Thursday, February 21, 2008

The last letter

I don't really like being the butt of a joke. Even less, I don't care for it much when it comes from someone I respect.

But I am and that's life on Planet RV. Deal. Still, I think the conversations we have in the community should be just that. Conversations, and not material to be taken out of context and manipulated in meaning to embarrass us in the interest of making a buck selling an article to a magazine. But that's just me; I think if we as members of a community have earned a basic level of respect, it ought to be extended. Quaint stuff, eh?

The RV community is changing. It, like AirVenture and other aspects of homebuilding, are leaving the common person behind. If you own your own company, or are successful -- and lucky -- enough to be a valuable sort of employee with skills enough in demand that you can work out of a hangar and fly whenever, great. I'm not so imbibed with hubris to judge your life, your choices, and your priorities.

But if you're a working stiff trying to raise a family, and keeping a project moving by devoting a little time here and a little time there, sacrificing the "now" in favor of keeping a dream alive, then homebuilding an airplane -- or at least the homebuilding community -- really isn't for you. This is the instant gratification generation. There's little appreciation for the journey that is airplane homebuilding.

I haven't been able to quite put a finger on it, until today. Homebuilding is a uniquely personal endeavor, enjoyed by a few close friends, usually in proximity. It is incompatible -- at least for long -- with the wider Internet-based community. Internet communities eventually build rules and eventually, an aristocracy. Maybe I'm a socialist at heart, but I don't care for aristocracy.

For the record, here's the offending paragraph:

I recently read an email from a builder who said he’s on a tight budget and needs to spread the spending out over time to aff ord fi nishing the airplane. That same builder mentioned that he’s going to install an expensive digital electrical switching system. Let’s see, thousands of dollars on some fancy screen that turns your fuel pump on automatically, or less than $100 on…um…some switches. Do I even need to comment on that?

Comment? No. But context and accuracy is needed. As I posted on the Yahoogroups:

Dan makes the conclusion that the reason I need to spread the building out over time is because of all the fancy, schmancy stuff I'm putting into the plane.
Nonsense and if anyone had asked -- no one did -- I could have at least prevented a small measure of public ridicule.

Dan's absolutely right about spreading the build time out as part of the budget process. But he's wrong about the reason, which he didn't tell the unsuspecting readers.

In asserting (correctly), that I'm on a tight budget, he didn't tell the readers that *I* have been a pay-as-you-go builder since the day I started. Dan wasn't. Dan got a loan and wrote a check and there's certainly nothing wrong with that. Dan also had a plane that he sold to help finance his construction. I didn't. I delivered newspapers
every morning in godawful weather to be able to afford just the tail kit.

Dan and I agree that people should be flying instead of buying unnecessary -- even luxurious -- stuff and what Dan didn't mention is that with *my* method of building -- in which the plane will be paid for when it flies, I'll be flying an airplane and have money for gas while others will have a lot of that money siphoned off to
pay the loans you took out to build the plane. So in the long run, is there really a difference?

The way *I'm* building has nothing to do with spending a bunch of money on a Vertical Power system. I think there's a case to be made for VP and I'll let VP do the cost
comparison but the assertion that the alternative is only a few hundred dollars is incorrect. I'm allowing myself one real luxury in the panel here and that's it. I suspect the cost of my panel will be less than the cost of Dan's. In fact, I know it will.

So the inference that is what has me slowed down (although by *my* pace I think I'm going at the proper pace... for me) is budgeting because of an overreliance on fancy technology is pure horseshit, unless you think an engine is fancy technology. I'm raising the money to pay for THAT, too.

I should also point that I'm using a manual trim cable, manual aileron control... and I've put an Air Gizmo in and intend to fly with a 296 GPS, not a much more expensive 496 with the monthly XM fees to go with it. Why? Budget, baby. Budget. I'm using paint bought off the shelf at Ace Hardware for the interior. You?

I also won't be paying people a lot of money to do a lot of the wiring. I'll do it myself. Would I like to do it the more expensive way? Sure. But I'm a working person and I'm all about reality. And have we mentioned yet that I've been building in the winter months in an unheated garage and not in the dependable climate of southern California, and because I didn't want to spend -- and didn't have -- the money for the fancy hangars or a fully heated garage.

And, finally, I have two kids. Dan doesn't. Two kids costs a hell of a lot more than anything you put in your instrument panel and THAT is part of the budgeting process, too. Even after they move out (sigh).

I'm proud of a lot of things. I've had a great marriage, now in its 26th year. I've raised two outstanding young men. I've done OK for myself in a business that's all about high performance and low pay, and I've been able to keep the dream of building an airplane alive by doing it -- paying as I go -- different than most people. I don't like having to defend any of that. I don't like being portrayed as a way not to build or not to be, and I don't want to be part of a community that finds that acceptable. It's not my intent to change anybody or anything; that's not possible. People are who they are. But I still have the luxury of getting to choose my friends and acquaintances and shutting off the noise makes that easier and infinitely more rewarding.

I'll keep the dream alive, but it's a good time to pull the plug on my involvement with the RV "community." I don't recognize the old neighborhood anymore. I want to visit the old one.

Update 6:15 p.m. Sun 2/24 - Just to clarify. I don't have a problem with the article having an opinion different from my own. I have a problem with the sloppy and uninformed way in which it was written, with no attempt at fact-checking, and a rather unethical method of gathering what little information was used to set up the author's opinion. The qualms are over the ethics involved in the article and that's on Kitplanes to settle.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Steve Wilson killed in RV-7 crash

Downstream on the blog, a troll stopped by a few weeks ago to call me an a**hole and complain that all I'm interested in is posting stories about RV accidents. Maybe he got one of them right, but as for the accidents part, well, nothing would give me more delight than to have nothing to post on the subject.

But that is not meant to be, especially in the last few days. Word comes today that Steve Wilson, 57, was killed when his RV-7 went down near Grass Valley, Ca. Details here.

Tom Irlbeck, hero at large

I've commented in the past about how Tom Irlbeck is one of my RV heroes. He spends the winter in Florida, and a TV station found him... and deservedly so.

Click here, as they say in the business.

(h/t Doug Weiler)

Monday, February 18, 2008

RV-6 crash kills two women in Washington state

This has really been a bad, say, 12 months for homebuilt airplanes; they seem to be crashing at an alarming rate, although I admit my evidence is purely anecdotal.

The latest to go down was an RV-6 in Washington state this weekend, piloted by Ann Price.

What scares most pilots -- on those rare occasions when pilots will step out of that "I'm a pilot. I'm a tough guy" facade, is when good pilots are the ones killed.

This article suggests that Ann Price was a very good pilot.

Over on Van's Air Force, an outstanding RV site but one that can occasionally get overmoderated by virtue of the lack of distinction between what is "offensive" and what is merely "uncomfortable," there was a suggestion that she did a poor job of making an emergency landing, because she was talking to her husband (also flying nearby) as her engine was sputtering. I don't agree on the basis of the scant information. Communication of intention is part of any emergency landing checklist, and since there was no fire, there's certainly no indication she didn't shut down all electrical equipment and close fuel lines once she was near landing, just as we are all taught to do.

But I think the post was an invitation to look at the facts, not of the crash per se, but of the factors involved in any emergency landing, that make them so challenging and reduce the outcome almost to sheer luck.

This is a difficult time of the year, especially when landing in a field. Planted fields are pretty rugged and frozen and it doesn't take much to hit the equivalent of a cinder block, no matter how much training you've had. And in an RV, that's an instant nose-over.

Crashes and emergency landings are survivable only if there is sufficient stopping distance to dissipate energy that otherwise is going to be absorbed by the spine and neck. As the Dale Earnhardt crash taught us, it doesn't have to look bad to be lethal.

I'm going to go out on a limb and say that Ann was a much, much better pilot than me. I hope we can at least learn something from her tragic and untimely end.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

The plane goes home.

I've reached the point where I need to move the project to the hangar. I really can't get it up on its landing gear until the engine mount is attached (for the nose wheel), and I can't put the engine mount with the room I have left in the garage. Because of the side steps, though, I couldn't just load it on a flatbed. My brother-in-law had the solution when he was out a few months ago -- get some hay. D'oh!

So I bought four bales of straw and the side steps straddled it on the back of a trailer that RV-10 builder David Maib offered up.

Let's get to the pictures.

First, I pretty much stripped everything back, back window removed, top skin removed etc. Back down to "canoe" state:

Insert straw bales through Slot A. Attach airplane to Slot B:

The plan, obviously, was to have someone -- in this case my friend, Warren Starkebaum, who took these pictures, by the way -- drive behind the trailer to keep it from being rear-ended.

Then we strapped N614EF down...

Stuck on a rinky-drink warning flag (Thanks, Waste Management!). Oh, yes, this was the first day above 32 in weeks. Fortunately, it was still early enough in the day that there wasn't any slop on the road to kick salt and schmootz up.

And away we go! A 9-mile drive to South St. Paul's Fleming Field.

Fortunately, I was able to take the back road off the bluff onto I-494/I-694, so that we only need to be on the interstate just to get over the Wakota Bridge over the Mississippi River.

And home..

Because the snow on the roof is drip... drip... dripping's solid ice in front of the hangar door. But the hangar is big enough that David was able to drive right in, we lifted off onto the sawhorses, put a tarp over it and called it a day except for vacuuming all the straw out of my wife's car.

Today I bought a Sears rolling tool chest to start organizing the tools and begin getting work done out at the hangar. It might actually, at this point, be better having it 9 miles from the house. I won't have as many distractions (i.e. TV) on those occasions when I start working. Of course, with 5 degree temps returning this week, there's the "heat" problem.

It's only words...

Yesterday, we moved the fuselage out of my garage to the hangar I rent at SGS (South St. Paul's Fleming Field).

My friend, Warren Starkebaum, took some pictures and I hope to upload some as soon as he sends them to me. We used a very high-tech system, given that the plane is not on its gear. I bought four bales of straw, put them on a trailer that David Maib (RV-10 builder) borrowed and the fuselage steps straddled the straw bales. Perfect.

Placed on its familiar sawhorses at the hangar, some RV-building veterans that David has hired to help with his and his wife, Mary's, RV-10 project, stopped by. He has built or helped build 30 RVs. He took a brief look at it and proclaimed, "your project looks really good."

Friends, let me just tell you that words like that can make a lot of frustrating times disappear in a hurry. They can make years of self-doubt melt. And they can provide tremendous motivation to work on the project.

Not more than a few seconds later, I saw Warren on the other side of the hangar, bending down for a side view of the canopy frame, which was on a table.

"Warren, get the hell out of there, no looking closely at anything," I yelled, invoking the first rule of Bob's hangar; a rule I'd just come up with.

It was too late.

"What the hell did you do to this?" Warren shot back.


Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Minnesota miracle

If you're in an EAA chapter, you probably know folks like Al and Rae Kupferschmidt, of Lake Elmo, Minnesota's Chapter 54. When you need a volunteer, they're always there to help. Al runs the Young Eagles program in the chapter.

So it's particularly gratifying to see a miracle bestowed upon them.

Al was planning Rae's funeral, while she lay in a coma. Then it happened. She woke up.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Helicopter tour of Boston

With a few exceptions -- mostly the Red Sox, who beat my beloved Indians last year in the playoffs by having a bigger check book -- I love Boston. I grew up near there, went to college there, worked in radio there. If only I could afford to live there, it'd be higher up on my places-to-retire to list.

And so I was particularly excited this morning to see that Philip Greenspun has posted a wonderful slideshow presentation of a helicopter flight around the great city this morning.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Sunday, February 3, 2008

How to keep tip-up canopy struts from pulling the canopy frame too far forward

The fitting of the canopy frame to the fuselage is a difficult process, of course. Every time you make an adjustment somewhere, another out-of-whack gremlin appears somewhere else.

This is particularly true after everything has been put together, you're reasonably satisfied with the fit of the canopy frame on the fuselage, and then you add the canopy struts. In my case, building an RV-7A airplane, this was very frustrating. The struts pull the frame forward significantly. Goodbye nice gap between the canopy skin and the front top skin. Goodbye nice fit between the canopy and the aft window. Goodbye fit of the latch lugs into the hole in the canopy locking mechanism.

The solution was invented by Mark Phillips of Tennesee who revealed it here. It's a bracket that is positioned on the longerons, forward of the subpanel, with a bolt that serves as a "stop" for the canopy frame. By adjusting the bolt nuts, the frame will only go as far forward as you want.

With all credit to Mark, I'm happy to document how I made and installed these brackets. Go here to see the step-by-step guide.
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