Sunday, October 28, 2012


Back when I was slightly more naive than I am now, I rejoiced when Co-pilot Egg dropped into the outside world, mistakenly thinking that this would be the end of the hormonally challenging months that had preceded the big event. Little did I know...

It was not long before I was introduced to the concept of postpartum depression and its lengthy list of symptoms:
  • Sadness
  • Hopelessness
  • Low self-esteem
  • Guilt
  • A feeling of being overwhelmed
  • Sleep and eating disturbances
  • Inability to be comforted
  • Exhaustion
  • Emptiness
  • Social withdrawal
  • Low or no energy
  • Becoming easily frustrated
  • Feeling inadequate in taking care of the baby
  • Impaired speech and writing
  • Spells of anger towards others
  • Increased anxiety or panic attacks
  • Decreased sex drive

You are, of course, wondering why I bring this up. Well, I'm finding that I am currently exhibiting more than a few of those symptoms (and to be fair, there are quite a few on there that I have grown so accustomed to as part of my natural state that I can't quite view them as symptoms of anything untoward) and I am not sure how to explain it. As I think about it, there are two recent events that might be the cause.

First is the current conditions in Ohio. We are beset with high, loud winds that constantly interrupt us as we try to relax in our home. We have tried to secure the house against their onslaught to no avail and have finally resigned ourselves to the fact that we will simply have to ride out the storm for the remainder of the week.  Note that I am not talking about the foul weather we are receiving under the auspices of hurricane Sandy's trek to the east. No, I am referring to the storm of political campaigning being endured here in Battlefield Ohio. While it is nice to know that my vote will actually matter to a degree that most other's won't, it comes at a cost. It's doubly frustrating to have to endure all this sturm und drang when one of the candidates really never stood a chance in hell of getting my vote.  I guess it's my own fault; I could have reduced the noise by half be registering with one of the two dominant parties, but I refuse to be formally associated with either of them. 

This isn't to say that the weather isn't taking a toll.  While we won't have the potentially devastating winds and sea surges of those living in coastal areas, the high winds and biting rain will keep me locked in for most of the week. Ugh.

While uncomfortable, neither of these situations fully explain the mix of anxiety and depression that I am feeling. For an explanation of those, I look to the airplane. While I thought that at this stage I would be excited about being nearly done and invigorated over the idea of working through the final steps, I instead find myself anxious (in a bad way) and enervated about the whole thing. I don't know if it was the incredible cock-up of pouring a quart of oil overboard due to my inattention on the valve covers, or whether it has more to do with the remaining things left to fix.

There's also the broken CHT issue. Wiring problems, in a word, suck.  And there is also the distinct difference between 'building' and 'fixing' to consider. While there were certainly times of uncertainty that bordered on confusion while building, I could assure myself that those problems were solvable simply by reminding myself that a few hundred people before me had done it. Not so with a wiring problem. Even getting to the position of being able to maybe solve the problem will require removing panels and parts that were hard to get in place, and will more than likely also require tearing apart all of the nice wiring bundles I created in the avionics bay.


I don't want to remove all of that stuff until I'm done with the stuff that requires running the engine, either. And part of that stuff is setting the propeller pitch, and that requires fabricating a special alignment tool. I have no appetite for that for some reason. I also have to tighten one of the stabilator cables, and that will require messing around with the cable turnbuckles down in the belly. The prospect of lengthy, uncomfortable periods of crawling around on the cold hangar floor trying to figure out how to get those stupid locking springs out of the turnbuckle does not appeal to me in any way, shape, or form.

When (if?) all of that is accomplished, I will have removed umpteen panels, floorboards, and other pieces/parts to provide a wide open view of the structures and systems to the inquisitive eyes of Federal inspectors. Do you think there might be a little stress in that??  Yep!!

I know that this is all stuff that pales in comparison to the years spent building the thing in the first place, but telling myself that doesn't seem to help. What will help is getting through some of the items on the to-do list. That, unfortunately, will have to wait for better weather.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

X's and O's and OH-NO's!

Before starting on the lengthy acceptance tests, I thought I'd work on a couple of little things that turned up during the engine start. First was the situation of the right side cylinder heat temperature which was showing a big red X on top of the Dynon indication. Second was the lack of an O. The O in question is the red circle that is supposed to light up when the stall warning vane is lifted on the wing.

I started with the stall warning. I figured the little micro-switch inside the wing just needed adjusting, so I removed the little access panel, stuffed a little flashlight up in there to provide some light, retrieved my little side-ratchet screw driver, and loosened the two set screws. A little pressure on the switch and it swung into place. A test of the switch showed not only the red O on the Dynon but also sent a loud warning horn into the headsets. Problem solved, I replaced the panel and went to look at the CHT wire.

Now where did that flashlight get to? I just had it, right there in the....

I glanced over at the stall vane and could see the bright illumination coming from inside the wing.

Rats. Now the access panel would have to come off again so I could extract the flashlight.

I didn't get much done on the CHT problem other than verifying that the problem is with the wire. I'll have to remove the avionics bay cover (a royal pain) and dig around in the wires looking for the problem. For now I will live with the X problem, but it will have to be fixed before the airworthiness inspection.

Before removing the cover, I thought I'd so something else that I would have to do with the cover on. I need to check the engine RPM when running at WOT (wide open throttle).  I pulled the plane out to the taxiway, out some chocks about eight inches in front of the wheels (figuring that I might as well test the brakes too), and started her up. As I was waiting for the oil temp to get high enough to throttle up, I thought I saw wisps of white/gray smoke out the right side of the canopy. Wondering what that could be, I glanced at the Dynon only to see the oil pressure starting to fluctuate. That didn't seem right so I started the shut-down process. Just before killing the engine, the dulcet tones of the HDC (Hot Dynon Chick) pointed out that my oil pressure was getting low, and had in fact just dipped down into the yellow. I've heard about people struggling with wiring/sensor issues that cause strange behavior in the oil and fuel pressure, so I sighed with disgust, wondering how long it would take to track down this problem.

As it turns out, not long at all!


Oil was gushing out of the #3 valve cover!  Odd, that, or so I thought until I touched the single allen-head bolt that holds it on. Hmmm. So I checked #1: also loose. And it is at that very instant I remembered the patriarch of The Jackson Two telling me to make sure I check the torque on those bolts before running the engine again. Which.... I had failed to do.

It looks like I lost about a quart of oil and the engine never ran anywhere near dry, but it was a close call nonetheless. My new rule is now nothing gets screwed or bolted onto the airplane at anything other than final torque. It's too easy to miss something important otherwise.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The First Start

You can tell when an airplane project is almost done when you start to get visitors that want to sit in it and pretend to be flying. To be fair, I asked Co-pilot Egg to try it on for size.  She got a real kick out of the video-game style avionics.

Before too long, she was trying to bridge her knowledge of what old-style mechanical gauges looked like to what the new fancy-schmancy stuff built into the Dynon. Unfortunately her experience with the antique stuff never prepared her for an electronic HSI, synthetic vision, or terrain avoidance.

With the tourism obligation fulfilled, I turned my attention to the first time starting the engine. This is not as trivial as one might assume. The Rotax is very different from the traditional airplane engines that I cut my teeth on lo those many years ago, and continue to use today. A couple of major differences are the dry-sump engine oil system and the fact that the sides of the cylinders are liquid cooled. Both of these differences manifest themselves quite heavily when it comes time to introduce the applicable fluids to the engine. This became difficult almost immediately - I spent quite a bit of time trying to deduce the correct flavors of antifreeze and motor oil. I ended up with a 50-50 pre-diluted DexCool antifreeze (Prestone, I think, but the actual brand name matters not) and Mobil 1 V-Tail synthetic motorcycle oil. Motorcycle oil is used because it contains the additives required to keep the gear box happy.

Having the proper fluids on hand is important, but it is equally important to know how to introduce them to the engine. There are procedures spelled out in Rotax Service Instructions (which you're more or less required to go find for yourself), but they are somewhat reticent in nature. They aren't completely useless, but they certainly spare words whenever and wherever they can. Best, I thought, to have The Jackson Two lend a hand given that they have relatively recent experience with the process.  Now the thing to know about these guys is that they don't just come up from Jackson and consult from the sidelines; it really ends up being something more akin to an Amish barn raising. They jump right in and we get some really efficient teamwork going almost immediately. This is, of course, one of the chief selling points of the Van's RV airplanes - the spirit of camaraderie and the willingness to share knowledge simply isn't available in any other community.

So, here's the antifreeze going in. It actually gets poured into two locations: the little reservoir on top of the engine and the additional reserve in the little plastic jug hanging on the firewall.

The oil purging process is where the real complexity lies. You don't just pour the oil in like you would with a dry sump Lycoming. Rather, you have to put air pressure on the system to assist in getting the oil pushed completely through the much longer path of hoses and coolers that are the hallmark of the Rotax dry sump engine.  To get the air pressure behind the oil, the oil return line is removed from the oil tank and the fitting gets plugged. The overflow line is removed and the air source is plugged in at the fitting. A regulator is used on the air hose from the compressor to keep the PSI below a meager 15 psi. The maximum allowed is 15 psi, but we used something more like 5 - 7 psi.

Naturally I was in charge of making sure all of the required parts were on hand, which is why we didn't have a cap for the oil tank. I ended up taking the "parts on hand" responsibility quite literally as a result.

While I held the air pressure in with a finger, Kyle swung the prop. Pete monitored the engine monitor. The idea was that somewhere between 20 and 60 swings of the prop, Pete would see an oil pressure indication on the Dynon.

Quite a few prop rotations later, success!

And there we were: the moment of truth!

We spent the last few moments going over the start procedure (throttle to idle, choke on, ignition switches on, crank the engine, choke off when it catches, throttle to 2,000 rpm for two minutes, throttle up to 2,200 - 2,500 rpm until the oil temp reaches 122 F degrees) before I locked myself in for the big moment.

And there it goes!!

Kyle hunted for leaks or other untoward events while I puzzled over the big red FAIL X sitting over the indication for the right side cylinder head temp. 

Great, a wiring problem. Ugh.

After the required oil temp was reached, I shut it down and pushed her back into the hangar to the next step.

The idea is that the engine would have run long enough to fill the valve lifters with oil. This needed to be checked, though, because a "soft" lifter is going to be a problem when the engine is run at higher power settings.

It only takes the removal of a single allen head bolt to get the covers off. Then it's just a matter of pushing on the valve springs to test their resistance.

The piston for each cylinder has to be at the top of its travel to make the test work correctly.  That means looking down into the sparkplug hole looking for the top surface of the piston.

With all that done, I went for extra points. I don't have a big cut-off wheel, so I had them bring theirs. I wanted to take an inch off of the exhaust pipe because it's too long and interferes with the installation and removal of the bottom cowling.

In case you're wondering about the marked improvement in the quality of the pictures, most of them were taken by Pete's son Keith. I should have hired him on as staff photographer ages ago!

It Is.... ALIVE!

I'll have the words tomorrow.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

It is.... BUILT!

There are those that will tell you with ripe confidence that of course you can do it. Anybody can!

Then there are those that will tell you, some quite stridently, that you are crazy to even be thinking about it.

None of them know.

In fact, not even you will know, until you try.

I know.

I know that I can build an airplane, because I have done it!

I reached the last page of the build manual today. I have built an airplane.

This should not, of course, be considered to be synonymous with finishing an airplane. Although built, it is not yet done. There are numerous fix-it jobs to be done, there are pages and pages of acceptance inspections to be completed. The engine has yet to be run. The Feds have to come have a look-see.

And then I have to fly it.  Alone. For the first time.  For both of us. And even then, it will not be done. For it is a fundamental truth of this kind of thing that it will never be done.

But... it's enough for now that it is built.

Oddly enough, it did not finish with a crescendo. It finished with a couple of cushion clamps and some decals.

The clamps were those that I had deferred on installing last week, but with nothing else to do instead I went ahead and did them. Cushion clamps are hard enough to deal with as-is, but Van's pulled out the stops with these. This time around, they wanted an old piece of radiator hose cut up and fitted inside the cushion clamp to functions as a form of.... well, cushion I guess.

And there they are!

The decals are for the FAA-mandated placards to describe the function and operation of the controls for the benefit of whomever steals my plane.  I think they look pretty tacky, if I'm honest. This is an example of the "never done" nature of airplanes: I will want to replace these with something nicer some day.  Not least because the 'CABIN HEAT' decal is sitting on the heads of two screws.

So, there it is. The last step of the build manual. Stay tuned as I move into fixing, adjusting, inspecting, credentialing, and eventually flying!

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Getting Caught Up - The Omnibus Edition

So, yeah, I haven't written for awhile. I'm chock full of excuses for it, though.

Starting at the beginning, I would have to say that it took nearly a full week to recover from the Germany trip.  Partially it was simply a matter of catching up on sleep. I did a little napkin arithmetic (which means I made a wild guess) and figure that I slept a total of no more than 12 hours in a 120 hour period, and followed that up by getting up in the morning and going to work at the data ranch after getting home and to bed well after midnight. Work, of course, had piled up to an astonishing degree in my absence - catching up on email alone took most of the first day back.

But oh, was it ever worth it!

When I wasn't working for money, I was working on my writing responsibilities. I had to write the trip report for you guys, then had to write the "official" version. Six hours to write here, another two for the game site. While I was gone, yet another game came in for review so I've spent a good three or four hours playing with it and will soon have to write another article.  It never ends.

Halfway though all of that, I also had some family obligations to take care of. Back before I left I went through one of my brief episodes wherein I feel like I really ought to make some effort at being a better person. Those events are thankfully rare, but when I get deeply into one of them there's no telling what I'll do. This time around I agreed to take my nephew, who seems to have become interested in aviation in a big way, to the Air Force Museum over at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. Truth be told, I really like going there and thought it would be nice to visit a couple of my old flames from my Air Force years. There was that, but it's also the case that I'm always ready to spend time with someone that has no choice to endure my constant prattle about this or that particular airplane. This is quite a bit at odds with the theory the nephew came up with to explain my sudden burst of interest in doing nice things: he thought that I must be missing Co-pilot Egg and that I was simply pining for spending time with a teenager. Imagine that!

I think his favorite part of the outing was riding in the Mercedes SLK (it actually got warm enough to drive with the top down!), but a close second had to be the time that he got to sit in the F-16 cockpit:

His folks are either bringing him up right, or my carefully crafted image as the least avuncular uncle in the world is still well and truly in place: he asked my permission to push buttons in the cockpit! Keep in mind that this is a stand-alone display - it's not actually attached to an airplane so there is no possibility that any of those switches are functional in any way. I was even more impressed when we were eating lunch and he asked me if I minded if he took a minute to text his mom. And here I was thinking that no one taught their kids manners anymore!  

And what about my old flames? Doing well, thanks for asking. Here is one of the first airplanes that I ever worked on. I know for a fact that I worked on this specific airplane, but I don't know if it was truly The First.

It even had a CAPRE radar nose on it; that's what my specialty was. The other two choices would have been an OBC camera nose or a ballast nose. 

I worked on the RCD as well, and I'm here to tell you, the 60 second display lag was the least of the problems, It really had one and only one problem: we could never get them to work.

As you would expect, it was a fascinating plane to work on, but I eventually became bored. The problem was that our shop was massively over-staffed to support a two flights per day schedule. And I don't mean each plane flew twice a day, I mean there were only two flights a day!  Boring!!  I volunteered for any assignment in the world, which at the time was the same as tattooing SEND ME TO KOREA on your forehead. The year in Korea gave me the right to choose my own follow-on assignment, which is how I came to spend two years in... 

wait for it.... 


Around and around we go, eh?

In both Korea and Germany I worked on RF-4C tactical reconnaissance jets (as opposed to the strategic reconnaissance SR-71 shown above) which provided the intense, full-immersion work that I was looking for. This is not one of the airplanes that I worked on, or at least I think it wasn't, but it is a representative sample.

Work on the -12 has slowed considerably as I've attempted to get back into my normal routine. There are also the questions surrounding the landing gear to deal with. Van's has been sending a veritable flood of Service Bulletins (well, two or three, but that's a lot relative to normal) because some of the completed planes that have been flying for awhile are exhibiting some issues with the landing gear. The problems are having to do with some of the bolts loosening up over time. Some got loose enough that they moved around and caused wrinkles in the side skin. There's more to it than this brief synopsis, but the upshot is that the most recent communication has put me in wait-and-see mode. It was basically a "there is something coming, so get ready for it" type of communication.

That said, there are always little jobs to do. For example, I thought I'd go ahead and put in the back window. But before I could do that, I had to finish installing the fuel tank. More specifically, I had to fit the filling tube. But before I could do that, I had to drill a vent hole in the gas cap. And before I could do that, I had to take the cap apart.

Then I could drill the vent hole in the cap.

And then I could bend the flange of the filler tube to fit the curvature of the skin. Once that was done, I had to create a seal out of Pro-Seal. That seal will act as a kind of gasket between the filler tube flange and the side skin of the plane. Because I will want to be able to remove the filler tube, I first had to smear wax on the skin to ensure that the sealant wouldn't stick.

Then I could lay on the sealant...

... and screw the flange to the side skin.

That took so long that Pete and I never got around to putting in the window. A few days later I tried to do it by myself. As you'd expect, it didn't go all that well. It's actually kind of a trick to get the window to fit into place without an extra set of hands to help hold it in on one side while screws get put in on the other side. I did eventually get it into place, but ham-handedly broke off the head of a screw. Removing the orphaned stub of screw would require removing the window, and I was in no mood to do that and go through the whole process of trying to install it by myself again.

And that brings us to today. Pete was available to help with the window again. But before the window could go in, it had to be removed. As it was being removed, I noticed that some of the paint had flaked off of the roll bar again. So before the window could go back in, the roll bar would have to be painted. Not wanting to get over-spray on the fuel tank, it would have to be removed. It had to come out anyway since I had yet to finish the wiring in the tail cone, so out it came. And that's when I crawled into the hellhole and started cleaning up the wiring.

That's a very sharp edge I'm lying on. In fact, I ended up with so many cut-like impressions on my wrists that I'm going to have to stay out of sight of any psychiatrists for a few days lest they lock me up and put me on suicide watch.

My back is going to ache for days after this.

But it sure looks much nicer!

And then we put the window back in. It was a non-event this time around. I really should have waited for Pete's help from the get-go.

That left the throttle and choke cables to be installed. Or at least more installed. I already had them through the panel, but I had stopped when I found that I was going to have to install cushioned clamps (I hate, hate, HATE cushioned clamps) under the avionics shelf. We decided to forego that pleasure again and work on the front side of the firewall where we would be.... installing cushioned clamps.


And these were to be much worse that the ones under the avionics shelf: these would be the dreaded "install two clamps together" type. I've had to do these a couple of times before and it has always been terribly difficult. Pete and I pulled out all of the magic tricks: one clamp held shut with forceps, the other with a length of safety wire. Pete had to talk me into using the safety wire - I've been reluctant to use it since the time where it ended up being harder to remove the wire than it had been to install the clamp.

Of course, this time the wire came right off and I ended up looking like a big cry baby. Eh, I don't care. It's true often enough that I'm fine with it.

Attaching the end of the throttle cable to the throttle arm brought one of those Van's Mystery Moments that we've grown to know and not-quite-love.  Here's a fancy little fitting on the throttle cable bracket:

Here's the picture from the manual, showing no such fitting, and containing no directions to guide our decision as to what to do with it:

Picture, thousand words, yada yada yada. We removed it and put it away somewhere.

And then, another mystery. Yippee! A twofer!  The little thingy shown on the cable is a stop nut kind of thing called a CT-00101, and it is supposed to keep a panicked pilot from yanking the throttle cable too hard and damaging the throttle arm. The picture in the book says it is "included with the throttle cable." The thing is, it wasn't.

Pete hunted around in the paper bags and found something that looked like it would fit the bill:

Unfortunately, that ended up being a CT-00100, and it is needed to hold the choke cable to the choke control are.  That ended up being somewhat of a pain to install. Getting the cable routed to where it needed to go through the hole in the CT-00100 resulted in a little fraying at the end. The fit of the cable through the hole was too tight to allow for the frayed cable to go through, so I had to cut it off. I put a piece of shrink wrap on the cable to keep it from fraying again when I cut it, but it did anyway. After some time hemming and hawing about some other way of doing it, I decided to just try again.

Second time was the charm. It worked!

I still don't know what I'm going to do about the CT-00101, though.

But things are really starting to look good!

I hope the work that I'm going to have to do on the landing gear doesn't set us too far back.