Photo by Tom Ross
Bob Till, of Cody, Wyo., flew his Romanian-made Yak-52 Model TW to Steamboat Springs on Friday morning to prepare for the Wild West Air Fest.
Saturday, September 5, 2009
If you go
What: Wild West Air Fest
When: 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. today and Sunday
Where: Steamboat Springs Airport on Routt County Road 129 north of Steamboat
Cost: $5 for adults, $3 for children ages 6 to 12; cost buys a button that allows access all weekend; children ages 5 and younger get in free
Call: Eric Friese to reserve a ride on the B-25 bomber for $350 a person, 875-7004
Tom Ross' column appears Tuesdays and Saturdays in Steamboat Today. Contact him at 970-871-4205 or tross@SteamboatToday.com.
Find more columns by Tom here.
If you head up to the Wild West Air Fest this weekend, keep a lookout for a Yak on the apron at Steamboat Springs Airport.
It's not the hairy beast you're picturing in your mind's eye.
Bob Till flew his Yak-52 model TW to Steamboat on Friday morning from Cody, Wyo., a distance of 258 nautical miles. Along the way, he never took his hand off the stick.
"If you let go of the stick, it could roll over on you, which is to say, you fly it every second," Till said.
Made in Romania, Till's two-seater airplane has been used historically as a Russian pilot trainer and specifically as an aerobatic trainer. But his model TW, built in 2003, was intended for the export market. Till said there are about 200 Yak-52s flying in the U.S. these days.
The Yak's lines - it looks a little like a heavy insect with a big nose - suggest a World War II-era plane, but it made its first flight in 1976 (after I graduated from college) and officially was introduced in 1979.
Till's Yak-52 has a distinct military look, painted in drab olive with a startlingly bright red and yellow checkerboard pattern on the cowling of its 400 hp, nine-cylinder radial engine, also made in Romania. There also is a red star on the tail of the plane, which instantly communicates that it had its origins in the old Soviet Bloc countries.
"This is a primary trainer that Russian pilots learned to fly between first learning to fly and jets," Till said.
Till had a long military flying career himself before moving on to American Airlines. He served in the Air National Guard for 27 years.
After learning to fly T-37 and T-38 trainers, he moved on to the C-121 Constellation cargo plane, the early KC-97 strategic tanker and, finally, the modern era C-130.
Till said his little Yak-52 is an agile aircraft and really not difficult to fly. But he never lets his attention wander while flying it.
After sitting behind the stick of the Yak for more than 400 hours since purchasing the plane in 2004, Till is familiar with all of its idiosyncrasies.
Notably, the Yak's three-bladed prop spins counterclockwise, the opposite of Western planes. That means pilots such as Till have to unlearn the longstanding habit of applying right rudder pressure after takeoff to counteract the engine torque. In a Yak-52, Till said, it's pressure on the left rudder.
Because the plane is classified as "experimental exhibition," he is free to do all of his own maintenance except for signing off on its annual checkup.
The Yak is unusual in that it relies on pneumatics, or air pressure, instead of the traditional electrical or hydraulic systems to control engine starting, landing gear and flaps.
The TW model has Westernized gauges and instruments except for one pressure gauge, which is labeled with letters from the unfamiliar Cyrillic alphabet.
It's not a particularly fast airplane - cruising at 140 knots. However, Till knows how to make it go faster.
"If you put its nose down you can take it up to red line, which is 262 knots," he said.