Saturday, May 29, 2010

Dale Rupp

Though I haven't seen him in a few years, I think about Dale Rupp quite often. He was the former president of EAA Chapter 54 (Lake Elmo, MN) when I joined many years ago. When I took over chapter newsletter duties, he always had a kind word (I did a great chapter newsletter (sample), thanks to his encouragement, thank you very much). He was the first RV project that I visited regularly, and he's the one who taught me the hangar rules of "No Politics. No Religion." You save a lot of friends that way, but many EAA chapters (and to some degree, AirVenture) fail to grasp this concept. It's one of the reasons I'm still without an EAA chapter. Nothing repulses me more than pilots talking politics.

Dale is also the person who taught me the proper response when somebody asks, "When is your first flight?"

"Tuesday," he'd say. He just wouldn't say which Tuesday.

When visiting his hangar, I was always struck that he was listening to Minnesota Public Radio's classical music service I found that a lot; pilots listening to public radio. That's a good thing.

The other day I was working on the RV-7A project and thought, "I'm about where Dale Rupp was the last time I visited his under-construction project." He flew the next year. He had the good sense to wait an entire winter to make his first flight. There aren't many RV builders with that kind of good, common sense.

He sent me an e-mail a few months ago:

"Bob, saw you on Channel 2 a week or so ago. How is the RV6 coming along? It looks like my PIC flying days are over. Some how I have gotten older and some of my parts are wearing out."


And, indeed, they did. Dale, who lived in Mahtomedi, Minnesota, died a few days ago.

He wrote some great President's Columns for me when I was newsletter editor. One of his last ones has a lot of good advice for RV builders:

What I have leaned while building my first homebuilt airplane or what I would do the next time could be the title of a long book. I know everyone that has built an airplane has a lot of material to contribute to such a book. Lately I have been reconsidering my choice of ignition systems for my RV6. I became very enamored with the idea of an electronic ignition for my Lycoming 0-320. The advantage is more speed and better fuel economy and it is modern. So I installed it and the first time

I tried to run the engine on Wednesday September 10th only the side that had the magneto worked. The electronic ignition was dead. So with Dave Fiebiger's help we tried to trouble shoot it. No luck, could figure it out, so did the next best thing, closed the hanger door and went home. I needed to sleep on this problem. The next morning at 0300 I decided to remove the electronic ignition and replace it with the magneto.

JUST FIX IT!

I can hear some of you saying why give up, just fix the darn thing. Well there are three factors to consider. The first is I do not really understand how the electronic ignition is wired up or works. It is supposed to adjust the ignition timing to compensate for the amount of oxygen available for combustion. In other words the higher you go the longer the burn should be because there is less oxygen, so the spark is advanced.

My goal in building my RV6 was to keep it as light as possible. To help reduce eight I installed an electronic engine monitor that tells me every thing I want to know about the engine including RPM.I eliminated a heavy tachometer, manifold pressure, oil pressure etc. Everything is on the glass engine monitor and it has 21 separate functions.. The engine monitor picks up the RPM data from the magneto. Therefore when you ground the magneto to check the electronic ignition you have no RPM indication. A simple circuit was supposed to solve this problem but it didn't.

There are just too many unknowns. I don't understand the wiring for the electronic ignition and I don't understand the simple circuit so best to go back to all magnetos.

THAT PICKY FAA!

The second reason to drop the electronic ignition is that the FAA says that any changes to a certified engine and propeller combination makes it experimental and it would have to be flown 40 hours instead of 25 hours. The third reason is that I am running out of Tuesdays for this year and the snow is going to fall in a month or so. Next winter I can figure out how this wonderful electronic works really works and get the wiring all sorted out. That's what winters are for.

What I have learned is that if you depart too far from the old tried and true and do not fully understand how it all fits together it is best to back up and reconsider. In my case I want to keep the airplane light so it will go fast. I did, my RV6 only weighs 1035 pounds empty which is great. I just should not have added the electronic ignition. I would have been flying months ago.

Now when I solve a few other problems and the engine runs and I get the FAA's approval I can fly Tuesday.


I don't have the details of Dale's death. He passed away a week ago Friday. It would have been so fitting, though, if he'd picked a Tuesday.

Friday, May 28, 2010

The stupid among us

As pilots, we often assume that everyone else in the sky is as smart and competent as we are. It is -- next to "the drive to the airport is more dangerous" -- one of the myths of aviation.

Today I was browsing just-filed reports on the Aviation Safety Reporting System and came upon this:

My student and I were in the traffic pattern in a Cessna 172R. After starting our descent 1600 FT MSL, my student started his turn to the base leg when we were at 45 degrees to the approach end of the runway and were at an altitude of around 1400 FT MSL. My student had been making his radio calls using the ZZZ UNICOM channel and announced his turn from downwind to left base for Runway XX at ZZZ. Upon going wings level in our descent to landing, my student noticed an aircraft approaching us head on and less than 1 mile distance away from us. The airplane approaching us then turned to our right and I instructed my student to continue the approach and that I would watch the traffic that had just turned in front of us. At this time I made a call over the UNICOM to company traffic that was in the pattern behind us and let them know there was an aircraft that had turned North about a mile from the approach end of Runway XX. The company traffic responded with saying that he had the traffic in sight. My student continued his approach to Runway XX and performed a short-field landing at the one thousand foot marker. After coming to a slow roll within three stripes of the thousand foot markers I looked out the back windows of our aircraft and saw the other airplane that we had almost collided with was less than 500 feet behind us with all three wheels on the ground and taxiing towards us. I knew this plane had been on the runway about the same time we were since the other airplane is a tail-dragger and his tailwheel was on the ground. At this time I instructed my student to exit the runway and taxi back to Runway XX. After exiting the runway I stopped out airplane and allowed the other airplane to taxi past off the runway, made a call over UNICOM that my aircraft and the crop duster were clear of Runway XX. After consulting with the other instructor in our company airplane, it was brought to my attention that the other airplane had landed behind us on Runway XX at the same time we had touched wheels down. I double checked with our company airplane and he agreed that there was no radio communication with the airplane that landed behind us and that the other instructor thought we were about a 1/2 mile from a midair collision on our base leg of our approach to Runway XX. After coming to-a stop on the taxiway, I wrote down on my note pad the tail number of the crop duster that had landed on the runway less than 500 feet from the back of our airplane. I feel that the owner or operator of the airplane should be reprimanded for reckless operation. It didn't occur to me until I got back that we could have had an incident on the runway had the brakes failed on the crop duster when my student was performing a short-field landing. There are regulations set forth about ZZZ and traffic pattern flow and we all have to abide but these regulations and so do other pilots at every airport in the U.S.


Sometimes we create conflicts on our own. Yesterday, I was at KSGS (South St. Paul, Minnesota) when I heard one pilot say to another pilot who was taxiing, "we're going to take the extra 5 knots and depart (from) Runway 34." At KSGS, Runway 16 is the calm-wind runway, but there was not a calm wind. it was 5 knots and increasing.

Ideally, it seems to me, everyone ought to agree on what runways should be used at non-towered airports. But these two didn't. The one pilot took off on 34. The other pilot took off on 16 shortly thereafter and they both stayed in the pattern.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Landing on an oil slick

What would it be like to land on an oil slick? For one thing, it'd be like paying an extra $100 to clean up your airplane:

How do you know when you're done?



If you ever to decide to build your own airplane, you'll have to learn to put up with people asking you (a) when you're going to be done? and (b) why aren't you done?

Only you will know the answer and if you're smart, you'll never answer it. Once you do, you've set a date and since you're getting pressure from your family and friends, do you really need to add some from you?

Still, you'll face a challenge when you get near the end of a project and here's why: You'll realize there are things you could have done better and you'll be tempted to do them again and there are things you wish you'd done.

In avionics, this is a constant problem but here's the secret: No matter what you put in your instrument panel, you'll find a thing you could have put in it instead when the next monthly issue of your favorite aviation magazine comes in the mail. Get used to it and ignore it. If you're building your airplane just to impress someone else, maybe you're building an airplane for all the wrong reasons.

There are, however, reasons to listen to yourself. The other day, for example, I looked at a fuel line that -- maybe -- seemed fine to me when I put it in. But when I look at it now, it looks like it's restricted at a 90-degree bend. Do you really want to be flying and wondering, "Gee, I wonder how that fuel line is working out?" So I changed it out. It's a 4 foot long piece so, naturally, it took almost all of the 12 feet of aluminum tubing to fix it.

Sometimes, change is thrust upon us. I put in only one landing/taxi light when I built the wings a few years ago -- in the left wing. I didn't know much about electrical wiring at the time, and I wanted to do as little of it as I could. I also didn't intend to do much night flying.

But I've learned electrical wiring since -- at least, I've learned enough about electrical wiring to be stupid enough to try -- and I've also seen the value of wig-wag lights when you're flying during the day.

Find any video of my friend, Pete Howell, turning base to final and watch how those alternating lights in the wings make him more visible. Now, Pete is doing all sorts of fancy stuff with HID and other lighting, but anything that might make you more visible down low is a good thing (I'm actually thinking of installing a smoke system just to be able to flip it on to make it easier for nearby traffic to find me. Is this a bad idea?).

And, Vertical Power has issued a software update to the VP-50 system which takes a switch I wasn't going to use and make it enable a wig-wag function. I don't have to buy anything or do any wiring. How could I not install a second light?

So in the last few days, I did.

When am I going to be finished? When I am.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

RV-8 pilot killed in Florida

A crash near Sebring, Florida has killed RV-8 pilot Douglas Gardner.

According to the Tampa Tribune:

Lt. Darin Hood, with the Highlands County Sheriff's Office, said the pilot was identified as 61-year-old Douglas Gardner. Authorities received the call at 9:15 a.m. Sunday after residents living on and near Highland Street off C.R. 17 South, close to U.S. 98, heard the plane crashing.


More here.

If you've ever hung an engine on an RV, there's a pretty good chance you benefited from Mr. Gardner's expertise. He's one of the Tampa RVers who wrote "The Illustrated Guide to Engine Hanging."

Monday, May 24, 2010

AirVenture: It's not for tenters anymore



I've just been informed that the site I've been camping on for the last 10 years at Oshkosh -- out in the field by the creek -- is now going to be the new 24-hour generator area.

This is necessitated because EAA has seen fit to upgrade the old 24 hour generator with sites with water/electric hookups (i.e. -- the rich people with their fancy camping units), charge them over $40 a night with no credit for unused nights.

So now the blight of land yachts with incessant noise is going to displace those of us who are "old school" campers and I have no idea what space will be left for us, and where.

Frankly, this is what I was afraid of when the "upgrades" to the AirVenture grounds were announced.

Unfortunately, EAA says no maps will be available for Camp Scholler's new layout for another two weeks.

This makes the Piece of Grass 2010 pretty impossible to pull off now because I have no idea where someone like me will be allowed to camp, so I won't be able to tell people where it'll be.

I have ZERO interest in being within a half-mile of the 24-hour generator people.

I'll try to reassess the situation over the next week or so and, if necessary, refund the money of those who've contributed to POG.

Update - I've sent back the hundreds of dollars that people donated to get the campsites for Piece of Grass 2010. It simply isn't practical to plan on Camp Scholler as the location since I simply won't know where we'd be if we were able to get spaces. Joe Ferraro at VAF pointed out -- correctly -- that nobody holds a gun to my head to pull this together and, of course, he's right. He also asked why it couldn't be moved 10 rows farther out and while that might be a reasonable question, it ignores the reality of what's happening here.

Camp Scholler is making fewer spaces available for tent campers. We don't know what the effect will be of displacing hundreds of those people AND the 24-hour generator people and it's simply impractical to invite people to an event and then not be able to tell them where it is.

In any event, the money was donated for campsites. We don't need the campsites and maybe someone will come up with a better location that can we use.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Monday, May 17, 2010

Video: The last Hamilton


One of the reasons my RV-7A project is taking so long to finish is because there are so many distractions on the field that grab my attention.

Today, for example, I could cut CAT tubing for the fresh-air vents on N614EF, or I could walk out to the taxiway to watch the 1929 Hamilton do an engine run-up and taxi at South St. Paul's magnificent Fleming Field.



A few minutes later, a crowd watched as the Hamilton was back for its departure from home.





As I understand it, this thing has been in the Lysdale hangar at South St. Paul Airport since the 1960s. Originally, they were built in Milwaukee. It's the last one in the world. It's been sold at auction and will soon head toward the West Coast.

Here's some background:

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Video: Vertical Power's VP-50 in action



I think I did one of the first interviews with Vertical Power owner Marc Ausman and ever since then, I've wanted one. The VP-200, which I wrote about in the RV Builder's Hotline in 2007, is the top-of-the line product from the company, and acts pretty much as your first officer. Unfortunately, like so many avionics products, my "want one" plays second fiddle to my "can't afford one."

No matter. The VP-50 has been more than adequate. I've been installing the radios over the last few weeks and I've made a video documenting the progress. Find it here.

N614EF gets wings



I have a lot of work still to do on N614EF before I put the wings on. So today we put the wings on. My youngest son, Patrick, wanted to take a picture of the plane with the wings on, so on they went.

Now, on the first try for the picture above, the tail started to crash down again (I'm in the middle of fixing the rudder fairing from when that happened the other night). There's no prop on this plane for counterweight.

Patrick made airplane noises...



It's just as well we put the wings on; I found more things that needed to get done. It turns out I've hit the little stub from the fuel line on the fuselage that I've put a kink in it inside the fuselage. So the left wing fuel line will have to be routed again; that's a miserable job but it must be done.

You've heard of the RV grin? Here it is -- special "it's not ready to fly yet" version.



I've put in over 2,100 hours and 9 years of work into N614EF. But there's another way to measure it. Just compare this:



To this:

Friday, May 14, 2010

N614EF has ears and talks

It only took about 5 months for me to get through the angst of trying to build a wiring harness for the ICOM A210 communications radio and PS Engineering 1000II intercom, but today I sucked it up and flipped the switch.

And it works!





Since the engine isn't ready yet, I couldn't test out the shielding of the harness and its ability to keep out noise, but I did flip on the strobes and all of the other electrical equipment and it all quiet as mouse. Then I transmitted on 123.45 and listened on the scanner in the hangar and things sound great.

By the way, I've recorded a video on how easy it is to install component and configure them using Vertical Power. I'll edit it down and upload it here in the next day or so.

I don't know jack

I've taken a couple of days off from work, turned off the radio, shut off the Internet (mostly), and am out at KSGS (South St. Paul, Minnesota) working on N614EF. A week of clouds, cold, and rain have lifted. All sorts of planes -- mostly amphibs -- are flying in an out of here today. Life is good.

At the moment, I'm finishing up the avionics, and working up the courage to flip on the switch on the ICOM A210 communications radio to see if it works, or whether it fries like it did a few weeks ago. Life is exciting.

Here's a jack I've never seen before. Maybe you have.



It's the input jack for music and I'm making this post because at some time in the future, someone installing a PS Engineering 1000II intercom is going to have the same question, and I can update and post the answer here. Hello future, how are things?

The question: This is a mono jack. There are three possible places to solder wires. There are two wires in a shielded cable. Which wire goes to which terminal and which terminal ends up without any wire on it? Life is confusing.

I'll hang up and listen.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

RV-12 RV-12 RV-12

I have to say it! I'm sick of hearing about the light-sport RV-12. Yes, I know it's a great airplane and I know every old fuddy afraid of losing his/her medical certificate wants to build one. I want to build one!

I'm suffering from a case of the "golden boy" syndrome and if you've ever worked at , well, where I work, you'd recognize it immediately. The new kid in town is the golden boy, until the next new kid in town comes along.

We RV-7A builders had our day in the spotlight. Then the RV-10 came along and that was that. And now the RV-12 is the life of the party. We'll endure.

In other news, the new RVator from Van's Aircraft is out. It's chock full of information about the, ummm, RV-12.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

2,100 hours



It shouldn't surprise long-time readers of Letters from Flyover Country to know that I fried my communications radio when I was installing it last month. If there's a hurdle to be encountered in building your own airplane, I believe I've encountered it.

Over time, you begin to wonder whether I'm just unlucky with this sort of stuff, or is it all related to flunking shop back in school? Building an airplane requires a comprehensive set of skills -- most of which you develop over the course of a project -- but the most important one is the ability to stick to it.

That sounds like a "duh" thing to say and it sounds like it's something anybody can do. But this week I passed 2,100 hours on the project so far and over the last few hundred hours I've crossed over into the camp that says not everyone can or should build an airplane.

Arrogant? Perhaps, but I'm in no position to to hold myself above anyone else and I've got a $300 unpaid bill to fix my $1,200 airplane to prove it. But here's the thing: We live in an increasingly "right-now" society and I believe we're evolving into a less patient, less persistent, less dedicated civilization. Those are three traits that are required in order to build an airplane.

I see people looking at their blackberries and iPads and iPhones all day long because they haven't looked at them for the last 30 seconds. What are they looking for? What is it about the moment that's missing, that leads you to live like that?

Building an airplane requires you to live in the moment -- 2,100 hours of them. You're not going to get what you ultimately want right now. If you're one of the people considering undertaking this task, you should obviously run the numbers, buy the tools, and prepare your family and friends. You should find a test project that will take at least a week to accomplish -- reading a book, for example -- and accomplish it. If you can, build on! If you can't, you should probably find another outlet.

It wasn't that many years ago that my family referred to me as the "Scotch Tape Kid," because I always took the shortest route to getting things done, even if I did a crappy job. That kid is dead. Just yesterday I rewired the communications radio and intercom connection after talking with my pals Kevin Faris and Stein Bruch. It would have been easier to just keep it the way I had it -- it might even have worked -- and I could've gone ahead and plugged the radios in and played; it's what I wanted right now.

But I didn't and, instead, rewired the harness and then tonight started reinstalling everything.

These are exciting times -- final installation of components. You begin to realize that this is the way it's going to be when you're thousands of feet in the air. It's not a time when you want to be wondering about that half-ass job you did on a part 2,100 hours ago. You want the plane to fly, the engine to run, and the radios to work.

Hopefully at that point, my propensity to encounter unseen hurdles will have vanished.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

All for the love of tools



Here's a question for experienced RV airplane builders: If I spend more time at the hangar scratching my head, am I getting closer to flying?

Clearly I've got a lot left to do on the project; there's no propeller yet, for example, and I hear those are quite important, but if you ignore the money required to finish (which I don't have) I get the sense I could be flying soon.

How do I know this? Because I usually stop at the hangar on the way home from work for an hour or so and find I have nothing to do. To be clear, it's usually because I lack a tool or something else needs to be done first, but I do feel as though I'm running out of things to do. That's a good thing.

Last night, for example, torquing the four bolts on the Lord mounts that hold the engine on was the only item on the list (well, OK, so was fixing the rudder fairing that cracked when I stupidly got in the baggage compartment to try to fix an ELT that wasn't transmitting. See if you can figure out what happened.).

I don't have a good torque wrench for foot pounds and the bolts need to be tightened to about 32 foot pounds. I have an old torque wrench but it's not the clickable type and, frankly, I don't trust it. That didn't keep me from using it, mind you. But when my building buddy, Brad, pointed out that the hole on the bolt for the cotter pin was now outside of the slots on the castle nut, I gave in to my inner voice that said, "this is a bad idea."

So I ordered a clickable torque wrench from Sears. That's $85 just to torque four bolts.

"I think you just like to buy tools," Brad said. He's right. I do like to buy tools. I could run around the field borrowing them, but what fun is that?

I need to torque these bolts so I can move on to running wires into the cabin for the engine monitor, and reinstalling the newly painted instrument panel, reinstalling the heater cable, installing the mixture and throttle cable and then beginning work on the cowling. Oh, and I have to figure out how to get that ELT transmitting so I can rivet on that top skin and install the "window." And then I need to put the wings on.

"You can get those engine lines installed in one day," my friend, Darwin Barrie, told me in an e-mail last week. Darwin kills me. For me, it'll be a three or four month process. It amazes me how little information there is available on this step. Plus, I want to make my own hoses and I have to figure out how to do that.

Oh, and I need to buy the tools to do that.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Living the dream

Once again, I am struck that the online aviation community, which has so many bad things t say about the news media when they do an aviation story they don't like, is absolutely silent when a favorable general aviation story is broadcast.