Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Finally building some hours

Finishing an airplane in the dead of winter is an excellent example of really poor planning. There you are sitting at home as the cold winds blow ice pellets and other unsavory forms of seasonal precipitation around while what is likely to be the only brand new airplane you will ever own sits shivering in its lonely hangar. Mind you, "sitting at home" is merely an expression - various and sundry household tasks will inevitably fill the hours. Keeping in mind that in this case the airplane in question is very light and quite unfamiliar to the owner, it only takes moderately strong winds to preclude flight. Ten knots is the current limit as defined by your relatively weather-shy author, although that limit will surely rise as experience with the behavioral aspects of the airplane in question is gained.  Still, it's surprising just how many days in February boast winds of 10 gusting something.

Not having an airplane to devote the lion's share of weekend mornings to has freed up some time for other pursuits, of course. I actually dusted off the shotgun and paid 25% more for shells than was the tithe last year in order to go out and tromp through the woods shooting at (and mostly missing) bright orange clay targets. A round of sporting clays is ten stations, for a total of fifty shots. I was sitting pretty with eleven hits after only three stations, but only managed an additional five throughout the rest of the course. Ah well, going a year without practicing will do that. And yes, there is some willful amnesia going on here - I think a score of sixteen is pretty much my average no matter how often I shoot. Fact of the matter is this: sporting clays is hard.

All of that having been said, I was fairly twitching to get out of the office yesterday. The curse of a window office is that every now and then you can't help but wish you were on the other side of it, albeit at ground level. Light-ish winds, only a light haze, and plenty of blue sky beckoned as I slogged through some distinctly uninteresting work. I dived out (well, no, not literally) right on the stroke of 3:00 and headed for home to grab a hat and my flying glasses, then off to the airport.

The temps were in the mid 40s, so the oil warming process only took five to ten minutes. The winds were out of the east which meant a lengthy taxi to the far end of the mile long runway, so I released brakes at about 90 degrees, figuring the hike out to the runway would be long enough for the oil to reach 122 degrees. I timed it nearly perfectly, stopping at the end of the runway at 120.  I waited for the final two degrees before doing the engine run-up, and then it was off into the not-very-wild blue yonder.  I'm still finding that I don't need much more than two-thirds throttle to get the bird into the air, but once free of the concrete I push the rest of the power in to expedite the climb to a safer altitude. The ambient pressure was 30.08" and the combination of the thick air, cool temps, and light airplane coalesced into an amazing 1,500 foot-per-minute climb.

Have you ever seen a U2 take off? Yeah, it was pretty much like that! I totally loved watching those guys climb out back when I was working on SR-71s at Beale Air Force Base. The SR-71 takeoff is a visceral cacophony of deep, thundering noise trailed by long, blue afterburner flames which is impressive in it's own right, but the amazing leap and steep climb of the U-2 is like watching a world-class ballerina leap her way through Swan Lake.

I made a turn out towards the west and kicked on the autopilot, eager to see how well it behaved in the calmer air. I had changed the default climb rate from 400 fpm to 500 and that seemed to work much better. The RV-12 has climb capability in excess, at least when light, so there is no reason to hold the rate down. I also had MadCo plugged into the GPS as a direct-to, so I triggered on the Nav hold too.Everything was working fine, so I left the machine to its devices and concentrated on other things like checking all of the various engine parameters. The right side CHT (which has been somewhat flaky) was nicely settled down, although I think I did catch one untoward spike out of the corner of my eye. It will bear watching for awhile.

Before getting to MadCo, I did a little more practicing with the GPS nav and autopilot by changing the direct-to to an airport up north. For a few minutes I thought that it had over-corrected too far to the east, but soon realized that it had correctly and accurately arrived at a 20 - 30 degree crosswind correction. The winds at altitude, as it turns out, were far stronger than those on the ground.

Knowing that I'd have to do it sooner or later, I kicked off the autopilot and took control for myself. I turned away from the sun so as to have decent visibility and slowed down to try my first stalls. As I slowed through 50 knots, the stall warning started blaring through my headsets, so that's working as expected. At somewhere below 45 knots, the wing finally gave up with a little shudder and the nose dropped into the stall. As did the right wing, with an interesting sense of alacrity. Wondering if maybe I had been carrying a little too much right rudder, I tried it again.  Same result - an abrupt drop of the right wing. Hmmm, not very friendly behavior, that, but certainly not a problem if the pilot is aware of this tendency. Which he is, now.

Heading back to MadCo, I got lowed down and slowed down for landing. Both of these seem to take a little longer to do than in the RV-6, but if I'm honest I'd have to say that I have flown the six so little over the last year that I'm not sure my memory is accurate to wager on.  I made a full stop on the first landing and taxied back to takeoff again, mostly because I still didn't have a good enough feel for high speed taxiing to be confident in the success of a tough & go. The next three landings were made as touch & goes, however, so the confidence built quickly.

After four landings, I headed back north again to fly around a little bit before heading back to MadCo for a few more landings. While touch & goes are good practice for the actual landing, it is also important to practice arrivals into the pattern. Timing the descent and the speed reductions properly in a new plane takes some getting used to. The third landing was a full stop to buy gas. This was my first time filling the tank by myself and I can't say that I like it. The fuel neck is higher up than a wing tank would be and holding the pump handle is awkward, and it is hard to tell when the neck is filling. It's not hard to tell when it is filled, though. The splash of gas in your face is a fairly strident notice.

Even with full tanks (habit that needs to be broken - the correct expression is "full tank"), partial throttle was plenty for takeoff. I made one more touch & go to see if I could feel the extra weight of the fuel, but I couldn't. It was getting late so I headed back to Bolton. I was not alone. There were four other planes inbound and things were getting hectic. Used to be that I could just push the throttle forward and get to the airport before the rest of them, but those days are gone. I just have to blend in with the proles now.

Coming in from the west reporting point when landing on runway 4, the standard request from the tower is to report a two mile left base. This is in recognition that you're already south of the airport and won't need a downwind leg. Instead, I got "report midfield left downwind for runway four."

My radio skills having atrophied pretty much as my shooting skills had, this caused me a moment of confusion. The only time I have ever heard that request was when the controller got confused about his directions and thought I was on the other side of the airport port or he was accidentally positioning me for runway 22. After thinking about it, I decided to ask for a confirmation. That didn't sit well.


Chagrin, shame, and a dose of "Dude, lighten up!" flashed through my mind. Then, timidly:

"two eighty-four delta golf, yeah, I get it. report midfield left downwind runway four."

So what he wanted, it seems, was for me to fly a few miles to the north and then come back down to the south. As I was entering the downwind, I saw why: he had been creating spacing for a Cessna flying a straight-in to the runway.

I made amends, though. With two more planes behind me wanting to land, I made and early turn to base and landing a few thousand feet down the runway, timing it perfectly for making a turn off of the runway just as I got the plane slowed down. That got me quickly out of the way for the other traffic. Doubt if the tower guy even noticed, and he sure made no comment on it, but at least I was able to regain some level of self-confidence.

All told I put almost two hours on the plane.  It's flying very well and I'm starting to get comfortable in it.  The only maintenance problem that has arisen was somewhat expected - the paint that I sprayed on the roll bar is starting to flake off. I think this is mostly due to not adequately prepping the surface before painting. It won't be pleasant to fix, but it's not something I need to do right away.

1 comment:

Mark said...

I suggest Prekote to fix the paint issue. My paint adhered perfectly on my Sonex. No chips at all.

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