When Monoplanes Came to Stay

The full story is here! Special thanks to Budd Davisson for this article!

...After Phil had strapped me in and pointed things out, he hopped up front and talked me through the start procedure, since there are no starter controls up front. After throwing the main master, the instrument switch must be thrown so that the instruments will be activated. The engine is usually primed several shots (the primer doesn't have a lock, by the way) and fuel pressure is brought up with the small plunger under the panel on the left side. It's next to the engine fire extinguisher, so I suggest looking carefully before pumping. Fuel pressure up, starter system switch on, mags, and hit the starter. It's a real shocker to hit a starter button and see the prop back up; I'd forgotten about the left-hand rotation. The engine catches in that throaty kind of coughing roar that comes from inline short stacks. It's not unlike a Merlin and is very pleasant.
At first, you feel as blind as a nearsighted bat because the panel is quite close to your schnoz, the nose covers the view ahead, and the wing is a bit forward, cutting off some side vision. After a few seconds, though, I noticed that the narrow fuselage blocks very little view, and the tailwheel was so positive it tracked like a tricycle bird.
It's a good thing you don't need brakes much while taxiing, because they are a real bear to reach. I had to lift my feet clear off the floor to get my toes on the part of the pedal marked brakes. That's something worth remembering during landing.
Canopy pushed back, S-turning slowly, gutty-sounding engine up front-I just knew I was going to eat this up!
As we lined up on the middle of the runway, I flipped the landing gear system switch on. Phil suggested I take off tail-low to preclude the possibility of overcontrolling and chewing up the prop. When I fly a strange bird for the first time I'm all nerve end, and this time especially. I eased the power in and moved the stick up to a neutral position and let the airplane fly itself off, while I kept it moving straight. I was already off the ground before I realized I wasn't having to work very hard to keep it straight. I hadn't even noticed the fact that the prop was turning the wrong direction and torque/slipstream/gyro precession/P-factor was trying to turn me right. I think most pilots just keep the nose straight and don't really pay any attention to what they have to do to keep it there.
The gear came up with no noticeable pitch change and I set up climb at 120 kilometers per hour and 2400 rpm. This was my first problem with the gauges. The airspeed is marked in furlongs per decade or something, but it took no time at all before I felt completely at home in the metric system. Granted, I had no idea how fast I was going, but it made no difference because it's all relative. By using a rough conversion factor of six, I later deduced that my climb speed was about 75 mph and rate of climb was 1,100 fpm. How's that for 160 horsepower at all up gross of around 2,300 pounds?
As we climbed, I could feel the slipstream nibbling at the ailerons as I'd accidentally stick a little out. My first couple clearing turns, while climbing, were pretty brutal affairs, this bird demanded a much lighter hand than I was giving it. My intent was to investigate the general flying characteristics on the first hop and then go back up and do some aerobatics after I'd felt the plane out. Well, the best laid plans . . .!
We leveled out at 3,000 feet and I racked it around in a couple turns and proceeded to go out of my mind! The thing was fantastic! The aileron pressures were next to nothing, and it was so smooth, it was obscene. With the flick of a wrist, I spun the New Jersey horizon in a slow roll. Absolutely fantastic! Totally effortless! From that point on I just played it off the wall. At the end of an hour, I still had no idea how a Zlin flew, but I sure knew how it did aerobatics!
The Zlin was the first honest-to-Aresti aerobatic machine I'd ever tangled with. I'd wrestled my way through several hundred hours of akro time in Champion Citabrias and had originally planned on doing a comparison of the Citabria and the Zlin, but it would be ridiculous-like comparing Phyllis Diller and Raquel Welch just because they're both women. The Citabria is an airplane capable of doing aerobatics, but the Zlin is an acrobatic airplane. It's a whole different ball game.
The first hour up, Phil showed me how the Zlin did her stuff, and I noticed a rather unusual thing: Phil Paul flies better upside-down than right-side-up. He demo'd some outside push-ups and then showed me its famous vertical capabilities. He'd dive to around 300 kph (186 mph), make about a 4-G pull-up, and do an easy vertical roll and recover in inverted flight. Four-point verticals require a little more entry speed, but are just as effortless. I flopped around for a while trying them, but I would lose heading every time, and no points are given for a five-eighths, nearly vertical roll. I never did get it down, and it's not the kind of thing you can practice in a Cherokee.
I messed around with the snap rolls and found it snaps much cleaner and faster if you use aileron, moving the stick back and then into the corner, in an L-shaped motion. Doing it this way you can start and stop anywhere you want. It really knocked me out to be able to do a razor-sharp one and a half snap, drop the nose, and do an outside loop from the bottom.
Citabria pilots aren't exactly known for their featherlike touch, so the first time I slow-rolled the Zlin, I nearly tore the stick out of the socket. The stick forces are light, and the wings act as if they are wired directly to the stick. Use a little stick and it rolls slow; use a lot of stick and it rolls fast, and one is just as easy as the next. Because of that backwards-turning prop, it rolls a little easier to the right, or at least that's the direction I could hold my points better. It will roll out of level cruise, and holding the nose about 10 degrees high gives enough room to do roll after roll. Needless to say, I spent most of my time going round and round. Boy, is it fun!
I didn't even notice the torque pulling the wrong direction until I started trying hammerheads. I'd pull her up, kick rudder and nothing would happen, we'd stall and whip down. I'll bet I did that a dozen times before it dawned on me what was happening. I tried one to the right and it pivoted as if it had a nail through the wing tip.
I'm so used to clubbing an airplane to death while inverted, that my first attempts at inverted flight resembled outside loops. The Zlin flies so smoothly and so flat while inverted that I could trim it up (down) and fly almost hands off. I was pulling 180-degree turns at 30-degree bank and still climbing about 200 feet.
The zero-G stall speed must be significantly less than the 1-G stall because I was coming over the top, outside, with barely any airspeed showing and still under perfect control. While pushing it outside, I would put in just enough forward pressure that the minus-3-G warning light on the panel would light up, then I'd ease off a bit. This way I could easily control the negative loading. I can't visualize needing much more than 3 Gs negative because of the way it will pull itself around outside....