The following short story, "First Time on Skis," © by Paul Berge, was written in 1990 and updated in 2007. It was published in the Minnesota Flyer, Richard Coffey publisher, and comes from a collection of Berge's aviation stories titled: "Aeromancy"©. All rights reserved by the author and Ahquabi House Publishing, LLC. For reprint permission or for details on how to submit your aviation short story (you won't get paid so don't quit the day job) please contact Ahquabi House Publishing, LLC at http://www.ailerona.com/ or call 515-961-0654
"Keep it on the white--not the green!" Ray shouted through the Taylorcraft's door. "Give 'er the throttle again, push forward on the yoke to bring the tail up and I'll rock the strut here to get you free." He kept his free hand on his hat to keep it from blowing away in the prop blast.
"Right," I answered and nodded the way your kid answers when he hasn’t a clue what you just said. It was a little embarrassing, my first time on skis, and I'd barely made it six feet before grinding the right ski into the mud.
I opened the throttle again and moved the yoke forward. The T-craft's tail was light enough to lift in its own slipstream. The nose dropped. I walked the rudders trying to break free of the mud. Ray leaned into the strut and rocked back and forth until the ski broke away, and I was on the snow.
Suddenly, I was a snowmobile with wings.
Any Taylorcraft takes about no runway to lift, and about half that, again, to land. This 1939, BL-65 wanted to fly long before I'd figured out which way the massive tachometer dial turned. This was my first time flying without wheels. Too busy trying to discover what the airplane would do I missed the fact that it wanted to fly--right now. When in doubt, pull back on the yoke--it's about the best thing to do after thoroughly screwing up a take-off roll. Airplanes fly a lot better than we can, so just get them into the air. I learned that the first time I'd ever flown a tail wheel.
I pulled back. The skis left the ragged earth, and it was just a matter of flying an airplane, sort of....
Flying a Taylorcraft is like sitting in something made too small for anyone. Once the claustrophobia passes, however, and you feel at home with the three- inch slat of windshield, it's just another airplane--"Pull back to go up, keep pulling back to go down.” The 65-h.p. Continental engine was no different than the one on my Aeronca Champ, so all that throttle stuff felt normal.
It was landing that was the unblazed territory. The runway was buried under patchy snow. The airplane had no wheels, just a pair of battered skis Ray had found in a farm auction somewhere.
"Gave fifty bucks for the pair," he'd said, and as soon as the first snow fell, we had a ski plane. Robin's egg blue, with white wings and silver feet, it truly looked like a bird instead of a machine. To land it made me look as though I'd never been near a tail dragger--with wheels or without.
"What speed do you land this thing at?" I'd asked.
"Dunno; airspeed's busted," Ray answered. "Probably about
fifty. Just watch the ribbons on the struts. So long as they're pointing back, you've got enough speed..."
He started to reach for the prop, then added, "You can tell if your turns are uncoordinated, 'cause the side window pops open." He grabbed the prop. "Switch on. Leave the throttle closed, and don't bother with the brakes." Oh, yeah—skis forgot already.
I now turned final, a slight crosswind blew from the right, and I corrected. The T-craft almost hovered coming over the fence. Ray sat in a chair on the leeward side of the hangar, arms crossed, legs stretched before him, unconcerned. I only got a quick glimpse, but that was my impression, anyhow--unconcerned.
I squeezed a little throttle as I dropped below the hangars. Wind buffeted the airplane lifting it slightly. I dropped the right wing and pressed opposite rudder to keep it running straight.
When you come in a little too fast in an airplane with wheels, you bounce. When you come in a little too fast in a plane with skis--you bounce; only it feels like someone just slapped your butt with a board.
I bounced. Luckily, the airplane knew how to land, so we settled into the crusty snow with a slapping racket that seemed to emphasize the fact that I had no control over anything.
Grateful the runway lights weren't too close together, we shot between two, drove across the shoulder and into the harvested bean field.
"Power," Ray had told me. "Power and rudder. That's all you've got to taxi. Use lots of both."
I did and S-turned like a destroyer evading U-boats.
Back between the runway lights, across the runway again and into the bean stubble on the other side. I was making progress. A couple more tries, and I'd be home.
Mud and snow struck the wings and sprayed through the open window (it had popped open on final). I saw someone shut a hangar door--real fast. Something hit the tail just as the left ski caught a drift almost driving the opposite wingtip into the ground. Things spun; things creaked. I yanked back on the throttle and was back where I'd started, facing the hangar, the engine ticking evenly, and Ray walking toward me unruffled.
"Got the hang of that pretty quick," he said as the engine quit. "You know, come spring, I'm thinking of putting floats on this thing; got a pair lined up from a fella in Minnesota. What'd you think?" I glanced back at my track through the beans and between the runway lights, and then looked at Ray, "I'm game...."
© Paul Berge, 1990, 2007