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FLYING THE CARDINAL RG

LOVE AT FIRST FLIGHT

By Larry Osborne

In a way you might say that Iím relatively new to general aviation flying. Though Iíve been flying for many years, F-4s and F-16s in the military, and as MD-80 captain for one of the "Big Three" airlines, I had not done much light airplane flying until recently. National Guard and commercial flying had pretty much satisfied my flying appetite up to that point. But there had always seemed to be something missing. I discovered what that something was when I retired from the National Guard and suddenly had a lot more spare time.

Like most of us my interest in aviation began as a child. One of my biggest unfulfilled dreams was to own my own airplane. But for the reasons just mentioned and others, I had not followed through on that dream. Last April my wife and I decided to take the plunge and buy a light airplane. We decided to take a somewhat conservative approach in choosing our first airplane. We wanted an airplane that would be economical to operate, carry 4 people and have docile handling characteristics to serve as a trainer for my wife.

Following the suggestions of friends who own airplanes and doing our own research, my wife and I bought our first airplane, a 1972 Skyhawk in April 1998. The Skyhawk has proven to be a great trainer for my wife-sheís over half way to getting her private pilots license-and a fun and reliable airplane to operate. But wait a minute, this is supposed to be an article about the Cardinal RG right! All right, Iím getting to it.

After owning the Skyhawk for a couple of months my wife and I flew it from Illinois to Louisiana Ė some 700 statute miles - to visit my mother. Although we had a wonderful time flying "low and slow" enjoying the countryside go by, the slow part got old quickly. Flying into 20-mph headwinds most of the way produced ground speeds of only 100 mph! Shortly after returning from Louisiana we started seriously thinking about upgrading to something with better headwind penetrating capabilities. To efficiently satisfy that mission requires an increase in horsepower and tucking away the landing gear. Enter the Cardinal RG.

The Cardinal RG represents a good increase in performance over the Skyhawk (about 20 knots faster), higher useful load, better handling qualities - more about that later Ė and roomier cabin; all for just a modest increase in operating costs.

Donít forget the importance of esthetics in any decision making process. We all tend to gravitate to that sexy little red sportster on the showroom floor, when sensibility and budget clearly suggests a more practical choice of family transport. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder they say and I think the Cardinal RG is one of the most beautiful light airplanes ever built! Itís sleek low-slung, strutless profile sets it visually apart from itís other high winged Cessna siblings, and the stabilator sets it apart in lateral handling qualities.

Iíd say that the designers of the Cardinal did a great job of creating a beautiful airframe. However, the engineers and marketing folks stumbled badly bringing the designers vision from the drawing board to the market place. I wonít delve into that subject here (Keith Peterson, this siteís Webmaster, has written several great articles about the Cardinalís origin). My intent is to write about my first experience flying the Cardinal RG.

You know; you meet the nicest people participating in general aviation. When I started to get interested in the Cardinal, I started looking for ways to tap into the Cardinal ownerís vast experience and knowledge base. I discovered this website shortly thereafter and found a lot of great information written by Keith Peterson. After reading one particular article By Keith I deduced that we lived less than 50 miles apart! On a whim I sent him an e-mail note explaining my interest in buying a Cardinal RG. I went on to say that I thought we lived close to each other and asked if my wife and I could fly in for a visit and talk about Cardinals.

Keith answered my e-mail immediately, and after exchanging a couple more e-mails graciously invited us to fly over for a visit. Keith lives in a Fly-In Community only 8 minutes flying time from our airport. My wife and I flew over on the appointed day, landed and taxied up to Keithís house. He met us outside, helped us tie down our Skyhawk then opened the hangar door so that we could look at his Cardinal.

Folks it wasnít a fair fight, what a machine! Keithís Cardinal had just about every toy imaginable: King Digital radios, digital ADF and Xponder, Strikefinder, Argus 3000 driven by a Motorola GPS, S-Tec 60-2 3-axis autopilot, electric trim and our personal favorite a Stero-intecom with a 10 disc CD changer!

Having just flown our Skyhawk in for the visit, I had an excellent frame of reference to compare the Cardinal to. The first thing I noticed was how much lower to the ground the Cardinal sat. The wings were low enough for Keith to stand on the floor and unscrew the gas caps ontop of the wings to check the fuel level! OK, so heís 6í 4". My wife liked the idea of not having to make the awkward climb up the footholds to check the gas in the wings as we do on our Skyhawk. Not very ladylike you know.

Next we noticed how easy it was to get in and out of the cabin, entry into the front and rear seats was a simple matter; just sit on the seat and rotate your legs around into the cabin. Once inside the difference in cabin size becomes apparent. Keith and I sat in the front going over the instrument panel while my wife sat in the rear seat. I mentioned that I heard the Cardinal had more rear seat legroom than the average airline coach seat, my wife readily agreed.

I had a million questions, but after 30 minutes of talking Keith politely interrupted and asked " would you like to go for a ride?" Well yeah! Up went the hangar door; the three of us hopped in and off we went. The engine start procedure was a bit different from our Skyhawk: Boost pump-on (the Skyhawk doesnít have one), mixture-full lean until the engine catches, then full rich. The Cardinal has cowl flaps the Skyhawk doesnít; the rest of the pre-takeoff checklist is pretty much like the Skyhawks.

The Cardinal seemed to have a more solid feel as we taxied. The outside temperature was above 80 degrees but the cabin wasnít unduly warm, my wife commented favorably about the amount of cooling air being blown through the side and floor vents. We were using Keithís David Clarks but the noise level seemed to be about the same as in the Skyhawk. Keith went through the pre-take-off run up check then to my surprise asked if Iíd like to make the take-off. Well yeah! Sure Iíve logged over 15,000 flying hours, but I had none in the Cardinal, the runway was fairly narrow and I was flying from the right seat. Fortunately the winds were light. I slowly advanced the throttle to begin the take-off roll. The Cardinal accelerated noticeably faster than our Skyhawk with just a little more right rudder required to counter P-factor. Forty extra horses do make a difference.

Keith helped with the climb cruise clean up items: The gear was raised once all of the useable runway was behind us. Flaps-up (the book recommends 10 degrees for takeoff), RPM and manifold pressure rolled back to the top of the green arc, close the cowl flaps then lean the engine using the Shadin Fuel Flow indicator.

We made a left climbing turn to the south; the rate of climb was about 300 fpm higher than our Skyhawk, then leveled off at 4,000 feet. I was particularly impressed we the feel of the controls, they seemed to more closely resemble those of an airliner, solid yet responsive, than that of the Skyhawk. My airline pilot side felt right at home with the solid feel, and my fighter pilot side felt right at home with the brisk control responses.

With the CD player pumping out light rock in the background I decided to do a little light arial ballet. I started with 360 degree steep turns, first to the left (fighter pilots always break left), then immediately back to the right. The roll reversals were effortlessly smooth, there was no feeling of having to muscle the ailerons to start the roll going in the opposite direction.

Next came Lazy Eights. Lazy Eights are a great maneuver for judging how well the ailerons, elevator and rudder are harmonized: the constantly changing airspeed creates a need to continually readjust control input, so I did a series of them. Pure joyÖ It was easy for me to keep the nose tracking through the imaginary arcs above and below the horizon. Changes in airspeed during the maneuvers were easily compensated for with coordinated control inputs. The Cardinal was a very willing partner in this aerial ballet. With my wife occupying the back seat I thought the CG might have been a bit too far aft to do stalls, so none were attempted.

We cruised in level flight at various airspeeds sampling the control feel in the different speed regimes. Keith used the time to demonstrate the considerable capabilities of his autopilot and suite of navigation toys. He brought up the Motorola GPS that drives the Argus 3000 then asked me to choose and destination in order to show how the systems worked together. My wife and I had just flown the Skyhawk to Gulf Shores Alabama and back, so I chose Gulf Shores. In just moments the Argus displayed the computed heading, distance and time, and the Shadin miniflow computed the fuel burn. Incidentally, the enroute time was well over an hour less than the Skyhawks enroute time!

Alas the time came to return to base. Keith generously offered to let me fly the pattern and landing. I felt totally at home in the Cardinal by now and felt confident about making the landing, from the right seat. Keith helped me set up for the pattern. We made a gradual descent to pattern altitude slowed to 130 knots then lowered the flaps to 10 degrees. We lowered the gear at mid field downwind, slowed to 100 knots and set the flaps to 20 degrees. We set up for an approach speed of 70 knots once established on base leg.

Not surprised, I found the Cardinalís handling qualities to be much nicer than those of the Skyhawk. The heavier wingloading translated to a more stable approach. We held 70 knots until the landing was assured, then reduced the power to idle for the flare. Maybe I got lucky but I was rewarded with a nice smooth touch down. I had heard the horror stories about the Cardinalís"squirrly" landing qualities, and had mentally prepared myself for that event. Instead I found the feel of the stabilator to be quite manageable and pleasing during landing.

As we taxied back to the hangar I did a mental review of our 35-minute flight in the Cardinal. I couldnít think of a single negative thing. My impressions were all positive: It has a roomy and comfortable cabin. Has exceptionally good visibility for a high winged airplane. A solid, yet responsive flight control system. Is fast and economical relative to our Skyhawk. Has that sexy Italian design look, and is a real joy to fly.

My wife is nearing completion of her private pilot training. Once she has her ticket in hand we intend to join the ranks of the Cardinal RG owners. To borrow a line from Will Smith in the movie Independence Day, after he had taken the controls of the alien spacecraft for the first time: " Iíve got to get me one of these!"


Webmaster's Note:

I get a lot of emails, requests of various kinds, and on occasion someone asks were I live. Rarely are those people anywhere nearby at all. But when I learned that Larry was so near by it was a natural to follow up.

As we talked we learned that we not only had mutual friends, but they had purchased their Skyhawk from a neighbor. So meeting Larry and his wife was more an experience of 'Why haven't we met before?'

When they pulled up in their Skyhawk I knew that Larry and his wife, Ginger, were Cardinal kind of people. Their skyhawk was in pristene condition, with a lot of care and special touches evident. When they get their Cardinal it will be fun to watch them put on the extra touch.

Larry talks about being amazed to be allowed to take off and land, but I recall the words of another airline pilot I know, when people asked her why she flew right seat in their family Aerostar. "I have 7000 hours," she would say, "and 6000 of them are in the right seat. Guess where I feel most comfortable?" So I figured Larry was, at least from some stage in his career, in a familiar place.

As Larry flew I was impressed with two things: First, his incredible smoothness. I always figured those big jets were just reluctant to deviate from rock steady, but after watching Larry fly I'm starting to wonder if it's not just experience.

Secondly, he had a methodical approach to evaluating the airplane, and seemed to be learning a lot from the experience. Not just 'Hmmm, this is nice.'

Larry very kindly left out one part of the ride. Once he had landed I suggested I take it around once to let him watch the standard flow, especially the departure routine. A lot happens in the first 20 seconds, but when you're teaching someone else it can last several minutes. I figured it would help him to see what he'd look like after a few trips.

I also secretly figured I could grease one on and pull up short, just to show off what 1500 hours in type can do. But instead, you guessed it, I rather dropped it in, one of my worse landings of late. So instead we discussed how tough the gear was. ;-)

Thanks, Larry, for sharing your impressions with the readers of CFO.

Keith Peterson, Webmaster




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