As I sat
in the little cockpit with the canopy open, in front of a maze of
dials, warning lights, switches and levers, the normally clear New
Mexico skies began to let go. Drops of water spattered around the
cockpit as Larry, the flight instructor, went over each system. My
hopes of flying began to disintegrate. It never, never, never rains
here. Why today?
before I flew - clear, beautiful skys...
moment, at least, I had to be content with sitting in the cockpit. I
had ordered the checkout video months before so everything looked
familiar. I'm not sure why but I studied every detail for this one
short flight. The instructor had redundant controls and more than
likely he would be doing most of the critical procedures. I had even
carefully diagrammed the cockpit on paper, laying out everything
exactly where it was in the actual airplane, tracing a dime with my
pencil for each of the gauges.
this piece of paper on the flight down, and at a restaurant the night
before. I knew how to extend the speed brakes and landing gear using
the manual pump lever. I knew to turn off the aileron boost in the
event of a hydraulic failure and where the knob was that disconnected
the spring tension on the ailerons. Everything was familiar (heres'
the list): gear lever and indicator, pressurization switch, flap
switch, fuel igniter buttons, fuel levers, twin throttles, speed
brake switch, elevator trim switch and gauge, fuel boost pump inop
light, emergency brake handle, landing gear warning light, aileron
boost warning light, aileron boost switch, generator off-line light,
battery master switch, low-fuel warning light, fuel gauge, battery
gauge, starter-on light, starter selector (left, right or neutral),
fuel tip tank dump switches, hydraulic backup pump handle, emergency
gear select switch, manual speed brake select switch, cabin
depressurization switch and all of the temperature, pressure and
explained that the backup hydraulic manual pump controls were only in
the front seat - my seat. With everything else this intimidating
airplane had to throw at me this was just too much. Earlier I had
confessed to Larry that my last one hundred and fifty hours of flying
time were in a Bakeng Duce. And the one hundred and thirty hours
before that were in a Cessna 152. I was holding my forty hours of
ultralight time in reserve as my trump card. "Oh, you flew a forty-seven
horsepower whiffle ball? Well then, the Fouga should be a piece of
lack of experience didn't seem to phase him.
hour after the cockpit checkout, by some miracle or good luck, the
weather broke and I was back in the cockpit - for real this time. I
had expected Larry to do a lot of the critical stuff the first time
but this wasn't to be the case. He talked me through the startup
procedure, which I was already very familiar with - battery master
on, emergency brake on, clear left engine, spool left, push igniter
button and move fuel lever forward, watch the gauges, when exhaust
gas temp reaches 350 release igniter, when tach reaches 5000 release
starter. The left engine screamed to life. It was loud. Check warning
lights and gauges. Generator warning light is out. Hydraulic gauge
reads normal. Same starting procedure for the right engine. Canopy
down and locked. Pressurization switch on. Brake off and throttles up
doesn't have a steer-able nose wheel so everything is done by
differential braking. Little taps on the toe brakes is all it takes.
Then it'll wander a bit and a little tap will bring it back on track.
But never, never lock up the brakes at high speed. Larry explained
that this could blow the tires. As we taxied out I was adding up the
impending damage expenses and figuring out how I was going to pay for
the takeoff roll immediately upon entering the runway. Tap, tap, tap
and we were straight. Throttles up. The Fouga drove a lot like my
rental car. After hitting about forty or fifty knots there was no
more tapping allowed. I fed in a bit of rudder to keep it straight.
At around sixty I brought the nose up and we sped along like this
until the wheels left the pavement.
air, finally, and all of the fear and loathing of the past twelve
hours dissolved. That knot in my stomach created by the negative
weather forecasts from the night before - the fact that I was leaving
early the following morning - unless I changed my plans - but that
involved an avalanche of other problems - the intimidation of this
complicated airplane - all of this dissolved.
canopy closed and pressurized and the headset on, the scream of the
engines became a muffled whine. It was that jet sound. When the
pressurization came up the cockpit filled with the aroma of old
aluminum, hydraulic oil, and all that stuff that makes that certain
smell. It was that jet smell. And it flew like you would imagine a
jet would fly - quick and nimble.
and we were climbing at 120 knots. The New Mexico landscape, a
completely unfamiliar scene to me, swept by. It looked like the
simplified landscape from one of those military flight simulators -
flat and drab with mountains on the horizon. We flew around a bit as
I got the hang of the controls then returned to the airport.
there was the runway. I hadn't seen the runway out the front of my
cockpit on short final for two years! It was unnatural. I put in just
a little bit of flare. Then, with a solid thunk we were down and
speeding along the runway. Advance throttles half way. Wait for the
spool up then full throttle. Rotate and wait. In the air. Gear up. I
just did a touch and go in the Fouga. Wow.
me fly crosswind. Then downwind. 140 knots, gear down, three greens,
flaps full down to forty degrees. 120 knots. Then final approach. But
one problem. I can't land this airplane! Throttle back to 17,000 rpm
(17,000 rpm, who ever heard of 17,000 rpm!). Hydraulic pressure good.
But I really can't land this airplane. Short final, throttles full
back to idle,
We did two
more touch and go landings then flew out over the desert for some
fun. Shallow turns, steep turns, single engine flight, high speed
flight, rolls. Because of the overcast we couldn't do loops. But
rolling this airplane was a thrill. What a great airplane.
bit more playing around we headed back for the airport. I made my
fourth landing, this time with some braking and random wandering
around the runway. And that was it. One point three hours in the
Fouga CM-170 Magistar
you're wondering what this costs, let's just say that an hour in the
Fouga is worth thirty in a 150 trainer but is available at half the
price. Actually less with the first time student, two-hundred dollar
discount. This, of course, doesn't include the flight out to New
Mexico, rental car, hotel, etc.
flying the Fouga I drove out to Bandelier National Monument, a
beautiful 32,000 acre park, which includes an easily accessible and
amazing collection of Pueblo ruins and cliff dwellings. The park also
has campsites near the archeological sites and extensive hiking
trails. After several hours there I drove through forty miles of the
Jemez Mountain Trail Scenic Byway. Here I came upon a spectacular
vast plain, nestled in the mountains, which was filled with tiny
specs, which I was told (by some other excited tourists) were Elk.
Hundreds of tiny specs. And another small group of really tiny specs,
which I was told (they had binoculars) were wolves.
time (after hitting the lottery) I'll make it a vacation. Maybe camp,
visit the museum at Los Alamos, maybe drive down to Roswell and see
some UFO's. The Fouga isn't the only airplane they've got either.
There are four more jets to pick from - the Mig 15, L29, L39 and T33.
As fuel burn goes up so does the price, but it's worth every penny.
a whistling turtle? I'm not quite sure why, but the Belgian Air Force
gave this nickname to the Fouga. Maybe for the tight fit of the
cockpit - like a turtle shell - and the tremendous whine of the
engines. It's also been called the Dinky Toy and the Snipe. If you're
interested in flying one of his jets, contact Larry at the Jetwarbird
Training Center in Santa Fe, New Mexico. He's a terrific instructor
and a good guy. Their website is
- Mark Williamson,