Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Why can't RV builders deal with accidents?

First, I love Van's Air Force. It provides a great service to the RV building community, but the recent crash of an RV-6 provides a typical example of what happens when an RV airplane crashes.

It follows a pattern:

1. Someone posts about an accident.
2. Someone speculates about the cause.
3. Someone says it's disrespectful to the family to discuss the crash.
4. A moderator closes the thread.

It happened with this thread today.

Let's be honest here: For the most part, families don't read Van's Air Force. And this isn't about respect for families. We're afraid to talk about crashes. Period.

This is unique to the aviation community. You don't see the same reaction to car crashes or crimes, for that matter. Only with airplane crashes.

What are we really so afraid of?

Like it or not, this happened, and the discussion surrounding accidents can refocus our building efforts on safety. You don't need a bureaucrats report to do that.

If we're grown up enough to build and fly airplanes, we should be grown up enough to talk about the occasional crash.

The case of the weepy rivet

I've been working on polishing the plane for the last few weeks and have been working on the most difficult part, especially for someone who gets dizzy when flat on my back looking up and back: the underside of the left wing.

I completed the outer half of the bottom of the wing last night and found this when I was ready to move on to the next section...

What with the accompanying wind-swept blue streaks, RV veterans will recognize that immediately -- as I did -- as a fuel tank leak around a rivet. It's not uncommon, but it's disappointing nonetheless, especially since I used a lot of ProSeal (the sealer) on that tank -- almost an entire can, or twice as much as what most people use.

The rivet is along a rib line which just happens to be below the fuel cap opening in the tank, which at least allows me to peer inside and see if anything looks out of whack.


That brown spot on the top of the stiffner certainly leads me to believe that something is going on there, but I'm not yet sure what. It's not where the weeping rivet is. The weeping rivet is on a rib line. Also equally perplexing is the color around the rivet head -- brown. Avgas is blue.

So what's next? First, of course, I need to drain the tank and I'm going to try to fix this without taking the tank off the wing. Then I'll poke around at that brown crud to try to figure out what it is and then I'll poke at that rivet head that's actually weeping to see if the ProSeal has broken down there.

I'd like to think throwing some more ProSeal on there (after attempting to cut out, perhaps with an Exacto knife duct-taped to a dowel) would solve the problem. But it's possible the route the fuel is taking is actually coming from the other side of the rib, which is not accessible.

There is the possible fix of using LocTite around the manufactured head and hope it "wicks" up into the area and block fuel, but I would think this is somewhat problematic given gravity and all. I could apply a slight vacuum, but this is a dangerous task because fuel vapors could ignite at the vacuum cleaner I'd use. Not good.

Alternately, I could remove the tank, cut a large access hole in the back baffle of the fuel tank, get in there and slather all sorts of stuff, and then put a removal plate over that hole and seal it tight. Of course, that introduces new possible points of failure.

I could also just try drilling out that rivet and using a long bucking bar to buck a replacement.

We'll see.

Hey, at least it's gotten me out of polishing for a few days.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Oregon accident

In most accidents involving RVs, I take comfort in being able to figure out a cause and most of the time the cause is pilot judgment. We can and do have control over our aviation fate with constantly refined judgment.

But when it's the aircraft that appears to be the reason for an accident, it is an even more disturbing incident.

Such is the case with the crash of an RV-6 in Oregon, where two men died when the wing apparently separated from the plane.

The Lebanon Express has details here.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Brad's first flight

During the very trying last couple of years of building my RV-7A, I could always count on Brad Benson to stop by to lend a hand or provide a laugh. He has been building his RV6A even longer than I worked on my project. He's risen to the challenge every bit as high as the finest of RV builders. He's a perfectionist and his plane shows it.

So it was a real honor to be on the field -- and then a passenger in Vince Bastiani's chase plane -- for the day his "Satellite of Love" became an airplane.

Well done, Brad!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

By the side of the road

There's no question we were disappointed when final calculations showed we wouldn't have enough daylight to make the long-imagined flight to Massachusetts, so we decided to fly yesterday anyway, and headed off to a lunch by aiming the RV-7A for Rushford.

I've written about the airport before so I won't bother going into great detail other than to reiterate what a fabulous spot it is. We were back taxiing on Runway 16 when Carolie looked around at the fairly barren blufftop locale and declared it an ill-suited replacement for New England.

But, then again, she'd never flown to Rushford before.

"Your twin was just here," the gray-haired greeter said as he strolled out to take a look at the new arrival. Joshua Wyatt, who finished his RV-9A this fall and apparently has completed his Phase I testing, had apparently just departed the airport. We missed him. Rats.

Our new pal was Mike Thern, who manages the joint, accompanied by Amelia, the black lab, who has been suffering from Lyme Disease of late, but hobbled out on the two legs available to do a proper job of greeting the city slickers.

We tied down the plane, Mike gave us the courtesy car and we headed down the gravel roads and canyons to Lanesboro.

I can't tell you the name of the cafe/restaurant we found by the side of the road amid cornfields and the whirring of a grain elevator because I'm going to write a blog piece for the day job next week and I don't want anyone to steal the peg -- that it's a 100-year-old icon and its last day of business is Sunday.

But we walked in and were greeted warmly by a few locals. Henry, the piano player, was just leaving but as we got our lunch, he said he'd stay and play a few tunes to accompany our experience.

Vicki, the owner, is selling because her mom does the cooking and announced she's ready to retire. I didn't get to meet mom until I cleared our dishes -- after a splendid meal -- and walked them back to the kitchen where I also met Rob, who is a route driver for Schwann's. He volunteers at the place washing dishes and he was just finishing a giant stack, indicating that business in town is pretty good.

The old people in the town are pretty bummed out by losing the place and Vicki says if you want to buy it and reopen it, you better like old people. And you should be interested in providing healthy food. There isn't a deep-fat fryer in the place.

Vicki arrived here five years ago from Fort Lauderdale. Her mom already was working as a cook in a much smaller room at the side-of-the-road location. Vicki had designs on heading to Iowa, for no particular reason other than Iowa sounded like a land of some opportunity. But she ended up buying the building and fixing it up -- actually having it fixed up by volunteers in exchange for hot meals.

For all of the accurately-deserved reputation for icy coldness that Minnesotans have, the people couldn't have been more of a contradiction. And that apparently is the way the place runs. Henry the piano player became a regular because he let it slip that he played piano one day when he was having lunch. A couple from Decorah, Iowa revealed that they sing once and knew a little Norwegian song. So they were encouraged to sing it to the assembled. And when they finished the Norwegian national anthem, Vicki says, there were tears and a request to sing it again. And so, they did.

Though the place is closing on Sunday, it will still open up for the annual Christmas show. Vicki says she'll play her usual part as the person who carries the star. She doesn't have any other talent, she reports. She was, of course, wrong.

When we left, we realized -- again -- that the airplane really is a magic carpet to exotic places and inviting people.

Oh, by the way, we filled the courtesy car full of gas. We found it half-empty, which probably means people have used it and brought it back, not contributing to the upkeep of wonderful places like Rushford. Let's all be better at that in the future!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Trip East: Part one -- closed airports and open questions

For as long as I was building the RV-7A, I've thought about making the trip back to New England -- the triumphant return of building prowess to the land where my family referred to me growing up as "The Scotch Tape Kid."

I've been working -- hard -- over the last two weeks to prepare, spending countless hours planning just the right route -- the old-fashioned way: with charts and books and rulers and calculators (above) -- buying an oxygen system for high-altitude travel, arranging refueling accommodations and hangar accommodations at KFIT (Fitchburg, Ma.), the eventual destination.

The plan was to stop tomorrow afternoon (at sunset) at KAQW (North Adams, Ma.) to visit with Carolie's mother and drop her off for a few days of mother-daughter fun, then fly the next day to KFIT.

I was nervous a few days ago when I saw a NOTAM that KAQW intended to close the only runway it has today, but figured they were probably filling cracks in the pavement, just as my home base of KSGS (South St. Paul, MN) was doing a few weeks ago. Although I've kept a ridiculous amount of attention glued to weather for the last week, I didn't add 2 + 2 until last evening. It was supposed to rain/snow there today and, yep, when I checked the NOTAM, the closure was moved to Wednesday until 5 p.m., a half hour after sunset and about a half hour after our planned time of arrival. Rats.

I'm hoping the airport manager there is as flexible as the one in South St. Paul. For people who needed to come in, he'd move the equipment off the runway and let them land. But, alas, when I called this morning, I got only a voicemail. If he doesn't call back, I think the trip is off.

There are options. I could land at Bennington, VT, 11 miles northeast and get a car. But the Bennington airport looks even more tucked into the mountains than North Adams is. I could land at Pittsfield, 20 miles south, but one runway there is closed, too, and I don't have a locking mechanism on the airplane and I'm not sure I want to leave it out in the open there. Plus, driving to Pittsfield is a major pain in the neck.

The rest of the trip is skillfully planned. It involves flying (relatively) direct to Joliet, IL., turning east to pass south of South Bend with a fuel stop at Napoleon, Ohio, just south of Toledo. The person who runs the FBO there will provide transportation to get into town for a bite to eat.

The plan was to pull the plane out of the hangar at KSGS around 7, and be in the air by 7:30, which puts us in Napoleon around 11 a.m. (local time). That gives us at least an hour and a half to exhale (I've never flown around Chicago airspace) and launch by 1 p.m., or so, which puts us over the GRAVES waypoint on approach to North Adams by 4:20.

Except, the airport is closed.

I don't have much choice today but to continue packing and inspecting the plane as if we are flying tomorrow. We'll see.

Update - I've decided to scrap plans for the trip. When I was doing some last-minute flight planning, I noticed we're not going to get the tailwinds necessary to allow a long-enough fuel/lunch stop in Ohio and still get in the air in time to avoid darkness over the mountains. I don't want to be rushing across the country. We'll try this in the late winter or spring.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Chip Yates' timeless voice

I think one of the most enjoyable interviews I did at Oshkosh this year was Chip Yates, who broke a record by flying is battery powered plane at 200 mph, even though it wanted to blow up. He seems like a great guy you'd want to buy a beer for.

Here's the interview I did.

He let us know this weekend that EAA has now provided an interview with him as part of its Timeless Voices series.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Beware the things you don't expect

This video is making the rounds today. A pilot's wife was filming her husband's landing in Roanoke, Texas when an SUV (it's always an SUV!) pulled out on what appears to be a taxiway or perimeter road and the plane's landing gear hits the SUV.

View more videos at:

There are plenty of problems to go around here. First, of course, is the SUV driver, for whom no further words are necessary.

But the pilot is also to blame here. It's not enough that his approach was too low, especially considering the fence at the beginning of the runway. But it also exposes one of the problems that pilots are taught -- keep your touchdown point in your windshield to determine whether you're too high or too low.

That doesn't mean "and don't look anywhere else." Our head should be on a swivel at all times, including the landing phase. There really is no reason a pilot should be surprised when an SUV pulls onto the edge of a runway. You've got to be aware of the entire situation.

That's especially true, considering the AFD carries this warning:


An accident like this happened a few years ago in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. A woman driving a Volvo was clipped by the landing gear of a landing airplane. She was on the public road, the pilot was, obviously, landing with two low of an approach. Officials installed a stop sign.

End of an era at Oshkosh

A sad day indeed for fans of AirVenture history.

The EAA Radio building...

... has been wiped off the grounds.

The lower image appeared on EAA Radio's Facebook page today.

No word yet on any new location for the outstanding group of volunteers who provide a great service for fans of Oshkosh

Friday, November 2, 2012

Let's see you do that in an airplane!

This is such a great video. A couple of guys flying a helicopter, one of whom appears to be smoking or just likes flying with an unlit cigarette -- spot a kid who's lost his model airplane in trees. No problem. They've got a helicopter.

Not suitable for the workplace.

Also, nice neighborhood!
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