Friday, October 26, 2012

Paying it forward

I've always loved the RV community. I've said often that the best part of building the RV airplane were the number of friends I made along the way.

Today, I mailed off a pair of D-sub crimpers to a gentleman in Texas who is building an RV and didn't want to spend the $35 it costs for a pair. People on Van's Air Force were right when they suggested he buy a pair because they're invaluable in building an electrical system. I get that.

But sometimes we forget that people build airplanes while trying to minimize expenses and if we actually went out and bought all the stuff that people tell us we should go out and buy, then the plane becomes beyond our means. Trust me: I get that too.

I'm hoping to take the plane up to Massachusetts in a few weeks, and there's a lot of work to be done to make it happen. I've had to spend $225 on a new ELT antenna (hey, thanks, again, Artex and Aircraft Spruce for selling me that one that only lasted 30 hours and underperformed the guaranteed airspeed), and I've purchased an oxygen system for the safer high altitude flying. All together, that's about $750 and that's at least a month's work for me in terms of being able to pay for that sort of thing. And I'm still trying to make a dent in the debt I took on to buy the engine -- the only part of the airplane not paid for.

So when I posted on Van's Air Force this week that I was looking for someone who'd sell me a cheapo gust lock for the rudder, I figured someone would suggest buying a top-of-the line Gust Buster. I already knew about this product, which is really great. It's also $185 ($159 if you don't order from Aircraft Spruce, but order from here).

The item is on my list of things to buy, someday. But the cash-flow situation right now is such that it isn't a practical solution right now. Other folks nicely gave me some tips for building my own and that's a great idea, too, there is just this time problem I'm also having, being in the news business with an election coming up. It's all I can do to get my job done; I haven't been able to fly in two weeks and I haven't even been to the hangar in one. And yet, I needed something for the trip east because it looks like the RV-7A will have to be parked outside.

I think some people in the thread were turned off by my inability to buy the big stuff or make the little stuff, but the reality is what the reality is. Time and money, my friends. Time and money.

This arrived in the mail today. It's a Gust Buster.

"Consider it a donation to public broadcasting, payment for laughs generated by Cowling Chronicles, or just a fellow RVer making someone's life a bit easier," Kai Engstad said. "I'm glad to see you got the airplane flying, are getting a few hours in the air and hope that you manage to get your mom a ride."

I don't know the proper way to thank someone for that kind of generosity other than to say "thank you" of course and to point out the unbelievable goodness in the RV community.

I'm also reminded that a few months ago, when I thought I was having trouble with a throttle cable, an RV pal sent me one he wasn't using. When I needed to cut off the rudder strobe cable some months ago to fix a busted rudder tip, a friend down at Airlake gave me -- gave me -- enough strobe wire to get things running again.

I've benefited mightily from the kindness of former strangers in this airplane-building adventure, which is why today I've been reminded of an obligation to pay it forward.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Hightower resigns; aviators appear to celebrate

Rod Hightower, the head of EAA and lightning rod for the criticism that it has gotten away from its homebuilding roots, resigned today. You can read between the lines, though, and pretty much figure out that he jumped before being pushed.

Meanwhile, while the EAA website adequately captures the mood among many in the EAA, I'm pretty much figuring this isn't the presentation of the event that the organization wants.

Although Hightower was one of the upper crust who was against me hosting an EAA Radio show during Oshkosh, I never had the problem with him that a LOT of EAAers seemed to have.

I still don't see much of an articulated vision among that crowd for the future that includes the reality that pilot ranks are dropping. But they've got their wish and now we'll see what their plan is.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

How to handle the media on aviation stories

For years, I've advocated against the policies of AOPA and whiners on social networking sites to fear the media when it comes to general aviation reporting. The AOPA, as I've written before, has an us-against-them attitude in dealing with the media, and wants any media inquiry into the safety of experimentals (and other general aviation planes) referred to them.

That's utter nonsense.

As I've advocated before, if pilots are proactive and make contact with reporters before a plane crashes, it'll be much easier to get favorable news coverage when the bad news hits.

I don't know if this RV-10 owner had done that, but clearly there was a relationship at some point between the reporter and the aviator that allowed him to get in front of the story. This is the result:

Call your local reporter today and offer to take them for a ride. Give them your name and address if they ever need help with a story. Offer to show them around.

If they don't immediately accept a ride, they'll keep you in mind when they're looking for a fresh angle, whether it's a plane crash or a threat to close the local airport.

It beats sitting in the hangar with other pilots, or banging away on social networking sites how much the media sucks.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

To fly

General aviation is dying in the United States and elsewhere around the world. There aren't enough people who want to learn to fly and as the older pilots -- the ones who usually got their wings in World War II or with the GI Bill -- die, there aren't many coming along to replace them.

And yet, have you ever noticed how often these stories of people chasing dreams involve flying?

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Shine it up!

As I worked on my RV-7A project in recent years, in the back of my mind I kept hearing the voice say, "you'll never be able to afford the paint job." Like everything else in aircraft building, the paint job is where people are trying to outdo each other. It's not unusual anymore to see $20,000 paint jobs.

And, sure, I could do it myself -- well, wait, actually there's no way I could do it by myself -- but I don't have the equipment, the facilities, the talent or the patience.

I've thought about a polished airplane, but I've made a few dings and dents in the plane's aluminum over the years of construction. But something interesting happened once I started flying the plane: I no longer cared much about having a perfect airplane and learned to love her just the way she is.

Then I saw this plane at Oshkosh:

Isn't that beautiful?

The paint portion is perfect for my plane since I can't polish the top skin forward of the canopy. I built up the area with balsa and fiberglass. And the paint location is perfect for a plane with lots of fiberglass that needs to be painted.

And the process is perfect, too, because winter in Minnesota does not lend itself to flying. And its accompanying cabin fever lends itself to puttering at the hangar. You know, like polishing.

The next day at Oshkosh, I walked into the Nuvite tent and said to the man, "tell me how to do this." And he did. I probably could've put together a cheaper operation, but I want full bore, dropping about $900 on everything I need to make this happen. Fact: $900 < $20,000. True, there's still money that will eventually be spent on paint, but overall the project should be much more affordable, and -- although I don't much care - the fact is that if you put a nice paint job and a nice polish job side by side, people will gravitate to the polished airplane. This week, I started on the long process by learning more how to do it right. This EAA video -- if you don't mind me saying something good about EAA -- was a great help.

I've decided to start with the tail -- kind of like the order of building -- and work my way forward. First up: the rudder.

Here's the before:

And here's the after:

Now, I accept that this picture doesn't do the part justice. For one thing, I've used only two polishes so far: the F7, which is for deep corrosion and scratches, and the "C" grade, a less abrasive polish. There is a final "S" grade for an absolute mirror finish, but I haven't done that yet because it requires a different process. I'll do the entire plane with the F7 and C polish, and then come back to the "S" grade, hopefully before next Oshkosh. It's a fun process and, yes, it's a long process. When I told other RV builders that I've decided to polish the plane, most every one of them said, "Whoa, that's a lot of work." As if building an airplane isn't. Update 10/22 Pretty!

Monday, October 8, 2012

The beauty of the night

Before I finished the RV-7A, I rented Piper Warriors from the FBO at an airport 45 minutes away. For more than 15 years -- basically, when I had my flight training which required some night work -- I hadn't flown at night; it just wasn't practical.

But I've got freedom now. I can fly whenever I want, money allowing, of course and I've chosen to get proficient at night flying. Plus, it's a beautiful time to fly.

A few weeks ago, Carolie and I flew down to Mankato for her birthday (about 60 miles away) for a Trampled by Turtles concert in the park by the Minnesota River. It was beautiful. Oh, here, let me digress...

By time we made it back to the airport, of course, it was dark. It was also near midnight. I'd flown the route down and back (at night) the night before, so I was pretty familiar with how the route "looked."

And it was a gorgeous ride back. The sky was empty of traffic, the radio was quiet, the air was smooth as the polka dotted-light landscape of the plains gave way to the lights of the city.

I've made great landings in the RV-7A since I started flying it and since Tom Berge taught me how, but I make consistently terrific landings at night. I think it's because the landing/taxi lights are perfectly adjusted to give me visual clues for the flare and roundout.

Last night was no exception. Carolie was working at the transition house, so I spent the evening repacking the wheel bearings. Once finished, of course, I had to see how the wheels rolled.

After topping off the tank ($5.75 a gallon now), I headed for the runup, mindful of the lessons I learned Saturday while watching Mike Busch's excellent EAA webinar on leaning technique. He says the runup should be with a leaned-out engine.

And that gave me another reason to go flying: To practice leaning techniques.

So I took off into the night sky of the Twin Cities and headed for Red Wing, 26 miles away along the Mississippi River.

There's no question, flying at night is riskier, even as it's more beautiful. You have to be ready for the reality that greets you when you level off: If the engine quits, you're probably screwed.

I knew there were plenty of farm fields in the blackness below, dotted only occasionally by a farmhouse or two. I also knew they were on bluffs and very uneven land. That dark spot to the right? The Mississippi River. As always, I play a game of "what if the engine quit now?" and I debated whether it'd be better to put down near the shore in the river? Or head for the mystery field below. The mystery field won.

But the engine was purring along and my computer was recording the Grand Rapids EIS 4000 data as I played with the mixture knob most of the way (it'd be great if the EIS saved data for download later, but it doesn't). Airspace and practicality doesn't allow me to fly any higher than 3,000 feet MSL on this route, but I found that peak occurs at around 8.5 GPH and 2400 RPM and I could lean it out to about 6.5 GPH 70 degrees LOP, which is probably a bit too much. The airspeed indicator said I was doing about 130 or so knots. The GPS ground speed indicator said I was running about 148 knots. That's not bad.

The cylinder head temperatures were about 360 in the 53 degree night air, the oil temperature was 165. Everything was fine and me and N614EF were learning more about each other.

A landing at Red Wing (perfect, of course) with just a second of spatial disorientation on the base leg (hop on the instruments!) was followed by an uneventful return trip (with a perfect landing, of course).

I wouldn't fly long distances at night, but Minnesota in winter is nothing if not dark. It will be impossible to stay proficient at any kind of flying here without flying at night; and staying proficient is important.

So is the beauty of the night.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Fun with formations

There's zero chance I'm ever going to do formation flying in the RV-7A, partly because the videos I see posted reveal a much more capable pilot than I am. Here's one posted in the last week.

Under the Wire 2012 from Lowwpass on Vimeo.