Thursday, November 26, 2015

Surviving the Winter

As I sit on the verge of my fifty-ish "Last winter in Ohio!!!" I'm looking for things to do inside that are reflective of the things I like to do outside.  Some of these things will have nothing at all to do with the building and flying of a Vans RV-12, but may be interesting nonetheless.  Hey, it's not like a charge admission....

So, that brings us to Surviving the Winter #1: The Golf Club.

The Golf Club is a PC-based golf simulator. It would be tempting to categorize it as a "video game," but I make a distinction between video games a simulators. A golf video game, for example, would have you play in the persona of an actual golfer like Tiger Woods. It would have all of the trappings of being on the PGA tour. It may even have pretty reasonable simulator-like behaviors with regards to ball physics, or it may not. The line can be pretty blurry between the two, but a true simulator strives for as much reality as can be made to work within the confines of a computer, often at the cost of ease-of-play.

If it helps with making the distinction, consider a Tiger Woods simulator: sure, there would be golf, but a true simulator doesn't cut too many corners on reality - you'd also have to be a philandering man-child cavorting with high-priced escorts. Now, I'm not saying there wouldn't be a market for that....

The beauty of a golf simulator to me is that it lets me approach the game in the way a good golfer would, which is to say taking into consideration all of the aspects like the wind, layout of any given hole, etc. As probably the only person to ever receive a cease & desist order from the USGA demanding that I stop ruining their game (no, not really!), this is very attractive to me.

Anyway, most of what I will be including in this series, at least with regards to the virtual PC-based world, will be simulators.

Getting back to The Golf Club, here are some examples of its strive to be highly realistic (more at the provided link):


Aerodynamic drag refers to the forces acting opposite to the relative motion of any object moving through the air.


A spinning object traveling through the air will generate lift. Put backspin on an object and the Magnus effect will produce an upward force. Topspin, a downward force. So, controlling spin means controlling, not just what happens after the ball bounces, but what happens over the entire course of flight. This is why the Magnus effect is so important in any golf simulation attempting realistic ball flight.


Our wind simulation follows the Beaufort scale, a measure that relates wind speed to observed conditions. We have modeled them all. Each level has different behaviour. If you watch the wind arrow in the HUD, the trees and the flags will behave much like the windsock and trees in this video.


The initial trajectory of the ball is largely determined by the parameters of the impact between the club face and the ball. There is no “apply backspin” button in our simulation. Launch angle and back spin in our simulation is determined by attack angle, the “dynamic” or “delivered” loft of the club at impact, as well as the club head speed. The delivered loft, as opposed to the static loft stamped on the club (i.e 48 degrees on a PW), is determined by a number of factors in real life. In our game it is determined by our Attack Angle / Stance Hybrid Control. The fact is, the ball does not know you are hitting it with a 7 iron, what your wrist position is, that you swing like Charles Barkley or that you aren’t wearing any pants. It doesn’t care. If you take a 7 iron and hit a golf ball with the delivered loft and club head speed of a 9 iron, it will fly like it was hit by a 9 iron.

There are no shortage of golf courses available - there are literally thousands of them - due to the built-in golf course editor that allows people to build and share their own. What you won't see is licensed real-world courses like St. Andrews or Pebble Beach. This may be one of the reasons this simulator costs only $30. Although, I recently bought a $10 enhancement that adds handicapping, a new golf course environment, and some more ways to play in a faux tournament.  Even so, $40 is a very fair price, and you can get it for even less if you wait for it to go on sale on Steam*.

As with many of the Surviving the Winter tips I will be providing, the cost is usually not going to be limited to the items presented. In the case of PC-based sims, you will also need a relatively robust computer to run them on. Some of them will also have Xbox One or Playstation 4 equivalents, so you can just boot the kids off of the console, or you could look into buying something new called a Steam Machine.  If you have a fairly new PC (mine is five years old), you can probably get by with a newer 3D graphics board. I recently upgraded mine to an nVidia GTX970, but be careful to ensure that your PC has the correct card slot and a strong enough power supply to support it.

So, after making a short story long, here's a four-hole sample of my early-morning golf round:

* A YouTube video on the subject of buying games from Steam - not my video, so don't blame me for the gratuitous profanity:

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Austin: Lesson 1

Fresh off the intro ride, Austin met me at the airport today at the crack of dawn. It was a frigidly cold morning, although it will soon get a lot worse. But after eight months of clement weather, one can be forgiven for considering 28° F as an extremely low temperature to be out and about.

Today was to be our first "official*" lesson, by which I mean the first flight for which I had a plan. Austin was delivered to the airport by his dad since, while he is sixteen, Austin does not yet have a drivers license. He came bearing gifts as well, in the form of a hot caffeinated beverage and a box of Timbits, the latter being somewhat unfortunate as I really can't eat sweet stuff like that in the morning without incurring the risk of uncomfortable belly problems.

Hopefully they didn't go to waste.

It was a thoughtful gesture, and the more I get to know Austin, the more impressed I am by him, and by extension, his upbringing. The news these days is full of things like college aged young "adults" [cough] shrilly demanding things like "free" tuition, student loan forgiveness, and $15 minimum wages for menial jobs, without offering any justification for these demands other than "they want it," or any recognition of the fact that anything given to them for "free" means that it was taken away from someone else. Or, they fully recognize that someone else will be forced to provide the demanded largess and simply don't care.

Either way, to me that demonstrates an over-extended childhood during which the world was theirs for the asking, or more likely, theirs to be had under the soft extortion of a temper tantrum.

Austin, on the other hand, and at a very tender age, seems to know what he wants out of life, and also knows that the way to get it is with self-discipline, hard effort, and tenacity. He recognizes that it's not simply going to be handed to him just because he wants it. He isn't unique in this, of course, with another example being young Co-pilot Egg, who herself had a similar direction at that age, and is now a mere six months from graduating with a four year degree in Nursing.  No mean feat, that.

This is important for me to see. As with probably every generation before me, I've lost touch with the majority of the generations that follow. It's very easy to become blinded by the vocal, spoiled minority that the media love to focus on. Austin reminds me that perception is often not a perfect reflection of reality - there are millions of responsible young adults out there working diligently towards their futures.

Sometimes it's easy to lose sight of that because those aren't the ones out there shaking their little fists and stomping their tiny little feet as they demand ridiculous concessions and handouts and/or the immediate firing of some authority figure that failed to immediately kowtow to their sensitive feelings.

With a full tank of gas (flying for $2.08/gallon now. Thanks Capitalism!!) and a little bit more time (Austin's French teacher graciously excused him from class so he could fly with me) to work, we went a lot more slowly through the preflight than we had when we went for our first short hop.  The wind was dead calm, as opposed to the 11G17 of the previous flight, so I was comfortable with letting him fly from the left seat, which is really just another way of saying that I was comfortable with my ability to takeoff and land from the other side.

The oil preheater had performed its job with its normal unstated competence, so the trusty little Rotax was ready to go long before we were. We spend some time talking about what the communications with the tower were going to be like ("Who we think we're talking to, who we are, where we are, what we want") but I ultimately made the transmission. It surprises some people to learn that one of the hardest things new pilots struggle with is talking to tower and air traffic controllers. In Austin's case, it didn't seem to be stage fright, which is good because that takes a long time to get over, but he was (understandably) having trouble memorizing the entire stream. This is one of the things that I imagine he will be thinking about for the next few days.

Here's what I was after:

"Bolton Ground, Experimental Two Eight Four Delta Golf, at the Tee hangars, ready to taxi, departing VFR westbound."

With the dead calm air, I expected, and received, the reply:

"Two Eight Four Delta Golf, altimeter three zero zero six, taxi to runway four via taxiways bravo and alpha, winds calm."

As a public service to anyone out there that's curious about this, here are some videos I found on YouTube to help out. As an indication of the difficulty people have in learning this, there were dozens more in the same vein:

The lengthy taxi out to runway four is something I usually consider to somewhat bothersome, but it was useful today for getting Austin used to steering the airplane with differential braking - necessitated by the lack of direct nosewheel steering like you would find in something like a Cessna - which is another of those things that's difficult to get used to whether you're a brand new student or a high-time pilot that has never experienced it.

After walking him through the end-of-runway pre-takeoff checks, I did the takeoff and turned us out towards the west. At about 2,000', I gave Austin the controls.

Other than offering instruction and advice, that was pretty much the last time that I had to touch the controls. Austin, as it turns out, has a natural feel for the control of the plane, and did a fairly good job of splitting his attention between the indications on the instrument panel and the real world outside the window. In my experience, it is both typical and beneficial for someone new to the idea of holding a specific heading and altitude to fixate on the instruments. It is typical because that's the only reference they can trust because that have yet to develop a good out-the-window sight picture and a feel for what the plane is doing. It's beneficial because it teaches them to trust the instruments implicitly while they're still very impressionable.

A lack of trust in the instruments versus what their inner ear is telling them has caused quite a few unnecessary deaths.

I had thought that it would take awhile before he was able to consistently hold both a heading/course and altitude, but it took almost no time at all. After fifteen or twenty minutes, I was combining heading and altitude changes by giving him ATC-style directions like "Two Eight Four Delta Golf, turn left heading three three zero, descend and maintain three thousand feet."

As part of his official training, he will be bouncing back and forth between a Diamond DA-20 and a Sport Cruiser. The DA-20 has a traditional mechanical "six-pack" of instruments, and it's the one that he will fly first, so I had him configure the Skyview for that presentation.

The DA-20 Katana and Sport Cruiser are excellent eye candy for the Aeromantic.

The DA-20 has an amazingly long wing. I've never flown one, but I'm tempted to rent one for an hour to see what it flies like:

This is the DA-20's panel. While there are four columns and two rows of instruments, it is the three columns to the left that comprise the traditional six-pack:

I am also curious about the flying qualities of the Sport Cruiser, but there is one based at Bolton that I hope to be able to cadge a ride in some day:

I think I've been remiss in mentioning that Austin is pretty much already in love with the RV-12, though:

It was a great deal of fun flying with him. It was a nearly perfect morning and my four layers of clothes were enough to keep me comfortably warm, and watching the rapidity with which Austin became calm and proficient at the controls was very gratifying. As much as I would like to take credit for my incredible instructing skills, I really can't. He's just a natural. That said, there is a lot more to flying that simply possessing the physical skills, but he asks very good questions, too, which indicates that he puts a lot of thought in this.  That bodes well for his future.

He wasn't perfect, of course - it takes quite awhile to learn to effectively multi-task and he had been controlling an airplane by himself for all of half an hour - but he was very, very good. With him already pretty comfortable with the fundamentals, I even challenged him a couple of times by having him change our direct-to destination in the Skyview.  The most important thing at this point is that he detects when he's going off course and/or altitude and makes a corrective action by himself. That's a fundamental skill/trait that will serve him well from here on out.

Austin has his first official lesson scheduled for tomorrow - whatever instructor he flies with is going to be very impressed!!

* Reminder: I am NOT a certified flight instructor, so nothing I teach Austin is anything more than an older pilot passing along tidbits of experience.

Follow-up after Austin's first REAL lesson:
My first lesson went great. It was just as fun but since it was my first time with the new instructor(Jeff) it was kinda a little tense more or less but we were both really comfortable and acquainted before take off. We flew for 1.1 hour(s) sharp turn 45 degrees then normal 30 degree turns. Climbs and declines. Accelerate declines, slow declines. Slow flight, flying the plane and what it would feel like in landing speed and lowered flaps. And ground reference.

He also said I was very talented for my first lesson and moved into more advanced procedures faster then he ever would have thought. Said I had a very natural talent for it and got a great connection really fast to the plane after [being] handed [the] controls.
I wish I could take credit for that, but alas.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Updated: Aviators vs. Pilots vs. Aeromantics

UPDATE: I don't often come back to update a post, but this is a special case. This is one of those posts where I sat down at the keyboard with no real plan for what I was going to write and just followed a stream of consciousness - I sometimes don't feel all that great about where they ended up.

I was undecided on this one.

On the plus side, it elicited a comment from Hugo, who has been with me for two blogs now, if not three:

Hugo said...
Aeromantic? To me, flying has always been a romance of soft touches and gentle caresses of the controls.

I think aeromantic is exactly the word I was looking for. I had a couple of votes for 'aerophile', but that doesn't feel right to me. To me, a 'somethingphile' is someone that has made a study to something to a very deep and broad degree. Putting forth that level of effort definitely indicates a strong and abiding interest in something, and perhaps some level of fondness, but not necessarily at a visceral level.

Conversely, 'romance' is typically equated more with 'love' - that's the level I was looking for.

So, for the remainder of this post, should you choose to endure it, just mentally substitute aeromantic in place of the other word (you'll know it when you see it).


I was looking for a word that would make a distinction between those who are attracted to airplanes because they can be a fast, efficient way to travel, and those that are attracted to airplanes because, well, because that is simply who and what they are. The former may look at a Cirrus SR-22 and appreciate it for its high speed, sophisticated avionics, and its potentially life-saving ballistic recovery parachute.

The latter? They see it completely differently. Yes, they too may have consideration for the aforementioned utilitarian aspects - the distinction that I am trying to make is by no mean mutually exclusive, but the second set of folks would be just as attracted to the graceful curves and elegant aesthetic balance of the Cirrus even if it plodded along at 90 knots, guided by a magnetic compass and an old Timex watch.

I used my pal, Dr. Google, PhD, to see if there is a commonly accepted distinction between the words 'pilot' and 'aviator', and the best he could come up with makes the distinction out to be primarily about natural ability. A pilot, in the definition I found, flies mechanically, while an aviator has a natural touch evidenced by smooth control and a way of making the whole thing look easy.

Going about the search a different way, I asked the doc about "people that love airplanes," and came up with a word in the Urban Dictionary that I'm not overly comfortable with: "Aerosexual."

While not fond of the word itself, I did find that the definition was pretty much what I was looking for:
A person having an avid love and sexual desire of aircraft beyond the average persons interest. They openly admit their love of aviation and all things air-related. They are often found prowling the fences of nearby airports watching planes takeoff and land.
There's even a Facebook page for openly aerosexual folks that seem to be primarily interested in airliners to gather:

So, despite my initial reticence, I guess I'm going to have to accept the word.

Now, as we all know, I absolutely love giving rides to [forcing myself to type it] aerosexuals. As hard to believe as it may sound, even the staunchest of us tend to start to take it all for granted, at least with regards to our own airplane. It's a fact of human nature that we can get used to just about anything, or at least anything that's really good. We still love it, but that initial infatuation can eventually be dampened by routine, One way to recover some of that early excitement is to share it with people for whom it's still brand new, for whom it's still a longing, still an unrequited love, still a passion.

It's contagious. It rekindles some of that early excitement.  And, it's fun!

A couple of days ago, I flew with an [I really, really, need a better word] aerosexual that I had flown with before, back in the RV-6 days,  That was seven years and twenty days ago.  Back then, she had taken a couple hours of instruction with the hopes of getting a license, but as it often does, the rest of life got in the way.  Work, kids, all of that day to day stuff - it has a way of pushing dreams aside. Still, there's an hour or two now and then that can be spent sitting on the road on the approach end of the airport watching. It's not just watching, of course, No, it's something much deeper.

It's longing.

Before I go on, I would be remiss of me to not at least offer you the chance to review that long ago flight. So.... here.

This time around, the only real difference was the airplane. Back then, I was aware of the RV-12, but had no idea that I would eventually build one. Other than that, it was pretty much a repeat: we met early in the morning at the airport gate, flew around doing stuff on the way to Urbana for a late breakfast, and flew back.

There is one big difference, though: with the RV-12, I'm as equally comfortable flying from the right seat as I am from the left. Another difference is cost: at a current $2.28/gallon for 91 octane Mogas, I can fly as often as I want without much consideration at all for the fuel spend.  The point of this is that while I can't do official, loggable flight instruction, I can let people fly from the left seat and give them sufficient awareness of how things work, how to use the fancy new avionics, how to enter an airport landing pattern, etc. so when they do go get professional instruction, they can get through to getting their license in the minimum hours required by the FAA.

That can be a huge cost savings!

On the other end of the spectrum, yesterday I flew with a 16 year old that has aspirations for becoming a military aviator. Austin has his eyes on the USAF, but like a true aviator, he would settle for the Navy if that was the only other option. (Don't get yourselves all worked up, Navy - I was in the USAF and just have a little bias on the subject of military branches)

Most of our time was spent on the ground getting acquainted, and with me asking him about his plans.  He's got a very good plan in place that starts with getting his license now - you may remember that Pete, my building partner on N284DG, has a son (Keith) that's currently learning in USAF T-1 Jayhawks down in Texas. Keith went the ROTC route, while Austin will be working towards an academy appointment with ROTC as a fallback plan, but I figure Keith will make a great adviser on the subject of getting a pilot slot.  My contribution will be to help Austin get his civilian rating in the minimum number of hours, something that's bound to look good to the military selection boards.

Our flight was brief (I only had 7 gallons in the tank), but it was enough to tell that Austin has a natural feel for flying. This, I think, can be attributed to time spent flying simulators, and time spent driving/piloting the family boat. Both of those may sound insignificant, but in my opinion they are not.

The contribution of the sims is probably obvious, but the boat? Not so much. Where the boat will help is in the cognitive understanding of current. Docking across current uses the same concepts as crosswind takeoffs and landings - one of the hardest things for new pilots to learn.

One thing that I will find interesting about flying with someone as young as Austin is our stark differences between the old school and modern conveniences.  I know I'm going to sound like that old guy that's always going on about how I had to "walk a mile to school through bitter cold snow storms" (because I did, in fact, have to do that), but the reality is that flying is far easier than it used to be. We had a ratty old paper speaker in the top of the old 172's cockpit and a hand microphone. Now we have ANR headsets. We had VORs, which were more or less okay for keeping us on course, but only the wealthy had any kind of distance measuring equipment.

This was brought home to me in a conversation we had through the text messaging on our iPhones. Austin wanted to know if there was a way that he could check the weather to see if it would be flyable or not. I directed him to an app called AeroWeather and showed him how to pull up the TAF from KCMH. Being the old "walking to school" guy, I texted that "This is another of those things that used to be a real pain, but is now super easy."

His reply was classic:

"How would you find this information before? Website?"

What a world we live in when having to actually go to a website seems archaic!!

Monday, October 12, 2015

The Saga of Serial Number 75

Let's start the tale of RV-12 serial number 75 with a baseline: the tail kit for my RV-12, serial number 284, arrived at my door on Tuesday, October 13, 2009, four days short of six years ago. It took three years at a relaxed pace to convert the series of sub-kits into a flying airplane. In comparison, serial number 75 flew for the first time on October 5th, 2015.

That means that it was in some state of hangar decoration for at least six years, but probably more like seven.

Why do we care? What's our interest in serial number 75?

Well, it comes down to this: I've spent the last year and a half helping to get it in the air.

It all started back in the days when I was spending quite a bit of time out at the hangar building N284DG. As anyone who has built a plane at the airport knows, they attract other airport denizens in the way a Walmart Black Friday sale attracts bargain hunters. This isn't necessarily a problem, mind you; it's often the case that a few minutes of talking about the progress being made (or, in some cases, not being made - I'm looking at you, longerons) can be quite enjoyable.

It's also not uncommon for visitors to profess a desire to get their own RV-12. More often than not, nothing ever comes of that, but sometimes.... sometimes they surprise you.

One of those RV-12 enthusiasts was Jan. At the time, Jan had a Cessna 172 that he used for flying back and forth to Florida. He was very interested in the RV-12 as a more economical way to make that trip, but he wasn't keen on the building process. I can't remember if I ever suggested that he seek out a partially completed kit, or if I instead suggested that he find one already flying, but the net result is that one day he stopped by to tell me that he had purchased, or was on the cusp of purchasing, an "almost done" kit from a fellow up in Wisconsin.


Naturally he was interested in my opinion. After talking it over, I suggested that I call and talk to the seller to see what kind of state the kit was in. Apparently it had been sold at least once before and returned, which obviously made me curious as to what Jan would be letting himself (oh, let's be honest: us) in for. After receiving reassurances that the prior work had all been done to an E-LSA level, and that it really just needed a month or two to finish up, there was nothing more that I could say. It all sounded fine on the phone, right?

A couple of weeks later I heard from Jan again - the kit had been purchased and had been trailered down to his hangar in Ohio. I went over and took a look at it. There were a few scuffs here and there, but it looked pretty good. Most of the difficult work had, in fact, been done. The canopy was done, the engine cowlings were done (oh good!! No fiberglass work!), the engine was mounted, and the avionics were in.

Piece of cake, I figured.

Then I noticed that all of the hardware that had arrived from Van's in coded paper bags referenced by an inventory sheet had all been dumped in plastic buckets with no rhyme or reason evident. The assembly instructions were in disarray as well. Step one was going to be the Herculean task of sorting all off that stuff out. Jan, who didn't know an LP4-3 rivet from an AN4-4 bolt, was going to have one heckuva time with that, I figured. As it turns out, though, organizing stuff is something he's quite good at. Within just a couple of weeks, all of the bolts, nuts, washers, etc. had all been sorted and stored neatly in containers.

Ah, now it will be a piece of cake, I figured.


One thing Jan was not especially good at, and he is by no means alone in this, was looking at a seemingly insurmountable problem and breaking it down into a series of achievable goals/tasks. Myself, on the other hand, well... I had been there too, and I knew just what to do about it. The trick is to find one thing to focus on to the exclusion of all else, work on it, finish it, then find another. It's a lot like the advice people that are afraid of heights are given when they manage to find themselves clinging to a tall ladder: don't look down! Or as the old fortune cookie says, every journey starts with one step.

With Jan, my advice was to not look at that airplane-shaped pile of aluminum as an airplane, but instead to simply ignore it. This was far harder for him to do than it had been for me, primarily because by time I had an airplane-shaped pile of aluminum to look at, I had already completed thousands of small tasks to get it that way. The value of the baby-steps approach was already ingrained.

As it turned out, we had a blessing disguised as a curse: none of the service bulletins had been done on the fuel tank. The blessing was that it presented an achievable goal (in my eyes - Jan's opinions on the subject were very, very far in the opposite direction), but the curse was that the work involved in doing those repairs was not amongst the fonder memories of my build. In fact, it's onerous. It meant opening the tank, drilling holes, installing nutplates, and worst of all, applying ProSeal.


We dove in, and I soon (gratifyingly!!) learned that this was not going to a situation of me finishing his plane while he watched. The opposite was soon apparent: although he didn't have a lot of experience with this kind of work, he was eager to learn. So, from the very start the model we used was me demonstrating how to do something, then him doing it for however many times it took to get it done. I showed him how to drill a hole, countersink it, and use a rivet squeezer to mount a nutplate. I then disappeared for a few days until he contacted me to let me know that the work was done. I wish I could find a way to treat yard work that way.

I can't remember precisely how long it took to get that tank done, but it was at least a few weeks. That was probably right around the time that we determined that going from "almost done" to "ready to fly" was going to take much longer that we had hoped.

It was also just about this time that we learned to adopt a deep and healthy distrust of any work previously done. The genesis of this new attitude was simple curiosity - I noticed a thick white wire in the avionics bay that had an inch wide covering of black electrical tape. Wondering what could possibly be under that tape, I peeled it off to find that the thick wire was actually a bundle of five very thin wires, each of which had been cut completely in two. The outer casing of the wire bundle was the only thing holding it all together, with the black tape serving no other function than to hide the damage. While we had already been vigilant to this kind of thing, this incident was enough to show that extreme vigilance was a better approach.

In the end, we found multiple occasions of negligence, many of which were benign but a handful of which were actually dangerous. No small number of them were in areas that required a great deal of effort to repair. I don't mean for this to sound judgmental - buying someone else's kit, or completed airplane, for that matter, is very solidly in the realm of 'caveat emptor'. We simply metaphorically shrugged our shoulders and moved on.

My role eventually dwindled down to mostly acting as a consultant as Jan became more comfortable with working on the plane. I was also tasked with any work that required working in a confined area. I've always hated having spindly little arms, but I can't deny that they come in handy now and then.

Whenever we ran into a situation that required more brains and/or lifting capacity than Jan and I could handle, we called in the reserves in the form of fellow RV-12 builder Kyle. He was always ready to fly up north and lend a hand when we were in a bind.

Jan eventually became comfortable with the idea that the project would be done someday. While he never got to enjoy the sense of progress one gets when a pile of individual parts eventually becomes something large enough to look like a major piece of airplane, he did notice that the list of outstanding tasks was getting shorter. By the time we got around to retrofitting the optional ADSB system, all I had to do was show Jan where (and why) I had chosen to mount the antenna; when I stopped by the next day, the entire installation had been completed.

My work was finished - Jan had made the progression from pilot to builder.

Finally there came the day when the FAA was going to come do the airworthiness inspection. Jan found that to be quite unsettling. I received a text message from him the night before the inspection stating that he knew, just knew that the plane would fail the inspection. Having been through this myself, I was able to offer some comforting words: "So what if it does? The worst case is that we have a specific list of things to fix, which is far better than the last year and a half of searching them out for ourselves." That made sense to him. By the time the FAA guy arrived at the hangar, Jan was in the right state of mind to realize that the FAA inspection was not something to be dreaded, but rather a service to be appreciated.

The plane passed with flying colors, so to speak.

Thus ends the saga of serial number 75, at least for me. After logging over five hours of preparatory flying time in my airplane with me in the right seat, the first solo flight for Jan in his own RV-12 was, at long last, a piece of cake.

For reals this time.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

What if?

It wasn't too very long ago that I said, and I quote, "The interesting dichotomy of the autopilot is that it makes me both a better pilot (tons of information at my finger tips and time to read it) and a worse pilot (I don't hand fly nearly as much as I used to)."

It's a somewhat glib statement, but it carries more than a germ of truth, at least in the category of my modern avionics making me a better pilot. That should not be confused with the idea that modern avionics can automate the process of becoming a better pilot; they are more of an enabler than a mentor.

Something a pilot should always be doing is thinking about "What if?"  This will take different forms depending on the phase of flight, of course.

Before I even go out to fly, I'm looking at the forecast and asking myself "What if the winds are stronger than forecast?" I asked myself this very question just before the flight to Wheeling, WV last week. I had enough gas to get there and back with the forecast winds, but what if there was a stronger than forecast headwind on the way back? I decided to put in another five gallons, and sure enough I had a 26 knot headwind on the way back, much higher than the anticipated 9 knots.

Had I not added that extra gas, I still would have made it back but I might have dipped into my 30 minute reserve, something I consider to be something of a planning failure and thus to be avoided.

More in the realm of the hypothetical, let's consider the question of "What if it's legal VFR visibility and ceilings, but marginal on the visibility due to haze. Further, what if I'm landing to the west and the setting sun has combined with the haze to create a reduced visibility situation so severe that it becomes difficult to find the airport?"

This happened recently too, although it was really more the case that the visibility itself was fairly poor (around 4 miles - legal, but marginal) and I was having a hard time finding the always-elusive Jackson / Rhodes airport (I43).  It is true that the GPS would have taken be directly to it and I could have figured it out from there, but there is a more elegant approach, especially if we throw in a hypothetically just-barely-legal VFR ceiling.  How does the lower ceiling change things? Well, it means I would come barging in over the airport at pretty much pattern altitude, and that is not a good way to make new friends.

I grant that a case like this would reflect pretty poorly on my preflight planning, but for the sake of argument let's assume that the low ceiling was not forecast.  That actually does happen quite a bit, so it's not a huge stretch of the imagination.

With the Dynon Skyview and the optional Seattle Avionics FAA Charts package, I can simply bring up the instrument approach plate for the airport on the map segment of the screen. It does cover the map view when a chart is open, making me periodically wish for a 2nd Skyview screen, but things don't change all that rapidly on the map anyway.

While I cannot legally fly under instrument conditions (although I have the required rating, I let it lapse years ago), I know of no FAA regulation that would prohibit me from using the approach charts for VFR navigation.

As an aside, this is the internet and we live in interesting times*. I would be remiss if I didn't say that the following does not constitute flight instruction, and what you do or don't do in your own airplane is entirely up to you.

That having been bleated....

While I was still at my cruising altitude of 3,500', I engaged the autopilot and pulled up the approach chart to study it. As the winds, such as they were, were favoring runway 19, I selected the GPS approach to that runway. You can see the most salient aspects of said chart below.

There are two major components to the chart. The top is a top-down view that provides lateral direction, while the bottom shows a side view to be used for vertical navigation.

The chart (they are actually called 'approach plates') shown below is the GPS approach to runway 19 at I43.  The five letter ALL CAPS names sprinkled around in it are called 'fixes', and their purpose is simply to assign a unique name to a spot in the sky. Just as with airport identifiers (I43 is the identifier for Jackson / Rhodes), these fixes are included in the Skyview database and thus can be used for GPS navigation. It then follows that I can use the autopilot's NAV setting to get to them.

There are three (by my count - I might be missing one or more) places that I could use to start the approach. They are HUPIX, FEDIK, and SIPOY. The fact that they can be used as starting points is indicated by the parenthetical (IAF) next to them, which is an acronym for Initial Approach Fix.

After having flown to an IAF, you need then only to follow the black lines/arrows to the runway.

That's all well and good, but how do you descend?

That's what the vertical nav section on the bottom shows.  A number with an underline means "fly no lower than," and as you cam see, the progression in the descent would be:

Fly no lower than 2,800' from HUPIX or SIPOY (or if you skip down two pictures, within 30nm of FEDIK as shown next to the big red '1') to FEDIK, fly towards KOYEK at no lower than 2,500', then fly no lower than 1,460' from KOYEK to PECID.  PECID is the Final Approach Fix (FAF) - after passing it, the next thing you're looking for is the runway.

There are conditions that would allow a descent to a lower altitude once past PECID, but those are not germane to this scenario. The VFR pattern altitude at I43 is right around 1,460', so under our VFR conditions we would not need to (or want to) go any lower than that. I generally use 1,500'.

Here's what it looks like in the airplane:

As I was coming from the northwest, I was heading southeast and the most viable IAF looked to me to be FEDIK. I was on a Direct-To to I43, but in the Skyview even a Direct-To creates a flight plan. It was a simple matter to add FEDIK, KOYEK, and PECID to the flight plan as waypoints before I43. 

I then used the Flight Plan Menu to select FEDIK as the active leg.

I set the desired altitude to 2,800' and adjusted the vertical speed to a setting that would have me reach 2,800' right around the same time I would reach FEDIK.  As you can see, the answer was -200 feet-per-minute. (the blue -200 next to the selected altitude of 2800FT)

But how did I figure that out? If you look at the Skyview picture below, just past FEDIK is a small, light blue segment of a circle located between the numbers '1' and '2'. That arc represents the spot in space at which the Slyview calculates I will reach 2,800'.  I just used the UP / DOWN buttons on the autopilot switch panel to find a setting that was close to the goal. Obviously the arc moves back and forth up the purple course line as variations in airspeed and wind occur, but it serves well as a rough guide.

Because KOYEK was the next fix / waypoint in the flight plan, and I still had the autopilot configured to follow the GPS in NAV mode, it automatically made the turn required to follow the final approach course through KOYEK and PECID to the runway.

I could have continued to use the autopilot for the descent to 1,500' inside of KOYEK and before PECID, but the descent rate was such that I felt more comfortable doing it by hand. 

Ta-da!! There's the runway, all lined up right where I needed it to be.

Had the visibility been low enough, I could have cruised along at pattern altitude until I got to the runway.  If I needed to, I could then have entered and flown a normal landing traffic pattern.

* Understatement alert!! 

Sunday, September 20, 2015

"How high/far/fast will it go?"

I get that/those question(s) a lot, and I can seldom answer it/them.

It's not for lack of wanting to, it's just that the three categories are really all part and parcel with the same question, and it is a question with nearly infinite answer.

It's the definitive "it depends" question.

Most people are interested in the "fast" aspect, so I'll start with that.

The first thing to do is to agree on which units to use. We can choose from Kilometers per Hour (Soviets), Knots (most of the rest of the world), and Miles per Hour (favored by people with really slow airplanes).

I talk in knots.

Knots as a unit is slightly different than the other two in that it does not contain the name of the unit of distance, and the "per hour" is assumed. To make it like the other two, it would be call Nautical Miles per Hour.

As a basis of comparison, 138 mph is equal to 120 knots.  "120" is a large enough number that it needs no embellishment, but assume your airplane is a Searey that only goes 80 knots. You would be much more interested in telling people that it did 92 mph, although that's still somewhat shy of brag-worthy.

The answer to the "how fast" question is still not answerable, though.

Now that we've established a preferred unit of measurement, we have to talk about the two majors divisions of speed. The first, and the one most pertinent to the speed between Point A and Point B on the earth, is the ground speed. This is what most people are asking when they ask how fast it is because they drive cars; the speed of your car is by definition ground speed.

In an airplane, if I was flying along and crossed over Cincinnati and had 120 nautical miles to go get to Columbus, and I was going 120 knots across the ground (ground speed), I would reach Columbus in one hour, just as a car would. The difference is that I'm not guaranteed to achieve any given ground speed because I am subject to the whims of the wind.

The other speed is actually a collection of other speed. We will only talk about a couple of them, but before we do, lets talk about airspeed in general.  Simply put, airspeed is the speed at which the plane is going through the air. Yes, it sounds simple, but... there are a lot of details to it. For now it is important only to understand that moving through the air at 120 knots does not in the least mean that your ground speed is 120 knots. The primary, but not only, factor in that difference is the wind.

This is not obvious to some people, so I use the comparison of a boat on a river. If the downstream current is 10 knots, and the "boat" is nothing more than a floating log, how long it would take for it to go 10 nautical miles (nm) down the river?  Easy: one hours. What was it's speed through the water? Easy: zero knots. It has no propulsion, so how could it go faster through the water?

Now let's assume the boat has a small motor that can push it through the water at 8 knots. It gets the first 10 knots for free and adds 8 more from its motor. Now its water speed is 8 knots and its ground speed (the speed at which it would go past a bridge) is 18 knots.

Reverse the situation, and let's assume a boat is going up stream against the current. It can only go 8 knots through the water, but it's losing 10 knots to the countervailing current.

How fast is it going?

It depends. Its water speed is 8 knots, but its ground speed is actually 2 knots in reverse.

In answer to the usual follow-up question, yes, an airplane can go backwards, for so long as you are using ground speed as the reference.

This is also why pilots aren't fond of headwinds.

"But Dave," you say, "doesn't it all average out? If you have a headwind one way and turn around and come back, doesn't the tail wind make it all better?"


Let's do some simple math. Let's assume we have an airplane that does 120 knots, we're flying to a town 120 nm away, and we have a 30 knot headwind. That makes our ground speed 90 knots, so the trip takes an hour and twenty minutes instead of the one hour it would have taken with no wind at all.

With the tail wind, we get to come back with a 150 knot ground speed, so it only takes 48 minutes to get back.

Our round trip time was two hours and 8 minutes. With no wind at all, it would have only been two hours. The same wind in each direction ended up costing us 8 minutes.

So, we now agree that it pays to minimize our headwinds, right? I hope so, because that's the crux of the rest of this lesson.

So, back to airspeed. The airspeed that is displayed to the pilot via the airspeed indicator is called Indicated Air Speed, or IAS. This one is pretty intuitive in how it works - the air enters a hollow tube (called a Pitot Tube) and the more air there is, the higher the needle goes in the airspeed indicator. And the way to get more air in the tube is to go faster through the air.

Simple, right?

Well, no. There are a few complexities that complicate the situation, but the most prevalent one is that the air pressure varies from day to day, and decreases as you go higher into the sky. The thinner air at higher altitudes affects the airspeed indicator and causes it to display a lower value that what's actually happening. There is a mathematical formula for correcting to what it called the True Air Speed, or TAS, but it involves the multiplication of the square root of a division - Common Core math or no, this is not something that you can typically do in your head. If you can, you should quit your day job and make a living winning bar bets.

Fortunately, my Dynon Skyview is good at math and does it for me. Before that, I just assumed that I would get an extra 2 knots for every 1000' higher I flew. If I would get all the way up to 10,000', I would be getting an extra twenty knots for free! But.. winds can be much stronger the higher you get, so you may given up the extra TAS by flying higher. Or, you may get a mighty boost from a strong tailwind.

So why not fly high when you have a strong tailwind and lower when it would be a lower headwind?

Good question, and for the most part, I try to do that. But....

It takes time and gas to climb. I can climb at airspeeds ranging from 70 - 90 IAS.  My level IAS usually falls into a range of 107 - 113 knots, depending on the current air pressure and temperature and the current weight of the plane. If it's a short trip, it doesn't make sense to spend all of that time climbing.

In the summer, another reason to fly higher is that the air is smoother. But the higher you go, the more you have to deal with clouds. I have to stay out of those. Sometimes it's so bumpy down low that you accept a headwind in exchange for cooler, smoother air.  Other times, you have no choice and you have to slog through hot, humid, turbulent air. And you haven't experienced turbulence until you've flown in a 1,000 lb. airplane.  It can be brutal.

So, at long last, to see how all of this ties together with "How high/far/fast will it go?" we'll consider a couple of trips. I've been bad about keeping up with the blog, so this will be a "two birds" kind of thing.

A couple of weeks ago I made my most common trip, which is from Bolton Field (KTZR) to Darke County (KVES) airport. I got a late start due to morning fog, which was not entirely unexpected since we had been stuck in the same high pressure weather for long enough for the air to become humid and stagnant. I waited just long enough for the weather to reach four miles visibility, which is legal for VFR flight, but is referred to as "Marginal VFR." Back in the day, before I had sophisticated GPS-based nav equipment, that would have given me pause. It no longer does, but I still give it awhile to stabilize lest it regress to something far less forgiving.

The Skyview with ADSB is really good for this kind of thing. As long as the dot at the airport stayas blue (or turns green), I'm still good. Turning red would cause me to make an immediate turn back home.

By the time I was ready to head back, the humid morning had given way to a hot, humid day with indications of a lot of turbulence in the air. The biggest indicator is those tall puffy white clouds. The only smooth air to be found is up above them, but as I am legally limited to 10,000' and the plane can't go a whole lot higher than that anyway, I usually can't get over them.

I tried anyway. At 9,500', I still wasn't over them and knew that I would have to go down under them and endure the hot, bumpy ride rather than the smooth, 50 degree air up high. Which was fine - I seldom fly that high, and even though I know it's no different than flying lower (you can drown in 10' of water as easily as 1,000'), it still makes me tense,

As a bonus for going down into the muck, I caught a glimpse of what I think is the track my brother races at. It's called Shady Bowl:

A couple of days ago, I flew out to Wheeling, West Virginia for lunch. It was another marginal VFR, which again was no surprise given that the weather really hadn't changed much.

Again, the blue dot was key.

It wasn't hot yet, though, so I was able to find smooth air at 5,500' and just kick back to let the autopilot do all the work.

Actually, I had a little work to do myself. I'd never been to Wheeling, so I had to spend some time getting familiar with the layout of the airport. Once I landed, the tower was going to give me taxi directions and it pays to be familiar enough with the runways and taxiways to be able to follow those directions. They carry the force of law, you know.

I figured the wind was favoring runway 21 and that I would easily be stopped by the intersection with the other runway, but I didn't know if they would have me turn right and go down to the end of the other runway, or have me continue on down runway 21 until I got to taxiway A1, where I would then follow taxiway A back to the other runway. My bet was on the first option, assuming I could land and slow down before getting to the intersection of the two runways.

My opinion is that the visibility was far better than four miles.

I did, in fact, get cleared to land on runway 21. Typical of West Virginia airports, this one is situated on the top of a chopped off hill. Another hallmark of these airports is that the runway is wavy - they never seem to get them completely flat. Finally, the abrupt ending of the ground at the approach end of the runway is scary - I seem to always land long on these because of my irrational aversion to be plastered  against the side of a cliff.

I'm weird that way.

I ended up landing well short of the runway intersection. In fact, I was approaching it at essentially walking speed when the tower called, "If able, turn right at runway 34, right at taxiway Delta, Delta to the ramp."

Just what I expected. Pre-planning helps. The interesting dichotomy of the autopilot is that it makes be both a better pilot (tons of information at my finger tips and time to read it) and a worse pilot (I don't hand fly nearly as much as I used to).

The terminal building was worth the trip in and of itself:

An original Wright Brothers bicycle! I've never seen one before.

Kyle arrived about twenty minutes after I did.

He didn't land on the numbers, but still managed to get slowed down in time for the intersection turnoff:

We used the airport's courtesy car which, as with many of these free loaner cars, was a bit quirky. The 'Service Engine Soon' light never turned off, but it was periodically joined by the red 'Door Open' warning light, despite the four firmly closed and latched doors. It would also emit a mytersious BEEP now and then, lock the doors, and run one cycle of the wiper blades.

Worst of all, it had a very weird tendency to enter parking lots from the wrong direction.

We went to a place called Primanti Bros.  Apparently it's "a thing" out east.

I had the "Stupidly Big" burger (my name, not theirs) which was comprised of a 1/2 lb. of ground beef, bacon, pastrami, provolone cheese, a fried egg (the purpose of which was to ensure that everything slid out of the buns every time I tried to take a bite), red onions, banana peppers, and enough lettuce to feed a rabbit for a year.

I took the lettuce off.

I drink my whisky neat, too.

The scenic tour of downtown Wheeling was, well, brief:

Looking back as I departed, you can see how the runways look in real life as compared to the diagran I studied on the way in. I had landed on the lighter colored of the two runways.

The weather had developed to the degree that I again wanted to get up by this time, but I had to settle for 6,500'. Any higher and I would have backed my way into Pittsburgh.  My indicated airspeed was probably around 107 knots, but the extra altitude gave me another dozen to make a respectable 119 knots, but the headwind was costing me 25 knots.  The net result was a ground speed of only 95 knots

Well, not 95 knots.

It was actually 109.324 mph!  Doesn't that sound better?

Today was the first day after a front blew through and cleared out all of the stagnant air we had been dealing with. It seemed an auspicious time to make another trip to KVES.

To get a day any clearer than this, it would have to be a very cold day in February.

Smooth air + autopilot = selfies!

Another indication that the weather is changing. Only 46 degrees at 5,500'!

Resulting in the first time using the cabin heat since, well, a long time ago.

There they are, the only clouds for a hundred square miles!

With the wind out of the east, I had to circle around to the other side of the airport.

We ran into this guy. He found this old plane in a barn, literally close to being crushed as the barn slowly collapsed. It's based on a plans-built plane called a Fly Baby, but it's unique in that it has a closed cockpit and it's stressed to be aerobatic.

 It was not only bumpy down low on the way back, it was actually very bumpy. It was enough to want me to get up out of it, even if only for fifteen or twenty minutes. At 5,500', I was within 500-600' of the clouds, and it was still quite bumpy.

I found a nice long clear area that was only about 20 degrees off my desired course, so I climbed up to 7,500' - with the cooler temps and thick air of a high pressure area, the extra 2,000' only took four or five minutes, and it made a world of difference.

Here you can see all of the reasons what it is hard to answer how high/far/fast it will do. There are so many variables involved that the answer changes by the second.

Back at the hangar, I discovered that I now have another hangar frog. I don't think I've ever seen one join me this late in the year.

I also discovered that my hangar beer is older than a hamster lives.  Three years old!

Know what? It does NOT improve with age.