First Flight of N97TX (Berkut13)
Last updated 9-11-04

Dave "Plastic" Ronneberg after N97TX's very first flight - 3:55p.m., August 28th., 2004.

Now, I make no excuses...although I am a commercial, instrument rated pilot and flight instructor (CFI/CFII), have several backseat canard hours, and even several front seat hours in a Long-EZ - I am NOT the most qualified person to be making the first flights in Berkut13. For that mission, I choose the man who is - Dave Ronneberg, the designer of the Berkut itself and 5,000+ hour canard pilot. No one on the planet knows this airframe like he does, and if ANYTHING was wrong with it, he would be able to diagnose and correct or abort immediately. So, I added him to the insurance and flew Dave out for the weekend, and we immediately went to work.

We arrived at the airport mid-morning and were greeted by a good omen - a rainbow around the sun! I knew it would be a great day. Now, Dave is much taller than I am, so it took a few hours to not only inspect the plane, but re-adjust and extend the rudder pedals. Oops, I should have anticipated that...but it all worked out. Dave got used to the instrument panel lay-out, was impressed with the engine monitor, and had used the EFIS screen before - he has the larger EFIS/One in his personal Berkut. So, once we had discussed all the details, talked about the lack of transponder (another story), and the objectives of the was time!

Dave put the parachute on and jumped right in and was certainly right at home and ready to go. Scott Carter flew over in his beautiful Long-EZ and was one of the only other people that I wanted to attend. I wanted the safest and most sterile environment possible and that meant - no on-lookers, friends, EAA'ers, standers-by, or even family. So, the entire party in attendance was me, Sandy, Dave and Scott Carter...just as planned. I'll take a moment now to apologize to the folks that stopped by that day and I ran off. Please understand that the focus of that day was on safety and NOTHING else...hospitality went out the window - I apologize, but it was necessary. OK...back to the flight.

I was a nervious wreck inside...outside, I was so excited that it didn’t bother me. I kept going through my head...tracing every system for errors, wondering if the engine would cool effectively, are the aerodynamics going to work, was the weight and balance correct....on and on and on it went in my head. Then, it dawned on me...the time for over analysis is's time to's time to fly! I'd swear there was a voice in my head that said..."relax, all is fine...your years of labor are about to pay off...enjoy it!" With that...I was now ready too! Dave began taxing out to the runway - it was sureal watching MY airplane taxi off without me - I knew she was in good hands, and Dave was in good hands too. A short few prayers later, and he was already at the end of the runway.

The first flight was to be a single lap around the pattern, gear down. And that is exactly how it went...quickly. Dave was sequenced into position and hold on the runway to let a slow Cessna clear the area. Then it was show time - power comes up, the plane accelerates and lifts off right in front of us...with the belly brake down...oops. No matter, the plane flies just fine with it down and the adverse engine cooling would not be a factor on a single circuit around the patch, so we just let it go without a radio call. A mere few seconds later, Dave was on short final and just about to touch down. The roll-out was smooth and controlled as he let the plane roll past us and made the next taxi way. The mid-field taxi-way was a little further than I had expected, but as we found out, there was good reason. taxi back was un-eventful but I noticed Dave was holding a lot of power in. He made a nice taxi photo pass in front of us on the way back to the hangar. It was at this point I began to breath again...I think I was purple...I don't know...but the world was spinning more than a little!

It was a completely successful flight and Dave was very pleased with the way it handled. Good job all around! But, there were a very major squawks to fix before the next flights...but now, was still a time for celebration.

There were only two things that really needed to be fixed before the next flight...1.) the brakes would engage, but would not dis-engage right away causing some residual drag and 2.) the pilot air vent was not functioning. That's it! All the major stuff like engine cooling, aerodynamics, control response, etc. were all in the norm!! We were all very happy about that! We'll get that little stuff fixed right up and on with the next flights!

We spent the rest of the day and evening diagnosing and ultimately replacing the .035" wall 1/8" SS lines that run the length of the fuselage as the inner diameter was too restrictive (needed to use the thinner wall stuff). We had limited parts, tools, and time! Thanks to Scott Carter (again!) for needed parts, and Dave for some unique engineering (seen here using a water bottle to bleed the brake lines), we only lost half a day instead of scrubbing the entire wekeend! See the next section for info regarding additional post-flight modifications and fixes. Oh yeah...for those who are keeping count...there's another "13" in the 3:55pm take-off time for first flight. Ya just gotta love it!

Dave went on to make 4 more flights of various duration the next day. He expanded and explored the flight envelope and found nothing dangerous. I had actually built a very nice and fast airplane after all.

Me after MY first successful flight in Berkut13. Glorious!!

WHOOHOO!!! The moment I have been waiting for almost a third of my life was FINALLY here! It was everything I have dreamed of and MORE!! I'll stop right here to repeat myself - those of you still building, KEEP GOING! It is ALL very worth it and you CAN do it....just DON'T stop!

My first flight was actually flight number six for the plane itself. Dave had flown a few more test flights...and after the 5th one, he said "this is a fine aircraft...James, you go fly her." Yikes! I had originally expected to be a back-seat transition flight with Dave in Berkut13...but I had forgotten that there were no back seat shoulder harnesses as that bulkhead was left open for the first flights. Oh well...I was ready, thanks to several hours in Scott Carter's Long-EZ front seat! (a blessing for sure)

So, we spent a little time re-setting the rudder pedals back and then it was MY turn to put on the parachute and climb aboard. I contacted McKinney ground control and taxied out to the runway. I too was given a position and hold by the tower, so I lined up on the numbers...and a funny thing happened - that voice again...."James, relax and enjoy this." And with that...the nervousness was washed away and I was cleared for take-off. This was it...the moment of transition from project to airplane...don't screw it up! ;-) I smoothly added power, and she burst into a charge down the runway...oh yeah...I'm going to love this part! I popped the canard up at 60kts., she paused for a second and then she just headed for the sky! At this point, my poor brain was saturated with new feelings, emotions, procedures, and training experience. Things happen quickly in the fog of adrenaline...I reached for the gear switch, flipped it up and climbed up at 90 kts and 2000 fpm. Ah…what a great feeling! I orbited the airport for while at various speeds, with gear down and gear up, just getting a "feel" for how she handled. After about 35mins of pure fun and excitement, I came in for a picture perfect landing. An AMAZING experience that I re-played in my head for hours afterward!

The only bad part of this, is that I can not share my experience with anyone....for awhile anyway. I must fly off the required 40 hour test period before I can take Sandy or other passengers up. Well...that time will be quickly and well spent testing and getting used to my new bird. I plan to make it to the Rough River canard fly-in this year...which only gives me a few weeks. So, Sandy keeps kicking me out of bed early on the weekends to get cracking on those hours! What a wonderful wife she is!

...And now for a few things that are more personal: OK...Wow!!!! What can I really say when I lack the words, time, and creativity to express the spectrum and scope of the feelings I experienced. Those of you still building - KEEP DOING IT! Tough it out, find a way, MAKE it happen - the reward at the end is far more great that you can possibly imagine. These words do not do it justice, but I must type them anyway.

Brothers (and sisters) that have gone before - Thank you for you help and guidance over the years. Thank you, Dave Ronneberg (and originally Burt Rutan) for designing such a wonderful aircraft and so many other things I could not begin to list.

(I know you don't get on the Internet much Scott...but...I want to do this publicly regardless) This weekend of testing could never have happened successfully and safely if it were not for Scott Carter's mentorship, advice, help, encouragement, and last minute materials that saved the day. Thank you, Scott! That front seat time in your beautiful bird was the single best and selfless offer I have ever been given. I felt completely comfortable transitioning to my Berkut and was able to eliminate the only truly unknown variable in my flight tests - ME!

UPDATE 9-12-04: After first flight weekend, I took the following week off to fly and work the bugs out of the plane. The next morning I sent Dave off to DFW for the return home, and headed out to the McKinney airport. It's very nice to have an airplane just waiting for you to fly it...I've always been at the mercy of the rental schedule and rental minimums -'s just me! Dave lent me his parachute for the remainder of the flight testing, so on it went and up we go!!! As a loafed along at half throttle, I took a couple pictures: McKinney, TX from 3,700ft. and the Collin Country airport. I also snapped a few pics of the EFIS and panel showing a 182kts. indicated (197kts. true) airspeed at half throttle - folks, that's 226.7 miles per hour! Man, she's going to be fast...and I have not even opened her up yet! The engine is running great as shown here - temps are cool, everything is in the green, but the fuel flow/pressure is not yet calibrated in this photo. You can note, I was at 182 indicated @ 2550 rpm...the prop is dialed in at 2800 for standard cruise with 2900+ @ max cruise. Oh, she has plenty left to give...but all in due time. Much testing to perform first!

This about sums up the "initial" flights of N97TX. Checkout the next few sections for updates and new milestones! One thing is for sure...the ADVENTURE HAS BEGUN!!

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