From the Cockpit Part 35: Auster 4

Ryan Flies


Editor’s Note: This is part 35 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.

Sitting shoulder-to-shoulder with Jacek Mainka in the cockpit of an Auster 4, Rankin prepares for takeoff. He doesn’t think about the Auster’s reputation as a tricky tailwheel to land once airborne. And he’s not thinking that this will be his last flight with his new friend Mainka. Rankin’s thinking about history.

A World War II-era aircraft, the Auster served largely as an air observation aircraft for both the UK and Canada, where it was prized for its exceptional maneuverability at low speeds. Mainka’s was built in 1944 and flew with the 659 Squadron of the Royal Air Force, including missions over Normandy (post D-Day) and taking part in Operation Market Garden, an unsuccessful Allied mission to seize bridges in Germany and the Netherlands that incorporated the largest airborne operation of its time. “It’s incredible to think that this was part of that and saw that,” says Rankin. A lot of the pilots who flew these planes into combat may no longer be here, he adds, “but these planes are still very much alive and flying.”

Taking off from an airstrip near Warsaw, Poland, Mainka demonstrates a few maneuvers, takeoffs and landings before letting Rankin test the Auster for himself. “Very responsive,” says Rankin, and still impressive in its low-speed handling. “This thing can turn over a very small part of the sky and circle without losing sight.” And it does it all without losing integrity in the controls. Low speed means less wind over the wings and therefore less wind over the controls, creating a need for bigger movements that can lead to what Rankin calls “mushy” controls. “This plane had none of that,” says Rankin. Landings may have been a bit bouncy, with a rearward center of gravity asking a lot of rudderwork from the pilot, but nothing he couldn’t handle. “It went well and I’m here to talk about it,” he says.

Capping off the third and final flight of the year with Mainka, whom Rankin describes as a “good guy” and “very capable pilot,” there’s a touch of melancholy in the goodbyes, but Rankin’s already prepping his return to Poland next year. “Just to fly,” he says.

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

Pictured: Ryan Rankin and Jacek Mainka fly the Auster 4. Photo courtesy of Ryan Rankin.

Ryan Flies

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