By Fred “Crash” Blechman
Last September at the Whiteman Airport Expo and Air Show, I wasn’t expecting to fly. However, Elliot Sanders, air boss of the Young Eagles flying that day, made me an offer I couldn’t refuse.
“How would you like to take a ride in Tom Hastings’ VK-30?” he said. “I immediately accepted his offer.”
I was familiar with the nonprofit Experimental Aircraft Association’s Young Eagles program that has given over one million free flights at airports all over the country to young people between the ages of 8 and 17. The honorary chairman for many years was retired General Chuck Yeager, and presently is pilot/actor Harrison Ford. Local EAA Chapter #40, spearheaded by Charlie Ducat, chapter president, sponsored this particular Young Eagles event.
Elliott explained that Hastings was out of town, and that Kent Yarnell would be the pilot.
“Kent is part owner of this plane,” he said. “You’ll be in the right-hand front seat, with two passengers in the rear seat. You’ll be going up soon…”
While I had flown, or flown in, many different—and some weird—aircraft, this was a real treat, since for several years while attending the monthly meetings of Chapter #723 of the EAA at Camarillo Airport I had watched Tom Hastings building this beautiful Cirrus four-passenger pusher aircraft from a kit. It was a labor of love, and had taken him nine years to build, starting in his garage in December 1990 and with a first flight in August 1999.
There are only five or six of these VK-30s flying, and this particular plane has been flown over 500 hours. Tom has been flying since 1967, and has flown over 500 Young Eagles in this and other aircraft.
Configured with side-by-side dual-control front seats and a wide back seat, this is a large single-engine airplane, especially for a plane built from a kit! With a high aspect-ratio laminar flow wingspan of 42 feet, and 26 feet long, this tricycle gear aircraft is constructed mostly of composite materials. A Continental 550G 300-hp engine is mounted behind the cabin and drives the three-bladed constant speed MT propeller through an 80-inch long shaft with special couplings at each end. With an empty weight of 2,650 pounds, and a fuel capacity of 106 gallons, it can fly 2,000 miles at a cruising speed of 240 miles an hour.
I asked Kent Yarnell about his flying experience.
“I started flying in 1980, and was with a local flying club for a number of years and did freelance flight instructing,” he said. “I have about 1,600 hours—over 150 in this VK-30—and an instrument rating.”
Many parents were signing up their children for 20-minute flights on the dozen volunteered light planes—including some twin-engine aircraft. I later found out over 300 Young Eagles flew that day. Aircraft were taking off and landing as we waited until it was finally our turn to climb aboard the VK-30.
Looking inside this plane, it looked like the inside of a Cadillac, with plush leather seats. This certainly looked like a factory-built aircraft, not something built in a garage and then a small hangar! But it was tricky getting aboard. The top part of a clam-shell door on the right side lifts up, with the bottom part dropping down to form steps for entry. The pilot enters first, with the right front seat moved forward so the pilot can get in the left front seat. Then the right seat is moved back for the copilot to be seated, who then moves his seat forward for passengers to get in the rear bench seat, after which the bottom stair-step door is raised up. The two passengers were Brad Anderson, a first-grade teacher, and his 15-year-old son Chris, who had taken a flying lesson with a friend at Burbank Airport when he was 11 years old, and had not flown since.
After we all put on our safety belts, Kent started up the engine and we identified ourselves to the tower as a VK-3P (FAA designation for this aircraft) “52 Tango Hotel,” our side number. Kent taxied at 14 inches of manifold pressure and about 1,100 rpm out to the run-up area, using the steerable nose wheel and individual brakes. I was impressed with all the lights, buttons and switches, and the many instruments—including some digital—on the instrument panel and the center console. After checking out the two magnetos, Kent put the prop in high rpm, and the mixture forward as we got our takeoff clearance for Runway 12. We closed the overhead cabin door, which I latched on the right side, as we taxied onto the runway and lined up for takeoff.
Kent added power and we sped down the runway, reaching about 90 mph as we gently lifted off at 11:20 a.m. with “27 squared” (which means 27 inches of manifold pressure and 2,700 rpm). Kent raised the gear and we were climbing at 135 mph and 700 feet per minute as I took the controls. I turned left and then headed northwest over the Hansen Dam Recreation Area. I then followed the Foothill Freeway past where it was joined by the Ronald Reagan Freeway as we proceeded toward the Santa Clarita Valley.
Off to the west, only about four miles away on this clear day, we could see the Golden State Freeway and the Los Angeles Reservoir. I turned west to follow the Foothill Freeway to where it intersected the Golden State Freeway and then right, flying above the crawling cars and trucks as we headed north while climbing through the Newhall Pass. We watched carefully for aircraft coming in from the north on a popular approach to Van Nuys Airport. We leveled off at 3,500 feet using “23 squared” power and cruising at about 190 mph.
Directly ahead was the Six Flags Magic Mountain amusement park, with the roller coaster and its other attractions standing out among the thousands of homes throughout the valley. I circled Magic Mountain twice, then headed west for awhile toward Santa Paula, but didn’t go there, since this was just to be a short flight. I turned left back toward the left side of Newhall Pass on a direct heading for Runway 12 at Whiteman, just to the left of San Fernando Road. We could clearly see Van Nuys Airport about six miles away and 45 degrees right of our nose as we descended.
Kent took over for the landing. Gear down at about 100 mph, speed brakes out briefly to slow down, and we were descending at about 250 feet per minute with a mere 10 inches of manifold pressure and 1,500 rpm. Flaring out on the numbers, Keith touched down smoothly at about 70 mph.
As we deplaned, I asked our passengers how they liked the flight. Brad recalled that we had flown over the recently burned areas, up toward Valencia. He said Chris was excited to go up and “gung-ho like you wouldn’t believe.” In fact, since the flight, Chris attended the free one-week Los Angeles World Airports’ ACE Academy, where he found out about—and joined—the Aviation Explorers Post #727 at Whiteman Airport, and is now taking flying lessons. Another Young Eagle inspired by the EAA program!
For more information about the Young Eagles Program, call 920-426-4831 or visit [http://www.youngeagles.org].