The Journal of the Friends of Sywell Aerodrome

No. 7 Winter 2001

Flight Training of a different kind

by M. H. Bletsoe-Brown

Although I have owned the Wilga for sometime now, I have to admit that whilst I could get it off the ground all right, landing it was a little different and often uncomfortable. I had been thinking for a while that I should go to the factory to be taught to fly the Wilga by one of their test pilots as I knew of no one in the UK who could 'check me out and clear me on type' for that all important signature on your log book. My ARRIVAL at Leicester Flying Club back in June prompted me into action.

G-WILG at Sywell poised like an ugly insect waiting to pounce on its prey!
G-WILG at Sywell poised like an ugly insect waiting to pounce on its prey!

I gave PZL a telephone call and they suggested that I contact Mecklenburger Motorfliegerclub at Neustadt-Glewe in Germany, which I did by fax, just as well because their English is about as good as my German.

Anyway a date was fixed and they booked me a room in a local Hotel leaving me to arrange my flight with Ryanair from Stansted to Lubeck, Hamburg. On arriving at Lubeck I immediately felt at home. What a lovely little airport, completely different from what I had expected. The new single story Terminal building is very similar in size to the main Aviator building and is complete with a roof terrace and bar, from where you can watch the gliders being towed up by winch, PPL flight training using Cessna 172s for touch and goes and then twice a day a Ryanair flies in and out. What a mixture!

The main entrance depicting the diverse<br>aviation activities at the airfield.
The main entrance depicting the diverse
aviation activities at the airfield.

Then off to the Hertz desk for a car to a very pleasant welcome from a very tall blonde blue-eyed fraulein. She suggested I tried the new Audi A2, which I dared not refuse.

What a great little car. It has a front similar to the Audi TT, but overall a little ugly like the Wilga but likewise it retains a certain style and attraction. Next morning I followed the road to the Mecklenburger Motorfliegerclub and found my way to the bar where there was a group of people having coffee. Everyone there is met like a long lost friend with an obligatory shaking of hands with all present. Gosh, this all takes a long time but on reflection it is a shame we British do not do the same. At the same time I was introduced to Oliver my instructor who was wearing a typical German 'Bib and Brace', he also could not speak a word of English, this should be interesting I thought.

Bar on the left; airfield maintenance on the right.
Bar on the left; airfield maintenance on the right.

I was instructed on the use of the coffee machine and deduced that a few gliders had to be towed before an aircraft was spare for me to fly and so I took a look around. This small airfield has a mix of operations not normally found in the UK. Not only do they have fixed-wing and micro-light flying schools but also a large number of gliders and a parachutists' school. The storage of aircraft is quite interesting also, in that I saw aircraft stacked two high in the hangars, the top layer winched up into the ceiling of the hangars on wire ropes. Then I met the airfield ATC officer who was wandering about with a large mobile transceiver and microphone giving aircraft instructions and clearances in German as he walked. He would then stop pick up some loose grass throw it up in the air and respond to an aircraft presumably with the wind direction and speed.

Finally just before lunch Oliver emerged from the workshops, having just fitted a prop to a Zlin, to point at the Wilga on the airfield, we were ready to go for our first lesson.In I got to find that the speed indicator was in ks per hour and not knots, and the altimeter in metres and not feet. Great all my numbers I have learnt are useless. No worries, Oliver pointed to llOks on the speed indicator and I got the distinct impression the only thing to really concentrate on was your speed.

Then he drew his hands in a circle and pointed to 300 metres on the altimeter, OK circuit height 300 metres and so we carried on. Then the moment of truth, Oliver points to the runway. My first circuit was as I had normally flown the Wilga, ending in the familiar hard bounce on landing. Oliver then took over and showed me a different way. Oliver seemed to grab the Wilga by the throat with total confidence, assertiveness and a slight disregard for what I perceived as a bit of an old beast. He then handed control back to me with a signal that you needed to do at least 20 to 30 landings to get the landing of a Wilga right and he was absolutely correct.

G-WILG in flight.
G-WILG in flight.

Wilga 35 statistics

The Wilga (Polish for the Oriole, an attractive bird!) is an aircraft designed as a liaison aircraft, glider-tug, flying ambulance, camera 'plane, aerial surveillance and parachuting platform. It is of an all-alloy construction with slatted wings to provide STOL performance. The type first entered service with the Polish Air Force in 1968.

Engine: PZL-Kalisz A1-14RA nine cylinder air-cooled supercharged radial rated at 251 hp at 2,350 rpm turning a constant speed propeller of 8ft 9ins diameter.
Length: 26ft 4ins
Height: 9ft 9ins
Wing span: 36ft 6ins
Empty weight: 2,157 lbs
Max. load: 709 lbs
Max speed 105 kts
Vne 150 kts
75% cruise 85 kts
Stall without flaps 35 kts
Stall with flaps 30 kts
Max rate of climb 905 ft/min
Takeoff roll 121 metres
Landing roll 106 metres
Max crosswind 12 kts
Range 275nms
Service ceiling 13,250 ft

We had a coffee before starting circuits. For the first session I struggled to keep up with the workload. The airfield's two runways are surrounded by a huge forest, leaving little margin for engine failure or error of judgement. They consequently fly very tight circuits around the aerodrome boundary. We were clocking up over 12 circuits per hour against the 6 or 7 I am used to a different kind at Sywell and that was with each landing as a full stop, as they say the Wilga remains a danger until stationary. Add to that the engine management required with a Wilga and you get an idea how hard I had to work. But it was good fun though.

Fuelling the Wilga for a morning's work.
Fuelling the Wilga for a morning's work.

The Wilgas at Neustadt-Glewe have different tail wheels and softer suspension than mine and they are certainly more inclined than mine to career off left or right on landing. They can have a mind of their own and sometimes very difficult to keep control of on the ground.

I had completed two sessions with Oliver when Schumacher turned up and announced he was taking over because he could speak English and Oliver could not.

The next session did not go well. Schumacher did not like the way I took off, handled the prop or landed. This confused me as I was only doing what Oliver had taught me and I thought I was getting on OK. He then instructed me on a different way to land the Wilga and on my first attempt it all went wrong. We landed very hard indeed and the aircraft lurched off violently to the left. Schumacher ducked across the cabin for cover. Great I thought, just when I need some help. Anyway with full right rudder and the right brake on as hard as I could push, the Wilga started to respond as it lost speed. This taught me a lesson to stay with it until it is all over.

Anyway I thought 'Bugger this for a laugh' time for a beer. We taxied back and retired to the airfield bar. While I enjoyed a cool glass of German beer, Oliver and Schumacher argued about how I should fly the Wilga. At one point Schumacher asked me to decide who was going to continue my tuition, an argument I was not prepared to get into.

Luckily Oliver turned up the next morning and so we continued. After a few circuits Oliver pointed at some gliders that were lined up awaiting a tow. I thought that was my session over, no not all, a cable was attached to the tow hitch on the Wilga and Oliver signalled 'go'. Bloody Hell, I thought, never done this before! Oliver helped me with the controls. It's a little like pulling a horse trailer with a Range Rover.

A weird Eastern Bloc visitor to Neustadt-Glewe.
A weird Eastern Bloc visitor to Neustadt-Glewe.

The technique is very different and holding your aircraft just off the ground waiting for the speed to build before you can climb away while you are heading straight for the trees, concentrates the brain I can assure you. Mind you, once you have sufficient speed the Wilga climbs away impressively as if it had nothing behind it. Shortly we were at 1000 metres and then the fun really began. Oliver took control, rocked the wings, the glider let go, he quickly closed up the cowl flaps and oil cooler flaps, shut the throttle and then pushed forward to point the Wilga at the ground.

I had not tightened my belts enough and nearly ended up on top of the flight panel staring at the village below. Down we went, but that large propeller acts as a brake stopping the Wilga gaining speed indefinitely. Then he pulled out at the bottom of the dive and the G-force piled on to the point I thought he was going to pull the wings off, to level off, turn and land ready for the next one. I went on to tow another five gliders.

Also during my short visit they showed me their ways of starting the sometimes temperamental radial engine and also how to shut it down to prevent oil leaking into the bottom cylinders. Very handy hints to save hours of frustration.

My last session was an hour before I was due to leave for my flight home. A couple of circuits and Oliver points to climb to 1000 metres. Overhead the airfield at right angles to the runway, Oliver pulls the throttle for a power failure landing (PFL). Whoow, the Wilga dropped like a sawn off brick. I trimmed for a 120k glide, which was very steep. Although I was very close to the runway threshold, I turned a little too tight and lost height even faster and it became clear I would not make the runway and would have ended up in the trees. We powered away to do it again and again until I had managed a couple of safe ones.

We landed a few minutes before I had to leave when Oliver announced 'You can flizes zee Vilga' and with a smile I handed him my log book for that all important signature. After another great shaking of hands, I jumped into the A2 and began my journey home with a sense of achievement and satisfaction.

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