This is one of those stories that probably should not be told. It should
not be told for three reasons. The first reason is that most people reading
it will not believe that it is true. The second reason is that those people
who do believe that it is true, will forever ridicule me for being capable of
such extraordinary stupidity. The third reason this story should not be told
is that there is always the chance that one of my readers will actually get
in some kind of old airplane and successfully kill himself while trying to
engage in this kind of foolhardiness.
Having said all that, this is the way the story goes:
I learned about rooster tails from Bob. Bob had spent a lifetime
pioneering this kind of activity.
I had just come in from Eagle Pass, over El Indio, and all that wild
country down the river to The Old Laredo Airport. I was complaining about
the monotony of that flight, when Bob pointed out that the only way to
make that trip interesting was to "lay down a few rooster tails."
"What's a rooster tail?" I asked.
I was then schooled in the fine art of "laying down rooster tails."
Rooster tails must be created very carefully. You must fly your airplane
down just above the surface of the river. At about eight or ten feet you
begin to feel the "ground effect" as the air compresses between the
surface and the aircraft wing. The only way for an aircraft to descend
below this ground effect is to slow down, as in landing, or to add forward
stick pressure and force the aircraft to fly into the denser layer of air. This
forward pressure on the stick depresses the elevator, lowers the nose, and
reduces the angle of attack of the wings. The aircraft will then penetrate
the denser layer of air and descend to the surface of the water.
In this situation, it takes muscle to hold the stick forward, but this
pressure can be neutralized by cranking forward on the trim control. This
is called "trim down." The trick is to fly your aircraft down until you feel
the ground effect, and then to carefully crank in forward trim until the
tires of the aircraft are actually making contact with the surface of the
water. This takes a gentle touch, and a lot of getting used to.
When I first tried this, I was amazed to find that the surface of the
water felt as hard as pavement when I bumped my main tires against it.
The aircraft would bounce off just as if I were trying to force it down on a
concrete runway. That is where the careful use of the trim came in. As
contact was made, I would carefully add more nose down trim until the
airplane tires could be made to water ski along the surface of the river
with only the slightest forward pressure of the stick.
Sailing along in this manner, I could make banked turns at 95 MPH,
gently banking the wings and leaving only one tire skimming along the
surface as I followed the gentle bends in the river. On long, straight
stretches, I would bring the wings level and ski along on both main
landing gear tires.
All this time the spray would be pelting the belly furiously and setting
up a drum roll reverberating throughout he airframe. This proved to be a
great way to wash off the dirt encrusted belly of a crop-duster.
In the turns, I could glance back carefully and see a two hundred yard
long rooster tail of water, blasting into a rainbow of color.
If I arrived at a shallow place in the river, or a bend that was too abrupt
to ski around, the barest amount of back pressure would lift the aircraft
the required few feet, and I would go sailing over the obstacle like a sultan
on a magic carpet. After clearing the sand banks or rocks, a simple
relaxing of the back pressure would allow the aircraft to seek the air
density for which it had been trimmed, and it would descend gracefully
down onto the surface of the river.
If I had been able to figure out how to turn that flight into a carnival
ride, I would be a rich man today.
After one such flight, after I had laid a long series of rooster tails along
a 25 mile stretch of the Rio Grande River, I arrived at Bob's hangar in the
best of spirits. It had been an exhilarating flight, and I begun boasting to
Bob that I bet I had laid down a rooster tail ten times longer than any he
had ever spawned.
He gave me a sour look and said, "I'll tell you one thing hot shot, if you
ever screw-up and auger-in up there on that river, we won't find your
dumb ass till you come floating under the Nuevo Laredo Bridge three
weeks later." Then he stomped off complaining about smart aleck,
dumber-than-dirt, know-it-all, crop-duster pilots.
After that I kept my rooster tailing to an absolute minimum. I went
back to entertaining myself on those long flights by flying circles around
javaleno hogs and mystified wetbacks, and speculating on the lives of
those people who long ago had lived and died along that barren little strip
of the earth.