Yakovlev Yak-3M D-FLAK was acquired by Will Greenwood in early 2015. 12 months on, with a display season under his belt and the Yak now registered in the UK as G-OLEG, Will looks back at the trials and tribulations of his first year as a warbird owner and pilot.
Having ferried my Yak-3 back to the UK from its former home at Bremgarten, Germany – an interesting flight via Albert Bray in good VFR (Visual Flight Rules) – I knew that to be comfortable displaying her I would need a lot of practice and some good advice from my mentors. As a first and essential step, the Yak was insured by K.M. Dastur, and Simon Howell has been especially helpful in making sure I had the correct cover and guiding me through the process.
I have been flying since 1984, have over 2,300 hrs (single-engine piston) and held a Display Authorisation (DA) for six years, flying a variety of aircraft from the Tiger Club’s Turbulent to the Harvard, plus my own Bucker Bestmann TP-WX. The Yak-3 is not difficult to fly, but it has a complex air system, a short high-speed wing which needs care both at slow speed and when pulling G at high speed. My first plan when I purchased her was to spend some time at MeierMotors getting to know the systems well on the ground. I spent many an hour in the cockpit familiarising myself with the controls, emergency systems and the general “feel” of my surroundings. I was able to do the undercarriage checks while she was up on the jacks; the tailwheel doors make the loudest thump, one to note that it is a reassuring sound, not a bad one! I also did engine runs and taxi trials to get a feel of the ground handling.
The flight home was good, apart from the amount of air the Yak used. The compressed air controls the undercarriage, flaps and braking systems. Mine has an engine driven pump and an electrical back up, which will in theory keep the tank at 50 atmospheres. By the time I was on my last leg back to the UK, I had the pump on and landed without any problems, but she got lower than I would have liked from the 180 atmospheres I started with. A subsequent test showed that the system will work down to 30 atmospheres, a figure I was not aware of – first lesson learnt.
I am lucky enough to know Richard Grace of Air Leasing and Spitfire Mk.IXT ML407/OUV fame, and he gave me the first bit of advice on how to conserve the air in the system, providing there isn’t a leak! The Yak has a main air bottle and an emergency one, for use if a leak occurs, so getting the wheels down will hopefully not be a problem. The undercarriage lever has three positions – up, centre and down – and Richard’s advice was to put the lever in the central position after cycling the gear up. This will close the locks and stop air from leaking in the up lock – I had, on advice, left the lever up on my first flight, hence the gradual air loss. He also suggested running the electric pump once the system has depleted slightly for ten minutes before landing, which will give a small top up. Since then my use of air has been a lot easier, and I additionally now carry a small top-up bottle for longer transits.
After speaking to my good friend and DA mentor Dan Griffith, I began to explore the flight characteristics of the Yak, from general handling to stalls and aerobatics. My first few landings at Dunsfold didn’t pose any problems but I was using more runway than I had liked, so I went up high near Selsey Bill and carried out my first stalls. The Yak drops her left wing and is easy enough to recover with a little power and not much height loss. However with gear and flap down, she stalls at 80kts with more of a sharp nose and left wing drop. Easy enough to recover with power and altitude, but I tried it again and just lowered the nose and waited for the speed to build, simulating a failed engine. She took her time to accelerate and it was a good warning to have at least 130kts on the clock in an engine failure situation. I then turned to my approach speed, finding 90kts was a good number – making sure to have the correct height at the threshold brought my landing roll down to 900 metres stopped from a 50ft threshold height. This was to improve later to 800m, but as a start, it was good enough.
I have always enjoyed aerobatics, maybe not the gut wrenching stuff but clean loops, rolls, half Cubans, Derry turns etc. The Yak will do all of these with ease, from the topside pass at 250kts to rolls and half Cubans, which I prefer to use in my displays. After practising a routine, I invited Dan out to Dunsfold on several occasions to critique my display. My first ones were okay, but I spent a lot of time repositioning after each pass, so on his advice I brought the speed back in increments until the routine fitted nicely within the airfield boundary, which gives the public the best views. My favourite part of the sequence is pulling up at crowd centre along the main display line, into a half Cuban with a spiral turn back down to the crowd line, before the next manoeuvre.
I practiced regularly and even went on a few jaunts to Duxford, to get used to the Yak-3’s cross-country speed of 220kts. On one of these trips I met Brian Smith, who was kind enough to give me his time and answer some of my questions. Stupid thing is, he only lives a few miles from me – it’s good to have such experience on your doorstep! The time came (June) when I felt comfortable enough to apply for my Group C DA, so Dan again watched my routine and duly passed me. Another helpful process is to have your displays filmed; this is a useful tool, and good for discussion on the ground.
I took my paperwork to the Civil Aviation Authority and after a good chat with Matthew Hill I was given a six month probation period for the summer: I had my Group C DA! My first season was a hard one, both emotionally and having to deal with a period of bad weather. Abingdon was rained off and we sat at Duxford, watching the thundery showers, albeit I managed to get a practice in. Shoreham was a day that started with high expectations and spirits as it was my “home show”, followed by the tragic events that curtailed the day. The short flight home on Sunday was very reflective, many thanks to those who worked so hard in such difficult circumstances.
The Victory Show at Cosby was the first time I got to show the Yak to the public. I was to fly as a tailchase pair with Air Marshal (retd) Cliff Spink in the Aircraft Restoration Company’s Hispano Buchón (representing a Bf109). Cliff gave me a good briefing and we set off to perform both singularly and as a pair. The show went well and I managed to shoot down the “Hun”! Again, lessons were learned on positions and angles, plus the wind switched on landing and she floated for once, which prompted me to go around and try again. Still, it was “a good call” as one of my peers said. The second day was more of the same and a great feeling to have got a show under my belt in the Yak. The flight home was in beautiful conditions, along with my Bucker Bestmann TP-WX which also attended.
A short spell of practice and then a day trip to Jersey for the airshow followed. The transit was a quick 30 minute hop from the South coast and I could not have wanted a better day. Some airshow friends (The FireFlies) were also displaying there in their RV-4s, so it was a good transit out. After the display briefing, I prepared the Yak, took off and displayed over St. Aubin’s Bay, which has its own challenges with the positioning of the marina and crowd line, but a great venue nonetheless. After refuelling I enjoyed a beautiful flight home, meeting up with my friends near the South coast before heading back to Dunsfold – a great way to end my first short season.
So now, as I turn to the 2016 season, my Yak has been put on the UK register (G-OLEG) and I look forward to the flying as well as experiencing the social side, including meeting the people who support the airshow scene, who in my mind are just as important. Please come over and say hello if you see us, questions will be answered with good grace. God knows I have asked my airshow colleagues enough of them!
We are very lucky in the UK to have such a vibrant collection of warbirds and airshow acts, with a great amount of experienced pilots to seek advice, watch and learn from. I am lucky enough to be able to fly with them.