Mite of the Month, April 2000

Mal Gross of Orcas Island, Washington is a busy man because of his responsibilities as a member of the board of directors of EAA. He is often away from home, traveling across the continent in his Cessna 210, but he found the time to send us the following report about owning and flying a Mite.

"It is a 1955 model, the 4th or 5th from the end of the production run. It is two inches wider and the canopy is two inches higher through a bubble in the canopy itself. Being 6'-2" and 200 pounds, I really appreciate those two inches.

"It has the standard Continental A65-8 engine in it but the engine itself was recently overhauled by Victor Aviation in Palo Alto, CA. I suspect this is the only A65 that is a Victor "Black Edition" engine.  

"Interestingly, when I bought the plane, it had about 2,200 hours and the engine, per the cryptic log book entry, had been overhauled in 1968. There was no indication as to what parts were replaced, etc. and I felt fairly uneasy flying in a 40-year-old airplane with an engine that may or may not have had a first class overhaul. After all, every take-off and landing is over water since I live on an island, and that water is cold enough that hypothermia gives one less than 15 minutes. For that reason I took the plane to Victor and told him to give it a really first class overhaul. When he disassembled the engine the only area where there was significant wear was on the cam. Considering the 40 years and low number of hours for that period of time I couldn't help but be very impressed with the engine.

"As to modifications I have made, I did put a 2" venturi on the side of the plane which powers a new turn and bank indicator. As an instrument pilot (but not in the Mite) I feel very uncomfortable being in a plane without at least one gyro. I wouldn't want to have to make an IFR approach in the Mite, but I could if I had to. Again, given where I live -- the San Juan Islands of Washington State -- and the ease with which fog can form, one cannot be too careful.

"I also installed a 4-probe EGT which makes leaning the engine more comfortable. Most of the flight instruments have also been replaced. It is much easier to navigate with a Garmin GPS than to use the VOR system. I have an electrical connection from the 12 volt battery in the baggage compartment that will plug into the Garmin rather than use Garmin's internal AA batteries (which then serve as a backup to the plane's battery).

"Speaking of batteries, I was surprised to find that my Mite came from the factory with a 12 volt battery and wiring already installed, although no generator. The wiring was to both the panel and to the wing and tail navigation lights. I guess in those days there was no FAA requirement that one had to have a power generation source within the plane to have lights and wiring. Obviously with the A65-8 engine there is no generator. The Terra uses about 1 amp an hour; the Garmin half that, so the 25 amp standard 12 volt battery lasts 15 hours before I had to charge it. On a long cross country trip I carry a trickle charger and hook it up to a 110 volt source overnight.  

"When traveling cross county I do my best to find a hangar for the overnights. One of the things that surprised me most about the Mite is that in spite of many innovative features for the time, the plane came without tie down rings on the wings. You can tie it down using the wheels, but in a strong wind with the wing so close to the ground I have visions of doing a great deal of damage.

"I did have the interior redone professionally, and in the process I had pockets installed everywhere there was room. It is amazing how much more room you feel you have when there is a place for everything. Incidentally, I use the book of WAC charts that is published once a year for my cross country flying. This book which must be about 12 x 17", fits in its own pocket by my left leg under the instrument panel. I even have a pocket on the top of the nose gear well to hold a couple of books of approach plates. 

"I am often asked what I like best about the Mite, and it is clearly being at "one" with the plane, where just thinking about turning results in the Mite turning. I am not conscious of controlling the Mite because the Mite and I are virtually one.  

"But having said that, let me tell you that you really can have your hands full on a gusty day with a significant cross wind on landing. The rudder is not very large and you really have to work to get lined up --and stay lined up -- with the runway if it is a gusty day. On days like that I would say that the Mite is more like a bucking bronco at a rodeo rather than being "one" with me.

"As to cross country trips, the longest was to Oshkosh three years ago. Every New Year's eve I make a resolution that I am going to make that trip again the following year. Hopefully I will keep that resolution this year."

The Victor "Black Edition" engine

Taken from the deck of Mal's house, which is situated at 1240 feet (above the traffic pattern) on Buck Mountain in Eastsound, Washington

N4187 in the midst of the crowd at the 1996 EAA gathering at Oshkosh, Wisconsin

As a matter of history, N4187 is an M-18 C-55, serial number 352, built in Kerrville, TX in 1955. Two of its previous owners were Carol F. Enstad of Portland, OR in 1969 and Vernon Mitchell of Wichita, KS until 1994.

In case you missed it, here's a link to Mal's account of a long distance flight he made in N4187 from Augusta, Kansas to Orcas Island, Washington in 1995.