Although built in 1946, the earliest record we have of our C140 is from 1960, with an airframe logbook that has her registered under Serial number 10243. The pilot who owned the aircraft during that period only started filling in the aircraft To/From column of the logbook from 1962, the first entry being from Lompoc to Santa Monica for maintenance, so I presume that Lompoc in California was the home base. The aircraft was registered as N73035 and painted in the military paint scheme similar to that of the Bulldogs. A United States flag adorns the tail fin with Columbia AFB, although we are not sure how that fits in to her life story. Perhaps she was a military trainer back in her youth?
The 140 continued to fly in the California region up until 2006, when she was put up for sale, imported to South Africa through Jeff Sharman, registered as ZU-ECP, and restored by Kevin Hopper at Krugersdorp. Our syndicate was formed, and the 140 took over some new owners in a new country. She won best restoration at the EAA Sun 'n Fun meeting at Rustenburg during 2007, and she remains the cutest, cleanest little 140 you will ever find.
Her original 85hp engine was upgraded with the relevant STCs during 2011, and she visited yet another country as the photo aircraft for the International Tiger Moth Botswana Safari. Over the last few years, we have continued to enjoy formation flying and weekend jaunts with what we call, out 140, and she remains a favorite toy amongst her pilots.
First Impressions of the 140
Friday rolls over into the weekend, and before I know it, Iím packing up our old Land Rover with all of the flying paraphernalia that have marked the onset of my Saturday and Sunday afternoons for some time now. Thereís the flying suit patched up with cloth badges from various air shows and a pair of Royal Air Force Wings to make me feel more like an iconic aviator. Thereís the age-worn toolbox filled to the brim with things that I Ďmight needí when I get to the airfield, a flask of coffee, a few beers for afterwards, maps and the hangar keysÖIím ready.
I head out to Baragwaneth along that horrific dirt road that winds itself through the dusty veld and find myself at the silvery steel hangar doors, locked tightly shut. I leave my old life behind to create a new one. This landscape embraces a new and paradoxical consciousness. It is a rich blend of romantic nostalgia in which I find myself as both a barnstormer of old and a myriad of procedures and precision calculations. Somehow this responsible revisit to childhood imagination is what flying is all about. Responsibility with enjoyment.
Once the door has been opened, in the depth of shadows, crouched, waiting, lies the aircraft. I drain the fuel and carry out the pre-flight checks which once seemed difficult and foreign as a student pilot but have now become the trappings of the familiar, the comfortable.
I wheel out the aircraft, which seems somewhat out of place on the ground. It is my newest toy, a sparkling Cessna 140. It came to us from the Colorado in the United States, and when I say new, but itís actually over forty years old, but it looks like a brand new pin. The red and white of an American Flag with the words, ĎColorado AFBí are stamped on the tail, a small piece from its past life. The underbelly is painted grey and the empennage is an ice white, which reminds me of a Great White Shark, although no ferocity resides within the heart of this docile machine. On the nose, wingtips and tailplane, a contrasting blood red mark the fabric and aluminum.
It is truly a thing of beauty.
In the 140ís cowling nestles a neatly proportioned 85 hp Continental. It is a powerplant that, considering its meager capacity is eager to tear through the air. Inside I can smell the odor of new blue leather that trims the seating. The cockpit is just the right size, a cozy fit which will produce hours of airborne enjoyment.
On take off, the tail comes up with only a gentle persuasion from the control column. There is not much torque to work against so a swing to the right isnít really an issue. I use my toes with gentle movements on the rudder pedal, though, and as the speed builds up to about 50kts, the wheels leave the earth. Free of the ground, the airspeed builds up relatively quickly for an aircraft which is considered to be underpowered.
Landing, however, takes a bit of getting used to. If I get it wrong, it feels like a galloping goose. I donít know if youíve seen a duck taking flight from a still lake. Well, it flaps like hell and its wadded feet leg press the water, making a series of ever-larger towards the sky. Itís the same in this taildragger, but instead of climbing, itís on the descent. If the speed is wrong or if Iím too high or too low on short finals, I end up bouncing. It starts with a little hop, but then the aircraft tries to fly again, so, nose up and tail down, the plane finds that it canít get airborne so it finds the ground again. Then, with more speed and more momentum, the bounce happens again, this time, higher, and if I donít do something about it, Iíll be in big trouble.
Iíve found that itís best to either go around, and put my dignity in my back pocket, or, if I catch it in time, open up the throttle. This gets a bit more airflow over the control surfaces and usually the aircraft glides onto the runway and I am left with said dignity still in my back pocket.
The golden rule: land when nobody is watching because inevitably the moment you set yourself up for a smooth impressive landing that will astound everyone else on the airfield, the aircraft will prove you wrong and take your head out of the clouds.
The 140 is sleek and smooth, so it doesnít loose speed as quickly as you might hope. Therefore, Iíve found that itís a good idea to throttle back early and get closer to my approach speed of about 65 kts as soon as possible - and leave the flaps where they are, itís far more rewarding to fly without them. Then itís a case of using the control column and therefore the aircraftís attitude to keep the airspeed consistent and the throttle adjustments to produce a smooth glide path.
In a three-pointer, that hallowed, slick landing when the wheels all touch together, I close the throttle altogether on short finals until the airspeed bleeds off. To keep the craft airborne, I progressively lift the nose once I near the threshold and use the arc of larger movements on the rudder as slipstream is reduced. While I am a few inches from the ground, the nose gets higher and higher until (and this is if I get it right) the wheels touch without the smallest rattle or bump.
What an aeroplaneÖ
|| 21ft 6in (6.55m)
|| 33ft 4in (10.16m)
| Empty weight:
|| 890lb (404kg)
| Gross weight:
|| 1,450lb (658kg)
|| 1x Continental C-85
| Cruise speed:
|| 105mph (91kts)
| Stall speed:
|| 45mph (39kts)
| Rate of climb:
© The Johannesburg Light Plane Club
Syferfontein Airfield, South Africa