Sunday, December 27, 2009

Runway incursion

You've heard, no doubt, about the ongoing FAA effort to curtail runway incursions? That's when planes stray onto active runways, conjuring up images of Tenerife.

Today, I was "that guy," but I like to think I wasn't as clueless as the term suggests.

You see, we had a day and a half of rain after a snowfall, and then a freeze, so the taxiways at Flying Cloud were pretty much straight ice. There's been a lot of construction at KFCM in the last year, too, so things aren't necessarily where they were before.

My currency with the FBO expires next week, so I went out today to shoot some touch and go's. With so much of my money going into building the RV-7A, I don't fly very often -- certainly not enough to be proficient. But I'm aware that one of the problems of homebuilding is that pilots stop flying during the construction period, so I've been faithful to keep flying during the time, if only a little bit. When I do fly, I treat it as a training flight. All of my flights are usually local, and all of my activity is usually practicing air work. I also spend a lot of time reading and educating myself about flying, especially the FAA material on runway incursions.

But sometimes the strategies and procedures for avoiding runway incursions, don't help you much.

The day started bright and beautiful but by the time we pulled the Warrior out of the hangar, the snow showers had moved in. The controller directed me to 28R, but I'd seen its condition and asked for 28L instead. "Taxi to runway 28 Left by taxiways Alpha and Charlie," he said.

My airport map didn't list Charlie, and Charlie didn't use to exist, so I asked for progressives. By the time I reached it, I could spot the bright yellow sign so I canceled the progressive taxi instructions.

Usually, I run-up the engine and do my final pre-takeoff check next to 28R. But the ground controller gave me clearance to taxi to 28L, which gives me clearance to cross 28L 28R. But how long does that clearance last? If I do the "run-up" where I normally do, am I still cleared to cross 28R?

I decided I'd head over to the other side of 28L and do my run-up there. So I crossed the end of 28R on taxiway Charlie. It was glare ice and I was going very slowly. There's a hold-short line just before 28R 28L which I couldn't see under all the ice. But in the construction of the summer, they installed flashing lights. As I approached the line -- very slowly -- I applied the brakes, and skidded. My wheels were on the line (maybe an inch or two beyond), but the forward end of the plane was 2-3 feet across it.

"Tower, I've skidded past the hold-short line," I advised. After a moment, the controller cleared me across 28L and helped me fumble around looking for the runup area.

I spent the next hour shooting touch-and-go's. It was difficult seeing much because frost covered the sides of my windows and the snow showers were making life difficult keeping an eye on a Sundowner in the pattern. But all in all, it was a good hour. None of the landings were particularly good, but none were nauseating either.

As I was downwind for 28L, I advised the controller this would be a full-stop landing, he cleared me to land and when I did, I taxied all the way to the end of the runway and turned off. Ground control cleared me to taxi, and then said "N7337V, possible pilot diversion, call the tower, prepare to copy the number."

I got the phone number and thought, "Oh, sh*t, I bet he cleared me to land on 28R that last time, since that's closer to the FBO."

I shut down, paid for the plane, and then called the tower. "Let me guess," I began, "you put me on 28R on that last down?"

"No," the tower supervisor said, "it was skidding past the hold short line."

He couldn't have been nicer, but said they had to report it as a runway incursion. So he took all of my information after I told him what had happened. He said he doesn't know what happens now, but eventually I'll hear from the FAA. I filled out the NASA reporting form. It's not a get-out-of-jail free card but in assessing the penalty, they take under advisement the "attitude" of the pilot and filling out the NASA form (which provides aviation with safety violation information so they can determine what's a problem and what should change, if anything).

Looking back, I realize there's no way the tower could've known I'd passed the hold short line. I was only over it by a couple of feet, and the line wasn't visible from the tower. But I told them what I'd done and I feel OK about that.

What could I have done differently? First, there was a stack of new airport diagrams at the FBO, but they were covered up by an airport newsletter. The airport diagram wasn't the problem here, but knowing construction had been completed, I could've searched out an updated diagram.

I also could have asked the ground controller to let me do the run-up next to 28R, but the condition of the taxiway and the run-up area was -- in my opinion at the time -- likely to be much better on the other side, and even if I'd done that, I still would've approached the hold-short line.

I could have gone slower, but I was barely traveling at the rate of a casual walk as it is. Plus I'd also tested the conditions three times -- once when I turned onto the taxiway, once at the hold-short line for runway 18, and once just before I turned onto taxiway Charlie. Anytime I cross a runway, I try to get across it quickly, so perhaps I picked up speed a little when crossing 28R; I don't know.

I could've stayed on the ground, but I'd never taxied on ice before, not flown in the conditions that were present that day and I wanted to stretch my experience, especially in the controlled environment -- more or less -- of the traffic pattern. There was a time I didn't do well in crosswinds, so I started flying more in crosswinds. I'm very good at crosswind landings now. That's simply how it works.

But flying is a matter of confidence and when you go out for a workout, ending it with a call to the tower negates whatever 'good' might've come out of the day. On the other hand, it also makes you want to go back out and prove you're focused, situationally aware, and educated. That's a good thing.

I'll let you know what I hear.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Bookend miracles

This week's overshoot of the runway in Kingston, Jamaica by an American Airlines jet is remarkable in that nobody died. It also provides a fitting bookend to 2009, a year that started with another miracle -- Flight 1549. The flight crew in this latest incident is less likely to be heralded.

An airline source sent me these pictures of the jet.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Afraid to talk on the radio?

Of the many things in this world I don't understand, up near the top is this one: Why don't pilots like to use the radio?

My twin brother was the first one in the Collins family to get a pilot's certificate. Then he paid for my training. We've flown together only once. He stopped flying because he lives just outside the busy Boston airspace and he didn't like talking on the radio. Or so he says.

Today, I was reading a newspaper article in an Oregon newspaper about the idea of adding a control tower to the Aurora airport, the home airport of Van's Aircraft. They estimate that soon there will be over 280 airplanes at the airport making 97,000 take-off and landings at the airport by 2012 with 97,000 takeoff and landings (assuming they're combining the TOs with the landings, that's about 188 flights a year. That's a lot!)

But it was this passage that struck me:

He said that with a control tower, some of those based aircraft will leave because some pilots don’t like using radios. He said the mix of the aircraft at Aurora would change from piston and propeller airplanes, to more turbine powered aircraft.

How is it that people who aren't afraid to get into an airplane and launch into the sky, are afraid to key a button and talk to people?

One of the things I like to do after a flight, is go to, and listen to how I sounded when making radio calls. They keep an archive of radio traffic from particular airports. And for you homebuilders, it's also a good way to determine whether your radio and antenna are up to snuff.

Friday, December 18, 2009

The curse of shipping & handling

There's a thread going on at Rivetbangers asking people whether they've calculated how much they've spent on their RV airplane projects so far. I haven't, but I have a pretty good idea.

Unfortunately, I also have a pretty good idea how much I've spent on shipping and handling charges over the lifespan of the project and I'm not sure the two are that far apart.

This week I was about to rivet on a doubler plate for the comm antenna. So I dug out my Avery Tools pop rivet dimple dies -- two nifty little dies that use a simple nail to allow a pop riveter to be used as a dimpler. But I was out of the small nails. So I put the two dies down on the workbench, and went to the hardware store to buy new nails. $1.98 later, I returned to the hangar, only to find one of the dies was no longer where I left it. A search failed to turn up the missing die.

It sucks enough, frankly, that I had to stop my progress and order a new set from Avery Tools (for the record, I LOVE Avery Tools). But what really chaffs me, is that I had to pay $8.95 for shipping. Avery, like many suppliers, don't offer affordable shipping options like, "stick it in an envelope and mail it by the cheapest way ever invented by the U.S. Postal Service."

Yesterday, the package arrived.

Now keep in mind, this is what I needed (actually, I didn't need the nails, nor the other die, but forget about that.)

And this is the packaging it came in:

A waste of packaging, a waste of resources, and most certainly a waste of money. Sticking it in a padded envelope, slapping $1.20 worth of stamps on it and sending it out the door would have been preferable if added as an option.

Van's Aircraft is even worse. In addition to the shipping charges -- which they don't calculate for you when you order something, you only find out later that it averages $11 (although I once spent $85 shipping for a $100 part!) -- they charge you a $4 "handling fee." Think about that: For the privilege of submitting your order, you pay a $4 fee. Why not just tack on extra money to the price?

Update 3:18 p.m. 12/24/09 -- I was doing some laundry over the weekend. There was a fair amount of clanging coming from the dryer, which usually signifies some loose quarters. Nope. It was the missing die. Figures.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Danny's dream. Glenn's decency.

All in all, I'd have to say Glenn Brasch is the primary reason I go to Oshkosh every summer. Well, OK, there are some airplanes there, too.

Glenn has written a terrific story in Plane & Pilot about a ride he gave to a kid.

Why would any kid want to do that?” That was the social worker’s response to my offer to take any child flying for free—that is, any child who was a patient at the local cancer center for children. She probably thought I had something up my sleeve, some hidden agenda. I did not. I explained to her that, for me at least, when I was flying, all the world’s problems had a tendency to stay on the ground, and I thought that might be valuable to a child suffering from cancer. She reluctantly posted my offer in the waiting area. I expected my phone to ring off the hook, but I didn’t get a single call for months. I suspected the posting was removed from the wall after my departure.

Read the whole story here.

Glenn lives down in the Tucson area. You know where one of my first destinations will be if I ever finish the RV-7A? Tucson.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Flight 188 data dump

On Wednesday, the National Transportation Safety Board will release more than 400 pages of material it's gathered in its investigation into why the pilots of Northwest Airlines Flight 188 overshot their Minneapolis destination on October 21, 2009. It will offer no conclusions as to what happened.

I'll be live blogging as I go through the data to see if there's anything new there, and encourage you to join in the conversation with your questions and observations.

I've written extensively about the incident:

What the tapes tell us (11/27)

FAA on Flight 188: "We could have done better" (11/13)

Was Flight 188 out of radio contact for three hours? Probably not. (11/5)

FAA smackdown (11/2)

General: Fighter jets should've been airborne over Minneapolis (10/29)

Flight 188: The explanation (10/26)

The 'What if?' scenario (10/23)

Flight 188: Making it add up (10/23)

Aviation by the numbers

If you listened only to the alphabet groups, you'd swear general aviation is on its last legs. Maybe it is. Maybe it isn't. A release of data by the U.S. Census Bureau shows the extent to which aviation is changing.

For example, according to the Census Bureau:

  • The number of public use airports dropped to 5,221 in 2007 from 5,233 in 2006. That's 300 fewer airports than 1990, but it's 407 more than in 1980.

  • The number of piston general aviation aircraft increased by 1.9% from 06 to 07.

  • The number of private pilots dropped 1 percent.The number of private pilots airplane rating went down 3.7 percent. The number of student pilots stayed about the same. The number of instrument ratings went up.

    Here's the data.
  • Sunday, December 13, 2009

    Open for business

    You could forgive the RV builders and pilots of the Upper Midwest if they hung a "Closed For the Season" sign on their hangar doors. The nationwide blizzard last week ended a relatively warm fall and the single-digit highs since haven't been fit for man nor Plexiglas canopies, it seems.

    But on Saturday, dozens of them turned out for the quarterly meeting of the Minnesota Wing of Van's Air Force. The Wing was one of the first builder groups in the country, and it now supports a flying RV force of about 70 airplanes. Some of the best and brightest RV builders in the country are in the Minnesota Wing.

    We got to hear from one of them on Saturday. I've written in the past here and on RV Builder's Hotline about Pete Howell, for example. If I didn't know Pete, I'd probably just refer to him as the "I Wish" guy. I wish I had a plane as gorgeous as his RV-9A. I wish I were as smart as he is. I wish I had his ability to experiment and have it turn out well. I wish I were Pete Howell.

    Pete gave us a demonstration of his various experiments with LED lighting, well documented on VAF so I won't repeat them here. Oh, along the "I wish" line: I wish I'd invested in some of the HD landing and taxi lights and I wish I'd waited to decide on the lighting for my airplane so I could LEDs. Sure, I could pull out the Duckworks 50 watt incandescent landing/taxi light I put in about 5 years ago, but the closer I get to finishing the plane, the more I have to stop myself from trying to undo things I've already done. The Whelen strobes, the TruTrak single-axis wing leveler, the old light -- all are fine components of the N614EF, but all could be replaced by better systems if only I had the money and the time. But it's been almost 9 years since I've started the RV-7A and it's important to keep moving forward, not to jog in place.

    Pete also demonstrated the APRS tracking system, which I've written about here. It's an ingenious little system for letting your loved ones -- or others -- track your progress as you fly your RV around the country (insert your own Tiger Woods joke here).

    Here, for example, is the track for Pete on But Pete has gone one better. He can use the system to send e-mail messages, or other messages as he flies. He can even track other APRS-equipped airplanes on a GPS!

    We also heard from insurance broker Sky Smith (right, above). In a wide-ranging discussion on insurance for RVs, here's what I learned: I'm glad I'm building an RV-7A. Scott told of past difficulty getting insurance coverage for RV-8s, various taildraggers, and occasionally an RV-10. I didn't hear anything about the RV-7A.

    I also learned that before you before you build an F1 rocket, you might want to see if you can get insurance coverage for it. It's very difficult, he says.

    I went to the Wing meeting hoping to win one of the 10 Van's Aircraft calendars that wing president Doug Weiler was giving away as door prizes (value $10). Instead, I won this neat 3M Aircraft Paint Restoration Kit (value $95). Pretty cool. Now all I need is a paint job on N614EF.

    As usual, after a get-together with RV builders, the motivation is restored to get cracking on the airplane again, even if by nightfall the temperature was rock bottom in Minnesota. So I went back out to the hangar and made a doubler plate for the Comant antenna that needs to be installed. I only worked on it for about an hour, which is about the limit for unheated T-hangars in December in Minnesota.

    But it beats being closed for the season.

    Tuesday, December 1, 2009

    Wednesday, November 25, 2009

    Faith rewarded

    I don't care how cynical you are, if this isn't news to lift the spirit, then you don't have one to lift. Jack Beck and Marmy Clason of Germantown, Wisc., have flown their RV-9A for the first time, according to a post on Van's Air Force today.

    I've written a lot of stories about RV building, but none was better than their life story. And it's not just about RV-building.

    If I never spend another minute working on my own RV project, the opportunity to meet this family was well worth the cost of the project thus far.

    Tuesday, November 24, 2009

    Tales from the Crimp: Troubleshooting

    You know those late-night and magazine ads that shout, "If I can make a million dollars, you can too!"? I think if Van's Aircraft wants to mirror that, they should use me. "If I can (fill in any particular skill required to build your own airplane here), you can, too." Of course, the jury is still out on whether I can (fill in name of any particular skill required to build your own airplane here).

    I've taken this week off from work, ostensibly to work on the RV-7A airplane project and burn up some vacation time (I've maxed out at 8 weeks), but for the most part I've been messing around with wires to make the wiring harness for the ICOM A210 radio and the PS Engineering PM1000II. So far, I think the electrons are disagreeing with each other.

    I'm pretty sure I'm not the stupidest person ever to try to build an airplane, but I am sure if I can build one, anyone can. And so, for those people who will be reading this a year, 10 years, 20 years from now, I've made yet another video to let you know that, no, you're not the first person to feel like the only idiot who tried.

    If you'd like to follow along, here's the PM1000II schematic. Here's the ICOM A210 manual.

    Update 9:58 a.m. 11/25 - Upon further review, pins 25 & 24 are not showing continuity. The test leads were hitting the housing. Still troubleshooting.

    Update 6:37 p.m. 11/25 - Update. Took the harness down to Steinair, where Mike Hilger performed his magic diagnosis and -- what? -- it appears to work normally. Yeah, we still had the "problem" with the "not quite green" light. But we attached an antenna and it transmitted and received normally.

    Many thanks to Mike and also to Stein, who gave me a Christmas present -- some coax antenna cable.

    Sunday, November 22, 2009

    Harnessing the power

    I've been wondering if I'm up to electrical work on the airplane since way back in 2006, when I attended the SportAir electrical wiring workshop at Oshkosh (and then retook it in 2007). Since then, I've installed the Vertical Power system and got a few electrical components going, but the radio harness? That's pro material, right there.

    But today I finished -- sort of -- the radio harness for the Icom A210 radio and the PS Engineering 1000II intercom. I still have to select a spot and install the headphone and microphone jacks for the pilot and passenger. And I still have to run push-to-talk wires to the stick grips on the control yoke for both pilot and passenger. And I have to read up more to figure out exactly HOW to wire the push-to-talk wires at the microphone jack. But other than that, I'm done!

    I also have to figure out how to wire up a small switch, which allows you to hear the last transmission you received. The PS Engineering instructions SEEM to suggest this is a separate jack, but I'm sure I'm wrong. It would be stupid to take your headphones out of one jack, and plug them into another. Oh, and I have to wire up the music input. Sure, it's all mono, but floating along listening to the Ipod (which would mute if I get a transmission) is a nice idea.

    My next step is to take out all the pins that I've inserted into the ICOM A210 end of the harness, so I can slip some "snakeskin" on there. I don't like having all these wires hanging out.

    Will it work? I certainly hope so. I did test the auxiliary mic and headset on Friday. I got carrier on the scanner in the hangar, but I didn't hear any voice. But, then again, the wires were all over the place and no doubt grounding everywhere.

    I've learned a lot about audio in the last few weeks thanks to the help of fellow RV builders like Kevin Faris and Ted Chang, but I could stand to spend some more time learning how electrons travel over this whole harness.

    I'm taking this week off from work, so it might be a good time to select a location for the headsets, and get everything wired in.

    But even then I won't be able to test much other than the intercom. I haven't purchased a communications antenna yet (any suggestions?) or bought the coax cable I'll need.

    But things are getting there. If -- and I think it's a big if -- it works and there's no noise in the system when I flip on the strobes, I tend to think the worst part of my fairly-spartan panel and its wiring, will be behind me. I bought the autopilot harness and the transponder harness already made. I just have to get a cable of some sort to power the portable Garmin 296 GPS and then I think we can move on to getting the engine work started and completed.

    Updated: I started the process of removing pins from the Molex connector for the ICOM A210. Here's what the pins look like. See the little barb on the top? That's what holds it in place in the connector when you push it in.

    So, theoretically, I should be able to insert a small wire (like this DSub pin extractor from Vertical Power (I've never been able to get the pins out of the Vertical Power power connection!) which would force the barb down and allow me to remove the pin from the backside.

    No dice. I've tried all morning. I did learn one thing, though. See that loose black wire below? ICOM has this schematic which tells you to jam two #18 wires into a single connector. This is a bad idea and I knew -- after the fact -- this was a bad idea because Stein Bruch said it was a bad idea. He suggested just a single wire from both of those pins and then, to serve as a jumper, solder one to the other "upstream."

    So I knew -- because Stein said so -- that this connection would fail and one of the reasons I'm pulling all the pins is to change that set-up. As you can see, it did fail. It failed on the first tug while trying to remove the pin.

    Wednesday, November 18, 2009

    EAA vid: Making a P-lead

    It's hard to keep up with all the great homebuilder hints that the EAA has been providing; they're coming so fast. Here's one I'm paying particular attention to:

    Let's just get it over with

    Is it better to die a slow, painful death? Or get it over quickly? At this point, that's the only question left facing general aviation. The question of whether it will die has long been answered. It will, and fairly soon.

    Out here in Flyover Country, they're locking down one of Minneapolis St. Paul's reliever airports -- Flying Cloud, where I fly out of when I rent the Piper Warrior I use until this RV project is completed.

    According to the Eden Prairie News:

    The wide open gates pictured here at Flying Cloud Airport will be a thing of the past. A new security system being put in place this week will mean that the gates will be closed , according to Airport Manager Jeff Nawrocki. Visitors to the airport will either have to have to key in a code or be buzzed in by one of the businesses.

    How'd you like to be a barely-hanging-on flight school and have a chain link fence, barbed wire, and a sign that says "Keep Out. Authorized People Only" standing between you and your customer?

    For the record, small airplanes have never -- not ever -- been used in a terrorist attack on the United States. A Ryder rental truck has. But go stop by the Ryder store on the way home today and see if there's a chain link fence, barbed wire, and a need to get 'buzzed in' procedure in your way.

    Monday, November 16, 2009

    RVator's Log is posted

    The newest RVator's Log from the Minnesota Wing of Van's Air Force is now available here. Our leader, Doug Weiler, is a fabulous, fabulous writer and this month he pens an article on training issues.

    Flash forward to 2009 and now we find private pilots faced with the same training issues. A few weeks ago, Jean and I borrowed Tom Berge’s RV-7A and flew to Vermillion, SD to visit #2 son and his girlfriend. The weather was 2500 overcast at Vermillion with unlimited visibility. We were IMC at 4000 feet and cleared for the GPS 32 approach, which required a procedure turn. Tom’s RV is circa 2003 with those funny round dials but a Garmin 530W and a Tru Trak autopilot doing most of the work. My problem is I know just enough about the 530W to be dangerous. No, I really had not sat down and truly learned this box like I should have and as a result every time I fly Tom’s airplane, I find myself not 100% confident in managing the “magic”.

    "Managing the magic." What a great phrase.

    There's also an article from Tom Berge on the things he finds when he inspects RVs for builders. If you missed it -- and even if you didn't -- here's the article/podcast with Tom I did earlier this year.

    And be sure to catch Alex Peterson's article on bolts. Alex, by the way, is the "cover boy" this month on Van's calendar. I even got to ride in that plane with him a few weeks ago.

    Sunday, November 15, 2009

    Solder Central

    What used to be the den and computer room at Casa Collins is now the headquarters for the RV-7A project during the cold months. With an unheated hangar, working on the electrical system at the plane doesn't make much sense.

    So I've hunkered down on the wiring harnesses for the PS Engineering 1000II and the ICOM A210 radio.

    I guess in the big scheme of things, installing the power cables and applying some bench power and seeing things light up and not smoke is akin to crawling on the floor, but it still feels good anyway. And it's pretty.

    I'm moving on now to wiring in the copilot and passenger headsets and microphones and learning a lot thanks to fellow RV builders and, in particularly, my RV friend, Kevin Faris, who has been nothing if not patient in answering many stupid questions.

    Kevin even drew out the schematic of how the two are connected and has walked me through issues such as how to terminate shielded cable.

    If the project is going to get on track for a 2011 first flight -- somewhere -- I'm going to need to make significant progress in finishing up the instrument panel while the snow is flying outside.

    Friday, November 13, 2009

    Grounding the Zodiac CH-601XL

    The relationship between the National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Aviation Administration has always been rocky. The NTSB staff thinks the FAA ignores their "suggestions."

    Today, a news release practically says it out loud. Here's the release:

    An experimental airplane of the same series that the National Transportation Safety Board urged the Federal Aviation Administration to ground seven months ago, until a
    flight control problem could be corrected, was involved in another fatal accident last week.

    On November 6, 2009, a Zodiac CH-601XL, an experimental amateur-built airplane, was destroyed as a result of an in-flight breakup near Agnos, Arkansas, killing the pilot who was the sole occupant. The debris field was scattered over an area more than 600 feet long. Both wings had separated from the fuselage in-flight.

    In April 2009, the NTSB called on the FAA to ground the Zodiac CH-601XL after the Safety Board linked six accidents involving that aircraft model to aerodynamic flutter, a phenomenon in which the control surfaces and wings of the airplane can suddenly oscillate and lead to catastrophic structural failure. Those accidents killed a total of ten people. Preliminary investigation of the November 6 accident
    in Arkansas reveals a failure mode similar to that seen in the earlier crashes.

    The Safety Board's urgent recommendation to the FAA was to "prohibit further flight of the Zodiac CH-601XL, both special light sport aircraft and experimental, until such time that the FAA determines that the CH-601XL has adequate protection from flutter." The FAA replied in July that they lacked "adequate justification to take immediate certificate action to ground the entire fleet."

    The Zodiac is available as a ready-to-purchase airplane (classified as a special light sport aircraft), which is manufactured by Aircraft Manufacturing and Design, LLC, and as an amateur-built plane from a kit (classified as an experimental aircraft) available from the designer, Zenith Aircraft Company.

    On November 7, one day after the accident in Arkansas, the FAA issued a Special Airworthiness Information Bulletin strongly recommending that all owners and operators of Zodiac CH-601XL/CH650 airplanes comply with a Safety Alert/Safety Directive issued by the manufacturer, Aircraft Manufacturing and Design, LLC. The Safety Alert/Safety Directive requires all owners of special light sport aircraft models to make structural modifications to the airplane and add aileron couunter-balances before further flight. Since the directives of the manufacturers of special light sport aircraft must be complied with, those aircraft not in compliance are effectively prohibited from further flight.

    The designer, Zenith Aircraft Company, has asked the owners of the kit-built experimental airplanes to make the same modifications, but there is no requirement that the modifications be completed before further flight is attempted.

    "We are pleased that the FAA and the manufacturer have acted on the safety-of-flight issues that we identified with the Zodiac special light sport airplane. We are troubled, however, that the no modifications are required on the amateur-built planes," said NTSB Chairman Deborah A.P. Hersman. "We are very concerned that a lack of required compliance may lead to more accidents like the one in Arkansas, and others we've already seen," she said.

    The Safety Board's investigation of the November 6 accident is on-going.

    In the various conversations that took place surrounding my post about the inability to make a first flight out of South St. Paul Airport, most people -- and rightly so -- said it was a fair prohibition as a crash would negatively impact the perception of homebuilt airplanes.

    For that reason, all homebuilders should be pressuring the FAA to act more forcefully in grounding the CH601XL.

    How the FAA tracks unresponsive airplanes

    The Federal Aviation Administration is holding a conference call at 9 a.m. (CT) today to discuss how it tracks airplanes that are not in contact with ground controllers. Presumably, this related to Northwest Airlines Flight 188, which I've covered extensively on my day job -- News Cut at Minnesota Public Radio.

    From fairly early on, I called attention to the coordination -- or lack of coordination in this case -- between FAA and other elements of the air defense command. Here's the live blog:

    Sunday, November 8, 2009

    'A Miata with wings'

    Interesting description of an RV-6 from an article in the paper today about a flying club that just keeps going and going and going... Read the whole story on

    Member Gary Wiant got his wings from the Navy when he became a pilot. While serving with the Marines, he flew helicopters over Vietnam. After his military service, he didn't fly for years, but, since it "gets in your blood," he took flight again. Wiant takes up his two-seater RV-6A plane for recreational fun. "It's like a little Miata with wings," he says.

    Wiant is one of the newer members of the club, having joined eight years ago. "It's a matter of aviation and fellowship," he says. Wiant enjoys being around other pilots, because they learn from each other's mistakes and can share their experiences.

    Current president John E. Marino can rattle off instance after instance when one pilot has gone out of his way to help another.

    Friday, November 6, 2009

    What is your artificial horizon telling you?

    From the New Scientist today:

    The artificial horizon, the instrument that tells pilots how their aircraft is banking, is due for a rethink.

    So says cockpit ergonomics researcher Donough Wilson of Coventry University in the UK, who points out that conventional displays can be fatally misread when pilots become disoriented in the murk of thunderstorms, torrential rain or heavy snow. Wilson has developed an alternative display which he presented at last week's European Air and Space Conference in Manchester, UK.

    Read more here.

    Wednesday, November 4, 2009

    When it comes to building your own airplane, it's always something

    I love the airport where I'm building my RV-7A -- Fleming Field in South St. Paul. But, sadly, it doesn't love me, anymore.

    Fleming (KSGS) is a small airport tucked into a dense, working-class neighborhood along the Mississippi River. There are at least four RV projects that I'm aware of on the field, but reality will soon drive most experimental projects away from Fleming, at least until after a project is completed somewhere else.

    I've written about this before in columns about RV-10 builders David and Mary Maib. David is the former chief pilot for Target Corporation and a guy who went to work every day as an aviator since flying helicopters in Vietnam. Though there's an argument to be made that his airplane was better constructed and in better flying condition than many of the antique warbirds that fly out of Fleming, David and Mary had a difficult time getting permission to make their RV-10's first flight out of Fleming. Eventually, he did, but he wasn't able to come back; he had to go to Airlake in Farmington during the plane's test period.

    The concern, naturally, was David's electronic ignition in his RV-10 was non-standard by today's aviation standards (think 1950), and the FAA is skittish about experimental airplanes making first flights in dense areas, especially skittish since an experimental crashed in Las Vegas a year or so ago.

    Officially, as I understand it, the FAA has told DARs(designated airworthiness representatives) that it's up to them, but they discourage allowing a first flight at the field. The DARs, naturally, aren't about to put themselves in peril by saying "OK, go!" And who can blame them.

    The problem, so far, is we haven't gotten an official, "absolutely, positively, no way you can make your first takeoff from Fleming Field, even if you're just going to ferry the plane to a more remote airport where you can undergo your 40 hours of test flying." But we're heading that way and it will be good to get an official decision. EAA, you could be helping us out here a bit more.

    The issue came up again yesterday when Chris Knauf, who's building an RV-7, sent some notes around asking for tips on moving his project to a hangar as KSGS (just down from me, actually.)

    That's when Doug Weiler, the head of the Minnesota Wing of Van's Air Force (which, now that I think of it, is being renamed The Twin Cities RV Builders Group), sent around this e-mail he got from Rich Marr, who I believe was the DAR for David Maib, and has since moved to the Atlanta area, if my information is correct (which it may not be, by the way).

    Doug, you may wish to advise Mr. Knauf before he goes to all of the trouble of putting the aircraft together at SGS, that first flights of amateur built aircraft will not be authorized out of South St. Paul, especially if you do not have an approved engine prop combination. He should consider a Lake Elmo or Lakeville.

    There are two problems here, primarily. One is nobody at Fleming Field is making this clear when people rent hangars there. And the alphabet groups aren't doing much to get it nailed down.

    I heard about the problem from David when he was trying to get authorization, and figured that it would be a problem. In talking to Doug Weiler last year, when he told me "I'd find another airport," that was good enough for me. Doug knows what he's doing, he's test flown a number of RVs in the area, he may end up test-flying mine, he's got a bazillion hours of ATP time and if he's not comfortable with it, then neither am I.

    Still, what a pain in the neck! I've been at KSGS for two years and moving out is an expensive -- if necessary -- proposition. It also grinds my building process to a halt. I'm ready to install a beautiful harness for the Tru Trak single-axis autopilot from the panel to the wings. But if I have to dismantle the wings to truck the project out of here, I'd have to cut that beautiful harness. Likely, I'll have to bring it back down to SteinAir for the fix. More money. Oh joy.

    I also have 14' of strobe cable rolled up ready to string out to the tips. But, again, if I have to take the project apart, I'd have to cut the cable. Now, clearly, I can put connectors on the wing root for the strobe cable, but that's a concession to the unfriendliness of Fleming that might not be the best thing to do in terms of sound wiring -- introducing a point of failure.

    But that's the way it is. Time and money is part of building an airplane. It would just be easier if someone in charge to say "you're not welcome here" before cashing the check.

    It's another in a long line of expensive lessons for people who build airplanes. Before you move your project to the airport, make sure your airport loves your RV project.

    Update - Doug has sent along an e-mail from DAR Tim Mahoney:

    If ANYONE plans on test flying an amateur-built aircraft out of SGS, they will only be allowed to do so if the engine and prop combination are certified. This would involve a corridor over the river to the south out of the Class B area to their assigned test flight area. If the engine and prop are not certified as a unit, then they will get a ONE TIME out to the south via the river to the Airlake airport. They will then have to test fly the aircraft from there. When I state a certified engine, I mean an engine that has a certified fuel system and ignition systems as a part of the engine. (no electronic ignitions or experimental fuel systems) This is the policy as of now, but it would not suprise me if in the near future all test flights out of SGS were treated the same as MIC. (no test flights, period)

    Sunday, November 1, 2009

    Getting unstuck

    Famed RV-6A builder/pilot Alex Peterson (you may have seen his aerobatic video here) is like Batman. I -- and I guess this makes me "the commissioner" -- put out the Bat Signal a week ago on Van's Air Force. I needed a motivation flight. Alex saw the signal and stopped by South St. Paul today.

    I've been stuck on the project lately and when I went to putter around today, I just ended up sorting nuts and bolts and screws and such; not something that's going to get a plane built. But that's the way building an RV can be; sometimes you need a nudge.

    So Alex dropped in and took me for a spin. Here's the takeoff out of South St. Paul. Note the glider in the grass we pass on the way out.

    Alex let me fly a little bit and I was consciously trying not to exert any backpressure on the turns, but I increased altitude so I must have. It was weird to look over at the airspeed indicator and see 160. I'm used to plodding along at 90 in a Warrior.

    We flew up the St. Croix River, looked for Doug Weiler's house in Hudson (Doug heads the Twin Cities RV builders' group) and then headed back -- a half hour of good flying in which -- for the record -- neither Alex nor I opened our laptops during the flight.

    After he dropped me off, he advised, "just start on anything and plow forward," and he and his friend, Benny (who was visiting from Israel) headed north back to Anoka.

    And I plowed into some firewall forward stuff.

    Mission accomplished.

    Friday, October 30, 2009

    Upside down

    If I had to do it all over again -- and I'm kind of thinking I will some day -- I'd probably build an RV-9. The "9" didn't exist when I ordered the "7," which is aerobatic capable and all that. Great, but I'm unlikely to do much aerobatics, what with the possibility of aggravating the Meniere's Disease, which makes you dizzy.

    Heck, just watching this video of Twin Citian Alex Peterson makes me all nauseous.

    Thursday, October 29, 2009

    The Bob Show

    The problem I was having figuring out how to get to nuts on the exhaust system on the RV-7A project was easy to solve. I used an old method; I asked someone smarter than me, which would be, ummm, everybody.

    Wednesday, October 28, 2009

    Pitfalls of exhaust installation 101

    I need to plow ahead with engine installation on ye olde RV-7A. George Orndorff's advice, of course, is get the exhaust system and anything else that can't be moved installed before you start running cables and lines and doing baffling work etc.

    Fair enough, but here's the problem I'm having in installing the Vetterman system (which is great, by the way) on my Mattituck-built IO-360.

    Update 4:21 p.m. 10/20/09 - By way of Rivetbangers and the other usual spots, Mike Bullock has offered this solution:

    So I've picked up a 1/2" 1/4"-drive swivel and a 1/4-to-3/8 adaptor (I already had an extension) and I'll try that this evening. Look for another video soon. They're kind of fun to make.

    New Vertical Power features

    Vertical Power announced a software upgrade today that introduces new features. For the VP-50, which I have, the highlights are, according to the company:

    · Variable speed pitch trim
    · Landing light wig-wag
    · External switches can turn devices on and off
    · Switches 7 & 8 can be used to turn devices on an off
    · Current fault alarms (open circuit detection)
    · Display of aux battery voltage
    · Intermediate flap stops (VP-100 only)

    I'm getting two new switches on my panel for the price of... zero! Let's see you switch and fuse people do that! (g)

    The light wing-wag has given me a new project for the the winter -- put a second landing/taxi light in the other wing.

    I don't have an auxiliary battery so that feature doesn't concern me, and I have manual trim so that does nothing for me either.

    Of course my next task is going to be putting the cable together that allows me to download the software update into my lonely Vertical Power control panel.

    Here are the particulars.

    From the flight deck

    I'm still waiting for my first ride in a Cessna Citation jet. My son isn't, however. The lucky kid -- he's a paramedic -- made his first patient transfer in a Cessna Citation this week.

    Correct me if I'm wrong, but doesn't that pilot appear to be either asleep or working on his laptop? (joke)

    Monday, October 26, 2009

    Another one for the good guys

    I had to check VAF before posting this tonight to make sure nobody had posted a "Gosh, look at the great job the media did extolling the world of experimental aircraft." No surprise. They didn't. So here you go.

    This is the story of a group of EAAers out in French Valley California who are building a Pietenpol, but one of them built an RV-9 first. (More)

    CaptainMorgan Air

    I stole this off Facebook. Stein Bruch (of SteinAir fame) as Captain Morgan.

    In other Monday news, don't miss Dave Gamble's excellent writeup of his weekend flying on PapaGolf Chronicles.

    Look at those fall colors!

    Thursday, October 22, 2009

    How to be the person the media turns to for general aviation expertise

    Today I've been working the story of Northwest Airlines Flight 188, which overshot its intended destination by, oh, 150 miles or so. It seems the pilots were so busy arguing they lost "situational awareness." (Here's my blog post).

    Since I was one of the people who jumped on the story first, and thanks to the power of Twitter, I've fielded various calls tonight from news organizations that are looking for some expertise on the subject of the incident and also flying in particular. I'm on tomorrow, for example, in New York.

    But it was a phone call from a local TV station that reminded me to remind you about how easy it is to influence the stories about aviation. The producer was calling because she'd read my blog and knows that I have expertise on aviation "and also we hear you're a pilot." She wanted to interview someone.

    Now, I know how the game works and when you're really desperate and can't find anyone to talk to you, you talk to a reporter. If they're calling the competition, they must have been really desperate.

    I said I'd be glad to help in any way I can and she would check and call back. When she called back "to thank me for being willing to talk to them," I knew what was coming next. They'd decided not to talk to me. I presume someone in the newsroom determined that they hadn't reached that level of desperation yet.

    But it was what she said at the end of the conversation that is significant. "If you don't mind, I'm going to go ahead and put your name and number in our list of experts we can call on," she said.

    Forehead slap.

    Of course. Every newsroom has "the Golden Rolodex," people to talk to in a pinch about the news. You know how you usually see the same people interviewed over and over again? That's the Golden Rolodex and it also reveals how thin that list can be.

    Get in the Golden Rolodex under "aviation."

    It's not hard to do. At the very least -- and do this right now -- go to the Web site of your favorite local news (or even your least favorite) organizations and find the e-mail address for the newsroom. Then drop them a line and introduce yourself. "I know from time to time you're looking for people with expertise on aviation and I am writing to provide you with information on how you can reach me," might be a good place to start. Provide home and cellphone numbers, addresses, and e-mail, and include a synopsis of your expertise, making sure to note that you'd be deleted to talk to them in advance of breaking news stories about aviation so that they can be comfortable with the level of expertise.

    Have a plane? Offer them a ride. Give them a tour of the airport. Let them know a few things about aviation in your community that they didn't know. (Note: Ignore the usual AOPA nonsense about how your local airport generates economic activity. Nobody cares about that and few people believe it). Let them know that you know officials that can help them with their stories, too.

    Follow up with a phone call (Don't cold call them with this stuff. They're too busy and newsrooms automatically assume people calling them are crackpots).

    Wednesday, October 21, 2009

    Installing the Whelen NAV/Strobe light in the tail

    Yes, I know sticking one of the Whelen combination nav/strobe lights in the fiberglass fairing of an RV airplane is not a difficult task. Why has it taken me three years to get it done? It's a long story but the Cliff Note version is it didn't make sense to do it until the electrical system was installed and the fairings finished and expertly crafted. That's my story and, for now, I'm sticking with it.

    But there are some lessons to be learned that can save you some time on this task that I'm happy to pass along. For one thing -- and this has more to do with an overall approach to building an RV airplane, it's possible to overthink yourself into mistakes. To be too careful, one might say. (Read more)

    The simplicty of the Vertical Power 50

    The more work I do on the electrical system of my RV-7A, the more impressed I am with the Vertical Power 50 system I've installed. I'll write more later about this week's exploits on installing the Whelen NAV and strobe light in the tail, but it highlighted the ease with which the VP-50 makes electrical work.

    I had to restring the wires to the tail -- for reasons I'll get into later -- and last night all I had to do was add connectors to the wires back at the tail, then splice into a single wire on the VP-50 harness that goes into the power connector.

    Then I just flip on the master switch, which fires up the VP-50 (and warns me of a low voltage condition)

    Put the VP-50 in configuration mode:

    Flip to adding a "device":

    And configure the device:

    In this case, I'm configuring the wire that is connected to the #4 pin (it's the Whelen strobe power unit power wire), I've set a 10 amp "fuse" and chosen switch #6 on the VP-50 unit to turn it on and off. I hit save and voila!

    What's not to love about this?

    The VP-50 also monitors the health of the electrical system. In this case it shows the battery at 12.4 volts and the draw of 2.7 amps.

    Firesleeve installation

    My winter is pretty well planned out for the RV-7A project. Enter the hangar, quickly do some work on the engine installation, run back to the car and warm up.

    One of these days, I'll need to install some firesleeve on that installation so in the comfort of my heated living room, I'm watching this:

    Tuesday, October 20, 2009

    Crossing the Sierras

    Since I currently rent an airplane whenever I want to fly, I'm pretty spoiled. I don't go far from the home airport and even if I do, hey, it's Minnesota. It's mostly flat with lots of green fields to land in should things go south.

    At some point -- maybe -- this RV is going to be finished and I'm going to want to fly cross country, across some terrible terrain. Like this:

    I'm still working on the engine installation (and probably will be for most of the next year). This is good motivation to take my time and get it right.

    The Washington Post pot meets the kettle

    I was surprised to see Miles O'Brien, an otherwise reasonable supporter of general aviation, give some Twitter promotion to this article in the Washington Post today on ABC's plan to use skywriters to promote its "V" remake.

    Inherent in the article is that planes in the sky are a bad thing:

    All told, we're conservatively talking here about around 400 gallons of fuel containing maybe 800 grams of lead -- aviation fuel is exempt from the EPA's ban on lead -- and around three tons of CO2, among other pollutants, if each "V" outing took about one hour of flying time. This is according to various aviation pundits contacted by The TV Column.

    My guess is 15 small planes have less of an environmental footprint than, say, hundreds of newspaper delivery trucks delivering tons of paper which will be thrown in the trash after a few hours.

    Wednesday, October 14, 2009

    Why do we do such stupid things when we fly?

    The NTSB is out with its report on the tragic crash of a medical flight near Milwaukee and it's a familiar pattern. If a pilot flies the airplane, everyone lives.


    National Transportation Safety Board

    Washington, DC 20594

    FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: October 14, 2009






    Washington, D.C. - The National Transportation Safety Board

    today determined that the probable cause of an aircraft that

    lost control and impacted water was the pilots'

    mismanagement of an abnormal flight control situation

    through improper actions, including lack of crew

    coordination, and failing to control airspeed and to

    prioritize control of the airplane.

    On June 4, 2007, about 4:00pm CST, a Cessna Citation 550,

    N550BP, impacted Lake Michigan shortly after departure from

    General Mitchell International Airport, Milwaukee, Wisconsin

    (MKE). The two pilots and four passengers were killed, and

    the airplane was destroyed. The airplane was being operated

    by Marlin Air under the provisions of Part 135. The aircraft

    was carrying a human organ for a transplant operation in

    Michigan. At the time of the accident, marginal visual

    meteorological conditions prevailed at the surface, and

    instrument meteorological conditions prevailed aloft; the

    flight operated on an instrument flight rules flight plan.

    Due to the lack of a data recording system, the Board could

    not determine the exact nature of the initiating event of

    the accident. However, the evidence indicated that the two

    most likely scenarios were a runaway trim or the inadvertent

    engagement of the autopilot, rather than the yaw damper, at


    The Board further noted that the event was controllable if

    the captain had not allowed the airspeed and resulting

    control forces to increase while he tried to troubleshoot

    the problem. By allowing the airplane's airspeed to

    increase while engaging in poorly coordinated

    troubleshooting efforts, the pilots allowed an abnormal

    situation to escalate to an emergency.

    Therefore, the NTSB concluded that if the pilots had simply

    maintained a reduced airspeed while they responded to the

    situation, the aerodynamic forces on the airplane would not

    have increased significantly. At reduced airspeeds, the

    pilots should have been able to maintain control of the

    airplane long enough to either successfully troubleshoot and

    resolve the problem or return safely to the airport.

    Contributing to the accident were Marlin Air's operational

    safety deficiencies, including the inadequate checkrides

    administered by Marlin Air's chief pilot/check airman, and

    the Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) failure to

    detect and correct those deficiencies, which placed a pilot

    who inadequately emphasized safety in the position of

    company chief pilot and designated check airman and placed

    an ill-prepared pilot in the first officer's seat.

    Results from the Board's investigation indicated that the

    captain did not adhere to procedures or comply with

    regulations, and that he routinely abbreviated checklists.

    Subsequently, the NTSB concluded that the pilots' lack of

    discipline, lack of in-depth systems knowledge, and failure

    to adhere to procedures contributed to their inability to

    cope with anomalies experienced during the accident flight.

    Thus, the Board also concluded that Marlin Air's selection

    of a chief pilot/check airman who failed to comply with

    procedures and regulations contributed to a culture that

    allowed an ill-prepared first officer to fly in Part 135


    The report adopted today by the Board, points out that FAA

    guidance regarding appointment of check airmen requires

    Principal Operations Inspectors (POI) to verify the check

    airman candidate's "certificates and background."

    Additionally, all required training must be completed, and

    the airman's training records must show satisfactory

    completion of initial, transition, or upgrade training, as

    applicable. The guidance does not specifically address POI

    actions when the background evaluation discloses negative

    information. This lack of guidance can result in the

    appointment of check airmen who do not adhere to standards

    and who possibly jeopardize flight safety.

    As a result of this accident investigation, the Safety Board

    issued recommendations to the FAA, and the American Hospital

    Association regarding airplane and system deficiencies, FAA

    oversight, and the safety ramifications of an operator's

    financial health.


    A summary of the findings of the Board's report is available

    on the NTSB's website at:


    An archive of press releases is available at

    Monday, October 12, 2009

    For Don Thurston

    Sunday October 11, 2009
    Delivered by Bob Collins

    I am deeply honored to be asked by the family to speak to you this afternoon about Don Thurston. I've been known to put a couple of words together from time to time, but there's nothing in my experience that has given me the ability to put Don's life -- as I've known it -- into words.

    In 1976, I got a letter which said:

    "Dear Bob: Thank you for your interest in WMNB. Unfortunately, we have no present positions. We will keep your resume on file. Sincerely, Don Thurston."

    I wish I'd saved that letter. But I had so many of them.

    Three or four years later, I met his daughter when we worked down at WBEC in Pittsfield, and I didn't care for her that much, and she didn't much care for me. So, naturally, we were married about three years later and I became Don Thurston's favorite son-in-law.

    Years later, when I went to work for him, I asked him where he kept that resume and he acknowledged that he didn't.

    Life is funny. And life is to be marveled, even when it ends.

    A guy grows up in Gloucester of modest means, goes to school to be an electrical engineer, goes to Vermont to work in radio; even does a morning show from a barn -- with a dog -- then strikes out on his own and works his way up to owning a radio station in North Adams, and he put an FM station on the air -- WMNB, which he used to stood for "We May Never Broadcast." And from his home base, he became one of the most influential people in his field in America.

    Radio was the medium that united America's communities, and it selected Don Thurston as its leader. He knew mayors, and governors, and presidents, and people who wanted to be president and they knew him by his first name. He could spend a day listening to Yo Yo Ma down at Tanglewood, and another in Nashville swapping tales with Dolly Parton.

    But up on the hill here, at the highest point beyond the hairpin turn, there's a red light on top of a tower that flashes: on…and…off. All night. Every night. We refer to it as "Papa's Light." They were going to shut it off a few years ago because it's not required anymore. But pilots over at the airport -- bless their hearts -- asked that it be kept on because when you're flying around in the dark over horrible terrain, it's the beacon that says, "This is where home is. Right over here." So, Don and Cory kept it on.

    Like Papa's Light, Don reminded us through his actions and words, that no matter where you are, no matter the route of your life, no matter the terrain you encounter, this is where home is. Right over here.

    Lesser men have left the Berkshires and never looked back.

    Others have seen success as something you find somewhere else.

    Where others saw danger, he saw potential, which is the number one reason why Don saw so much success himself. He saw in us things that we didn't even see in us. Nobody loved our success more than Don. He was loyal to the people who worked for him at those radio stations and they were loyal to him, and to these communities, and that did not happen by accident.

    Don Thurston was living proof of what can be accomplished with a bucket-load of optimism and a woman named Oralie.

    If you were a contemporary of Don's -- and especially if you were an in-law -- your God-given survival instinct compelled you to a life with a singular purpose: Not to disappoint Don Thurston, a man with that voice that would make you sit up straight.

    I say that not to imply that there was a price to be paid from Don for disappointing him; there was a price to be paid from you and your mirror. That's what a role model does. He provides the big shoes. The rest is up to us.

    He made us want to be better.

    Don was brilliant. He made us want to be brilliant, too.

    He was a man of more integrity than any person I've ever met. And he made us want to act with more integrity, too.

    Don felt an abiding sense of service to his community, whether it was his church, his city, his county, his college, or his country, and he made us want to serve our communities, too.

    Whoever you are and whatever life you've lived, when Don Thurston talked to you, your life was the most interesting in the world -- not because it was some technique of a guy who knew how to close a deal, but because Don found the same wonder in our lives as we found in his. If at times we thought we didn't measure up to our role model, the cure was merely to spend a few minutes with him.

    Nobody deserved a happy and healthy retirement more than Don Thurston. But I'm not going to lie to you; he didn't get it. The last few years were a struggle. The last few months were the very definition of "unfair."

    They required us then -- and require us now -- to make a withdrawal from a bank account into which Don made a regular deposit of wisdom.

    There is a well-embellished parable that says that one day Solomon decided to humble Benaiah, his most trusted minister. He said to him, "Benaiah, there is a certain ring that I want you to bring to me. It has special powers. If a happy man looks at it, he becomes sad, and if a sad man looks at it, he becomes happy."

    Benaiah searched for the ring, and finally passed a merchant in Jerusalem, and said, "Have you by any chance heard of a special ring that makes the happy wearer forget his joy, and the broken-hearted wearer forget his sorrows?"

    The elderly man took a plain gold ring from his display and engraved something on it.

    Benaiah took the ring back to Solomon, who read the inscription that made his smile disappear. The jeweler had written three Hebrew letters on the gold band -- Gimel, Zayin, and Yud -- which begin the words "Gam zeh ya'avor." This, too, shall pass.

    These words were Don's mantra, and as we reflect on our sorrow today, they can make a sad person happy. For we know that Don was right. This grief will pass.

    For now, however, I share it with Oralie. And Allen. And Carolie. And Cory. And Marie.

    The largest part of Don Thurston's loving heart was reserved exclusively for his grandchildren.

  • If you didn't know Don Thurston, then meet Sarah, in whom Don's optimism, smile, and wisdom lives.

  • If you didn't know Don Thurston, then meet Tom, in whom Don's dignity, love of family, sense of responsibility, and curiosity lives.

  • If you didn't know Don Thurston, then meet Sean, in whom Don's brilliance, and standard of fairness and justice lives. If your grandfather ever rooted for the Yankees (and I'm not saying he did), then it was only because you did.

  • If you didn't know Don Thurston, then meet Ross, in whom Don's love of music, resilience, and ability to accomplish great things without forgetting his roots lives.

  • If you didn't know Don Thurston, then meet Patrick, in whom Don's ease around people of all stripes, high expectations, joy, and determination to serve others lives.

    If you did know Don Thurston, then today we share a common sense that we have been the luckiest people in the world.

    In this hour… at this moment… this family… this community… this world … has never needed the likes of Don Thurston more.

    He has given us the example of a life well-lived, in service to us.

    Let us vow not to disappoint him.
  • Tuesday, October 6, 2009

    Don Thurston flies west

    Of all the articles I've written over the years, I don't think any elicited as much response -- at least good response -- as this one. It was a short piece about some minor RV construction my father in law did a few years ago, made poignant because of his struggle with Parkinson's disease.

    Don died this morning after a brutal last few months. Here's a tribute.

    Friday, October 2, 2009

    End of the fiberglass season

    The morning temperatures sank in the 30s in flyover country this week, so I declared an official end to the Minnesota fiberglass season.

    In the nick of time, then, I finished the last fiberglass tip in the tail section, the tip on the top of the rudder. I have to admit, there were some minor surface imperfections, but it's way up high there where nobody can get too close to inspect. Since I've spent all summer on fiberglass projects -- it seems -- you'll just have to excuse me for being tired of doing any more.

    So tonight, I mounted the rudder.

    This will allow me to get the tail light put on, set the rudder stops, and generally close things up.

    I still have some concerns about bringing the tail light wires from the vertical stabilizer and into the rudder. Because I have a tie down bracket in the middle of the most-rear bulkhead, I had to come out of the vertical stabilizer down in a corner, and into the rudder fairing. You can't see it here, but the wires are covered with plastic tubing for extra support.

    I don't know how much full deflection an RV requires from its rudder, but my concern is at full left deflection, the wires are "crunched" a little. I don't have any idea how that could be avoided other than enlarging the hole in the fairing and just let the wires sort of flop around there.

    So what happens now? I've got the exhaust system put on the engine although I can't seem to get a socket set on a few bolts to torque them down. But I think I'll fit the cowling next, and also continue to work on wiring.

    I've decided that I will have disconnects on all the wires to the wing to allow me to take the wings off without cutting wires. That gorgeous TruTrak harness that SteinAir made for me is going to have to go back for alterations.

    The Dan Lloyd report

    The NTSB has now finalized its report into the November 2007 crash of Dan Lloyd's RV-10.

    A posting on the RV-10 list just after it happened, and a prelimianry report from the NTSB, had tongues wagging that Dan took too many shortcuts in the construction of the RV-10.

    The final report, however, was much less accusatory, though it did blame the crash on a $1.50 part:

    Prior to a planned trip in the homebuilt airplane, the pilot/builder flew the airplane to assure that it was functioning properly. The airplane was observed to fly north on the east side of a state highway, and to make a circle to the left, approximately 500 feet above ground level (agl). The airplane then flew in a westerly direction, flew across the highway, then turned to the left while losing altitude. When it reached approximately 50 feet agl, while heading east, the airplane rolled wings level, impacted a cornfield, and a postimpact fire ensued.

    Examination of the wreckage revealed that the engine was not producing power at impact. Both the non-certificated 220 horsepower engine, and the propeller, required a source of electricity to operate. On the night before the accident, the pilot moved the airplane's batteries from behind the baggage compartment to the forward cabin to change the center of gravity and re-wired the batteries into the electrical system. Examination of the electrical system revealed that a cable had become disconnected from an improperly crimped terminal.

    There are so many lessons here, one of which is obvious. There shouldn't be a single point of failure that will render your plane useless. Have a backup electrical system, or -- in my case -- have one magneto with a Lightspeed ignition.

    Sunday, September 27, 2009


    You're supposed to put the exhaust system on the engine before doing any serious firewall forward work, so I bought the Vetterman system for the RV-7A project. It fits like a glove but it's been a pain in the neck to install anyway, almost exclusively because of me.

    After the system is bolted on the engine, and the ball joint attached, you have to add brackets from the oil sump, since the moving and vibrating engine is going to shake the heck out of the pipes. So two rods in a hose are used to brace the pipes vertically, and then a similar arrangement ties the two pipes together. Simple, right?

    My problem is I can't tell exactly how the pipe should be located -- that is, how far outboard of the nose gear weldment. I know it should be 3/4" below the firewall -- no problem there -- but side to side, I can't tell the perfect spot.

    Vetterman's instructions say the horizontal brace should go behind the fork that goes to the nose wheel. No way. It interferes -- or nearly so -- with the castle nut on the engine mount and -- even if I moved it, it seems too likely the horizontal brace would occasionally hit the engine mount. That's a bad thing.

    Now, I realize some builders attach it to the engine mount with a clamp but I think so highly of Tony Bingelis that I'm not going to do that. His advice was quite clear on the subject, even with the idea of the "floating hangar."

    You can see on the picture above how I've placed the right tail pipe (I haven't done anything with the left side yet). Is that too far inboard? Too far outboard? Who knows?

    Here's a look at the vertical hangar:

    Here's the view from above. You can see the flat part of the bracket, which will hold the horizontal piece. It's angled a bit down now, so I'll have to bend the tab on the hangar. I'll probably also have to put a spacer under it because I don't want it to hit that nose gear fork.

    And here's the view from the side. You can see the 3/4" clearance from the firewall and you can also see -- I hope -- why you really can't go behind the nose gear fork with the horizontal hangar.

    I want to install the second side, but I couldn't find the tab that connects the hangar to the bolt on the oil sump. And that's typically for me, these days. Even though I think I know where I put things, I don't. I swear, I spent half my time looking for things these days. Finally, I gave up and asked Larry Vetterman to send another. I'll probably lose that one two.

    I am having difficulty with another area of this installation. I can't get a socket onto inside bolts on cylinders 3 and four.

    Close, but no cigar. So I can't tighten -- let alone torque -- the pipes on those cylinders. I'm going to look to see if there's a short socket with some sort of ball-adapter that may allow me to get in there.

    Others have reported they've put these system on in under an hour. I started mine three weeks ago.

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