Tuesday, June 29, 2010

VP-50 software upgrade update

When I sent my Vertical Power VP-50 back after my failed attempts at upgrades, I included the cable you have to make to accomplish upgrades in with the package, with the hope, actually, that it would reveal a problem. Nothing else explained the stalled upgrades, and yet when I checked continuity, everything checked out fine. I didn't want the problem to be either the control unit (CU) or switch unit (SW), nor any incompatibility with the computers I'm using to update.

Fortunately, John at Vertical Power found the problem -- it was, in fact, the cable I made. He upgraded the unit, and is sending it back, with a new cable, too. You can't beat that service with a stick!

As it turned out, it's just as well I had to pull the system out and send it down to Albuquerque for some professional help. I made some changes in the system's location, moving it closer to the center of the subpanel assembly to move it away from a wiring run. And I also changed the way it's mounted, adding some nutplates so that it now screws into the brackets that hold it in place, rather than bolt it in place. And I added a nutplate or two to put some Adel clamps on the brackets to assist in some wiring runs.

In the meantime, I determined that the Grand Rapids EIS 4000 isn't going to provide the visible fuel level monitoring that I want (although it will provide flow rate information, which is possibly more valuable), so I ordered an Electronics International dual fuel level indicator (about $400) for the panel, instead. And having the VP-50 system out will make it easier to drill the holes in the panel to insert it.

Plus it has pretty colored lights.

Friday, June 25, 2010

I got your shipping right here

An order from Aircraft Spruce arrived today. Now at the end of filling out the order, a little postage calculator said it would be about $15 to ship it.

Here's the order:

20 small stop nuts
4 small ring terminals for a 1/4" stud
10 screws for mounting instruments
3 cubic feet of soundproofing material
1 4x4 piece of .063 aluminum
4 feet of 3/4 .063 aluminum angle.

Total of the parts $65.15.

Cost to ship: $115.63.

I also ordered a $400 Electronics International fuel level instrument today, too.

At the rate I'm on,it's starting to look like I'll wait until next winter before ordering a propeller, which probably puts me a little behind on the cowling. I'll likely work on finishing the electrical system and running some fuel lines, but it's pushing the first flight back to, probably, 2012.

Top 10 Aircraft Wiring Mistakes

Marc Ausman at Vertical Power has penned a new paper, "The Top 10 Aircraft Wiring Mistakes (and How to Avoid Them)." I'm almost done with my aircraft wiring and I learned a few things, too. I'm not sure that's good or bad. I also helped edit the paper.

Here it is.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Countdown to Oshkosh

It's been a long time since I've gone to Oshkosh with an open datebook and things couldn't be shaping up better.

I'm going to be working with the fine people at EAA Radio this year, hopefully producing several segments that mirror what I do with my day job: Profiling average folks doing extraordinary things. Know of some? Let me know and we'll make you a star.

The station manager, Jim Gray, says he's giving me carte blanche to go find things I find interesting and I've already found one. An RV acquaintance is getting married on Tuesday at Oshkosh. And why not? That's where the happy couple met. How neat!

EAA has been tearing up Camp Scholler to provide electric/water hookups to the people who want to pay for them, moving the 24-hour generator area out to the field by the West End store and generally displacing me from the spot I've had for the last six or seven years, but even that's turned out well.

The EAA Radio folks are reserving me a spot in their compound in Paul's Woods. What could be better? Woods? Trees. Shade. And even better: A never-ending party a stone's throw from the entrance to AirVenture?

Yes, I'll be doing my daily (sometimes several times daily) Oshkosh update here on Letters From Flyover Country, and Jim says I'm free to use the material I find for EAA here on the blog, too.

The other day I pulled the camping gear out of its spider-webbed corner of the hangar and ordered new aluminum poles from the tent company ($48 each!) and a new rain fly ($120!).

It's going to be a great year at Oshkosh!

Monday, June 21, 2010

How much do free software upgrades cost

I finally gave up on the notion that I'll ever be able to do a software upgrade of the Vertical Power VP-50 unit today, packed it in a box and sent it back to Albuquerque where people smarter than me can figure it out.

I thought that getting new features free would be a neat thing and, indeed, it is, except for the "it's not really free" part in real life.

Here's what I've spent so far:

Serial to USB converter cable - Radio Shack - $49
New laptop because the desktop PC erased software but didn't install - $436
New serial to USB converter cable under theory that that's the problem - $15
Postage to mail the unit back - $10.05
$1,500 of postal insurance - $16.70
Delivery confirmation - $.80

Total cost so far: $527.55

But, really, it's more. With the software upgrade, Vertical Power made a wig-wag feature available, which convinced me to buy and install another Duckworks landing light. Cost: $85

I notice the other night -- I had a really bad week of airplane building -- the lens is cracked. That'll need to be replaced. That's $15. Maybe I'll order two.

I'm hoping that Vertical Power can find something wrong with the unit itself, or the cable I built because if it's just a matter of temperamental computers and cables, that's a honkin' waste of money without getting it to work.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Seen at KSGS

One of these days I'll take a decent video of the variety of planes I find at my neat little airport - Fleming Field in South St. Paul, Minnesota. But there's always something to pull me out of the hangar and onto the taxiway. For the last few days, these guys in a Ryan have been flying the pattern. The engine sounds great, almost like it's barely able to stay lit.

And alongside the runway today was the Channel 5 helicopter. No doubt, it was preparing to go cover the tornadoes in Minnesota.


Two killed in RV-8 crash

These are the kind of accidents that I find most disturbing. That's an RV-8 that crashed yesterday in Truckee, Calif., killing two people. The wreckage would lead one to believe it's a survivable crash, but as we learned in the Dale Earnhardt crash, it's not what's left, it's how much energy was dissipated and how. A badly damaged plane would signify that the parts absorbed the energy. This plane didn't absorb much energy.

Slowing down

I wonder if what's happening to me happens to other RV builders -- you start going too fast, the closer you get to finishing.

I noticed this for the first time this week when I caught myself yelling at washers, then the center cabin cover, and then bolts. There I was, alone on the field, cursing inanimate objects.

And making stupid mistakes, again. And not taking time.

Yesterday, I drilled the right wing to the rear spar. I just wanted to get it done. So I drilled it, starting with a 3/32" bit, then a #19, then a #10. I knew I should ream it (.311), which requires a 9/16" drill bit before using the reamer. But I didn't have a 9/16" drill bit, so I just went ahead and used a 5/16" drill bit and called it a day.

Of course the hole is bigger than it needs to be; you can't get a perfect hole with a drill bit, and I knew that. And I wasn't going to fly today, so it's not like I needed to hurry. But I did. This is the same wing I misdrilled a couple of years ago -- and repaired all but one hole -- so there was little liklihood of getting a tight fit anyway, but still... quality shouldn't suffer because of self-imposed pressure.

It didn't help, I suppose, that moments before I notice that the plexi lens on the right wing landing light I installed a couple of weeks ago had cracked and will need to be replaced.

The Vertical Power software upgrade attempt a week ago has resulted in a dead system. And the ICOM A210 comm radio fried a few months ago when I tried to install that.

Seriously? Am I cursed?

When you start kicking yourself with, "Can't I do anything right?", you usually can't while trying to prove you can. Better to close the hangar door and go for a bike ride.

And so I'm caught in a vortex of needing to push ahead and needing to slow down. This is one of those times, when having a partner on the project would have been a good thing.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Hotline pages decision

The annual server bill for the RV Builder's Hotline is due. It's about $90. Even though I don't put out the Hotline anymore, there's still a lot of valuable information and articles in the archives. Still, I'm thinking of taking the site down and saving the money. Is there a demand for this stuff? If so, I'll leave it up. If not, I'll make a copy on CD and supply it to those folks who want it.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Searching for a mate

There are so many nerve-wracking parts of building an RV-7A, that it's hard to pick out the worst. I suppose it depends on what nerve-wracking portion of the project you're on at a moment.

At the moment, I'm revisitng setting the wings for their eternal life mated to the fuselage.

You may recall I did this a few years ago, but screwed up the right wing, by violating the requirement that there be at least 5/8" of edge distance between the center of the hole for the bolt that attaches the rear spar of the wings to a "fork" sticking out of the fuselage. I had to rebuild the entire rear spar and part of the fork.

The left wing at the time was installed correctly.

So this week, I'm reattaching the right wing and setting the "angle of incidence". But I'm limited because (a) the left wing is already drilled (b) One hole on the "fork" is already drilled so I have limited ability to move the wing up and down without -- again -- violating the edge distance and (c) I can't seem to get both sides of the fuselage (as measured along the side canopy skirts) to be level. Side-to-side, I'm good. But on the left side of the fuselage, my Smart Level says it's at .1 degrees out of level and on the right side, it says I'm about .3 degrees out of level.

If I were attaching both of these wings, I'd simply set the angle of incidence for both at .2 degrees (in the Van's kit, you simply place a level along the wing cord, raise the end of it three inches above the rivet line and place the Smart Level atop that.

Because the left wing incidence was already set -- and is not bolted for eternity -- I'm pretty much committed to what it says. Tonight, it said .2 degrees. Unfortunately, were I to raise the right wing incidence to .2 degrees (instead of the .3 to .4 range I'm getting now), I get uncomfortably close to the "no man's land" that I drew on the rear spar, now visible through the holes.

The rest of the wing is fine...there's absolutely no forward sweep, and there doesn't appear to be any twist in the wings, or -- if there is -- it appears to be the same on both. And triangulating the wings from a fixed point on the aft fuselage leads EXACTLY the same measurement to the tips of both wings. Great!

So, it seems clear that there's going to have to be a .1 degree difference between the left and right wing angle of incidence.

My question? What does that do to the handling of the airplane in the air?

Nerve-wracking, ain't it? I spent two hours tonight just measuring, measuring some more, comparing, measuring some more, and measuring some more before I gave up for the night.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

When good plans go bad

A group of vintage aircraft pilots were promoting a new IMAX movie the best way possible -- by taking members of the media for a ride around Washington DC today.

Then one flipped on landing and the upcoming movie wasn't the story anymore.

A Washington Post reporter was on board the plane.

NPR's Talk of the Nation host Neal Conan was on another plane, but was not hurt.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Fun with electrons

As you probably know, I'm a big fan of the Vertical Power system going in my RV-7A. It's essentially a computer that runs my electrical system, giving me all sorts of flexibility and cool new features with every software upgrade.

And therein, I have to admit, lies one of the disadvantages of the VP-50. Screw up the software upgrade, and you no longer have an electrical system. This, of course, is not a long-term problem for me because I'm not going to flying for more than a year, but if I were flying and I had tried a software upgrade, as I did on Saturday, I'd be grounded right now.

After reading the VP-50 release notes for the latest upgrade (which included the lights wig-wag figure, I was a little skittish about the prospect. First, you have to download the java environment file and install it on the C drive, which is OK unless you're trying to do this with a work computer with restricted permissions. Then you have to download the software installer and put it in the C drive and then you download the software upgrade.

That's all well and good but the lack of flexibility with regard to drive locations screamed "be careful!" And so did the cable I had to make to communicate with the computer, because it had a serial connection.

Nobody's computer has a serial port anymore, so I had to buy a ridiculously expensive ($35) cable to make the connection. And because the kid at work who administers the computer system doesn't give me permissions (pssst! It's my son), I lugged the desktop PC over on Saturday.

Saturday is a really stupid time to do a software upgrade, because there's nobody at the other end of a phone to help you out if things don't go well.

And things did not go well.

First, it took me quite awhile to get the installation program to recognize which com port the cable was using, but when it finally did, it connected fine with the VP-50, which flashed its pretty red light and reported "software upgrading" .

Everything was going swimmingly until the upgrade program reported it couldn't access a flash boot, or something -- whatever that is, and there's nothing to tell you what that is. But the instructions are pretty clear: Don't turn off the power during an upgrade.

But, at 8 p.m. on a Saturday night, I couldn't keep my master switch on all weekend, so eventually off it had to go. And when starting it back up, it reported "software fail." My electrical system was gone.

Sunday was another day and this time I figured a laptop might be more successful, so I went and bought one at Best Buy ($400, I really didn't need to buy a propeller this year, I guess) and tried getting that to work, but all of the error messages are the same.

My pals at VP are trying to work through this, and thank goodness I'm doing business with a company with terrific customer service. We're trying to determine first whether the cable is talking to the VP-50 unit. But it talked for at least a little while when it said, "Erase me."

In the meantime, I'm relieving the stress by inserting the close-tolerance bolts in the left wing. That's not working, either.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Lights! Lights! Lights!

Today, N614EF got her landing and taxi lights. It's been a good day of work at ye olde hangar and -- again -- thanks to Vertical Power, it was a simple process.

First, I ran wires to the right wing, attached it to the right taxi light, configured the Vertical Power VP-50 and...

Now, this wing is going to have to come off, but I didn't put any connectors at the wing root. Instead, I just left extra wire coiled, so I've eliminated a point of failure. Why does it have to come off? Because this is the famous edge-distance-screwup wing and I've still got to set the angle of incidence on it, and I also have to run some wires for the TruTrak autopilot, which is in this wing.

The left wing, on the other hand, is ready to be attached for good (one hopes), and so RV builder and pal Brad Benson stopped by to help lift it into position. The temporary bolts went in by hand and fairly easily. I'm hoping that's a good thing.

With the wing on, I ran the wire from the VP-50, spliced it into a wire coming from the wing, configured the VP-50 for the left landing light, and....

You'll probably have to take my word for it that both lights are on in this picture. I got wet to get it; it's raining in Minnesota today.

Incidentally, I ran out of 10 amp circuits on the VP-50, so I took the flaps motor off the VP and will put it on a regular electrical buss with a fuse. I don't need a backup system for flaps; I can land and take off without them if need be.

Now as soon as I get the software updated in the VP-50, I'll configure it and -- voila! -- I'll have wig-wagging wing lights without needing any additional wiring, switches, or relays. That's the advantage of the Vertical Power system. I wonder what need things will come in the future?

One note, the new fuel line came out great and the distance from the fuse to the attachment fitting on the fuel tank was perfect -- 3 1/2" from the rubber grommet (please note that: That measurement is from the grommet, not the fuselage skin). I know a lot of people are always looking for this measurement, so there you go. No charge.

I'm a little concerned about the right wing line. It seemed a hair short, but maybe I can get an extra 1/32" or so by messing around carefully with the line inside the fuselage. We'll see.

A little courtesy, please

Pilots, this is not the way your airplane should be oriented when you pull it out of the hangar, jump in, and fire it up -- at least not if there's an open hangar nearby.

As you can probably tell, I'm in a race against time here. Thankfully, I noticed the plane's strobes going as I was working on my RV project, with plans and other easily-blown-away items on the wings. I got it closed just as the engine fired up.

A few weeks ago, a huge turbo-prop amphibian, probably visiting nearby Wipaire, decided to use the ramp next to the hangars not only to start his plane, but do the run-up too, all the way blowing hurricane-force winds straight into my hangar. A box with an EFIS in it was among the items blown off a table.

Come on, people! A little courtesy please. Straighten out your plane and take a look around!
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