Sunday, February 28, 2010

The end of winter by air

I love flying in the winter, probably more than any other season. In another month, the combination of dark and light ground in Minnesota will make for uneven thermals and turbulence, a few weeks after that the geese will be on the move, and after that, hot and humid weather will diminish aircraft performance -- not that I'm complaining, mind you.

Today the temperatures got well into the '30s with a gorgeous blue sky and little wind. In February in Minnesota, that brings people out like Key West at sunset.

I'm trying to fit in a flight review next week, so I went out in this perfect weather and ran through a few flight maneuvers -- stalls and steep turns mostly -- and a couple of landings out in Glencoe and did some sight-seeing on the way back to Flying Cloud Airport southwest of the Twin Cities.

On Lake Waconia, I found this ice-house neighborhood...

You can click the image to see bigger versions. This is the day Minnesota requires ice houses to be removed from lakes in the southern two-thirds of the state. You can see trucks pulling a few off.

And from this shot, you can see that there were probably more ice houses here before. Some of the "streets" remind me of suburban corn fields that have been subdivided for housing developments.

Of course, it's also manure-spreading season. A few weeks ago, a farmer down in Albert Lea made news because he spread the manure in the shape of a heart for a valentine for his wife. Do you suppose this guy got an earful?

Of course, as this picture attests, there's still plenty of winter left in Flyover Country.

Here's a typical farm on the prairie. A windbreak around the house. It's needed. There's nothing between here and the Rockies to stop the wind. You'll want to click the image to see the bigger version.

As I approach this lake, if you look way off on the horizon -- straight ahead -- you can barely see the buildings of Minneapolis.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Iowa pilots help others soar

What's this? Yet another media story about aviation that's positive. Today's Omaha World Herald profiles the folks at WC Aircraft works down in Boone, Iowa:

Three veteran pilots are helping local aviators take off by building one airplane a time.

Keith Campbell, Kevin Horn and Bob Woolery, who teamed up to form WC Aircraft Works a few years ago, help pilots build experimental aircraft in a hanger near Boone Municipal Airport.

“People wanted a place to do it so we took over the whole hanger — that way we could rent places out for people to build their own airplanes,” Campbell said.

Campbell, Horn and Woolery technically don’t build aircraft for others but provide assistance and oversight.

“Basically they build their own aircraft and we help them if they need it,” Campbell said. “We also teach a class on building.”

The are 11 airplanes in the hanger now. Three of them are capable of flight.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

An aerial tour of St. Paul

I haven't flown into downtown St. Paul since I learned to fly there about 13 years ago. The flight school, Wings, is no longer in business, and I'd stopped flying out of there anyway because its planes were getting worn out and its staff was getting more unwelcoming to renters.

But it was a great place to learn because it underlies the Class B airspace and its towered, so learning how to work the radios wasn't a big deal. It also has the weirdest intersecting runways that form a "V" at the northwest end.

On one occasion, when I first moved here, that contributed to a mid-air accident.

Nowadays, I drive all the way to the southwestern suburb of Eden Prairie to rent an airplane when I fly, but one of these days I'll finish the RV and fly closer to home.

Anyway, I saw this video from Pete Howell on Van's Air Force today and it brought back good memories of KSTP.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

A good guy remembered

For a person so young, Andrew Phillips sure fit a lot of life into life, before his death at the control of the RV airplane he built a few weeks ago.

His obituary was in today. Who among us, who have flown an airplane, doesn't recognize this transforming nature of an airplane toward a pilot:

Andy, who “seemed to go from toy to toy,” says Dawn, always had a project in the works. After he finished building his “dream house” in Carp, Ont., about five years ago, says Dawn, she encouraged him to indulge his oft-expressed desire to learn to fly planes. When he began taking lessons, “his whole demeanour changed,” she says. Andy, who had always been happy, became giddy. “It was like someone flicked a switch,” she says. “He just had this passion.”

Like so many on Planet RV, Andy and I kept in touch via e-mail from time to time, and he came to the RV BBQ I used to host at Oshkosh (I think it was the big one we put on in 2007. I didn't see him in the pictures here but if you spot him, let me know). He was a good guy.

The wordsmith who wrote the obituary probably said it better, but that's what I'm going with: He was a good guy.

Kevin Horton, who I had the great pleasure to meet at Oshkosh last year, sums it up very well:

I've lost a huge number of friends and acquaintances in aircraft accidents over the years. I was counting them for awhile, but stopped counting when I hit twelve back in the early 90s. Flying certainly has its risks - you can greatly minimize the risk by using best practices for everything, but you can never completely eliminate the risk. Everything we do in life has risk. You can die in a car accident (as we almost did last year), you can be killed walking along the street (as happened to a neighbour a few years ago), and you can expire in your sleep. In the end, you need to live your life. Be smart and careful about what you do, and how you do it, but don't stop living.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Intercoms for the experimental aircraft

I got a note from Mark Scheuer, the boss of PS Engineering today. He and I met up at Lake Elmo Airport a few years ago (he's originally from Flyover Country), where he introduced me to the PS Engineering PMA 8000 intercom. It was a beautiful little intercom that I fell in love with but, when it came time to actually pay for one, the PS Engineering 1000II did the trick for about $400. It was, I think, my first run-in with the notion of making concessions to the budget.

Anyway, Mark has forwarded more details on a product his firm his introducing. I think I read about it in Kitplanes, but here's the whole news release.

PS Engineering introduces the PMA5000EX, a low-cost, feature rich, audio panel for EXperimental marketplace.

Lenoir City, Tenn. PS Engineering heard the voices from the experimental and LSA aircraft community, “Give us IntelliVox® at a reasonable price” and “We don’t need it certified”. So the company directed its engineering staff to give these pilots and aircraft builders what they want. The result? PS Engineering is announcing the addition of the all new audio control panel to round out their Experimental Audio Panel offering. The PMA5000EX achieves a new level of price/performance for the homebuilder.

Company president and founder, Mark Scheuer, said, “We listened to this extremely important group of astute customers, and we responded the way only PS Engineering can, with proven design that is packaged just right for the needs of the Experimental market. The PMA5000EX nicely fills out PS Engineering’s audio panel product line offering for the homebuilt aircraft. It joins the PMA4000 basic audio panel and the ultimate panel that does it all, the PMA9000EX.”

The PMA5000EX has just the right blend of practical functionality as well as some high end features that will complete any cockpit. It has a 4-place hi-fi stereo intercom that uses PS Engineering’s legendary IntelliVox® squelch protocol. This proprietary system uses computational power to differentiate instantly between cabin noise and human speech, allowing seamless conversation among the crew and passengers without any adjustments.

Since 1997, there have been more than 60,000 IntelliVox® systems installed in various aircraft, ranging from J-3 Cubs to the legendary P-51, and by all reports, the systems performs flawlessly.

Plus the IntelliVox® that is built into the PMA5000EX even has a High Noise capability, making the highly acclaimed automatic VOX that much more effective in the most noisy environments. This special “High Noise” capability is configured, if needed, by switch settings inside the audio panel.

Not having to go through the expense of certification helps reduce cost, as does removing the Marker Beacon Receiver and Speaker Amplifier—as a result, the company was able to price the PMA5000EX at a remarkable price of $995.00.

The PMA5000EX supports two VHF COMs, two switched navigation receivers, and has two switched Auxiliary (AUX) receiver inputs for any other audio sources where switch control is desired. One unique feature of the AUX inputs is the ability to automatically mute the audio for 60 seconds. This is useful in cases where the audio is an alert that has been recognized, but becomes annoying. After 60 seconds, the audio is automatically restored. Pilots have asked for ways to temporarily disable audio alarms, and PS Engineering has responded.

Music has become integral to the enjoyment of flight. That’s why the PMA5000EX offers a front panel utility jack that accepts most cellular phones, music inputs, and audio advisory inputs from portable devices. Volume of the music input is easily controlled through front panel buttons

In addition to the switched inputs, the new audio panel also has four unswitched inputs for the priority alert audio sources such as engine analyzers, traffic and terrain monitors that are becoming common in experimental and Light Sport Aircraft. One input is even provided to the pilot with the power off.

Another useful capability is the Monitor (MON) mode. This feature will automatically mute the audio from the Com receiver that is not selected for transmit, when the selected radio audio is active. In this way, the pilot may listen to AWOS on COM 2, but prevents the AWOS audio from interfering from the primary Com audio which is typically ATC.

A frequently requested function is more music mute modes. The PMA5000EX provides four different mute modes. By pressing the Mute button, the pilot can select Mute On, Mute Off, Intercom Mute, and Radio Mute. A new capability that the pilot can enjoy is to enjoy listening to music even when in Isolate mode.

The Telephone function will put the pilot, crew, or everybody in the aircraft on the phone. This mode is selectable from the front panel.

The PMA5000EX is not intended for installation in certified aircraft, and is not FAA-approved. “We continue to offer a full slate of fully internationally certified audio panels, including the ‘flagship’ PMA8000B that sets the benchmark for audio control capability,” said Gary Picou, Vice President of Quality Systems and Certification, “The PMA5000EX doesn’t take anything away from our existing products, but gives us another competitive tool in a significant market.”

The new audio panel will be available in February 2010 and will have 1-year Pro-Support warranty.

Founded in 1985, PS Engineering has become a leading manufacturer of general aviation intercoms and audio control systems. The company’s sole corporate focus is excellence in the design and manufacture of audio control systems for General Aviation Aircraft. PS Engineering is credited for many innovations in the field, including IntelliVox®, Softmute™, Karaoke Mode™, Split mode™, Swap Mode™, and the IRS™(Internal Recording System). With a network of over 600 authorized dealer/installers worldwide, the company is a leader in retrofit avionics as well as a supplier to other major avionics manufacturers for their audio panel requirements. Visit our web site at

Let's talk. I've been making pretty good progress on ye olde RV-7A in the last year or so. But some of the stuff I've bought for it are already being eclipsed by some of the new stuff. I'd actually like one of these. The price is right, although I hadn't planned to spend $900 I don't have. And it has a lot of functions.

This is where I need more discipline and more focus. I have an intercom. It's a good intercom. I usually will be flying by myself and I only have one radio. It is, as I like to say, "a working man's panel."

It's also important, I think, to keep going -- ahead -- when you get into the home stretch (in my case, that's defined as within 2 years of first flight), and not spend a lot of time undoing stuff I've already done, where matters of safety are not concerned.

All that said, if I had a little more money, if I hadn't already bought an intercom, if I had more than one radio, I'd snap one of these babies up in a minute.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

One thing. Then another

I wrote a few days ago about my reluctance to take on any particular task because the things I do seem to conflict with things I need to do later. But, thanks to the wise advice of some RV-building friends, I decided to press on by making arrangements for the fuel line to pass through the firewall to the engine.

This is something I should have done before I put the engine on, but it's not a deal breaker. What is a pain in the neck is that the instructions from Van's don't look at the "big picture" when telling you what to do.

Here's an example: When you first get your firewall, you're told to add doubler plate for a fuel pump. This assumes, however, that you're going to put a carbureted engine on the beast. But I decided, later, I'd have fuel injection. The little fuel pump isn't needed because a high pressure pump is installed upstream. But there you are with a doubler plate and two nutplates.

Later, when you put the battery contactor on, it calls for rivets to be drilled out in some firewall angle, and holes drilled for nutplates to attach the contactor to the engine side of the firewall. Fine, no problem, right?

Wrong. Because when you get around to putting your doubler plate on to strengthen the pass-through for the fuel line, you find that one of those holes you used to attach the nutplate for the battery contactor, is also used to locate the doubler for the fuel line pass-through. How many times can one person drill out rivets?

So I decided to move the doubler plate to the left, ignoring the attachment to the firewall angle.

This did not cause a problem until I realized that the distance between the doubler for the fuel line, and the doubler for the fuel pump I'm not using, leaves me no room to drill a hole for the throttle cable. (You can see on the fuel pump doubler that I "scalloped" out room for a hole for the throttle cable, but the hole for the spiffy SafeAir "eyeballs" needs to be 3/4" and there's a one inch nut that holds it in place. That isn't going to work here.

I could move the throttle cable hole further to the center, but now it'd be in danger of hitting the engine mount and I just saw images on Van's Air Force this week of what can happen over time doing that.

What I could do is slice an angle off the bottom of the fuel line doubler, ignore one of the rivet holes I've already drilled, and drill another.

The other option is just to locate the pass-through for the throttle cable through the doubler that was originally installed for the fuel pump.

It doesn't much matter for now; I don't have any help to hold a bucking bar in place as a backrivet plate to rivet the thing on.

Update 3:17 p.m. - I ended up scalloping the fuel line doubler to allow room for the throttle cable passthrough.

And installed the bulkhead connection. You can see I also drilled the hole for the throttle cable passthrough, which will be the Avery one-hole swivel. The problem? The instructions seem to say I should drill a 3/4" hole for it. So I bought a nice, pricey, 3/4" Greenlee punch. It worked great. The hole's too small. Anyone know what size it should be?

Here's a problem. I grabbed the VA-138 hose I ordered a few months ago just to see how it fit. It seems much too long, which shouldn't be the case since I only moved the fuel line passthrough over by about 1/2". Will have to figure this out later.

When 'real life' collides with 'RV life'

Some of you may have heard my day job work caused a bit of a nationwide stir this week when I posted a picture of a billboard on my day job's blog. The nationwide buzz about it was a good reminder of just how obsessed the nation is with trivia, especially political trivia.

I was talking (via e-mail) with my pal, Doug Reeves, this week and opined that one of the things I love about building an RV and hanging out with other RVers, and going to Oshkosh, is that I'm able to get away from real life and the usual political BS that exists there.

Unfortunately, there come times when "real life" and my RV life collide and a very sad story this week is a reminder that the community is not immune from these intrusions.

Matthew and Sandi Brandes have been so helpful to the RV building community. Matthew's Web site, which documented the building of their RV-9, has been one of the must-go-to Web sites for RV builders.

According to news reports, Mrs. Brandes reached a plea deal on embezzlement charges this week, and they have to give the airplane to the Chamber of Commerce a dentist, for whom she once worked, to satisfy restitution. She also has been sentenced to 15 months in prison.

The Web site,, now points to Van's Aircraft.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The Colorado crash

The mid-air collision between a Cirrus SR22 and a glider tow plane in Colorado doesn't get more graphic. We usually don't see images of midair collisions, the only other time I recall seeing one was the crash of a private plane into a PSA jet near San Diego many, many years ago.

The pilot of the glider being towed was on CBS this morning:

Watch CBS News Videos Online

Today, I'll order a traffic alert system for the RV project and, again, vow to fly as safely as I can.