Friday, December 16, 2016

The last flight

More than a month after agreeing to selling ye olde RV-7A -- N614EF -- I finally saw an opening to ferry it over to its new owner, Chris Moseley of Grand Rapids, MI.

It wasn't particularly emotional because I've had a month to get over it, and I was happy to be done with the frustration of trying to find a period where the lake-effect snow of Michigan, and the regular old sucky winter of Minnesota would ease enough ferry it.

It was -12 in Minnesota when I left yesterday morning; I'd never flown the RV in that sort of weather, so it was fun "expanding the envelope" a bit. I was a walking sleeping bag when I finally strapped myself in and launched.

I circled the field a few times, prepared to return if I heard anything resembling a stumble (Reiff preheater had the oil temp at 109 when I started her. Great product!).

As usual, I picked up flight following from Mpls but noticed something. I'm pretty much deaf now but the controllers still seemed garbled; the engine seemed louder.

It was awhile before I realized, the batteries in my Zulu 2 were dying. I could get the ANR to work by turning it back on, but it wouldn't last long. So after being handed off to Mpls Center, then Chicago, then Rockford, I'd turn it on when I heard my N number called.

Seeing a "heavy" take off from Rockford beneath me was awesome.

The cold was not . -18 at altitude. I broke out the handwarmers when the fingers started tingling after Rockford cut me loose, not even offering the frequency to try to negotiate with Chicago approach.

No matter, I wouldn't have been able to understand them anyway.

I headed for my usual turn at Joliet, a steady stream of Southwest 737s in front of me. I descended to 3500.

The single muff heater in the RV was doing its part, which surprised me, but I needed to get some batteries, so I landed in Valpairaiso, borrowed the crew car, and headed to WalMart, while they topped off the tanks. Can't deliver empty fuel tanks to a new owner.

That also gave me time to come up with a strategy for getting through the snow lines I could see to the north.

I launched out of KVPZ and headed southeast of South Bend, which was reporting IFR, because Goshen was reporting VFR and, indeed, they were in the sunshine.

It was just a matter of hop-scotching from one airport to another based on their ATIS broadcasts, swinging east of Battle Creek (the farther I could get from the lake, the better).

There were only a few moments when visibility was quite poor but I realized the construction of these bands of light snow and there was blue sky above.

I contacted Grand Rapids approach 20 miles out; I was almost there.

"The field just went IFR", they said. So I circled. And circled, and finally just landed at 9D9, which was hard to find since it was covered with white.

I found the nice little terminal after wading through four foot high drifts. "I can sleep here tonight and just start the plane every hour," I thought.

But Chris called and said the conditions looked good at the field. So I launched again.

"The field just went IFR again," approach said. So I circled some more but a few minutes later approach said, "proceed direct to Grand Rapids, contact tower."

I saw an opening to punch through the squall and found the field (it's hard to find airports when there's snow all over the place) and landed...and felt the plane pulling to the right. More rudder...rudder...rudder! And the plane pulled to the right so more. I could feel it skidding but by the time I thought, I'm going to end up in the snowbank, I was slow enough to coax her back.

The closing was uneventful, I grabbed a Southwest flight (A2 in the Southwest queue at Grand Rapids, A1 at Midway. With drink tickets!!!), and was hope by 11 p.m.

It was the perfect last flight.

Here's the final remembrance of N614EF I wrote for my day job.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

When the time comes to part with what we hold dear

I can't remember a time when I didn't refer to N614EF as her.

From the moment the preview plans arrived in 2001, she was always her.

"Touch it once per day," Van's builder support expert advised me early on. Except I didn't touch it. I touched her.

And when she finally flew, I'd greet her every time I walked in the hangar with, "How you doing, baby?"  And before I turned off the lights and locked the door, she always got a goodbye kiss.

She treated me well and now that I'm in the process of selling her, I feel I have failed her somehow.

We had a thing, she and I. She took care of me. I took care of her.

She kept her end of the bargain. Other than those first flights in the test area when she choked on something stuck in her #3 nozzle, she never missed a beat. I'd talk to her on those long trips to New England to see my mom. She'd talk right back.

I don't  know -- yet -- who's going to buy her. Someone is coming to look this weekend.  We'll go over the usual things people go over when they sell airplanes, I suppose. And if things work out, maybe I'll ask the only question I really want to ask:  Will you love her? Cherish her? Take care of her from this day forward?

It's an important question, because right now it feels like the last guy who said he would is forsaking her.

An aside:  My colleagues at work left a card on my desk on Monday. I guess they knew that the coming moment is a painful one, a sympathetic one. Because they signed it.

In the innards of my plane, there are signatures of the people who worked on her. Some have messages. All have autographs. They meant an awful lot to me.

And now these autographs do to.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

RV-7A For Sale

It appears that my Meniere's Disease, which I've been fighting for several years and which has led me to several skirmishes with the FAA, has now jumped to the good ear, meaning there's no way I can safely be expected to pilot an airplane.

I know what you're thinking: Hold out until the medical certification process is dropped next year. The AOPA and EAA fought a good fight to convince Congress that we can be trusted to self certify ourselves. Now is not the time to cheat the system and ruin it for everybody. That's not what being a professional pilot is about.

And so, it's time to say goodbye to the greatest little plane a person could ever hope to have.

You can patrol the blog here and see all the various stories about the birth and subsequent flying life of N614EF, but suffice it to say if you've thought about buying a dependable airplane that will return your love many times over, she's the one for you.

Here's a rough outline of her:

* VFR platform
* IO-360 M1B engine (via Mattituck)with Sensenich FP prop (the plumbing is installed for a conversion to constant speed).
* One Lightspeed EI, one mag (rebuilt in '16)
* 325 hours TT
* Tip-up canopy
* Tri gear
* Beautifully polished and maintained with paint via Midwest Aircraft Refinishing (Hibbing, MN)
* The panel:  Dynon D-100 EFIS with Angle of Attack indicator, GRT EIS 4000 engine monitor, backup Altimeter and Airspeed indicator, Garmin 296 GPS which feeds data to the Dynon and also a TruTrak single axis autopilot, Garmin 327 transponder,  Icom A210 nav radio, VP-50 solid state power management with auxiliary fuse block, backup Electronic Instrument fuel indicator (I get fuel info usually from the EIS),  PS Engineering 1000II intercom with recording playback, Artex 406 ELT., APRS tracking system (You would need a ham radio technician's license to operate legally), Whelen comet flash lights and strobe, wig-wag taxi/landing lights (upgraded to Whelen from Duckworks two years ago)


* Stall speed with flaps: 48 knots. No flaps: 51 knots
* Flying low (2500' feet or so), I cruise around 140 knots (161 mph) at about 7.3 gph (leaned out)
* Cross country at about 5500' (it's taken a few flights to New England), I cruise around 143 knots (true) at < 7 gph, 2450 rpm fully lean of peak. * Currently using a 5:1 mixture of mogas:avgas. Engine burns cleaner and, certainly cheaper. * Empty weight, 1121 pounds.

More pictures:

Asking price:  $84,900

Contact:  Bob Collins, 651-470-6371
               Email preferred for first contact:

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

A final salute to Bob Hoover

I wrote the following for my day job. For most of the day when Bob Hoover died, it was the only news site in America reporting on Bob Hoover and, last time I checked, it's the only news site in America where people can share their stories about Hoover. And they did. And they're great. Check the comments section here. There's something you don't hear every day.


(October 25, 2016)

One of the greatest pilots in the history of aviation died this morning, according to reports.

Bob Hoover, a World War II fighter pilot, a former Air Force test pilot, and the chase plane pilot for Chuck Yeager when he broke the sound barrier for the first time, was 94.

A lot of the greatest pilots who ever lived will tell you that Hoover was the greatest pilot who ever lived.

Sabreliner-60 with R.A. "Bob" Hoover over Edwards dry lake bed, shot with GoPro's from Cory Lovell on Vimeo.

Having been shot down over Nice, France during his 59th mission in World War II, Hoover spent 16 months as a POW, spending much of the time in solitary confinement as punishment for two dozen escape attempts. Finally, he succeeded just before the end of the war by stealing a German fighter.

Had he remained at the POW camp a few days longer, the Allies likely would have reached him. But now he faced possible extinction at the hands of any friendly pilot who would presume his Focke Wulf was manned by the enemy.

Hoover said he hugged a cloud ceiling at about 4,000 feet, figuring he would duck up into it if he was spotted by any Allied aircraft. He planned on flying west until he saw signs of Allied territory. “I wanted to see windmills to be sure,” he explained. That would signal friendly Holland.

By the time he reached Holland, Hoover said, “My gas tank was registering close to zero.” He chose to land while he still had full control of the fighter, and selected an open field. Hoover dropped the fighter’s landing gear and settled in.

A ditch suddenly loomed ahead, and Hoover said he did not want to end up trapped in a German fighter on its back, where the Allies might not realize an American was inside. He said he “just reached down and sucked up the gear” to get the fighter to stop before tipping into the ditch.

Hoover said he wondered, “What the heck are you going to do now?” He didn’t have to wait long. “All of a sudden pitchforks came at me from every direction,” Hoover said. Dutch farmers who spoke no English were understandably angry with the man who emerged from the German fighter.

Providence intervened in the form of a British Army truck approaching. Hoover queried the truck’s occupants: “I hope you can help me. I’m a Yank; they think I’m a Kraut!” With perfect British aplomb, the soldiers whisked Hoover to safety.

Hoover said he did not consider his actions in escaping to be heroic. “I was no hero. I didn’t do anything but be stupid,” he chuckled. Hoover said, “It’s a stupid story. For about a year and a half I wouldn’t tell anyone that story.” But word got out years later at an air show, and Hoover acknowledged his feat, albeit with disarming self-criticism.

A few years ago, the Federal Aviation Administration tried to ground Hoover, saying he was too old to fly.

“Possibly in the entire history of the conduct of the airman medical certification program, no one decision has created more controversy,” federal air surgeon Jon L. Jordan wrote later.

Aviators throughout the world shrieked with outrage until the FAA relented. Many of them had seen his famous air show act, which he performed with both engines on his plane turned off.

In 2012, a pilot in a P-51 ran out of options when his landing gear malfunctioned. He'd tried everything to deploy it but nothing worked.

Officials tracked down Hoover by telephone, then patched him in to the pilot of the stricken pilot.

“Boot enough rudder there at landing gear down speeds, get a side load on it, it would force it out and into the locked position,” Hoover said. “I’ve been there, I’ve done that a couple of times.”

Jeanes, on the phone from Dallas to Hoover in Los Angeles, encouraged Gardner to keep trying the maneuvers over Mobile Bay. “Just slip it, skid it, yaw it, whatever you have to do to get some air under the door.”

It worked. The landing gear deployed and the pilot landed the P-51 safely.

In 2010, Hoover delivered the Charles Lindbergh lecture at the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum.

With his death, it's safe to say the nation will likely never hear first-hand stories like this again.

Years before I learned how to fly, I remember we were driving back East -- probably 1992 -- and as my wife drove I was reading the Star Tribune account of the big Oshkosh air show, which I'd never attended. I recall reading aloud to her the description of Bob Hoover's performance, in which he shut off both engines to his plane and then spent the next -- I don't know -- what seemed like 10 or 15 minutes flying close to the ground, pulling up, rolling, diving, and eventually landing and rolling to a stop exactly at show center.

It is the first and only time in my life I've read a dispatch in a newspaper, or anywhere else, and couldn't believe the wonder of it all. I was like a kid from 50 years earlier, reading about the exploits of larger-than-life people like Lindbergh.

In a 2010 tribute in Smithsonian's Air & Space Magazine, air show pilot Debbie Gary provided a more accurate description:

The first time I saw Bob Hoover fly I was a new show pilot standing next to the great Curtis Pitts and hoping for words of wisdom. It was March 1972, and Pitts and I were watching the airplane he created perform at Miami’s Tamiami Airport. The sky was a frenzy of tiny Pitts Specials panting through snap rolls and outside loops. It was noisy, and Pitts said nothing during the performance. Even after the airplanes landed and Hoover taxied out, Pitts was quiet—until Hoover, on takeoff, rolled the twin-engine Shrike Commander. It was as graceful and fluid as a cat stretching its back. The show tempo shifted from salsa to whipped cream. Pitts turned and grinned at me. “Have you ever seen anything so smooth?” he asked.

For the next 20 minutes, we watched North American Rockwell’s big, beautiful cross-country transport flow through giant loops and vertical climbs, four-point rolls and half Cuban eights. Two engines roared, then only one, but the airplane kept dancing. When the second engine stopped, the roar became a glider’s whoosh. The airplane swept past in a deadstick loop, followed by an eight-point roll, then waltzed down to the landing: LEFT two-three, RIGHT two-three, LEFT two-three—the wings banked steeply as one tire kissed the runway, skated, rolled, then lifted as the wings banked the other way, and that wheel skated, rolled…. “Now that’s flying,” Pitts said to me as Hoover, still without power, maneuvered up the runway and onto the taxiway, stopped precisely at show center, then climbed out in his business suit and waved his straw hat at the cheering crowd.

Hoover once demonstrated how to pour iced tea while he rolled his airplane, spilling not a drop and inspiring other aviators to try the same thing with varying results.

“We lost a true, one-of-a-kind aviation hero today," Jack Pelton, the CEO of EAA said today. "We all knew of Bob’s incredible aviation career and witnessed his unmatched flying skills. It was Bob Hoover as a person that also made him legendary. He was a true gentleman and unfailingly gracious and generous, as well as a good friend of EAA through the years. We can only hope to use his lifelong example as a pilot and a person as a standard for all of us to achieve.”

"Bob Hoover brought great richness to the aviation experience, and he leaves behind a legacy of heroic caring and sharing with the general aviation community," Mark Baker, the president of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, said. "The first time I met Bob, I was seated next to him at an aviation event, my 8-year-old son by my side. Bob both spoke and listened to his aviation dreams. He offered encouragement and some great stories. And though my son is long since grown, neither he nor I have ever forgotten that an aviation legend gave a child who dreamed of flying his full attention and encouraged him to dream even bigger. Bob Hoover was so much more than a great pilot. He was a great man and a model for what our community can and should be."

In his 94 years, Hoover met Orville Wright, Eddie Rickenbacker, Charles Lindbergh, Jimmy Doolittle, Chuck Yeager, Jacqueline Cochran, and Neil Armstrong, spanning the golden age of flight.

His plane resides in the Smithsonian's Air and Space museum.

Related: Bob Hoover: A Calm Voice In The Face Of Disaster (Airport Journals)

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Welcome to Minnesota! Now go away!

You must have to be a patient and forgiving sort to live near Roseau, on Minnesota's northern border. People there have to put up with things we non-border people take for granted. The freedom to move around America, for example.

It took an around-the-country trip by a California teacher to tell me something about my adopted state that I didn't know. There's an airport in Minnesota on which a runway spans two countries, surrounded by some unwelcoming feds.

For the last few weeks, Scott Chastain has been writing installments in his travelogue of last month's journey, during which he flew his homebuilt airplane -- an RV-8 -- around America, dropping in at small airports to discover the sort of wonders that mostly small towns possess. He eschewed hotels and depended on the kindness of people.

"What do you have in Solon Springs?" he asked a resident of that northwest Wisconsin town.

"We have a Dairy Queen," the man replied.

Lesson: People are proud of what they have in their towns, as well they should be.

Along his journey, he encountered plenty of kindness, flying without any sort of plan of where he'd end up on any day.

And then he made it to Minnesota.

"There wasn't a whole lot underneath me but marshland, lakes, and tundra as far as the eye could see," he writes.

He wanted to land at Piney Pinecreek Border Airport, which is shared by Piney, Manitoba, and Pinecreek, Minn.

The airport once resided entirely within the United States, but when the runway needed extending, it could go only go across the 49th parallel.

When Chastain visited, his string of welcoming encounters around America ended.

"It was like something out of a dystopian novel," he said on Van's Air Force.

I was wiping down the Dove, enjoying the beautiful greenery and the rolled-up hay bales, when suddenly an SUV with U.S. Customs markings pulled up. Leaving the engine running, an officer stepped out wearing combat fatigues and body armor.

He was a young guy. He didn't look happy. In fact, he looked pretty stone-faced and too serious for his own good. I looked at his uniform. Stitched over his heart was the name, Miller.

“Good morning!” I greeted him. I was in a great mood. Then that guy showed up.

“Where are you coming in from?” he asked me. He looked at me like he was about to reach for his gun.

“Duluth,” I told him.

“Well, we don’t open until nine o’clock. Why didn't you announce yourself coming in?”

I told him that I did announce myself. I told him that I announced myself 5 miles out, then on the 45-entry for runway 15. Didn't he hear me?

Then he told me that I should have called ahead on the phone to let him know that I was coming. He repeated to me that the airport wasn't open until nine-o’clock, and that I should have called him before landing.

“Yes, sir,” was all I could say. I felt like I was on the verge of being ordered to lie face-down on the pavement with my hands behind my head or something.

Then officer Miller told me, “Look. You see those tanks right there?” He was pointing at the fuel farm. I told him that, yes, I saw them. “Well if you walk past those, you’re in Canada, and you’re gonna be in trouble. Then if you try to walk back, you’re gonna be in even more trouble. You can use the restroom and get fuel if you need it, but stay on this side of the tanks. Got it?”
The reality and law is that Chastain was free to fly into the airport at any time he wanted. He's an American, traveling on American soil. He didn't need permission to use the restroom. He didn't need permission to land. He didn't need permission to buy fuel.

While the Customs office only opens at 9 a.m., Chastain wasn't crossing a border (he would have if he'd traveled farther down the runway). Chastain was free to move about America.

“Okay, thanks,” I said. “Have a great day.” He didn’t reply. He just got into his SUV and drove off. That’s when I decided to use the restroom and get out of there before he changed his mind again and came back to arrest me, for God knew what.

I quickly climbed back into the plane and strapped in. It was clear that I was unwelcome and I could not wait to get out of there. Why in the world was there a rotating beacon and a lighted runway if you could only land there at certain times of the day?

I cranked the Dove over and rolled forward. As I was taxiing out, I saw the SUV racing toward the tarmac again. It was 9:00. There was a Piper coming in on final, and I waited for him to clear the runway before I back-taxied to runway 33. I didn't waste any time blasting out of there. As I pulled the Dove back around and headed for Roseau, I looked down and saw Miller walking up to the Piper. A family was getting out of the plane, and I felt sorry for them.
In the rest of Minnesota, we have a freedom of movement we take for granted. Along Minnesota's northern border, the law-abiding are suspect.

I apologized to Chastain for the attitude my state showed him. But it was all good, he said. His next stop was Roseau, and he got to tour the Polaris plant.

Welcome to America.

If you have time to kill today, there are few better ways to spend it than reading his travelogue, which starts here.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Exploring the #3 cylinder

Come with us now as we explore the mysteries of the cylinder!

As I mentioned earlier, I was a little non-plussed that the compression in the #3 cylinder had fallen to 71/80, when it was 79/80 or so in January.

I couldn't find any reason for it. I didn't hear any air escaping during test, although I don't have very good hearing and I was kind of busy holding the prop under pressure to keep it from spinning.

So I bought a boroscope, the one Kevin Horton recommended on Van's Air Force -- the Vividia VA-400, which I think is a pretty nice piece of equipment for $149.

Last evening I had a look. Here, go on a 12-minute tour if you can stay awake.

As I was playing with the thing, my pal, Mike Hilger -- you probably know him from SteinAir -- stopped by. Mike is an A&P and looked at things and said things looked OK. We did note some carbon buildup, but he suggested flying for another 10 hours and checking the compression again because it's not unusual for these sorts of things to disappear.

Fine. I buttoned things up.

I posted the video -- a much shakier video -- on Facebook and another A&P (at least I think he's an A&P) said "pull that jug and fix the the broken ring."

What broken ring?

I don't know what a broken ring looks like but apparently he sees something there that others don't.

So I'm looking for analysis from other people who know what to look for.

For the record, I've noticed no increase in oil consumption.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Checking oil

I flew back to visit my mother in Massachusetts last week, which put about 15 hours on the tachometer (I don't have a Hobbs meter) and put my oil change slightly over schedule at 55 hours.

So over the weekend I changed the oil and filter and tested out the new oil filter cutter I bought at Oshkosh.

It's a horribly messy process but eventually I cut the paper out of the filter to examine.

Here's what I saw. See those two flecks? There are about four of them total. I'm not convinced they didn't come off my workbench when I rolled out the paper on a paper towel and stared separating each fold to inspect with a magnifying glass and magnet.

The magnet didn't pick anything up.

I also pulled out the new compression tester and found the #3 cylinder at 71/80, which is pretty pathetic seeing as how it was 79/80 six months ago at the annual condition inspection.

However, it's possibly I'm doing this wrong. My friend, Brad,is going to bring is equipment over some evening this week and we'll try it again.

I can't say the engine has been running rough but I've never been convinced the #3 is entirely healthy, so we'll see. I did notice that as I dialed up the air regulator on the compression tester, the right gauge wasn't moving until the pressure at the regulator went to about 30 and then it snapped up. I wonder if that might be indicative of a stuck exhaust valve and the pressure popped it closed?

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

A flight across America

I just got back from taking my RV-7A up to my hometown for the third time and I never fail to return without marveling at the capability of the machine.

I also never fail to marvel at the changing topography of the country as you go from the upper Midwest to the northeast. I think that because it's so populated, people think New England is wall-to-wall people. I'm here to tell you there are a lot of forests in New England and it doesn't take a flatlander pilot long to think, "Holy crap! If I lose my engine now I've got problems."

Here's a video of my return flight.

You have a lot of time to think on a 1,034 mile flight. For one thing, I wish I'd put in the full DigiFlight II two-axis autopilot instead of the DigiTrak single-axis one. I leave the navigating to the autopilot, but I have to continually adjust altitude and, the RV-7 being a twitchy kind of plane, it's a workload to stay level, even with a manual trim. I thought of this as I realized on the trip that I don't spend a lot of time looking at the sites below. I spend a lot of time holding altitude and monitoring engine systems.

But it would've cost me another $1,500 or so and that's money I didn't have then and don't have now.

The other takeaway from the trip is my hometown's insistence on making the same decisions that have gotten it into its predicament as a declining mill town. It got some federal money so it's building a nice new terminal building. The old one was cramped but it had an airport restaurant and people all over New England flew in for breakfast. I presume they might've even bought some gas even though the price there has always been unreasonable to me.

They're not going to allow the restaurant to open in the new building, which will be mostly empty. There'll be some vending machines, I'm told.

So fewer people will come, fewer people will buy gas and the glitzy new building won't make the pilots who do come notice the weeds on the ramp and the cracks in the taxiway. If you own a nose-gear RV, you best taxi slowly.

When I arrived yesterday morning to leave, the place was locked up tight. It was 7:30 a.m. on a weekday. So I hopped a construction fence after throwing my computers, luggage, and headphones over.

I didn't pay the $30 in parking fees for the time I was there because there was no one to take money. Maybe I'll send it to them.

Monday, July 11, 2016

60 seconds over the St. Croix

Every summer, the recreations of the Nina and Pinta, two of the planes in Cristopher Columbus' arsenal, sail up the Mississippi and St. Croix River to Hudson, Wis. Why, I do not know but it seemed like a good chance to take a look from the air.

They're small. Really small. So small they're not that interesting from the air.

But RV-7A's are.

Switch to HD settings are you'll miss the darn ships.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Hello, down there!

I think more than anything else, the best part about flying is picking out a rural airport on the sectional map, and then flying there just to see who's there. So this evening I flew to Boyceville, WI., (3T3) about 45 air miles from South St. Paul. It was a beautiful evening for a flight, and I picked up Mpls Approach on the way to help navigate around parachutists in Baldwin.

And, surprise, there was a plane in the pattern at this airport with a postage stamp-size-wide runway. A man was giving his grandson rides in a Cessna 150.

There's no taxiway there so he said he'd go ahead and land. Originally he was going to leave the pattern and let me in, which is typical Wisconsin small-airport hospitality, I've found. But I waved him on in and he landed then pulled off into the grass and invited me to come on down. He said later that he wanted to sit with his grandson and watch me land.

I landed and then we both turned and back-taxied to the hangar area where I got out to stretch my legs.

Greg was his name and he really liked my airplane.

He showed me his airplane, which was a doll, too, and pointed out the tires, which showed no tread.

"I flew it all last summer," he said. "I teach and I had a young man from Alaska here wanting to earn as many ratings as he could."

The student earned his private pilot license, went back to Alaska (Wasilla, for the record) and is a checkride away from having his instrument rating.

He said he bought his plane from his son, who works for Compass Airlines. I said that's a well-worn route to the major airlines and told him about several friends who've gone that way, as if I was telling him something he didn't already know.

He knew.

"Want to see my last flight" and he pulled out his iPhone and showed me a picture of a globe with a big line. He had flown a few days ago from Detroit to Shanghai on a route that took him directly over the North Pole.

He's a captain for Delta, flying 747s internationally.

He showed me his pictures of the North Pole ice sheet and told me about flying that route, on which his only emergency runway would've been Norway, which you wouldn't think would be sort of on the way to Shanghai by way of the North Pole, but then again we think of the world in up, down, left, right directions.

He said he was surprised to find that enroute and very near the exact North Pole, there's a base of some sort. "I think it's the Brits," he guessed.

"Could you land there?" I asked, wondering just how long a runway has to be to handle a 747.

"I could if I had to," he said of the 9,000 foot runway he saw.

He pointed out something else in the photos he took. From the vantage point of the front seat of a 747, he saw the curvature of the earth.

"Imagine how few who've ever walked this planet have seen any of this?" I said, repeating what my RV flying pal, Brad, had said to me as we climbed above some scattered clouds on the way home from Oshkosh a few years ago.

I've been talking to people I didn't know for years as part of my day job (I found "Radar O'Reilly" in a Denver McDonald's some years ago) and it never disappoints me.

The conversation was fascinating and we made plans to get together at some point this summer so he could also enjoy the view from an RV-7A. I've never flown a 747, but he's never flown an RV-7A, he said.

As for the grandson, he was unimpressed, refusing all offers to sit in my plane, or even look at it.

"I like my grandfather's plane better," he said. Seven-year-olds don't yet realize yet that an airplane can't sense betrayal.

I walked back to the spurned machine for the ride into a setting sun.

"Next time you come," the kid said, "I'm still not going to sit in your plane."

"Fair enough, kid," I thought to myself. "You can never go wrong with grandpa anyway."

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Pilots rally to provide a lift to a Kenyan man with a dream

When last we heard of Gabriel Nderitu, whom we first heard about here, the man from Kenya with a dream to fly had tried to coax his homebuilt airplane into the sky for a 14th time. And for a 14th time, he got a close up look at terra firma.

That was last summer and he's been earthbound since. He's a magnificent man minus a flying machine.

It's not for lack of passion, nor lack of trying. Like many things in Kenya, it's for lack of resources.

"Would somebody please help this man... before he hurts himself?" a Wisconsin pilot posted last summer on an aviation bulletin board.

And people did, a testament to the beauty of the Internet, and the willingness of people to be people.

As it happened, another member of the forum, run by Oshkosh's Experimental Aircraft Association, is Matthew Long, who also lives in Kenya but had never met Nderitu. He offered to organize a drive to collect as much knowledge about homebuilt aircraft (people around here seem to know a thing or two about the subject) and somehow get it into Nderitu's hands.

"With a per-capita income of about $1,400 in Kenya vs. about $55,000 in the USA, most people in Kenya are accessing the internet via cheap phones and pay-by-the-MB cellular plans so they are just able to skim the surface, not really dive in. So for Gabriel and most of the rest of the world, the information access that we take for granted just isn't there," Long said.

It's taken almost six months of effort, but pilots donated books about aerodynamics and airplane construction to Nderitu, who, while an educated man (he's in the information technology field), didn't actually understand enough about why airplanes fly.

One Twin Cities pilot sent almost a dozen books on gliders and instructions on building planes to Long. The EAA donated the books "Practical Lightplane Design and Construction for the Amateur", EAA Gas Welding, and EAA Sheet Metal Building Basics books. Some airplane-themed T-shirts and hats were included; inspiration has to look the part.

All that was left was for Long, who lives in Nairobi, to find Nderitu, who doesn't.

Last Saturday, however, Nderitu and Long connected.


I am pleased to say that, while it took some time for many reasons, I was finally able to connect with Gabriel Nderitu yesterday and pass on to him the Fly Baby plans and patch, EAA hat and t-shirt, many books and welding DVD that everyone had sent. Thanks to Kim, Ron, Pete and Charlie (for EAA) for the generous donations.

Gabriel has gotten his self-designed aircraft down to 130 kg (287 lb) empty without the engine, so it's still too heavy to fly with the engine he now has, which is a Hirth F33. He has a wooden prop cut down to size for him by Tennessee Props as well as an Ultraprop, so he is happy with his powerplant but is considering redesigning his plane for partial fabric covering to shed weight.

Talking with Gabriel I found an aviation enthusiast with quite a bit of knowledge but also handicapped by a lack of resources and others to bounce around ideas with. I will keep in touch with him and encourage him to join this and other groups that might be able to help.

Cheers from Nairobi!

Maybe Gabriel will achieve his dream of flight someday, maybe not. Many of his neighbors watch his attempts and laugh at his folly. But he now has the knowledge to build a plane at his fingertips, courtesy of two brothers from Dayton who heard similar laughter, and present-day pilots who know how to make it stop.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

The winter of our content

This has been, you might have, heard an unusual winter. The grey and clouds of November have hung around for most of the winter in the Upper Midwest. Even when it's been clear enough to fly, it's been unusually choppy.

Today was different. I was supposed to give my pal, Fareed Guyout, a ride up to St. Cloud today for the big Trivia Weekend at KVSC, but his boy is sick and so that got scrubbed. Since I'd already plugged in the nifty Reiff Preheating System, the oil was sitting at 100 degrees on a day when it was -15C. It seemed like a waste of good electricity.

So I took it down to Lake Pepin to see what the ice house people were up to today. It was gorgeous day to fly.

Be sure to select HD.

Friday, January 1, 2016

Fixing the leaky RV-7A tank

A few years ago I had a leaking rivet on the underside of the left fuel tank on the RV-7A and Doug Weiler of the Twin Cities Builder's Group suggested some ProSeal and a closed rivet. It worked great.

For the last couple of years, I've had two nagging rivets on the top of the tank which, when the tank is full and pressurized, emits just enough fuel (and it's not much) to put some streaks in my nicely polished plane.

This was one of the tasks to put off until annual and this week I started on the annual condition inspection, vowing that this one would be the most complete yet.

So I took the tank off . I didn't have to; it easily could be repaired without doing so, but the underside of a polished fuel tank and inboard wing gets beaten up, so this would also make it easier for me to polish it up on the underside while working at the workbench. I'll probably do the other side too ... polishing, I mean, there are no leaks on that side.

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