Thursday, September 4, 2014

I can't stop looking at it

There's no reason for this post at all other than to relay that the "I can't believe I built that" feeling never goes away with an RV airplane.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Three days of Oshkosh

A year or so ago at this time, there wasn't much chance I'd ever fly to Oshkosh as pilot-in-command. My well-documented medical woes seemed to preclude much flying at all.

But I got my medical back in mid-June and after some refresher training, I was ready to go.

These two guys -- sons Sean and Patrick -- were there when the first parts of the plane arrived in 2001. Their signatures (I made everyone sign a part they worked on ) are all over the innards of N614EF.b

So last Thursday, my youngest son, Patrick, and I set out in the RV-7A from South St. Paul.

It was a hazy flight, thanks to the fires in the Pacific Northwest, and there were plenty of clouds. We went on top. But about 20 miles from Black River Falls, it looked like things were thickening.

Patrick wants to learn to fly and I want to be a good role model. I could've pressed forward. Instead, I suggested we divert to Winona (MN) and assess things. I passed along the old saying, "better to be on the ground wanting to be in the air than in the air wanting to be on the ground."

Winona is an old-time airport that has seen its best days. We bought some fuel at a ridiculous price since the plane was aft loaded with camping gear and this would prevent me from having to buy fuel at Oshkosh, which -- as it turns out -- was a good 40 cents a gallon cheaper than Winona.

"Sorry I'm not more hospitable," the owner of the FBO said as we walked in while his helper took 20 minutes to process the credit card purchase, "but I'm beat." Selling $60 worth of fuel can take a lot out of you in Winona.

I called flight service and found that, indeed, things were thick in central Wisconsin (this is bog country) but a single PIREP gave me hope when it reported that the clouds "were breaking up nicely" over Wautoma, not too far from the Fisk approach. So we launched.

The arrival was OK, not great. We slipped in behind a Cherokee that couldn't do the 90 knots required and when we got close enough to get caught in his prop wash, we decided to bag the approach. Turning back toward Green Lake, though, we spied a long line of planes coming from all directions. My expletives probably didn't make Patrick any more comfortable.

We eventually found a place to slip in and ran the approach again. We were assigned 36R and it seemed we got the one controller working his first Oshkosh. He was well behind things and struggling to catch up. He didn't make it.

A plane decided to pass us on base and proceeded to turn final just ahead of us -- thanks, pal. Great airmanship! -- and while I expected a controller to notice, he didn't. He was concerned about an amphib above us heading to 36L while I was turning base for 36R, the taxiway that becomes a runway during AirVenture.

"RV on final for 36R," I announced, because it was clear the controller wasn't going to give me clearance to land because he'd stopped paying any attention to us, if he'd ever started.

A few minutes later, we were tied down in homebuilt camping.

We did the usual Oshkosh things.

We checked in with Jerry.

And stopped by to see Bernie Ockuly and the Metro Warbirds crew.

And watched the airshows, of course.

I, of course, checked out the various polished aircraft on the field. They were beautiful.

I liked mine better.

We had a great time one evening sitting with the EAA Radio folks. And on our last evening I did a quick interview about getting my medical back. "I could tell this story by now," my exasperated son said. He'd heard me tell the story dozens of times to people who stopped by the plane. But they asked.

But Patrick had to work Friday night, so on Friday morning we left the tent and tie-downs behind, and headed home. See you later, Oshkosh.

We were about 25 miles out of Oshkosh when I pulled my cellphone out to see if I could detect weather on the Garmin Pilot app (I couldn't). "Oh, (**&@@*&^, " Patrick said. "I left my cellphone charging outside the showers."

Nothing we could do but set a course for Green Lake and fly the Fisk approach again to get it. Patrick flew it and flew it expertly and it worked out well because we got on-the-ball controllers all the way down. We again got 36R assigned for us, which required the jets landing on 36L underneath us to throw on some smoke so we could see them. No big deal.

I taxied back to HBC and kept the engine running while Patrick went to get his phone. He hopped back in and we departed again for home without incident.

"Nice paint job," the controller said as he cleared us to depart on 36.

But we'd used so much fuel that by the time I landed in South St. Paul, well, let's just say it didn't take much to keep the nosewheel off the ground while rolling out.

We filled up the gas tanks and pushed it back into the hangar...

... because the next morning, my oldest son, Sean, and I set out for Oshkosh.

We had a great Fisk arrival -- our third -- and an hour and 47 minutes after we started the engine in South St. Paul, we stopped it in Oshkosh.

Sean primarily wanted to see the night airshow, but we had some time to walk around.

To visit Jerry, for example.

And Sean found the perfect spot to get some shut-eye from the early morning start.

Sean always liked it when they blow stuff up, so the night airshow was perfect.

Sunrise in Oshkosh on Sunday. Time to go.

We were ready for engine start at 9 a.m. "Got your cellphone?" I asked Sean. He did. We were in the air after about 15 minutes.

And approaching South St. Paul by 10:30 or so.

There were lots of people I didn't see. Lots of things I didn't do. But I accomplished the one thing I wanted to do: Take two boys who were there from the start, to the place to where we always wanted to fly.

Mission accomplished.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Removing the rust

I got a special issuance from the FAA last week (it only took five days after my exam down at the Mayo Clinic) and I'm back in the air.

I've never been the most confident pilot in the world; I owe that, I think, to the fact I blew my checkride many years ago and it often feels like I've spent all the years since proving that was a fluke. Maybe it was; maybe it wasn't. It is what it is.

In my more than year off from flying pilot-in-command (PIC), I didn't fly that much. Brad Benson and I flew to Oshkosh. We took a trip to Eau Claire for a breakfast or two. And, of course, we had a flight up to Hibbing one night which ended with a really poor landing.

During the period of inactivity, my flight review expired, so I needed to get that taken care of. Even in my low self-esteem (pilot wise), I thought that this wouldn't be a problem. I mean, gee, how tough can it be to fly a plane? It's like riding a bike.

This is the same philosophy I used to approach ever spring with when I played golf regularly. Never having broken 100, I would assume that every spring, my golf game would have repaired itself over the winter. It never did, of course. So I gave up playing golf.

Joe Coraggio, my flying pal who has been treating N614EF to the occasional stroll during my inactivity, is a CFI, so he graciously volunteered to get me back flying again. Joe, just hired on by US Air (or Airways, I always forget which), is an unbelievably great pilot. He's one of those guys who merely straps the wings to himself; he's that smooth.

He lives in Inver Grove Heights, MN., but is based out of Phoenix, so the fact he even takes the time shows you also what a great guy he is.

Saturday dawned with a forecast of low ceilings, improving by 10 a.m., but with the prospect of gusty winds, pretty much 90 degrees to the runway. So I wasn't optimistic that flying was going to happen. But it turned out to be a great morning and while the winds were outside my "comfort zone," Joe made clear that he could handle the crosswinds if I couldn't, so we launched.

We did some stalls that weren't bad. Some steep turns that weren't awful, and then he pulled power for an emergency landing.

An emergency landing in central Minnesota is nothing to worry about, really. There are plenty of flat fields and dirt roads.

See? Just pick one!

I picked my landing spot which I selected because I didn't trust the green fields with all the rain we've had, and there was a nice wheat patch next to a country road, which didn't have any utility poles along side it, as it turned out, and would've been a better choice. I came up short, when we put the power back in.

You see, there was this 20 knot headwind I'd neglected to consider.

In the real deal, we probably would've been OK. There was a soybean field that was survivable. But still.

We headed over to Red Wing, whose 27/9 runway was slightly better oriented to the wind (blowing about 220 with gusts to 17 knots) than South Saint Paul's 16/34.

Of the seven landings, six were just stupid. Too fast, too unsmooth in the pattern and -- worst of all -- flaring far too high. Why? The biggest problem is I appear to have forgotten to look far enough down the runway.

Flying is a humbling experience. Landing after landing, I knew what I needed to do. I just wasn't doing it, and while the winds and particular geographic features that roil it were a factor, they were nowhere near as big a factor as the guy in the left seat.

We went back out again on Sunday, a typical summer day in the Twin Cities, with significant turbulence and crosswinds, and ridiculously hot weather.

The landings were better; but not much better. Poor technique in the pattern, poor crosswind management, and -- get this -- flaring far too early.

None of this should be terribly surprising to me. It's not as if I didn't know that when you don't fly, your skills erode. And I'm lucky to have Joe around to push me toward higher standards and better technique. Eventually, I'll get it right.

But it's a blow to the ego and, frankly, it's pretty embarrassing. You just don't like to suck when there's a real pilot in the right seat.

Besides, if I enjoyed frustration and embarrassment, I'd dig out the golf clubs.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

The paint job redux

One more air shot, with pilot Joe Coraggio at the controls. Photo by RV-8 driver Darryl Zook.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

I built that gorgeous airplane!

All during the time I was building, people kept telling me, "don't worry, paint covers a multitude of sins."

I could've lived a more sinful 11 years, apparently, because Midwest Aircraft Refinishers has completed the paint project, they told me today. And it's beautiful!

I still have to figure out how to get up to Hibbing to pick it up. Because I still don't have a medical, it'll take two people to fly it home, which means we need two planes to go get it. Who's up for a flight to Hibbing?

If you need more information about the guys at Midwest, don't hesitate to contact me.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Go around, you fool!

This video is getting plenty of attention, today.

It happened in Germany and most of the news outfits are noting that he almost landed on a sunbather.

Not mentioned is he also nearly slammed into posts at the end of the runway.  Somehow, his wheels were nicely spaced and he was still high enough that it didn't clip his wings.

Now, at some point, the guy had to know he was short of the runway. I mean, how hard is this to figure out at a reasonably altitude?

None of the articles on it mentioned whether the pilot got behind the power curve, only that he "didn't see" the guy on the beach.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

The painting of N614EF

It's been almost two months, since we dropped off the RV-7A in Hibbing. Not being able to fly (at least as PIC), and still needing to put a few bucks together to pay for as much of it as possible without adding to the outstanding loan on it, I told the great guys at Midwest Aircraft Refinishing to take all the time they needed to get it done.

But, I admit to being a little antsy about seeing the final product, of course, and George Virnig was good enough to send along some pictures.

Here's how it looked a couple of days ago:

There was a time when I considered painting the plane myself. I bought a larger air compressor than I really needed for construction. I bought the EAA book from Ron Alexander on how to paint your own plane. But I slowly came to realize that I couldn't possibly do anything dumber. I don't have the patience for the prep work that's required, I don't have the equipment or facilities, and I sure as heck don't have the expertise.

Not like the guys in Hibbing do.

Need proof?  Here's what George sent me today...

For reference, let's go back to the original design.

Things seem to be coming together nicely. I have an FAA physical next Thursday and pretty soon I'll have a determination whether I can get a special issuance to fly again.

A lot of people have asked me, "is the plane still for sale?"  Ask me next Thursday.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Paint update

The good folks at Midwest Aircraft Refinishing are about ready to start shooting paint on N614EF.

I heard from George Virnig today with some questions that came up as they were laying out the paint lines for the transition from the paint to the polished aluminum.

The fiberglass fairing on the vertical stabilizer/horizontal stabilizer presents some challenges. George said the original design didn't follow the line on the fairing and he felt it would look better if it did.

Sold.  I don't really have a huge emotional investment in the design. Like so many other things on the project, I rely on the expertise of others. George and his crew know more about paint and design than I do, and I'm willing to let their expertise guide the outcome.

That's what makes me a natural born leader, you see. :*)

Here's some pictures.

By the way, next month, the Twin Cities RV Builders Group is going to have a get-together and display all the RVs that have been painted at Midwest. Hopefully, I'll be one of them, but I'm still not sure I want to park next to this beauty that stopped over to Eau Claire on Saturday for breakfast. It belongs to Bernie Weiss. My guess is I've got 403-B's with less value than what this cost.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

In the paint shop

I've never flown N614EF somewhere and then left it behind but I had to do that last Friday night/Saturday morning when we flew it up to Hibbing to drop it off at Midwest Aircraft Refinishing.

Here's the story I posted to Van's Air Force:

Over the years, I've often said the best part about building an RV is you make a bunch of friends along the way and at the end, you also have an airplane.

N614EF is due in the paint shop in Hibbing -- about 200 miles away if you drive -- on Tuesday and because I lost my medical, I need another pilot to ferry it up with me, which means we need two RVs to ferry the both of us back. Because of that fact, if it doesn't get done on the weekend, it doesn't get done.

Naturally, because that's just the way it goes with me, it often seems, the weekend weather was due to deteriorate.

As Friday dawned (I get up for my day job at 5:30), there seemed to be a good chance we could do it on Saturday, though it would be iffy. But as the day went on, the TAF deteriorated.

I was sitting at the Minnesota Timberwolves game on Friday night fretting (even though it was a great game). There was no way Saturday would work, Sunday didn't look any better, and giving up the slot seemed like a real possibility.

"You know, if we leave now, we could do it tonight. Just saying," Bryan Flood, RV-9A driver, posted in the Facebook conversation we were having on the subject.

I thought he was kidding. He wasn't.

"I'm in," Mike Hilger responded.

"Me too," said Brad Benson.

The game was still close and I was in Minneapolis, so I said I probably couldn't reach KSGS until 10:30. Fortunately, with Corey Brewer's 51 points and a last-second Ricky Rubio steal, the game didn't go to overtime (we would've left), and so the scurrying began.

Carolie and I had separate cars, so we said goodbye and I headed to the airport where my three friends were waiting. Still, this seemed like a crazy idea. The TAF in Hibbing wasn't that great starting at midnight.

But we launched with a general spirit of adventure, and, frankly, a little bit of trepidation. I haven't done a long X country at night in quite awhile.

We ran into some showers around Mora, the strobes lighting up the droplets like fireworks, but the visibility remained outstanding. But up in that area, it's no man's land at night. There's no place to go but down, and don't think I didn't think of that as we approached the area where Paul Wellstone was killed in 2002.

We landed, in crystal clear conditions, found a place to tie down, and scurried back in the waiting RVs for the ride home. Visibility remained fine but the turbulence was pretty rough. Armed with his high falutin' ADS-B, Bryan and Brad went East around it, we went West, Bryan calling out the likely smooth areas, and Mike flying like the old freighter driver he is.

Things did, indeed, smooth out around Princeton for us and as we approached KSGS, we saw the 9A landing ahead of us.

There was nothing left to do but buy some fuel, then stand around at 2:30 in the morning at the tanks recalling the adventure we just had.

"Where are we going tonight?" Brad messaged later on Facebook.

Tomorrow, I'll drive to Hibbing ( 3 1/2 hours each way) to finalize the paint colors etc.

That trip won't be anywhere near as fun.

I'll be by myself.

So yesterday I drove up to Hibbing to go over the final details of the project and to meet the owners, who got their start working for Cirrus when Cirrus was based out of the same two hangars and now spend the bulk of their time working on and painting Cirrus aircraft.

But, they've got a soft spot for RVers who have discovered this jewel of a shop.

In selecting the colors, I "blued" up the teal just a bit and eliminated the "olive" accent stripe that barely showed up in the designs I've posted over the last few months. First, I really hate olive. Second, I think olive and teal suck together mostly because olive sucks alone. And, third, when I looked at the paint sample, it was obvious that it would pull the eye away from where I want it to end up, on the polished metal.

We also arranged that the prop will be painted and balanced.

People who get their planes painted don't talk about the cost and that's always driven me crazy. They'll point out the cost of an instrument panel and the goodies they put into it, but they treat the cost of their paint jobs like it's their Social Security number.

The original estimate -- based on a very quick email many months ago -- was somewhere between $5,000 and $8,000. But in the design process, we got pretty fancy and I think it was worth it so the finally ballpark is $8,000, which includes the design work and the prop. I put $1,000 down months ago to reserve the spot.

Granted, I don't have $7,000, but I've been paying down the home equity loan on the engine in the last few years so I should be able to just add to it and it'll get paid off. Heck, the mortgage will be paid off in a few years; I should be OK.

It's also one of the reasons I said, "Take all the time you need," as I walked out the door.

They liked that. Those Cirrus owners are in a hurry.

But I need a BFR and, of course, I still don't have a medical, so it's not like there's a lot of flying to do. I have a neurotologist appointment on May 7 and that will begin the long process of trying to get pilot-in-command privileges back. We'll see.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Landing on a frozen lake

I've always called Minnesota "the land of 10,000 emergency runways" in the winter. It always seemed so simple: Lose an engine, just put it down on a frozen lake.

Then, in February, my wife and I went up to Backus, MN., for a weekend of cross country skiing and we stayed at a cabin by a frozen lake, so I decided to go take a look. And that's the last time I'll consider landing on a frozen lake. There were drifts hip-deep and it was clearly no place for a pilot to want to be.

Did I say the last time I'll consider landing on a frozen lake? I take that back. This recently posted video from Alton Bay, NH might be the lone exception.

Lunch at Alton Bay, NH from j3adventures on Vimeo.

Friday, March 7, 2014

A medical setback

I haven't posted much about the fight against Meniere's Disease and my attempt to get my FAA medical back so I can fly as pilot in command again because there hasn't been much to tell. After the gentamicin treatment in December and the expected "attack" five days, everything has been just fine. There've been no dizzy spells and the only "discomfort" is the fact I'm deaf in one ear and there's a constant loud sound of my heart pushing blood. My neurotologist says this is the brain doing its thing; it is reacting to the absence of sound in the ear. Stupid brain.

The plane hasn't flown much because of the horrible winter weather. The few days when it's been above freezing (and we've had 50 days this winter of below zero temperatures) only serves to soften up things to make even worse ice when it refreezes.

I had planned to have a big followup round of tests in May to present to the FAA by June, figuring six months is about the usual time the FAA likes to have people be symptom free. But apparently, the FAA has moved the goalposts.

According to a contact at the FAA who's been good enough to walk me through this, the FAA now wants a year of symptom-free life.

"There are several reasons for this," he wrote, "First is to make sure that it is really Meniere's and that the Airman is being controlled with the interventions being used. Sometimes it takes months to establish control with multiple interventions which can include surgery. It also takes time to get through all the Rehab and get fully compensated vestibularly. I am working with HQ to see if they will shorten it to 6 months which I think is adequate to assess whether a therapy is working or not."

A year puts me past the entire 2014 flying season, of course, and judging by this year's weather, doesn't put me back in the air until the spring of 2015.

It's on odd thing to be sitting here during Minnesota's endless winter of 2014, hoping the one in 2015 will hurry up and get here.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Paint scheme finalized

The paint scheme has been finalized for the RV-7A. Many thanks for all of the advice from those of you who read the earlier post on the subject. This closes the window on anyone saying anything bad about the scheme.