Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Trial Run

We had another one of those quirky Global Warming days today - 60+ degree days in January continue to make me wonder what precisely is wrong with a little bit warmer globe, although if asked in August I will probably be able to come up with a pretty good answer. It would have been foolish to waste the opportunity as the forecast for tomorrow takes us right back to the normal miserable wintry crud we usually have.  

Truth be told, it is tomorrow's weather that better reflects my current mood - three weeks into a six week audit and I have had enough of probing and repetitive questions. Don't get me wrong - there are very good reasons for these folks to be in here looking at my stuff - but it gets difficult when they demand evidence of something that happens invisibly. For example, the applications that I build determine who the user is and what that user should be able to do (or, more importantly, not do) by "asking" Windows who that user is and what groups he/she belongs to. This is great for me because it lets me trust Windows to manage their passwords - no more "Dave, I lost my password!!" interruptions to deal with. Corporate HQ also sets and enforces the password complexity rules, so I am automatically in compliance with their standards through no additional effort at all. It works wonderfully, right up until an auditor says "Prove it!"


Still, a little warmth in the late afternoon this time of year is a gift and it would be churlish not to appreciate it to its fullest, so Pete and I gratefully took the opportunity to button up the plane. That meant removing the spark plugs and re-torquing them with heat sink compound on the threads, putting on the cowls, and finishing up the installation of the fuel filler neck. With all of that done, the plane was ready for flight except for two outstanding tasks: the brake pads needed to be conditioned, and the fuel level part of the Dynon needs to be calibrated. I was able to do one of those.

We pulled out the plane and I managed to get it started. Five times. I'm still not very good at the transition from choke to throttle and it dies on me until I get it just right. I called Bolton ground for taxi permission, but there was no reply. That can mean one of two things: the day has been so slow and boring that the controller has nodded off, or that the volume is turned down on the radio. Because the first is so common, it took me a couple of seconds to test for the second. I did it just in time to hear an irritated "two eight four delta golf, how do you hear this radio?"  Oops. He must have thought that his primary radio was broken, which is also not uncommon at Bolton.

I replied back that I could hear him just fine, the fault was mine, and that I apologize. Not  accepted, it would seem, because he was surly for the remainder of our interaction. I asked to taxi down to the runway where I would need to perform "a high-speed taxi." I realized too late that from where he sits, 40mph was not going to look anything remotely like "high speed," but given his mood I just let it go.

The winds were fairly light at 8 knots, but I still had trouble taxiing in a straight line. That huge weather vane on the tail combined with a swiveling nose wheel had me punching at the brakes the whole way. I think this airplane is going to go through brake pads at a prodigious rate.

The taxi test/brake conditioning went fine. The idea is to accelerate to 40 mph, brake hard down to 5 mph, repeat three times. By the third time, I was able to get the tires to screech a little bit, so it would seem that full braking authority was attained. I also had time to monitor the airspeed indication on the Dynon and see that it's working fine.

While taxiing back in, I tried to engage the tower guy in a little chit-chat by saying that "next time out will be the first flight!"

He replied, "                                              ."


Monday, January 28, 2013

Final Steps

As most of you are no doubt aware, N284DG has been deemed to be a viable flying machine in the eyes of the law. That said, the fellows coming to inspect it wanted to see some of the moving parts normally hidden away by various panels and covers. Those all had to be replaced, so four or five hours working out in the cold environs of the hangar were required. Even then it still wasn't completely put back together, but it was far enough along to take some pictures of it in the most complete state it has been in for months.

So, you're probably wondering, what's left to do? Well, I'm glad you asked.  First of all, the fuel tank level needs to be calibrated. I had to remove the tank to replace the back bulkhead, which means that I had to drain out the two plus gallons of gas in it. The tank is now back in place, but it's empty. That's good, because the way the tank is calibrated with the Dynon is to put in two gallons at a time, pressing a button on the Dynon between each filling. It will take, therefore, ten repetitions of filling a little two gallon jug and carefully pouring it into the tank. If that doesn't sound like a whole lot of fun, it's because it isn't.

Then the cowls have to go back on, which is again no one's idea of a good time. In addition to which it will require some assistance - I'll need to schedule a session with Pete. On the plus side, it's supposed to get unseasonably warm again later this week.

Once it's all re-assembled, I'm going to fast taxi it down the runway a few times. That will double as my brake glazing operation. The primary function of it, though, is to make sure the wheels all roll nicely. Oh, and that none of them part ways with the rest of the airplane. That's important too.

After that it will be ready to fly, even if I am not. I've been thinking about the first flight quite a bit. Van's would have me get started on the flight test cards (which are intended to be used to gather information about the performance of the plane) on the first flight, but I'm thinking I won't. Van's tends to group-think quite a bit, and they are a group that seem to see nothing particularly special or difficult about a first flight. I think I will probably be a little too wrapped up in the intense experience of the even to be wanted to concern myself with measurements and writing stuff down.  

Their attitude is understandable, of course, since they live and breathe this stuff five days a week.  They're kind of like that with challenges to the build process too. They seem to forget that we aren't all working in large, temperature-controlled, well-lit facilities with every necessary tool right there for the asking, nor are we just a few steps away from the guy that can provide clarification for an ambiguously worded step in the plans. This manifest itself at times in the way they (well, some of them anyway) respond to questions and complaints.

Anyway, I see the first flight as an opportunity to get a feel for the plane and get used to the idea that it will actually fly. I'm planning on asking the tower to let me stay in the traffic pattern to the west of the airport (that's where all of the open fields are) as I climb to 3,000' or so. Once there, I'll fly a few orbits around the pattern before descending back down for my first landing. Then it's back to the hangar to open it all up again and make sure nothing worked its way loose.  I think I'll also drain out the full-synthetic oil that's in it now and replace it with semi-synthetic Aeroshell. That will allow me to burn avgas which, while more expensive, is better suited to my current need. That need being, as it turns out, a way to get gas into the plane without having to carry it home from the gas station and fill the tank by hand.

My flying area for the first five hours is limited to a radius of fifty miles around my home airport. That will be plenty. I probably won't get through the test cards in four and a half hours, though. There's quite a bit of data to be gathered.  We'll talk about that later, though.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The Inspection

It is done and, at least in the eyes of the Federal Aviation Administration, N284DG is an airworthy airplane.

Physics and aeronautics still get to weigh in, of course, and as potentially far harsher judges, but that hurdle has yet to be reached.

It's fitting, in a way, that the inspection should occur on a morning with temperatures hovering around the 10-15 degree range when you consider just how much of the work on the airplane was performed under similar conditions. Kyle, Chief Thermal Engineer for The Jackson Two, flew up in his own RV-12 to deliver a heater to aid in keeping the Feds happy, himself surely remembering the bitter cold January night a few years ago when he and his father riveted the skins on my tail cone before taking the leap into ordering their own kit.

Unfortunately, in this case the end result of his effort was to metaphorically bring a toothpick to a gunfight; the poor little thing didn't make a dent in the all-pervading deep freeze.

Still, it's the thought that counts and I appreciated the effort. The inspectors arrived a few minutes before the appointed time and got right to work. I wasn't sure what to expect with the conditions being as unfavorable as they were and found myself torn between wishing for something along the lines of "Yep, two wings and a tail - let's get inside for the paperwork" or a full-blown, find-anything-that-could-potentially-hurt-me inspection. It ended up being somewhere in the middle.

We started with the paperwork required for things that involve the actual operation and maintenance of the airplane. In my case, that meant showing them the Pilot's Operating Handbook (POH), the Equipment List, the Weight & Balance calculations, and the Maintenance Manual, all of which were provided by Van's as part of the kit. It's fantastic that these things are included with the kit because it would take hours and hours to do them from scratch.

For the weight and balance, I showed him the Empty Weight page where I had entered the weight and balance numbers I calculated back when we weighed the plane. I also had worked out two sample weight & balance sheets. I made one for minimum weight (just me), and one for gross weight. For each of those, I did the w&b calculation at both max and reserve fuel. The point of this was to demonstrate that the plane stayed within limits at the endpoints of the loading continuum which should address any concerns about how the plane is loaded.  It's important to know this because there are planes that can fall out of the CG range just by burning off fuel - you could take off just fine, but somewhere mid-trip you'd find yourself in trouble.

They then asked me something about the POH that somewhat confused me -- they wanted proof that the one I had was the correct version for my type of airplane. I wasn't sure how I would comply with that, but Kyle helped  by pointing out that my POH is labeled 'RV-12 Skyview' and to date, there are only two types. One of them was very interested in the Equipment List and asked me to identify what each item was. I only got stuck on the 'Odyssey PC3' (or something like that) for a moment until I realized that it's the battery.

The physical inspection of the airplane took fifteen to twenty minutes and resulted in them finding nothing more to comment on than a tie wrap that I should re-do in a slightly different way. They professed to be impressed with the quality of the build, but I think that's really more of a testimonial to the quality of the kit. The only thing I can honestly take credit for was the bundling of the wires behind the panel.

Once we got to the point where the presence of the airplane was no longer required, we moved indoors for the completion of the paperwork. Unfortunately, this was their first experience with E-LSA paperwork and they had listed me as the builder in a number of places where it should have listed "Van's Aircraft, Inc."  There were a few more issues as we got deeper in the pile of documents and it eventually got to the point where it seemed that the best course of action was to drive over to the FAA offices to have some of the forms re-done.  

Yes, I was going to have to go to the FAA office! It didn't escape me that this is an occasion that is probably somewhat rare in these inspections, absent a blatantly felonious act. Still, I thought it would be nice to get this out of the way rather than make a bunch of after-work trips later in the week, so I agreed. Into the car and off to Port Columbus we went.

Kyle and I got to their office first and had to sign a guest log and receive a little paper badge to wear. We told the receptionist who we were there to see and she was just starting to reply by telling us that he was out of the office when we heard a voice of disbelief from someone just getting ready to come through the main door:

"And they didn't even have a heater??!?"

I turned to the receptionist and said, "There he is."

Sure enough, the door opened and there were my two inspectors and the temperature-sensitive co-worker.

They escorted us to a conference room and finished up the corrected paperwork.

With the final form finally signed, N284DG officially became an airplane.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Pre-inspection wrap-up

The inspection is scheduled for Wednesday morning and perhaps not surprisingly, this has provided a much-needed impetus to wrap up the loose ends that have accumulated over the course of the last few months.  Because the inspectors are going to want a lot of the panels and floorboards removed, I went ahead and tore everything back apart after the carb syncing operation. Having everything opened up again offered Pete and me the chance to take another close look for things in need of tightening up and/or things that may be rubbing inappropriately against other things.

You know, like high school dance chaperones.

For the most part everything was pretty well put together, but with this being the first time that the tail cone has been removed since the day it went on it wasn't too much of a surprise when Pete found a screw/net pair loose on the trim motor tray. It must have always been thus; given that the airplane has never flown, it was very unlikely to have been caused by vibration. It is far more likely to have never been tight, and the experience of trying to tighten pointed out why. The nut is one of the tiny little metal locknuts that have given me so much grief whenever I have to deal with one of them. I don't have a wrench small enough, and pliers aren't strong enough to hold them. I did find that I have a 1/4" drive socket that will fit, though, so we were able to get it snugged up.

This experience reaffirmed yet again the tremendous value of having a second (or third, fourth, fifth...) pair of eyes looking things over; they see things as they are, not as someone like me sees what he's used to seeing.

One of the other little to-dos was to put a tail number identifying tag on the panel as required by the set of FAA regulations designed to assist the guy that steals your plane. I will eventually get a nice engraved tag, but for now it is a printed piece of paper held in place with packing tape. I installed it with the same preternatural skill at getting things dead level that was so well demonstrated by the installation of a new mandated tag on the transponder that is required by the update of the Skyview firmware to version 5:

I'm also to the point where I really need a tow bar. Moving the airplane around without one is difficult and to some degree, risky. It doesn't always go where I want it to go, and the moment arm on the tail is such that it wouldn't take a great deal of untoward swing at the front to cause crushing amounts of damage in the rear.  I looked around (since I'm not keen on the $100 offering from Van's) and found a suitable candidate at Lane Aviation, right here in town. They're located at Port Columbus, though, and it's moderately hasslesome to go there, so I called ahead to make sure they had one. The warning hairs on the back of my neck prickled a bit when the answer was "The computer says we have one," but against my better judgement I went anyway.

Naturally, they didn't. They would have to order one. One the plus side, they will have it shipped to my house without charging me for the shipping. Also scoring high in the plus column was this terrific find:

Note that while I am using this as a much-needed pitot tube cover, that is not what it really is. When it is doing its intended job, it protects the static wicks on Cessna business jets. It was a bargain at $7.15 if it was even possible to find a cover specifically designed to fit the odd size of the RV-12 pitot tube.

I also took the opportunity to check the compression levels on all four cylinders. I was pleased to find all four to be exactly the same, although I was somewhat surprised at their low level as compared to a more traditional engine like a Lycoming. Note that I am testing at the lower value of the 80-87 psi range called out for the Rotax, but still - I've never had a cylinder lower than 78/80 on the RV-6 and the Rotax cylinders are all 74/80.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Carb Syncing

So, here we are right smack in the middle of January, suffering through the season of... wait, what? Sixty-plus degree days?? Well, that isn't so bad!  Sure, the day job is fraught with stress and peril, what with corporate office auditors in the house for the next month or so (and hey, when did audits go from being 100% shouldered by the finance folks to them only getting 20% of the attention and the poor IT Director getting 80%???), but the clement outside temperatures are sure coming in handy. This is their first day here and I'm kind of on call, but they've disappeared for lunch. I figured I'd fill the time waiting for them to come back by writing a little update.

The unexpectedly warm weather is very welcome as I had been mortally terrified of standing behind a propeller turning at 4,000 RPM and producing a wind chill of something like minus two hundred degrees while trying to make small adjustments to a throttle cable, but as it turns out I worried needlessly. First of all because of the temperate climate, and second of all because I was able to foist that job off onto someone else. Well, to be fair, he really knew how to do it, having done it once already, and I had no clue at all, so it made perfect sense. But still, there I was sitting in the warm dry cockpit while he stood out in the elements (exacerbated by a touch of rain) adjusting the throttle cable -- it's hard not to feel at least a little bit guilty about that. That said, I'm doing an admirable job of it.

I suppose I ought to explain this whole carb syncing thing. As you may or may not know, there are two carburetors on the Rotax 912 engine. And, as I've always said, "My dad always told me to stay away from two things: blondes and carburetors."  He never actually said that, but that inconvenient little fact has never dissuaded me from sharing that little tidbit of parental wisdom. After all, it has been my life-long experience that he should have said it, even if he didn't.

The thing about having two carburetors is that they have to be very closely aligned with each other lest a dangerous vibration occur as a result of two cylinders receiving more or less fuel than the other two. This synchronization is achieved by inserting a pair of pressure sensors between the two carbs. That feat is performed by plugging a device containing the requisite pressure sensor/displays into the crossover tube that normally connects the two carbs. The answer to the now begged question of just why a crossover tube is needed to connect the two carbs is an exercise left for the reader, which is academia's way of saying, "Beats me."

And so it transpired that The Jackson Two, them having already performed this operation on their airplane in addition to having purchased a more expensive and more sophisticated electronic tool for the job than the mechanical version I bought, made the trek up north to assist in the synchronization effort. In the rain, as it so happens. Unfortunate, that, but probably more desirable than in the bitter cold. The view of it was terrific from my seat inside the airplane, and the wind was no bother at all.

This job quite naturally entailed the operation of the engine, a fact that forced me to get back out to the hangar and finish up a few outstanding jobs before getting the fuel tank back in and replacing some removed panels. I also finished up a few of the remaining items on the to-do list, chief amongst them being the torquing of the nosewheel nut. This nut is what holds the nosewheel fork to the nosewheel gear leg, but it also serves the purpose of putting a little resistance in the directional turning of the nosewheel itself. Without any such resistance,

[pause] The phone just rang.

"Dave Gamble" (my standard gruff greeting, used to discourage cold-calls)
"Hi, this is (mumble) calling. Have you had a chance to read through my emails yet?"

Now, this is a standard cold-caller tactic in IT. They send my emails trying to interest me in buying stuff that I have no use for. I just ignore them, hoping that they will get the hint, but sometimes that's not enough and they actually call.

"Well, which of the many people that send me emails are you?" I asked.

"I'm calling about your RV-10. Aren't you the guy with an RV-10?"

Ah, I see. It's someone calling about buying the RV-6! Yay!!!

"Well, no, I have an RV-6 for sale."

"No, I thought you wanted to have an RV-10 inspected," he replied.

"Ooooohhhh! You mean the RV-12!  Is this John W.?"

And it went on from there. So, the inspection is scheduled for Jan. 23rd, 9:30 am.

I originally had asked for Monday the 21st, but he informed me that the 21st is Martin Luther King day.  And as I've always said, if you find yourself in a hole, keep digging:

"Oh, you get that day off? I gotta get me a government job!"

I have that day off too, so I was just joking around. We had a nice chat and I'm now pretty clear on what I need to do to get ready for the inspection.

[end pause]

Without any such resistance, the nosewheel would shake and shimmy uncontrollably during takeoff and landing.  The nut gets tightened until it takes 26 lbs. of force to get it to swivel. That's pretty easily accomplished with this handy little scale I bought at Walmart.

I also updated my Skyview firmware to version 5.0. I had been putting that off out of fear that it would break something in the avionics, but I figured the plane is just sitting there anyway... it went without a hitch. Worth it, too. The moving map graphics are much, much nicer with version 5. As long as I was at it, I updated the aviation databases, something that we're supposed to do every 28 days. I never did with my Garmin because it was far too expensive, but the Dynon pricing is far better: $0.00.

With the carbs synced, there's nothing left to do but take all of the panels off again to give the inspectors something to look at. I'm pretty confident that there won't be any big issues, and I attribute that to the quality of the kit.  There really isn't much to do wrong enough to render it non-airworthy. I anticipate things more along the lines of "You ought to secure this little wire" and the like. All easily repaired.

I was worried that I would need to get the transponder checked before they could sign the plane off as airworthy so I asked about it, but he doesn't think it's necessary. I think avionics are pretty much out of his realm.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Bleeding while Freezing

It's not always a good idea to look at the thermometer whilst on the way to the hangar to do some airplane work. Sure, you'll find out soon enough that it is way too hot or way too cold to be out there crawling around on the floor, but why rush into it? Enjoy the drive!

So, yeah, it was bitter, bitter cold when Pete and I arrived at the hangar hoping to perform the most procrastinated task yet: the replacement of the brake fluid lost from the system as a result of removing the landing gear and taking that opportunity to also re-route a brake line that was poorly positioned and was rubbing against a neighboring line is a most disconcertingly intimate way. No good was ever going to come from that!

I had been dreading the re-bleeding of the brakes based mostly on the frustrating experience we had with it the first time. But, as with many (but by no means all!) of these things, it went far more easily the second time around.  For the most part I was pretty well thermally protected by my Walmartts and glittens, but exposed fingers and anything else than came into contact with cold-soaked tools and airframe strenuously objected to the frigid conditions.

The brake bleeding went so well that we had a little spare time before our core temperatures reached the level of mild hypothermia, so we took the opportunity to do few more of the ever-dwindling list of to-do items. Probably the most gratifying was the final riveting job: the installation of the data plate.

To top it all off, we put the wings back on. 

I have a few more placard decals to put on in order to satisfy the labeling requirements of the FAA, and then it is simply a matter of paperwork.