Thursday, April 30, 2009

The best you can do

I still have a few days remaining on my two-week-vacation and now that I'm back from New England, I was able to spend the entire day at the hangar, with a break only to run into work to interview Rick Gray for this weekend's RV Builder's Hotline. Rick won the Grand Champion title at Sun n' Fun for his Rocket.

During the interview, Rick told me that the secret to building a champion RV -- or any other plane for that matter -- is looking at a completed part and asking oneself, "is this the best I can do?"

Great, just what I need: A conscience.

But it was helpful when I went back to the hangar that I decided to doublecheck the continuity on the ELT wiring I've been installing, and then make some minor changes in how I route it to the firewall.

Bottom line? I pushed the first button on something I've wired and it beeped and flashed, just like it's supposed to. OK, the ELT is actually powered by its own battery. All I was installing was a remote switch on the panel and a buzzer that tells me when the ELT is activated.

Still, I didn't expect it to work. "You're doing fine," hangar neighbor Ray Hurdt assured me, apparently aware of my tendency not to trust myself, even after 8 years of building this airplane. A few seconds later, I grounded the buzzer and heard a "beep."

"See?" he said. "You need to trust yourself more."

The fact is: I probably could do better and I probably will rewire the connector at the remote switch. There's too much slack in the wire for one thing and I didn't like the job I did crimping the female Molex connectors. But it works, and that's what counts right now.

Here's a shot of the ELT. See that wiring harness? Yeah, I made that.

I ran the wire forward through the bushings that also hold the elevator trim cable. I installed an Adel clamp to keep it low so as to avoid the pushrod to the yoke.

Then I cross it under the pushrod (and the left wingtip strobe cable) to another Adel clamp.

Through the center section bulkhead, down the center channel, and up the conduit along the firewall...

Then back along a rib, crossing over the Vertical Power power unit (not shown), through a bushing in the subpanel to the switch on the instrument panel.

One thing I don't like about this setup is the lack of strain relief at the connector to the remote switch.

So that's one more thing to check off on my weekly list at the hangar.

Of course, I have to add one more: "Do it again. Do it better."

Sunday, April 26, 2009

RV crickets

In last week's RV Builder's Hotline, I mentioned that I'd be in Massachusetts this week and would love to visit RV airplane projects that are either under construction or flying. I heard from a grand total of 0 people. Bleah.

Perhaps I need to visit Oregon or Texas to get an invite?

Monday, April 20, 2009

The workout

I'm driving back to Massachusetts from Minnesota starting tomorrow but my currency for renting at Thunderbird Aviation runs out at the end of the month. So today was my last chance to get in the air.

Unfortunately, the atmosphere was extremely unstable, as befits flyover country in the spring. There was rain showers, lows clouds (1400 above ground level --AGL, I'd guess) and wind. Lots of wind. About 19 miles per hour gusting to 30.

In my younger flying days, I'd probably have canceled, but these days I want to be sure I'm up for challenging weather. This isn't a stupid decision, mind you. I remain a conservative pilot. But I also know that flying cross country -- as I hope to do in my RV-7A someday -- means being ready for short bursts of crappy weather, while I head for the safe harbor at a nearby airport.

So I launched from Flying Cloud in a Piper Warrior. They apparently didn't think anyone would be flying today because they were all in the hangar. On climb-out, I realized why. It was a rollercoaster of turbulent air and wind sheer.

With wind out of the northwest at 330, I headed for Airlake in Farmington, around the Minneapolis-St. Paul Class B airspace, with a thought to heading up to Fleming Field, with its runway oriented 340 for some mild crosswind practice on a relatively short field.

Approaching Airlake, I flew a midfield crosswind to check the windsock -- which I couldn't find -- saw a Sundowner in the runup area and considered turning a left downwind to try a more severe crosswind. But a KingAir announcing he was on the ILS approach (note to IFR pilots: This tells the VFR pilot NOTHING. Would it kill you to say how far you are from the airport?), so I decided to continue heading south, gain some altitude and then head northeast to South St. Paul.

As I headed in that direction, however, I saw a raincloud ahead and knew there was no going around it. I'd have to turn. Before I knew it, however, I was in the cloud with no reference outside. I knew what had to be done -- a 180 degree turn while I flew by instruments (no, I'm not instrument rated, but I'm well trained for these sorts of unintentional flights into instrument meteorological conditions). The attitude indicator indicated a right turn of about 30 degrees and when I emerged from the cloud, I was a little steeper than I would've liked. But I was in control, not panicked, and ready for a long straight-in to runway 30 at Airlake.

The problem with the Warrior is their rudders aren't big enough for serious crosswind, and it took all I had to stay lined up with the runway, with all of its lights blazing. The landing wasn't bad at all for someone who hasn't flown since January, so I returned to try another one around the pattern. This time the more stabilized approach yielded a better result. And the gusty conditions abated about a 1/2 mile short of the runway. My airspeed said about 70 knots, the GPS said my groundspeed was around 50. It took me forever to get to the threshold of the runway.

On the second-climb-out, I noticed a bird heading toward my window about 5 seconds before it quickly veered off to my left. He missed me -- or did I miss him -- by about 15 feet. Now I remember why I don't like flying in Minnesota in the spring -- unstable air and lots of birds.

The third takeoff was my mistake. I should've been making sure I was ready for takeoff while I waited for a State Police helicopter to depart. If I had, I would've noticed I hadn't set two notches of flaps for takeoff. And when I bounced off the runway and assumed my normal attitude, the stall horn went off. Again, I knew what to do: push the nose down and then figure out the problem., which made itself apparent pretty quickly.

The subsequent landing had a decent approach, but I bounced back into the air on landing. In gusty winds, getting the airspeed just right is a tricky proposition. Although it wasn't a good landing -- heck, it wasn't any landing at all -- I was proud of what I did next. I firewalled the throttle and retracted a notch of flaps , the tires touched the ground briefly and I was back in the air for a go-around. The decision-making was sound, the execution was good. We pilots tell ourselves we're not supposed to try to save a bounced landing, but we do and there are plenty of accident reports to prove it.

After an uneventful landing, I tried heading up to South St. Paul again. I had to snake between some rainstorms and heavy clouds, and I was right up against the Class B as I made my way to the Mississippi and then a long final for runway 34. I stayed high because there are neighborhoods all around KSGS, and the landing was relatively uneventful. With the headwind I had, flying the glideslope would be a disaster if the engine quit.

I considered stopping in at my hangar to mess with the RV-7A project a bit, but I didn't want to waste a lot of money taxiing around airports, so I headed back and took off for the trip back to Flying Cloud.

The tower said winds were 350 (NNW) for runway 36, but I think it was farther off the nose than that because I again needed quite a bit of rudder. If I hadn't carried extra speed to account for the gusty conditions, I wouldn't have floated quite so far down the runway, perhaps, but since Thunderbird is located off the departure end anyway.

And it's not like there was much traffic around any of theairports I visited today. It's Monday, and some pilots just don't like a good workout that leaves you tired.

Rain, clouds, winds, gusts, birds, stall horns, airspace: $196.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Why can't I do that

I'm going out flying tomorrow. With any luck -- and some skill -- I'll make a halfway decent landing or

I wish I could fly better, or should I say: land better. Take this falling brick, known as the space shuttle, landing at Cape Canaveral recently. Perfect. It's falling a hundred times as fast and probably traveling 7 or 8 times as fast as Piper Warrior. But... perfect.

Vertical Power cutout

Since I have a separate Vertical Power category, I thought I should update you that I made the cutout for the VP-50 switch yesterday. I ended up moving it from the original location down near the flap switches. This is because I had moved the Air Gizmo GPS296 dock to the top of the radio stack before I realized that the horizontal adapter does not fit the cutout for the AirGizmo dock, and I'd already installed the support angle.

That left the VP-50 to be installed in the 296's original spot, to the right and slightly above the big Dynon D-100. It is, of course, still workable with the "same hand you use for the throttle control" as the instructions say.

I didn't see a specific mounting plan but there's a bracket attached to the back of the switch, so it appears I need to install two pieces of angle above and below the cutout. (Update: Marc Ausman says the bracket sits on the back of the unit and -- because the rectangle for the unit is snug, the thumbwheel screw just keeps the whole deal tight.)

In any event, it looks slick.

I'm cutting the panel myself. As I've noted before: This is a blue-collar airplane that's pay-as-you-go. I can think of a hundred things I'd like to do with this plane if I had more money. But one of the interesting challenges now is doing more myself and learning to live with a more realistically-constructed plane.

At this point in our economy, I consider it a metaphor for life and an unseen challenge that probably should get its own award at Oshkosh -- a "people who aren't rich" category.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Cold water on the Hotline?

I try to provide at least one new piece of original content when I publish the RV Builder's Hotline every other Saturday, but it's getting harder and harder to do. One is due out this week and I haven't started on yet.

Some weeks it's hard to get motivated.

I'd hoped to write something this week on RV airplane owners' experiences when doing their annual inspection. It seems to me that people who are building can learn a few things from people who are flying and this is one very important area.

There are 6,000 RVs flying, there are 2,000 subscribers to the Hotline, and another 2,000 read it online.

My solicitation for annual inspection experiences garnered all of two responses.

Guess I'll come up with a Plan B.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

2008 accident statistics

The 2008 aviation accident statistics are out and things are, well, so-so. General aviation is still killing people at about the same rate. I think late last year I put up statistics about RVs which showed no significant change in the accident rate. Here's the NTSB news release:

Washington, DC - The National Transportation Safety Board
today released preliminary aviation accident statistics for
the 2008 calendar year, showing improvements in some
industry sectors but increased accident rates in others.

"While the overall aviation safety record in the United
States is among the best in the world, the 2008 accident
statistics reveal a mixed picture," said NTSB Acting
Chairman Mark V. Rosenker. "We are particularly concerned
with the spike in fatalities in on-demand air charter
operations. There's a lot of room for improvement in this
area, and as evidenced by our recent forum on emergency
medical service helicopter accidents, we continue to do
everything we can to identify the safety issues involved,
and to advocate for the adoption of our recommendations that
will make the skies safer."

On-demand flight operations (classified by regulators as
operating under the federal code 14 CFR Part 135), which
include air medical, air taxi and air tour flights, logged
over 3.6 million flight hours and had 56 accidents, killing
66 people - the highest number of fatalities since 2000;
there were 43 fatalities in 2007. The accident rate per
100,000 flight hours (1.52) remained virtually unchanged
from 2007 (1.54).

The number of accidents involving large commercial carriers
(Part 121) was 28 in both 2008 and 2007. In both scheduled
and non-scheduled services, the airlines carried 753 million
passengers on over 10.8 million flights without a passenger

In 2008, commuter airlines (also operating under Part 135 in
the federal code) that typically fly smaller turboprop
aircraft made 581,000 flights, logging over 290,000 hours.
These operators had seven accidents, none of which resulted
in fatalities. This is an increase from three accidents in

In general aviation, there were 1,559 accidents, 275 of
which involved fatalities, killing a total of 495 - one
fewer than the previous year. The GA accident rate per
100,000 flight hours was 7.11, up from 6.92 in 2007. In the
last 20 years, the highest accident rate was 9.08 in 1994;
the lowest rate was 6.33 in 2006.

Federal legislation defines an aircraft accident as an
occurrence associated with the operation of an aircraft
which takes place between the time any person boards the
aircraft with the intention of flight and all such persons
have disembarked, and in which any person suffers death or
serious injury, or in which the aircraft receives
substantial damage.

Here are the statistical tables.