Friday, August 31, 2007

Hotline and moi

Life is spinning faster and faster and it's harder and harder to keep up. Ever felt that way? I'm starting a new gig at work within a month or so and it's taking more time away from other pursuits, and I'm racing to get the RV canopy done before the cold weather comes. Time is hard to find.

Earlier this year, I ended the RV Builder's Hotline as I'm trying to pare those things that might give me more time. Rob Riggen, bless his heart, created a bunch of new tools and took on more of a role, in order to keep it going.

But I have found that it still has required more time than I'm prepared to give it to have it be a fair representation of my work and interest in it, so I told Rob yesterday that I won't be able to support it with writing and browsing, at least on much of a regular basis.

If you'd like to help Rob in the endeavor, however, I'm sure he'd love to hear from you.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Just looking

This week I drilled the canopy on my RV-7A project to the rollbar and side frame. In the process of documenting it in my Kitlog Pro log, I discovered that I've just rolled passed the 1,750 hour mark. I guess that's a lot (I noticed my friend who runs the Dignity Web site was at 1,000 hours at this point) , but over 6 years, probably not unusual. That's actual building time. It's not "just looking" time.

I think I'm not alone on this undocumented part of building a homebuilt airplane. There's building time. And then there's "just looking" time, and I tend to think the latter amounts to more than the former.

Here's how it works: you spend a day (or an hour) as I did this week working on a particular component. Around 5 or 6 p.m., you cleanup, head inside, take a shower, and prepare the spend the evening with your family like "normal" people. Perhaps you watch a little TV.

When the commercial comes on, you go back to the garage -- or maybe you fumble around for some excuse, like taking the dog out -- and you look; just look, at what you did during the day.

Truth be told, I do this a lot. OK, I do it every night and sometimes I do it during the day, and always after I get up in the morning to let the dog out (no, he really has to go out!).

Ken Scott at Van's always says "touch your project every day" as a way to keep progress going. He should've said "or just look at it."

The canopy process, while intensely enjoyable (everything on this project is to me), has not been easy and without challenges. During one of my "just looking" forays last week, I decided to take a piece of scrap plexi and drill it with the cordless (hey, they were both just sitting on the workbench as I was walking past to let, umm, the dog out!).

Snap! It broke easily. I went back inside and watched the rest of the movie, but darned if I can remember what it was about. I was too concerned about what was to come. You can read all about it on the YGroup.

Suffice it to say, the challenge presented itself and -- after I "grew a pair," to quote my buddy, Darwin Barrie -- the challenge was met.

Captain's log: 8 hours of building time, 8 hours (so far) of "just looking" time.

I mean, there it is, sitting out there on the workbench. A finely drilled canopy, with countersunk holes. I even ran some sandpaper through them to reduce any chance of cracks. I did a pretty good job, for me anyway. It's worth looking at.

And it's not just the RV project. I have a hangar at South St. Paul's Fleming Field that, other than some wings and a new workbench, is empty. I stopped there four times this week. There really wasn't anything to do there, although I pretended the hangar needed sweeping out... again.

I just go there, sit, and look. It's a hangar. My hangar, sort of. Someday it'll have a plane inside it, I think. We'll get together early in the morning, crack the door to reveal a splendid dawn, fire it up, and go fly.

Or I'll just sit and look at it.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Van's Homecoming coverage

Doug has done his usual outstanding job on Van's Air Force, documenting everything that happened this weekend at Van's Homecoming. This time it was held at the Independence Airpark. I'm pretty sure in my next life I want to come back wealthy enough to live on an airpark. Guess I'll have to figure out a new line of work, though.

Anyway, here's Doug's pictures of the RV-12, which he got to fly (check that, in my next life, I'm coming back as Doug Reeves), here's video of his landing, and here's his account of the Friday BBQ.

Doug told me in an e-mail that he was spending the day at the Portland airport and wouldn't be home until 10 p.m. Way to take one for the team, Doug! And thanks for your hard work.

I also found this blog -- My Left Nut -- which had some images and accounts of the action this weekend.

I'm hoping EAA Chapter 292, which hosted the event, posts some pictures soon, too.

Too spooked to drill

It's 57 and rainy in Minnesota today so I fired up the Buddy Heater in the garage to see how hot I could get it. By late afternoon, it was up to 74, so I put the canopy back on the fuselage and lined it up with an idea that maybe -- maybe -- I would drill it. Working with the plexi these last few months, I've gotten a little more confident that maybe this idea was wrong that if I so much as look at it the wrong way, it'll crack.

I thought I was happy with the aft edge but I'm really not. It lines up fine on the pilot side, but I took a little too much off the passenger side and it's slightly forward of the line I drew in the middle of the rollbar. So I'm thinking a little more about this and what to do. But that's not my problem.

You know those builder sites that show a builder drilling some scrap plexi and noting that, try as they might, they couldn't get it to crack? I had no such "problem." And now I'm way too spooked to drill this thing.

Using an Avery plexiglass bit in the cordless drill, I put a little pressure on this scrap piece -- not a lot but I'll bet it's not much more than I'd put on pushing in the side of the canopy as I drill it.

This first time, I drilled at a normally speed, and just before the bit broke through, snap! The piece flew about 4 inches.

Here you can see that it broke just as it was about to break through.

Next, I didn't put any pressure on it, but drilled at the same speed. As you can see -- hopefully -- cracks developed:

I experimented a little more, not with putting less stress on the plexi, but slowing down the drill speed. I got it down to where it was turning very slowly, and while it took a long time to drill through it, it didn't snap this time, even when I put on a fair amount of pressure.

Obviously, there'll be no canopy drilling today. And if I can get the garage up to 90 degrees sometime this week (supposed to get hot again), I'll run these tests again.

But, boy, am I scared to death now.

Thursday, August 16, 2007


I've written in the past about our RV projects and the persona they take on as our "children." In the last month, I've noticed another role that they -- well, at least mine -- have assumed.

My goal for this year was to get the canopy "done," to have everything come together so that when the prairie heat of July and August arrived, I'd be ready to make the big cut. I really wanted to have the cut made before Oshkosh.

And, sure enough, it was. The canopy frame, which I started in the cold of February, had a canopy on it -- sort of -- by July. On July 8, I made the large cut, cleaned up the edges and put it on the airplane. I took the usual pictures, marvelled at how far ahead of schedule I was, and left it to sit... and sit... and sit. So much for the schedule.

But, truth be told, getting the RV BBQ organized pretty much demands full-time attention in the three weeks leading up to Oshkosh. Then there's the week of Oshkosh itself. Then there's the week after Oshkosh, a return to work, and a usually listless Bob trying to get reinvigorated in life when there's not the sound of someone's radial engine capturing my attention and lighting my fire.

And this year, on August 1, we lost the I-35W bridge in Minneapolis. I was at work that night, almost ready to leave, when I saw the first images. I worked most of the night on the Web site, handled a few interview requests from the BBC and CBC early the next morning, and was gone by 8 a.m. That's a 22-hour day. Not much room for building.

A day later, my youngest son was hurt, apparently, when he, his brother, and their roommate were mugged while walking home from dinner. Now, I'm guessing there was a little more than random violence involved here, but at 9 p.m., my oldest son called to tell me that he'd taken Patrick, my youngest, to the emergency room in St. Paul.

"Why?" I asked.

"Because he can't remember anything of the last year," he said.

Let me just point out here that it's amazing how irrelevant things that you thought seconds before were important become when you get these sorts of phone calls.

When we arrived at the hospital, we found a tragic version of "Ten Second Tom" from "50 First Dates." Patrick could remember no more than, perhaps, the last 40 seconds, only a few more than your average guppy.

Every 40 seconds, approximately, we'd have the same conversation.

"Why I am I here?"

"You were mugged?"

"By who?"

"Four guys"

"How come I still have my wallet."

"They weren't interested in your wallet."

And this would go on, until finally he got into a room at about midnight and CNN was on, showing non-stop photos of the bridge collapse. Patrick is an EMT and was on call at his "house" to respond to the bridge if there were more victims. But he wasn't needed so when his shift was over, he left and went home, had dinner, and got himself mugged.

But, of course, he didn't know any of that so when he saw the bridge collapse, he'd get up and want to get to the bridge, sure that his crew was there.

"I've got to get there," he'd say every 40 seconds.

"You were there," I'd say.

"What am I doing here?"

It was a couple of days before his memory came back, but not before Mom and Dad spent hours answering questions and then, when we left to get some sleep, picking up the phone every 40 seconds to hear a crying son, frustrated because he couldn't remember anything. I'd talk him down, and he'd hang up to get some sleep. Then call again a minute later, not knowing he'd just called.

It's amazing, really, how marvelous the brain is. It determines what data needs to be dumped when, figures out how far back it should dump, and then -- when the coast is clear -- brings its systems (if you're lucky) back on in stages. Fascinating, really.

Anyway add all this together, a 22-hour day, the post-Oshkosh letdown, a son getting the garbage kicked out of him, the general absence of routine, and you have an RV builder without focus. Even after things had calmed down and I'd gotten some sleep, I found it hard to pay attention to much of anything. Even driving the car felt strange to me.

And then, last week, I dragged myself out to the garage, dusted off the canopy, cleaned up the workbench and rolled up my sleeves, only to be shocked by the note on my instructions that the last time I'd touched the project, was exactly one month ago.

My project was kind to me. It didn't make me feel guilty for abandoning her for the glitz of Oshkosh or the duties of a father with a kid in the hospital. It seemed to know that I'd be back, and when I did return, she'd be ready.

I rolled out the plans, made up a couple of workbenches and picked up where I left off. Only I didn't do it for minutes; I did it for hours. After weeks without focus, my project gave me a good slap upside the head, and I was able to shake the cobwebs of life and refocus my own brain again, which in this case happened to be building an airplane.

An EAA technical counselor at EAA Chapter 54 in Lake Elmo, Minnesota, Bill Schanks, always refers to flying as "therapy." I picked that up, too, referring to the time I spend with my RV "therapy." I think it's one of the reasons I'm in no particular hurry to finish. I like spending time building. I like being around something that's patient, and knows that no matter what else goes on, I'll be back, embracing the sameness and consistency of a part of my life for the last six years.

It's comfy, it's home, it's like an old shoe, or returning home from college for the first time to find out your mom hasn't changed your room, and the old dog still is excited to see you.

It's therapy. And before it becomes your airplane, it's your therapist.

And there's no co-pay.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Racing winter

Now that Oshkosh is over, the heat is on to beat the cold. All year, I've wanted to get all the canopy work on my RV-7A done while it is still warm enough to cut and shape it without significant danger of ruining it. I made the "big cut" before Oshkosh but haven't done anything since. Of course, there was this matter of a bridge falling down that caused me to divert my attention to other pursuits. And last Thursday night, my youngest son was mugged as he walked home from dinner by 4 guys (he was with my other son and their roommate) and he lost all of his memory back to April and his brain was data-dumping all but the last 20 seconds (think of "10-second Tom" in "50 First Dates."). It was very scary. He'd see the bridge collapse video in the hospital and get shocked each time he'd see it. Being an EMT, he kept trying to leave to be with his crew at the bridge site (we had to tell him it happened several days ago every 2 minutes). Anyway, very frightening but fortunately he's out of the hospital now and seems to have his memory back.

So last night, when the temperature hit 94 during the day, I eschewed the "National Night Out" block party on my street and trimmed the sides of the canopy to fit. The dimensions, as near as I can tell, came out fine.

As usual, though, I have some questions:

Fitting the side of the canopy through the "ears" at the forward end of side rails, it seems to fit fine, thanks to some hole-elongation techniques I learned on the Dignity Web site.

But there is now a very slight gap as it curves in toward the center...

I'm thinking that if take a sliver out of the very corner (right after it passes through the "ears"), I can eliminate that gap. But I'm not sure. I can also push lightly down with my finger and remove it, so I'm also thinking when I put the "clips" on, it will suffice. What say you?

In looking at the sides, the canopy wants to bow out. Is this normal? A strip of duct tape won't hold it against the sides for more than a few minutes and it takes less pressure to hug it tight to the side as you go front to rear, but it requires a pretty good force around the ears to keep it tight. Is that normal? Does this present a stress problem when I drill here?

Here's a shot looking from the front back to the "ears" on the side. Sorry about the blurriness.

And here's the side looking toward the front...

All advice cheerfully considered.

Monday, August 6, 2007

How to survive an in-flight fire

These sorts of stories scare me; especially as I get closer to beginning the wiring on my RV. Good job by this gentleman getting down safetly. Here's the whole story.
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