I was first able to fly a Christen Eagle II in June 1998 with Bob Struth, while I was checking him out in sailplanes at Arlington, WA. My flight in N8EC was a blast, but Bob soon moved from Washington to Colorado, and I wasn't able to get any follow-up flights.
While working on a new project at work, I was able to engage in discussion with Bill Sommer, who is the proud owner of a Christen Eagle II, N14BQ, along with a V-35 Bonanza, based at the Creve Coeur airport near St. Louis, MO. I was able to check out Bill's birds while visiting St. Louis in the peak of the 2012 summer heat, and planned for a flight attempt later in the year. In the end of October, I had a trip planned to St. Louis, and contacted Bill, who was happy to get in the air himself in his Eagle II.
Bill and I arranged to fly after a joint workday, and I arrived at the Creve Coeur airport late in the afternoon, with a little over an hour of daylight left to us before sunset. Bill had pre-flighted and positioned his Eagle II outside his hangar, and I quickly donned a parachute and got strapped in, while familiarizing myself with the cockpit arrangement. Bill has five-point harnesses installed for aerobatic flight, along with an additional safety lap belt, so I felt like a part of the airplane when I got fully cinched in. As we prepared to start, a flight of two Stearmans cruised by the pattern in the late afternoon sunshine.
We closed our canopy, and although I had a good 'fist-width' of space between my head and the canopy, I definitely felt snug and part of the airplane. Bill smoothly cranked the engine, and we 'S'-turned our way down the short taxiway to runway 34 at Creve Coeur. Bill lifted the tail as we accelerated down 34, and then briskly lifted off as we accelerated and started a left climbing exit of the pattern to the south. Bill thought the takeoff roll was pretty long with the 'added weight', since he often flies solo, but I thought our takeoff roll was nice and short!
Bill let me have the aircraft as we headed south to the aerobatic working area, and I quickly remembered the most sensitive part of flying the Christen Eagle - yaw. While the pitch and roll controls are sensitive, they are very crisp and easy to control quite precisely. Yaw, however, seems to be ready to move to extremes with even the slightest pressure on the rudder pedals. Bill noted that it was a Christen Eagle feature that you got used to, but it definitely caught my attention.
The sun was low on the western horizon as we climbed into the working airspace, and started through a few aerobatic maneuvers to put the Eagle through her paces. I cleared the area with a few medium-G turns, which felt great. We then flew a series of maneuvers, starting with a simple aileron roll, which Bill crisply stopped at exactly the 360-degree point. We flew a barrel roll, loop, some high-g turns to continue clearing the airspace, a very enjoyable hammerhead, followed by a slow roll. Even though I thought I was cinched in securely to the seat, I found myself becoming very friendly with the canopy as we slow-rolled around the horizon. Great fun! The hammerhead had to be my favorite, especially since it showed how well-suited the Christen Eagle is for aerobatics.
The sun was nearly setting as I exited the area and headed back north to Creve Coeur, still letting my feet get used to the sensitive rudder pedals. Bill took over near the airport, and flew a smooth left descending final to runway 34 just as the sun set. Thanks, Bill, for an enjoyable opportunity to fly your Christen Eagle and make the best use of a beautiful late-October afternoon!