The next morning was a bright, blue-sky day, with not a cloud in the sky. Connie and I manned up the car at around 8 a.m. and headed out toward Columbia, following maps through Sonora on the small mountain roads that led to the airport outside Columbia. Columbia itself was more state park than town, a living museum of the California Gold Rush. All of it was nestled inside a canopy of trees and mountainsides that largely hide the ruggedness of the country.
We turned onto the road into the airport at the behest of a small sign. The small two-lane road slides downhill before reversing upward again, coming to a seeming stop as it hit the fences that separate the airport property from the mountains. The road actually turned right at the foot of a hangar with a sign above a door that said “Springfield Flying Service” and after moving past another hangar, turned into a small circle of a parking lot next to the terminal building and its FBO. I pulled our rental car into an empty spot next to a fence to park it. We were a few minutes early. We got out and walked through the glass doors of the airport’s FBO. A small table surrounded by four chairs stood just to the right of the door; the table served as a briefing or an eating table or both, depending on the pilots’ desires. To the right, a computer and an inkjet printer sat unattended and off; to the left, a rectangular freezer containing ice cream beckoned the hungry and the hot. Past them and on the right was a window selling candy, chips, and avgas and separating the FBO office from the small lounge. Directly ahead, another glass door led to the ramp outside. Even though the building was unlocked, nobody was in the place but us. Not sure what Alan looked like or whether he might already be out at the field, we stepped outside the FBO and sat down at a picnic table facing the ramp. A few minutes later, a double cab pickup truck stopped in front of us, the driver got out and asked if we’re “Andy and Connie”. I affirmed we were as we shook hands and he offered us a ride to his hangar. It turned out to be only about a hundred feet away, just past the fuel pumps. He pulled up to a small door at the hangar’s rear and we got out and went through.
The hangar was as much showroom as it was utility space. The CTSW we came to see was at the front of it, lit by sunlight through the open hangar door and track lighting above. It and a yellow RV-8 sat on grey carpeting that covered most but not all of the hangar floor. A golf cart sat beside the CTSW, and over them all, an American flag hung downward vertically. Alan and Connie hung back behind the CTSW as I walked around it, inspecting it and taking photos of it. The airplane looked just like the pictures of it on Barnstormer except for one prominent thing; Alan had added a green cartoon dinosaur to the tail along with the words “CT-REX” on one side and “REX” on the other. I asked him about it, and he replied it was to differentiate the airplane from all the others at a fly-in. I hated it. I talked to Connie about it later and she didn’t care for it either. If we pressed ahead with buying this airplane, the dino was going to go!
Alan and I discussed the airplane’s cockpit features and instrumentation and he showed me the baggage compartment behind the pilot’s seat. Pulling a little knob behind the pilot and on his upper left popped off a triangular door behind the cockpit that revealed it. I looked inside to see that the Ballistic Recovery System parachute split the compartment into two functional halves, forcing most of the baggage space to be in the vertical. Alan had two embroidered bags made to assist with packing the space, and he let us know they would go with the airplane if we bought it. He then asked if I was ready to go for a ride, and I was. After Alan pulled the airplane out of the hangar and spun it around, I entered the cockpit as he coached me. I got in by grabbing the round, structural bar that cut across the cockpit in front of the crew and used it to hoist my butt sideways and back into the airplane’s seats. From my sidesaddle position, I then pushed the sticks forward to pull my legs in over them and twist to sit myself looking straight ahead. Alan plugged in my headset because I couldn’t easily reach the plugs; they were in between our seats, almost behind mine; this was really something to do before one got in. Once I’m situated, Alan hauled himself in and we both finished strapping in by using the four point harnesses the airplane provided. Alan pointed out a small additional strap across our chests he added to keep the straps from too-easily sliding off one’s shoulders. It’s nothing new to me; all my backpacks have just such a strap. There was no denying it does its job.
Alan flipped a few switches, set the choke and throttle, and called “Clear!” as he twisted the key in the starter switch. There was no mixture to manage; the carburetors handled it automatically. The little engine roared to life with a low-pitched rumble. Our small three-blade propeller had morphed into an almost invisible disk in front of the airplane, and we started moving slowly forward as it pulls us along. We’re on the intercom now; Alan was using a Telex Digital Stratus 50 active noise-reducing headset while I was using my David Clark passive H10-30. He demonstrated the airplane’s features as he called them into play one by one, readying for takeoff, as we taxied to the airport’s single, paved runway’s north end past a resting S-2 Tracker, a tanker for the California Forestry Service.
Alan cleared the area for traffic, put the flaps down to 15 degrees, and called our departure over the radios as we taxied onto the runway south. He quickly pushed the throttle up to full, and the little airplane accelerated forward for only a few seconds before it leaped into the air, going more up than forward. At least, that’s what it felt like, and the airplane’s helicopter-like canopy only reinforced the feeling. We were quickly a three hundred feet as he retracted the flaps to zero. Then we climbed out at best rate of climb speed, 78 knots. The little airplane climbed out at a steady six hundred feet per minute, pretty good for carrying lots of gas and a big guy like me.
We turned right away from the mountains. Alan climbed us up to four thousand feet or so, only two thousand AGL out here, but high enough. He gave me the airplane. I started out by flying some Dutch rolls to get the feel of the thing; control response was smooth and good. Alan talked to me about how the airplane was a rudder airplane, and I could see that it was, as the slip-and-skid ball jogged all other the place at my inexpert touch. I noticed most of all how power changes affected the required rudder; the effects were as large as they were in any airplane I had flown. I did some gentle climbs and descents, a little too timidly actually; after all, it was still his airplane and I didn’t want to do anything to hurt it while it was still his. After a few minutes of turns and climbs and dives, I gave the airplane back to him. I knew he wasn’t about to let me take it back into the pattern or shoot a landing; and he confirmed that impression by never offering it.
When I gave it back, Alan cranked the airplane in a hard diving turn just to show what it would do. That really didn’t do anything for me; the big question I had about the airplane was how hard it was to land; so, after we landed and I met up with my wife and she asked my how I liked the flight, my response was “It was okay”. Alan was awaiting her to take her flying and I wanted her opinion, so she shuffled off somewhat mystified at my reaction. She was a bit uncomfortable crawling into an airplane with a pilot she didn’t know, but she went anyway. Turned out she loved it, even though Alan landed it a bit hard.
Back at the hangar, once the CTSW was back inside, I went through the logs and we discussed the condition of the airplane. Alan bragged about it, of course, though I couldn’t know at that point how much to believe. He had balked at having a small service bulletin that had just come out performed before I bought the plane and I wasn’t sure a firewall mod that the factory wanted done had been performed. Much to my surprise, when I brought up my need to get training done at the LSA school one hundred fifty miles north of him, he also balked at ferrying the airplane to the school. He said that his son was working on his master’s degree and couldn’t break away, and that we also needed to talk about the expense of the ferry. That pissed me off! I countered by saying if we were going to quibble over a few dollars of gas, then we’d have to take into consideration the thousands of dollars it was taking to not only just look at the airplane but the costs of flying it home. While that squelched any further complaints, Alan didn’t back down from his refusal to ferry the airplane to the school. Doug Peffer, located there at Columbia, had become my only hope of getting the training I needed to insure the airplane done. If I couldn’t work something out with him, this deal was going down the drain.