Monday, March 31, 2008

The user fee dilemma

As much as possible, even in my day job, I try to avoid politics, which is an odd thing for someone who used to run the political unit at Minnesota Public Radio and started the political blog that the Washington Post recently said was one of the best in the country.

I don't think it's a secret, however, that people who fly are more likely to be Republican than Democrat. Why? Often, it's because pilots tend to come from a military background, and clearly if you can own an airplane, you come from an economic strata that leans more Republican than Democrat. Me? I no longer see much difference -- or usefulness -- in either party since the politicians and their most ardent followers have much more allegiance to their party and their candidate than to their country. But I digress.

User fees. It's an issue that immediately raises the hackles of just about any pilot. General aviation, the theory goes, already pays a fair share and, besides, if we end up paying user fees, it's not like the taxes we spend now are going to come down to compensate for it.

This, it seems to me, is going to cause quite a dilemma for many pilots because the Republican candidate for president loves the idea of user fees (although he says he would limit it to corporate aircraft). And he hates Phil Boyer of the Aircraft Owner and Pilots Association, the chief lobbyist against user fees. And the feeling appears to be mutual.

Barack Obama's position is much less clear. But let's assume -- for the sake of the hypothetical -- that he comes out against user fees.

Now what?

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Regional building groups

Many folks know that I've pulled back from participating in the big Internet RV-building groups, preferring instead to depend on the advice of a smaller group of favorite RV builders. They sure can come through for you, which is why I recommend people join a regional building group and look for help on a one-to-one basis. That's not a knock against the Internet groups, but for me -- presently -- human communication with people I know, or at least think I do, is quite rewarding.

On Saturday, the Minnesota Wing of Van's Air Force held its quarterly meeting. Alan Jesmer from Precision Airmotive flew in to speak to us, indicative, I think, of how valued the experimental market is by more and more companies.

If you're an RVer, you probably know that Precision Airmotive recently sold its carburetor line because it could no longer afford the liability insurance across its 11 product lines. It seems a couple of guys flying a Cessna 150 on a hot day in Florida, tried to do a touch and go and forgot to retract the flaps. The plane crashed and, according to Jesmer, the lawyers has recently realized his company had $50 million in insurance coverage and so they were sued, again. It costs a lot to lose a product liability case; it costs a lot to win one, too.

Jesmer spoke for a couple of hours about electronic fuel injection -- his company makes the Silver Hawk EX,which is geared toward the experimental line. By the way, a service bulletin for these was issued last week. He also talked about his company's version of FADEC -- The Eagle EMS. Given I'm at the stage of ordering an engine, I'm getting bigger and bigger headaches the more I learn; each seems to be proportional to the amount of money mentioned.

Doug Weiler does a great job with the Minnesota Wing. I'd guess there were about 80 or so people who showed up. It was a good reminder that most people aren't regular posters on the bulletin boards and these face-to-face and smaller groups are really a fabulous way to get help.

Last week, Doug was good enough to help organize my accumulation of information on how to drill the engine mount to the firewall on an RV-7A. There is no way to clamp the thing on and really keep it from moving while drilling. And I was concerned about predrilling the holes (that are predrilled in the firewall but not in the gussets and angles behind it except in quickbuild models.

I had, however, drilled the holes open to a 3/16" diameter, and then got concerned since several of them would be slightly off center given the varying tolerances of the manufacturing process of the engine mount.

So Doug solicited advice on my behalf and I got some really good suggestions, some of which I provide here:

First, my buddy, Warren Starkebaum, sent me a Word diagram on how he clamped the thing. He advised against drilling the holes ahead of time.

I don't have the clamps necessary here. I used a pipe clamp, however, to semi-hold the mount in place by putting a 2x4 across it and then clamping it to the rudder pedal tubes.

Moving on, Bruce Fiedler of Janesville, Wis., sent this tip:
I used 1/4" bolts in four points to attach the mount to the firewall. They held it very firmly. I then just removed one 1/4" bolt at a time (starting with the one that was the closest to being centered) and used the mount as a drill guide. I used my battery electric drill and lots of Boelube. When the first hole was enlarged, I inserted the finished bolt in place, tightened, and removed the next 1/4" bolt and had at it again. Got the four corners done and then did the middle tow on the bottom (which needed about 1/8" spacers made for a final fit.
Dick DeCramer has some additional thoughts:

Reduce the size of the holes in the motor mount by using drill bushings to a manageable size bit...say, 1/4" or less. Drill bushings are available through tool suppliers and usually come in sets which have a shaft with a center hole already drilled in them. The bushings are designed to be fit inside each other reducing the interior guide hole to very small dia. center hole in steps which will drill easily and remain centered in the appliance (Motor mount in your case.) If you know some Northwest mechanics they probably have a set from work & nice guys will loan them to you.

However, since the average guy seldom uses drill bushings they are difficult to find so I improvised by finding a tube (pipe, steel tubing, etc. at the hardware store.) with the outside diameter the same as the motor mount bolts. You need to find 2 or 3 tubes that will fit snugly inside each other. I am estimating about (AN6 bolt)
or 3/8" O.D. tube with 1/16" wall thickness would then need 1/4" OD tube to slip inside of this tube and if that second tube also had 1/16" thick wall would then be able to insert an 1/8" drill bit into the 2 concentric tubes and the drilled hole would be exactly in the center of the Motor mount hole.

Clamp the motor mount to the firewall at 3 points and insert the nested drill bushings into the 4th corner bolt hole. Using the bushings as a guide, drill the first hole at 1/8" (as in my example), remove the innermost bushing leaving the larger bushing hole of 1/4" and now drill the hole with a 1/4" bit. Remove the last bushing and use the motor mount itself as the last guide and drill it to 3/8". Debur the hole, insert the AN6 bolt and repeat for each hole until all four are drilled. Do not drill the hole full size in one operation or you will likely catch and tear the stainless firewall as it is too thin not to mention spraining a wrist or thumb. I hope this helps

Bob Barrett of Sartell, Minn., (who I also saw at the meeting) had more:

You need to probably drill the upper left and upper right pilot holes with out the engine mount in place. Measure each of these holes at least three times and then recheck once more. Then center puch them and drill #40 or #30 pilot hole and verify that they are in the correct location. You will probably need someone to help you hold the mount up to the firewall to verify that the pilot holes are in the correct place. You can put a light in the fuselage just behind the firewall and then the light should show threw the engine mount hole if you have them correctly placed. If they are not correctly place you can drill another pilot hole and if the first pilot hole needs to be closed you can close it with pro-seal. If the pilot holes are correct just enlarge them to 1/4" and then use hardware store bolts and washers to hold the mount in place and drill pilot holes for the rest of the engine mount holes. Usually you can find some tubing as a spacer for your drill bits when drilling the pilot holes with the engine mount fastened to the firewall with temporary bolts.

In the end, I incorporated a little bit of everything that I was told. The bushings idea was great, so I ordered four of them from McMaster-Carr -- two with 3/8" outside diameters to fit inside the engine mount holes. The smallest it reduces to, however is 1/4", so I ordered a handful of 1/4" outside diameter bushings that reduced to a #40 and a #30, figuring I could slip it inside the other bushing. Unfortunately, I learned after spending $45, that they don't fit inside each other. Rats. Anyone want to buy some bushings?

So the only bushing I was able to use was the one that reduces to 1/4". The other bushing that had to be shipped from the New Jersey warehouse (I would have used it to step drill the hole from 1/4 to 5/16") never showed up.

So after the meeting yesterday (those meetings are always good motivation), I tackled the task. For those of you who haven't done this yet, here's what I did:

First, armed with some more advice from Ken Scott (who also said it's OK to use the engine mount as a drill guide) , I think I did the right thing in drilling the four holes out to 3/16". You can do thisif you measure ahead of time and can be sure that the outside diameter of the hole doesn't go beyond the 3/8" hole boundary in the engine mount. Yes, it's likely to be off center when you go to fit the mount, but this isn't the problem I'd thought it would be.

Once those are drilled, pick up three 2" 3/16" bolts from the hardware store along with three large washers and some nuts or wingnuts. Push them through all but the most offcenter hole, attach the washers and nuts and tighten finger-tight. Now, move the engine mount slightly to try to center -- as much as possible -- the hole in the engine mount over the hole in the firewall. You can't see this because the washers will block your view, but you can estimate it. See above photo, obviously. All of these photos can be enlarged by clicking on them, by the way.

Draw a circle around the engine mount on the firewall with a Sharpie, so you can be sure the thing doesn't slip around (Note: You can also do this before adding the washers and nuts if you have a second pair of hands.

I then put the 1/4" OD bushing in the open engine mount hole and used a 1/4" bit and lots of Rapid Tap (cutting oil) to slowly enlarge. I had concerns that the drill bit would wander into the open hole if it was off-center (see photo above), but with the bushing, this was not a problem.

It takes quite a long time to get this hole open -- at least 10 minutes in my case.

I had also bought some 1/4" bolts and inserted one here (above photo), figuring I'd expand all the holes to 1/4" and then go back and enlarge each one to size. I decided, however, that I would finish each hole fully before moving on. Since I didn't have another bushing to increase the hole size, I had ordered a "T" drill bit from Avery and went directly to it.

This, too, was a pain in the neck because it's a very large bit, but it allowed me to use the engine mount holes as a drill guide. On the last hole, I tried stepping up via various bits but they were cheap Harbor Freight bits and it caught the edges too much. Again, lots and lots of oil and lots of cleaning the bit and hole before reoiling.

Once I was through with the "T" bit, I reamed it with a 3/8" undersize chucking reamer I also ordered this week from Avery. I think I probably should've gone to a "U" bit, but the "T" bit was OK. However, I found it easier to pull the reamer through the hole rather than the reverse.

I cleaned up the hole, and then inserted the bolt, washer, and castle nut and tightened. I then move to the next hole. In my case I started with the lower right, moved to the lower left, the upper left, and the upper right.

I still have to drill the two holes in the bottom middle. If you've added a doubler for a Facet pump (I did, even though I'm not going to use it. I'm going with fuel injection, but I didn't know it at the time I built the firewall), then a nutplate on the forward side interferes with the engine mount. So a spacer will have to be put in between the mount and the firewall. Some small filing of the nutplate will also be necessary.

Many thanks to all who volunteered information. After I finish the mount, I can begin to get the wheels assembled and get the plane up on its own three legs. That will be an exciting moment.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

The lure of air parks

I'm thinking of going up the north metro today for the quarterly meeting of the Minnesota Wing of Van's Air Force. It's up at a gentleman's home on an airpark. I had no idea it was there and it's in a great location: next to a prison.

I notice that Roberta Hegy sold her RV last week. She lives over on an airpark, I believe, near Milwaukee. I would think it would be difficult to live on an airpark without a plane, or at least without your airplane, but what would I know? I only dream of what it must be like to live on an airpark and, given the facilities I've seen, there's no actual assumption that one day I will.

Today, on, there's a profile of Bob Bruce, who has built an RV-4 and is building an RV-7. Yep, they live on an airpark.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

I hate shipping charges

I'm a victim of my own stupidity, but I'm still going on record as saying I hate the shipping and handling charges that companies add to orders. Quite often, it's a hidden price increase that you don't know about until the item shifts.

In an effort to figure out how to drill the engine mount to existing 3/16" holes in the firewall (the QB method), I ordered four bushings from McMaster Carr. My idea was a 1/4" outside diameter bushing will fit inside a 3/8" outside diameter bushing with a 1/4" inside diameter. It won't. But I didn't know that.

Three of the bushings showed up yesterday along with the $9 shipping and handling charge for the items that don't even weigh more than an ounce or two.

Today, I found out the fourth bushing had to be shipped from a warehouse in New Jersey for an additional $9 shipping and handling charge.


Update: My mistake. The shipping was only added to one of the orders. However, for the record, I'm still against shipping and handling charges.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

A 'duh' moment

The FAA has spent so much time and money to avoid runway incursions (with not THAT much to show for it), that I've often wondered why they don't just put traffic signals at the intersections of runways and taxiways?

Now, according to the New York Times, that's what the FAA is going to do:

The system will have a computer that determines when a runway is in use, and then turns on red lights embedded in the pavement at each intersection. Thus it would help address errors by pilots and by controllers at the 20 airports, which include Kennedy International Airport and Newark Liberty International Airport but not La Guardia Airport.

I suspect it will work as long as some pilot doesn't shoot out the lights.

Sunday, March 23, 2008


I only want to accomplish one more thing before I die: get a good night's sleep.

It seems like years since I had one of those "out like a light all night" sleeps, probably because it has been years. Back in the '90s, one of the reasons I ended up taking an every-day second job delivering newspapers is because I'd wake up around 3:30-4 every morning no matter what I tried. I figured as long as I'm not going to sleep, I might as well get up and accomplish something.

I wonder if my RV airplane-building project is also part of the reason I don't sleep well. I'm writing this after a night of tossing and turning, thinking about a particular RV component, and not being able to get a Bruce Springsteen song out of my head (I listen to Springsteen on my iPod while I'm building).

Yesterday I started the process of attaching the engine mount to the firewall/fuselage. It's one of those pat-your-head-rub-your-belly processes because there appears to be no way to clamp the contraption to the firewall so you can drill the 3/8" holes that are required.

There are four pre-drilled holes on the firewall, but these need to be drilled through angle and steel gussets. I made a mistake by drilling all four out to a #12 (3/16") size and then realized while in one of my non-deep-REM moments that it was unlikely the 3/8" holes in the engine mount would center perfectly behind the 3/16" holes in the firewall.

"What would happen," I thought to myself as I tried to convince myself I was playing a hockey game (my best dreams come when I'm back playing hockey; don't ask me why). If they're off-center, how can I drill to full size without having the large bit wander into the off-center hole? How would I ever replace the entire firewall and components? Darn it, I should've just clamped it to the firewall and drilled it through the engine mount. I wonder how I would clamp it to the firewall, though?

This went on for hours until I finally gave up around 7, had some coffee, and headed out to the hangar to see if I had a problem. The answer? Maybe, but probably not. The center of the holes don't line up perfectly, but probably close enough that a large drill bit (ordered from Avery along with a 3/8" reamer) would be able to compensate.

Unclear, however, is how I can stabilize the darn thing on the firewall to drill anything? I tried placing a 2 x 4 across the front of the mount, and then used a pipe clamp to secure it to the rudder pedals, but that keeps it from falling off, but not secure enough to keep it from shifting.

I checked a few Web sites and found various solutions, including getting long 3/16" bolts and washers and tightening it down (guaranteed to keep it tight, but possibly making for an inaccurate hole, imho).

So I'm still not sure exactly how I'll proceed with this stuff. I guess I'll just have to sleep on it.

Monday, March 10, 2008

One man's ice house

Around Minnesota, there are two kids of people: those who get away from it all in their ice houses and those who get away from it all in their hangars. OK, maybe there's more than that, but that'll have to do for purposes of this discussion.

It's no secret that I'm not a "spend every waking minute building" kind of airplane builder. I'm a "build when you feel like it" guy, which suits my financing method.

When I moved the project to the hangar, I was a little concerned that I wouldn't work on it much since it wouldn't be in the garage. Truth is, though, I didn't work on it that much when it was in the garage. There was always a distraction; always something around the house to be done, even if it was vacuuming carpets and doing the laundry.

I go to the hangar now in about two-hour increments and when I'm there, I'm focused only on building, which is a good thing, I guess.

On Sunday, I fixed that vertical stabilizer attach problem I wrote about a few months ago. I settled for one of the options that Van's Aircraft's Joe Blank suggested.

A third pair of bolts should work fine. I had to wait until the project was at the ice house, I mean hangar, because the VS wouldn't fit on the plane in the garage.

I've put in 39 hours on the project since last November 1. It feels like more than a year ago, but I looked at Kitlog and last year I put in 47. Of course, 30 of those consisted of drilling out and replacing the wing doubler and attach point on the right wing.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Musings on an experimental airplane

Word comes this morning from Doug Weiler, the president of the Minnesota Wing of Van's Air Force that the wing's quarterly newsletter is ready. A pdf version of it can be found here.

Doug's "cover story" hits home... again: financing the building of an experimental airplane, specifically an RV-7. Doug took about a dozen years to build his RV-4 as his family was growing. The kids are grown now and Doug retires in September from Northwest Airlines and it's time, he says, to get serious about developing a financial master plan.

Doug has sold a prized BMW and he'll probably end up selling his RV-4 to help finance the construction.

I've been thinking about this more and more as I continue to plod along on my pay-as-you-go project and deal with the various brickbats from some RV builders who come from better neighborhoods.

I've started planning on what I want in the panel and getting serious about making some decisions. Here's what I've decided: I should've bought a J-3 Cub. The budget isn't allowing for much more. I wanted to put in a Vertical Power system; that's not likely to happen. I wanted to put in an Advanced Flight System 3500. That's not likely to happen (although I haven't ruled it out, yet). I wanted to have a nav/comm radio. That's not likely to happen (I have already bought an Icom A210 comm.). I was going to go with an audio panel; now I'll probably stay with the cheesey (but functional) PS Engineering intercom and forego all the fancy audio warnings of various components I won't be installing. I was going to go with a digital transponder. That's not going to happen. I'll go with the cheaper GTX-320A.

So what's left? I learned -- and still fly -- with steam gauges. Give me airspeed, altitude, vertical speed and an HSI, and I can fly a plane from here to there. I know how to navigate by looking out the window and checking with the paper map in my lap. Because I'm an old-timer, I'd rather have a VOR radio than a GPS, but VORs aren't going to be around that much longer so why spend money on a vanishing technology? And I have plenty of options for engine monitoring, all of which are better than the few dials on the Piper Warrior II I rent.

So what am I left with on my scratchpad this morning:

A Dynon EFIS - $2,500
Garmin 296 GPS and an Air Gizmo dock - Already purchased
A TruTrak Digiflight II one-axis autopilot - Already purchased
ICom A210 Comm radio - Already purchased
Garmin GTX-320 Transponder - $1,550
Grand Rapids engine monitor - $1,000
Backup altimeter and airspeed indicator - $400

From what I can tell -- and I'm sure I'm missing something -- that gives me a functional panel for under $6,000.

Of course there are still plenty of other things to consider, altitude encoders, remote compass, ELTs etc., but this seems like a good basis to move ahead, and I can always add bigger bells and whistles later.

I'm not an instrument pilot; I'm a day (and occasionally night but only around the patch) VFR pilot who likes to go up and look down and generally stay close to home. In my dreams, my RV will take me back to New England from time to time, or other locations across country, and I see no reason why this setup won't accomplish that.

Of course, the chuckleheads will still chuckle.

Speaking of newsletters, the first RVator from Van's Aircraft in pdf format is now available here. I recommend saving it to your own computer before trying to print it out. Just right-click the link and "save target as" button.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Battling boredom

My blogging colleague, DaveG, who runs one of the best blogs I've ever found, writes about another snowstorm that has hit his section of Ohio.

Dave's a lucky guy. Here in Minnesota, everyone is tired of winter, which greeted us with the usual -2 this morning. That's -2 with about 4 inches of snow remaining on the ground -- most of it crunchy and pointless and, down by the road, we have the usual muddy glaciers.

Would I trade it for summer? Of course. I'd even settle for spring. But I wouldn't mind a good snowstorm, either, and that's the problem with winter this year: sheer boredom.

When we lived in New England, we had winters like this all the time, and each night, it seemed, we'd see the evening news video every night with blizzards from Minnesota. Then we moved here and we have nothing but boring, every-day-pretty-much-the-same winters and we see video each night on the news with heavy snowstorms in Ohio and New England.

At least today I was able to get out to Flying Cloud Airport (KFCM) for another session with flight instructor Blaise Eisenbeil. And, like last time, my ability to fly an airplane seems to be coming back. The takeoffs and landings were much better and I made about 7 "pretty good" landings. They were divided pretty equally between soft field and short field and Blaise is pretty demanding about being precise.

I carried too much speed on final fairly consistently and I still haven't been able to 'recalibrate' my visual clues so I'm flaring a bit too early, but the pace of improvement is very encouraging and Blaise signed off my flight review.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Pot, meet kettle

I have to admit, pilots are a hypocritical lot. We spend an inordinate amount of time blaming the media for wrongly portraying the world of general aviation. Never stopping for a moment to think that perhaps the people in the media are pilots, we go into the bunker mentality pretty quickly on matters of general aviation.

It's long been my view that if the Phil Boyers (AOPA) were less interested in circling the wagons and creating an us vs. them mentality to whip up membership, and more interested in a more intelligent-less condescending approach to telling the GA story, then aviation would be more insulated from negative stories.

Suppose, for example, I were a member of the media (just suppose!) and I visited the AOPA forums to see what pilots think about general aviation, these are the adjectives I would see to describe pilots:

(On fly-ins) Crapshoot events
Snowboarders of the sky
Hot doggers

And that was just on one forum thread.

Let the record show, that "the media" did not use a single one of those adjectives in reporting the details of an accident in Florida that spawned the discussion.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Emergency landings redux

My guess is this guy is a much better real pilot than he is a Flight Simulator pilot. As good as Flight Simulator is, it really isn't that much like real flying. But I digress...

We have met the enemy

One of these days, more pilots will understand that one reason for the decline in general aviation is general aviators.

Monday, March 3, 2008


I made a couple of landings pretty much like this attempt a week or so ago. The only difference is in my case, there wasn't a lick of wind.