Tuesday, April 27, 2010

NTSB opens Hudson River midair docket

On Wednesday, the National Transportation Safety Board will open its docket into the midair collision over the Hudson River last August. It will be available here at 10 a.m. ET.

The docket includes: investigative group factual reports, interview summaries, crew statements, air traffic control transcripts, controller statements, the meteorology report, and other documents.

Monday, April 26, 2010

The frustration index

In the 9+ years I've been building the RV-7A, I've tried not to set any deadlines or schedules. That gets more difficult as you near the end of a project, but it's a bad idea.

With much of the avionics for the plane completed over the winter, I've started to turn more attention to the engine installation. I've let myself think that I could have the first start of the engine some time this fall, and be flying next year sometime.

That's not going to happen.

The engine, arguably, is the most critical part of a homebuilt airplane. It is, for reasons I don't get, also the item that gets the least amount of attention in all of the instructions. As I've started working on this, it's not hard to see why so many airplanes go down. Builders are pretty much left to figure things out on their own.

There are many, many different combinations of engines, so it would be difficult, perhaps, to have a step-by-step guide for getting everything installed and hooked up properly. In addition, there are a number of different companies involved in an engine installation.

I've got an IO360 (fuel injected, 180 hp) engine with different companies producing the alternator, exhaust, fuel pump and fuel servo. And the engine itself is from Mattituck.

But when you get an engine, the thing arrives in a crate with a few small manuals. The only thing missing is a sheet of paper that says "Figure it out. Good luck."

A few weeks ago, I poured over pathetically incomplete schematics of the Airmotive fuel servo, looking for nothing more than a hint of the order of installation hardware and a torque value for the nut. I got one by way of Mattituck, but I haven't yet figured out how it was devised. It's not in any range of any of the tables for torque values that I use.

This past weekend, I tried to figure out how to install this puppy:

It's a T-fitting that comes out of the fuel pump. It has a restrictor fitting in it for the fuel pressure hose that goes to the manifold transducer, and a regular 1/4" line that goes to the fuel servo. Simple, right? Maybe for other people; not for me.

Should the fitting go in and be torqued. Should the nut be torque? We've kicked this around on Van's Air Force, and one of the problems is every answer seems to confuse a previous answer. I threaded it in to the point where I think it's tight, and notice that it dumps the fuel line just above a very hot exhaust stack. The hose that came with the engine isn't going to work. The line will somehow have to snake a different route.

So I'll have to make my own hoses. But how do I do that correctly? And how much will that cost me (A few hoses I ordered from Van's cost nearly $100. They're useless. They don't fit.)

What I need is "engine installation for dummies." Tony Bingelis' books are pretty good, but they don't fit the bill in this category. I've invited an EAA Tech Counselor to visit, but he's out of town until the middle of May.

Good building time is being wasted, but it beats putting an engine on that is likely to fail because I don't know what I'm doing.

It's a very frustrating situation. My last three visits to the hangar, I had to walk away from it. Hundreds of people have figured this out, but I can't seem to. So today I'm going to go back out, clean up the hangar, mothball what I can mothball, and walk away from the project for awhile and think about steps I can take to gain the knowledge necessary to do this better and safer than what I might otherwise do.

update 4:01 p.m. 4/26 - On the question of the part show, Gus Funnell at Van's Aicraft writes:

The fitting is installed finger tight to the desired orientation, then the nut is tightened to lock it in position. Some fuel lube to similar on the O ring is a good idea. Not sure what torque is appropriate - not much, as you don't want to completely crush the O ring. Err on the side of too little, then if it does leak when you run the boost pump, gently tighten it a little more.


Sunday, April 25, 2010

The death of Emmanuel Richard

There is a sad story on Planet RV this weekend. Emmanuel Richard, an RV-4 pilot, apparently flew into a Texas town earlier this week and was found shot to death on the recent grave of a man who, according to authorities, was her father figure. Officials believe it was a suicide.

Friday, April 23, 2010

NTSB investigating Cessna vs. 737

The National Transportation Safety Board today released details of another allegedly close call between a small plane and an airliner, this time on the ground. The incident happened on Monday in Oakland, according to the NTSB:

At about 10:58 a.m. PDT on April 19, Southwest Airlines flight 649, a Boeing 737-700 (N473WN) inbound from Oakland, carrying 119 passengers and a crew of five was landing on runway 8 while a Cessna 172, in the departure phase of a “touch and go” on runway 15, passed over the 737. A “touch and go” is a practice maneuver in which an aircraft briefly lands on the runway before accelerating and becoming airborne again.

According to the Federal Aviation Administration, the airplanes came within 200 feet vertically and 10 feet laterally of each other at the runway intersection. No one
was injured in the incident, which occurred under a clear sky with visibility of 10 miles.

Unfortunately, the tapes via LIVEATC.net are unavailable. Here's the airport diagram.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The secret life of pipe clamps

If you're going to build your own airplane -- or, really, even if you are going to fly any airplane -- you need to be good at seeing ways to solve problems that might not, at first, be obvious. I'm not particularly good at this, I have to admit, even though my day job consists of seeing things (in news stories) that others might not see.

We can -- and do -- get dependent on the information available to us. You start out with the heavily-narrated Van's instruction manual which eventually weans you off onto depending on the schematic drawings and then, if you're not careful, you'll be late in the project when you realize there's nothing, really, to tell you how the engine should be plumbed and various things put together. So you get dependent on your Internet friends to walk you through it.

I've raised two kids now and I know that there is genetic predisposition for them to want to be "independent," a term which they, of course, think means "do it yourself without any help." I don't know where they would've gotten this characteristic.

After awhile, I get tired of asking for help to see things that I can't see, from others who clearly have seen them.

That's a high-minded way of saying to people within a mile of Fleming Field in South St. Paul, "I'm really sorry for all the bad words you've heard coming from 217 Charlie Lane the last few days."

What couldn't I figure out? How to get these clamps tight enough around the exhaust to allow a bolt to be put through them.

You can't. Pliers don't fit in there right, C-clamps keep popping off etc. So, of course, I asked the folks at Van's Air Force. And there were several replies that made sense.

The one I though the most brilliant, was to use a hose clamp to compress the clamp around the exhaust pipe.

There's one problem with this. You have to try to put it on at an angle but as you tighten it, it wants to get straight. So you have to put your hand in place while tightening to keep it from doing that.

But even that isn't enough to get the hole to line up properly. So then you take a pair of needle nose Vise Grips and squeeze the two prongs together...

But even that's not enough, so you need to put a C-clamp around the clamp to push the prongs down even more, while still having room to slip the bolt in...

But even that wasn't enough (at least on one side). I had to thread a small c-clamp horizontally across the prongs to get them to line up. That's four tools to get one stinking bolt in.

But, eventually, that was enough.

Now, I may have to take all of this apart once I fit the bottom cowling, because it's hard to figure out exactly where the exhaust pipes should go at this stage. So I'll get to do this all over again.

I can't see me liking that.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Installing a Precision Airmotive fuel servo on an IO-360

Why am I bothering with this post? Because at some point in the future, someone who's bought a TMX 360 from Mattituck is going to be pulling a Precision Airmotive fuel servo out of a box, and notice a bag of hardware and also notice there are no instructions anywhere on what should occur next.

I know, because I spent most of the weekend searching online for the information. From what I understand, Airflow Performance fuel servos come with a 150 page book. Precision Airmotive comes with an 8-page pamphlet with a few drawings, none of which tell you how the thing should be bolted onto your engine, which in my case is an IO-360 B1B.

It's kind of an important part, don't you think? It's not an area where you want to guess what to do, so why hasn't someone posted a halfway decent shred of information that takes out the guesswork.

I guess that someone is me.

OK, then, here's what you get in your hardware bag:

The four oblong units, you probably already, are the gaskets for the exhaust system. I've already installed these because they also came with the very fine system from Larry Vetterman.

But I'll let Mahlon Russell, Mattituck's first-class technical expert take it from there:

The hardware package contains the nuts and washers to mount the exhaust, fuel servo and prop gov. It goes the item you are mounting, a flat washer, a star washer and then the nut. The nuts tighten to 196 inch pounds.

The spacer is an optional spacer that can be used between the Precision style fuel servo and it's mounting pad. The silver oblong gaskets are the exhaust gaskets and go between the exhaust system flange and the cylinder flange, the copper ring is an optional crush washer for your oil temp probe, if it didn't come with one.
The b type washer is an optional lock tab that is used on the alternator mounting bracket mount bolts to safety them.

Hope this helps! Any other questions, please feel free to contact me.

OK, Google, do your thing and index this page for future help

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Marketplace's swing and miss

As many of you know, I have one foot in the aviation community and one food in the "media" community, two communities that don't like each other, have little respect for each other, and seem intent on putting one another out of business.

Generally speaking, I think both sides are so wedded to their individual positions, that they ignore data that says their preconceived notions are -- if not wrong -- somewhat inaccurate.

There are exceptions, of course, at which time I have to decide which one foot to hop around on while pretending the other doesn't exist. Unfortunately, this time it requires me to criticize the journalistic effort of an organization that operates under the same corporate umbrella I do.

American Public Media's Marketplace committed a cardinal journalistic sin on Friday when it presented ProPublica's Michael Grabell on its evening program without any challenge at all. That Marketplace wouldn't challenge the assertions of one of its guests isn't that surprising to those of us who recognize the modus operandi, but occasionally they should fake it. This was one of those times.

ProPublica bills itself as "journalism in the public interest," and most of the time this is true. But you know what else is in the public interest? Context. And skepticism.

The organization took a look at flight tracking systems and, in particular, the program that allows some airplane owners to "block" flights of their aircraft. Air Force One, for example, cannot be tracked on FlightAware.com. Neither can some corporations. Colleges often hide their flights because they don't want the competition to see who they're recuiting.

ProPublica reported -- accurately -- that some organizations appear to hide their flights so that those members of the public can't see what abuse some organizations are committing with their funds. An executive jet does not, by definition, constitute an abuse. However, I think there is a case to be made that a megachurch pastor, like Kenneth Copeland and his ilk flying their corporate jet to Hawaii and other exotic destinations, probably has less to do with spreading the word of God, and has more to do with living a lavish lifestyle off the backs of people who gave them their hard-earned cash out of some Biblical motivation.

A governor who blocks his state airplane's flights -- as Gov. Mike Rounds of South Dakota -- makes it hard for taxpayers to figure out how he's spending their cash. To its credit, Minnesota doesn't block the flights of its corporate airplanes, that's how I know that Gov. Tim Pawlenty spent $4,000 just for crew and plane travel to Thief River Falls so that he could go hunting for a day (the Governor's Opener).

But ProPublica's Grabell fell for the commercial airlines' line hook, line, and sinker when he suggested that (a) general aviation and business aviation are the same thing and (b) general aviation doesn't pay its way the way the commercial airlines do.

According to an FAA study released in 2007, general aviation uses 16 percent of the air traffic system , yet pays only 3 percent of the taxes that support it. The rest is covered largely by commercial travel. The system, including salaries for traffic controllers, costs about $9 billion a year.

I just wrote that previous paragraph while sitting in the terminal at Fleming Field in South St. Paul (KSGS), an airport that has no tower, which lies under the airspace that is controlled by the FAA for one reason and one reason only -- to help the big commercial jets get into the Minneapolis St. Paul International Airport, 11 miles away. Were my RV-7A completed, I could take off, stay under the Class B airspace, and -- if I wanted to -- fly anywhere in the country. Number of air traffic controller needed: Zero.

But what ProPublica doesn't say -- and what Marketplace obviously didn't know -- when citing the 2007 FAA "study," is that it was a document produced by the Bush administration's FAA to support the Bush administration's budget plan for user fees for pilots -- a proposal that all but the airlines discounted as misguided. There was more than enough disagreement as to merit a citation on the subject.

FAA’s own documents show that GA currently contributes 8.6 percent of the taxes that flow into the Airport and Airway Trust Fund.

The FAA has been using the same economist-accepted cost allocation methodology since 1973 – that is, until now. In the last properly-done cost allocation study in 1997, the FAA reported that General Aviation was responsible for 6.7% of the cost of air traffic control.

So, why would a reputable news organization accept a disputed figure as the basis for a story, without making clear that the figure is widely disputed?

But that's not the biggest mistake Marketplace made. It made its biggest mistake here:

Moon: >And why is that a problem? These are, after all, private flights.

Grabell: They are private flights, but they depend on a public aviation system and public air space that taxpayers pay for. The runways, the air traffic controllers, the radars, the lighting systems, taxi ways, towers -- all these things are paid for by all of us taxpayers. So, you know, it's interesting.

Say what? Private pilots should expose their private lives to you because they use a system that's paid for by taxpayers? Let me be as delicate as possible when I say this: What..... utter.... nonsense.

When you drive your car, you're driving in a system paid for by taxpayers-- the roads, the maintenance, the cops, the first responders when you crash, are all paid by taxpayers. Do you take public transportation? Under the ProPublica rationale, you have forfeited your right to privacy by doing so. Your cellphone uses the public airwaves. Your landline uses public right of way. Let's have the number. Oh, and a list of everyone you've called and everyone who's called you. Ridiculous? Absolutely.

The assertion that somehow your private prerogatives are neutered by its intersection with a publicly funded system to keep it safe is utter nonsense.

A better answer from the ProPublica reporter could've been, "because the governor is paid for by the taxpayers" or "because the corporate exec got a billion dollar bailout."

But that wasn't the answer. And any pro journalist should've noticed that.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

I don't speak 'electric'

There's really no reason to ever work on your experimental airplane project without first thinking out exactly what it is you're going to do. I knew that. I've known it since reading Sam Buchanan's excellent essay on the subject many years ago.

So why do I find myself occasionally doing it? Even more scary, why do I do it when the subject is the electrical system in my RV-7A?

The fact is, I don't know avionics and electrical systems very well; that's one of the reasons I'm keeping it fairly simple.

But a build-it-as-you-go approach I found myself taking last weekend has me scared straight on the subject.

I wanted to install the switch for the Airflow High Performance Fuel Pump, which serves as the boost pump for my fuel-injected engine. But I want it not only to be powered via the Vertical Power 50, I want a backup buss so that if something should go wrong with the VP-50 somewhere, I'd still be able to start the engine and get home.

"Simple," I said to myself. I'll install a three way switch, connected to the fuel pump switch. Flip the switch in one direction, and it's powered by the VP-50. Switch it the other way, and it's powered from the back-up electrical buss.

Wise people already see the stupidity of this. But just in case you don't, here's a schematic of what I was doing, which I just created with the knowledge now of how stupid it was.

Had I actually planned this out, I would have seen the problem right away. The fuel pump switch didn't do anything. Just flipping the three way switch up or down would turn it on. What was I thinking? And why was I thinking it?

I only needed the three way switch. When I want to run the fuel pump with standard VP-50 power, flip it up. If I need to turn it on and power it with the backup buss, flip it down.

Mercifully, I don't have many backup systems on the plane. I'm not an instrument pilot. I fly by looking out the window and mostly looking at airspeed. My Dynon D-100 has an internal backup battery that kicks in when ship's power goes out. My GPS is a Garmin 296 which also has a battery (and a GPS isn't a save-your-bacon piece of equipment for a VFR pilot anyway). I'll have a hand-held radio to backup the ICOM A210 (if I can ever get that thing working!).

And only half the engine depends on electrical power. I have a Lightspeed EI in place of the right magneto. The left magneto doesn't need electrical power from the ship.

If things go south, I can fly by looking at my steam gauge altimeter and airspeed indicator, and talking on a hand held. It's not the Airbus 757-type arrangement that most RV builders have, but it'll work for me, I'm sure.

If I think things through a bit better before I head to the hangar.

Friend of pilot killed has a new mission

Here's a nice story that follows a terrible tragedy. Experimental aircraft builder Michael Cupaiole was killed in a plane crash in Florida last weekend. An RV builder is finishing a project in his memory. (WPTV.com)

Friday, April 2, 2010

One step forward. One step back

My zippy (for me) progress on the RV-7A a big wall today when all attempts to power up the ICOM A210 communications radio failed miserably. It powered up fine back when I was building the wiring harness, but now that it's installed in the airplane, nothing.

I checked to be sure it wasn't a misprogrammed or mis-pinned problem with the Vertical Power 50 system by running a wire from the battery into a male pin which was then inserted into the VP connector. It checked out fine.

I checked continuity in the harness for both the power and ground connections and it checked fine.

I removed it from the radio stack and unscrewed the connector to be sure it wasn't a problem with the connector not seating correctly with the connection on the radio. Nada.

It's times like this you want to have an actual person to talk to who sold it to you, but this is the danger of direct group buys via Van's Air Force or anywhere else. This was a group by more than two years ago on VAF, so the radio is out of warranty. It was purchased through Aircraft Spruce, and shipped directly from the factory.

About the only choice I have here is just to send it back to ICOM with a note that says "make it work," and a blank check.

What should I have done? First, I should've ordered a Garmin SL40 from SteinAir or some other company with an owner you can call on the phone.

Then, I should've said, here's the PS Engineering intercom, here's the mic jacks, here's the headphone jacks, and here's a blank check. Make me a harness.

Would it have cost more? Sure. But here I sit with a busted radio (apparently), no one to call, and this problem:

Consider this image (Click to enlarge):

When checking the continuity on the connections, I get continuity between the S/15 connectors (ground) and the H/7 connectors . But not a full deflection, about a half deflection. Other than something is messed up, what's that telling me? Beats me. But I'm pretty sure I should either get full deflection or no deflection so somewhere in this rat's nest of wires between all the jacks, the intercom and the radio that doesn't work, there's probably a problem.

This is why people like me should let people who know what they're doing, handle the avionics and just write a check.

Anybody need a $1,200 paperweight?
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