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Flying Dave Thatcher's CX4

By Ted Beck, EAA 1023457, beck.d.ted@gmail.com

Ted Beck
Ted is graduating from St. Francis High School in Louisville, KY and will attend Middle Tennessee State University in the fall, majoring in Aerospace / Professional Piloting Ted's summer job will be assembling a CX4 from one of the newly available kits.

For this story, I would like to extend my gratitude to Mr.Dave Thatcher. Dave brought his CX4 up from Florida to the now-famous, rained-out Lee Bottom fly-in (Hanover, Indiana, identifier: 64I) and left it here to provide others the chance to fly the plane. Eventually, a couple of local airline pilots had a crack at it, too, but that’s their story.

Ted Beck
Ted and his flight instructor, Mike Hanrahan on the day that Ted soloed.  Mike is a recent C-5 driver for the US Air Force. Ted received his flight training at Air Center 1, Bowman Field, Louisville

Ted Beck
Ted and his FAA flight examiner, Peyton Hogue, who has just passed him on his private pilot check ride.

Before this opportunity, my only tail wheel experience was in a J-3 Cub. I received my tail dragger endorsement with about 4 hours instruction. Not because of my own skill, mind you, but due to the fantastic instructing ability of those at Red Stewart Airfield in Waynesville, Ohio. Compare what it's like to drive a really heavy truck to what it's like to drive a sports car; I knew ahead of time that the switch from the Cub was going to be drastic, but when I actually flew the CX4, it didn't even matter. The CX4 practically flies itself.

Ted Beck
Ted in the Piper J-3 in which he got his tail wheel endorsement at Red Stewart Airfield in Waynesville, Ohio, just northeast of Cincinnati. Dave, his instructor, is shown, too. This Cub is reputed to be the first J-3  that came off the new Piper line in Lock Haven, Pennsylvania, in 1946. As Ted said, "Nearly four times older than I am and still going strong!” Red Stewart is the proverbial old-time flying field that provides glider and beginner aerobatic instruction as well as all tail wheel flying, while making you wonder whether you have to be careful to touch down between the cowflops.

The fact that the CX4 is a single-place airplane was a little intimidating at first, but then I thought of what it was like to have two people in a Cessna 152 and thought, "Hey, more shoulder room!" The only briefing I got was from my father when  he described to me his experience and told me what to expect and what to do, which amounted to "Let it get up to 65 or 70 mph and just let it lift off the ground itself." So I wondered, how hard could that be?

He couldn’t have been more accurate in describing how it flies with that simple statement so I did just as instructed and it took off all by itself; it naturally wanted to climb. I didn't want to do anything to make that "easy" feeling go away, so I decided it was best to stick to pattern flying until I could really get a feel for how it flew. The first thing I noticed as I turned crosswind was how fantastic the visibility was. Then I noticed that was also partly due to the fact I had reached roughly 1,000 feet in about a minute by the time I turned crosswind.

I was still getting used to the fact that the CX4 wanted to climb so much. You really have to use your trim to level it out on downwind. Other than the fact that it wouldn’t stop climbing, the CX4 felt very smooth. The plane almost seemed like it was gliding upwards. Although the plane responded quickly, I never felt like I was going to lose control. I guess that’s what finger pressure is all about; it sure doesn’t take the pushing and hauling on the stick that the Cub does. I wanted to give myself some room to set up an approach, so I extended my downwind just a bit to figure out just how it descends. I found this to be the most challenging part, mainly because it was difficult for me, at first, to establish a good rate of descent. I finally got the plane configured for 70 mph and 500 feet per minute descent by using idle power and about one-half trim. I didn't have to do anything else but turn to final.

My first approach and landing resulted in a long glide down the runway (in ground effect) before the plane settled onto the ground, and rollout was straight and easily controlled. Having no prior experience in a plane with a truly light touch, I think I might have had a tendency to overcontrol, but that sensation quickly passed as I got used to the feel. In subsequent approaches, I felt I still tended to overcontrol a bit and porpoise before touching down, but people who were watching from the ground claimed the porpoising wasn’t obvious or severe. I guess that’s because the plane would float when near the ground. It seemed the plane couldn’t be made to land in a true three-point fashion with the airspeed only a couple miles an hour over stall just as the three wheels touched simultaneously. That can be explained by the very flat attitude of the plane as it sits on the ground. But that doesn’t seem to me to be a big handling problem. It just causes a somewhat longer rollout than a true three-point landing would require. I still landed and rolled to a stop in less than 1,500 feet.

Early on, I pretty much remained in the pattern, and the lack of any traffic allowed me to make the pattern legs longer than usual. Later, I was able to reduce power and try out stalls after climbing to about 2,500 feet AGL.I didn’t try to do any fully developed stalls, but after getting the airspeed down to just under 65 mph (at least that’s what the airspeed reading indicated), I was able to approach a stall; it felt that the airplane would just mush through a stall without any sharp break. My dad and a couple airline captains who also flew the plane confirmed that this is true. In Dave’s plane, there’s also no apparent tendency to fall off on one wing.

Ted Beck

I got to fly the CX4 a total of three times for about 45 minutes each flight. After around two hours of flight time, my landings were as smooth as silk. The whole secret to flying the CX4 is to minimize your input to the controls. Once I felt comfortable flying it, I had to force myself to land and get out before I'd want more time with it. But it sure is a motivation for me to work with my dad to get our own CX4 airborne!

The real objective when Dave brought his CX4 up here in late September to let me, my dad, and several others fly it was to demonstrate how easy flying the CX4 is and that low-time pilots can have complete confidence when getting into the airplane for the first time with it being a single-seater as it is. The other objective was to try to help stimulate more young builders and pilots to become involved with the CX4. So far, in addition to our father-son team, we have Ed Christian and his 17-year-old in Augusta, Georgia. Ed flies Boeing 777s for Delta, and his son already flies the family RV-6. We also have a bunch of girls and boys, ages 12 to 18, who are starting to build a CX4 in Kalispell, Montana – all members of the Flathead Youth Aviation Education group. Dave and my father are feeding them CX4 parts and assemblies, gratis. The objective is to build a CX4, fly it, and then auction it off at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh to fund the next project.

The CX4 sitting lonely on the ramp, awaiting spring with the rest of the planes at Lee Bottom. Photo: Rich Davidson

For more information on the Thatcher CX4, please visit the Thatcher website.

And don’t forget to watch the EAA video interview with Mr. David Thatcher below.

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