BREAKING THE CARDINAL RULE
The placard on the panel said:
(1) "Don't eat at a place called MOMS."
(2) "Don't fly with an instructor named ACE."
(3) "Don't overload a 150 hp. Cardinal."
While only a few people think Cessna should never have built the Cardinal at all, everyone agrees they should never have put a one hundred and fifty horsepower engine on it. Cessna later corrected its mistake by switching to the 180 hp. engine. But with the little engine, it's the looks that get you in trouble.
The Cardinal looks like a Skyhawk and even uses the same engine. But the Skyhawk has a good reputation for hauling a load.
The large doors, spacious interior and large baggage compartment give the impression that it will haul a lot of stuff. But a close examination of the weight and balance charts will indicate that only some stuff can be carried; some fuel, a person or two, maybe a golf club or two, but not much. Some airplanes, like the Skyhawk, will allow you to cheat a little and stick in some extra stuff if you really get in a bind. This is not true of the Cardinal. If the book says the gross weight is 2350 pounds, then it probably won't fly at 2351 pounds. I learned this the hard way.
I belonged to a flying club in Florida, which had, among its collection of fine ships, a 150 hp. Cardinal. By the time I decided to fly home to the mountains for Christmas, all of the good airplanes had been scheduled. Only the Cardinal remained. There were four of us to make the trip; actually five, counting my infant son. I figured and read the handbook, then calculated some more.
I told the crew, "If we take off with only our toothbrushes, one change of underwear and the tanks half full, we could do it.
The take-off in Florida was easy. It was at sea level, on a cool morning, and from a six thousand foot runway. We showed an initial climb of three hundred feet per minute and it felt O.K. The take-off in South Carolina was equally successful, if maybe a little more sluggish. The back seat people were dropped off in Banner Elk, North Carolina, and with the lighter load, the take-off from the mountain strip was no problem.
We arrived in Tennessee light in weight and high in spirits. A good time was had by all.
The trip back to Florida got off to a bad start when we learned that the fuel tanks had been topped off by mistake. I drained fuel from the gascolator into a five-gallon can, but by the third can, it looked like it was going to take all day, and we were anxious to get going. I took the twenty-degree temperature into my calculations and decided to head for Banner Elk.
The back seat people were ready to go, but seemed to have a lot of stuff with them. When I asked about it, they looked indignant and said, "Christmas presents, of course. Everyone gave us presents, we couldn't just leave them here."
I agreed. I had brought ours. I put their stuff in the baggage compartment with our stuff. Then I gave away another five gallons of fuel, just to be on the safe side, but a look at the interior told me I wasn't on the safe side at all. I did some more figuring.
The runway at Banner Elk sloped downhill into the prevailing wind. That was good. The air was cold and clear. That was good. The runway elevation was 3500 feet. That was bad.
I ran the engine a good, long time and leaned it to the peak R.P.M. I added just a touch of flaps and picked a point down the runway as my abort point. If the Cardinal hadn't lifted this pile of stuff into the air by the abort point, I would stop, remove more fuel and all of the Christmas presents.
I used every trick I had ever learned to coax the Cardinal into the air, and it worked. It was off and flying, well before reaching the abort point. But then a strange thing happened. The airplane wouldn't climb.
At about twenty feet above the runway, the Cardinal ran out of ground effect and climb. We hung there, balanced on the edge of disaster. Any hint of raising the nose brought the first buffets of a stall, and there were trees at the end of the runway. Of course, by the time I realized we couldn't climb, there wasn't enough runway left to land on. There rarely is.
When I got to the trees, I found a gap in them large enough for a Cardinal to go through. Past the trees was a pasture field and at the other side of the pasture field was a river. We followed the river as it ran down the mountainside. The river made several turns and so did we. There was no other way. It was miles before the Cardinal rose above the hills and trees that lined the river banks.
Now that I think back on it, I don't think we actually climbed at all. I think we just held our altitude as the mountains fell away from us. But it had the same effect. We escaped the trees and eventually made it back to Florida.
It was one of those little miracles that happen from time to time to protect pilots from their stupid mistakes. There were no power lines blocking our path and there was room to make the turns between the trees.
I made an addition to the placard on the panel:
(4) "A Cardinal Rule: Do not ignore item number three."