I had last visited my pilot training buddy Greg Trebon in 2008 while he was living on the Big Island of Hawaii, and got to fly a memorable soaring flight with Greg's friend Woody Woods in his spectacular ASH-25 Mi. Greg had recently moved to the Dallas, TX area, and since I was planning a business trip there in November, I made contact to coordinate a visit. Greg mentioned that he had sold his RV-3, and had acquired a beautiful RV-8, based at the Mesquite, TX airport.
We decided the best way to take advantage of the weekend's great November weather forecast was for me to head directly from DFW to the Mesquite, TX airport after I landed from Seattle. I arrived at Mesquite just as Greg arrived from his home, and we proceeded to tour a number of great aircraft based at the Mesquite airport, such as a stunning Lancair Evolution, a number of Bucker Jungmeisters owned by Andres Katz, a Pietenpol under refurbishment, a visiting Wittman Tailwind, and a beautifully remodeled interior of my own type, a Piper Warrior.
Greg's RV-8 is painted in a scheme honoring a P51D, 44-13930, flown by Lt. Robert H "Punchy" Powell Jr. in the 328th Fighter Squadron, named "The West By Gawd Virginian II", which is painted on the right cowl of the RV-8. The left cowl contains the predominant "Dakota Queen" logo affixed by the RV-8's original owner.
A mid-level overcast layer had thinned and cleared as we toured the local hangars, and the skies were gorgeous as we pre-flighted RV-8 N420WM and pulled her from her hangar. Greg's backseat configuration is a bit unique - while I had my own control stick, there were neither rudder pedals nor a throttle in the backseat. I could blame any out-of-coordination flight on the front seater! After a thorough walk around, I settled into the back while Greg took the RV-8's front seat. I slid the canopy partially forward for startup, already impressed with the great visibility and headroom in the backseat.
The RV-8's O-360 cranked right up, and after a short taxi and run-up, we rolled onto runway 17 at Mesquite and took off into beautiful sunny late afternoon skies. Greg gave me the stick after the left turn out of traffic, and I got a feel for my third member of the RV-family, after previous flights in an RV-7 and RV-12. The -8 definitely 'felt like an RV', but without any rudder feel, it was definitely only a 'partial RV-feel' in this case. Greg asked me to cruise north over Lake Ray Hubbard, where I got to sample the outstanding visibility, and excellent RV roll rate. We cruised over Greg's new neighborhood in Heath, TX, then flew a number of aileron rolls, four point rolls, high 'G' turns and lazy eights, all using only the stick in back! I'll commend Greg on his fancy footwork in the front cockpit, keeping the yaw from getting out of control during my ham fisting in the back. What a fine aircraft, and a speed demon also. While letting down in the cruise back to Mesquite, Greg noted that my groundspeed was 235 knots as I turned up initial for a pitch out to the pattern! Impressive!
After a great dinner and conversation that evening with Greg and Tracey, we had planned to drive to the Addison, TX airport to have a look around one of the only two flying B-29s - FIFI. Flown and maintained by the B-29/B-24 Squadron of the Commemorative Air Force (CAF), FIFI and her stablemate B-24 Diamond Lil tour the country each year from their Texas home base, and spend the winter months undergoing needed maintenance and upkeep.
With another gorgeous weather day in the forecast, Greg decided on a better plan - instead of driving, let's fly the RV-8 again, this time from Mesquite to and from the Addison airport! What a great plan, which I obviously could not refuse! Greg and I headed out to the Mesquite airport after breakfast, pre-flighted 'Dakota Queen', and launched into even bluer November skies than yesterday. Greg gave me vectors as I flew the RV-8 around the east and north sectors of Dallas area airspace, slowing down only as I entered an extended downwind for runway 15 at Addison. Since we were heading to the CAF hangars at the south end of the field, Greg landed long to shorten our taxi distance. Since Greg had been worked to get his own checkout in FIFI in the future, he knew a number of the CAF members, and we were able to taxi directly in front of the B-29/B-24 hangar and shut down within feet of FIFI, undergoing her winter maintenance.
All of the giant R-3350 hybrid engines were in some state of maintenance, but the cockpit and cabin were untouched, and available. I had a wonderful hour-plus crawling all around and in the impressive B-29, from the aft pressurized section, the bomb bays, the tunnel connecting the front and aft sections, and finally the large and impressively roomy cockpit, from the extremely complicated Flight Engineer's station to the bombardier's station far in the greenhouse nose up front. The history and stories exuding from the now quiet cockpit were speaking to me as I checked out each position. Even a fighter guy can get moved in this impressive aircraft, especially knowing this is the only flying example on the planet!
Adding to the wonderful B-29 experience, the CAF B-24 Diamond Lil arrived in front of the hangar after landing, and I was able to tour her cockpit. Greg and I were able to have lunch with David Oliver, the CAF B-29 Flight Operations Officer. After discussing plans to bring FIFI to the Great Northwest in 2014, Greg and I launched into the late afternoon skies in the RV-8 for the short return flight to Mesquite.
Greg, thanks for the wonderful RV-8 flight experiences, dinner with you and Tracey, and the incredible walkthroughs of B-29 FIFI and B-24 Diamond Lil. Even a fighter guy can be impressed with these two historic aviation treasures! Now I need to arrange for some airborne time in FIFI...