Occasionally a situation comes along in which we have the opportunity to form an impression regarding an airplane but not Tim to really dig into its innermost secrets. Mostly these first impressions are as accurate as any developed after hours of flying because you have time to notice foibles and characteristics but not enough time to compensate for them. The first meeting is when you notice a person's nose is crooked or one ear is higher than the other. After they become a friend, you don't notice any of these things. That's the situation with the Velocity and me. We became very brief acquaintances but never had the time to form a real relationship. Still, I was impressed enough to think it's important to pass along what I learned in that brief encounter.
The original mission that found me in the left seat of Dan Maier's Velocity was a photo shoot for Popular Mechanics. Somehow the mission got perverted into a "let's see if you can do this" type of day. The St. Augustine's photo crew (camera plane pilot Jim Moser, who nearly froze, formation lead Carl Pascarell and Eliot Cross, both of whom really enjoyed the airplane) did their best to position the airplanes as perfectly as humanly possible. In some cases, this meant pushing the edges of impossibility!
In situations like this, there is a sort of pushy professionalism in which everyone works toward perfection but, at the same time, is really enjoying meeting the new airplane. It was in this spirit that I suddenly found myself being pushed toward the Velocity on the ramp and receiving a verbal check0out that included things like "pull back to go up." Since I had never been closer to a Velocity than a wing span, and that had been at 4,000 feet, I was looking forward to making our acquaintance close up.
The Velocity has been around long enough that it shouldn't really be considered new, since at this point, the airplane is coming up on 2 1/2 years old. Still, it does occupy a rather unusual niche in the homebuilt field since it is a full four-place airplane that doesn't cheat on the back seat. Past that, it wold be easy to say the Velocity is a Rutan clone, but in reality, when you change an airplane the size of a Long EZE to make it into a 150-200 horse, four-place airplane, you really have an entirely new design.
As I walked up to the Velocity, I could see that the glass smooth finish which I had seen through the view finder was actually smoother than glass. Every reflection running down any surface was absolutely true and free of any form of distortion or surface imperfection. Even more interesting was the fact that there is not a straight line on the fuselage.
While the surface finish had been a surprise, the back set was a real shocker because it actually IS a back seat instead of a crunch space in which part of the board procedure is to lock your knew into your chin and leave them there. The rear space was so big it looked empty. so I threw Popular Mechanic's Aviation Editor, Tim Cole. into the bark seat while I headed for the front. I then found old age really has some drawbacks. Thc Velocity does nor kneel on its nose camel style like Rutan's designs, so boarding the airplane meant hoisting your butt up on a wing strake and then pivoting on to get into the cockpit. I have a shoulder that has long since gone south with old age and I had to have somebody give me a leg up to get up high enough to enter the airplane. I noticed the second Velocity on the lamp had a little blade-like step sticking out of the bottom of the fuselage, which made getting into the airplane easier and, in try case, possible.
As I slid down into the left seat, the surprise continued. Carl Pascarell was in the right set and wasn't encroaching on my space at all. Both leg and shoulder room is absolutely great (for someone of my stature, the average 170 lb 5 ft 10 in FAA pilot.) When, Jim Moser tried the front seat out he found his 6 ft 4 inch frame had to assume a jack-knife position. That's when designer Dan Maier pointed out that, in building the airplane, the seat back bulkhead is moved forward and aft to suit the individual builder, making it possible to custom tailor the airplane to a pilot of any size.
I quickly scanned across the instrument panel to find most of the important gauges, as well as getting used to the throttle and side-stick. In this case, the side-stick is actually in the middle of the airplane but it was a side-stick nonetheless. At first the throttle, which moved up and down on the left console, seemed like it might feel a little bit weird, but it turned out to be a very comfortable mode of operation. The electric trim toggle switch was just above that and forward of both of these was the speed brake switch with a red warning light letting you know when it was out.
I reached up and pulled the canopy down and locked it. Initially, I felt as if we were sitting in a mail box looking out through the mail slots. After a minute or so, I realized the problem wasn't a problem: the windshield is a good distance in front of the pilot, so the overhang protrudes into the upper edge of your peripheral vision. This gives the illusion of the slot-like windows. Even, as I was in the process of firing up the engine, the claustrophobic feeling disappeared.
With the engine running at a low idle, it was so smooth and far away that the only way you knew it was really running was a sympathetic vibration that caused he canard to vibrate. The composite structure was so dead and damped out the engine sound that everything was electric motor smooth.
Taxiing out to the runway gave me an opportunity to see how the brakes worked. Since the nosewheel is full castering, all ground maneuvering depends upon the brakes, which are not separate pedals. They are activated when, the rudder pedal gets toward the bottom of its travel and they are extremely powerful and maybe just a little bit grabby. I had to constantly remind myself to poke gently and not lean on them because they caused the nosewheel to quickly dart from side to side.
Carl warned me, before bringing the power up for takeoff, to watch for a tendency to over rotate. He said the stick forces were fairly light arid it easy to unstick the nosewheel and bring it up a little bit too high which, when corrected, could easily lead into some sort of pilot induced oscillation (PIO). This turned out to be excellent preflight information.
As I brought the power up, the 150 horsepower Lycoming behind me did its best to push us down the runway at a decent rate of acceleration, What I didn't know was Carl should have also reminded me about the Davisson Canard Syndrome. Just about every time I fly a canard airplane, I make the same mistake: I forget the rudders are independent of each other and it's possible to put both rudder pedals down at thc same time, thereby deploying both rudders at the same time. Part way through the takeoff roll in the Velocity, I realized I not only had both rudders deployed but was dragging brakes as well. I was in the process of fighting a left crosswind and, as soon as we left the runway, I took my feet off the rudders in such a way that the airplane immediately offset to the side and I was lined up with the side of the runway. A sloppier takeoff you've never seen. I starred to turn around and explain to Tim Cole in the back seat, who looked entirely calm, considering the manner in which we had left the ground. Then Carl cut right to the bottom line by saying, "Basically, Budd screwed up." He does have a way with words.
As per Carl's comments, the controls in pitch were very light and I was aware of the muscles in my right hand fighting to keep from causing any sort or up or down oscillations of the nose. The speed built up and, as we climbed away from the runway, that tendency disappeared and I relaxed my grip on the stick. I later mentioned this to Dan Maier and he said this has been an on-going problem and they were working on it even as I flew the airplane. A month or so after the flight, Dan called to tell me they had made a number of modifications to the elevator and canard so that the pitch control is now entirely conventional and any of the bobbing tendency on takeoff and landing has totally disappeared.
Dan had also warned me before we even saddled up that the performance on his airplane was "leisurely" because it was only carrying 150 hp and he strongly recommends either 180 or 200 horses. Making the takeoff performance even more leisurely ws the prop, which was pitched for flat-out speed. Also we were carrying 3/4 fuel and a decent sized passenger in the back seat. As we climbed away from the field, I could see he was right because our climb was in the 600 fpm category which is far below that reported by the other Velocity with its 200 hp engine.
I still had a tendency, while still climbing to altitude, to slightly over control the airplane in pitch. This was especially true if I didn't have the airplane trimmed. The trim switch started out to be a pain in the butt because it was so fast and powerful. I soon found that just a quick flip of the switch would ratchet trim increments in which put the airplane in perfect trim
I pushed the nose over into level flight at about 4000 fee and watched as the airplane struggled to stabilize its speed which took a lonng, long time because of the coarse pitch of the cruise prop. It took so long to stabilize that at one point. I finally ducked the nose and dropped off a hundred feet to make the airplane build up a little speed and found it had already stabilized at its optimum speed for the power we were holding, a shade under 2400 rpm. The airspeed showed a fairly consistent 160 mph, which, when corrected for altitude and temperature, was a little over 190 mph. Nor bad for fixed gear and the load we were carrying.
In cruise the airplane feels much more normal than at slow speeds. The pitch control, although extremely light, wasn't particularly sensitive and the roll authority is just a little on the low side, which is true of most canards. It seemed to help a lot if a reasonable amount of rudder is used with the ailerons. The airplane doesn't have much adverse yaw, but using rudder a little first seemed to increase the roll rate slightly.
Cruise stability is totally acceptable but not overly rock solid. It seems to be a little more neutral in pitch than something like a long EZ, and once the nose is displaced, it will stay there for a time until it begins to return to level in what could- almost be considered an extraordinarily long period phugoid.
The best part about the airplane in cruise is the incredible
comfort. The Velocity is at least as good in this department as
any other general aviation airplane, homebuilt or otherwise. In
the first place, the seats are not as supine as most airplanes
of this type and the finish of the cockpit is such that it just
does not look, feel or smell
like a homebuilt. If I had any complaint at all it would be that the canopy eyebrow should be cut back slightly to increase the upward visibility.
The stalls were typical canard; You'd have the stick full back and the nose would be bobbing up and down while the airplane mushed forward. The Velocity did. However, demonstrate absolutely no tendency for Dutch roll as with some of the earlier canard designs.
On setting up the stalls, I found the Velocity doesn't want to slow down. Even with the belly board out, it lust doesn't want to shed speed and dropping the nose, even slightly, immediately sent the speed needle toward the next highest batch of numbers. This comes from the combination of an airplane that is as slick as a raindrop, and a prop pitch that probably was contributing next to no drag with the throttle back.
Since we were already slow, I went ahead and lost altitude and headed back toward the airport since I didn't want to get into a hassle trying to slow the airplane down in the pattern. Knowing the machine was going to be a real glider, I purposely turned final much farther out than normal. We were probably at least a mile out at 700 feet and it became immediately apparent I wasn't going to come even close to the runway numbers. I had lots and lots runway, so I didn't really worry that much, but I was holding 90 miles per hour and not coning down.
The normal landing in most canard airplanes is your classic, Navy style "attitude landing" in which the airplane is set up at a specific nose high attitude and then flown onto the pound. Intellectually, I knew that was the way it was supposed to be done with the Velocity, but the airplane held onto speed so tenaciously that any attempt to bring the nose up resulted in flattening out the glide slope into a mini-cross country down the runway. Eventually we were close enough to the runway to make an attempt at holding the nose up while the airplane decided whether it was going to come down or not.
I had to fight the urge to continue flaring, as the airplane settled onto the runway. Through out the entire exercise I was also fighting the tendency to over control the airplane in pitch. This effort wasn't visible from the outside, but the muscles in my right arm were doing isometrics to hold a specific atitude. I'm glad Dan has now worked that problem out.
The airplane plopped on and, in typical canard fashion, the nose came down almost immediately despite my best efforts to hold it up. Carl commented that that's the way it's usually done. I was not at all satisfied with my performance in the airplane, but, time being what it was, I was not going to have the opportunity to go back out and try again. The landing wasn't really that bad, but it would have taken at least two more for me to feel comfortable with the airplane. I would really like to fly the modified canard because Dan says takeoff and landing characteristics are markedly improved.
This was written in 1988 and, since then, the Velocity has
been through several comprehensive design modifications. Also,
the company has changed hands at least once. Therefore, before
making any decisions based on the foregoing, please get updated
information from the current kit manufacturer. BD