T-Craft Flight Characteristics
We prevailed on Gary Towner, an FAA airline maintenance inspector in Phoenix, to let us use his freshly restored BC-12D as the test vehicle to remind us how a T-craft flies. Towner says when he bought his Taylorcraft, it was a flying airplane but in need of complete restoration. In the course of taking it apart he found the spars were riddled with cracks. As he put it, "...they were really scary looking." He feels all owners of aircraft that old should take note of his experience in that area.
His airplane was, as near as he can determine, originally a BC-12D-1, which he says was the bottom line, low-buck airplane that didn't even have a left door. The second door was added sometime in the 1970's by a previous owner.
As with most two-place, side by side airplanes of the era, getting in is as much a project as flying it. In the T-craft it is made more difficult by a diagonal brace running across the end of the seat.
Once loaded up, Gary and I were, shall we say, "cozy." Our shoulders were definitely touching part of the time. We didn't measure the cockpit, but it is probably several inches narrower than a C-150/152. Visibility over the nose, however, was good without even stretching. This was important because the headliner was nearly touching my head and I would have touched it if I had to stretch. Part of the Taylorcraft's speed comes from having low frontal area and this means a low cabin. It is low enough, in fact, that turning your head sideways puts your eyes right in the middle of the wing root. To see to the side requires ducking down quite a bit. This is more of an aggravation than a danger, but the lack of visibility is something to be remembered at all times.
The big control wheels are fun and the brake pedals are funny. They are two tiny, thumb sized pedals located well back and right between the rudder pedals. They are nearly touching one another. Fortunately, they are used very little in normal flight.
Taxiing is straight forward with the only complication being having to look down to dial frequencies into the handheld radio mounted between us on the front seat edge. That location keeps the cockpit looking absolutely original.
I hadn't been in a Taylorcraft in years and my primary memory was one of the airplane flying as if it was very light. Gary's airplane re-enforced that memory. As soon as the power was up, the airplane wanted to fly and I barely had the tail up before it floated off. The tail is so far behind us, it has lots of authority so very little rudder movement was needed to keep it straight. We had barely a breath of wind, maybe two or three knots, across the runway. Most airplanes wouldn't have even noticed that wind, but the second we left the ground, the Taylorcraft instantly reacted to the wind by drifting. I found myself crabbing into a wind the windsock barely recognized as being there.
The airplane has a definite thistle down feeling to it and wind is a challenge to it. The best pilot on any airport is the Taylorcraft pilot who easily and routinely conquers a gusty crosswind. With firm hands, the airplane will handle more crosswind than is prudent, but most folks study the windsock carefully before pulling the airplane out. With such a light wing loading and those long wings, it's second cousin to a parachute.
It was fairly cool out, about 70°, and the airplane responded by giving us a fairly solid rate of climb in the 400-500 fpm range at about 65-70 mph. Gary says he gets about half that during the summer and prefers to fly the airplane solo in those situations.
The air was liquid smooth so we didn't have much turbulence to show the Taylorcraft's cork-like ability to ride over even the softest bump. We also didn't have any thermals to help us to altitude. More than any of its peers, the Taylorcraft is eager to lock on to even the weakest thermal and convert it into altitude.
As we leveled off, the airspeed stabilized at 90-95 mph and Gary says he can flight plan 95-100 mph and be fairly close. He's generally burning around 4.5 gallons per hour and, considering his airplane has both wing tank options as well as the fuselage tank, the airplane will stay in the air far longer than he can. The ability to go long distances in a reasonable time on pennies has always the Taylorcraft's long suit.
Because Gary had gone completely through the control system, including installing ball bearing pulleys, his controls were surprisingly smooth. There was none of the common feeling that a cable was sawing a pulley in half. Also, when racking the ailerons around, the airplane was quite willing to respond. We're not talking Pitts Special roll rates here, but even with those long wings, it rolled faster than most of its peers.
Adverse yaw is significant, but not as much as a Champ and about the same as a Cub. The amount of rudder required to coordinate is minimal, but definitely there. In checking pitch stability, it damped out completely in less than three cycles when pulled ten mph off trim speed.
Doing stalls was, as is usually the case with this period of airplane, almost a waste of time because they are so benign. In a normal, slow approach to a stall, the wheel hit the stop somewhere in the low 40 mph range and the airplane just mushed. If accelerated, either in a turn or straight, it would break slightly and then mush. During the process I was careful to keep the ball centered because the rudder is very effective at those slow speeds. As I remember, if asked, the airplane spins very nicely and willingly, with a positive recovery.
There's no doubt you're in a fairly small cabin, when cruising. Even though you can see over the nose quite well, your eyes are closer to the thrust line than we're used to so the visual down angle is pretty flat. Also, the necessity to duck to see sideways is always there. The overall feeling is one of being in a long, narrow cabin, when really it's the vertical height that gives that illusion. Skylights would probably open up the cabin feeling considerably.
When we came back into the pattern, I reminded myself that this airplane would really glide, so I spaced us out accordingly on base. Even so, I was too high. Fortunately, the airplane is a good slipping machine. Not as good as a Cub, but still good. Gary said he uses 70 mph, so I did too, which seemed to work out fine.
As I came out of the slip and into ground effect, the Taylorcraft's reputation as a floater was again re-enforced. We may have been a little fast, but, as we floated along while I felt for the ground, I was very conscious of having to be very judicious with what I did with the elevators. Just the slightest amount of too much back pressure and the airplane would try to balloon. Since we were slowing to a near-walk this was more of a game, than anything else. The airplane clearly telegraphed when it was about to settle or balloon and I just had to adjust accordingly.
After a few seconds of floating, it would give up and settle on to the ground. On one, I held it off just a little too long and felt it unhook and drop us the last several inches. That surprised me, but shows it's not a good idea to hang it on top of ground effect for too long.
All of the landings were three-pointers, some better than others, and none were even remotely challenging during roll-out. The airplane didn't want to do anything unusual and was at least as easy as a Champ or Cub to control. The wind had pretty much died down, so we had the best of all possible situations going for us.
The T-craft is actually quite a good bargain, even in this period of rapidly inflating classic airplane prices. A quick perusal of Trad-a-Plane showed that even the restored airplanes seldom touched $20,000 with many restored ones with low-time engines at $15,000 and below. Unrestored airplanes were in the $10,000-$12,000 range. When buying an unrestored airplane, however, inspect it very carefully. At sometime in its life, it was doing duty as shelter for all types of mice and varmints. When buying a newly recovered airplane, make certain all the rust and rot problems were attended to.
For the final word on Taylorcrafts, contact:
Taylorcraft Owner's Club
Bruce Bixler, President
12809 Greenbower, N.E.
Alliance, OH 44601
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