs up” indicating all was good back there.
We’re very fortunate to be based at Covington Municipal airport as it’s a very quiet place. We often can conduct our flight testing directly overhead the airport. I never left gliding range from the runway for 40 hours. Even when doing the “let’s go to OSH” profile to prove range and reliability I flew an orbit at 8 or 10 thousand feet within gliding distance of M04. The very first time Lady Vi left gliding distance from Covington was the morning we departed for OSH. We wouldn’t have done that if we didn’t know the airplane would make it. I wouldn’t have done that if I didn’t have Bob Stevens on my wing. While Lady Vi thrashed through the sky at wide open throttle Bob loped along hanging on his prop, bouncing the throttle off the idle stop. It was sort of funny to look over my shoulder and see Bobs LongEZ next to me with such a high deck angle, but it was very reassuring.
When you get used to having a wingman it feels odd to go fly by yourself. During the week at OSH we flew a very nice formation flight over Lake Winnebago. I flew a photo mission for an upcoming Sport Aviation article on Lady Vi. Those were fun because I was flying with someone in formation. When the week ended and we were packing to go home, Bob, who lives in Indianapolis, expressed concerns about weather and his desire to get home. It made no sense for Bob to follow me all the way back to Covington and then go to Indy. I told Bob, “The Viggen has over 50 hours on it now. It hasn’t missed a beat, I’ll be fine, just head home from here.” Reluctantly Bob agreed. Neither of us said anything but I know he was thinking the same thing, it would be nice if we went home as a flight of two. It’s nice to have mutual support.
Worlds Most Current Viggen Pilot :)