Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Where ya been?

You could be forgiven for thinking that I may have traipsed off on vacation, given the lack of reported activity here. Well, it's the standard excuse: I've been busy. Last week was eaten up with wheeling and dealing on various wheeled items. The first deal actually culminated in the creation of YAB, or Yet Another Blog for those of you unfamiliar with the TLA. ("TLA??" Ah, yes, TLA is a self-referential Three Letter Acronym) If you'd like, you can visit it at 21 Speeds to Nowhere. So, I bounced around like a kid with a new bike for a couple of days after that.

Then came the Thursday crash. I hadn't even gotten out of the car after an irritating day at the paid and an equally frustrating commute when I was met with bad news: the Sears guy that had come out to do the annual inspection on the lawn tractor had found a broken weld and other damage to the apparently highly vulnerable mower deck. $1,280 for a new deck. For a ten year old mower that has seen some pretty tough days?


The mower, while terminally broken from a financial aspect, still mowed and would probably get us through this year's mowing season, at the end of which perhaps we would be able to get a replacement at end-of-season prices. It would help to know what I was in the market for, though, so I started researching. I've long wanted one of those zero-turn radius rides that the professionals use, but I had no idea what they cost.

I do now: a lot!

Shotgun Scott, the kind and patient fellow that introduced me to Sporting Clays, sells commercial power equipment for a local wholesaler, so I thought I'd hit him up for a recommendation. I've seen too many brand names sell out to big box retail (really, a John Deere at Home Depot prices? Who really makes that machine?) to count on picking a winner by myself. Well, he had something better: a residential model, manufactured by a company that makes mostly commercial stuff, that Scott's company had only ever used to display at trade shows for kids to sit on and dogs to pee on while Dad looked at the commercial equipment. In other words, pretty easy living for a mower. And, it was available within my budget after a massive discount from standard retail. In fact, I strongly suspect that I got it at or near wholesale cost.

Well, I couldn't wait to get started running this thing around. In fact, I think I was already mowing before Scott had even gotten out of the driveway after dropping it off. I'm here to tell you: if you ever feel that you need a little dose of humility in your life, try driving one of these things for the first time. I'll just put it this way: it might have been better to make my first efforts out in the middle of the yard rather than along the edge of the house where, purely hypothetically, one might maneuver oneself into a position whereby a completely innocent down spout could be crushed flat.

But all that aside, what about the weekend? Well Saturday was spent over in the other hangar tearing down the RV-6 for annual inspection. And it was cold.

Sunday was colder. I stayed in.

I've forsaken my winter climatological acclimatization too soon, it would appear, lulled into complacence by an early spring, followed by an unexpected Indian winter.

Yes, I just now invented "Indian winter."

Even this week has been difficult. In some type of tangible instance of the Peter Principle theory, I am finding that it is quite difficult to get my responsibilities at the oatmeal mine in order prior to my sailing trip next week. Which, it appears, means that I am doing something wrong. As it says in my book, The Peter Principle In Practice; How to Ensure Your Advancement to the Level of Your Incompetence and Get Rich Doing It, you are never supposed to be irreplaceable in your job. If no one else can do your job, in other words, no sane manager is going to promote you out of it.

Or maybe the trip is just coming at a bad time. It's hard to say which, but it seems that a lot of loose threads are going to be blowing in the breeze next week, as am I.

Tonight, though, I managed to get an hour in at the hangar. I didn't get much done, but I was able to get one of the cowling side hinges match drilled to the lower cowling bowl.

Naturally, the first step is clamping them into place.

As I did that, I realized that I had put the rivet hole location marks on the wrong side of the hinge and that they would consequently be on the wrong side to be visible while drilling. Which, as you can imagine, makes them useless. It didn't take long to remove the hinges and measure out the marks on the correct side.

I started to drill with my hand drill, but it takes two hands to operate and the pressure required to drill the holes was causing the edge of the cowling to bend quite precipitously. With both hands encumbered with the drill, I didn't have any left to hold the edge against the pressure of the drill.

I had to switch to the electric. Note that this is pretty much the definitive way of drilling into your finger - see how my fingers were placed in an almost congressionally wide stance to avoid an unwanted perforation?

And there's the first row done!

It will likely be weeks before I get to the other side.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Capping off the Cowling

Well, not really. The top half of the cowling will still need some trimming, but a few judicious swipes of the sanding block resolved the fit problems that I was having with the lower half. It really is a game of millimeters, this fitting of fiberglass parts. A game for the patient, really, which is why Professorial Pete is such a great addition to the team. His boy Warthog, on the other hand.... didn't tell me until after taking this picture that he just wanted to get a picture of the smudge of fiberglass dust I had carelessly festooned my face with.

With a decent fit finally accomplished, I was able to drill and cleco a couple of rivet holes in the top of the side hinges. That held the bottom half well enough to allow a trial fit of the top half:

It looks nearly done, but with the additional complexity of the internal workings of the RV-12 cowl versus any of the other RVs, there is still tunnel at the end of this light.

Cryptic foreshadowing??


Thursday, April 12, 2012

Melancholily Monastic Mumblings

I may or may not have mentioned that the cost of my taking a separate vacation to the sailing school was that the Co-owner and Co-pilot Egg would also take a separate trip. In much the same way that Egg accompanied me for a couple of week long trips to Oshkosh, the distaff branch of the clan is currently vacationing at a sunny resort in the Bahamas.

I'm often asked whether this bothers me. When asked questions along this line before they left, I laughed it off with "Of course not! Just think of how much I will be able to work on the plane while they're gone!"

I no longer answer that way. As it turns out, just keeping up with the housework, even with the vastly reduced standards for such that are currently in place due to my new-found (yet fleeting) ability to unilaterally set the standards, is taking a lot more time that I had estimated. Sure, eating whatever I want, whenever I want, and most importantly, wherever I want sounded attractive, right up until the time I realized why certain eating locations had been deemed unfavorable under the prior regime. It really is hard to get crumbs out of the recliner, as it turns out.

Who knew??

And the pets! They want out, they want in, then they want out again. Feed me. Play with me. The demands go on and on and on.

And that's before we even get to the cat.

The cat and I have never been what you would call "close," unless "close to killing each other" counts. There was a time when Egg was younger that we decided that we would volunteer at the local humane society. I had visions of walking dogs, playing with dogs, and cuddling with puppies. Well, everyone has that vision, and seniority rules. We were assigned to the loftily titled department of "Cat Socialization." This is a glorified way of saying "volunteer cat petter." The officially stated purpose was to get the cats out of their cages now and then and let them bond with humans. In fact, the goal was to teach them how to pretend to be affectionate just long enough to fool a naive human into adopting them.

Note that I saw through this almost immediately, and note also that I did not care. Why, here was all of the feline attention that I wasn't getting at home! Free for the asking! Sure, I knew I was being used, but if that's what being used feels like, well, bring it on. These cats would fairly leap from their cages and into my willing arms, where they would cuddle up and purr in an almost believable way.

I learned something from this, but I learned it far too late in life. As it turns out, I like my cats the same way I like my women: desperate and incarcerated.

Our cat has long since forgotten to even pretend. It's Capulet and Montague with fur and fangs. We're both comfortable with that.

Or were, I suppose, because now that we are forced to interact, well....

It would be okay, even with that, were it not for the twice-a-day pill. Yes, I have to, two times a day, get a cat that hates me to swallow a pill.

Did I express concern over this with the Co-owner prior to her departure? Sure! "Piece of cake," she assured me, "he swallows 'em down no problem."

She proceeded to walk me through the process. "Snuggle him in the crook of your elbow, press your finger right here at the corner of his mouth. See how he opens his mouth? Just toss in the pull and he'll swallow it." And you know what? He did!

Then they flew off to the Bahamas.

Without the cat.

That very night I tried to give him his pill all by myself. I pressed my finger on the magic mouth-opening spot. He clenched his jaws. I pressed a finger at the same spot on the other side of his mouth. He clenched his jaws even tighter and yanked his head back, leaving be with empty air under my fingers. Through repeated efforts involving various means of prying his jaws apart, I eventually got his mouth open far enough toss in the pill. As I was metaphorically patting myself on the back for having successfully forced my will upon him, "Ptooey!" And out came the pill. I had no idea cats could expectorate objects that powerfully. After about fifteen minutes of the same act being played out repeatedly, I didn't drop the pill in - I pushed it down his gullet and held his jaws shut until he swallowed it.

It has only been down hill from there. This morning I couldn't even catch him - he runs away when he hears me opening the jar of pills now.

It was at this point that I decided that the cat is going to climb out on the roof.

Oh, you haven't heard that joke? Here, allow me to elucidate:
While sunning himself in the Bahamas, a wealthy English businessman received a telegram from his butler, which read simply: "Cat dead." Distraught at the loss of his beloved pet, the businessman cut short his holiday and returned home. After giving the cat a decent burial in the garden, he remonstrated with his butler for the cold-hearted nature of the telegram.

"You should break bad news gently," he said. "If I had been telling you that your cat had died, I would have sent a telegram saying: "The cat's on the roof and can't get down." Then a few hours later I would have sent another telegram, saying: "The cat's fallen off the roof and is badly hurt." Finally, a couple of hours after that, I would have sent a third telegram, saying: "The cat had sadly passed away." That way, you would have been gradually prepared for the bad news and would have been able to deal with it better."

"I understand, sir," said the butler. "I will bear that in mind in future."

With that, the businessman booked another ticket to the Bahamas and resumed his holiday.

Two days later, he received another telegram from his butler. It read: "Your mother's on the roof and can't get down."
But that's all fine with me as long as the girls are having a good time. Judging by the call from them I got last night, they certainly are! Egg was excited about having gotten to pet a goat. Okay, call me selfish, cynical, or whatever, but after paying $400 for them to attend a "Swim With the Dolphins" outing, and note that me, being ever the cheapskate, tried to re-direct them into the much lower cost "Swim With the Piranhas" outing (what? They've never had any complaints from other people that have gone...), I would hope and expect to hear about a bigger trip highlight than petting a goat. Still, perhaps I shouldn't have suggested to Egg that she pay particular attention to the menu cards at the buffet lest she end up eating the goat. That was probably a little cruel.

Oh well, I blame the cat.

So, what with constantly changing the water in the dogs, getting up at 4:30 am to clean the litter box, and chasing the cat around in order to give him a pill that helps him run faster (one of those Circles of Irony that I usually enjoy, but ironically, I'm currently not), I haven't worked on the plane nearly enough.

Which, when you consider that I am now growling at the cowling, I haven't missed all that much.

I may have mentioned that I have been working on the hinges that hold the whole thing together. There was a little more of that to do. The hinges needed to be measured and marked for the locations that would be drilled to provide holes for the rivets.

These are the hinge halves that will be attached to the fiberglass cowling parts. The other halves are already riveted to the airplane. Once measured and marked, the hinges are installed with the hinge pins. Some of them have to negotiate curves in the fuselage, so they needed a little light fluting. Once that's done, the bottom half is lifted into place and clamped. The idea is to test the fit and if everything is good and non-bulgy, to go ahead and start drilling the hinges.

It's the "non-bulgy" thing that's the problem. First, the exhaust pipe was rubbing against the slot that it is supposed to fit through.

We had to loosen the header bolts and move the whole thing over towards the left side of the plane. It fits better now, but the exhaust is no longer centered on the engine and it's not level. I don't know if that matters, but I do know that there's nothing I can do about it.

The other, bigger problem, the problem that has me stuck, is that the lower corners of the cowl don't precisely match the contour of the lower fuselage, and that's something that the plans insist on being correct. I'm not sure what to do about it. Pete's theory is that we need to remove a little more material from the side tabs because they may be reacting to undue pressure from their bottom edges, which is in turn causing a misshapen cowling. That might be true, but I'm deathly afraid of removing any more material from the tabs because it would mean violating the ostensible sanctity of the scribe lines. That's something that cannot be undone once done, so I'm naturally quite reluctant to do it. So instead I just sit around the house devising schemes for catching that damn cat and getting him out onto the roof.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Good Intentions, Deflected

What's the opposite of a rain check? You know, like you were going to be baseball game but it was rained out - what's the antonym to that? I ask because, well, that's what happened yesterday. I had planned all week to have Pete come by on Saturday to help me with the fitting of the bottom cowling half. I had prepared for the big job by getting the hinges and corresponding pins cut to size, but more on that later. Those plans were cast aside like my pre-teen aspirations for winning an Olympic gold medal for the clean & jerk once I realized that I was destined to be more physically attuned to something more along the lines Olympic curling.

As a sweeper, that is. Those rocks look heavy.

So what could have so egregiously deflected me from the straight and narrow path of diligence to the build? Well, as any Ohio-based pilot will tell you, there are maybe five perfect flying days a year around here, and you sure don't want to miss out on them, especially considering that they most commonly occur on the Monday following a rainy weekend. To see the makings of a splendidly clear, calm, and comfortable day early on a Saturday morning is a clarion call that cannot with clear conscience be cast aside in favor of any contemplated competing calling.

I had to fly!

Which, if I tell the truth, actually fit in nicely with my plans to visit The Farm sometime in the next few weeks.

The period between decision and departure was something like fifteen minutes. A quick check on the internet answered the three most important questions: was the weather forecast to remain good all day, were either of the two airports I would be using closed, and were either of the current White House occupants going to close our airspace with a campaign visit? The answers were, as hoped, yes, no, and NO!

Arriving at the airport, I was left wondering whether I had gotten any of those answers wrong; there was no one else to be seen. That turned out to be illusory; by the time I got the plane out, preflighted, and let the engine idle for a few minutes to clear out whatever congestion it may have developed after sitting unused for a few weeks, I ended up second in a line of four airplanes at the end of the runway waiting to takeoff.

Climbing out to the west, I crossed over one of my favorite scenic landmarks, the enclosed training track at what used to be the Darby Dan Farms racing stables.
Darby Dan Farm is a produce, livestock, and thoroughbred horse breeding and training farm founded in 1935 near the Darby Creek in Galloway, Ohio by businessman John W. Galbreath. Named for the creek and for Galbreath's son, Daniel M. Galbreath (1928-1995), it was expanded from an original 85-acre farm into a 4,000 acre estate.
Part of the estate, including the unique training track, has been sold to the City of Columbus (or to the county; I don't know which) as park land. There's a very nice hiking/biking trail that runs a few miles along the river and ends at the track.

Just a few miles later, it turned out to be lucky that I had the camera warmed up and ready to go as I came across this farm field, apparently owned by a farmer with a great deal of spare time on his hands. Or, I suppose, a farmer that has planted something that creates an abnormal pattern on the field.

Every now and then I grab a new picture to use for Facebook and/or the employee directory at the paying gig.

A brief half hour flight later, I was lined up to land on runway 9 at KVES. As is often the case, the county life squad was parked there in their big ambulance. I used to take that personally, chalking it up to an extreme lack of faith in my piloting abilities, but over time I've just decided that they find it to be a nice place to waste away the day when their services aren't currently needed. And in this case, they most certainly weren't; one of the nice things about a calm-air landing is that they present an opportunity to really grease one on, and I availed myself of said opportunity quite nicely. There was a little bump that lifted the right wing as I was just about to flare over the runway (and also foreshadowed a bumpy flight home later in the day), but I recovered nicely and finished up the landing with one of those arrivals where the tires just start to brush the runway and the final transition from flier to groundling is nearly imperceptible.

I usually like to check in with my brother at 8105 Limited Racing and see how things are going with the Schmetterling Aviation-sponsored race team. The car is looking good this year, although I'm not sure yet whether or not I like their marketing department's edgy new look for my logo.

One of my favorite things to do while I'm at The Farm is to take a walk around the lower field. This particular field is bordered by a wooded strip, which itself is bordered on it opposite side by the Greenville Creek. It's a nice walk that has plenty of scenic flora and fauna, especially in the spring.

That big (Sycamore, I think) has been there forever, at least as measured by my span on the planet.

There's a constantly varying collection of resting race horses there, some of whom are quite personable.

And no shortage of pampered farm cats as well. This one goes by "Domino." She was rescued from the race track at the Darke County Fairgrounds where she was running wild. She's got it pretty good now!

Three or four hours later, we returned to the airport where the alert and ever-ready ambulance crew were.... sound asleep.

Sometimes I like to circle back around The Farm on my way home.

The return trip was, in fact, bumpy as the sun had warmed up the bare fields considerably - the rising warm air acts as a infinite series of speed bumps. In July or August, there would have been no escape from it, but this early in the year I was able to climb into smooth air at 5,500'. As I was approaching Bolton and monitoring the tower frequency as is my wont, I heard a call from another plane:

"Bolton Tower, Cessna something-or-other, student pilot, nine miles north inbound for touch and goes."

This prompted an immediate look at the GPS to see how far out I was.

Sixteen miles.

I had hoped that I was closer because of my past experiences with student pilots planning on doing touch and goes: they fly a very wide, very long pattern, and they do it slowly. I strongly prefer to be in front of them, whenever possible, and not for the reason that you might expect. It's not (completely) a matter of my innate impatience, believe it or not. No, the problem is that if I get slotted in behind them, I have to fly low and slow for much longer than I'm comfortable with. Absent both altitude and airspeed, I'm left with very few options in the event of an engine failure.

Normally a seven mile deficit would be hard to surmount, but I had something going for me: that extra 3,500 feet could be converted into airspeed quite easily. That's an exchange rate that doesn't vary on the strength of the dollar. So, rather than throttling back and descending down to pattern altitude as I usually do, I kept the throttle in and pushed the nose over. I usually call the tower as I cross over the grain elevator at Lilly Chapel, but this time I called a mile or two early since the 170 knots I was carrying would allow me to blaze across the remaining eight or nine miles right quickly. The time that the tower would expect me to take would be the same as usual.

I knew that my call to the tower would garner the usual "report two mile left base for runway four" in response and that with the other plane being north of the runway and therefore having an extra mile to go before they'd be in a position to call for landing clearance, that I had a pretty good chance of getting to my reporting point before they got to their's. The way this game works is that the first to report is the first to land. Now, I'm not saying that I may have made my "two mile" report from a location slightly further out than that (hypothetically, say, 3.5 miles), but even if I had, I still would have been making my turn off of the runway at right about the time the Cessna called from their reporting point.

I'm going to miss that kind of thing in the -12.

After having moved the -6 from one side of the row of hangars to the other when the -12 got too big to share a hangar, I worried that someday I would taxi back to the old hangar out of habit, somewhat like a trail horse that knows his way back to the barn. I haven't done that yet, but yesterday I found that I couldn't get my hangar key to unlock the door. I looked at it to confirm that I was using the right one. Yep. there's the six, big as life. What could be wrong?? A belated glance at the door solved the mystery.


Yeah, no wonder '6' wasn't working!

Those ambulance drivers might be onto something.

So that's why the cowling parts are still resting on the hangar floor. But when I do get around to fitting them to their hinges, the hinges are ready.

As they are with the -6, the hinges that bow across the top of the airframe mightily resist having their pins pushed through. The plans have us file a bevel into the bottoms of the hinge hoops where the hinges curve. My hope was that the bevel would make the pins slide through more easily, but alas, that apparently demonstrably is not the reason; I now believe it is to keep the hoops from breaking off due to the pressure exerted against them from the bent hinge pin.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Bereft of Sanguinity

Regular readers will have no doubt noted the uncharacteristic lack of prolixity hereabouts over the last week; it had been one of those weeks where both the paying gig and the airplane building have provided higher than normal levels of mental stress.

Yes, in one place I have trouble, trouble with a capital 'T' which rhymes with 'D' which stands for 'Data.' It a long and involved saga, but eye-wateringly boring, I'm sure. Suffice to say, there are pressures that are brought to bear on the purveyor of bad news that, while short of a literal shoot-the-messenger model, are nonetheless unpleasant for the poor fellow tasked with presenting a fact-based analysis that throws a harsh light on an unsolvable dilemma. Alas, such is the dark underbelly of the commonly perceived Rock Star lifestyle of the IT Director.

After giving over the best part of my day over to that kind of work, heading out to the hangar, where I have trouble, trouble with a capital 'T' which rhymes with 'C' which stands for 'Cowling', well.... it's not as restorative as one might have become accustomed to. Still, it ain't gonna fix itself, so.... out I went.

The problem, for those that may not have been keeping score at home, was that the top half of the cowling was mating with the lower half of the cowling like a dog on a chicken, which is to say, not very well at all. Having inspected a completed and well-fitted cowling on an investigatory foray to the darkest regions of southeastern Ohio, I knew that there was at least one place on the bottom cowling that needed further trimming. I knocked that off of the hope (as in "I sure hope this works!") list early in the week.

The ridiculously faint scribe lines that are intended to provide the critical cut-line are damn hard to find without the aid of bright light or an electron microscope. Harbor Freight doesn't carry electron microscopes, so...

The extraneous material has been excised:

Pete stopped by and we made a detailed inspection of the periphery of both halves of the cowling, studiously ensuring that we had removed material right up to the very edge of the scribe lines, or at least those that we could see.

That improved things, but there was still a real problem at the front of the cowling. The bottom flanged area was pushing the overlapping edge of the top half away from a nice, flat fit. Close inspection showed that the fiberglass on the outer side of the bottom half was too thick and would need to be filed down.

That made all the difference! With the excess resin removed, the top and bottom fit together as tight as OJ's glove.

Wait, that's a really bad simile, isn't it?

With the two cowl halves at least temporarily fitting well together, I thought it might be a good idea to hurry up and get some matching holes drilled. There are three holes to be drilled on each side of the big hole that the prop spinner will cover. The build manual provides a drawing to show the location of the two inner holes, but the reference line that they show in the drawing bears no resemblance to any landmark on the actual parts.

I measured from the wrong faux edge on the first attempt, but perspicaciously probing Pete found a better way of finding the right location. He noticed that the hole should be somewhere near a tangent line drawn off of the cooling air inlet. Reversing from there, it was easier to find the ambiguous measuring point called out in the plans. In my defense, note that I also knew something was wrong because the location of my first proposed hole would have put the screw that will inhabit the hole behind the spinner, where it would have been impossible to install or remove without having to remove the spinner. No one would design a headache like that into an airplane, I figured.

Oh, also in my defense: the glove didn't fit.

I'm still using the hand drill for fiberglass drilling - it gives more control and it isn't that hard to drill through fiberglass anyway.

Once the two initial holes a drilled, there are a couple more holes and a big slot to be cut into the bottom half. The slot allows the cowling to slip past the nosewheel strut.

Have I mentioned that there are two major problems with the scribe lines? The second is that there are sometimes two of them. Crazy!!

When this happens, I just use the more conservative of the two.

I managed to cut myself again, this time against the serrated edge of the fiberglass. Figuring that we were just about done for the day, I made do with one of my patented field bandages, crafted in a MacGyver-esque fashion from paper shop towels and masking tape.

There is still a lot of fitting to do, but here is what the bottom half will eventually look like when installed on the plane: