Is There Life After Falco?


by Drew Done

This article appeared in the June 2001 issue of the Falco Builders Letter.

Drew Done's Falco lifts off with Stephen Friend at the stick.

Now that our plane has flown after 5 12 years of intense Falco obsession, I am wondering if I will be completely lost with my after-hours spare time, or does life settle down to some form of normality -- whatever that is? Yes, we have had our first flight and many others after that, and yes it was successful, and yes to any other question that you could think of.

VH-DJD first flew on 31st March 2001 from Merimbula -- a pretty little coastal town in New South Wales -- thus becoming the fourth to fly in Australia and the 68th Sequoia Falco to fly in the world. Stephen Friend, a Falco owner and friend of ours for six years was the test pilot with myself as crew member, and as he has 250 hours on his Falco, he was an easy choice to do the first flight. My ego allowed me to dream for the last few years that I would do the test flying myself, but with only five hours retract and constant-speed experience under my belt, I took the Flight Test Guide's very sound advice and swallowed my pride. My intentions were to have far more experience than this, but time and lack of funds got in the way. I hasten to add that I do have 500 hours experience in homebuilt aircraft, but not high-performance ones.

Drew Done

Stephen tackled the job of test flying with a cool, calm (or that's how he appeared) and professional approach, and he is to be congratulated for that. It is easy to be wise after the event -- as it was absolutely nothing went wrong -- but if anything had, the research and experience that he had would have been invaluable.

There was still plenty of bits and pieces to be done the day prior to test flying, and I started to panic that Stephen's flight to Merimbula (one-hour Falco time) would be wasted, and he would have to return another day. As it turned out everything did get organised and finished by the time he arrived. At first we just walked around DJD, pushing and prodding and checking everything again (this was over and above the duplicate inspections Sequoia suggest). Then we went out on the runway and did all of the control surface checks suggested in the Flight Test Guide (very thorough), and then bought her back to the hangar to double-check everything again. I found a fitting that was loose on the engine fuel pump drain, which shows that no matter how thorough you are, there is still a chance that something will get by you.

Loading the Falco tail section on a trailer for the trip to the airport

After some lunch and bringing the fuel levels back to mid range, we decided that it was now time to go and prove DJD's airworthiness. Gave my wife Judy a kiss and hug, said thanks to her for her devoted support -- I don't mean to be too poetic, but you don't know what's going to happen do you! -- and then taxied out to line up on 03 Merimbula. As a point of interest, an engine failure on take off before safe turning height, gives you the only option of landing in the lake ahead. After final checks and radio calls at line up, Stephen advanced everything to the firewall and away we went. I couldn't believe the feeling as we quickly accelerated down the runway-the difference between the acceleration of my previous homebuilt and the Falco was awesome. Within what felt like seconds we were airborne, and I had to restrain myself from yelling out in joy. Almost immediately Stephen said he was happy with the feel and even let go of the stick (figuratively) at 500 feet to feel for out-of-trim. I'm pleased to say it flew hands-off right from the beginning with just a touch of right rudder.

The first flight was done as Sequoia suggest -- wheels down and slow -- careful turns and climb to a safe height above the field and gently explore the handling. This slow speed is a bit of a misnomer to me as the Falco gear-down speed is the same as my previous aircraft's cruising speed. After 15-20 minutes of checking temperatures and handling, we decided it was time to land. Stephen's touch-down was beautiful and smooth (he can't do anything wrong, can he?), and we taxied back to an ever increasing number of people at the hangar. I usually don't show heaps of emotion generally, but after shaking Stephen's hand, I was out to give Judy another hug and tears came to my eyes. The feeling of joy, pride and relief after 4500 hours of building time, was unbelievable.

At the airport

The second flight that day, with gear retraction, was as uneventful as the first, and I started to see for myself the way Falcos get up and go when they are given the chance. We were a little apprehensive about the retraction, but it was fine. I just wanted to stay up there forever -- the view over the lake and coastline, even though I've seen it literally hundreds of times was beautiful, the day superb and the feeling of freedom in a great machine was, to say the least, fantastic! Just looking out over the wing and seeing the sun's reflection put me in awe.

After landing we all went back to our place for a well deserved drink and feed. Maybe I drank a little too much, or just maybe the first flight was being replayed so many times in my mind, but I sure had trouble settling down to sleep that night. The next morning Stephen took Judy for a run in the Falco, and she returned with as big a smile as I've ever seen, so I knew all of the time, not to mention the money, had been worth it.

Later that week our local flying instructor sat me in the left-hand seat and took on the task of bringing me up to speed in an aircraft of the Falcos calibre and also to sit in with me during the next phase of the test flying program. In Australia, it is not so much flying a set number of hours to gain the Certificate of Airworthiness, but flying a program of stalls, take-off and landing measurements etc., all in various C-of-G and weight ranges. Our Falco had been started before Australia adopted an Experimental Category, and as we started under the stricter rules, we chose to continue building under these. This means we will end up with a standard aircraft's registration and Airworthiness Certificate.

Drew and Stephen fire up the Falco



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