Written by a YAK Flight Instructor
Let's take a YAK52 up for the first time and try it out!
Seated in the cockpit you at once notice that although the cockpit is quite spacious, the rudder pedals are a little too close for comfort. They can be adjusted, but not much. Don't worry, you will soon get used to the seating position and it will become both natural and comfortable. With the pre-flight checklist completed, it is time to start the engine:
Turn on the "Battery", "Ignition", "Engine gauges" and "Annunciator Light" switches. Turn the primer knob to the left (right in a YAK50) and pump until you see pressure register on the fuel pressure gauge. Now turn it to the right (left on a YAK50) and pump a few times (depending on engine temperature) to prime the engine. Give the throttle a pump or two before setting it about 1/4 open then, with the magnetos still off, press the starter button. As the blades begin to turn, rotate the mag. switch to the "1+2" (both) position and the engine will start. If it has been idle for a while, a few pumps on the throttle lever may be required to coax it into a steady idle. Now leave it to warm up for a while and as it does so, turn on all the other switches in the cockpit. (Most of them any way).
With engine warming up, we can taxi to the active runway. It is at this point that you will be glad you straightened the nose wheel before you got into the cockpit. It makes it much easier to taxi away!
The thrust from that big propeller is such that it takes little more than a slow idle to taxi. The aircraft feels firm and steady on its widely spaced gear. To turn, move the rudder pedals fully in the direction you wish to turn and then give the brake lever (on the stick) a short squeeze. By deflecting the rudder pedals, brake air pressure is diverted to the side you want to turn towards. Don't brake too long or the turn will tighten up quickly (like a tail dragger) and/or the aircraft will slow down to the point that steering becomes difficult. Try to anticipate the need to add power as you brake and to use opposite rudder to taxi straight again. It is at this point that people usually start asking how much it would cost to convert the aircraft to hydraulic toe brakes!
By the time we get to the runway, the temperatures will usually be up "in the green" and we can check the engine per the checklist. Parking brake on, aircraft pointing at the least expensive object visible, increase power to achieve 70% RPM. Now turn the mags off, one at a time and observe a drop in RPM of about 3% on each side. (A drop of 6% usually indicates a fouled plug which will clear up as soon as we are in the air. Best check it after landing though, just in case.) With the power still at 70%, exercise the prop. just once before returning to idle power. Now complete the rest of the checklist and taxi out onto the runway.
It is at this point that people usually say "You know, these brakes aren't that bad once you get used to them".
Allow the aircraft to run straight for a fuselage length or so (to ensure the nose wheel is centered) and then smoothly, but not too slowly, move the throttle all the way forward to full power. Give the prop. control a nudge too to make sure it is at maximum RPM. The tachometer should show 100%. Opening the throttle without delay ensures that you get the benefit of rudder steering right from the start. Now for goodness sake, don't worry about which direction the prop. turns. What difference does it make? Just like any other aircraft, If the nose goes left, push your right foot forwards and vice-versa!
Immediately bring the stick back about midway between neutral and fully aft. Almost before you know it, the nose will start to rise and the nose wheel will lift off the ground. At this point, release that back pressure to stop the nose rising any further and hold that attitude. The YAK will run along the ground on the main wheels and at about 140 Km/Hr, it will step into the air.
As the aircraft accelerates, bring the nose up with back pressure on the stick to stabilize the climb at 170 Km/Hr. Check the wing tips and note the angle you are climbing at. Impressive huh! Next time, you will be able to get the right climb speed much more quickly by looking for that angle. When you have no more use for the runway (not enough left to land on), raise the gear and reduce power. Back on the throttle to about 80 cms Hg, back on the prop. to about 80%. RELAX! When you get up to the altitude you want, reduce power again, this time to 70 cms and 70%. Lower the nose to level flight and re-trim.
With the aircraft trimmed, fly it around and enjoy it. The ailerons are light and powerful. The elevators feel a little less light and are very precise and the rudder, which is also quite powerful, is the firmest of the three controls. The YAK52 will aileron roll from about any speed at all and on your first flight, you should experience at least a couple!
When the time comes to return to the airport, we will descend to pattern altitude and configure the aircraft for the downwind leg. That means a power setting of about 40 cms and 70% RPM. (About the only time you don't fly the YAK "Square") Trimming for level flight, the aircraft will slow to 170 Km/Hr and we can fly the downwind leg. In a complex aircraft, I like to join the pattern at the upwind end of the airport, NOT midfield as the AIM advises. That way, I am never rushed, have plenty of time to complete the checklist and it looks and feels like all those practice patterns we have made. Consulting the checklist, as we pass the point on the runway where we intend to touch down, lower the gear and, as the drag caused by the gear increases, allow the nose lower just a little. There should be no need to touch the power controls or the trim.
Plan your base leg (depending on wind and traffic) such that you arrive on finals a little higher than you are probably used to, VASIs showing white over pink, perhaps. On finals, allow the speed to come back to about 160 Km or so and move your left hand down to the flap control. When you are quite sure you have the runway made, lower the flaps and at the same time, lower the nose! Those flaps are huge and make a lot of drag. Now, the oft-quoted jet-like handling of the aircraft becomes evident. You can pretty much point it where you want to land and control the speed with power. If you planned your pattern right, however, there will be no need to touch the throttle until you are at the runway. As you come over the threshold at about 150 Km/Hr, close the throttle completely, check one last time that the gear is down and flare for touchdown. Avoid the tendency to flare four feet up, a common problem on the first flight or two. The YAK52 will touch down with the nose very high in a very tail dragger like attitude.
Clear of the runway, bring the aircraft to a complete stop. Look down, identify the flap control and raise them. Move the prop. control all the way forward, open the canopy, retune the radio if you need to and then taxi back to the hangar.
At this point, people almost always say "You know, these brakes are really neat. Why would anybody want to change them."
The above narrative is intended to give an impression of what it is like to fly a YAK. It is not intended to be an exhaustive course of instruction.
Some of the techniques are based on experience and training in Russia. I think they suit the aircraft well even though they may not be quite the same as U.S. practice. Moving the prop. control all the way forward before landing, for instance, creates so much drag that I prefer to leave it set at the 70% position. If I need to go around, I grab the throttle and prop control in one fist and slide them both forward together.
Reprinted with Permission