Saturday, January 31, 2009

RV Builder's Hotline posted

The latest issue of the RV Builder's Hotline has been posted. It has already been sent out but I'm guessing most of them aren't reaching their intended subscribers. Sorry. Go here.

This will probably be the last Hotline for a while.

The visitors

There are several stages to building an RV. There's the empennage kit, the wings kit, the fuselage kit, the finishing kit, and the when-the-hell-are-you-going-to-get-this-finished kit.

That last kit is usually delivered anytime you leave your hangar door open, and it's the part of the kit that I think I enjoy the most. An open hangar door is an invitation to visitors and, apparently, a lot of the RV-building community doesn't like visitors because I see the mostly-closed doors all the time, and people have told me that they can't get any work done if people are always popping in to see what you're doing.

Fair enough. But if I were a heartier soul, I'd open my hangar door in the dead of winter; I enjoy people stopping by that much. As I've written before -- perhaps ad nauseam -- building your own airplane is fun, but meeting the people along the way is much more entertaining.

Over the summer, I'd just laid down some fiberglass cloth on a bed of resin and the clock was running when something blocked the sun. It was a gentleman from Arizona who used to live in these parts, and was out flying the RV-4 he built, that his daughter now owns in the hangar across the way. I couldn't shake his hand, and I couldn't even look at him, but we had a nice visit nonethless.

The greatest Oshkosh week ever (for me) was 2007. My building pal, Warren Starkebaum, was camping with me, we had a terrific (if final) RV Builder's BBQ, guys like Darwin Barrie, Glenn Brasch, Brad Oliver, and Chuck Jensen were around (I know, I left a lot of you off that list. See?), and John Porter and Chuck Stone were camping across the way.

You may remember John from a previous posting.

Earlier this month, John and I were communicating by e-mail when I realized he's a pilot for Delta. Delta recently took over the hometown airline in Flyover Country, Northwest Airlines, and it occurred to me that perhaps he's flying into the area now.

He checked his list of upcoming flights and, sure enough, he was. Yahtzee! He was going to swap the trip out for one to the Caribbean, but an RV visit in the dead of winter is better than fruity drinks in the warmth of the beach. We made arrangements to get together for dinner on Tuesday the 20th.

On his flight up from Atlanta, he mentioned to his first officer that he was going to be visiting a guy building an RV and the F.O. mentioned that he had never seen an experimental project before. When John called upon landing, I suggested we head over to ye olde hangar and look at the project, and then have dinner and, sure, bring Jim along.

As is custom in Flyover Country, it was about 5 degrees (as I write this the temperature has just risen above freezing for the first time since December), perfect weather for a guy who lives in Georgia!

We headed to the hangar and I fired up the propane heater which serves no other purpose than to keep a minimal amount of circulation in frozen toes until the ambulance crew arrives and they can be amputated correctly.

I peeled back the tarp and gave John and Jim a good look at the plane, showed off the various subkits, and opened the crate with the spiffy Mattituck IO-360, making sure in particular that Jim, who did not pack for a visit to an ice-cold, unheated hangar, stayed in the (literally) line of fire to keep warm.

John, bless his heart, said all the right things, including that the project looks great. And I think Jim had a good time, too. I'm always concerned when I start gassing on about the project, that I've strayed into the Class B (for boring) airspace.

After the visit, we headed back to downtown St. Paul, and had an enjoyable dinner at a local brew-pub. John brought along a CD he made of a cross-country tour in his RV-8 he made with his father-in-law. I'd give anything to get a copy of it because I think it'd make a fabulous presentation or the RV Builder's Hotline). I had my laptop with me and after dinner, there we sat in the quiet restaurant (the Minnesota Wild pre-game crowd had headed for the arena by then), watching the CD, telling flying stories and having a great old time. By the way, as it turns out, Jim is from Marlboro, Mass., not far from where I'm from, and home of the first radio job I ever had.

I had to be up in Ely, Minnesota by 9 the next morning (it's a four-hour drive) and Jim and John had an early wake-up call for their return flight to Atlanta. It was a most enjoyable visit. John wrote yesterday that on the flight back, Jim said, "I've never had more fun on a layover." We've created a future RVer, I'm sure.

John will, no doubt, be back from time to time in the warmer weather, and perhaps we can entice a first officer that there's no better fun to be had during a layover than hanging an engine.

You folks with the closed hangar doors don't know what you're missing.

Monday, January 26, 2009

How to run an FBO into the ground

The FBO where I rent a Piper Warrior about every 90 days is a "keystone species." Whether it lives or dies will determine whether aviation does. It is -- or at least was -- one of the largest in Minnesota. It oozed professionalism and I started going there about 8 years ago even though it requires me drive clear across the Twin Cities.

So it's a little depressing to go there these days -- or to log onto their Web site and see only one Piper Warrior is available (they've got heavy into Cessna 172s).

Today I wanted to do a little lunch hour flying and when I drove into the parking lot, only one Warrior and one Cessna were on its massive ramp. And they were parked fairly far away from the building, the significance of which I immediately surmised.

It was 2 degrees and I know what happens to airplanes when it's 2 degrees outside, especially when they're parked too far away from the building to be plugged in to keep the oil stirred.

Another Warrior was in the open hangar.

I was invited to pre-flight the one in the hangar and when I got there, I knew I was screwed. The oil heater was plugged in, but when I pulled the dipstick, there was frost on it, and the oil was the consistency of peanut butter. But I pressed on anyway, even though it was clear there was no power to the heating element.

After a pre-flight and with frozen fingers, I tried starting it. The prop turned, but never caught despite all of my cold-weather-starting tricks. No plane is going to start when it's 2 degrees without the benefit of an engine preheater.

And that's my point. They knew I was coming. Where was the engine preheat? Why wasn't it going so that when I got there, I could preflight and give it a chance to start.

As I was packing away my gear after 6 tries, the lineman knocked on the window and said, "I'm going to put a preheater on it."

I said, "OK," at first but then modified it to "don't bother, I've got to get back to work."

As I dropped the keys back off inside, there were apologies all around and I was sad more than mad. I'm sad that the people who still have jobs in the American economy don't understand the wonders of customer service. I was sad that aviation is going to be killed off partly because of the people who work in it.

It was just a stinkin' preheater. And I was just a customer who's going to start looking around for another place to rent an airplane.

Friday, January 23, 2009

David and Mary Maib's RV-10

It seems like only yesterday that David Maib walked up my driveway, introduced himself, and checked out the RV-7A project in my garage. He was thinking of building an RV airplane. At the time, I don't think the RV-10 had been announced yet but it shortly was and David and Mary pitched in. And how, they pitched in!

"I decided this wasn't going to be a 10-year project and that if we were going to build an airplane, we really were going to commit to it," he told me this evening when their RV-10 was rolled out of the Wipaire paint facility and a reception was held.

Rare was the time when one or -- more often -- both weren't at their hangar at Fleming Field in South St. Paul. And in a little over two years, they finished their airplane. They'll fly it out Monday or Tuesday to their new home in (if memory serves) New Smyrna Beach, Florida. Minnesota will wave a fond farewell with one last night of -15 temperatures.

No matter, the RV-10 is tucked safely into Wipaire's huge hangar, between a couple of Beavers and a Caravan. Their new airplane puts the others to shame, which is saying something since the other planes are darned beautiful in their own right.

Mary came up with the paint design. "I wanted gold flames," she told me over the summer and again tonight. Wipaire's artist presented her with some drawings and she said they were perfect.

The hardest part of the building process? "Writing checks," David said.

You can see the new plane at Sun 'n Fun in Lakeland Florida in April. They probably won't make it to Oshkosh this year.

I look forward to seeing them again. Building N614EF won't be the same without having them nearby.

(Click the images for original size)

What brought down the US Airways flight?

This one's making the rounds on the Internet.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

RV Builder's Hotline - January17, 2009

Find it here.

It's just a battery

There are times in the course of building this RV-7A airplane that I've thought that -- next to going for a ride in an RV (which doesn't happen anywhere near as often as it should -- you guys who are flying see the hint there, right?), that ordering something -- anything -- from Van's Aircraft is the best motivator to continued building.

There's something about getting something new -- and even paying the continuously rising shipping charges (I could buy a prop for what I've spent just in shipping, handling and postage over the past 8 years!) that creates an indicator of progress. And for many homebuilders of airplanes, a sense of progress is important.

Last night another box appeared on the front step, this time it was the battery for the plane, as well as a bracket for the installation of cables, two restrictor fittings -- one for the oil pressure port on the engine -- and assorted clamps I'm going to need for bundling wires.

Even though the temperature this week has been around -20 on occasion and there isn't a way in hell or heaven I'm going to spend time at the unheated hangar, it warmed my heart. Even though my electrical system plans are still mostly in my head and not on paper, a sign of progress on the electrical system is just what I needed.

These parts are different. They're slightly outside of my "comfort zone" (that's the zone you create for yourself when you've been working on a subkit for the last year or so and you know the drawings and instructions almost by heart.), and, even better, they're the parts I remember seeing on so many trips to Web sites like those run by Dan Checkoway, or Walter Tondu, or Dave Parsons. They're the parts they talked about -- the parts I had no idea what they were for -- shortly before they flew their airplanes for the first time.

Granted, they all had more time -- and I'm pretty sure, money -- than I do so all of these steps have to be measured in Bob Years®, but nonetheless it was a reminder that my plane will fly someday, someday soon (in Bob Years®). I even allowed myself to think -- for at least a moment -- that that time will probably come in late 2010. That was shortly before I went to bed and woke up thinking of the reasons why it won't be late 2010. No, best to plug ahead, one step at a time, one shipping & handling charge at a time, one part at a time, and let things happen when they happen.

Having received my Van's reminder of progress, I closed the box back up, labeled its contents, and put it down on the shelf downstairs with the other boxes of uninstalled parts.

One of these days, spring will come, and so will actual progress.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Flying weather?

It's -21 in my corner of flyover country today and I haven't heard a peep from my flying friends in the American southwest. I hope they're alright. As a humorist-friend (James Lileks) in this neck of the woods observed today, "it's -21, but it's a dry heat."

A question for aviators? Is this flying weather? I'm still a renter and the FBO won't release a plane in this weather, even if the engine did start. But for you owners, would you fly in this? It's a gorgeous sunny day and we presume the dense air would make any plane fly like a rocket.

As an RV builder, I wonder about the plexiglass canopy.

Oh, and I only put one heater box on the RV-7A project.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Beginning installation of the VP-50 in an RV-7A

There is no documentation, as far as I know, of an install of the Vertical Power 50 in an RV-7A. The VP-50 is the low-end version of the solid-state electrical management system, that eliminates (for the most part) circuit breakers and fuses. This will be the brain of my electrical system and after weeks away from any substantial progress on the RV-7A, I figured it was time to get serious. So I've set up a VP-50 category for folks in the future who want to see how this system fits.

The heart of the system is the control unit, which essentially is the main electrical buss. It takes power from the battery and distributes it to my various electrical goodies. I'll install the battery in a few weeks.

I wasn't sure where to mount the control unit. The instructions recommend some aluminum angle brackets to be installed between the subpanel and the firewall but I didn't like this system for a few reasons. First, if you install it on the right side of the plane, you'll run into problems with the brake lines coming off the reservoir (at least if you have a dual brake system as I do). If you put it in the middle, you'll need to mount it near the center recess in the firewall. Didn't want to do that. And if you mount it on the left side, you're that much farther from the battery and the ground tabs I've already mounted on the firewall. I want short runs.

So I ran a bracket width-wise across the two subpanel ribs. Just cut two pieces of .063 3/4 x 3/4 angle to roughly 19" lengths. Cut the flange on one side at each end and by about 7/8" to allow the other flange to sit under the flange of the subpanel ribs.

I fit one bracket about 1 3/4" forward of the subpanel, drilled two #19 holes for two #8 screws. I elected not to put nutplates in the flange of the subpanel rib and will use screws and nuts instead. I obviously didn't rivet the angle either. Riveting is forever and I'm not entirely sure that something else down the road won't require me to move things, and this gives me the flexibility to do that.

Anyway, I installed one angle and then clamped the other angle to the subpanel ribs and adjusted it so that each bracket was flush with the control box. I marked the location, and removed the control unit. Then I drilled the aluminum angle to the flanges of the subpanel and installed the screws and nuts.

The next step is to install nutplates in the angle to mount the control unit. I elected to use AN-3 bolts (a #12 hole) instead of screws because I thought it would be easier getting the unit off when and if I needed to, using a socket set. This was a mistake. Some small screws on the VP-50 near the mounting holes very nearly interfere with the bolt. You can't get a socket set around it. In fact, you need to be very careful locating the holes on the angle.

With both angles mounted in place, I got underneath the subpanel and decided where I wanted to mount the control unit, holding it in place, and tracing the mounting slots with a Sharpie onto the angle. For a guy with Meniere's Disease (vertigo), this is the least pleasurable part about working on the panel. Whenever I'm on my back looking up, the ear canal sends weird signals to the brain and I might as well be on a roller coaster. It takes me several minutes after doing this, sitting in the cabin, to let the nausea go away. But you don't exactly ever feel good for the rest of the day.

I then removed one angle and installed a nutplate and bolted the control unit on. I checked to be sure my mark for the other bolt hole was correct (it wasn't) and drilled the next bolt hole, installed a nutplate and bolted the control until to the angle. Then I reinstalled the angle (with the control unit attached), got underneath again and traced slot holes on the angle and marked drill points, removed the angle, attached nutplates and reinstalled.


Earlier in the day, I finally removed the fuel boost pump and center cover. I don't know why I installed them a year or so ago. It all has to come out to allow me to run wires down the center, and up some conduit to the subpanel and the VP-50 unit. Of course, I couldn't find the right nuts for the Adel clamp to keep the conduit in place, so I moved on to the VP-50 control unit installation.

After I install the battery and cables, I'll probably start with the flap motor wiring and switch. I've settled on the instrument panel design, so I'll try to find a place to send it to to be professionally cut.

As always, click the image for a bigger size.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

I'm building the world's only vertical induction engine-powered airplane apparently

I love Doug Reeves but there are times I think the bulletin boards at Van's Air Force have gotten too big. You can find a million messages and replies when someone spots a VAF hat somewhere. But quite often if you have a building question, it gets lost among the socializing.

That's one problem. The other problem is people lurk and don't post. Why, I'm not really sure, although it can be intimidating to venture onto any board anywhere that is dominated by a relatively few people.

Nonetheless, if you're an RV builder, you should make "I'll answer another RVer's question more often this year" one of your resolutions for the new year.

And if you can explain this confusing aspect of the vertical induction vs. horizontal induction instructions, I'll make it easy for you.

Thursday, January 1, 2009


A Van's airplane makes most people look cool. Pete Howell makes Van's airplanes look cool.

RV Builder's Hotline is posted

The last RV Builder's Hotline (Dated 1/3/09) has been posted. We take a look at Dave Hirschman's flights over the Washington ADIZ, the latest issue of the RVator, and a look at 2008 RV accident statistics.

And, of course, more. Find it here.
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