Sunday, December 28, 2008

Electrical system work

I had hoped to spend the weekend working on finalizing the electrical system for N614EF. I've tried; I really have. I put together the load analysis spreadsheet for the Vertical Power system, and I realize the instructions need to be "dummified" more. Why? Because I'm a dummy, not an electrical engineer.

I'm a writer and if you could design and install an electrical system by turning a phrase or two, I'd have it done by now. To people well-schooled in electronics, a schematic is much easier to implement than subject-verb tense agreement. Everybody's different.

It's still not clear to me, for example, how I supply always-on power to the Dynon unit (which keeps the clock updated etc.). As near as I can tell, the wiring would require a line from the battery, which tells me that there should be some sort of battery buss somewhere under the subpanel somewhere, in a fashion that avoids the Vertical Power control unit altogether.

Vertical Power's Marc Ausman -- a really good guy -- said on VP's support forum, "...anything else will will be powered from the VP-50 or the aux bus (like starter contactor power) which is wired downstream of the battery contactor." I get that, I guess. But it's still not clear to me what that looks like when I lean over and look at someone's RV subpanel.

And therein lies the problem for people like me. We learn by actually SEEING things. I can ruminate for hours over what a schematic tells me about what to do with shielded cable, but it's a lot easier for me to look at that schematic, then go downstairs and pull out the Dynon harness and see what SteinAir did. Voila! Now the schematic makes sense because I saw what it looks like in real life.

This is a typical electrical system schematic:

After spending weeks looking at that, it finally made sense what the philosophy of it was. But what does it look like in an RV airplane? I couldn't tell you, but because this is one of the most common installations, there are enough builder Web sites out there to give me a clue.

And this is also why Van's electrical system instructions are so good for people like me. It approaches building the system this way:

1. Start here.
2. Mount this thing there.
3. Mount the other thing here.
4. Run a wire from this location, to that location and back to this location.

See what I mean? It doesn't give me philosophy, it gives me instructions. And because Van's is helping you build an airplane, they don't just concentrate on their own product and give you only the information pertaining to its product, they tell you the whole shootin' match.

In other words, they're focused on the whole, not on the parts.

Here's an example. Dan Checkoway's excellent Web site carries pictures of the firewall and such things as the ANL limiter. Now, I've read the AeroElectric Connection -- about 13 times. And it sort of makes sense in its philosophical ways, but a site, like Dan's, which says "put this here, put that there, the hambone is connected to the leg bone" is the way instructions should be put together for airplane builders like me.

Unfortunately, that's not possible with a product so new as Vertical Power. Don't get me wrong, it's a great product and the instructions are well written, but because it's such a new product, there aren't any Web sites out there that do for it what sites like Dan's, or Walter Tondu's do for the traditional electric system.

I was out at the hangar yesterday trying to figure out where to mount the Vertical Power-50 control unit. With a traditional unit, you enter your search terms in Google, check however many of the 1,000 RV builder Web sites you want, and do what they did. You can't do that with the Vertical Power system. There's only one RV-7 builder site. Bernie Daenzer and Alex Lichtensteiger's , and they're using the VP-200. Also, it's not a step-by-step Web site.

So, I never really came up with a good solution, partly because I don't know what else I need to fit under the subpanel because there aren't any Web sites with pictures and step-by-steps of installing a complete electrical system.

So what to do now? I have to think some more about whether I'm the right guy to be one of the first builders to install a VP-50. If I am, I'd put together a Web site on how to do it. Or do I want to punt and just go back to the tried-and-true traditional electrical system, and take advantage of the online resources that, as I indicated, are available? A lot depends on the answer to that. I can't send the instrument panel out to be cut until I know whether it will have circuit breakers, for example.

One thing that's great about the VP boys, however, is when you send them your load planning worksheet, they send you back suggestions for how to improve your plan. You gotta love that!

Here's what changes Marc made to mine (including catching my mistakes):

-Swap the EFIS and 296. The loads were not correct, and Dynon recommends a 3A breaker.
- The flaps draw 4.4 amps under load. So I put them on a 10A circuit. Usually a 5A CB is fine, but sometimes you need more.
- The flaps need to have their own external flap switch, the VP just provides power (unlike the VP-100 and 200 which actually drive the flap motor directly). See VP-50 wiring diagram.
- What trim systems are you installing? The trim is not filled in (some blacked out).
- Do you have a 296 or 496? It is unclear. In either case, it is on its own pin
- I put the aux bus items each on their own pin. You have extra pins.
- I assume the ext warning light is for something else and you just need power? It is now on J8-23

Odd, I don't remember adding an exterior warning light. I don't need it, though.

Here's what my spreadsheet looks like:

Once I fully understand the Vertical Power system, then I have to figure out how to set up a backup system in case it goes south. With the schematic above (the traditional system), you can flip a switch and voila! You're on a backup electrical system. Simple? No, but as I said, enough people have put this system in that you can just look at where they put what and do the same thing.

Vertical Power has drawn out a schematic for a "get home" system here. As near as I can tell, it takes the main battery power, runs it through a fuseblock, and then out to the Vertical Power unit. And then has several switches to bypass the VP-50 if you need to. Philosophically, I get it. I also get that it adds expense back to a system that I'd hoped the VP-50 would cut. What it looks like behind the panel? I haven't a clue.

It's times like this I really appreciate the homebuilders of yesteryear. They had no Internet to compare their projects with. Of course, they didn't have the electrical systems homebuilt aircraft do today.

Meantime, if you have also purchased a Vertical Power 50 system for an RV-7A and you've designed your electric system and have some pictures of your installation (maybe even a step by step guide), by all means, contact me.

One thing I did accomplish yesterday was finalizing the location of the main instrument on the panel -- the Dynon 100.

This will require moving the left rib closer to the center. I also moved the backup airspeed and altimeter to just left of the Dynon (instead of below it) and moved the TruTrak autopilot selector to below the Dynon. I also eliminated one switch. Now I've got to figure out how to get this into some sort of CAD design to take to place that can cut the panel.

Friday, December 26, 2008

No RV Hotline this week

I'm due to publish the RV Builder's Hotline this weekend. However, there is precious little going on in the RV community, there are no "hot" threads anywhere that I can find, nobody has submitted anything to be published and I'd rather not put out a crappy issue.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Another crack at the instrument panel.

Weird. I wrote a lengthy treatise on this version and Blogger lost it, oh well. I was going to go out to the hangar today and do as one of you suggested -- sit in the plane with the seats installed, put some pictures on the panel and see how things look. But it was -10 today. So, instead, I noodled on the idea of moving the support rib in order to put the Dynon D100 directly in front of me.

As you can see above, perhaps, I'll move it a bit to the center (that's the direction people move it, right?). I'll order a new rib because the one that's there now is already riveted to the subpanel, and this way I won't have to be terribly precise in cutting it out of there.

I also moved the switches back to above the throttle. And I moved the VP-50 to just above the switches because I think there's a possibility the 7 and 8 switches on the VP-50 might someday be configured to operate a flap motor. I don't believe it can do that at the moment. I also want to find out if the VP-50 panel unit occupies the same cutout size as the VP-100. I want to keep options open for an upgrade down the line.

And I also moved the GRT engine monitor to above the radio stack, and kept some room for a map box on the right side (I couldn't find a map box on the site, however). But I want to think of that some more because additions to the radio stack down the line might require some space there.

One minor thing -- I moved the "cigarette lighter" to the left side. I don't know how the Zaon traffic unit gets its power but it's a portable unit that I'd put on the glareshield just in front of me so maybe it makes some sense to keep a power source close by.


Friday, December 19, 2008

The 'for sale" sign

I've put 7 -- almost 8 -- years of work into the RV-7A project and I intend to continue working on it, but I have to prepare for the obvious -- that I'll have to sell it. The economy is bad -- a dozen folks got gassed at my place today and more are due -- my health and that of my wife have been deteriorating to the point where it's obvious my plans for how we'd spend our senior years are not in sync and not really possible, and the economy has pretty much destroyed our retirement funds and although there's enough time before we retire (I hope) to get them back where they were, there's nowhere near enough time for the fund to get anywhere near our being able to live at the level we'd hoped.

I'd hoped to be able to finance the engine purchase but that hasn't worked out well either and this is not a good time to carry debt.

I've sketched out roughly what I've put into it and that's what I'd likely sell it for -- what I put into it. No profit, no charge for the work and no discount.

Here's what I've put into it:

Tru Trak single axis autopilot = $1,500
Icom A210 Radio - $1,200
Artex 406 mxh ELT - $950
Whelen System 6 Strobe package - $950
GRT EIS - $1500
VP-50 - $1,500
Dynon D100 Super Bright pkg - $2500
Garmin 327 Transponder $2,300
Airflow high-performance boost pump - $415
Equipment Subtotal --> $12,815

Seats (Flightline) $507
Hooker harness w/ crotch strap - $750
Oregon aero cushion core -$580
Interior subtotal -->$1,837

Mattituck IO-360 FP engine (but can be a CS) fuel injected with one Lightspeed ignition - $24,500
Engine subtotal --> $24,500

RV-7A project
On landing gear (nosewheel breakout force has not been set), canopy frame is done and the front fairing completed. Tip-up. Tops skins not riveted on (I need access to the tail). 1,800 hours of work invested so far
Total -->$20,000

I get about $60,000 in my calculation and that's about what I'd sell the project for. No tools are included because I need to hang onto the hope that I can build an RV-12 and do the kind of flying that I'm more likely to be doing -- by myself, in the daytime, in the vicinity of the airport.

Alternatively, I'd consider taking on a partner in the plane, although I have to admit I have no idea how such a partnership works. So you'll have to supply the brains.

If you'd like to take a look at things, I would encourage you to plan to come up to the hangar at South St. Paul (KSGS) and assess it for yourself.

Like I said, I'm not anxious to sell it and cash out, but at the moment I'm willing to and I probably should before I absolutely have to.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Don't hit the cow

I'd love to tell you that one of the first things they teach us in flight school is "don't hit the cows." But it's not.

(h/t: Michael Wells)

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Panic attacks

I picked up a bunch of avionics goodies down at SteinAir on Saturday... and I haven't had a good night's sleep since. I've woken up each morning with some sort of "what have I done?" panic attack that a lot of RV airplane builders know well. I had the same feeling back when the fuselage kit was delivered and I took everything out to inventory it. I thought, "there's no way I can do this, there's too many parts." But, some years later, there the airplane sits on its landing gear in a hangar at South St. Paul airport.

I deeply hope the same thing happens here because -- it can now be revealed -- I haven't got a clue what I'm doing here and there aren't that many parts! I've generally come to understand AeroElectric Connection after years of reading it, and I've sketched out a wiring plan of sorts, but this? This is the real thing. There are wires that go from here to there, split to yonder, loop past somewhere, and end up plugged into some other gizmo which, if you do it right, will light up and work. And if you do it wrong, will cost you thousands of dollars.

That's what's waking me up at night. I have no idea where to start, what to do, or what to plug in where.

What you see up above there is the Garmin 327 transponder (which as near as I can tell doesn't come with a harness or any instructions for installation, but I could be wrong), the Dynon 100, which comes with a harness I bought ($90), although I'm not sure what goes where (it does come with a nice installation manual, however.)

There are a few labels at some ends of the wire, but not at the other. (Update: Stein tells me"
The first harness is the Dynon harness as well as the Transponder harness. The connector with the metal cover on it is for the Txpdr. We wired the Txpdr and Dynon together for you to try and simplify things in the future.)

And also above is the Vertical Power 50, which is a nifty little unit that will make my wiring simpler,I'm told. But when I wake up at night, this isn't very simple to me:

I think this is the premade $295 wiring harness, although as you can see, it's not entirely premade. VP, according to the installation manual, requires a special crimping tool for its D-SUB connectors, which -- from what I understand -- are made from the gold plating of Saddam Hussein palaces. You need to buy a special tool ($300) to crimp them or rent one at $10 a month (with a deposit). I was under the impression you didn't have to do that if you bought the wiring harness, but I hadn't finished the load planning worksheet for the plane yet so I don't think Vertical Power had any information on what equipment I'd need to wire. My fault. I think.

I'm sure this is going to be fun. It's the sort of project that just begs for a weekend-long blizzard in Minnesota to force me to tackle.

But first I have to head off to work, where perhaps I can get a good day's sleep.

(BTW, check out Tom Velvick's blog. He has a VP-100 installed and his post on the start-up sequence is really interesting.)

Sunday, December 14, 2008

First crack at the panel

Update - Here's take 2

I've been collecting some of the electronics that I'll be using in my RV-7A over the last few years to try to spread the cost out a bit. But since I'm planning the wiring for the airplane now, I needed to make a few big purchases, which I did yesterday.

When I say "big purchases," I mean big purchases for me. From what I can tell, most RV builders are putting at least $20,000 into their panels. And as Stein Bruch said yesterday, his firm rarely builds a panel for under $80,000.

It's easy to get sucked into the "keeping up with the Joneses" syndrome in this business and it's a good thing, I suppose, that the recession has snapped us -- or at least me -- back to reality. I'm a VFR "go up and look down" kind of pilot and that's about it. Yes, I intend to fly cross country back to New England or down south, but I have no intention of doing it in crappy weather or at night, so I don't really need bells and whistles. Besides, there's nothing that says I can't add equipment later.

So yesterday, I wrote a $6,400 check to Stein and added the Vertical Power 50, the Garmin 327 transponder, and the Dynon D-100 EFIS to the collection of boxes on the shelves here at home. Would I rather have an Advanced Flight System 3500? You bet. But I simply don't have the money for it and I'm not interesting in taking on debt. The next owner of N614EF can do that.

Anyway, I'm trying to mess around with a design for the panel and that's it above. I need comments. I've got the Garmin portable GPS in a little more prominent spot than a lot of people do, but I rely pretty heavily on that, given that I fly under the Twin Cities Class B. Really keeping a close eye on situational awareness with regards to airspace is really important.

I don't have an audio panel. I have a small intercom, so the audio stack (currently just the transponder and the ICOM A-210) is pretty small. I've left room in that general area, however, to add a PS Engineering audio panel at some future point.

Not shown is the ELT switch. I'm not sure where to put that. I also haven't investigated the Lightspeed system that's on the engine yet. I'm using half a system and I'm not sure what has to be on the panel to accomodate that. And I'm leaving room for a map box although I doubt I'll need one.

There are a few switches down there by the VP system. I figure I'll need to gang up a few things (strobe/nav/landing lights) on switches. I could be wrong. But this system eliminates the need for circuit breakers and fuses (mostly), which frees up panel space and also some space behind the panel.

I need your opinion on this initial sketch.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

New Hotline posted

I think I missed a week with the Hotline. I got sick a few weeks ago and missed some work and didn't feel up to working on the Hotline. Then, for the last week, there was about three separate mornings that required 4 a.m. wake-up times, which left little desire for working at night. Plus there just isn't a lot of RV airplane-related news in the dead of winter.

So here it is. It's not the best I could do but it's worth twice the price you paid for it.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Why do airplanes crash?

(This is reposted from my day job)


Do planes crash because of the culture of the people flying them? Malcolm Gladwell, whose speech aired today on the first hour of Midday, certainly thinks so. We live, of course, in an area with a lot of airline pilots so I'll defer to them. But I have to think there's going to be a lot of reaction to Gladwell's assertion that airline tragedies have a certain ethnic basis.

During his speech, given at the New Yorker Festival in October , Gladwell referred to a section of his new book, "Outliers: The Story of Success," in which he analyzes airline crashes and determines that pilots from certain cultures tend to crash planes more than others. Some cultures are better at communicating than others.

And he acknowledges that his conclusion is uncomfortable. It's also very debatable.

"Look at where the countries with the safest rate of airline travel are," he says near the end of his address. "The United States, Australia, and the United Kingdom." He reasoned that people in those countries are culturally more inclined to communicate better as a matter of character and personality.

As he said in a CNN interview:

Korean Air had more plane crashes than almost any other airline in the world for a period at the end of the 1990s. When we think of airline crashes, we think, Oh, they must have had old planes. They must have had badly trained pilots. No. What they were struggling with was a cultural legacy, that Korean culture is hierarchical. You are obliged to be deferential toward your elders and superiors in a way that would be unimaginable in the U.S.

Let's ignore for now that one of those Korean Air jets got shot out of the sky. But what Gladwell didn't point out is that English is the official -- mandated -- language of aviation on international flights. When you remove the international flights from the accident database, the gap between the English-as-a-first language countries and those who aren't speaking their native tongue closes. Isn't at least possible that the reason there's a communication problem isn't that there's a cultural problem, it's that there's a lack of mastery on the language being mandated?

Gladwell used an example of this without saying so: The Avianca Flight 52 crash on Long Island. Gladwell relayed the communications in the cockpit and with the controllers for Kennedy Airport, but he never mentioned they were speaking two different languages. The flight crashed because the jet ran out of fuel and the controllers never realized there was an emergency in the first place.

According to a 1990 article in the New York Times:

A captain for Avianca Airlines told Federal investigators today that the company did not train its flight crews to use specific words in asking air traffic controllers for priority treatment when a plane was running out of fuel.

Again, those are international standards that weren't followed, more of a sign of bad training and a bad airline than a bad culture. But it was more than even that, according to the National Transportation Safety Board. The plane crashed because the pilots (a) didn't manage their fuel (b) didn't communicate their situation soon enough (c) failed to follow airline "operational control dispatch system to assist them." And it crashed because the FAA didn't have a standardized understandable terminology for pilots and controllers in the given situation. Also cited was (a) windshear (b) crew fatigue and (c) stress.

In other words, a lot more than culture went into that tragedy.

But one assertion which I'm waiting for the local airline pilot community to confirm -- or deny -- is Gladwell's statement that, "in an emergency, the safest system is one in which the co-pilot does the flying." He suggested that it would be the more experienced flight officer who would be able to decide the best course of action, and monitor the situation, if he wasn't burdened with actually flying.

And it's true that an old axiom in aviation is when there's an emergency, the first thing to do is wind your watch (I told you it was "old"), because that gives you time to think.

But the greatest pilot in the history of aviation may be Al Haynes. He was at the controls of a United DC-10 went it lost all of its hydraulics. It cartwheeled at the Sioux City airport

By all accounts, Haynes, his crew, and all passengers should've died. But 185 survived. Why? Haynes talked to and listened to as many pieces of advice as was available to him. It's something Gladwell touched on too briefly. It's called "cockpit resource management," and it's when the pilot and co-pilot are operating on the same page and the junior officer isn't afraid to question the senior officer's decision. (Aside: There's a pilot in Minneapolis who writes a terrific blog, "Blogging at FL250," who touched on the relationship between flying pilots. It's well worth a read.)

Minnesota's two most recent high-profile plane crashes were both examples of CRM gone bad. In December 1993, 16 passengers and two pilots were killed when a Northwest Airlink plane crashed in Hibbing.

The co-pilot tried to alert the captain about the altitude of the plane while executing a banned maneuver. "The captain's record raised questions about the adequacy of his airmanship and behavior that suggested a lack of crew coordination during flight operations, including intimidation of first officers," the National Transportation Safety Board concluded in its investigation. (Also see a New York Times article on the crash.)

And in 2002, the airplane carrying Sen. Paul Wellstone and members of his family and campaign, crashed in Virginia-Eveleth because, the NTSB said, the pilots had violated several policies and, basically, didn't pay attention to basic airmanship to keep the plane from stalling and crashing.

More often than not, that, and not the culture of a pilot, is why airplane's crash. Pilots make mistakes

(Photo: Getty Images)

Here's a comment an airline pilot posted to the original article.

For what it's worth, I'm an airline pilot, author, and a columnist for I've been interviewed once or twice by MPR.

On the whole I've been very disappointed by Gladwell's comments on air safety.

I do not, as Gladwell apparently does, believe that the ethnicity or cultural background of a cockpit crew has a serious bearing on global air safety in 2008. It's far less of an issue than it once was. Most of the things he talks about have been engineered out of the picture.

But even his dissection of Avianca 52, a crash that occurred almost 20 years ago, is, if anything, only partly right.

Other of his remarks, meanwhile, are outright reckless and untrue.

Gladwell says, for example, "The single most important variable in determining whether a plane crashes is not the plane, it's not the maintenance, it's not the weather, it's the culture the pilot comes from."

That’s totally absurd, and I am extremely disappointed that somebody as influential as Malcolm Gladwell had to say it. In addition to being incorrect, it encourages the widely held notion that non-western airlines are by their nature less safe than those of North America and Europe – a mythology I’ve addressed many times in my own writing.

- Patrick Smith

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Installing the "here's where my remains are" machine

The ELT system in the United States is changing. Starting in February, the 121.5 frequency will no longer be monitored. Instead, satellites will monitor the 406 mHz frequency and a new generation of emergency locator transmitters has been created that encodes the aircraft's identity and also makes it possible for rescue people to pinpoint the signal's location to feet (or maybe yards) instead of miles.

I bought the Artex 406 mHZ ELT and paid about $900. Today I checked Aircraft Spruce and it's selling now for almost $2,000. Ridiculous. Van's sells them for $945. Technically I didn't have to go with the new ELT. I could've gone with the old-fashioned 121.5 system. And then it was a question of where to put it. Many RV airplane builders tuck it under the baggage floor, but to me, there's too great of a possibility the baggage area won't withstand a crash well and an ELT won't work. Also, many RVers who put there, run it to a whip antenna that goes on the backside of the rollbar. It might work, although there isn't a sufficient ground plane for the antenna, in my opinon.

Artex's instructions say to put the ELT where it'll survive a crash, and keep the antenna cable run short. So after some discussion on the RV list, which yielded very little in answering my questions (which basically was about a proper ground plane for the antenna) , I visited this site and got the idea for the location from it. I like it.

So today, I built a gizmo for installing it.

As I indicated, I'm going to position the antenna out in the breeze. There's one major problem with this, however. I have a tri-cycle gear RV-7A. An interesting thing happens with tri-cycle gear RV-7As when they crash, they flip on their backs.

It's possible the vertical stabilizer would keep the antenna functioning. There's a switch on the instrument panel to "arm" the ELT. My emergency checklist will include activating the ELT in the event of an emergency, in progression with setting the transponder to 7700 and issuing a mayday on 121.5.

I still have to run 5-conductor shielded wiring to the panel. That should be interesting since I'm running out of room to run wiring through the 705 bulkhead, especially since one pathway is taken up by the manual trim cable. But that's a chore for another day.

Friday, November 28, 2008

What's up at EAA?

I have absolutely no knowledge but if I had to guess, I'd guess there's a little bit of turmoil going on at the publications division of the Experimental Aircraft Assocation. Dave Hirschman Hipschman, left as the editor in chief a few months ago after just two years on the job. And he had replaced Scott Spangler, who I think did a fantastic job with Sport Aviation. That, too, came without much explanation.

Today, the December issue arrived (with a great article on J.W. French). But the EAA Web site has been stuck on October's issue for several months now. That never used to happen.

What it tells me I'm not sure, but it at least tells me that something is going on in Oshkosh that makes me a bit uncomfortable.

An offer too poor to be true

Despite all the protestations to the contrary, aviation is a rich person's game. It's ridiculously expensive and most of the people who do it view themselves as working stiffs, but so do the guys who flew their private jets into Washington a few weeks ago to plead poverty.

The homebuilt airplane community used to be different but now if you don't have $20,000 minimum to soak into your instrument panel, you might as well use the service entrance.

Which is why it was amusing to me to get this offer from Sporty's in my e-mail a few minutes ago. Sporty's is offeringt $1 shipping on the new Garmin 696, a portable GPS which has a price tag of $3,245.

Now, if you can afford to plunk down $3,245 for a portable GPS, do you really care that much about the $9 or $10 you'll save in shipping with this deal? Is this really the make-it-or-break-it point of the sale, Sporty's?

I'll pass and pay the mortgage instead.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Suggested reading: Air mail airplanes

Air & Space Magazine from the Smithsonian has a captivating story and slideshow from the Blakesburg, Iowa fly-in last September airplanes that were once the backbone of the U.S. Mail system. I'll have to put that on my list of things to do in September. The article is called "You've Got Mailplanes."

The Maibs' 'flying' RV-10

I wrote a few days ago that David Maib received his airworthiness certificate for the RV-10 he's been building. Now it's a rootin' tootin' airplane.

David writes:

First flight happened at 4:20 this afternoon at Fleming. 50 minutes later I landed at Airlake after a great flight. All I can say is, keep working on your airplane. The reward is tremendous. The most gratifying thing I have done in a 42 year aviation career.

Interesting. David is probably one of the last people who'll be allowed to make the first flight from Fleming Field in South St. Paul (KSGS). The FAA is concerned that it's too busy an area now for first flights. That crash in Las Vegas in September probably didn't help much.

So I presume the "box" the FAA gave him for 40 hours of flight testing is over Lakeville, a much less populated area, but still a pain in the neck for someone like me who's got a half-built RV-7A in a hangar at KSGS. The thought of having to disassemble it and truck it down to Lakeville is mildly upsetting, but it's just another challenge for a homebuilder.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

David and Mary's RV-10

I'm pretty sure that the RV-10 you see above was but a gleam in the eyes of David and Mary Maib when David stopped by to see my RV-7A project several years ago. But today, David reports, he was given an airworthiness certificate by DAR Tim Mahoney (who is obviously shown here).

It's a gorgeous airplane, hangared just across the field at South St. Paul Airport from that RV-7A project which, if you ask me, probably doesn't look that much further along than when David checked it out back in my garage. By the way, it's got not one, not two, but three Vertical Power 200 units!

The chances are pretty good that you've never met anyone who worked as hard on the RV-10 as David and Mary. If you want an example of dedication, they're it. They were out at the hangar all of the time.

Up until a month or so ago, David was the chief pilot for Target Corporation. But he's cashed out, they've built a home in New Smyrna Beach, Florida. They've sold the hangar to Wip at Wipaire, and after David flies off the -- presumably -- 40 hours, they're blowing this popcorn stand called Minnesota and will live where you don't need to plug your car in at night unless it's an electric vehicle.

So my joy at today's big moment is tempered by the bittersweet awareness that the birthing of the RV-10 will soon be followed by a "goodbye."

By the way, David, are you taking that engine hoist with you? If not, I know a guy nearby who'll buy it.

Friday, November 21, 2008

RV Builder's Hotline for 11/22/08 is posted

The most recent issue of the RV Builders Hotline has just been posted. This week's feature is about airparks and the people who live with their airplanes. You can find the issue here. If you've subscribed to the Hotline, you'll find it in your inbox shortly.

Monday, November 10, 2008

RV Builders BBQ - AirVenture 2009

I've been waiting for my enthusiasm to return to bring back the annual BBQ at Oshkosh for RV builders, pilots and their families. After spending the weekend putting together the latest RV Builder's Hotline, and then spending most of last evening working on the RVator index and reading old issues, I think it has. I'm ready to start planning. (Here's a slideshow of the last BBQ)

Right off the bat, though, we've got significant challenges. First, we have no donors. A few years ago Stein Bruch of SteinAir was kind enough to solicit some of the RV-related companies (or is the phrase "shake down") and surprised me with enough cash to keep the prices down, add a big tent (we'd always held our breath that our $3,000 investment in food and drink wouldn't get washed out, since we didn't do tickets in advance), but in this economy, I'm not sure that's a realistic expectation.

Last year, Van's Aircraft wanted to combine their homebuilder's dinner with the BBQ and we were on our way to doing that, but then that Kitplanes article appeared, there was some pushback at the YahooGroup when I objected to it, and I realized that a few people who had eaten my food, sat on my campsite, drunk my beer decided that there was "friendship line" that I didn't care for. These BBQs consume hundreds of hours of my time before Oshkosh and most of my time during Oshkosh (that picture above is me cleaning up the grounds the next day, which took most of the day), and it seemed like an ungrateful exercise which sapped my enthusiasm. And I'm not sure Van's would want to cast their lot with me again, anyway.

Add to that the fact that a lot of my BBQ friends weren't going to be at Oshkosh in 2008 and, well, it just didn't seem worth doing again.

So we -- I -- have some things to think about before committing to it.

  • Where do we get a grill? Stein, bless his heart, purchased a Coleman Event Grill for us, hauled it over to Oshkosh and back. No charge. That grill has now been donated to EAA Chapter 25 and even if I was allowed to use, I have no way of getting it to Oshkosh. Stein and his gang now rent their luxury waterfront villa. AndI have a Subaru with no tow hitch and no trailer.
  • How do we solve the problem of too many people attending? I think we had over 500 people last time and I don't think it was too many people (except for that one who came referenced earlier; you're not invited this time, fella!), but that's about as far as we want to go and that was with something like $5,000 in donations. We don't have that this time and I no longer have the cash to front thing (actually, I never did, but I have even less of it now).
  • Can the BBQ compete with AirVenture's new strategy of providing night events? Do we have enough people to give up an evening with Jeff Dunham? Or the concert with whatever over-the-hill rock group Ford can rope into coming?
  • Can we round up the old gang of cooks and volunteers?
  • Will the rennnovations at the AirVenture grounds disrupt the ability of people to get out to the campground? It's not like it was easy for them previously.

These aren't exactly the things that keep me up at night, but they are the things that need to be answered before the end of 2008. It really does take that long to put this together.

I'm open to any suggestions. If if you're a big company that wants to write a check for nothing more than a "thank you" (we had already agreed after 2007 that we wouldn't do door prizes; we want people to come because they want to come, not just for the chance to win something), I'm all ears.

I don't post much to the bulletin boards anymore so if you'd like to circulate this, please be my guest.

Update 11/17 - In kicking this around on the YGroup, it seems what we need are some co-chairs. Specifically, the most important would be someone to solicit sponsorships from some in the RV business community as Stein has done in the past. We would need about $3,000 total to accommodate tent and campsite as well as cost of ticketing etc., and that would give us the downpayment for food.

We also need a "facilities" person to help round up grilling equipment, propane tanks, coolers and ice. And maybe find an in-kind sponsor to donate generators for the evening only.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

RV Builder's Hotline posted

Thanks to the miracles of pharmaceuticals and the snowy/drizzly weather of Minnesota, I was able to crank out an RV Builder's Hotline this week afterall. I've been suffering from a terrible pinched nerve in the neck, which made my arms quite painful. But the pain has subsided and the weather put me in the mood to write. Enjoy. And tell a friend.

Closing up

It snowed in Lake Wobegon this week. The geese started flying south -- or at least over to the next lake -- and Minnesotans who are lucky enough to have one, closed up the cabin for the last time. For those of us who have unheated, uninsulated hangars, we "closed up" our getaway spots, too.

The international sign of the end of the RV building season -- at least for me -- in Minnesota is shown above. The whiskey barrel that serves as a rain barrel at the house, gets loaded into my wife's car, and taken to the hangar. This is also the time of the year when I get to apologize to my wife for making her car smell like bourbon.

At this time of the year, a lot of the lawn furniture and other flotsam that occupies my garage in the summer, heads for a corner of the hangar. This year, with an engine arriving and the RV-7A project going up on its gear, and the tail surfaces mounted for the last time (I hope), there's a little less room.

The RV-7A was moved from the side of the hangar back to the middle. I'd moved it earlier this year when James W. French's Acro Sport honored my hangar by staying overnight last summer. Soon the barrel will be surrounded by lawnmowers, and boxes, and whatever other junk needs to get out of my garage so that the car can scoot in for the winter. One of these days, I'd like to figure out how to use all of that wall space there. Rumor has it the airport management will supply all the material if I'd like to drywall things. But I have absolutely no idea how to put drywall up in corrugated aluminum hangar.

But it wouldn't bother me a bit if the management fixes the leak in the roof. The fine cement floor is the same kind used in a hockey arena, and when the rain comes, and then the cold, I've got better ice in the hangar than the Minnesota Wild have at the Xcel Center.

Unfortunately for my neaten-the-house plan, as much stuff ends up coming back from the hangar as goes to the hangar.

Anything that can freeze up -- it'll get to be 20 below in January if history is any guide -- needs to depart the hangar. The fiberglassing season is over until spring, because the epoxy resin needs to come back inside the house. Same with the rattle cans and other touch-up paint bottles. The rear "window" of the RV-7A, which never got touched after it took it to the hangar last spring, is heading back to its perch on a shelf in the former family room, too. There's no reason to leave a piece of acrylic hanging around in a hangar where it might get bumped during the winter.

To be sure, I'm not done working on the RV-7A until spring, but my options are limited. I won't touch the canopy again until spring, but I've still go an electrical system to design and some wires to run. I've got an engine sitting in a crate and a few more holes to punch in the firewall before I mount it -- and, in fact, I'm not really sure at this point what to do next on that front. How much stuff needs to be done on the firewall before you hang an engine? Anyone?

I've purchased a Vertical Power 50, so my electrical system will be a little different. But it's not ready for delivery yet and, presumably, neither are the other components I've ordered from SteinAir (Garmin 327, Dynon 180), and that's OK, because I'm clearly not ready to install it anyway. I don't know if there's a VP-50 installation blog out there yet, so maybe this will be it.

I've got a propane heater in the hangar, but in an uninsulated hangar, that's mostly good for rethawing frozen fingers.

I'll be out to the hangar to "futz around" a little bit here and there, but for the most part the RV airplane building season over the winter will be like other winters: Me sitting on the couch reading AeroElectric Connection again, and wondering what the hell it's talking about.

Spring can't come to Lake Wobegon soon enough.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Temporary hiatus

The RV Builder's Hotline is going on temporary -- hopefully very temporary -- hiatus, but not for the usual reasons. I've developed a very painful nerve problem in my back, which is radiating tremendous pain down both arms. It's a struggle just to type at the computer, especially at home -- which is where the Hotline is written each week.

I'm hoping it'll clear up within the next week or so but there's no way I can get a Hotline out as scheduled this Saturday. My apologies.

However, you can still help. If you see any RV-related items, have some pictures, have tips, please send them to me. You can help lighten the load a bit.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Aerobatic video proven a fake

This is a video that's been making its way around the Internet, in which a plane that lost a wing lands safely. It's fake according to this YouTube video, which appears to be real.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Getting current

My 90-day currency was going to expire in the next few weeks, it was a nice day out, and I wanted to get away from the ridiculous campaign nonsense on all sides. The only way to go is up. I rented a Warrior and flew around the southern edges of the Minneapolis St. Paul Class B, landing over at Fleming Field to check in on the RV project and do a few touch and gos. Here's some images.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

RV Builder's Hotline is posted

This week's issue of the RV Builder's Hotline is now available here. The main feature is a look at fiberglassing.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

The Martin Jetpack

Why I didn't do an extensive story on the Martin Jetpack when I saw it at Oshkosh last summer is beyond me. But this week I'm filling in for Jon Gordon on the American Public Media program Future Tense and it struck me as a good idea to marry my job with my hobbies, if only for a day.

So I called Glenn Martin in Christ Church, New Zealand this afternoon and talked to him a bit about his product. For you Oshkosh enthusiasts, he acknowledged that some people were disappointed at AirVenture that they "didn't see James Bond." So Martin told me his team will be back at Oshkosh next summer and this time "we'll bring some James Bond."

The short 5-minute program I produced will run on Monday, but if you'd like to hear the raw tape of the interview, here you go.

And here's a video from the EAA of the Martin Jetpack.

Incidentally, I know this Saturday is the day I'm supposed to have an RV Builder's Hotline delivered to those of you subscribe (it's free, you know!). But because I've generally been goofing off and also doubling up duties at work, I haven't gotten around to writing the main story for this issue -- fiberglass. So if you don't have a Hotline this weekend, please don't hold it against me too much.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

T-6s say "hello"

Alan Henley, a pilot with the AeroShell team, is paralyzed after an accident just prior to Oshkosh. His wife has been keeping a journal on Caring Bridge that is hopeful and heartbreaking at the same time.

But the other day she posted this:

I was just feeding Alan his lunch and he was laying in the bed and all of a sudden we heard this very distinctive rumble in the air, we both knew what it was. I ran out the front door and all of a sudden four red and white T-6's in tight formation buzzed the house treetop high. Some of our neighbors came running outside and I told them that's just the way the team says hello!

When I came back in Alan was smiling so big. We talked to the guys on the phone and he said if he had the money he'd pay for the gas and have them do that again. :) He said he didn't realize how loud they are! He's usually the doer not the doee.

Thanks so much guys for doing that! It was awesome just to see Alan's smiling face! We love you!



I was hoping my enthusiasm for the RV builders BBQ at Oshkosh would have returned by now, because I'd really like to do it again. But now I'm thinking perhaps there's something the RV community can do at Oshkosh for Alan Henley's family.

Friday, October 17, 2008

The finished fairing

I don't know how you spent your summer but it seems as though I spent mine making this one stupid part of the RV airplane project -- the fiberglass fairing that creates a transition between the top skin and the bink hunk of plexiglass that forms the canopy of the airplane.

I started in July, I believe. Most people do this in one week but when it comes to building, I'm not most people. Everything is a struggle with a complete lack of confidence that what I do is the right way to go.

Tonight, I finished the fairing when I removed the line of electrical tape that I used to mark the top edge of it on the canopy. The result is a very nice edge that thins nicely to the transition, where the fairing is just the thickness of the tape.

In the 1,806 hours of building so far, this part, I think, is the first one to be completed that really is quite visible to the outside world when the plane is done. The rest of the airplane will eventually be covered with paint, but a bad mistake on this part and everyone will know forever.

And so I spent almost three months working on it. Is it perfect? Oh, hell no. There is one spot where two pieces of tape joined that is quite rough on the edge that is slightly chipped. I'll reinstall the tape in that spot, add some more epoxy filler, and sand it out. The sides -- where the compound curve comes around to meet the side skirts -- cam eout better than I thought it would, but it's still a somewhat ugly spot. On the skin itself, near the center, you might spy a flaw, but it's just a spot where a small part of the top layer of primer came off when it stuck to the electrical tape as I removed it. Easily fixed by sanding and repriming.

But the feathered edges of fiberglass on the skin came out wonderfully, thanks to lots of filler, and lots of sanding.

Tonight, I sanded down the filler primer I added the other night, and continued to sand it down to an 800 grit, then added a final layer of primer, and sanded them down to an 800 grit.

There are a couple of small spots where some rivets show that I'll fill and resand. But for the most part, the fairing is finally done.

For the heck of it, I went back to my builder's log to see how much time I've spent on the canopy construction since I started it in February 2007 with the beginning assembly of the canopy release mechanism. 235 hours. The fairing itself? Sixty hours.

I walked away from this part of the project a number of times, but kept coming back to wrestle it to the ground. Here's how it looked when I started on August 2nd. Here I had just finished making a rough mark of where the fairing would go.

Now, here's why I love RV building. During the course of documenting the fairing project, a friend of mine -- Tim Rowell -- looked at the blog and saw what I was up to. Tim is one of the smart 3M people around here and someday he'd like to build an RV. When the project was in the garage, he'd stopped by every now and again to see how I was doing, but I haven't seen him in a year or so.

Last week when I got home from work, there was a shopping bad on the front porch. Tim had gone to the 3M employee store, and filled up the bag with respirators and sandpaper, and some material for working with sanding fiberglass. And last night he brought by some 3M finishing pads.

So now I call this "Tim fairing." Everone who works on the plane, has to autograph a piece of it. The next time he's by the hangar, I'll have him add his signature.

By the way, for those of you building RVs, two tips for you: Once you shape the fairing, consider using the 3M sanding sponges and pads. They work really great and can be bent to the form of the fairing radius and compound curve.

The second tip: Remove the electrical tape very slowly. Go to fast and it's easy for the edge to tear, embedding a small piece in the edge which will give you a rough edge. When removing the tape, pulll it off into the edge. Basically as you remove the tape, you're folding it over into a triangle and pulling down toward the canopy skin.

I've finished this part of the project just in time. Temperatures tonight are heading toward the 30s and it's time to put canopy work away for the winter in this unheated hangar. I didn't come all this way to crack a brittle plexigasscanopy in the cold. So now I'll work on reinstalling the canopy release mechanism, add the heaterbox and doubler plate to the firewall, set the breakout force for the nose gear, and then get started with electrical runs and avionics.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The quest for perfection

I got no takers on my request for someone to take this canopy windscreen fairing project off my hands, so I had little choice but to plug away.

It's almost done and it's come out OK, I think, but not having another RV handy to doublecheck, I'll just have to go with my gut.

Last night I put some filler primer (actually, it was advertised on Aircraft Spruce as being filler primer, but when it arrived, the rattle can said nothing about the "filler" part of primer) on the canopy skin and fiberglass, preparing it for a final sanding before I remove the tape and, hopefully, end up with a good edge.

I've been working on this a few hours at a time for two months. My work schedule being what it is (blogging is hard work, especially if you have to come up with 7-8 items a day!), I usually only get an hour an evening and a few hours on the weekend at the hangar.

The point (literally, a point) at which the top edge disappears into the side skirts isn't a good as I would have hoped, but at this point, it will have to do. The temperature hit 80 over the weekend, but is back into the 40s now, and it's getting pretty cold to be working around plexiglass.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Is the end near?

I'm watching another meltdown of the financial markets today and while I understand the "don't panic" mantra that leads to the "do nothing" approach, the "do nothing approach" does nothing for the future when you get to be my age. Retirement isn't that far off, or so I thought.

So far this year, I'm down $80,000 in the retirement account. I know for a lot of you pilot-types, that's walking-around money. For me, it's real dough. Coupled with the losses of the last few years, and the fact that since this particular administration took office the economy has been a disaster, some of its own making, some not -- I'm now faced with the very real prospect of not being able to retire in anything near a comfortable level.

In this environment, how can I justify soaking money into an experimental airplane project?

My RV-7A has 1,800 invested in it. A new IO-360 Mattituck engine is sitting in the box. The canopy is about done. There's little wiring done yet. STrobe system, a PS Engineering intercom (the four-place simple one), Artex new 406 mhz ELT, ICom A-210 are sitting in boxes. The TruTrak one-axis autopilot is installed. It's up on the landing gear although I haven't set the breakout force of the wheel yet.

I've probably got $45,000-$50,000 invested in it with the engine and as you know, I've loved this project like a child.

But given the events of the last few months, I don't see how I can't listen if someone is interested in making an offer.

However, if you're just bottom-feeding looking for a sucker, move along. I'm really looking at mere survival here.

Friday, September 26, 2008


I just wrote a piece at my day job about the Swiss man who flew his jet-powered wing from France to England so I won't repeat it here.

But I'm wondering if this "wing" looks at all familiar to some of you RV airplane builders?

An RV horizontal stabilizer, maybe?

Hmmmmmm..... I wonder if I could reach Wisconsin from here?

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Whatever happened to that canopy fairing?

Yes, I know, I haven't put another post up about sanding the canopy fairing I've been working on for at least -- what? -- two days.

I went out to the hangar last night and have done some more sanding on the top edge after -- following the directions -- putting a coat of epoxy on the edge onto the electrical tape that marks the top edge. The directions say to then sand the epoxy off the tape, revealing a nice edge. Later in the instructions, however, it says the top edge consists of "two or three coats of epoxy." So I was confused -- my natural state. Should I put a few coats on and sand or put on one coat and then sand, then put on another?

Joe Blank, who is easily the best technical support dude at Van's Aircraft set me straight:

Hi Bob,

Usually multiple coats of brushed on epoxy filler works in this area to finish off the fairing, and sand between coats. Here is the way I prefer to finish out the fiberglass strip on either the slider or the tip-up style canopy.

Once the multiple layer glass cloth/epoxy layup is completed/molded and set, if you haven't defined the strip width already using tape, do that now. I prefer to use black electrical tape. You can make nicer curves and contours, and the epoxy won't wick under the tape edge. You can vary the width of the fairing a bit around the corners to make it look more esthetically pleasing to the eye. Lightly sand the area to eliminate any high zones. Next, mix up a baseball sized amount of either micro-balloons (glass beads) or a product called "Superfill" (from Spruce).

I prefer the Superfill, as it's light, the right consistency, and is very predicable. Using a 4x6" piece of plastic or cardboard as kind of a squeegee, apply the filler to the taped off area. You can start in the middle and work to the outer edge or start on one side and work to the other, as it really doesn't matter. (I call this arts and crafts at this point ;-) Symmetry is the name of the game here, to simply make both sides look the same. If an area looks too low, then add a bit more material. If an area looks to high, then use a bit more pressure on your squeegee to scrape it down. Use the squeegee action to form a nice smooth surface. Once you have enough material on and are reasonably happy with the results, step away from the work! Let it set up for a day or so.

The next day, come back and inspect the work and determine if there are any high/low spots that need to be addressed. Circle these with a sharpie so that you only try to repair these spots. Once everything else looks acceptable, it's time to sand. Fabricate 3 sanding blocks from wood that approximate the shape of the fairing in the center, halfway to the outboard edge, and at the outboard edge. I simple cut several pieces of cardboard that mimicked the shape and held them up to the the fairing.

Using progressively finer grits of sandpaper and the blocks, lightly sand each zone until you get the exact contour you like. Once that looks acceptable, paint the fairing with a filler/primer (rattle can works fine). Once primed, the painted surface will highlight any other defects or contours so that you couldn't see otherwise. If everything looks acceptable, then peel the tapes off and clean up any areas that need it.

Hope this helps.....

This is one of those times I wish I'd talked to Joe beforehand because this isn't the way I did it. I did one layer of fiberglass at a time (I don't have that much time at the hangar that I can do it all at once) and I tended to shape as I went along. I like Joe's method better, however, but it's too late now.

That next RV I build is going to be really nice!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Airport setting highlights conundrum for Republican pilots

(This is a piece I wrote for my day job today)


It's significant, perhaps, that Sara Palin's visit to Minnesota on Friday is occurring at a general aviation airport -- Anoka Blaine Airport. If there's one area where she and her running mate disagree, it's on the biggest issue facing general aviation : user fees.

Complicating the issue even more is that the "aviation community" leans heavily Republican.

For the last 2 1/2 years, the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, the largest lobbying arm of general aviation, has been opposing a Bush administration proposal to finance the Federal Aviation Administration with user fees, similar to how Canada finances its aviation services. (Full disclosure: I am a member of AOPA, however I lean toward a user-fee system.)

It says the surplus in the Aviation Trust Fund, paid for by taxes on general aviation fuel, airline passenger tickets, and cargo, should be used instead, and argues that the skies will be less safe because pilots won't use air traffic control and other services designed to keep flying a relatively safe exercise.

The nation's airlines want more of the cost of the system transferred to business and general aviation. Business and general aviation interests say it's the airlines that are the biggest users, and should be the biggest funders.

The plan has plenty of supporters. "General aviation should pay more; the FAA says it provides only 3 percent of the financing for the air-traffic control system, yet it accounts for roughly 17 percent of its use," the Rocky Mountain News editorialized at the height of the debate in 2007.

Sen. John McCain has leaned toward the airlines' view, voting against an amendment to eliminate the Bush administration's proposed $25-per-flight user fee on general aviation.

As chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, McCain had a testy exchange when he tried to block the appointment of the AOPA president -- to a council that advises the FAA on aviation issues.

"I wanted to get at, which we should get at, the wealthiest people in America who are flying corporate jets around this country and not paying an extra penny for doing so, while average citizens, average middle income, lower income American citizens are paying, again, an increase in their cost of air tickets, while your fat cat friends pay nothing. "

McCain stressed that user fees would only apply to business aircraft. The general aviation interests insist that a user fee-funding system would only expand.

Who favored eliminating the user fee? Gov. Sarah Palin. She signed a resolution in Alaska in 2007 that opposed "the enactment of the provisions in the Next Generation Air Transportation System Financing Reform Act of 2007 that impose user fees, increase aviation fuel and aviation gas taxes, reduce airport funding, and reduce Congressional oversight of the Federal Aviation Administration."

Obama's position? According to Evan Sparks, who writes about aviation policy, "As far as I can find, he's not on record endorsing user fees, and the FAA reauthorization bill never came up for a final vote in the Senate."

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Listening to voices

In aviation, it's not uncommon to hear voices.

Rare is the time I'm flying when I don't hear the sound of my first flight instructor's voice.

Airplane building is like that, too. I hear voices all the time, and it's a good thing because I think the RV-7A I'm building will be a better airplane because of it. Sometimes I hear the voice of Ken Scott at Van's (although it comes through as an e-mail), urging me to "build on" when I think it's better to build some part again.

Other times the voice says something entirely different. Yesterday was one of those times.

On Thursday, after 7 hours of work, I had convinced myself that the canopy windscreen fairing was shaped about as well as could be. But part of me had doubts and the voices wouldn't stop on Friday. So by Saturday morning, I knew what I had to do.

"You have to be a little more aggressive in sanding," Doug Weiler's voice said to me yesterday, repeating what the president of the Minnesota Wing of Van's Air Force said to me in person a few weeks ago at the hangar.

"When you find yourself saying 'I guess that's good enough even though I'm not that happy with it,' it's time to take a break and think about it some more," RV-10 builder David Maib had said to me a week ago... and again, by proxy (me), yesterday.

When I arrived at the hangar yesterday, I opened up an old issue of Kitplanes while I munched down the Big Mac and Coke. It was the June 2007 issue, one about working with composites and, specifically, one about a canopy windscreen fairing on an RV-10.

The advice was comforting -- you can fix anything that isn't right with fiberglass, for example -- and instructive. The builder had used 14 short pieces of fiberglass instead of one or two long pieces. I had used about 3 on previous layups and I didn't like the result much. I had, over the last week or so, sanded well into those layups and I had already decided to do one final layer of fiberglass, having shaped the radius.

By the time I finished reading the article, and with the voices seeming to scream at me, I knew what I had to do: a better job.

So I put the low-grit sandpaper back on the shaping tool and went back to work. Instead of trying to do the entire length of the radius at once, I concentrated on getting one small area just the way I liked it, and expanding it from there. Eventually, it was done, and I liked it.

It may still not be Oshkosh show plane quality -- or even the RV next door quality -- but I'm finally happy with it.

Then I layed down the final layer of fiberglass, having realized that I really hadn't been cutting the fiberglass strips on a 45 degree angle and finding that, yes, it's a lot easier when you do (the fiberglass doesn't come unweaved). I layed down short strips, taking care to tuck it right up to the tape that marks the top edge of the fairing (the fiberglass there will be sanded down level with the tape, and then the tape will be removed, hopefully revealing a nice tapered edge).

When I put peel ply on it, I felt for the first time that I understood fiberglassing technique better, and vowed -- as I have for 7 years -- that the next RV airplane I build will be even better.

When I finished, I heard a voice say, "nice job, Bob."

That one was mine.

Friday, September 12, 2008

RV Builder's Hotline posted for 9/13/08

The RV Builder's Hotline for September 13, 2008 has been posted. It's being e-mailed out tonight using the e-mail client that's been a little finnicky, and then on Saturday it will be e-mailed again using the "old program."

I'd appreciate it if subscribers would add a comment here if they receive one tonight and one Saturday/just the one tonight/ just the one on Saturday/ or none at all.

Thanks for your time.

Update -- I've checked and doublechecked and the issues are going out. If you're not getting them, there's a limited amount I can do as the problem is with your ISP. Charter Communications customers, for instance, are getting the Hotline blocked. I've contacted the company and we'll see if they do anything about it. I have provided some guidance on what to do about this in this week's issue.

You may also wish to set up a separate e-mail account on gmail or yahoo or windows live and import that account into your e-mail client in order to circumvent the restrictions that your ISP has put up.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

When building progress is hard to see

When you're building an airplane, you go through many phases. There is a phase where motivation comes easy. When you're building a wing, or a flap, or a fuselage, you see fairly steady progress. At the end of your workday you close the garage or hangar door and look at your work and say, "gee, that's looking like an airplane, it won't be long before it's flying."

This is the same situation as a line at Disney World. Just when you think you're getting somewhere, you turn a corner and realize the line is way longer than you thought.

I am in one of those lines now. I am about to pass 1,800 hours of work on the RV-7A since I started in 2001. Even though the project is now at a hangar and not in the garage, I still work at least one hour a day on it, usually on the way home from work. I feel that I've put hours into the plane this year than any year so far.

But progress? Where's the progress?

I assume it's there... somewhere... but one cannot depend on it for motivation at this stage. Today, for example, I took the day off from work, and spent 7 hours at the hangar, mostly working on the canopy fairing. I've been working on this for several months now, and while I'm making some progress, I still have a long way to go, and I'm pretty sure it's not going to be as nice as I would have liked.

The windscreen fairing is simply the transition between the metal of the airplane skin and the curvature of the plexiglass canopy. Ideally, you want a nice, sleek radius (curve).

It involves laying up fiberglass and then sanding in the the radius and then slowly sanding away fiberglass. A line of tape marks the top edge of the fiberglass so there, too, it needs to be carefully sanded to a razor-thin edge.

Today, I sanded some more, down to 150 grit, and started filling in the pinholes and rough spots by spreading more epoxy.

There are two small aluminum clips that I used to hold the canopy in place. They come through when I sand the fiberglass down (you can see them in the photo below). I'll get them covered, but this presents a bit of a "ski jump" look to the radius. Looking back, I think I should have cut the canopy back farther when I was cutting it -- cutting it back right to the point at which the vertical portion begins.

There's another transition on the side of the canopy that I haven't been paying that much attention to. Here, there isn't a radius, it's a smooth curve around to the side, and then a feathered bit of fiberglass to the side aluminum skirts. You can probably see here that right now there's just a bunch of fiberglass layed up here. More sanding is required, but I've got time.

While I let the epoxy cure (at least 24 hours), there was plenty of other work to do. I'm putting the fresh air ventilation system into the cabin. It needed a dumb, little bracket made out of .032 aluminum angle. Nothing hard, it just took a few hours more than I'd planned. And because I lowered the instrument panel by 1/8", some of the predrilled holes in the instrument panel didn't help me much here.

And that's one of the interesting things about building an RV airplane, everything has an effect downstream. A small change made here, affects a part you work on later, and another, and another, and another.

But I muddle on, even though I'm not at the stage where I can turn around and say, "wow, I'm moving right along, this thing will be flying soon."

It won't be flying soon, but we airplane builders plug along anyway.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Toys for lots (of dollars)

Although it lacks a certain organization, I like my idea of buying pieces of my panel over a long period of time. Yesterday another key piece arrived. The Grand Rapids Technology Engine Information System came last night. I bought it at Oshkosh in July. They lost the order but found it last week. No matter, I'm nowhere near the point of installing it.

The EIS will monitor what's going on with my engine faster and better than any of the human senses. If it reports a problem, I land -- immediately -- well before the problem threatens my safety. That's the plan, anyway. It's a compact, relatively inexpensive ($1,400) unit that also will monitor my fuel usage, cylinder head temps, oil pressure and temperature, exhaust gas temperature, RPM, and perform a ton of other tasks of keeping an eye on the engine while I'm busy looking out the window to keep from bending metal with another plane.

So far -- let's see if I can remember this -- I have my lights/strobes, emergency locator transmitter, a 296 Garmin GPS in an AirGizmo panel dock (I'm going to upgrade to a 496 at some point, probably), an audio intercom, a TruTrak single-axis autopilot (I'm probably going to switch to a Trio Avionics two-axis autopilot). I still have to decide on an EFIS (electronic flight information system) and am currently leaning toward the GRT Horizon HX.

David Maib, RV-10 builder on Fleming Field, stopped by the hangar last night. He was down at SteinAir looking at his new panel being built, the one with three Vertical Power units. Stein Bruch says he's convinced the solid state electronics are the future of aviation, so now I'm once again thinking of spending the dough ($6,500 last time I checked) for a VP-200 unit.

Of course, none of this is going to happen until I get the canopy windscreen done. I did more sanding last night.

The Halogen light makes everything look yellow. David looked at the radius and said, "I think you're about there." I think I am, too. I'm going to sand the very top down even with the two plys of electrical tape, and then switch to a higher-grit sandpaper, then start filling and sanding.

Here's another view:

This one makes it look like there's a bump on the left. There's not. I don't know what makes it look like there is.

Good luck, David -- Speaking of Mr. Maib, he made his last "official" flight as the chief pilot for Target Corp., yesterday, he told me. When he landed, the airport fire trucks saluted him with sprays of water. I've always thought that would be a sad occasion for a pilot, but David says, "I'm ready." As of this week, he told me, he's received a paycheck for flying every week for 40 years, starting with the Army (helicopter) in 1968. And now he's looking forward to finishing his RV-10 (first engine start next week?), flying off the hours, and then flying off with his wife, Mary, to their new home in New Smyrna Beach, Florida.
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