Flying the Duce

Disclaimer: these are my opinions of my aircraft. other aircraft will almost certainly have different flying characteristics.

My Duce, with the Lycoming 160 HP engine, gets off the ground very quickly. Flying it off from a three point attitude will result in the tail lifting slightly (around 50 mph I think). Then it gently lifts off around 65 to 70.

Without flaps it stalls around 50 mph. With flaps it stalls around 45 mph. Just prior to stall the controls get a bit mushy (as would be expected). The stall break may produce a small wing drop (a little more with flaps) but nothing too strenuous. Relaxing pressure on the stick with a little rudder is enough to get out of the stall. With a passenger i get no stall break. It just mushes down. Note: my flaps don't go down the full 30 degrees (more like 23).

The first spins I attempted were a little half hearted -- stall -- then a quick stab at the rudder -- rotation -- then relaxing the rudder. These resulted in a 180 degree turn and a dive. I later found that holding the rudder full-in produces a smooth spin entry. Initial entry takes the aircraft past the vertical -- a bit inverted. Then it was pretty much a nose down spin. Spin recovery takes some fraction of a turn. I've done left and right spins for two or three turns.

Generally I fly downwind and base at 80mph. On final I swing a little wide so the runway is visible to the left of the nose. Normally a little slip helps with forward visibility. Sometimes I'll fly to the right or left of centerline then turn towards the runway on short final. Somewhere on final I'll slow it down to about 70mph. Visibility is greatly reduced over the nose but that only comes into play when quite close to the runway. At this point it's relatively intuitive to use the runway edge as a guide. It was a little tricky for me to get the hang of judging the proper three point attitude at first, but when I do it right it settles in nicely and slows down quickly with very little rudder input. To date I've made hundreds of landings in this airplane (and logged over 320 hours) and I've never felt that I wasn't in complete control. Initially I practiced on grass strips but all of my landings now are on paved runways.

The flaps seem to steady the airplane, lower the nose, and stick it to the runway a little better. With the flaps down I can't see the numbers on final but I can see just over them - which isn't too bad. For builders I recommend building the airplane with flaps.

At one point during my training period (the first ten hours in this airplane) I broke a tailwheel steering-spring clip during a hard landing. The result was a significant tailwheel shimmy. I didn't realize it was broken and assumed that I was landing too fast. I did notice it was more difficult to turn during taxi but my landings were fine. To me this says something about the stability of this airplane.

Wheel landings were tricky at first. I've since found that using full flaps and a little extra throttle allows me to arrest the descent enough to stick the wheels.

I don't have much experience with crosswinds. I've landed with crosswind components of maybe 10 or 12 knots which don't seem to effect the plane much at all. One duce owner told me of landing in a 20+ mph crosswind (three point). There's a lot of debate over whether you should wheel-land or three point in a crosswind. From what I've heard I think the answer is to land whatever way your comfortable with. There's nothing wrong with landing three-point in a crosswind.

Landing Tips
One habit that I started to pick up a few months after starting to fly this airplane was to get fast on final. Do not get fast on final. I was coming in at 80mph and trying to land the airplane. The result was usually that I floated down the runway then flared high and dropped onto the runway. I now bring it between 65 and 70mph and that seems to work fine.

Generally I try to start my flare a little lower than my intuition tells me. I start low and try to keep it just above the runway - as close as possible. Eventually it will settle in. I try not to get stuck in the mindset that I've got to use all my elevator. I use enough elevator. That might be all but then it might not. More often than not mine is happier landing without full elevator deflection. Sometimes I'll stick the tailwheel first.

Fly in sedate conditions. No wind. No thermals. I know... this never happens. Normally evenings are best here in Virginia. This is when you really get to fly the airplane. It's not flying you. And your landings make you feel like a pro. Not that the duce/deuce doesn't handle well in bumpy air but still air removes all the additional variables that have to be accounted for.

For the first time duce/deuce pilot I'd recommend sitting in the cockpit, on the ground, for a bit. Or just taxi around for a while. Become very familiar with what you see when all the wheels are on the ground. This is how you want to touch down.

The Tailwheel
Like most pilots who are thinking about getting their tailwheel endorsement, I was a little worried at first. Tailwheel airplanes are famous for "swapping ends" and I didn't want that to happen to me. After getting checked out in a Citabria (accumulating around five hours flight time) I started flying this airplane with an instructor. It takes a little more focus but it wasn't that bad. Within a few hours I felt like I could confidently fly the airplane. I think, aside from my extraordinary flying abilities (!?), the Duce is just a very forgiving airplane.

All I can really tell you here is that my airplane doesn't roll like a Pitts. It's nimble but not that nimble. And when you get the nose pointed down it picks up speed rapidly. I wouldn't consider this an aerobatic airplane.

Summer/Winter Flying
As for all the talk about a limited flying season for open cockpit airplanes, I don't think there are any limits. From my experience, in temperatures above 60 degrees only a flight suit, sweat shirt, gloves and an insulated flying hat are necessary. Below that temperature I add a down jacket and ski mask. The lowest temperature I've flown in was 28 degrees. Other duce pilots have flown down to zero degrees.

"Lord, I know I'm the biggest jackass you ever let live, and I
promise I won't keep asking for these little favors. But could you help
me out just one more time?"

- Maurice Bourne (from his book, "Border Pilot").