First Solo in a Mite

A recount of my first Mite flight which took place on Friday, October 6, 2000

By Dave Rutherford

Tim Lucero had offered me the master key to N325M on Thursday, the evening we arrived in Porterville for the WAMM fly-in. It had been my dream to fly a Mooney Mite ever since I'd first seen one a year earlier, but this caught me by surprise. I said I'd like to sleep on the idea. Well, I sure didn't have much sleep that night! By early morning I had decided to take him up on the offer.

Having sat in Mites a couple of times and taxied Ben Favrholdt's Mite last May, I knew the feel of the cockpit and controls. I had stored enough memories so that I could fly a Mite in my head for as long as I wanted. I knew to expect the Mite's sensitivity to the controls. I felt comfortable with the joystick, perhaps from having played computer games or flown my dad's J-3 when I was a kid. Although almost all of my experience was in Cessnas, the low wing was not a worry to me. My main concern was for the landing gear operation. I had been led to believe that it took considerable force to lock the Johnson bar into place. In any case, I had the gear-up and gear-down position of the bar thoroughly memorized.

It was a warm, bright morning at PTV -- definitely shorts and sandals weather. However, I made a point of wearing my shoes. I had discovered in Ben's plane that sandals were too wide and floppy. There is no room to spare in a Mite cockpit. However, Tim's Mite seemed to have adequate shoulder room, even though Ben's and Bill Vandersande's had felt quite tight to me.

Tim took me through a preflight check in which we discussed critical speeds, operation of the controls, canopy, radio, gear lever, etc. The radio took most of our attention as the rest of the layout was very basic and simple. After startup, I taxied with the canopy open to the run-up area near the threshold of runway 30, away at the far end of the airport. I noticed the toe brakes required a lot of pressure, as expected. The joystick moved very easily, although it was a little disconcerting to find it had no control stops. The only limit to stick movement in any direction seemed to be my crotch and knees! 

When I slid the canopy closed in preparation for take-off, I became acutely aware that it was awfully hot in the cockpit. I decided I had better go back and get my hat. Besides, I was not getting any response on the headset from David Favrholdt, who had a handheld. I figured maybe the radio was not working. I taxied back to the hangars where David and I determined that he could hear me well enough. With hat on and no further excuses, I decided it was time to go flying!

Acceleration was brisk and it seemed only a few seconds before lift-off. For that first circuit, I decided to leave the gear down because I had enough new things to contend with at that stage. After doing a low pass over the runway, I left the circuit (pattern) and flew northwest to practice some simple manoeuvers.

The airplane flew like a canoe with wings -- very light and responsive! After doing some medium turns and a couple of 360's, I began to relax. I noticed the noise of the engine and the smell of exhaust. With so many new sights and sensations inside the little cockpit, I had to remind myself to keep looking for traffic in the hazy air outside. Fortunately, there was very little happening at PTV. As I broadcast my intentions, (too frequently, I was told later!) I heard voices of other pilots at nearby airports. I was really high on adrenaline.

It was time to try a landing. Earlier, when taxiing, I had memorized the position of the top of the panel in relation to the horizon, so I knew ahead of time where it should be when I flared. It worked very well and when I touched down that first time, I really greased it on. I taxied over to chat briefly with Tim and Dave who had stationed themselves on the taxiway, then went up again with confidence. 

This time in the practice area I took the bull by the horns and reached down to release the Johnson bar for the first time. No problem! I practiced cycling the gear several times, and found it surprisingly easy to do. However, just as I had been warned, it was necessary for me to take my hand off the stick for a couple of seconds and grasp the bottom edge of the panel to brace myself while reaching down for the lever. 

I did a low pass over the hangars, joined the circuit (pattern) and came in for my second and last landing. It was not as good as the first. Rather than letting the plane settle onto the runway with partial power, I pulled the power off completely after flaring. It bounced just enough to take away any over-confidence I might have developed thus far. It was over. I had been in Tim's Mite for perhaps 45 minutes in all. Could have stayed all day!

I taxied close to the lineup and shut off the power. As I climbed out, I was surprised when all the gang were there to meet me, surrounding the plane.

As I shook hands all round, Bill ( I think it was) poured a bottle of water over my head. That felt good too! I was sweating, but exhilarated.

We walked into Bill's hangar to talk about my first solo. It had actually included several firsts for me: first low wing airplane, first retractable gear, first joystick-controlled airplane. I knew, of course, that the gang understood what a peak experience it had been. It was a great pleasure to share their fellowship.

All photos courtesy of Mal Gross, N4187

25 March, 2001