Thursday, February 14, 2013

The Dangers of Words

It's here again: one of the most dangerous weeks of the year. What's so dangerous? Well, this is Valentine's Day week. There are a few things more dangerous to a marriage than Valentine's Day, but they are so patently obvious that they are easily avoided. But Valentine's Day/ Fraught with peril for the naive or careless.  Consider: your typical married male thinks Valentine's Day is a "Hallmark Holiday," and besides which, if you have a marriage anniversary every year, who needs another candy/flowers event?? Answer: women. Women need all of the candy/flowers annual events that time and budget will allow, although I have met a few that share the male disdain for the travesty known as "Sweetest Day."  Those few are what men refer to as "keepers."

Now, I have a keeper, but when it comes to Valentine's Day she's very traditional. There came a year not too very long ago when all was not well with my professional life and I was spending a lot of time on the airplane. Busy as a one-armed chainsaw juggler, I was. Somehow I figured it wasn't all that important and failed to recognize the importance of the event.

Yeah, I was somewhat naive (read: stupid) back then.

It took nearly a week of the cold shoulder treatment for me to realize that something was wrong.

Very wrong. I swore to never, EVER let that happen again.

Having learned my lesson, I have gone to pains to make sure The Day lives up to her desires and expectations. I did pretty good last year - she told me that I had really hit one out of the park with my Valentine's Day gift(s). Unfortunately for me, I have no recollection of what exactly it is that I did. Floundering again this year, drat it!

Until.... salvation!  Taking pity on me, this year the CFO came right out and told me what she wanted: a heart-shaped box of chocolates. And they didn't even have to be the expensive Anthony-Thomas brand; anything from the grocery store would do. Hey! Even I can do that!!

So there we were, on our Sunday morning trip to Walmart for a week's worth of food. Having planned ahead, I figured I could get a few minutes of unchaperoned Walmart shopping time by telling her I needed to go to office supplies and pick up some laminating sheets to be used in the creation of a small checklist for the plane. This even had the benefit of being true!  I know her route, so I figured when she headed left to pharmacy and toiletries, I'd head straight down the middle aisle. That happens to be the shortest path to office supplies, but it also goes right past seasonal cards and gifts. And sure enough, right on one of the end caps was a big heart-shaped box of chocolates. But, it was some brand I had never heard of, proudly proclaiming a legacy of "Since 2011" or some-such. Right around the corner, however, was pay dirt. Heart shaped boxes of Lindt Chocolate Truffles, and another fancy brand that I had heard of but have trouble spelling.  Giardelhi maybe?  Ghirardelli?  Doesn't matter. The dilemma was which one to get? Time being of the essence (right after pharma and toiletries, she comes to cards) and me being paralyzed with indecision, I quickly grabbed one of each.  Can't have too much chocolate, right?

Being right there in the card aisle, I figured I could also get cards. I always get two: one funny, one sappy. Afraid of getting caught in the act, I had to limit myself to one, and I chose sappy. Funny is much harder to choose because many of them are just completely stupid. When I look for sappy, I try to shoot more towards the way I really feel than the clingy, creepy treacle the professional card authors like to crank out. I like something that tells her that I value her as a friend and life partner in addition to as a wife. And lo and behold, there was one that fit that message perfectly. I grabbed it and headed to the checkout, taking the long away around through Boys Clothes lest she catch me on her way over from the other side.

As I was standing there at the checkout buying two separate boxes of candy, I thought the young female cashier was looking at me somewhat askance. At the time I chalked it up to the fact that I was wearing a wedding ring but buying two gifts. It wasn't until I was out in the parking lot hiding the bag of stuff that I noticed that I had the card positioned such that it blared "For My Partner."

Oh. Now I know what she was thinking! One box for the wife, one for the boyfriend.

Damn words. They don't always mean precisely what they used to mean.

And I now find myself struggling with a new set of words. I've been reading the Operating Limitations that the FAA provided as part of the airworthiness inspection. It's a three page document full of "thou may" and "thou shall not" things. The very first section has to do with the phase 1 testing. This is the time period (five hours, in my case, but they can and typically are much longer) when I am required to fly alone, stay within a certain radius of the airport, and perform certain tests. At the end of the testing, I have to certify in writing that I have satisfactorily done so. The requirements for the testing are spelled out in FAR 14 CFR 91.319(b).

In a later section, the document provides the text that I am to use for my certification:

I certify that the prescribed flight test hours have been completed and the aircraft is controllable throughout its normal range of speeds and throughout all maneuvers to be executed, has no hazardous operating characteristics or design features, and is safe for operation.  The flight test was completed under the following conditions: maximum operating weight, style/set of wing or sail, maximum demonstrated airspeed, and minimum demonstrated stall speed.”  All major changes or modifications will be listed in the aircraft records and the compliance statement will be restated with the changes listed.  The aircraft may not be operated in excess of the weights and speeds demonstrated.

The part in bold is actually bolded in the document. They must really, really mean it! And that's the problem. More precisely, the problem is the part that says "maximum operating weight."

By law and by design of the RV-12, the maximum operating weight is 1,320 pounds. The airplane weighs 722 pounds empty. Full fuel weighs 120 pounds. After a big lunch and soaking wet, I weigh 165 pounds. So, in order to achieve a weight of 1,320 pounds, I would need 313 pounds of ballast! There is NO WAY in the world I can put 313 pounds of ballast in that tiny little airplane!

I asked the FAA guy about it, and what I could do. He suggested I talk to Van's. Van's isn't the one that wrote that requirement, though. They have us do their required testing at a more realistic 1,050 pounds.

Curious, I looked up the testing requirements stipulated in FAR 14 CFR 91.319(b) to see if it would help. At first, I thought it did.

FAR 91.319 - Aircraft Having Experimental Certificates: Operating Limitations

(a) No person may operate an aircraft that has an experimental certificate—
   (1) For other than the purpose for which the certificate was issued; or
   (2) Carrying persons or property for compensation or hire.

(b) No person may operate an aircraft that has an experimental certificate outside of an area assigned by the Administrator until it is shown that—
   (1) The aircraft is controllable throughout its normal range of speeds and throughout all the maneuvers to be executed; and
   (2) The aircraft has no hazardous operating characteristics or design features.

Well, there ya go!  It makes no mention of "maximum operating weight!" Problem solved!

Not so fast. Reading further down:

(i) The Administrator may prescribe additional limitations that the Administrator considers necessary, including limitations on the persons that may be carried in the aircraft.

I think the Administrator (or one of his agents) did prescribe additional limitations with the "maximum weight" requirement.

So, am I stuck?  I think not. As I read the last part of the directions in my operating limitations, I see this:

 "The aircraft may not be operated in excess of the weights and speeds demonstrated."

I think this means that I can define my own maximum operating weight as that weight which I have tested to. Since I don't believe the airplane is physically large enough to ever carry a 313 pound passenger, I need only test to the weight that I think I can actually carry. I'll still need ballast to do so, of course, but I should be able to find a way to do it. Fifty pounds can ride in the back, and I can probably find enough ballast for the rest.

That might work. Or it might not.

Damn words. Sometimes no one really knows what they mean.


Anonymous said...

Do you think a reduced gross weight (compared to Van's published number and presumably most RV-12's) would impact the potential resale value?

DaveG said...

Hard to say given that it is a nearly unattainable weight anyway, but there is always the case that any buyer could simply (well, as we've seen, it's not simple at all with the single-occupant restriction!) demonstrate the capability and sign it off himself.

That having been said, there are almost 300 RV-12s flying today, and I would wager that every single one of them is signed off as having demonstrated maximum operating weight as commonly understood to mean gross weight.

Mine will very likely be signed off too. I'll find some ballast, one way or another.

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