Monday, May 2, 2011

The Repairman

One of the best things about owning an Experimental class airplane is that you can do your own maintenance work on it. This is as opposed to the rules that come with a store-bought plane; those rules define a very small set of jobs the owner is allowed to do. The rest has to be done by a Federally licensed A&P *=(Airframe and Powerplant) mechanic. There is also a requirement for an annual inspection to be performed. In the case of the store-bought plane, the A&P requires an additional Inspection Authorization before being qualified to sign off an annual inspection. These AP/IA guys are relatively scarce and as such the annual inspection on a store-bought plane can get pretty pricey.

In the Experimental world, the builder of the airplane, assuming that he completed at least 51% of the job on his own, qualifies for a Repairman's Certificate. This certificate grants him one privilege that someone like me who bought an already completed airplane can never have: he can do his own annual condition inspection. I do get one benefit from buying an Experimental over a store-bought, though, in that I only need an A&P licensed mechanic to do my annual rather than the AP/IA. I don't exercise that privilege; I use an AP/IA anyway.

The new E-LSA category that the RV-12 will be a member of has a slightly different set of rules. As with the other Experimentals, I will be able to do all of my own maintenance, but I will not be able to get the Repairman's Certificate simply by virtue of having built the airplane. To earn inspection rights with an E-LSA, I have to attend a 16-hour FAA training class. Oddly enough, the 16-hour class is all that would be required even I had never spent a minute building the plane. Federal laws are not required to make any sense... so they often don't.

The down side of being able to perform your own maintenance is that you get your hands dirty. I've been working on the tasks generated by the RV-6 annual inspection for a month now. One of the items has been surpassingly frustrating. As part of the inspection, we noticed that the left fuel tank had a seeping leak. I drained the tank last week and the A&P made an attempt at re-sealing it. I replaced the ten gallons of gas last Thursday for a multi-day leak check while I flew off with a small group of RV-12 builders to attend the required FAA inspection class over the weekend.

The classes are hard to come by; I think there are only a handful of them throughout the year. The one we were to attend was located on the airport at Oshkosh. As we all know, that's a miserable ten hour drive each way, and I was loath to undertake that unless it was absolutely necessary. Luckily, it wasn't. Mr. Hurry*, the former owner of my RV-6 and current RV-12 owner, also has a very nice Beechcraft Bonanza. He wanted to take the class, and what's more, he wanted to fly up there in his Bonanza. Having three empty seats seemed wasteful, so invited The Jackson Two and me to ride up there with him and also attend the class. There was no way I was turning down that offer!

Friday morning found us out at his hangar marveling at the newly applied paint job on his RV-12.

It didn't take a genius to figure out where the paint scheme idea had come from:

We were soon in the air and pushing our way northwestward against a persistent headwind. Even with the winds against us, we were descending into the Oshkosh area after only a little more than two hours:

Having only ever seen Oshkosh from the air once, and that being a landing fraught with the nearly unbearable tension of being only my sixth solo landing in an RV-6, it was nice to be able to observe without the distractions inherent in having to make the landing myself. As it turns out, Oshkosh looks pretty much like any other airport for fifty-one weeks of the year:

We arrived and got checked into the hotel early enough to allow us to spend a couple of hours visiting with the friendly and knowledgeable at the Sonex Aircraft "factory" based right on the Oshkosh airport.

They buy yellow paint by the truckload:

After building your own airplane, you never look at other airplanes the same way. Every detail of the design and construction is examined:

The latest Sonex is called the Onex or One-X, I'm not sure which. It's a single-seat taildragger like the Van's RV-3, but it has folding wings to enable trailering or sharing a hangar.

The wing folding design is quite elegant. Those two "paddles" inside the little square holes move with the pilot's control stick. They press against the aileron pushrods in the lifted part of the wing when it is latched back down into its flight position. Quick, easy, and impossible to forget. Very clever!

In the R&D hangar, I found this intriguing little gem:

Yea, that is a jet engine!

They also have a prototype electric engine:

And turbo-charged VW engine:

It's really not all that much of a "factory" in the traditional sense. Most of the parts manufacturing is outsourced. They make the wing ribs and the cockpit canopies in their shop; everything else is contracted out, but eventually ends up in the parts warehouse:

The quality of the parts is high, and I was particularly impressed with the pre-fluted wing ribs:

Mr. Hurry is standing on the right, next to John Monnett who is the founder of Sonex Aircraft. I too spoke briefly with Mr. Monnett, just long enough to suggest that the One-X would make a great prototype for a future two-seat tandem design (presumably called the Two-X) that would be similar to the RV-4 and a virtually guaranteed success in the market. Someday we'll see if he agrees:

Saturday morning we showed up for class in the nearly deserted EAA museum building.

Registration went quickly and we found ourselves with enough spare time to peruse the also deserted exhibit space:

Hey, my current proposed paint scheme on an old Link trainer:

The class was informative, although a lot of it was stuff that I had been through before when I was taking A&P classes. There was a lot of material to cover and it wasn't possible to dig too deeply into any of the subjects, but the class wasn't intended to make AP/IA level mechanics out of us in two short days. I think the most important lesson imparted is that this is serious stuff and not to be taken lightly. It's a big responsibility.

We finished on time late Sunday afternoon and were in the air within half an hour of receiving our certificates. As we were climbing out to the south, I took a couple of pictures of the desolate Airventure grounds:

The trip back took just over two hours and was mostly smooth, although there was some pretty good turbulence over the lake. Still, two hours in a Bonanza is worlds better than ten hours in a car!

So, what did I find when I got back to the hangar tonight and checked up on the fuel tank leak check? It wasn't good. It had failed to the tune of nine of the ten gallons being gone. I drained out the dregs of the remaining gas and removed the tank. It's going to be a much bigger job to fix, it would seem.


* Names changed to protect the innocent, by which I mean "me."


Scott Kuhar said...

sounds like a fun trip. I took one out to KC in my uncle's Beech Baron. Cool ride. Sorry about the tank.

Torsten said...

So sorry that the fuel tank will have to get resealed. What a messy and time consuming job. I hope it turns out good!
BTW, funny that I had the same thought about the One-X. It would only make sense as a tandem 2-seater. You can still fly solo but then you'd at least had some room for luggage.

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