I’m a very lucky guy! Dan Weseman invited me to come to Florida and fly the Panther, and last week I took him up on the offer. I knew the airplane would be down for prep and paint just as soon as the Phase I 40 hour fly-off was complete, so I had to get there before that happened. I flew in the morning and Dan finished off the 40 that same afternoon. Almost cut that one too close!
I was at Haller for a couple of days before I flew, and I must say that I enjoyed watching Dan and Bob fly almost as much as I enjoyed flying myself. Saw some things that I knew I wouldn’t be trying, like snaps, and loops with a snap at the top, and spins. One thing I knew before I arrived was that the Panther was a beautiful airplane. Three days of hanging out just confirmed what I already knew. I collect aviation axioms. This one fits: “The nicer an airplane looks, the better it flies.”
A quick cockpit briefing from Dan, and a carb heat and N-number reminder on the panel, and I was ready to go. On my mind were several things; the most important was my prayer. Please God, don’t let me bend Dan’s pride and joy. I was briefed that the Panther was a floater, so I was determined to land as short as I safely could. I was also briefed that the gear legs were too stiff. I only ended up doing one landing, but they sure felt fine to me.
Takeoff was uneventful. Easy to track straight. This was my first experience with the Corvair, and it was a good one. Bob Woolley doesn’t agree with me, but I think the Corvair is all the power the Panther will ever need. And I think it will fly just fine on less power. Climbed to 2000′ over the field, making right and left turns during the climb to feel things out. A few steep turns at altitude. First thing I noticed was that there was absolutely no slop in the control system, and that there was very little force required to move the stick.
I don’t speak test pilot talk, but I suspect Bob would call that a low breakout force. Tried some rolls both left and right. Think left roll, airplane rolls left. To me, the roll rate fell between the Sonex and RV-3/-4. Bob was disappointed that the Panther didn’t have the roll rate of a T-38, but to most folks it will be just fine.
Next a few loops, Cubans and reverse Cubans. Set the throttle to 2850 and left it there. Didn’t know where the g-meter was, but I’m guessing no more than 2.5 to 3. Entry was at 150 mph, and I was surprised to see 75-80 over the top.
Next some slow flight. Power-on the airplane flew at a very nose-high attitude, with the rattling tail cone acting as a great stall-warning device. Easy to pick up a wing if it fell off. Ditto power off, but I neglected to take a peek at the descent rate.
I was never much good at hammers in the RV-3/4, and expected similar results in the Panther. Throttle still at 2850, 80 degree climb, 60 mph, full right rudder (the Corvair turns opposite a Lycoming), full left aileron, and the Panther came around just like I knew what I was doing. Hot dang! Best one I had ever done.
Decided that I had subjected Dan to enough worry and it was time to put his baby on the ground. The Panther currently has full flaps of only 30 degrees, which isn’t enough, so I knew I would have to nail the airspeed if I wanted to touch down on target. On short final I realized I would have a better view of the runway if I could get the nose out of the way, so came in with a bit of rudder and a touch of power and was able to make a landing that I normally do only when there are no witnesses. I’ll take luck over skill any day! A third flap notch will be added to give choices of 10, 30 or 50 degrees.
The Panther is one very sweet machine. It’s not twitchy, it’s not pitch sensitive, and there was no “I’ll get used to this in a minute or two” feeling. Control pressures in the pattern were so light that I honestly don’t remember if I trimmed or not.
I feel very fortunate to be involved with a project that I know will be immensely popular. If Dan and Rachel can pull off the kitting of the Panther as well as they’ve done getting things to this stage, they will have a sure winner on their hands.
Tony Spicer – Panther Beta Builder