Russ Erb Visit

I had a long overnight in LAX today, so I checked in with Russ Erb.  His schedule was available for me to stop by for a visit, so I rented a car and drove up to the desert.  I was excited about getting to catch up with Russ and discuss a few flight testing strategies, and I was also eager to see his plane up close again.  I’ve seen it several times over the past few years, but I’ve noticed that each time I see a completed Bearhawk, I have different things to look at.  When I was doing fabric work, I was looking at fabric work on other Bearhawks.  Now that I’m seeing how mine is working out in service, I look for similar information on others. 

Just yesterday I had a long overnight in IAD, and I spent the afternoon at the Air and Space Museum.  Similarly, I can go to a place like that and see the same airplanes that I saw there 9 years ago, yet my life experience has changed enough to give me something totally new to look at.

While I was exited about visiting with Russ, I was also very excited about his gracious offer to take me flying in his Bearhawk.  Upon arrival in Rosemond, Russ drove us out to where his Bearhawk lives.  It’s a very nice airpark with a paved runway and everything.  I picked his brain with all sorts of questions about how he has best found to operate his Bearhawk in the past 300+ hours spread over 4 years while he prepared a few last-minute things.  We got in and he started the engine for a brief warm up.  

There are several unmistakeable differences in Russ’s cockpit and mine.  First, his is much more festively decorated in yellow and red.  Second, he has quite a few more gadgets at his disposal.  He commented about this, being aware of the very full pilot toolbox.  This was my first experience in a 540-powered Bearhawk, so I wasn’t quite sure of what to expect from a performance standpoint.  The takeoff roll was comparable to what I’ve experienced with my Bearhawk, but there are several things to consider in that comparison.  First, we were operating at a heavier weight than I have been operating in my solo flight tests.  I suspect that we were around 400 pounds heavier than my usual weight, because of the extra passenger weight and higher empty weight.  Second, and perhaps most importantly, we were at a much higher density altitude.  The airport elevation is much higher than I’m used to, and so was the temperature.  Those factors combine to explain why the performance seemed only somewhat better.  I’m interested in doing more comparison work someday where I can better quantify the difference, using tools other than intuition and the seat of my pants.

Seeing all of these factors in play, it makes much more sense to me why Russ chose to equip his Bearhawk as he did.  After all, it was January!  In the summer, I can imagine that he sees much higher density altitudes.  The departure density altitude is an issue, but so is the need to climb high to clear the surrounding terrain.  In the short hop over to his glider airport, I saw why he explained that any cross-country trip of length is going to require a cruise altitude in the 10,000 foot realm.  I’m especially interested to get our Bearhawk into this kind of environment to see how it does, but I haven’t yet.

I had a great time riding with Russ, and I learned a bunch about how he operates his Bearhawk.  To top it all off, his wife made a home-made supper that couldn’t be beat, and I got to visit with one of his fellow TPS friends and hear about their Oshkosh trip.  That area is crawling with a bunch of really smart airplane folks, and I could certainly imagine an alternate life where I could live around them and have lots of airplane fun.  Overall the trip was absolutely worth the effort, and I’m looking forward to applying the experience and some measurements from Russ to make a much more numerical comparison between the capabilities of the 540 and 360 Bearhawks.