The first start was both good and bad. It was good that almost everything worked as it should. With the exception of the electrical system, all the hydraulic pressures and engine temperatures were normal, but the electrical system as not. Cory Duffield spent hours in the manuals and schematics to trouble shoot the problem, but found nothing obvious.
He began re-seating cannon plugs and eventually found one that was not fully seated. When the engine was restarted, everything was normal and there were NO warning caution lights, despite numerous panels that were not installed. It was actually far better than we had hoped, at this point.
So with another visit from the fuel truck, we started the Pegasus and began running through the system checks – – nose wheel steering, flaps, ailerons, rudder, brakes, etc, etc.
When I lowered the nozzles, the crew checked over the whole airplane for reaction control system (RCS) leaks. This is how we control the airplane in the hover and at low airspeed. After about 20 seconds, someone noted that the asphalt under the airplane was suddenly very shinny, so I was directed to move the nozzles aft IMMEDIATELY!! We narrowly averted a huge problem, by damaging the airport asphalt. Lesson learned to NOT do that again! So far, so good, so the ground crew gave me clearance to taxi…
Even with no radios at this point, I taxied to the single runway at St. Mary’s. With no other airplanes in the pattern, I took the runway and began a series of engine acceleration checks. We check the engine acceleration times between 27% and 55% RPM before each takeoff.
With this version of the Harrier, we have a hydro-mechanical fuel control. That means the fuel control has various chambers and valves to meter fuel in the correct proportions to produce the desired performance, in this case normal idle and normal acceleration times from idle to 55% RPM.
Without the canopy installed, I did not go beyond 55% RPM. There is a risk of the engine ingesting anything loose from the cockpit, including anything loose on me personally, plus the brakes will not hold the airplane beyond 55%. Those top-end accel checks would have to wait until we completely installed all the missing panels.
So on the active runway, with the nozzles, steering, and hydraulics all checking perfectly normal, I set the power at 55% and let the brakes go. The acceleration was tremendous, even at only mid-throttle RPM!
I can’t tell you how much I wanted to be able to accelerate to full power, but that would have to wait for another day, with the canopy installed and all the panels installed. We have many more checks to do before we were ready for that.
But we could start to see that this was NOT a fantasy project. We knew that we were not all that far from being able to actually fly this aircraft.
All we needed was keep moving in that direction, one step at a time…