Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Press Release

SEPTEMBER 29, 2009

Schmetterling Aviation
Office of Public Relations
Contact: Mr. Hogarth Kramer


Grove City, OH: Schmetterling Aviation announced today that a late evening discussion between the CEO and the locally-based Production Supervisor has resulted in the decision to proceed with the procurement of an RV-12 Empennage/Tailcone Kit from Van's Aircraft of Aurora Oregon. This kit will begin a years long effort that Schmetterling Aviation spokesdog Hogarth Kramer says will culminate in the completion of an entire aircraft. Delivery of the kit is expected within a couple of weeks. Construction of the aircraft will begin upon the completion of a detailed inventory of the kit.

Schmetterling Aviation is the aviation-related venture capital firm recently founded by Big Hat Stable, LLC of Bradford, OH. Big Hat Stable has heretofore concentrated its efforts on horse and automobile racing. The creation of Schmetterling Aviation marks a bold new direction in capital investment.

SEPTEMBER 29, 2009

Monday, September 28, 2009

Rites of Passage

A rite of passage is a ritual that marks a change in a person's social status. They are prevalent in all aspects of life, and in aviation it is no different. Your first solo? A rite of passage. The first time you give yourself a third eye located front and center on your forehead for all to see by carelessly walking into the pitot tube under a Cessna's wing? A rite of passage. Bounce a landing in front of a thousand pilots at a fly-in? Yep, that too. The task of building an airplane also offers up a copious collection of such moments, all hopefully culminating in a First Flight. Many people think that the requisite "I ordered a tail kit" posting on a web forum is the initial rite of passage for homebuilders, but it isn't. No, there are two that come first. The very first rite of passage is....

....building a work bench. Yes, it seems mundane, but it is the first instance of picking up a tool with the intent to build and fly an airplane. It doesn't matter that the workbench will never fly (caveat: no such guarantee applies to those living in coastal or tornado-prone areas), the point is that effort is being applied against the overall goal.

Yesterday, I built my first work bench. It will ultimately end up being the easiest part of the entire project, I suppose, but that does not mean it was easy. I have a transportation limitation: my largest, most capable load hauler is a Subraru Forester. It's a great all-around utility runner, but it cannot carry large pieces of wood. That's a good thing when applied to the job of limiting large impulse purchases at Sam's Club, but not so much when you need to haul significantly sized pieces of lumber. I have to buy pieces/parts 6' or less in length, and only a couple feet in width. That rules out the nice, flat, huge piece of 3/4" plywood. It also places constraints on the length of 2x4's, those normally being sold in 8' lengths.

In what ended up being a Sunday afternoon Easter Egg hunt at Lowe's (which was a picnic compared to the previous stop: taking Co-pilot Egg shopping for a Homecoming dress - very, very emasculating), I pieced together shelving boards, short 2x4's, and 4' long 4x4 posts to build my table. If nothing else, it's stout! That will come in handy the next time we find ourselves cowering in the basement during a tornado watch.

There was a second, less laudatory rite of passage fulfilled, too. I'm sure this happens to everyone eventually...

This was the first time that I built something so heavy that I couldn't get it down off of the sawhorses by myself and had to enlist the help of a family member. Let the emasculation continue apace!

So, there it is, waiting patiently for the tail kit to arrive. Which, by the way, I have not yet ordered. If I had, you'd have read about it on the web forums.  Making that posting is a rite of passage, after all.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Baby Steps

Walk before you run. Dip in a toe before diving in. Slow and steady wins the race.

All well and good, but here I am sitting inside on a rainy, gloomy Saturday with nothing to do when I could be deburring the vertical stab ribs or something.  I guess there wasn't that much pre-delivery work to do after all.

I've been pacing myself on the RV-12 so as to minimize the shock to the normal family routines and pace of life, but I decided this morning to make a major step forward: I printed out and filled in the Vans Order Form for the RV-12 Empennage.

All that's left to do now is fax it in.

I should have that done by early December at the latest.

Just kidding. It'll go tomorrow.

Baby steps.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

RV-12 Flight Report

I myself have not (yet) flown in an RV-12. Now, I normally wouldn't forklift an entire article off of someone else's web site, but I'm doing it this time. This is a write-up that was posted on Doug Reeves wonderful Vans' Air Force web site. Hopefully he won't mind.

Doug's site is a substantial reason that I was more comfortable buying a Van's airplane over any other experimental. It's a terrific resource for builders, owners, and anyone interested in becoming either. Most anyone reading this blog will already be a regular customer over there and will have already seen this write-up, but for those that are only following this blog for the very narrow purpose of following my build, here it is:

RV-12 at Sky Manor Airport
Frank Smith

This past Saturday I was able to meet Mitch Lock at SkyManor airport and fly N412RV. Here is my general impression of the RV-12.

First Mitch is a gentlemen and an excellent ambassador not only for Vans but for sport aviation in general.

Second, none of the pictures on line do N912RV justice. You have got to see this plane in person to see how nice it really looks. The one item that has never bothered me is the look of the pulled rivets. The plane is obviously well engineered and was expertly built by Mitch. I was concerned the 0.025” thick skins would feel flimsy compared to the normal 0.032” thick skins on other RV’s but they feel fine.

Third, if you live on the east coast you simply have to come to EAA 643’s flyin next year. The planes, the people and the airport are all good and a must see. Tom Poberezny even came to the event this year.

OK now for a brief flight review with lots of disclaimers. I normally fly a Cessna 150. I also like any plane I fly in for 15 minutes so a short hop is not a good basis to judge a plane but here are a few observations about my flight in the 12. Take them for just that – casual observations from a 150 flyer after a 15 minute flight.

The interior is 44” wide at the shoulders and whereas that’s not cavernous it’s plenty of room for a sport plane. Speaking of the interior Vans planes tend to be, well, sparse and utilitarian. Mitch says a finished interior is in the works and for the 11 pound total penalty it will be a welcomed addition to give the interior that finished look. The one thing I paid close attention to is checking for even a hint of the smell of gasoline (with the tank inside the cabin) and I am happy to report there was absolute nothing. If you didn’t tell your passenger about this feature they would never know. The seats are comfortable.

All RV’s are relatively small and short coupled so maneuverability on the ramp is excellent. This same small size seems to give RV’s a “busy” feel on take off. Mitch, being an expert RV pilot gave the 12 a little nudge here and there as we tracked straight down the runway for a takeoff in about 600 feet or so. After a short climb out he retracted the flaperons and handed the plane over to me. We were climbing at 75 knots at around 750 to 800 fpm. That’s with two people and ¾ tanks or about 100# below gross weight. I watched Mitch fly several other people and the climb angle on the 12 was not as steep as some of the other planes taking off. I would have like to see what the 12 could do when climbing at best angle instead of best rate. During the climb the nose was just on the horizon for me so visibility over the nose was good in the climb. The climb was solid and I never felt like we were mashing through the air. I like a plane with a good solid ROC. (Editor: Rate of Climb)

Visibility in cruise is fantastic. Saturday was a stellar day and the sky was filled with planes. In the 12 we spotted them miles away. Good visibility is a great safety feature. It took me awhile to get the right image over the nose and place the nose far enough below the horizon to keep the airplane from climbing. You definitely have to trim this airplane but it happens quickly. A couple of taps of the trim button and the plane quickly trims to speed and flies well hands off. We trued out at 113 knots (130 MPH!) with the Rotax humming along at 5200 RPM and sipping 5.2 GPM of high test auto gas. What’s not too like about that? Mitch thinks wheel pants may add up to 5 knots. That would put it right near the LSA limits.

This is the second Rotax I have flown behind. Although I would still prefer an engine that turns less than 5000 RPM in normal cruise it’s just a number thing. I wish all the other aircraft engines I have flown behind were as smooth and quiet as the Rotax.

We only did one stall, power off full flaps. The wing quit flying at 41 knots indicated and the nose dropped well through the horizon and the left wing dropped a little. It wasn’t violent but it seemed a bit more abrupt than the RV-9 I flew a few years back. Recovery was quick and easy by releasing backpressure and adding power.

Although Mitch was probably wondering why I was wallowing around the sky I felt very comfortable with the RV-12 right away (unlike the PIO’s I experienced in my first flight in an RV-4). The controls were very positive and smooth but did not seem overly sensitive to me. I wished I could have trained in this plane instead of in a C-150. I hope Van decides to produce these planes so they end up in flight schools some day.

Here’s a note about a glass cockpit. The good news is the Dynon provides a lot of information. For example it gave us indicated airspeed and also calculated true airspeed as well. The bad news for me is I am still used to analog gauges so when I started looking for rate of climb it took me a few seconds to find it. I think once you fly behind the glass for awhile it will become second nature but it will take some getting used to.

Back to the airport and we entered the pattern and started to slow down. Mitch handled the landing. Visibility in the pattern is outstanding. You never lose sight of the runway or traffic in the pattern. Although the flaperons lower the stall speed they didn’t seem to provide much drag. Have you noticed most videos of the RV-12 seem to be “wide patterns”. In a 150 you can drop the barn door flaps and descend steeply toward the runway. In the RV-12 the approach is shallower. We were at 75 knots on base with the Rotax at 2500 RPM and descending 600 fpm. We crossed the fence at 60 knots and Mitch greased it on the runway. He claims the 12 is the easiest of all RV’s to land. You just have to control your airspeed well on final (I think the same applies to all RV’s)

So what’s my first impression? Well, the RV-12 is a plane that fills a specific niche market. It’s a light sport plane with the emphasis on sport. Good climb, good cruise, good handing, good visibility, good looking, economical to operate, etc. What’s not to like?

Price for one. But that’s relative and not Vans fault. Aircraft are expensive. Aircraft engines are almost ½ the cost of the plane! Still you can buy a really nice used C-172 for $60,000 and fly it tomorrow. However, if you always wanted to assemble a kit plane and you want or need a light sport plane then this plane has to make the top of your list. In that market it’s still a bargain. I think the best option for the RV-12 is to find yourself a partner and then for $30,000 each you get one sweet plane to share. You also get someone to help you build the plane as well.

Limitations? I get the feeling it’s a plane that going to feel more at home on a paved runway than a grass strip. Van has demonstrated that with proper technique he can land all his planes on grass runways but the small landing gear and short prop clearance on the 12 just give the appearance that this plane was designed primarily with paved runways in mind.

Oh, and as a bonus feature, the first customer-built RV-12 has had its first flight! For details, you will have to go to Doug's site. Link

Monday, September 21, 2009

When do we start?

You don't just order a kit and sit back to wait for it. Oh, no, there is plenty of preparation involved. First and foremost, one needs a shop. In my case, I will need two.

The first shop will be in my basement. This is where I will prepare parts and assemblies for later attachment to far larger assemblies. I could certainly find space in the basement shop to build the entire airplane, but it would be impossible to get it out of the house. The stairs that run from my basement up through the cellar doors are sufficient for removing something like kayak that I built down there, but that's only because it is very, very narrow. A wing or fuselage would exceed the height of the door as it was angled to go up the relatively steep stairs. That's unfortunate since the basement has the benefit of being temperature controlled.

The current state of the basement is also an issue. It is cluttered with the detritus of projects that have come before, both completed and uncompletable. And no, 'uncompletable' is neither the first nor the last word that I will invent to suit my immediate needs. You're just going to have to get used to that.

So, the basement needs a good cleaning and organizing and will additionally need another new workbench, improved overhead lighting, and additional shelving for storing unassembled pieces and assembled, well, assemblies. Aluminum is frightfully fragile, particularly when it comes to what would seem to be minor scratches. The corrosion-preventing cladding (the 'clad' in 'alclad') is only a few thousandths of an inch thick and must be carefully protected against scratches. I will also need a set of bins to store small attachment hardware like rivets, nuts, bolts, washers, and the like.

The second shop will be in the hangar where the RV-6 lives and will be used for the assembly of smaller assemblies into larger assemblies. Think 'wing' and 'fuselage' - these are too large for the basement. Space will need to be reclaimed from years of accumulated junk for the completion and protected storage of large pieces of airframe. At some point the fuselage will be up and on its landing gear and there will be quite a bit of systems work to be performed. That will include things like fuel lines, brake lines, seating, control surface installations, etc. At that point, it will be pretty much like having two airplanes in a single plane hangar. The plus side of the RV-12 is that the wings are detachable; they will never need to be permanently attached. This will allow even the completed airplane to share the space with the RV-6 until one or the other is sold.

The hangar is not the perfect building environment because there are only two temperatures available: brutally hot and brutally cold. Heat can be addressed with a large fan; cold is mostly unmanageable and is likely cause an annual building hiatus, at least with regards to assembling assemblies. Luckily, the mix between basement shop tasks and hangar tasks is (presumably) roughly 50-50. Parts preparation can be done in the comfort of the home shop; assembly work will be done in the hangar. An as yet unresolved issue is how larger parts will be carried between the two locations, but that doesn't seem like it will be overly difficult to solve. It will probably just mean adding a trailer hitch to one of my cars and retrieving the small flat bed trailer that I used to use to tow my racing kart from my brother's barn. Or pestering people that have trucks. Note that the latter is the most likely.

I hope to have the two shops cleaned up and ready to go within a couple of weeks. Once that's done, I can start thinking about ordering the kit. I'm planning to have it arrive in time for the annual holidays when I will be home for quite a few days at a time and looking for something to work on. I'm targeting early November for the official start of construction.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Welcome to Schmetterling Aviation

No, my name is not Schmetterling. (Hmm, that doesn't quite ring like "Call me Ishmael.")

So what is Schmetterling Aviation? Well, we'll get to that. A more interesting thing to know is what the purpose of this blog is, so let's get that out of the way. The purpose of this blog is to act as a personal journal as I work through the building of a Van's RV-12. While it will be mostly "how I did it" in nature, I hope to also share some of the other aspects of working through such a long and complex project.

What? Another question? "What's an RV-12," you ask? An RV-12 is the latest entry into the venerable line of homebuilt (aka 'Experimental') aircraft kits manufactured and sold by Van's Aircraft. You can learn a little bit more about the RV-12 in particular at this link. As long as we're on the subject, it is also pertinent to know that I currently own and fly a different model of Van's, the RV-6. All you could ever want to know about that is available on my other blog, The Papa Golf Chronicles.

While the RV-6 is also a homebuilt airplane, I did not build it. The building of an RV-6 takes a significant amount of time, and as I was more interested in flying an RV-6 than I was in building one, I took the expedient path of simply buying one that was already built. I've been flying that airplane for over four years and enjoying it immensely. The next question is easily predicted: then why would I want to build an RV-12?

The answer to that is, unfortunately, fairly complex.

Partially it all comes down to an inherent need that I have built into my psyche. The fundamental fact is that I love to create things. If I ponder my collection of hobbies and interests throughout my life, I see a common theme. When I was a teenager, I was interested in photography. I was also interested in software development. And, of course, I was passionate about flying. To those ends, I was the school photographer and had a B&W darkroom to develop and print my own photos. I had a TRS-80 Model I when I was 16 years old. The TRS-80 was the very first consumer level computer in the world. I built and flew RC airplanes.

Today, I develop software as my profession and for fun I fly around in my RV-6 taking pictures. My work life offers me the opportunity to see a need within my business unit and tailor build a solution to it. I create new Windows applications from scratch and enjoy seeing the entire organization benefit from my work. When I'm not at work, the RV-6 and the camera give me the chance to capture a special perspective in my photography by presenting both a unique platform from which to take aerial pictures and a very fast way to make day trips in order to gain access to locations that would normally be time prohibitive.

So, if I've got all of that going for me, why build an airplane? And why build one that flies slower than the one I have now? As much as I enjoy my work and hobbies, I still feel a hunger to create something more tangible. Software is called that for a reason; it's not something you can pick up and feel. It's created by sitting at a desk typing in code which, while technically could count as something built with my own hands, it doesn't impart the same sense of having built something more tangible and permanent. Besides, it's work. It exercises my mind and gets me through the work day, but it is by no means suitable as a recreational activity. What I need to scratch my itch is to actually build something. Something solid.

"So," you're thinking, "there must be something else you could build. What about porch furniture?" Believe me, I've been there. What I've found is that my projects have to meet a few essential criteria:

  - it must be a kit. I don't have the skills to create things from plans. For example, I built a beautiful kayak from a kit. It was a big, messy job, and I loved 98% of the time that I spent doing it. That other 2% of time was spent cleaning nasty things like epoxy from my hands? Well, not so much.

As a follow-on project, I tried to build a plywood canoe from plans. The idea was to do something a little less costly than the kayak kit had been. I'd rather not talk about that; it was an epic failure. Allow it to suffice that things work out better if most of the fabrication of major parts has been done for me.

  - it has to be something I can use when I'm done building it. I have no interest in models or other things that just clutter up the house when I'm done with them.  Neither does my wife.  My job is to clutter up the house with stuff; her job is to stop me from cluttering up the house with stuff. We meet somewhere in the middle.

  - it helps me to know that there is support available if I run into things that I don't understand or know how to do.  The community of airplane homebuilders is vibrant and always ready to offer assistance, and Van's has a great reputation for builder support.

This brings us to the RV-12. The kit is brand new and uses state-of-the-art manufacturing techniques and comes with extremely detailed instructions. Compared to the difficulty of building an older design like an RV-6, building an RV-12 is skads easier. Note that saying 'easier' is not the same as saying 'easy', though. As a comparison, the building of an RV-6 was expected to take at least 2000 man hours. An RV-12 is measured at an average of 700 hours. So, easier but not easy. The time savings comes mostly from pre-drilled parts and the use of blind rivets rather than driven rivets, but the superior quality of the building instructions also plays a major part.

I expect it to take at least three years for me to build my RV-12. That's three years of knowing that I have an exciting and interesting project for me to work on when I get home from the paying job. That's three years of challenging and varied work towards a purposeful goal. It will have its ups and downs, of course. There will be days when I want nothing to do with it. There will be days when I can't wait to get home to work on it. There may even come a day when I decide that I've had enough and I just can't finish it. It happens.

Why three years? Well, I've often said that building an airplane is something that you do when you're trying to fill your time, not something that you do when you're trying to find time. The shorter build time of the RV-12 changes that belief. If I can average an hour a day for three years, even applying a conservative padding of almost 50% more time onto the predicted 700 hour build time has me done and flying in three years.  Sure, I could get it done sooner if I wanted to work at it, but this project is intended to be low pressure recreation. I have a flying airplane already; I'm in no hurry to finish the new one.

Even so, it's a big commitment.  Many, many people start kits and do not finish them. If for any reason I decided to give up, there will be a ready market of people willing to buy a partially completed kit for the price of the materials that I have in it. It's very helpful to know that there is a safety net out there and the only thing I would lose is the value of the time that I have put into it, and that is no loss at all, considering that it is the way I want to spend my time.

If nothing else, I think I will build the tail over this winter. I'm not a very outdoorsy type in the bitter cold weather anymore and I need a project to keep myself occupied over the long Ohio winter. The beauty of the RV-12 tail kit is that the vast majority of the work can be done in my basement. That said, because the tail kit includes the very large tail cone, the final assembly of the tail will have to be performed somewhere above ground. I'm not keen on leaving the cars out on the driveway, so using the garage is out of the question so it will likely end up out in my unheated hangar where I have plenty of room to do the final riveting.

The advantages of starting with the tail are related to cost. The tail kit is $2,150 (plus shipping) which is a very small initial expense when compared to the overall cost of the kit. Another benefit is that there is resale value for the tail should I decide that I don't want to proceed with the rest of the build. I figure there will be a very large number of RV-12s built, so there should be a ready market for a completed tail. Why not buy one already done for the same cost as the kit itself?

The more important and difficult decision will be whether or not to continue to build the rest of the airplane. As the build process progresses, both the cost and the physical size of the components increases dramatically. I would be reluctant to build an entire wing or fuselage in the hangar, but if there is a reasonable ratio between time spent fabricating or preparing individual parts before assembling them into or onto a prohibitively large structure, well, that would be different. If I could take a bunch of deburred and fluted ribs out to the hangar to final rivet onto the spar, for example, the time spent in the hangar would be minimized. That's only really important for the three or four months of bitter winter cold; a good fan would keep the hangar at a suitable temperature for all but the worst of the summer days.

Along that line of thought, I asked Wingman Ted*, who is currently building an RV-10, what that ratio might be. His estimate is 50-50. So, half the time would be spent preparing parts in my basement, the other half would be spent assembling them in the hangar. Even though I live just a mile from the hangar, this would inevitably slow the pace of the project somewhat, but I think it's important to note that I have an advantage over the more typical builder: I already have an airplane to fly. What do I care if it takes three years to finish an RV-12? And with the option to bail out and sell the partially complete kit any time I want, I don't see much financial risk to the endeavor.

So, back to the question of "why an RV-12 in the first place?" Well, I ain't getting any younger and the LSA airplane has the benefit of removing any worries over losing my medical. That is, after all, how I got my RV-6. I think the guy that built it only put 155 hours on it before losing his medical. And, although the RV-12 is 30 knots slower than the RV-6, it is more capable when the winds get higher than my comfort level in the taildragging, small rudder RV-6. And with a nosewheel, the RV-12 would be suitable for flight instruction. That would be a boon to co-pilot Egg**!

So, at long last, why Schmetterling Aviation?

I don't know.

I shared all of this with my Dad and he decided that he'd like to be involved in the project. He suggested the name, and it sounded just fine to me. One of these days I'll ask him where the idea for "Schmetterling Aviation" came from, but for now I'm just thrilled to have him on board.

* You'll get used to the pseudonyms.  It's just a thing I do - I don't use other people's names in my writing.
** See what I mean? "Egg" is my daughter.