Pilot report - Beech 18
[Reprinted from Fliteguide / Imperial Aviation]
Luis Rebelo had no notions of Romance when be bought his 1960 Beech G18S. One would think that if you have the money to indulge in a World War Two aircraft, you do it for the love of smokey radials or enjoy sitting in a military spec. cockpit that still has many of its chunky controls painted airforce interior green. But no. Luis' primary reason for acquiring the Twin Beech is because of the curious nosejob which allows him to load as many golf bags as passengers.
Luis is a golf fanatic. He wanted an aircraft that can take avid golfers to remote patches of green grass to amble around hitting a small white ball in the heat of the day. That they travel in a vintage aircraft in the luxury usually associated with modern biz-jets is merely a bonus, although Isa Gessau, marketing manager of Jetair Charters & Tours who run the machine for Luis, thinks this is a major selling point. "Many charter clients like the speed of the jets, but there is a significant number who want a little nostalgia mixed in with their tour. The Beech-18 isn't fast, but it does have the glamour of a bygone era and many people like that".
Ex-SAAF pilot Dave Walker flies the Grande Dame for Luis. Dave is effusive about the Beech. "It's a wonderful cross between the Dak and the Harvard," he enthuses, "Although the Beech is a relatively heavy twin, the controls are light and very responsive. She's a very stable little aeroplane, with a fair turn of speed and is a real pleasure to fly".
On the ground, the long 'Hamilton' nose appears awkward. The modification, brought out in the 1960's, extended the snub nose of the classic aircraft to look as if she's been fitted for aerial magnetic survey work. The extended nose changes the shape of the aircraft but not the handling characteristics. "With the long nose we can carry full passengers, luggage and fuel without exceeding the aft centre of gravity limits," says Dave. The original design, although theoretically able to lift 10,100 pounds, suffered a C of G problem as all up weight was approached".
Initially it was difficult to get used t the extended nose because it pivots from the main wheels and a slight swing of the tail makes it look like you're about to veer right off the runway," Dave explained as we taxied to Lanseria's runway 06 holding point with 8 media and travel industry guests in the cabin.
The flight was a fifteen-minute jolly over Hartebeestport Dam and I was lucky enough to be sitting in the right-hand seat. The start-up had been without drama. My fond expectation of a throaty roar as the right-hand engine fired up was dashed as, after a few gulps and wheezes the nine cylinder Pratt & Whitney R985's merely purred into life. "You've got to remember these are pretty small engines," Dave laughed when I complained about the lack of thunder, "They're only 450 horses, but they're plenty strong for hauling her along at a good clip".
ATC gave Dave the OK to line up and jockeying the throttles to save on brake wear, we lumbered onto the centre line. After setting the gyros ("That one on the right's a little dicky") and doing a final cockpit check, it was column back as the throttles were opened and the engines roared to full power. Dave checked the column forward as we began to roll forward. A slight swing was corrected by a stab on the pedals, and then the special moment that makes tail dragger flying the sweetest of all, the tail lifted and we were almost ready to leave the earth.
"Decision speed is 80 miles an hour with take off at 100. We'll climb away at 120 miles an hour and then the cruise is 165 knots," Dave had intoned during the crew briefing and as we reached 80 I relayed the speed. "All systems OK. We go," said Dave and eased back slightly on the column. As we approached 100 mph with the Control Tower and the fire station flashing past on our left, the plane became light and then lifted gently into the brisk winter morning.
"You've got her," said Dave and I took the controls. We continued climbing at a steady 120 mph. As the port wing came abreast of the dam in the distance I turned out left, applying a little rudder to balance the ball and was astonished at how sweet the controls were. At 750 feet above the ground, I leveled out and progressively trimmed her forward as the speed built up. What an absolute pleasure! The controls are light but firm.
The hills around Pelindaba passed slowly beneath us and we were soon over the shiny waters of Hartebeestport dam. Glancing back I could see that the passengers were enjoying the view, each seat has a window of its own. The dam wall approached and Dave made a radio call on 125.8 to announce our position in preparation of a left turn to re-cross the Mageliesberg a couple of Kilometres to the West.
"A course of 169° will take us right back over the airfield," said Dave, helped by a swift glance at his portable GPS. With little effort on my part, the Old Girl turned lazily onto the heading and held it, steady as a sniper. Ahead, several winter grass fires were throwing up a haze of grey that obscured the field, causing another aircraft on the south side to ask for directional assistance to the base leg.
I joined left base for final approach to 06 Left and well before I expected, Dave threw out the gear which rumbled and stopped. "Can you see your gear down in the mirrors?" queried Dave, indicating the little semi-spherical mirrors just outboard of the engine nacelle on the leading edge. Glancing from side to side it was easy to check gear down and locked as we started to slow for the 120 mph approach speed.
Flying from the right-hand seat without control of the power (Dave was doing the engines) is a little like flying with half the controls. Whilst I was trying to locate my airspeed indicator behind the column, I managed an embarrassing hammerhead turn onto final. However, the aircraft is so well balanced that despite the sharpish turn, the passengers didn't even notice what was really far too sharp a maneuver for a charter aircraft.
Having sorted that out, Dave took control as we approached the fence at something just over 90 mph and I was treated to another of the little illusions provided by the extended snout.
As the aircraft closes with the runway at a normal powered glide angle, the tapered nose sticking out in front gives the impression you are about to peg into the tarmac. It's a very disconcerting perception only relieved as the wheels touch and the aircraft trundles along the runway in a tail up configuration. As the speed bled away, Dave eased the tail down gently and came alive on the pedals as she crabbed a little. "Like all tail draggers, you've got to be on the ball on takeoff and landing," he told me later, "It's the only time she's twitchy and you have to be ready to catch it".
Dave says he has never run out of rudder even during single engine practice. It's a characteristic that the twin rudders will always have the prop-wash of one operational engine to give it bite, even if the other is only in ambient airflow. "And on the ground, if she travels a little too far, all you need do is tap a little brake and she comes right," he says, thus shrugging off the ground-loop-while-taxiing syndrome with some nonchalance.
The small crowd outside Hangar No.6 applauded as the Beech 18 rolled to a halt. With engines to ground fine and cowl flaps open, Dave shut down and a beaming Luis Rebelo opened the ample fuselage door.
The passengers disembarked in a babble of excitement, many rushing to have their picture taken beside this icon of a former era. If their enthusiasm can be translated into golf tour bookings, Luis, Dave and their wonderful old Twin Beech look set for a profitable and pleasant association in the skies of southern Africa.
[END OF REPORT]
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