Thursday, January 21, 2021

Now Available on Amazon!

Details available at this link, or just click the picture below.

The Van's RV-12 is an extremely popular airplane for a number of reasons. It is economical but also offers great performance with a high climb rate, a cruising speed on par with airplanes like the venerable Cessna 172, and is equipped with modern high-tech avionics. It's handling qualities are light and enjoyable for short flights around the local area, but it is also a very capable cross country machine, especially when equipped with a two-axis autopilot.

So what's the catch? Well, that's a matter of opinion. The Van's RV-12 is a kit plane, which means that it comes from the Van's factory as a kit to be built by the buyer. People that aren't interested in building an RV-12 can either buy a fully-assembled one from the factory, or buy one used. I chose to build mine.

This book tells the story of the three years that I spent building my RV-12. It shares the good, the bad, and the ultimate joy of having built it and the equal joy of finally getting to fly it. I wrote this book for the person that I was before I assembled my kit. I knew that I wanted to build a kit, but I didn't know if I was capable of doing it. I didn't know what kind of skills it would require, and I didn't know if I had the skills to do it.

This book is a story of the ups and downs, the highs and lows, and ultimately the immense satisfaction of having finished it. Along the way I learned what I was capable of, what I was incapable of, and I made some great new friends. I learned about tools that I had never heard of, and I learned how to use them.

In short, this is the story of how building my airplane changed my life.

Sunday, April 28, 2019

The Ultimate Flight Sim - My Day as a B-2 Bomber Pilot

 Wikipedia Commons

Through a series of events and personal relationships that aren’t unique or interesting enough to detail here, it transpired that I found myself at Whiteman AFB one fine morning, waiting with almost childlike anticipation for my turn to get some seat time in a B-2 ‘Spirit’ Stealth Bomber simulators. This would be one of the very simulators used in the training of actual Air Force Spirit pilots in the exotic and esoteric operations endemic to the amazingly complex process of stealthily, accurately, and hopefully survivably task of delivering bombs, both conventional and nuclear, to their assigned destination. As you can imagine, this is not an activity commonly offered to civilians. In fact, I myself was quite surprised when I received the invitation; I had to read it half a dozen times to make sure it said what it actually said, not what I wanted it to say. Frankly, I still can’t fathom it. The only requirements, and they were very strict on this, was that we leave all personal electronics (phones, FitBits, etc.) behind. There were no non-disclosure requirements or TSA-style detectors, and if we asked a question that they couldn’t answer due to security concerns, they politely deflected them.

Despite my initial disbelief that a civilian would ever be allowed to do something like this, I found myself poised to experience what will surely be one of my top five most memorable days of my life. It will be added to a collection of notable days that include the sunny morning that I first flew the airplane that I had spent three years building, the out-of-the-blue chance to ride in a Huey helicopter, and the day I drove four different Porsches on the factory test track in Leipzig, Germany. Oh, and I are dare not omit the day I was wed and the ensuing birth of my daughter, although those actually fall into a different category. 

This, though…. this was something so unique and completely unexpected, and let’s just come right out and say it, so cool that a lot of people simply won’t believe it. For this they can be forgiven for the simple fact that I didn’t believe it either. You can buy a ride in a Huey, You can buy the Porsche test track experience. There is no price assigned to being invited onto an Air Force base to fly an exact replica of a front line, nuclear-capable stealth bomber because it cannot be purchased. As a measure of the value of this offer, consider that it was a nine hour drive and it rained every hour of that, both going and returning, and I would do it again tomorrow if the opportunity arose. 

Our group had a two hour window for the use of the sim, and as I was in the ‘friends’ column of the ‘family and friends’ chart, I was to ‘fly’ last. I was waiting in the sim control center and I was able to see the out-the-window view and the screens that make up the majority of the instrument panel as the family members took their turns, but was really interesting was talking about the technology with the civilian factory rep that is responsible for the upkeep of the simulators. The sim is lot like airline-level sims in that it is an entirely enclosed pod perched atop a collection of massive hydraulic pistons. 

There are five servers, each supporting a different aspect of airplane operation. Some run on a Linux platform, and at least one is hosted by Windows 10. The software is kept in sync with updates to the airplane systems and flight models; it’s a twenty year old airplane, so there have likely been quite a few changes. As changes propagate through the fleet one at a time, there are periods during which not all of the fleet are identical. When this happens, the individual simulators also diverge until the fleet is again homogeneous.

Awesome stuff for a guy that has been passionate about  PC-based flight simulators since the release of the T80-FS1 Flight Simulator from subLOGIC in 1980. It cost $25 in 1980 dollars, which is equivalent to $75 in contemporaneous dollars. That program eventually became the venerable Microsoft Flight Simulator, and I had every new version of that as well. 

The state of the art these days is almost immeasurable as compared to the early days - $75 will buy you an extremely accurate PC-based simulation of modern airplanes like the F-18 Hornet, the AV-8B Harrier II, or the Top Gun star, the awesome F-14 Tomcat. As I was looking at the B-2 sim's options for throwing system failures, just about any type of weather conditions imaginable, and all kinds of emergency situations, I didn't see very much that I can't configure in most of my PC-based sims. 

The best of the bunch is DCS World and, inconceivably*, it is a free download. It comes with a high-fidelity P-51, but you have to buy any additional planes and helicopters you want, all of which are worth every penny. They are predominantly military planes ranging from WWII fighters to modern jet fighters. There are also a handful of helicopters and one general aviation plane. New planes are routinely added. Hint: wait for sales - they happen a few times a year.

These can all be flown in Virtual Reality, which adds an entirely new level of immersion that you just don't get with a flat screen - the VR experience blocks your peripheral vision which allows your eyes to be the sole contributor to your sense of balance. If you really let yourself forget that you’re sitting in a stationary chair, it is quite easy for your eyes to convince you that you are feeling actual banking and pitching movements. It is equally capable of making you airsick. 

With 45 minutes left on the clock (way more than I had hoped for!!), it was my turn to head down to the drawbridge that leads to the cockpit. Normally the drawbridge is raised to allow the pod to move freely, but as civilians we weren’t allowed to use the full motion function for reasons not explicitly given. I personally suspect that it was to avoid a messy clean-up job should one or more of us got airsick. That turned out not to matter all that much anyway, for the reasons mentioned above. The B-2 is a big airplane, but its interior is almost entirely filled with massive fuel tanks, a large void where up to 80 500 lb bombs or a couple of really huge bombs can ride, and four jet engines. The pilots get a space the size of a Ford F-150 cab. There is a large center console supporting a host of boxes festooned with a plethora of knobs, switches and displays, not a single one of which was recognizable for its function. Not that I cared; I wasn’t there to learn the plane, I was there to fly the plane. I only mention the console because it sits in exactly the spot you would want to plant your feet as you crawl into the seat. 

Once I had awkwardly plopped myself into the Pilot’s seat (the one on the left where the person primarily responsible for the flying sits) and my friend had settled into the right side seat (far more gracefully),which is known as the Mission Commander’s seat (the boss of the whole endeavor), I took a few seconds to get a feel for the space. Keeping in mind that these pilots often fly missions lasting over 24 hours, you would think the seats would be well cushioned and as comfortable as possible. You would be, in a word, wrong. I was sitting on an ejection seat and the “cushion” was a tightly packed parachute. It wasn’t quite like sitting on stone, but it was close. Being of slight build and not well endowed with natural cushioning, I cringed at the thought of having to endure that seat for seemingly endless hours in the air. I didn’t spend any more than a few valuable seconds thinking about it as I was almost instantly overwhelmed by the broad spread of screens, instruments, and other indecipherable things spread out in front of me.

My own airplane is flown with a stick (as opposed to the steering wheel-ish yoke you would see in an airliner or a Cessna) so I was instantly comfortable with it. I fly mine with my left hand, though, because my throttle is a single knob emerging from the center of the panel, but the B-2 has the throttles on the left side, just like fighters to. The stick was comfortable in my right hand, and the set of four throttle controls fell naturally under my left hand. I was surprised at how small they were; all four fit comfortably into my hand. If you compare that with the relatively massive throttles of a passenger jet, you will understand the difference. The view out of the windshield (not sure if that’s what the Air Force calls it - it probably has a three letter acronym (TLA) like just about everything else military related) was expansive. I would estimate it as around a 200° arc. As I saw later in the actual airplane, that’s a little less than they have in the actual jet, but there’s not that much reason to look around that far anyway, at least in the sim. 

We were soon ready to go and the operator set us up for the flight operation that I had explicitly requested. My desired flight scenario differed from the more typical requests, which I suspect are more commonly focused on takeoffs and landings. During more than 1,000 logged flight hours, I have done more of those that I could ever count While they wouldn’t have lacked appeal, they came nowhere near what I wanted to try my hand at, something that a civilian is very unlikely to ever do: air-to-air refueling. I have always been fascinated by it, and assumed it to be one of the more difficult skills that the already highly capable pilots must learn. If there was time left after that, though, I did entertain the notion of trying a landing.

We started out about one mile behind the KC-135 tanker, level at 25,000’ altitude and 260 knots. The speed doesn’t really matter, though - it is all about the relative speed between the tanker and the receiver. Before starting the approach to the tanker, I wanted to get a feel for the flying qualities of the bomber. The feel of flying the bomber was what you would expect from an airplane whose mission was almost completely dependent on a very stable platform: ponderous. 

I was not the least bit surprised at the glacially slow response to control inputs, but I was shocked at the relatively high stick forces. My little airplane is flown with very, very little force or movement of the stick - it’s actually primarily controlled by light pressure on the stick rather than large motions. If you were to watch my hand during an entire flight, you would likely not see any movement larger than half an inch, and that would only be for a steepish turn at landing speed. In the B-2, it takes an estimated 10-15 pounds of force to move the stick. Full deflection of the stick to either side gives you a response of… almost nothing. That took a lot of getting used to after years of flying a plane that could do an entire roll in a second or two, if it was stressed for it. 

This was surprising, but not hard to understand. The very mission of the airplane is to be a stable platform. No one wants to spend 24 hours flying a plane that is in need of constant correction. It would be like 24 hours babysitting a precocious and hyperactive three year old. On the other hand, when you have become accustomed to instant response to your control inputs, it is a recipe for disaster to attempt an intricate refueling operation with controls with an endemic, anemic response. More on that soon. But rest assured: there is a TLA for it.

After getting a general idea of the control feel and response, I was ready to approach the tanker. The first step is to slowly approach the tanker from below and behind until you reach a position relative to the tanker called “pre-contact.” This would entail radio contact with the boom operator in the tanker, at which point the operator would drop the refueling boom down to our level. You are very close to the tanker at this point, and the goal is to very slowly begin to move closer to the end of the boom. 

Wikipedia Commons

By ‘slow’ they mean a relative velocity of about one foot per second. This is performed with very small, but very frequent, changes in the throttle positions of the four engine controls. At this point I fully understood why the throttle controls were sized as they were. The idea was to approach in a straight line and any level of asymmetric thrust on the collection of engines could induce some yaw, which would be very unwelcome indeed. Even with the small changes in thrust, there was a commensurate change in altitude. Plane goes faster, plane goes up. Unless, of course, you make quick corrections with the stick. But as we’ve seen, there are no quick responses to be had from the ultra-stable plane. Having made a control input without seeing a response, my autonomous reflex was to move the stick more. By that time, though, the plane had finally gotten around to responding to my first input, so I reacted by shoving the stick forward, resulting in the exact same over control, but in the opposite direction. This all very quickly adds up to a pilot-induced roller coaster simulator. This kind of thing naturally has a TLA - it’s known as PIO, or Pilot Induced Oscillations.

PIO in and of itself can lead to some spectacular failures. Combine it with a flying wing like the B-2, which just like every other wing wants nothing more than to climb, and you are begging for a problem. In my case, that problem ended up in an unwanted climb that went so far as to cause us to collide with the bottom of the tanker. The sim is very, very accurate in what it models, but fortunately it doesn’t model the mid-air explosion of two valuable military assets. It was also quite embarrassing. Best of all, though, we were only a reset button away from starting over and trying again. It was also only the first of two things that I did that would have broken the real airplane, but the other incident is yet to come.

My friend took over and flew us back to the pre-contact position and it was fascinating to see and feel. The left and right side throttles and control stick are tied together, so by lightly resting my hand on the controls I could feel his inputs. The astonishing thing about them was how rapid they were. Neither control stopped moving more than a second at a time. He could see and respond to changes in our movements relative to the tanker that I could not even hope to see. I like to think that the difference was due to the 30 year difference in age, but that’s just an excuse. The raw talent on display was awe inspiring. Again, that’s no surprise. B-2 pilots aren’t selected because they have just average innate abilities, after all. There are fewer B-2 pilots than there are astronauts. 

My second, third, and possibly fourth efforts weren’t as deadly, but I still failed to get into a position that would allow the refueling boom to reach the receptacle back behind the cockpit of the plane. It’s actually pretty far behind the pilot’s location, so at some point it completely disappears from view, unless you accidentally run into it, which I did at one point. You have to maintain the proper position by a combination of using the visual position of things on the tanker such as the perspective of a couple of antennas mounted on the belly of the tanker and two strips of lights, one of which helps you with fore and aft position, and the other which helps with altitude control. When you get to this point, the operation from our point of view became nothing more than flying very tight formation with a four-engine Boeing.

That’s not easy. One challenge is the aforementioned PIO, but with the added complexity of areas of turbulence generated by the tanker. Suffice it to say, twenty minutes or more of this kind of flying results in a pool of sweat, and in my case, a crease in the surface of the parachute from instinctive clenching of certain muscles. It took a few minutes to get a feel for the inputs I would need to maintain the relative position, but there wasn’t nearly enough to become adept at it. I managed to get the boom attached twice, which is actually very, very gratifying, but it turns about that you only have 6 (or was it 9?) feet to get slowed down to the precise speed of the tanker. Both times I got connected, I was only able to stay that way for a few seconds.

That was good enough for me, and by that point we only had a few more minutes to try a landing. Unfortunately, the heading of the tanker was away from the base and we had travelled over 200 miles while I was ham-fisting my way through an operation as delicate as brain surgery. My friend called the operator and had him give us a 200 knot tailwind, but it still wasn’t enough. Just to have something to do, he suggested we do some low altitude flight, his suggestion being 100’ above the ground. This is not the forte of a stealth bomber, though, and to be brutally honest, the graphics down that low were far worse than what I have at home on my PC-based sims. I had a better suggestion.

We were doing 500 knots, so there was plenty of energy to quickly climb up a few thousand feet. After asking for permission, I decided to try a barrel roll. If you aren’t familiar with the term, Wikipedia has this to say:

A barrel roll is an aerial maneuver in which an airplane makes a complete rotation on both its longitudinal and lateral axes, causing it to follow a helical path, approximately maintaining its original direction. It is sometimes described as a "combination of a loop and a roll." The g-force is kept positive (but not constant) on the object throughout the maneuver, commonly between 2–3 g, and no less than 0.5 g. The barrel roll is commonly confused with an aileron roll.

Because Wiki referenced it, this is what they have to say about the aileron roll:

The aileron roll is commonly executed through the application of full aileron in one direction. In some lower powered general aviation and aerobatic training aircraft, prior to applying aileron input, the pilot must begin the maneuver by trading altitude for airspeed (i.e. diving). This helps achieve enough airspeed to complete the roll without losing rudder and aileron control. The minimum airspeed needed depends on the aircraft's design, but is generally about 120 to 200 knots. Because full aileron is applied, structural limitations prevent many aircraft from performing the maneuver at very high speeds.

With the roll rate of the B-2 being accurately described as “glacially slow,” and the very likely chance that it would simply fall out of the sky once inverted, I deemed the barrel roll as the safest choice. And in order to spare you the suspense, here’s what happened: I did it. We made it all the way around, albeit with substantial loss of altitude. At this point I had already experienced something only a handful of other people have ever done. I was satisfied well beyond even my most optimistic hopes. But there were still two minutes on the clock. What to do? Hmmmm.

A loop. I wanted to try a loop. My friend had never heard of anyone completing a loop in the sim, but I was gung-ho to try it. I suspect that it probably has never been tried by an actual pilot - I know that simulator training is treated as being every bit as serious as flying the actual airplane and I doubt that a pilot working towards the responsibility of delivering nuclear weapons cannot afford getting a reputation of being frivolous. Not the case for me - I had precisely nothing to lose.

Having already made a short story long, here’s a brief synopsis of how it went. 

I climbed us back up to 8,000’, put us in a shallow drive to get as much scoot as the bird would take, and pulled the stick about halfway to two-thirds back. I didn’t want to use full back stick in the beginning of the loop because I intuited that I was going to need a lot of altitude to survive the backside of the loop. We went across the top of the loop at a pretty slow speed, but it was enough to get the nose headed back down. I pulled the throttles to idle, but I didn’t think to deploy the speedbrakes.  We actually made it through the loop, but I am pretty sure that it would have over sped and over G’d the airframe. It definitely would have caused a brutal meeting with the Wing Commander. I will never know if the speedbrakes would have alleviated that or not, but it doesn’t matter: I made a loop in a full-fidelity simulation of a B-2 bomber.

If that wasn’t enough (and it sure as h*** was!!), doing that loop also conveyed upon me a minor and short-lived celebrity status with the squadron of B-2 pilots later in the day when they gathered for some drinks and comradery. If someone had told me about all of this back in the early 80’s when I was a lowly airman maintaining the side-looking reconnaissance radar on the infamous SR-71 Blackbird and was in awe of the astronaut-ish pilots, I would never have believed that some day I would be chatting with them as if we were peers.

I hope to never forget that day.

* It does mean what I think it means.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Breaking Down a Barrier

Every pilot has at least one reason to fly. In fact, I would hazard that the majority have more than one reason that they were initially drawn to flying. I know I do.

I get the question a lot from curious folks: "What attracted you to flying?"  Others will answer along the lines of "more efficient travel," "it's my job," or "I read Jonathan Livingston Seagull and I was hooked,"but in the interest of concision I have distilled my response down to a minimalist answer: "I like airplanes."

It's short, sweet, and has the benefit of being utterly honest. I developed a fascination with airplanes when I was six years old. Not "flying," mind you, but "airplanes."  It was part and parcel with an interest in operating machinery.

I recently came across a little book my mother used to keep for each of her children, of which I was the middle of three. I found in that book that when I was five or six years old, my career goals were recorded as "Astronaut" or "Gas station attendant." Honest truth!

Why astronaut??

Ha, kidding. That one is obvious. The thing about the gas station attendant, though, was that even at that age I was smitten with operating equipment. I just wanted to run the gas pump! That career path was, as we all know now, rendered moot soon thereafter. Ironically, I now hate pumping gas.

I provide this snippet of autobiographical data to set the stage for the remainder of this story.

The wife and I are considering buying a winter home in Florida, but one potential drawback of being down south during the inclement months is that it would be difficult to visit my father. I was relating that concern to a friend of mine and was describing the budgeting process I had gone through to determine the monthly airline and rental car costs associated with making visits.

His response was along the lines of "Why would you want to do that??"

While I was trying to understand why visiting my father would be a questionable activity, he said, "Why wouldn't you just fly your plane?"

That left me just as speechless as his first comment. Why? Because the though had never crossed my mind! 

I fly because I like flying the airplane, not because it's (sometimes) a more efficient way to travel. Sure, I make day trips and give lots of rides, but I have never thought of the airplane as a travelling machine.

I decided to give it a try. The friend that woke me to the idea of Ohio-to-Florida happens to live in Florida and has often offered to host me for as long as I want if I ever travel down that way, so I decided that would be the perfect way to introduce myself to long-distance (well, 600nm) flying. 

Given that my longest flight ever, across almost four decades of flying, was a trip to Oshkosh in my RV-6 more than a decade ago, and the furthest I had gone in the RV-12 that replaced the -6 was a 100nm day trip, this was no mean feat to consider.

The thing about about flying any appreciable distance in a small plane is that it is NOT just a collection of 100nm flights taken contiguously; it's not a question of enduring the distance, it's a question of dealing with a potential six (or more) different weather systems. Considering that weather is my personal #1 challenge/fear in flying, this is no small thing to consider.

I have found that a strong tonic for personal trepidation is planning - lot's and lot's of planning. The first decision to make was fuel stops: how many, and where? Deciding the "how many" was the first order of business. I could make three 200nm legs, or two 300nm legs. That's a pretty straightforward napkin-math equation: the most likely fuel burn, as provided in the Van's performance charts, is 4.0 gph at 5,000 rpm and 5,000' density altitude. That does not, however, account for the fuel used for the takeoff, climb, descent, or reserve. At 5,500 rpm, the projected burn rate rises to 5.0 gph.  The projected airspeeds at those values range from 101 - 114 knots (TAS). 

For my planning, I used 100 knots and 6 gph to make the math easier. I also selected these values as a reflection of the conservatism I adopt when faced with the relative unknown. It's not that I don't trust Van's calculations, mind you, it's more that I don't trust myself to do everything correctly and as efficiently as theoretically possible. And, of course, the weather gets a say in that matter too.  Burning six gallons per hour would take 18 of the 20 available gallons for a 300 mile leg, but would leave me with less than the mandated 30 minute reserve, which I conservatively bump to 45 minutes.

The one-stop plan would have to wait until I become more comfortable with this kind of planning/flying.

With the two-stop decision made, I used's fuel planner to find a route: KTZR → KBYL → KCTJ → 2R4.

Most of the rest of the preparation was making sure I brought everything that I thought I might need and adding a couple of alternates for my chosen stops. The last bullet item is Decalin, because it was likely that I would have to use 100LL instead of the Rotax-preferred 93 octane Mogas :

"Pee bottle" was a last minute addition, and took the form of a couple of Travel John packs, just in case the fuel capacity exceeded my bladder capacity.

With the things I can control taken care of, it was then a matter of waiting for the perfect weather, which in this case I defined as "CAVU the whole way."  When that day arrived, I went.

Crossing the Ohio River

The first leg would have been as easy as pie, had I not run into a difficult decision: about 20 minutes out from KBYL, I had to decide whether one of the Travel John packs was going to finally achieve its career goal, or whether the operation would be so constrained by the tight quarters of the RV-12 to the degree that I'd be just as well off waiting.  I chose to wait. About ten minutes later, when the options had dried up (so to speak) and the FBO building was the only recourse, I remembered that it was early on a Sunday morning and the FBO building might be locked.

It wasn't.

One tank emptied, one to be filled

The second leg was notable only for altitude flown (8,500') and a tailwind that ranged from 20 to 35 knots. As happy as I was for the tailwind, I could only wonder how bad it would be as a headwind on the return flight. But that was days away, so I didn't spend too much time thinking about it.  The fueling at West Georgia went easily, and had the benefit of being Mogas. I wish more airports would get it.

Ground speed 146 knots! It peaked at 148.

The third leg would include the arrival into Peter Prince (2R4) which is somewhat complicated by the surfeit of restricted airspace, large MOAs, crazy amounts of student traffic, and an airport sitting in a two-mile diameter notch in the Whiting NAS Class C space. As a final wrinkle, 2R4 has left traffic for runway 36, and right traffic for 18. I would have to be careful in how I managed the landing pattern.

Studying the sectional, I decided that the most conservative approach would be to utilize the channel that runs between the restricted area on the east side and the MOA on the west side and make sure to stay below the 1,400' shelf of the outer ring of the Class C around Whiting.

Once mostly south of the Whiting Class C, I would just have to shoot the two mile wide gap between the inner ring of the Class C and the restricted area. Yes, I could have contacted Pensacola Approach, but local knowledge gleaned from interviews with local residents indicated that I would end up with the same kind of "skirting" approach, but with the additional stress of knowing someone was actually watching.

In the event, the Dynon Skyview, for the umpteenth time, earned its keep.  Just flying the little airplane between the lines was no more difficult that playing a simple game on my iPhone.  It did make me wonder, though, how we were able to do things like this in the pre-GPS era.

I spent a couple of days in Florida, the highlight of which was a trip to Pensacola NAS to watch the Blue Angels practice and to visit the terrific Naval Aviation Museum. As much I love the USAF museum in Dayton, the naval air museum wins hands down: no cordons around the airplanes, and much better lighting.

After just a couple of days there, the weather looked favorable for the return trip, so I decided to head back. Note that by "favorable," I do not mean "perfect."  It was time to add a little bit more challenge, which came in the form of a less-than-perfect forecast for Ohio.

The first two legs were just as easy as those of the trip down to the south, but the last leg from Kentucky to Central Ohio required some decision making. Most of the salient portions of the state of Ohio were reporting VFR, but there were a couple of airports, conveniently directly on my preferred route, that were steadfastly refusing to go from IFR to VFR.

Again, the Skyview was a great enabler. While sitting on the ground in Kentucky, I was able to check the most recent conditions at every airport that mattered, and determined that if my preferred route didn't work, I could detour to the east or west to get past the areas in question.  I hadn't been in flight long before the recalcitrant airports went from IFR to LIFR to Marginal VFR to good-enough VFR. As I flew over the hills of southern Ohio, I had a few minutes where good-enough VFR had me flying at a lower altitude than I would have preferred, but I was still legal in the eyes of the FAA and made comfortable by the fact that I could see well into the distance. It wasn't pretty, but it didn't need to be.

The final tally was 5.5 flying hours down, and 6.1 coming back. I got back faster than I had thought I would: not only did I fly a 600nm trip for the first time ever, I also had another notable happening: I had tailwinds BOTH WAYS!

Monday, April 24, 2017

Working for THIS man!

So, as mentioned previously, I have shaken off the shackles that go in concert with working for The Man.

What to do now?

Work for this Man!  Or, in other words, me.

It's not like I forgot how to build programs, after all.

To understand this undertaking, there are a few things to know:

  - the RV-12 airframe and the Rotax 912 engine both have scheduled maintenance items, which fall under the broad categories of coming due based on calendar time ('do this once after 36 months in operation' versus 'do this every 200 flying hours')
  - it requires constant attention to make sure you don't miss any
  - there are also Service Bulletins from the factories that need to be addressed. Some of these require periodic scheduled inspections too.
  - the Dynon Skyview, which is the central flight computer in the airplane, can be configured to capture data logs every time the plane is flown.
  - these data logs include both the most current Hobbs and Tach times.  If you don't want to read that short article, just read this snippet from it:

"Tach time is the preferred method for logging engine time for maintenance purposes."

This is misleading - for the Rotax 912, Rotax stipulates that Hobbs time is a better (and mandated) measure of the aggregate working time of the Rotax engine.  Tach time was (and still is, I suppose) the choice for the older, more traditional aircraft engines like the Lycomings in my previous plane, but with the Rotax, time spent idling is still considered to be working time, primarily because of the RPM reduction gearbox. Hobbs time runs faster than Tach time on average, so the extra effort of idling through the gearbox on the Rotax forces us to manage maintenance on the engine using Hobbs time to account for the extra effort required by the gearbox.

So,  I intend to make use of the Hobbs time recorded and reported by the Skyview to track maintenance requirements on the engine. That's a bit of a simplification (I'll do a lot more, including using the calendar date to find the "n number of months" inspection/replacement schedules too), but I'm sure you get the point.

Where this all ends up (personal use only vs. a for-profit service) is up in the air, so to speak, but it sounds like an intriguing project, and that's all I need these days.

Now, I don't expect you to sit through all of this video - I present it only because it is the flight for which I gave the data logs to work with:

A short recap of the flight for people with better things to do with an hour and twenty minutes:

  • I flew an IFR approach into Madison Co. (KUYF) using the Skyview. I remained VFR at all times.
  • I then flew a 2nd IFR approach into Urbana (I74) - I had initially intended to use a navigation waypoint on the far side of the runway, but shifted to a closer one before I got there.
  • The approach I flew was to runway 20, but the wind slightly favored runway 2, so I had to circle around.
  • I didn't get the plane low enough on the first try, so had to go around for another try.
  • I stopped for lunch at Urbana, then flew back to Bolton (KTZR)
I started on the program (which will take a few weeks to build) this morning. I selected "read the data log file" as the first step.

Here are the results:

As long as I was reading the data to present it in that list (there are approximately 127 columns of data, two of which are latitude and longitude, so I exported those two plus altitude into a new file, correctly formatted for display in Google Earth (3D) or Google Maps (2D).

This is the 3D representation of the flight - you will note that the altitude I can get from the data is MSL (above sea level), not AGL (above ground level) and I don' know how to translate twixt the two, so the plane never seems to touch the ground.

This is the entire flight:

This is the 2D representation of the taxi out and back in at KTZR:

This shows the go-around at I74:

It's a good start, and not bad for three hours of work!

Stay tuned!

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Traveling as a Group

There are a lot of benefits accrued through the building of an airplane, and one of the longer lasting is the friendships built in concert with the plane itself. In the case of any airplane in the Van's Aircraft fleet, this is even more common due to the popularity of the designs. In my case, I was building an RV-12, which is probably the fastest selling model in the fleet.

The first co-builder to emerge was Kyle; he and his father had been considering building a twelve and asked if they could stop by one evening to see if it appeared to be something achievable for them. I was always willing to have people stop by, although a cold winter night with temperatures in the twenties wasn't the most conducive environment. It turned out well - I was at a stage that was going to require a few hundred rivets to be pulled, and that is a very easy thing to teach. I showed them how to use the pneumatic puller, then I mostly just sat in front of the propane heater (which I had taken to calling "The Cone of Comfort") while they riveted the skins onto the entire tail cone. 

Tom Sawyer has nothing on me when it comes to getting other people to do my  work.

Having enjoyed the always riveting experience of, well... riveting, they ordered a kit soon after that and were actually done with their build and in the air long before I was.

The second to show was Jan. He was one of those guys that already had a plane at the airport, but was intrigued by the twelve. He wasn't all that interested in building one, but he liked the economics of flying at 115-ish knots with a fuel burn less than six gallons per hour. He eventually came across a partially completed kit which be bought. My plane was done by then, so we paired up for the next 18 months in getting his plane finished, with an occasional assist from Kyle.

Now that we all three have our own airplanes to fly, it's a simple matter to get the group together for day trips. The most recent trip was to a small town on the eastern side of Ohio. Cambridge is near a county airport (KCDI) that has at least one courtesy car, and Kyle knew of a fine diner in town. Knowing my affinity for diners, he thought (correctly) that it would be a nice place to go for lunch.

With Jan and I being co-located, we had the option of pairing up in one or the other of our planes, but that would have defeated the purpose - flying out in loose formation would be a lot more fun. Kyle would just meet us at the airport.

The trip was uneventful and we were soon headed out the door of the FBO in search of the courtesy car. As with many of Ohio's county airports, KCDI has a retired military bird on a pedestal out front.  

Here's the line-up of RV-12s - quite the disparity in paint designs, eh?

If you ever find yourself at KCDI with the keys to a courtesy car in hand, and those keys fit anything other than the black Vibe, and especially if they fit the silver mini-van, go back inside and get the other keys. We were halfway downtown when we got called back to the airport to exchange cars. Apparently the van isn't road worthy; we hadn't noticed anything amiss, but truth be told with your typical airport courtesy car it can be hard to tell the difference. 

The Vibe was pretty nice, though,

The focal point of downtown Cambridge is the clock tower sitting atop what I guessed to be the district courthouse:

Our lunch destination was Theo's Restaurant, which quite gratifyingly had exactly the kind of menu items you hope to see in a family-owned diner.

I opted for the Cabbage Rolls, which I found to be quite satisfying.

Just across the street in an antique shop called The Penny Corner, probably due to to fact that the building began life as a JC Penney store.

I'm always on the hunt for quirky things and this slumbering cat caught my eye; I couldn't figure out it was being marketed as food or as an appliance.

I would have never thought of crafting a fish out of a bull's horn.

Honest truth, I momentarily thought the title of this book was "The Art of the Comb-over," probably because I'm of the age where that kind of scalp coverage strategy is becoming personally pertinent.

Very close by the antique store was a small art gallery, where we found an artist at work. Or evidence thereof, more accurately.

This store front caught my eye as we walked by - they might want to consider either a name change, or a somewhat more cohesive product mix.

Back at the (presumed) courthouse, I took a closer look at the artillery piece located in the front lawn.

Specifically, I couldn't help noticing the tires on the US--made gun: Vorwerk is a German company.

Ironic, that.

Our 2015 winter was relatively benign, but it's still quite refreshing to see the colors coming back into the trees.

This truly was the classic car dealer - the showroom was on the first floor of one of the buildings downtown - no mega lots here!

The next stop was at the local bakery.

The original plan was to fly back home, but KCDI is only 11nm from I10, the county airport for Noble County, Ohio. It's an airport in a beautiful location - the runway sits between the two prongs of a lake. It's just a short walk from the runway down to the lake.  The weather was gorgeous, so... why not?

I've never understood this sign - if this made any sense, we wouldn't fly over an altitude of 10' - if the first 10' doesn't get ya, the other 3,490' won't either.

The departure out of I10 was the opposite of uneventful. Just after rotation, the Rotax 912 that powers my RV-12 started running rough, and the unmistakable smell of gasoline started emanating from the other side of the firewall. I knew a number of things immediately:

  - this was indicative of a carburetor float no longer floating
  - there were no suitable areas in front of me to land on should the engine pack it in for the day
  - even partial power is better than no power, and the roughness had pretty much gone away anyway,
  - so the most expedient thing to do was to fly the pattern back to the departure runway.

Once safely back on the ramp, I got out my emergency tools and Tom Sawyer-ed Kyle into removing the top cowl.

Old habits die hard.

The offending carb was easy to find - it incriminated itself by spraying gas out of its overflow tube.

The carbs are due to be disassembled and inspected at 200 hours and my bird was clocking in at just over 181 hours at this point, so it occurred to us that the problem was likely to be a little bit of stickiness on one of the floats. Removing the floats and cleaning them off a bit was easily accomplished and the ensuing engine run-up indicated that the problem was solved, at least for now.

The return flight was again uneventful, but it looks like that 200 hour inspection is going to happen 18 hours early.

It helped a great deal to have Kyle there with me - had we not been able to diagnose and fix the problem, having a ride home sure would have come in handy!

Also, this served to prove yet again that travelling in groups can have enormous benefits.