Thursday, May 31, 2012

The end of 'elephant man'

You may recall, in this post, I fretted about the "elephant man" nature of my RV project. The canopy-to-front-skin mismatch was ugly and as I approach first flight, I became increasingly concerned that it not only was embarrassing, it could impact the flight characteristics of the plane.

So for the last week, I've been building up the top skin to match the canopy skin or, as I like to call it, "plastic surgery."

I think we can go flying now.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Still building

They say the completion of an RV airplane brings with it a certain "builder's withdrawal," and why not? You've spent 11 years in a routine of dividing time between an airplane and a family and suddenly it's done!

So, yesterday, I cleaned up the garage (oh, that's where that part went to!), and fixed a vacuum cleaner and chainsaw. But Carolie was working last night and there I was with nothing to fiddle with. So I went to the hangar and determined that the gap between the top skin and the canopy frame (I originally wrote about it here) should be fixed before first flight. Once it departs KSGS for its 40-hour flight test period, I won't be able to do anything about it and, frankly, I'm slightly concerned the size of the gap will influence flight characteristics.

So I went to the hobby store and picked up some balsa wood (a thin piece of plastic foam turned out to be lousy for sanding and I wasn't sure fiberglass would bond to it) and cut it into 3" pieces to close the gap.

Then I mixed up a small batch of epoxy and glued them in place, using a combination of bucking bars (why do I need those, anyway?), popsicle sticks, and duct tape to keep enough pressure on them to bond them into place.

I'll add another layer (a couple of pieces in the middle where the gap is most pronounced) and then sand them into a nice (I hope) fairing, and then add one or two layers of very thin fiberglass and then sand it to a nice transition.

Although I like the workability of the aluminum on the plane, I've really enjoyed messing around with fiberglass. I'm not expert in the art -- not by a long shot -- but it's fun to experiment with the things you can do with it and it's light, relatively inexpensive and the closest you'll ever get to being a plastic surgeon.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Step One: Build. Step Two: Certify (check)

Getting the airworthiness certificate for the airplane I've been building for 11 years was nice. But hearing FAA Designated Airworthiness Inspector Tim Mahoney, right, say, "you're a real detail-oriented person," and "I wish every airplane I inspected was this good," and "you did a really great job on this airplane" was about as good as it gets. I'd like to dedicate this moment to Mr. Provenzano, who flunked me in shop in junior high school. Hey, Provenzano: I built a frickin' airplane.

I'm putting the plane back together and adding a few more "hidden signatures" in remaining locations.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

NTSB holding hearing on experimental safety

The National Transportation Safety Board is holding a hearing today on experimental aircraft. I'll post the archived video here later for future generations, but they've just reached the point where NTSB chair Deborah Hersman is talking about the number of hours it takes to build an experimental airplane.

"There's this other market we looked at ... used EAB aircraft," she said, wondering if the motivation of the buy is different than the motivation of the builder.

The "expert" testifying -- I don't have his name handy -- didn't have an answer although he guessed people who buy used experimentals are more "cost oriented."

"If they're spending this much time building, they're probably not able to spend that much time flying," Hersman noted, referring to the builders. "Are they flying regularly?"

"That was certainly a comment we got in the builder community, that here you had people who had people heavily invested in building the airplane and they likely had not been flying as much and a lot of the guidance that they offer with respect to transition training ... and there's guidance in the FAA material -- invest as much in your currency as your aircraft."

"Are they doing that?" Hersman asked.

"We didn't ask that directly," he responded.

There's a tendency among the pilot community to hate any talk like this -- government and all -- but this is an entirely appropriate topic, one that far too many people in experimental aviation have ignored. I don't think the government is going to mandate better -- or any transition training -- but insurance companies are already doing it. In my case, they won't provide flight insurance unless there's five hours of transition training.

In today's hearing, it was pointed out that the Van's airplanes are the predominant model, and that the majority of the accidents are takeoffs and landings, mostly because pilots were surprised by the pitch of the aircraft (the Lancair was cited here).

So this week I started transition training and I've rarely flown better. I also know that I need more than five hours. I spent 1.8 hours in Tom Berge's RV-7A yesterday morning, and another 1.5 hours last evening, mostly on takeoffs and landings. I can be better than I am, and we haven't really done much stall practice and we haven't done engine-out work yet.

There's a tendency to count the number of hours and subtract by 5, but, really, doesn't it make sense to invest $70,000 in an airplane project, not to mention 11 years of building time, and start cutting corners here?

Of course not, but let's face it: we do. Experimentals crash mostly for one reason -- pilot skill. I can't think of a better investment I'm making in my airplane project this week -- not engine, not avionics, not nice stuff inside -- than the money I'm putting between my ears.

(update) Here are the recommendations to the FAA. If history is any guide, the FAA will put them in a drawer somewhere:

Revise 14 Code of Federal Regulations 21.193, Federal Aviation Administration Order 8130.2G, and related guidance or regulations, as necessary, to define aircraft fuel system functional test procedures, and require applicants for an airworthiness certificate for a powered experimental, operating amateur-built aircraft to conduct that test and submit a report of the results for Federal Aviation Administration acceptance.

Revise 14 Code of Federal Regulations 21.193 and related guidance or regulation, as necessary, to require applicants for an airworthiness certificate for experimental, operating amateur-built aircraft to submit for Federal Aviation Administration acceptance a flight test plan that will (1) ensure the aircraft has been adequately tested and has been determined to be safe to fly within the aircraft's flight envelope, and (2) produce flight test data to develop an accurate and complete aircraft flight manual and to establish emergency procedures and make a copy of this flight test plan part of the aircraft's certification file.
Identify and apply incentives to encourage owners, builders, and pilots of experimental amateur-built aircraft to complete flight test training, such as that available in the Experimental Aircraft Association's Test Flying and Developing Pilot Operating Handbook, prior to conducting flight tests of experimental amateur-built aircraft.

Revise Federal Aviation Administration Order 8130.2G, and related guidance and regulations, as necessary, to clarify those circumstances in which a second qualified pilot could be authorized to assist in the performance of flight tests when specified in the flight test plan and Phase I operating limitations.

Revise Federal Aviation Administration Order 8130.2G and related guidance or regulations, as necessary, to require the review and acceptance of the completed test plan documents and aircraft flight manual (or its equivalent) that documents the aircraft's performance data and operating envelope, and that establishes emergency procedures, prior to the issuance of Phase II operating limitations.

Revise Federal Aviation Administration Advisory Circular 90-89A, Amateur-Built Aircraft and Ultralight Flight Testing Handbook, to include guidance for the use of recorded flight data for the purposes of flight testing and maintaining continued airworthiness of experimental aircraft.

Revise Federal Aviation Administration Order 8130.2G and related guidance, as necessary, to include provisions for the use of electronic data recordings from electronic flight displays, engine instruments, or other recording devices in support of Phase I flight testing of experimental amateur-built aircraft to document the aircraft performance data and operating envelope and develop an accurate and complete aircraft flight manual.

Develop and publish an advisory circular, or similar guidance, for the issuance of a Letter of Deviation Authority to conduct flight instruction in an experimental aircraft, to include sample documentation and exemplar training materials.

Complete planned action to create a coalition of kit manufacturers, type clubs, and pilot and owner groups and (1) develop transition training resources and (2) identify and apply incentives to encourage both builders of experimental amateur built aircraft and purchasers of used experimental amateur-built aircraft to complete the training that is developed.

Revise 14 Code of Federal Regulations 47.31 and related guidance or regulations, as necessary, to require the review and acceptance of aircraft operating limitations and supporting documentation as a condition of registration or re-registration of an experimental amateur-built aircraft.

Revise Federal Aviation Administration Order 8130.2G, and related guidance or regulations, as necessary, to include provisions for modifying the operating limitations of aircraft previously certificated as experimental, operating amateur–built, such as returning the aircraft to Phase I flight testing, as necessary, to address identified safety concerns or to correct deficiencies in the aircraft flight manual or equivalent documents.

Revise the Civil Aircraft Registry database to include a means of identifying aircraft manufacturer, make, model, and series-such as the aircraft make, model, and series classification developed by the CAST/ICAO Common Taxonomy Team-that unambiguously identifies the aircraft kit or plans design as well as the builder of the aircraft.

To the Experimental Aircraft Association:

Identify and apply incentives to encourage owners, builders, and pilots of experimental amateur-built aircraft to complete training, such as that available in the Experimental Aircraft Association's Test Flying and Developing Pilot Operating Handbook, prior to conducting flight tests of experimental amateur-built aircraft.

Work with your membership, aircraft kit manufacturers, and avionics manufacturers to develop standards for the recording of data in electronic flight displays, engine instruments, or other recording devices to be used in support of flight tests or continued airworthiness of experimental amateur-built aircraft.

Create and publish a repository of voluntarily provided information regarding holders of Letters of Deviation Authority to conduct flight instruction in experimental aircraft.

Complete planned action to create a coalition of kit manufacturers, type clubs, and pilot and owner groups and (1) develop transition training resources and (2) identify and apply incentives to encourage both builders of experimental amateur-built aircraft and purchasers of used experimental amateur-built aircraft to complete the training that is developed.

Patrick goes skydiving

If I were younger, I'd probably jump out of airplanes. I may jump out of an airplane, yet. But my youngest son, Patrick, has me beat by 33 years.

While I was flying around in a marvelous RV-7A -- transition training for the upcoming first flight of N614EF -- Patrick was pursuing his own aviation exploits.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Magneto problems solved


We finally got it figured out.

The timing pin from AS arrived today so back to the problem I went. I had already determined yesterday -- using the paper clip method -- that the mag was generating a spark on the #1 tower. So I sparked it and then backed it back to insert the timing pin (I don't know if it made any difference but in previous insertions of the pin last Sunday, we didn't trip the the impulse coupling).

I had already used the the Rite System kit I bought a few weeks ago to find TDC and backed the prop back to 25 degrees TDC (all plugs removed), then carefully reinserted the magneto and clamped it down. The amazing Brad Benson helped time it, and we reinstalled all plugs and reconnected the ignition wires (after determining that the #1 sparked via the ignition wires to eliminate them as a cause of our woes).

Mike Hilger, who had just done by transponder check, joined us and we rolled it out and started.

I tend to think flooding the engine on Sunday was a source of a lot of our problems so I returned to the Mattituck method and she started right up. No kickback.

I brought the Lightspeed online but with the plane wanting to move -- the brakes having not been broken in yet -- I didn't like the orientation of the plane relative to a nearby hangar so shut it down without checking RPM etc.

We straightened things out and I restarted on the mag and everything looked good. I brought the Lightspeed online and then killed the mag -- and the engine started to stop. ARE YOU FREAKIN' KIDDING ME?

Have I just exchanged one problem for another??? Criminy!

Multiple retries, resetting the circuit breaker. Nothing.

At Brad's ingenious suggested. We took the Lightspeed ignition wires off and checked the phase. Now, we'd just this a couple of weeks ago and when we rocked the prop at TDC of the #1 cylinder, we got a nice spark arcing on the 1/2 coils.... and 180 degrees later, we got an arc on the 3/4 coils.

As we moved the prop to TDC on the #1 cylinder tonight, however, we got an arc -- on the cube for the 3/4 cylinders. What the heck? How could this be. We not only got a proper spark when we did this a couple of weeks ago, we actually started the engine on the electronic ignition. How could this be?

Answer? We don't know. But we just swapped the ignition wires on the lightspeed to the opposite cubes and it started up fine on the mag, the Lightspeed was brought on line the mag was taken offline and she kept on purring.

So now we were back to where we were when we first detected our problems a couple of weeks ago -- about to break in the brakes and check the static RPM.

I wasn't happy with how the brakes were working but -- surprise -- I taxied up to the ramp at KSGS at 1700 RPM dragging the brakes and they then started working fine.

I turned the plane around on the taxiway and then tested the other thing that we wanted to do when we started this process -- the RPM. I'd swapped out a larger throttle arm on the Precision Silverhawk with a 2" throttle arm. It worked beautifully.

Almost fully pulled back, it idled around 550 RPM. Then I gave it the gun on the taxiway and about halfway in (or so it seemed), I was at 2150-2200 RPM. I considered that good enough so I pulled power, taxied back to the hangar and shut it down.

The thing is: I don't know EXACTLY what we did to solve this problem other than just start over again. It seemed to me there wasn't really anything we did that we hadn't done before, but maybe just starting over was the way to go.

Many thanks to Brad and Mike and Tom Berge and the gang on Van's Air Force for their help.

I think we can go ahead and call the DAR now.

The first solo

I think watching videos of kids making their first solo flight is a great way to be reminded to get out to the airport more often.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Fun with magnetos

Many years ago, when a lawnmower died on me, I bought the Briggs and Stratton service manual, some tools, and opened up the engine, determined to get it running on my own, even though I know almost nothing about mechanics.

Hours later, I finishing reassembling it, except for the O-ring or two that was left over. I proudly said to my wife, "look at me; I fixed the lawnmower," gave it a pull only to have the engine make a loud bang and fill the garage with smoke.

I rolled it to the end of the driveway, put a "free" sign on it and by the next morning, my troubles were over; someone had taken it.

That was the last time I've disassembled any part of an engine.

Until yesterday, when I took a magneto off the airplane's engine.

I'm learning -- very, very slowly -- the ins and outs of magnetos. I had an RPM problem on the TMX IO-360 and it was suggested that the mag timing was off.

A pal, using the buzz box, set the mag timing, but when we tried to fire it up on Wednesday night, the prop whirred a time or two, then hung up briefly -- apparently this is a sign of a kickback about to happen. I had whirred it a few times with the mag off with no problem.

So, it was suggested, the mag needed to be internally timed. The mag was off the engine once -- when I was trying to get access to put the AN fitting on the oil port for the cooler lines -- and I probably wasn't very careful putting it back on ... or at least as careful as I needed to be.

What's odd is that I don't remember this occurring on first start last September and it only seems to have been a problem in the few times I've started the engine this spring. (It sat all winter)

Anyway, I took the mag off yesterday and took the distributor cap off and played around a little bit. I don't have a timing pin -- I've ordered one -- but just using an LP-4 pop rivet, I turned the rotor until it dropped in. This is the orientation it got on the impulse coupling assembly. It does not appear to be anywhere near the point at which the impulse coupling begins to wind and I was under the assumption that the timing pin assures that it is.

Another question: I notice in this excellent article it says that the mag should be reinstalled like so:

First, remove the top spark plugs from all of the cylinders. Then, turn the propeller in the normal direction of rotation with your thumb over the spark plug hole on the No. 1 cylinder. When the air pressure on the No. 1 cylinder starts to build up and tries to blow your thumb off the hole, slowly continue to turn the prop until the timing mark listed on the engine data plate lines up exactly with the split line on the top of the crankcase for Lycoming engines or the split line on the bottom of the crankcase for Continental engines. Typically, Lycoming engine timing marks are located on the starter ring gear and Continental engine timing marks are located on the propeller flange.

I've been led to believe the proper spot is when the 25 degree mark on the flange is lined up with the reference hole on the starter. Which is it?

Any additional education you can contribute would be most appreciated.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

On Denny Fitch

Denny Fitch should be widely heralded as one of the greatest aviators who ever lived.. He died of brain cancer on Monday and although he was part of one of the greatest feats in the history of aviation, relatively few people recognized the name. He was one of the pilots of the DC-10 that crashed in Sioux City in 1989, after pilots reported they lost all hydraulics (including all of the controls to steer and control the plane) as it approached Minnesota airspace.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

The logbook's voice from the past

I pulled my logbook out at the hangar yesterday to show a person interested in learning how to fly what he could expect. That's when I realized I took my checkride without having flown for a month. I don't know why it took me 14 years to fully understand why I flew so crappy (and it was spring with lots of thermals; the time of the year I hate flying) that day. Upon landing, I told the examiner, "I'd fully understand if you'd like to get out and kiss the ground before I taxi back in."

Of course, that memory set me to finding out whatever happened to that cursed airplane (that's right, I'm blaming the airplane). I found this picture of it on Airport-Data.

Somehow, it ended up in Arizona and I believe it is no more as I notice the N-number was just reassigned to another aircraft two weeks ago.

I didn't pass the checkride in the plane and it's affected how I approach flying ever since. Underneath a pink slip, is a lifetime of doubt about whether I'm actually a good pilot. There's a benefit to that; you spend a lifetime working to convince yourself that you are.

A lot painful memories came back after reading through that logbook. As I returned home that day, Carolie and the kids had made a huge sign that said, "Congratulations."

They looked at me quizzically as I drove into the driveway. I made a "thumbs down" gesture. I remember, distinctly, Sean -- my oldest son -- dropping the part of the sign he was holding, saying, "I'm out of here," and running.

I've often thought I'd like to go back in time and have another crack at preparing for that checkride. But the more I think about the post-checkride, the more I think I'd like to go back and take another crack at being a father.

Friday, May 4, 2012

NOW, will you please buy this plane?

Boy, was I ever wrong a year ago when I was trying to sell the RV-7A project and I speculated that it only needed "30 hours or so" to be flying.

I've put up 550 hours into it since then, as people said "finish it and then sell it; it'll fetch more money." They were probably right. I never got an offer on the project except from the idiots who troll Planet RV and try to pick up projects for practically nothing.

But now, the project is finished, and there's almost nothing left for a buyer to do except flight test it. First, though, you'll have to time the engine mag and the Lightspeed. I tried, but walked away from it this week when I realized that I'm just not smart enough to do work in the engine compartment on an ongoing basis. My pal, Brad Benson, timed the mag and LS for me so it's just awaiting an inspection (also just installed a replacement ELT battery).

Anyway, it's all done. The wheel pants have been finished (not cosmetically, though) and the leg fairings fitted. The paperwork was submitted for an airworthiness certificate and it may yet get an inspection prior to sale. It's already registered and even the sales tax has been paid on it. Everything that I was going to do on the plane before flying it has been done.

In the last few months, finishing this thing up, I've spent a lot of money, but in the process realized that I can't really afford this thing on an ongoing basis, as much as I'd like to be able to. And the stress of trying to balance a declining economy and an increasing expense and time suck is worth letting it go. I wanted to build a plane. I built a plane.

Again, here's the specs:

Engine: Mattituck TMX IO-360 - vertical updraft (New: $24,000)
Configured for fixed-pitch prop but plumbed for constant speed. New Sensenich FP installed. ($2600)
Plane Power 60 amp internally regulated alternator
One mag, one Lighspeed electronic ignition.

--VFR instrument panel
- Dynon D100
- Vertical Power VP-50 (Video: Learn more)
- Grand Rapids EIS 400 engine monitor
- ICOM A210 radio (antenna installed on belly)
- PS Engineering 1000II intercom
- Garmin 327 transponder (antenna installed on belly)
- 406 mhZ ELT (antenna on top)
- GPS antenna located under coal to a portable GPS panel adapter (Garmin 296 not included)
- TruTrak wing leveler - servo in right wing
- Backup altimeter and airspeed indicator installed and plumbed
-- Hooker Harness 5-point belts
- New Vetterman exhaust
-- False floors with soundproofing. Firewall soundproofed.
-- Fire extinguisher installed
-- Cowling primed.
-- Flightline Interior interior
-- Tip-up canopy
-- Empty weight: 1118. Full weight and balance report available.
-- Whelen strobe/nav
-- Wheelpants, leg fairings, intersection fairings fitted. Surface not prepped for paint.
-- Manual trim
-- Fully placarded
-- Dual brakes
-- Matco nosegear upgrade installed

No tools are included.

A complete building log with pictures can be found here. It's a big file. It doesn't include work I've done in the last 10 days.

$80,000 gets you a nice plane and gets me out of debt.

Serious buyers only, please. No tire kickers. Contact me

A father/son RV trip

The only thing that would make this a better video is dumping the country music (g).

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Jonesing for Oshkosh

Now, who wants to be on my daily talk show at EAA?

Formation flying

I don't have the same awesome love for formation flying by RVs that a lot of people have. But, viewed from a different perspective, this could change.

By the way, when he pulls up next to the red and white RV, that appears to be James Clark's airplane. He's a terrific guy and I mentioned him in this old RV Builder's Hotline.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

RV accident reports

I used to do this feature back when I was publishing the RV Builder's Hotline. You can learn a lot about safety by reading accident reports, which is why it's too bad that the most popular RV site doesn't allow any mention of accidents. They happen.


Gerrardstown, WV
-- On April 16, 2012, about 1520 eastern daylight time, an experimental amateur-built Van's Aircraft RV-7A, N5025G, was substantially damaged during a forced landing to an agricultural field in Gerrardstown, West Virginia. The certificated commercial pilot was not injured. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed. No flight plan had been filed for the local flight, which originated at Eastern West Virginia Regional Airport/Shepherd Field (MRB), Martinsburg, West Virginia. The personal flight was conducted under the provisions of 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91.

According to the pilot, shortly after departing MRB, the Mazda 13B rotary engine's coolant temperature began to rise. As the pilot turned the airplane back toward the airport, the engine seized, and would not turn over during an attempted restart. The pilot advised MRB control tower personnel that he would have to land in a field, which included recently-planted apple trees. The pilot was able to land on a flat portion of the field; however, during the landing rollout, the airplane encountered a ditch that caught the nose wheel, and the airplane nosed over.
(NTSB file)


Fort Drum, Florida -- This week the NTSB reported on an RV-4 that lost all power 30 feet above the ground last July in Fort Drum. It could not conclude if it was fuel starvation because the pilot said he removed all fuel to facilitate recovery of the plane. (NTSB file)

Quinton, VA.
- An RV-7A nose gear collapsed on landing and flipped. Probable cause: Fuel starvation. (NTSB file)

Share |