From the Cockpit Part 14: Yakovlev Yak-52

Ryan Flies


Editor’s Note: This is part fourteen of an ongoing series documenting the flights of active-duty US Navy Pilot Ryan Rankin on his journey to fly 52 planes in 52 weeks through the year 2017.

As Rankin continues his journey, word spreads through the aviation community and new opportunities present themselves. Through Paul Mather of M-Squared Aircraft (From The Cockpit Part 9), Rankin gets in touch with Matt Taylor, a mechanic and pilot flying out of St. Elmo, AL with a Soviet-era Yakovlev Yak-52.

First produced in 1976 as a primary trainer aircraft for the Soviet military, the Yak-52 holds a lot in common with the Chinese-made Nanchang CJ-6 from part 10 of the series, including similar motors and “quirks” like a differential braking system operated from the stick and a pneumatic system in the place of hydraulics for the landing gear. But where the Nanchang boasts a higher cruising speed and greater efficiency, the nimble Yak-52 excels in aerobatics.

However, upon taking off from the strip in St. Elmo, Rankin and Tyler encounter low cloud cover, limiting visibility and putting a damper on any possible aerobatics. Even though soaring through the sky, keeping an eye on the ground is important, says Rankin, as it keeps the pilot aligned while looping and spinning. “I’ll pick something on the ground and it will help me orient myself,” he says. “You need to be able to pick up the horizon.” Even experienced pilots can run into trouble when maneuvering with little visibility. What the eyes see and the brain interprets and the instruments say may not all line up.

“That’s what gets a lot of guys in trouble,” says Rankin, noting that the pilot has to trust the instruments, even when their body tells them something else. “It happens to everyone,” he says, “and it’s incredibly difficult.”

But even without aerobatics, Rankin enjoyed the Yak-52, zipping and banking low over the ground for one of his longer flights, and chewing the fat with Tyler. As for choosing a favorite between the Yak-52 and the Nanchang, Rankin isn’t ready to pick sides just yet. “I love both,” he says.

For more about the flight in Rankin's own words and a video of the flight, follow the link below.

Pictured: Matt Taylor (left) and Ryan Rankin flying the Yakovlev Yak-52. Photo courtesy of Ryan Rankin.

Ryan Flies

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