Saturday, February 28, 2009

RV Builder's Hotline for 2/28/09 is now posted

The latest RV Builder's Hotline is now posted. Included in this issue are some links toward approaching your canopy project (and fixing it when it doesn't go right), tips on how not to buy an RV, the reports from the NTSB this week on two fatal RV crashes in 2008, a look at a Mazda-powered RV, and builder tips on such things as installing and removing CherryMAX rivets (courtesy of EAA).

As I do every week, I've also built a list of -- in my view -- the most compelling threads on the various RV-related bulletin boards (it's getting harder and harder to weed out the wheat from the chaffe, isn't it?) and also Tom Martin's fairly hysterical story (although I'm sure it wasn't at the time) of his "visit" to Arkansas.

And, of course, much more.

As I write this, the various e-mail sending programs are hard at work. I see Verizon and Yahoo are not being particularly Hotline-friendly so it may take longer for subscribers on those two platforms to get theirs.

There's something about a sunrise

I got up early this morning -- before sunrise -- to work on this week's edition of the RV Builder's Hotline. And also, I was done sleeping. One of the side benefits of getting older is you don't need that much sleep anymore, which is a good thing because it allowed me to stand at the picture window, a fresh-brewed cup of joe in hand, and watch the sun rise over flyover country.

A glance at the clock -- 6:54 -- brought a smile to my face. It was just a few months ago that the sun in these parts didn't rise above the crease in the universe until 7:50.

I went out to get the paper -- which was late -- and noticed the birds' song has changed; it's a spring song. Without a paper, I let the sun be my guide as I read though some of the aviation magazines that arrived this week with articles about the new Cessna Caravan, and hot new avionics, even the benefits of an instrument rating -- all of which I'm never going to own. Not in this economy. Not in any economy. No matter.

I fired up the laptop and read the latest from the bulletin boards and e-mail lists. Out in California, some of the RV folks are getting together to fly this morning, someone else is testing out a new smoke system, the Ohio Valley RVators are crowing because they've had two good days of flying weather. I caught myself thinking, "this would be a great day to fly," imagining what it will be like when I can pull my RV out of a hangar, fire it up, and head off in the direction of the rising sun.

All over America, hangar doors are opening today. This is a good thing, and we should pause to remember the message that sends.

I'm not by nature an optimist; far from it, actually. But between sunrises, spring songs, and smoke systems, I don't know how to avoid it on days like this.

A few months ago, I started the process of seeing how much my RV project would sell for, so that I could move quickly if I lost my job in the coming layoffs. I didn't, although a pledge drive in the last week fell short, so I'm crossing my fingers again.

The project still sits out at the cold, unheated hangar, the closest thing I can point to to my unbridled optimism. I don't know how I'm going to afford to finish it, I don't know how I'm going to fly it. But I'm going to.

There are thousands of airplane projects all over the country just like that. Builders are taking one step at a time, one instruction at a time, one dose of reality at a time. Bombarded as we are by the steady stream of bad news, we press on; not because we are denying reality, but because we are embracing a part of it that goes unrecognized. "This too shall pass," is a favorite expression of my father in law. "Things will get better," is the favorite expression of people who advised me during some lean years past. They've always been right, and I see no reason to not believe them now.

For the past two months, as part of my day job, I've been visiting a different college campus in Minnesota every Wednesday. I set up a table and invite anyone to sit down and chat. And then I document the students' stories (You can find most of them here). It's been an eye-opening experience because in the midst of all this, well, depression, there are countless examples of optimism. Heck, the very fact people are still working toward a future tells me there's going to be one.

And so it is with aviation, too. The special interest groups -- AOPA, for example -- are already doing what they do best, creating an us against them mentality. The sky is falling. Things are dark and growing darker.

You can't tell that by looking out the window here on the prairie. Or walking outside to find a newspaper. Or reading the messages from people who are giddy they're going to go fly today, or people who are optimistic that one day they will.

Things will get better. They already are. A good sunrise will do that to you.

Friday, February 27, 2009

User fees

I hated to see Barack Obama's budget, which proposed user fees. Not because I'm against user fees -- I'm not -- but because it will start the chanting among the mostly conservative aviation community about socialism, communism, traitorism, etc.

It's kneejerk really. The AOPA is already out today with its semi call for action.

Me? I'm going to wait for the details and I'm going to consider the proposal. I'm going to block my ears from the "why should I bail out my neighbor?" crowd, which are mostly the people who flunked economics and don't understand who's really getting bailed out.

The kneejerk reaction to the budget is coming from all corners. The corporate farmers are howling, the pilots are howling. That's certainly they're right, but I'm turning off the news and going to build an airplane.

Monday, February 23, 2009

A tail tale

My goal for the winter on the project was to get an electrical system designed and to get everything in the tail of the airplane put together so I can rivet up the top skin as soon as the weather warmed and human flesh can stand holding a bucking bar for longer than 10 seconds.

Since I have relatively little electrical past the baggage area, I'm on track. A few weeks ago I laid out the strobe wire runs and on Sunday I finished up wiring the cables at the power supply end.

The Van's mounting plate for the power supply is handy, but when you really look at it, it makes a wiring run a little problematic, at least compared to the folks who stick the thing under the baggage area. I'm going to have to pick up some of the sticky nylon zip-tie mounts and stick a few on the belly to guide the strobe cables properly and keep them from flopping around.

In the picture below, you can also see that I soldered wires to the drain wire, and ground them on the j-stringer that's part of the bottom skin. I could have grounded them to the mounting plate (and I probably will do that for the power ground, but I'm not convinced there's great metal-to-metal contact there. Part of it is I'm not well schooled in how much metal-to-metal contact there needs to be there.)

The other thing I'm doing is running the antenna cable to the top of the plane. I'm going to have the antenna sticking out in the breeze where I'm sure it will work should I need to activate the emergency locator transmitter from a panel switch. Once I ditch, the plane will probably flip, making the location of questionable value, of course.

As you can see, I'm running the antenna forward along the main rib, forward of the elevator bellcrank assembly (it doesn't interfere), and then up the inside of the bulkhead back toward the exit point in the skin.

I have to order a few more DG-3 Adel clamps for this.

I have some concern about the remote magnetometer for the Dynon that has to be installed behind the 707 bulkhead, I believe. There's no current running in the antenna, of course, but I don't know if the mere presence of the wire will screw things up.

The only other wire that needs to run from the tail area, is the panel-mounted switch wire for the ELT. Once I add that -- maybe next week -- and get everything secured, I'll get the skin clecoed and buttoned up. Assuming I can find some riveting help, of course.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Vertical Power wiring diagram updated

My good RV-building (well, now he's flying) friend Kevin Faris has made some suggestions to the wiring diagram.

One is overcurrent protection:

I would recommend two on the firewall, an 80 or so for the alternator and a 40 for the battery feeder (providing you use a #8 jumper from the battery lug to the fuse block.) My reasoning on this is you do not want your "backup" feeder to accidentally pop EVER. So it is sized quite heavy for the sum of all loads plus a bit more.

Kevin also has a backup circuit for the Lightspeed EI, which made me slap my forehead over my leaving it off.

Here's the update with his additions. At some point I'll figure out how to make this diagram all nice and pretty. At the moment, it's written mostly in pencil. Click on the image to make it big.

Monday, February 16, 2009

The wiring plan

My goal for the winter (i.e. -- frozen hangar) months was to get my head around an electrical system architecture for the RV-7A. I think I'm on schedule. Today I finally sketched out a wiring diagram utilizing the VP-50 system from Vertical Power. You'll have to click the image to enlarge it.

I won't go into the whole Vertical Power sales pitch because it's a category on the blog here now and you can click it and go read for yourself. I will say that it really does make wiring simpler. First of all, my shortcoming as a builder is being organized enough to buy all the various switches and gizmos that I'd need for a traditional system. Since I installed the Vertical Power VP-50 unit a few weeks ago, I've basically done all that.

I also bought the wiring harness which provides me with the right wire size. I'll have to do some crimping of D-Sub and, of course, I'll have to run the wires, but a lot of work is already done for me.

The diagram above is still a work in progress, but it gives you an idea (if you can read these things) an idea of what I'm up to. Since my Dynon D100 has an internal battery, I'm not wiring a backup circuit for it. The battery is the backup circuit. Same for the GPS (I use a Garmin 296, which I realize won't get me invited to the cool kids' party at Oshkosh, but that's OK).

But I have planned on a backup switch for the fuel boost pump and I'm thinking about one for the flaps. I'm also planning on a second, smaller alternator as a backup but I won't install that until later, when there's more money. For now, I'll run a wire for it out to the engine compartment and tie it off.

And I've still got to look up some more specs on the Lightspeed electronic ignition. So what do I have to buy now? A master bat/alt switch and a starter switch. Oh, and an alternator. I'm leaning toward the Plane Power alternator because it has an internal regulator and overvoltage protection and that's just so much wiring and extra components I don't have to buy and install. I'm all about simple on these things.

Other than that, I've got to buy a bus block (I have one on the way from B&C, but I need one more) and that should do it.

When you first develop your electrical system, you fill out a load planning worksheet from Vertical Power. This makes it easier to figure out what's going to go where. Then, all you have to do is crimp a D-Sub terminal on the proper wire, insert it into the receptacle on the control unit, run it to the device and, voila! It's so simple, even a blogger can do it.

Here's my load planning spreadsheet. I haven't figured out yet what is going to be on the switch unit that actually goes in the panel and connects to the control unit. My very important avionics, however, will be assigned to switch 1 (on the far left) so that if an alternator fails, I simply flip the switch down, which brings the (soon to be installed) backup alternator online. I then flip the rest of the avionics off with one switch and I've taken care of load shedding.

I'm just a VFR pilot. I don't fly at night (although I might a little), so backup electrical systems aren't critical to me. But if I'm on a cross country flight and an alternator goes south, I should be able to complete the journey or -- at the very least -- get the plane down on my terms. Since I'm using half an electrical ignition system, having the backup alternator allows it to keep working without a problem.

And until I get the backup alternator put in, I can certainly hobble to the nearest airport on the strength of the left mag.

Feel free to offer your comments.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Ralph Capen's RV

I've said for years that if aviation people spent as much time contacting their local media instead of complaining about media coverage of aviation, they'd find a solution to their problems.

They might find stories like that of Ralph Capen, who got the full Sunday paper treatment from The Daily Times in Maryland (at least I think it's Maryland) Delaware. It's nice that the spouse also got some face time on the accompanying video.

I mean, think about it. What do people do when you say, "I'm building an airplane?" Why do so many people think news reporters would find the story fascinating.

By the way, did you notice the great job Ralph did keeping the nose wheel off the turf on the landing?

Saturday, February 14, 2009

RV Builder's Hotline - Feb. 14 edition is now online

This week's RV Builder's Hotline has been sent out and is now available online, too. Terry Lutz penned some interesting thoughts on his testing of several RV-8s. Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't Terry Lutz the test pilot who flew the huge Airbus A380 over to the U.S. for the first time a few years ago? I'd say he knows what he's talking about.

Enjoy the issue and if you subscribed but did not receive it in your inbox (yes, I'm back to e-mailing the entire issue -- without ads, did you notice? -- please let me know.)

Now, what the heck am I going to write about in the next issue? I have no clue.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The EAA's job search

I've been in the news and corporate world long enough to know that by the time a job posting is made public, the folks doing the hiring have a good idea who they want to fill the job, if they haven't already promised the gig.

Still, there's a job posting in Sport Aviation this week that I'll bet has some gears turning among aviation people who make their living by the printed (and sometimes spoken) word. The EAA is looking for a director of publications.

I don't envy the person who gets the job. First of all, you've got the antiquated problem of the dead-tree editions, coupled with the competition from the Web for aviation news and the EAA has to avoid falling into the pit of being an organization that spends 50.5 weeks of the year promoting the other 1.5 (AirVenture. Did I really need to point that out? No? That's my point.)

But the EAA is trying. It's about to unveil EAA 360, it's first significant foray into social networking. Done right, it puts all the RV-related Web sites (for example) out of business and becomes THE go to place for homebuilders. Imagine if they could find the next Tony Bingelis and stick him online to answer questions 24/7?

They've recently brought back the Experimenter, which attempts to cater to that wing of the organization (no pun intended) that still cares about homebuilding. They're blogging the reshaping of the AirVenture grounds. They've got several different magazines and, it seems to me, an aggressive approach to things.

Still, you get the whiff every now and again of an organization that isn't fully on the same page. It often seems as though there are factions at the organization pulling it in a number of different directions. Who would want to step into that?


Just so we understand: I'm not applying for the job and there are more qualified people out there. But is there a better way to make a living than by using your non-aviation expertise to make a living in an industry that uses that expertise for good?

Organizations that are in change are perfect places for people with creative ideas.

Here's hoping the EAA gets the right person -- someone who will challenge the status quo and try things that have never been tried before.

Monday, February 9, 2009

What's going on at EAA

I'm perusing various EAA (Experimental Aircraft Association) newsletters and stumbled across one that makes you scratch your head.

EAA Chapter 7 wanted the EAA's B-17 to stop in Long Beach, Calif. Don Thompson, the president of the chapter, says he was told the B-17, instead, is going to Torrance instead, as part of an exclusive contract with an organization that is not affiliated with the EAA.

Read about it in the chapter's February newsletter.

Following is moved up from "comments" section

Hi, Bob. Dick Knapinski here from EAA HQ. I fear you might be working on incomplete information with your posting regarding the B-17 schedule.

There are several stops in southern California who request the B-17 for an appearance each year. They are scheduled so to best alternate them every other year. There is no "exclusive contract" or anything else. Of course, among factors considered are number of stops in the vicinity, EAA chapter or group support of the stop, airport specifications, whether the aircraft will be in that region, and other items. About 90 percent of the stops are made in conjunction with EAA chapters, although there are EAA members within other aviation groups who have worked closely with the organization that are also considered.

Long Beach is certainly among locations under considerations for the 2010 tour, although no final decisions have been made.

Happy to provide "the rest of the story." Feel free to contact us anytime with questions. Continued best on your RV project, and I hope you have the opportunity to follow the AirVenture site project on the blog by Steve Taylor.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Monday, February 2, 2009

Facebook: Van's Air Force

As more and more people begin to communicate via Facebook, I've set up a Van's Air Force network on Facebook so that RVers can more easily find other RVers to "friend."

If you don't understand what Facebook is, please don't jump to the conclusion that this is another group to compete with all the bulletin boards and other big Web sites out there for RVers. It's not.

Facebook is different in that you have your own page and you can add to it (or not) and others you select can see it. The VAF on Facebook group merely creates a common area to find other RVers. It takes nothing away from the big sites. It's not a content area.

Video: Routing strobe wires in an RV-7A

The temperature hit the 40s this past weekend, the first time it's been above freezing since December, so a trip to the hangar was in order. I'm starting to decide on various wire routes, one of which is the strobe wires from the power supply behind the baggage compartment to the wings. I didn't like the suggested route; there's too much chance they could interfere with control columns.

I'm going to start producing more amateur video of various tasks over the rest of the construction of the RV-7A. Here's the first.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Hotline donations returned

I decided to return donations to the RV Builder's Hotline that have come in for the last 2 months (PayPal doesn't automatically allow you to refund past 60 days) and remove Google ads from new pages being created on the site. If you've sent in some donation in the last six months, please send me your email address and I'll send you a check.

A moderator for VAF objected to the fact that I mentioned the newsletter in a thread on high-speed tax tests and it occurred to me that perhaps it -- the Hotline -- had emerged as a (very small) competitor to VAF. That wasn't the intent, and isn't the intent of the Hotline.

It doesn't cost much to put out the Hotline and I can afford it.

In the meantime, if you didn't get one in your email box this week, it's the mailer program. It was pretty obvious to me that while it said it was sending them out, it really wasn't. And I don't want to spend the entire weekend trying to diagnose that.
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