Monday, July 11, 2016

60 seconds over the St. Croix

Every summer, the recreations of the Nina and Pinta, two of the planes in Cristopher Columbus' arsenal, sail up the Mississippi and St. Croix River to Hudson, Wis. Why, I do not know but it seemed like a good chance to take a look from the air.

They're small. Really small. So small they're not that interesting from the air.

But RV-7A's are.

Switch to HD settings are you'll miss the darn ships.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Hello, down there!

I think more than anything else, the best part about flying is picking out a rural airport on the sectional map, and then flying there just to see who's there. So this evening I flew to Boyceville, WI., (3T3) about 45 air miles from South St. Paul. It was a beautiful evening for a flight, and I picked up Mpls Approach on the way to help navigate around parachutists in Baldwin.

And, surprise, there was a plane in the pattern at this airport with a postage stamp-size-wide runway. A man was giving his grandson rides in a Cessna 150.

There's no taxiway there so he said he'd go ahead and land. Originally he was going to leave the pattern and let me in, which is typical Wisconsin small-airport hospitality, I've found. But I waved him on in and he landed then pulled off into the grass and invited me to come on down. He said later that he wanted to sit with his grandson and watch me land.

I landed and then we both turned and back-taxied to the hangar area where I got out to stretch my legs.

Greg was his name and he really liked my airplane.

He showed me his airplane, which was a doll, too, and pointed out the tires, which showed no tread.

"I flew it all last summer," he said. "I teach and I had a young man from Alaska here wanting to earn as many ratings as he could."

The student earned his private pilot license, went back to Alaska (Wasilla, for the record) and is a checkride away from having his instrument rating.

He said he bought his plane from his son, who works for Compass Airlines. I said that's a well-worn route to the major airlines and told him about several friends who've gone that way, as if I was telling him something he didn't already know.

He knew.

"Want to see my last flight" and he pulled out his iPhone and showed me a picture of a globe with a big line. He had flown a few days ago from Detroit to Shanghai on a route that took him directly over the North Pole.

He's a captain for Delta, flying 747s internationally.

He showed me his pictures of the North Pole ice sheet and told me about flying that route, on which his only emergency runway would've been Norway, which you wouldn't think would be sort of on the way to Shanghai by way of the North Pole, but then again we think of the world in up, down, left, right directions.

He said he was surprised to find that enroute and very near the exact North Pole, there's a base of some sort. "I think it's the Brits," he guessed.

"Could you land there?" I asked, wondering just how long a runway has to be to handle a 747.

"I could if I had to," he said of the 9,000 foot runway he saw.

He pointed out something else in the photos he took. From the vantage point of the front seat of a 747, he saw the curvature of the earth.

"Imagine how few who've ever walked this planet have seen any of this?" I said, repeating what my RV flying pal, Brad, had said to me as we climbed above some scattered clouds on the way home from Oshkosh a few years ago.

I've been talking to people I didn't know for years as part of my day job (I found "Radar O'Reilly" in a Denver McDonald's some years ago) and it never disappoints me.

The conversation was fascinating and we made plans to get together at some point this summer so he could also enjoy the view from an RV-7A. I've never flown a 747, but he's never flown an RV-7A, he said.

As for the grandson, he was unimpressed, refusing all offers to sit in my plane, or even look at it.

"I like my grandfather's plane better," he said. Seven-year-olds don't yet realize yet that an airplane can't sense betrayal.

I walked back to the spurned machine for the ride into a setting sun.

"Next time you come," the kid said, "I'm still not going to sit in your plane."

"Fair enough, kid," I thought to myself. "You can never go wrong with grandpa anyway."

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Pilots rally to provide a lift to a Kenyan man with a dream

When last we heard of Gabriel Nderitu, whom we first heard about here, the man from Kenya with a dream to fly had tried to coax his homebuilt airplane into the sky for a 14th time. And for a 14th time, he got a close up look at terra firma.

That was last summer and he's been earthbound since. He's a magnificent man minus a flying machine.

It's not for lack of passion, nor lack of trying. Like many things in Kenya, it's for lack of resources.

"Would somebody please help this man... before he hurts himself?" a Wisconsin pilot posted last summer on an aviation bulletin board.

And people did, a testament to the beauty of the Internet, and the willingness of people to be people.

As it happened, another member of the forum, run by Oshkosh's Experimental Aircraft Association, is Matthew Long, who also lives in Kenya but had never met Nderitu. He offered to organize a drive to collect as much knowledge about homebuilt aircraft (people around here seem to know a thing or two about the subject) and somehow get it into Nderitu's hands.

"With a per-capita income of about $1,400 in Kenya vs. about $55,000 in the USA, most people in Kenya are accessing the internet via cheap phones and pay-by-the-MB cellular plans so they are just able to skim the surface, not really dive in. So for Gabriel and most of the rest of the world, the information access that we take for granted just isn't there," Long said.

It's taken almost six months of effort, but pilots donated books about aerodynamics and airplane construction to Nderitu, who, while an educated man (he's in the information technology field), didn't actually understand enough about why airplanes fly.

One Twin Cities pilot sent almost a dozen books on gliders and instructions on building planes to Long. The EAA donated the books "Practical Lightplane Design and Construction for the Amateur", EAA Gas Welding, and EAA Sheet Metal Building Basics books. Some airplane-themed T-shirts and hats were included; inspiration has to look the part.

All that was left was for Long, who lives in Nairobi, to find Nderitu, who doesn't.

Last Saturday, however, Nderitu and Long connected.


I am pleased to say that, while it took some time for many reasons, I was finally able to connect with Gabriel Nderitu yesterday and pass on to him the Fly Baby plans and patch, EAA hat and t-shirt, many books and welding DVD that everyone had sent. Thanks to Kim, Ron, Pete and Charlie (for EAA) for the generous donations.

Gabriel has gotten his self-designed aircraft down to 130 kg (287 lb) empty without the engine, so it's still too heavy to fly with the engine he now has, which is a Hirth F33. He has a wooden prop cut down to size for him by Tennessee Props as well as an Ultraprop, so he is happy with his powerplant but is considering redesigning his plane for partial fabric covering to shed weight.

Talking with Gabriel I found an aviation enthusiast with quite a bit of knowledge but also handicapped by a lack of resources and others to bounce around ideas with. I will keep in touch with him and encourage him to join this and other groups that might be able to help.

Cheers from Nairobi!

Maybe Gabriel will achieve his dream of flight someday, maybe not. Many of his neighbors watch his attempts and laugh at his folly. But he now has the knowledge to build a plane at his fingertips, courtesy of two brothers from Dayton who heard similar laughter, and present-day pilots who know how to make it stop.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

The winter of our content

This has been, you might have, heard an unusual winter. The grey and clouds of November have hung around for most of the winter in the Upper Midwest. Even when it's been clear enough to fly, it's been unusually choppy.

Today was different. I was supposed to give my pal, Fareed Guyout, a ride up to St. Cloud today for the big Trivia Weekend at KVSC, but his boy is sick and so that got scrubbed. Since I'd already plugged in the nifty Reiff Preheating System, the oil was sitting at 100 degrees on a day when it was -15C. It seemed like a waste of good electricity.

So I took it down to Lake Pepin to see what the ice house people were up to today. It was gorgeous day to fly.

Be sure to select HD.

Friday, January 1, 2016

Fixing the leaky RV-7A tank

A few years ago I had a leaking rivet on the underside of the left fuel tank on the RV-7A and Doug Weiler of the Twin Cities Builder's Group suggested some ProSeal and a closed rivet. It worked great.

For the last couple of years, I've had two nagging rivets on the top of the tank which, when the tank is full and pressurized, emits just enough fuel (and it's not much) to put some streaks in my nicely polished plane.

This was one of the tasks to put off until annual and this week I started on the annual condition inspection, vowing that this one would be the most complete yet.

So I took the tank off . I didn't have to; it easily could be repaired without doing so, but the underside of a polished fuel tank and inboard wing gets beaten up, so this would also make it easier for me to polish it up on the underside while working at the workbench. I'll probably do the other side too ... polishing, I mean, there are no leaks on that side.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

A ride for 'the little girl next door'

"H", as we call her publicly now because she's a teacher and you know how people are out there, was the little girl who grew up next door (approximately) when we moved to the neighborhood in 1993.

Now, as I indicated, she's a teacher and, presumably, a good one.

She was around, of course, when I started building the RV-7A in the garage and so when she commented on something about it I posted on Facebook a few weeks ago, I asked her if she'd like a ride. So we made arrangements to meet in Red Wing (MN) last Sunday.

It was awfully bumpy and I figured we'd climb high enough until it smoothed out, and orbit the field until she decided whether we should go farther. I'm pretty particular about the comfort of passengers to whom I'm exposing general aviation. Getting sick doesn't help its image one bit.

Have I mentioned how much I love giving rides to people?

Have I mentioned how much I like the expression passengers get when I make a crosswind turn, and that beautiful RV canopy fills up with a perfect view of America, America?

I made a little souvenir video of the flight for her. It's nothing special compared to some of your big productions I've seen. It's just someone experiencing the occasionally slightly nauseous joy of flight.

As I watching this video over and over again, I noticed something about me too. I'm never more relaxed. I'm never more comfortable. I'm never more sure of who I am. I'm never more at home... than when I'm flying an RV airplane.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015


There's an old saying in the homebuilt airplane business. "The only reason to build an airplane is that you want to build an airplane." The same is true for people with polished airplanes, who have to constantly endure the admonishment that it's too much work. "The only reason to have a polished airplane is because you like polishing airplanes."

Big, expensive paint jobs are swell for those with big checkbooks. But park a painted airplane next to a polished one, and the polish attracts the eyeballs every time.

And that's the problem. Given enough exposure to polished aluminum, the defects soon become visible.

Thanks to the reflection of the fluorescent light in the photo above, you can see a couple of examples of something that is all over the plane. Fingerprints. But these are not prints from someone touching the plane. They're fingerprints from the application of Nuvite polish. As the instructions say, "dab" fingerprints of polish on the aluminum, smear with the wool bonnet on a drill or rotary machine (or cyclo machine). Voila!

Last winter, I noticed this happening. Very fine scratches would be put into the aluminum where the finger applied the polish, even if the polish was soon smeared around the AL. Even if the compounding (and cyclo'ing) took place.

At the time, my theory was that the aluminum was so cold, the polish was freezing in place and small amounts of ice scratched the surface.

But over the weekend, I polished a section of wing when it was about 80 degrees, and you can see the result, even though the area was subsequently polished with F7, Grade C, and Grade S polish and a new fleece blanket and then buffed with fresh fleece and flour.

Curiously, this started last year, two years after I first bought the polish. I tossed out a small can of F7, thinking that maybe it was the culprit. But an equally-old can of polish yielded the same results.

Is it possible that polish "goes bad" and causes this problem? We will continue to investigate the mystery.

In the meantime, when you look at my plane, leave your glasses at home.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Aid and comfort

(Reprinted from Van's Air Force)

My RV can do many cool things and take me to many enjoyable places. Last evening I learned it can help do something more: provide aid and comfort to people.

This is Sue and Gary. A few years ago, pretty much on this same spot on the Alexandria, MN apron, Sue said goodbye to her brother, her mother, and her sister in law, when they got in a Bonanza for a trip to Colorado. She'd asked her mother not to go; she just had a feeling.

Her brother's plane crashed in a field not far outside the Twin Cities. He had flown into IMC and as he emerged from the 900-foot overcast, the wing fell off, and then the tail.

I wrote about it for my day job and when she found it on Google, she dropped me an email last week asking if she could talk to me about it and learn more about my observations. "The tone was different than what I've read," she said. "And maybe it's because you're a pilot."

She had read the Aero News Network (please note: By NO stretch of the imagination will I ever be a fan of Jim Campbell's work). She thought it made her brother seem stupid and negligent. It's a good reminder of why we have to be careful when discussing accidents. Stick to the facts; avoid the judgments. Resist the social media urge to shame the pilot.

"Where are you located?" I asked in a return email.

"Alexandria," she said.

"I'll fly up to see you. How's Monday?"

So I did. And I had a story to tell her. It was about how easy it is for humans to make the same mistake her brother made, and until you experience GetHomeItis firsthand, you can't begin to understand the power it holds over even the most experienced pilots.

I told her about my trip to Massachusetts last fall, just three days after attending an Air Safety Foundation seminar on weather traps, specifically, GetHomeItis.

Three days later, I made just about every mistake I was warned not to make.

It can happen to anyone. Unexpected weather killed Scott Crossfield, and he had the Right Stuff.

As I spiraled through the clouds on an ill-advised and unnecessary attempt to land last year, I thought about the article I'd written about her brother. That was just about the time when I had the thought that someone was soon going to be writing about me.

I told her about the statistic I learned at the ASF Forum. The life expectancy of a VFR pilot flying into IMC is about 3 minutes.

The color seemed to drain from her face. She had never heard the statistic before. She wants to write a book about the accident, she told me. She heard a voice while taking a shower not long after her brother's plane crashed. It said the name of the book should be, "Three Minutes."

She wanted to hear how planes come apart. I explained that while the plane separated after it had emerged from the clouds, the damage was probably done while her brother was still in IMC. For all I know, I said, they might've suffered tremendous G forces that made them black out. I don't know. Maybe. Maybe not.

We chatted for about an hour, but there's nothing really you can say to make anyone feel better about losing three family members.

Her husband said she was very touched that I flew up. "Your brother is part of a very small fraternity," I said. "And now you are too. And it's what we do."

It rained while we were having our coffee, and she begged me not to launch into bad weather. If something happened to me, she said, she could never forgive herself.

I'd seen the showers on the hour-long flight up, and they were widely scattered, I assured her. And I'm a very careful pilot who knows a lot more know about GetHomeItis.

As they walked me out to the ramp for my flight home, her husband asked if they could say a prayer for me. Though I'm not religious by any stretch, I said, "sure." And so there we stood as darkness fell, her husband asking for a higher power's protection on this and all future flights.

You fly a lot more carefully, I noticed, when someone you've known for two hours holds your hand and wishes you godspeed.

I sent a text message when I got home, to let them know I arrived home just fine, vowing silently to myself never to put my family in a position of wondering what happened to me that time I went flying.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Oshkosh 2015

There's enough posts about all the cool things to see at Oshkosh this year that I won't bother adding to the list.

Oshkosh, as it has been for a long time, is a social event for me. But, to be honest, I wasn't looking that forward to it this year. Some people I had hoped would be there weren't going this year. Some others who I've seen in the past, well, let's just say we've moved on.

Again this year I was making two runs over. This year, my youngest son, Patrick, and I headed over on Tuesday.

Patrick has thoughts of being a pilot someday but at the moment his priority is finishing up a four-year nursing degree program at Augsburg in Minneapolis.

Our flight in was relatively uneventful, save for the 172 that passed up high while we were following the NOTAM. I swear, I will never understand why people who are able to fly an airplane, are so utterly incapable of reading a document intended to help keep them alive.

We had a great time in the days we were there doing Oshkosh things and visiting people like Sam Weigel and his wife, Dawn, who were way out in Row 134 in the South 40. My pal, Warren Starkebaum, was out there one year and I think I'd like to be out there sometime. It's much quieter -- no helicopters every 4 minutes -- and you get a really good view of the approach to 36L. Sam, who won his category in the AirVenture cup race, has written a great post on his time at OSH.

We also had a nice evening with the great folks at EAA Radio, including the sampling of some cherry stout, I believe.

As usual, I enjoyed people stopping by to see the plane, even though we were stuck wayyyy up back in homebuilt camping. We met a great couple just before we departed. They were from Toronto and invited us to use their condo if we ever fly up for a baseball game. I wonder if I'll ever hear from them again?

I'm not too ashamed to say I spent a great deal of time examining polished airplanes up close. They look great far away but I needed to know whether my work is measuring up against other people.

Oh, sure, I found a few flaws.

I say this with all humility. It does. I saw some nice polish jobs, but it was clear to me that in striving for perfection -- I've never achieved it, of course -- I have set a good standard.

We left on Thursday morning because Patrick had to work that evening (and was departing for New York early on Friday) and Carolie and I had tickets for Caroline Smith and also Black Joe Lewis at the Minnesota Zoo.

Want to hear some great cockpit resource management? Here's my kid.

On the way home, Patrick said, "I wonder how high those clouds are?"

"Let's go find out," I said.

Have I mentioned how much I love my RV? You can be at Oshkosh for breakfast, fly home for lunch, do laundry and take a shower in the afternoon, have dinner and a concert, and be back in the air the next morning, headed for Oshkosh.

On Friday, my oldest son, Sean, and I headed back. As luck would have it, my builder pal, Warren, was passing overhead at the time, so we flew over "together", several miles apart and chatting all the way.

Sean wasn't all that sure he wanted to stay until Sunday (which is code for "he didn't want to") but once we landed, he was all in.

This time we were given 18R. I haven't flown that approach in the five times I've landed at Oshkosh but for some reason it struck me as trickier.

I used to watch people make this approach and marvel at the rapid descent, tight turn, and spot landing ability they had. Unfortunately, when I made the rapid descent, tight turn, and landed spot on, the GoPro was out of batteries. But trust me: It was great.

Fortunately, my RV pal, Brad Benson and the rest of the South St. Paul RV crew had arrived the night before and we were able to hook up for good socializing.

The highlight was going to the Charcoal Pit restaurant where Sean sang some karaoke. The Collins clan is not known for singing voices and certainly not for singing in public. But there was my kid, singing before strangers ("People Are Strange" - Doors). The B-52 is cool. The Raptor is cool. Even stumbling across the Little River Band was cool. But seeing my kid stepping out of a comfort zone? That was coolest.

The only downside of Oshkosh this year were the sad exhibit halls, where so much consolidation has taken place, that the empty spots are being taken up by crappy flea market peddlers - a LOT of flea market peddlers.

A friend of mine who runs an avionics company says that although experimental projects in the pipeline when the economy collapsed were completed, there haven't been anywhere near enough new builders to sustain business models. It feels as though it'll be Dynon and Garmin who emerge with everyone else giving up. Even Avery Tools wasn't there this year.

I'm not entirely sure how GA is going to survive all of this.

But that's a topic for another day.

Sean and I left on Sunday morning, taking about an hour and half from start-up to touchdown in South St. Paul, just enough time for him to go home and change, and get to Target Field to watch the Twins and his favorite --the Yankees -- play.

I've heard enough people over the years talking about their memories of spending time at Oshkosh with their dads. When we're gone, these are all we leave behind.

I love my RV airplane.

(Photos by Patrick Collins)

Monday, July 13, 2015

Just tell me where you are!

For the longest time, I've wanted to fly into Cleveland's Burke Lakefront Airport to watch a Cleveland Indians game and over the weekend, my youngest son -- also an Indians fan -- and I did just that.

It was a thrilling approach to a great airport. My son has put some video up on Facebook of the fantastic approach to Runway 6L and as soon as he changes the permissions, I'll provide a link (update: Here you go).

We watched Saturday night's game and wanted to stay for Sunday's but the 1:30 start time and a front moving in convinced us to try to get out of Dodge, knowing we'd have to hopscotch our way through it.

Our first planned stop was to the Sandusky County Airport and we planned to re-evaluate there and wait things out, but we ran into low cloud cover about 10 miles out and I had to do a careful 180 while my son found us another airport. We ended up watching the rain and mist in Huron County. Nice little terminal building, but the constant beep-beep-beep of some alarm behind a locked door drove us crazy.

As things lifted, we hopped 14 miles through mist to Sandusky County, rain beating the crap out of the paint job on the prop. We were right at minimums with a mile visibility and it required all of our concentration. The workload was more than manageable with two people. We were vigilant and we made a ton of radio calls along the way, and the Garmin 296 called out obstructions which we picked up. A mile visibility in an RV is good for about 20 seconds. Fly over a nice straight road -- not a problem in Ohio -- and be ready.

We spent an hour in Sandusky -- long enough to find out the Indians again had zero offense against Oakland, and then as things brightened we headed for Bowling Green (Wood County) and walked into town to find some grub.

By the time we walked back (seriously, Dunkin Donuts: What's the deal with closing at 3 p.m.?), the western skies were brightening, and the METARs were improving. We took off and we had 6 miles visibility and ceilings up around 2900, and it was a nice flight down low. Ohio has gotten a ton of rain but things were a beautiful green, if a soggy green.

As we neared our favorite stop (which I ignored because I thought the FBO would be closed by then), we heard a pilot announce he was on a "GPS 1 approach to Dekalb County" from the west. We were approaching from the East.

This is one of the things that drives me crazy about IFR pilots. When they make a position report, they report where they are in their instrument procedures, but not where they are in relation to the airport.

I quizzed him about his locations, "Well...uh... I'm on the GPS One approach," he said.

"Are you inbound for landing and how far out are you, we're eastbound just north of the field..."

"I don't have you on my TCAS, we're at 2000 descending."

I was at 1700 and we didn't have him on the ZAON unit either. A minute later, son Patrick saw him -- a Citation -- on final.

The pilot was completely UNABLE to tell us where he was and I hear this all of the time with IFR pilots. What good is making a position report if your report is unintelligible to the VFR pilot? Just tell me where you are!

Another habit we encountered is the rapid-pace at which VFR pilots make their position calls, including the most important part of the call -- the airport. I do this too at my own field and I'm going to stop doing it.

A position report isn't just a requirement to zip through; it has a purpose and we have to be sure it's doing anyone some good.

Clearly, and slowly, say the airport name, give your position, then pause a second and clearly and slowly give the airport name again.

This is especially important for those of us transitioning unfamiliar airspace. Yes, the frequency can be busy, but it's the safe thing to do and that has to be the priority.

By the way, on the flight in from Cleveland, we got great service fro Cleveland approach. At one point, what with haze being thick, we had conflicting traffic and approach told us to hit a steep right turn (which you can't hear in this audio, but trust me, it got my attention). After the conflict, I thanked the controller for helping me (which you also can't hear) and he apologized for the late warning (which you can hear).

The flight in to Burke was particularly fun as we were racing another aircraft. Guess who won?

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Keeping the neighbors at wing's length

(Posted from the day job)

The Star Tribune story today on small airports and the challenges from the encroachment of neighbors is one that's being played out all across the country.

Many airports, as the Associated Press reported a couple of weeks ago, are being closed to turn them into more housing developments and industrial parks.

Others, like South St. Paul's Fleming Field, have somewhat warmer relations with their community, provide jobs in their territory, and are deeded to the city (as the Navy did for South St. Paul many years ago) requiring them to remain an airport.

How a small airport and neighborhoods can co-exist. At Fleming Field, two homes are being torn down (the owner of at least one was more than happy to sell), and some trees on the other end of the neighborhood are being cut down.

Will it make a big difference? Probably not. But the FAA has its rules and the FAA rules.

I videotaped a flight around the airport today to provide an additional perspective on today's article.

Sit back and enjoy your flight.

Monday, June 22, 2015

NTSB: Aerobatic maneuver killed Tony Kelly

Many of us have been waiting along time to find out why Tony Kelly's RV's broke up over Hamilton Township, New Jersey in late 2013.

Tony, an air traffic controller, was a great friend on Van's Air Force and his loss probably hit the RV community harder than any other fatal crash since Bill Benedict, a Van's Aircraft executive, and his son were killed in April 2000.

An RV-7A, obviously, shouldn't break up in the air. That it did caused the usual amount of speculation -- he had suffered a damaged rudder some time earlier, and a Van's service bulletin on elevator hinges all fueled massive amounts of speculation.

The National Transportation Safety Board has now released its report. And it suggests Kelly was performing aerobatic maneuvers that exceeded the plane's design limits.

After taking off, the pilot climbed the experimental amateur-built airplane to 6,500 feet mean sea level in visual meteorological conditions; the airplane remained in level flight for about 13 minutes and was traveling about 130 knots indicated airspeed. The airplane then suddenly lost about 3500 feet in altitude, accelerated to about 220 knots, and reversed direction within a 10 second period. Moments later, the airplane was observed traveling in a northwesterly direction at a low altitude, almost completely upside down at one point, with pieces of the airplane falling to the ground. Recorded radar data revealed that the airplane had entered a steep descending and accelerating left turn, and portions of the empennage separated from the airplane. The airplane continued on a descending, turning flight path until it impacted terrain. A postimpact fire ensued.The wreckage path was about ½-mile long and contained three distinct areas of debris. The first area contained the lower half of the rudder. The second area contained the vertical stabilizer, the rudder balance weight, the left horizontal stabilizer, the left elevator, the left wingtip, the left elevator balance weight, and the cockpit canopy—all of which had separated from their mounting locations. The third area contained the main wreckage (the fuselage, engine, and wings), which struck the top of a tree, fell to the ground, and came to rest inverted. Examination of the wreckage revealed no evidence of an inflight fire, explosion, flight control failure, bird strike, or any preexisting structural anomaly.Review of the airplane’s design revealed that at an aerobatic gross weight of 1,600 pounds, the airplane complied with the +6/-3G standards of the FAA’s aerobatic category.

It had a maximum maneuvering speed of 124 knots and a never exceed speed of 200 knots. At the time of the inflight breakup, the airplane was traveling 20 knots above the published never exceed speed.A friend of the pilot noted that he had seen the pilot recover after falling out of a maneuver at low altitude before, and that it was not uncommon for the pilot to sometimes fall out of a maneuver (loop and/or roll). Review of a video taken by his friend revealed that, during that flight, the pilot performed a left roll. During that maneuver, the pilot allowed the nose to drop and the airplane lost approximately 1,000 feet of altitude.

The accident airplane’s abrupt and sudden maneuvering, which exceeded its design limitations, is consistent with the pilot’s loss of control after attempting an aerobatic maneuver.

The NTSB used a video from Vladyslav V. Karpayev (known on VAF as "Vlad") in making its determination. In an early flight, it showed Kelly allowing the nose to drop, losing approximately 1000 feet in the maneuver.

In its report and accompanying 23-page structural analysis, it noted that there was no evidence of previous damage, and that a service bulletin from Van's on cracks on the elevator showed no evidence of any problem in this area, proving that, despite speculation at the time, the SB was unrelated to this accident.

Monday, June 15, 2015

An RV takes us to Rockabilly

As much fun as I've had with the RV-7A since its first flight three years ago Saturday, I haven't been able to share it as much as I would like with my wife.

She's not much of a flier. She's been game a few times -- a hop to Madeline Island, a picnic on Lake Superior, chili in Rushford, and a Trampled by Turtles concert in Mankato -- but that's pretty much it. She doesn't have her "sea legs" where flying is concerned and I'm not one to force her. I thought of that as I flew back to Massachusetts a few weeks ago. It was pretty rough over Ohio. For some reason it's always rough over Ohio.

I was alone; she had taken a commercial flight the day before, and I kept thinking, "if anyone was with me right now, they'd never fly again."

For many spouses, the joy of flying isn't shared, so we have to remember that at its basic reason to exist -- an RV airplane gets you somewhere.

Last Friday, "somewhere" was Redwood Falls, Minn., which is pretty much in the middle of nowhere. But there's a casino there -- Jackpot Junction -- and when our favorite -- Brian Setzer -- and George Thorogood teamed up for a summer tour, I quickly bought tickets last February and ended up center stage, fourth row on the aisle.

Because we both had to work on Friday, driving was out of the question. It would be three hours and the concert started at 8. Besides, I have this airplane, you know.

I waited too long to reserve motel rooms but was able to find one at the cheapest joint in town, which also happens to be right next to the airport.

The flight out was bumpy, as befits an 80-degree day in Minnesota. Some noise on the radio, which first surfaced when I was giving airplane rides in North Adams, Mass., a few weeks ago returned, much to both of our consternation.

We took off at 5:30 and landed at 6:15, walking about a mile to the motel -- maybe less so as there's no fence around the airport so we cut through the farm implements dealer's lot.

No room.

The motel never got our reservation, or said he never got the reservation. And there were no rooms because the bird flu epidemic has brought dozens of workers into the region to fight it.

But he let us drop our luggage and we hopped a casino shuttle. Shortly, we were living the good life.

Brian Setzer, then George Thorogood. Awesome, magic carpet!

The concert ended around 11 or so, so we hopped the shuttle back to the motel, picked up the suitcase we'd planned for our overnight, and hoofed it back to the airport. It was a nice warm night and a pleasant walk.

We were both pretty tired but I filed for a 12:40 a.m. takeoff, pulled up the tie-downs, and patrolled the runway for deer.

I wasn't happy at all with the run-up; the mag drop was more than I'm comfortable with. I got it down to about a 70 RPM drop and that would have to do. There was no moon, but I was comfortable I'd be able to maintain something of a horizon, especially with the Tru Trak autopilot.

It's a big, black hole between the outskirts of Minneapolis, with a few towns in between. A loss of an engine would be bad news; I couldn't even pick out a highway.

I couldn't get the cylinder head temperature below 390, no matter how much I leaned. But the engine was otherwise performing fine and I considered asking Minneapolis Approach for permission to enter Class B and go over the top of the big airport. Why not? There was nobody else in the air and nobody on the radio. But I didn't, landing back at South St. Paul around 1:30, my wife actually clapping as I settled onto the runway. Yahtzee!

We were back at the house by 2, a whirlwind tour that reinforced the value of an RV airplane.

Post script: On Saturday, I diagnosed the problem as coming from the passenger headset. I swapped out another pair and the noise disappeared. What was going on inside there, I don't know. But I've wanted to give the passenger the same comfort I have, so I've ordered another set of Lightspeed 2 headsets.

On Sunday, I monitored the GRT EIS 4000 and saw something odd. The EGT (exhaust gas temperature) on the #3 cylinder would be much lower at idle, although it would come back to a proper level once the throttle was pushed in.

Is this a problem? I don't know. I've sent the data off to Savvy Analysis to see if this is at all indicative of the early stages of a stuck valve. I'll let you know.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

To Rushford for chili!

Although N614EF and I haven't ventured to that many airports outside of Minnesota, it's hard to beat our two favorite ones in the competition for the "best airport ever" title.

Sky Harbor Airport in Duluth sits right on Lake Superior, is a 40-step walk from the beach, and is Minnesota's version of the famed -- and late -- Meigs Airport in Chicago. It's a place where my wife -- who is not overly excited by flying -- will go enthusiastically.

But there's one thing Sky Harbor doesn't have -- at least in our visits so far -- an unmatched gregariousness.

That's what separates Rushford Airport in southeast Minnesota apart.

It sits atop a bluff in "bluff country", offering lovely views of the surroundings below.

But it's the people we've met there that makes the 80-mile trip (by air) from South Saint Paul so rewarding.

Yesterday, I flew down for EAA Chapter 919's annual chili feed. The chapter is incorporated in Winona, but, according to one founding member, WONA isn't a very aviator-friendly spot, so many of their activities take place in Rushford. Good choice.

It's possible to camp on site and if you do, you can use the facilities -- a house, really -- at the airport terminal. Our host said if you want bikes, they'll bring theirs over.

Rushford used to have a courtesy car -- a Toyota -- but it died and they haven't convinced the town to pony up $1,000 or so for a new one. Too bad, because there are shops and restaurants in the region that visitors would most certainly patronize, if they had a way to get off the bluff.

True, our hosts did say "we'll bring one of our cars over" if you decide to visit, but nonetheless it would be wise for the region to invest in a beater so they don't have to do without a car.

In that vein, I'm kicking myself. Last February I traded in my 2004 Chevy Cavalier -- still in great working order -- so that my wife and I could have a new car (a payoff for her unwavering support and sacrifice during the 11 or 12 years I was building a plane). The dealer -- Luther Subaru -- offered only $800. It didn't occur to me at the time that I just should have donated it to the Rushford Airport.

If you're in the upper Midwest, it's worth visiting at your next opportunity. Starting next month, there'll be a hamburger feast on the first Saturday of every month.