The good news is that Brian Hood is the proud owner of a DG-303 ELAN Acro. The bad news is that Brian purchased the DG-303 before he had any significant time in a sailplane, and before he even soloed! Brian smartly has been getting dual time in both L-23s and Lynn Weller's awesome DG-1000, which is a perfect lead-in ship for the 303.
Brian and I had discussed the expected differences between the DG-1000 and DG-303, and Brian suggested that he'd like me to fly his DG-303 to be able to give him a first-hand description of the differences. Not being one to ever turn down a flight in any airplane, especially a beautiful pristine ship like Brian's 303, I definitely agreed with Brian's suggestion.
Although we've had record November rains here in the great Northwest, Saturday dawned sunny and gorgeous, and Brian had already nearly completed rigging the DG-303 by the time I arrived at Arlington. Having studied the flight manual days before, I did a full checkout and walk-around with Brian, then got a signoff from Ron Bellamy, who's also hoping to try out the DG-303. I was quickly in line for tow, and got ready for launch into a decent November sky.
The DG-303 cockpit layout is amazingly similar to the DG-1000, even down to the fabric design and color on the seat cushions, which has been referred to as the "paintball spatter" design. Except for some reduced shoulder room, I could easily believe that I was in the front cockpit of the DG-1000. The only major difference is the stick mechanization, which is the parallelogram design in the DG-303, vs. the more conventional pivoting stick in the DG-1000. I'd recently flown the parallelogram stick design in the HpH 304CZ, and really enjoyed the feel and controllability.
After getting comfortable in the cockpit and connecting up to the CG hook (Brian's only current hookup), I began the takeoff roll using the flight manual recommendation of full forward stick. The tailwheel was quickly raised, and even with nearly calm wind conditions, I had no problem maintaining wings level on the initial part of the takeoff roll. Tow with the parallelogram stick was effortless, and I got a good feel for the light aileron forces while boxing the wake. Over-the-nose visibility on tow was quite good, with awesome side visibility. Raising the gear was very easy, with even better leverage than the DG-1000.
Off tow, I got a feel for speed at various pitch attitudes, and quickly learned that the DG-303 likes to move out! I walked through medium and steep turns, and was surprised at how little rudder was needed for coordination, and how smooth the aileron forces were. I tried a few stalls, which showed off the 303's even rigging, by not even dropping a wing at all, and quickly recovering with minor forward stick pressure. There were a number of small brush fires in the area, and I was able to gain some altitude even in those poor conditions while coring the tiny bits of lift.
Overall, the 303 felt smooth, fast and quiet - a very delightful sailplane. I flew one practice approach at altitude, and found that the spoilers had no "pop-out" tendency, and were easy to control throughout their range. I flew a conservative pattern on the first flight, and was rewarded with a nice smooth touchdown after just minor back stick pressure in the flare. I felt the full spoiler "get you down" capability is probably greater in the DG-1000, but the 303 was quite adequate. A second flight confirmed the smoothness and great feel of the DG-303 design.
Thanks for the great introduction, Brian. I'm looking forward to checking out some cross-country soaring in the DG-303 when the spring thermals start kicking off!
After the first DG-303 flight, Brian and I were able to fly a few dual L-23 flights, where I found he was quite ready to solo in the L-23, which he did in great style. Now for a few DG-1000 solos, and Brian will be ready to take advantage of solo flight in his own DG-303!
Gary Paulin had purchased a DG-300, an earlier version of the DG-303, in 2009, and had been enjoying his soaring machine throughout the summer of 2010. After flying with me from Renton to Arlington in October in my Piper Warrior, Gary graciously offered a couple of flights in his DG-300.
Gary took the first flight of the day, and then it was my turn. As I settled into the cockpit, I felt familiar with the setup and feel after my flights in Brian Hood 's DG-303, and my many flights in the DG-1000.
After a smooth takeoff using the parallelogram stick, it was a very easy tow while I enjoyed the great cockpit visibility. I towed to 3600' by the Cascade foothills, but the October sky was very stable and smooth at altitude. I flew some light aerobatics and enjoyed the DG-300's responsiveness. Descending back toward Arlington, I found some 1-knot lift below 1500', and as I maintained altitude I had a large bald eagle cruise below me, then start thermaling. I was able to maintain a tight thermaling circle and stayed with the eagle for a number of turns over the nearby golf course. After both of us left the thermal, I had a smooth approach and landing.
I was able to take a second flight in Gary's DG-300, again to the foothills, but found only flat conditions with no lift. I was able to again fly a few steep turns and a lazy 8, followed by another typically smooth approach and landing. You have a very nice ship, Gary, thanks for letting me check her out!