Davis DA-5A: The
Ultimate Commuter Plane?
As I channeled my legs under the panel, Leeon adjusted the seatback to give me adequate headroom. Two or three times we slammed the lid to check the fit. and then quit when the seat was as far back as it would go. He said he was going to extend the fuselage 2 inches to give six-footers more room. The airplane is plenty wide, however. If you can't wedge your backside into this fuselage, you'd be over gross anyway.
As I locked the canopy down, I had the some feeling I had the first time I was screwed into a diver's hard hat. The windshield wraps around (storm door plastic, bent without heat) and forms a perfectly positioned viewing port. The fuselage and cockpit surround you like a spacious diving bell. For no particular reason, it is a very nice feeling.
Leeon had the cockpit setup backward ...I always feel strange with a stick in my left hand and the throttle in the right. No matter, I figured if things got hairy, I could always change hands. The brakes are a single lever, which gets both binders at the same time (economy: one master cylinder instead of two). You keep the nose headed in the right direction through the super-direct nosewheel steering. The only hang-up with this arrangement is the turning radius is limited so it's not impossible to taxi into corners.
The thing I wanted to know, however. was how did it fly? Leeon walked up to the front (one giant step), called for mags and brakes, flipped one blade on the A-65, as if he were firing up a Fox .35. I was soon trundling down the taxiway to go play test pilot.
Taxiing was a snap, as you'd expect. and the longish nose looked as if it would be a good reference when it came time to land. One thing I hadn't given any thought to was the effect I was having on other pilots. I was lined up beside a Bonanza and a Baron doing my simple little run up (right, left. carb heat). As I taxiied toward them to await my turn, I found both airplanes full of smiling, pointing people who were busy smudging plexiglass with their noses as they looked at the toy airplane parked beside them. Both pilots beckoned me on, giving up their slots to watch me bounce across the tar joints to the runway. I smiled up at them and mouthed a "thank you."
Lined up, I dropped the hammer (a tiny one for only 65 hp) and smiled a little as the sections of white stripe got closer together. At about 65 mph, I tightened my grip on the peashooter-sized stick to bring the nose up. When the nose came up, the airplane followed and I was climbing out at 90 mph as if I'd done it a thousand times before.
Forgetting to ask what the best rate of climb was, I picked 100 mph and kept it there as I wound my way up out of the pattern. The cockpit noise was very moderate, and I could almost hear myself as I whistled the cadenza from Victory at Sea while clearing for traffic.
The temperature was something else, however. Ground temperature was just a tad shy of 100 degrees and the combination of that plexiglass canopy and my hyperactive adrenalin pumps were running my personal head-temp off the scale. I untaped the vent Leeon had pointed out in the top of the canopy and promptly taped it shut again. With it opened, it sucked my hair out through the opening and tied it in multiple granny knots.
In normal flight, your hand appears as if it's stationary. If you can see your hand move, the airplane has just done its fighter imitation and sucked you into a 45-degree bank. It's actually a very nice combination. There is little or no chance of over-controlling because the forces make you think about what you are doing, but the travel is short enough that you can really make the airplane do your thing without pushing and jabbing.
Bringing the carb heat out, I pulled the nose up and waited. I don't know what I was waiting for, but if it was a stall, I could have waited until my beard filled the cockpit. At full back stick, even with a little power, it felt so elevator limited that the best I could get was a wallowing mush. I was sitting there with the stick full against the stop, clawing through the air at about 60 mph and 1000 fpm down. There isn't much buffet, so it's up to the pilot to keep himself out of that mush area because there's little warning other than an increasing sink rate.
An airplane such as the DA-5A is built to go places, not just run left hand rectangles around the local aerodrome. So, I motored around and did my best to imagine myself on a three-hour cross-country. Squirming around in the seat, I found that the slightly supine position with nothing more than two inches of foam between me and the aluminum was incredibly comfortable. Visibility was excellent, and the wing didn't do much to cover up check points. It would have been nice to have a larger diameter grip on the stick. The stability is a little less than we're used to in factory-built airplanes, although it's better than many other homebuilts. Again, about the only airplane I could compare it to in this area would be the Yankee. Hands off, it will gently deviate, usually to the left and a little touch on the stick is needed to bring it back level. If you flew X-C with one finger on the stick, you could almost go to sleep in it. It's pretty neutral in most stability modes. If you bank it, it stays banked for a long time. Displace the nose and the nose stays displaced for awhile.