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If it Looks Right It Will Fly Right – The Orion Cub

By Charles Pratley Photos Andre Venter

During my early days of flying one of my instructors said to me, “if an aircraft looks right, it will fly right”. Based on my experience, this statement is completely true and was once again proven on Saturday when I got a radio call from Dale saying, “Hey Charles, do you want to come fly the Orion?”.

The Orion to me has always been one of those aircraft that just looks right. Often, design engineers of non-type certified aircraft try to push the design boundaries by including elaborate features which not only make the aircraft “not look right”, but also add some strange unconventional flying characteristics to the aircraft. The Orion has none of these strange design features, thereby making it look right and definitely fly right too!

Before Saturday, I had never been close to an Orion. On my first encounter, I realized that this aircraft was not as small as I envisaged from the pictures. This was also proven when I climbed into the cockpit. Despite being a two-seater tandem aircraft, the interior was extremely roomy and easily accommodated my 90kg Class 1 Medical body.

Before starting, Dale went through the cockpit ergonomics with me. All gages, levers, knobs and avionics felt in place and so I started up and routed towards the holding position on Runway 26. Taxying the Orion felt like I was in a Toyota Hilux with a nose attitude which is probably like a Hilux with seriously deflated rear tyres. The nice large tyres coupled with the relatively high gear struts give you a smooth ride and a sense that this aircraft will definitely do well in Africa.

The Orions’ master switch is coupled to the key switch. Exactly like a car. The run-up went smoothly, apart from my engrained Cessna flying which let me down on this occasion. Despite Dale having told me where the mag switches lie, I still managed to reach over to the key switch and perform an inadvertent master switch check instead of a mag check. Anyway, none of the avionics blew up and we were lined up for take-off.

Prior to the flight Kevin and Dale has been discussing how they were going to have another version of the Orion where they use a larger engine to power the aircraft. Being an analytical person I assumed that this statement was made as they possibly had doubts whether the Orion would get airborne with Dale and I in the aircraft on a 28-degree day at 5500’ elevation. My presumption was incorrect. Cruising down the runway, I was immediately reminded that I was flying a tail dragger. The rudder authority is remarkable. With the tail now up at around 40kts my presumption of the aircraft not getting airborne was tossed out the window. This aircraft just wants to fly.

The climb out was smooth and not much of the electric trim was required to keep the speed and nose attitude where I wanted it. Upon levelling I trimmed the Orion for straight and level flight. One observation made at this time was that the “4 finger attitude” for level flight does not work in this aircraft. It is more like a “6 finger attitude”. This is because the picture frame front window allows you to have remarkable visibility. This is not only good for sightseeing but also an ideal platform for reconnaissance work. Possibly the SAAF should invest in a few for border patrol.

Having felt the Orions’ responsive rudder on take-off. I took my hand off the control stick and flew from side to side with the rudder alone. I then took my feet off the rudders and flew the aircraft from side to side with the aileron alone. The aircraft behaved extremely well under both these conditions with a minimal amount of adverse aileron yaw present.

Next, as with all good instructors who are about to let the student perform a landing, Dale let me perform a few stalls with various flap configurations. Despite the aircraft being heavy (3/4 tanks, 2 Class 1 medically fit pilots) and probably a slightly aft C of G, the aircraft stall was a non-event.

Overhead Vans (an airfield just West of Krugersdorp), I positioned for a left downwind. Downwind checks were completed and 10 degrees of flaps was selected. The approach was conducted at 50 knots on final, the approach just felt right. At this time Dale came over the intercom and said “land it”. With a slightly high round-out, we plonked onto the ground for the touch-and-go. After applying power I was again surprised at how this aircraft just wants to fly.

After performing some more manoeuvres such as sideslipping and steep turns, we headed back to Krugersdorp where some more wheeler touch-and-goes were performed. One observation made during the approaches was that you can have relatively sloppy speed control on final approach. What I mean by this, is that you can approach at much higher speeds, and then close to the runway there is no difficulty dissipating this speed for the touchdown. This characteristic is nice when wanting to land on a short field during unstable conditions. One can keep speeds high down the final approach path and then close to the runway dissipate the speed so that one can land and stop quickly.

During our touch-and-goes, some wheelers felt a bit better than others, but the ones that did not feel so good were quickly rectified by the Orions’ very forgiving undercarriage. Unlike aircraft such as the Cessna 185 that launches you back into the air if you don’t treat her well, the Orions’ friendly undercarriage just takes the punch. Thanks Kevin.

The last landing at Krugersdorp was a three-pointer where 20 degrees of flap was selected. With 20 degrees of flap, the nose attitude and visibility is remarkable. That landing was relatively smooth and without applying brake the Orion came to a stop very quickly.

We taxied back to the clubhouse with Orion smiles on our faces where we met all our EAA friends who were having breakfast at the clubhouse.

Thank you to Kevin and Dale for allowing me to fly this capable and fun to fly aircraft. This flight again reiterates the belief that “if it looks right it will fly right”.