Thursday, February 7, 2013


It has been more than a week since the FAA deemed N284DG as "pretty likely to be capable of flight," yet it hasn't happened yet. What's up with that?? Well, mostly it has been weather related. We got some snow - not enough to really matter, but the low scuddy clouds and high winds that ushered it in have steadfastly refused to move on.

Until yesterday. The weather was perfect!  But I hadn't yet filled the gas tank and performed the Dynon fuel tank calibration. I thought I'd go ahead and get that done. I had hoped to enlist the aid of my co-builder, but he was unfortunately detained by what be calls "chauffeur duty." I gamely pressed on, enlisting instead the guy that drives the fuel truck at Bolton. Assuming he was willing and able to stop the pump every two gallons while I pressed a button on the Dynon, his assistance would be all that was required.

Except for one thing: we got done while there was still good weather and available light.

Should I.....

I thought about it for a good long while and finally decided that it may be awhile before conducive weather  conditions rolled through our way again. I ought to fly it!! I texted the CFO to let her know I was strongly considering it.

She asked if Pete was there with me.


"Someone has to be there," was her reply.

My first thought was "Why?" but I quickly realized that it didn't matter. I had to acquiesce on this one - she's already dealing with a very understandable case of nerves over this whole thing. It wasn't much to ask, even if it did mean another delay.

Today dawned clear again. Light winds. Pete is available.

This might be it!

That, as you might expect, has really made me pretty useless at work today. I'm a bundle of nerves. Sure, at an intellectual level I can tell myself things like "more than 200 RV-12s are flying perfectly safely" and "there really isn't all that much of a catastrophic nature that can go wrong and I'm going to stay right over the mile-long runway in case the engine quits," but that kind of self-counselling only goes so far. At an emotional level, I know full well that this will be one of the riskiest things that I have ever done on purpose and without the influence of alcohol.

This is serious, serious business.

I have had ample time to reflect back on the last three years, wondering what little mistake I may have made that will come back to bite me. Are there any loose fuel lines? Are all of the screws and nuts and bolts and rivets and who knows what else firmly attached? Will the engine keep running? Are my piloting skills up to the task of a dead stick landing in an airplane I've never flown?? Should I go around the office and spend a few minutes with my close friends, just in case?

I can only imagine how combat pilots and crews feel before a mission. It must be this times a thousand. And they do/did it over and over and over.


I made a mistake, it seems, in my planning: I gave myself too much time to think about it.

I'm setting this aside now. The next words you see will be after the first flight.

[life-altering events ensue]

So, I'm back. The plane flew great, but the flight was not without some moments of interest.

I'm getting better at the choke-to-throttle transition while starting - I only lost it once and had to restart. The outside temp was somewhere near the low 60's, so the wait for the oil to warm-up to 122F went quickly enough.

I actually wasn't super nervous, as it turns out. That's not surprising - I go through something similar when I haven't flown the RV-6 for awhile. I'm a little tense until I get in the plane, then the tension just melts away and I go fly the plane.

Winds were light at about 6 knots, so the taxi down to the runway was easier than the ride I had when I did the brake conditioning/taxi test.

When I got to the end of the runway, there was a Cessna coming in on a four mile final. I decided to wait until he had landed before calling the tower for takeoff clearance. I figured I could use the time to run the engine enough to convince myself that it intended to stay with me throughout the entire event. Cleared for takeoff, I taxied out onto the numbers. I started to feed the power in slowly, trying to get a feel for the steering authority as the rudder became effective and as I felt out the influence of the 90 degree crosswind from the right.

The way you take off in a 12 is you hold the stick back early in the takeoff roll to get the nose wheel off of the ground. Right around 30 knots (that's a guess - I wasn't really spending a lot of time staring at the airspeed this early in the takeoff roll) the nose came up just like it was supposed to.

And it kept going up.

And it went up some more!

Then we were flying, but at what seemed to be way too low an airspeed. The stall warning was even chirping for a second or two. Clearly I had missed the mark when setting the takeoff trim position on the Dynon. I pushed the nose back down and let the speed build it (it took very little time) to a more proper 60 knots. As we climbed away from the runway, I fed in down trim until the pressure came off of the stick. It felt like it took ten minutes for it to get all of the pressure off, but it was probably only three or four seconds.  The plane was climbing well and required no roll correction at all.

In a word, it was great!

I had told the tower that I wanted to stay in the pattern at 2,000', so I climbed on up there. Well, that's a lie of omission: I actually wasn't paying close attention and ended up at 2,600'.  As I finished my turn to the left and headed downwind, I'm sure I saw 117 knots on the airspeed reading at one point but it really isn't something I was paying a lot of attention to. There were a couple of other planes in the vicinity and one of them was heading in for landing, so I was watching for them on the Dynon display. They showed up right where I expected them to be. How cool is that?? When I learned that I was getting a Skyview, I had no idea that it came with TCAS.

I told the tower that I would just orbit in the pattern until the arrival and a departure were gone. He was fine with that, although he complained that he was having trouble seeing me when directly overhead. Once those other planes were taken care of, I told him I was ready to land.  The three landings that I had made previously in a different RV-12 (that story is here) had prepared me for the differences between this smaller, lighter plane with a big wing and the heavy, stubby-winged RV-6.  A full mile of runway helped, too. I made a greaser of a landing, thereby boosting my record to 4 out of 4 good landings, with three out of four not requiring a go-around after failing to get the airplane low and slow enough to land.

I taxied back in and shut down the engine in front of the hangar. Oddly enough, I didn't feel my usual urge to just sit in the cockpit for a few minutes savoring the experience. I hopped out and waited for Pete to get back from his vantage point down by the runway, where unbeknownst to me he had been sending status reports back home to the nerve-wracked CFO.  I had already texted her to let her know that I had returned safe, sound, and in possession of a damn nice airplane, to which she had replied along the lines of "Thank God that's over!"

I heartily agreed.

I then pushed the plane back into the hangar, grabbed my log book, and headed over to JP's BBQ to knock back a couple of celebratory beers with the guy that was instrumental in helping me accomplish something very, very few people ever do:

I have built and flown my own airplane!


Scott Kuhar said...

Congratulations Dave!

Kevin said...

Congratulations! I hope this doesn't mean no more Schmetterling blog posts!

Gary Burge said...

Fantastic, Dave! Congratulations of the highest order.

Carl said...

Awesome Dave.. I feel like I was along for the ride.

Steve said...

Way to go, Dave! One of the most awesome accomplishments anyone can chalk up under their own name, for sure.

PetesPlane said...

Congratulations Dave from far away Australia.

Julien said...

Fantastic achievement Dave! Congrats from Germany! Julien.

Jorge said...

Fantastic! I've been following your build for a while and it's been in inspiration to me. I've been working on my own 12 for three weeks and am ready to rivet the tail cone. I still have a ways to go but hope to accomplish what you did!

Torsten said...

Great job, Dave! Congratulations!!!
Did you forget to take the obligatory "RV grin picture" or did you just not want to post it?

Anonymous said...

Great Narative.

Al SMith UL Powered RV12

AJ said...


Mike said...

Congratulations Dave, your plane looks great! I hope you take it to Oshkosh this year, I'll be looking for it. :)

Case said...

I've been a regular (daily) visitor to your blog since you started this project and I've eagerly awaited each installment of your journey. Congratulations on this marvelous achievement Dave.

Anonymous said...

As I said on FB, hearty congratulations, Dave. Curious: did you notify the tower it was a first flight? Did they acknowledge it in any way?

Anonymous said...

congrats from a long time reader (of this and the previous blog) from lil ole NZ

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