Sunday, March 31, 2013

Rock Star

Two airplanes. I have two airplanes.  


One of which I have been ignoring more than is healthy. With the big push to get the 12 finished up and flying, and the not-quite-great weather we've been having for months now offering up few opportunities to fly at all, much less fly both of the planes, well, somehow I ended up going more than three months without flying the 6. And that is a long, long time. It's not good for the engine to sit that long, and piloting skills can erode too.

It was time to do something about it, and a chance came along on Saturday. It was light winds that I needed the most, and it wouldn't hurt to have a nice blue sky to go with them. I got both. Thus it was that I pulled the gray taildragger out of the hangar for the first time in what seemed like forever. Always the trooper, Papa was only mildly reluctant to start - it took one more shot of prime than usual and ten blades or so rather than the two or three that are the norm, but he grumbled to life easily enough, considering.

I didn't plan on flying with him for more than the half hour it would take to boil any condensation/water out of the oil and accomplish the three landings that would be required to establish currency for the next ninety days. And it pretty much worked out that way. Having flown the 12 exclusively for the last few months, it was no surprise that there were some adjustments to make in my what are now my normal procedures. The 12 is, in many ways, much simpler to operate. There is no primer in the 12, nor do I have to turn the fuel pump on and off or deal with the mixture setting. These are both automatic in the 12. Sort of -- while the 12 doesn't have a primer, it does have a choke control. 

The differences continued. As I was taxiing down the runway, I couldn't help noticing that I had much more positive ground steering in the 6 as opposed to the 12 with its free-swiveling nose wheel. On the other hand, I couldn't see much of anything out in front of the plane. An interesting trade-off, that, and I'm not sure which I would choose, if I hadn't made the choice already.  Takeoff was very different, too. I've gotten quite used to the spritely performance of the much lighter 12. The 6 felt like is was dragging an anchor. The feeling of lethargy was apparent in the air as well. What used to feel like the nimblest airplane ever suddenly felt like a U-Haul van. I shudder to think what something like a Cessna would feel like - a granite bath tub comes to mind. 

As I headed out to MadCo, I thought it was pretty neat to see 150 knots on the GPS again, that being a fairly unattainable rate in the 12 absent a one-way trip straight down.  I was nervous about the landings, but they actually weren't very bad. I've typically caused my own problems with landing the 6 by carrying too much speed into the flare but the 12 has taught me to get the plane slowed down earlier in the landing process. So, although I did bounce both landings, they were "soft" bounces and there were no subsequent bounces after the first - there just wasn't enough lift left in the wings. 

Back at Bolton, sitting in front of the hangar reflecting on a few things,  I debated for a few moments and decided to key the mic and say what was weighing on my mind: "This is probably the last time we will talk. It's a shame that it has come to this - I'm going to miss you guys and I appreciate your help over the last 15 years."  I deliberately kept it apolitical which, to be honest, was difficult. I also didn't wait around for a response (which I figured was 50:50 between a sad "Thanks" or an admonishment to not clutter the frequency) - I just turned off the master switch.

As it turned out, it wasn't the last time we were to talk, although I doubt if the guy in the tower realized that it was me again when I called in for taxi clearance as Experimental Two Eight Four Delta Golf just an hour and a half later.  Yes, I was going to fly again!  This time I would be flying down to Portsmouth and bringing a passenger along as well. Pete's son Warthog, himself the happy recipient of a pilot training slot in the U. S. Air Force, would be riding along.

I went home for a few minutes and was back at the hangar early enough to do a little work on the 12 before he showed up. I added an ounce of Decalin (it's some kind of chemical that is supposed to help protect the engine against the unwanted lead in 100LL avgas) which only took a minute, then got started on looking for a way to add a trim tab to the rudder. I don't have a lot of scrap metal of sufficient size, but as I was searching around for something that would work I came across a real prize: back when I was working on the fuselage kit, I had noticed that Van's had sent me two left side parts. When I told them about it, they sent me the right side part and I threw the now superfluous left side part into the scrap box. That part turned out to be perfect for creating a trim tab. It already had a row of rivet holes, and it already had a nice curve shaped into it. All I had to do was cut out an appropriately sized chuck with the band saw.

Bangety-bang and it was riveted on and ready to go!

Because I like to practice, I plotted a flight plan into the Skview and set it to climb up to 5,500' at 600 feet per minute. I kicked on the autopilot and let it do its thing until we reached cruising altitude, whereupon I turned it off and handed control over to Warthog. There we were, cruising along minding our own business when the Skyview started showing traffic at our 10 o'clock, 400 feet above us. Sure enough, there it was: a tiny spot off to our left. The Skyview predicted it to be on a direct collision course with us, and it was right. We watched as a twin engine (Baron? Aztec?) came right at us. We could plainly see the altitude difference so no avoiding action was required. 

I wondered if he ever even knew we were there, but as I think back on it I think he must have. According to the Skyview, he was at 6,000 feet, an altitude that would only be appropriate for a westbound IFR flight. Being IFR, the controllers would surely have called us out as traffic, just as the Skyview did for us. Still, it was a fantastic demonstration of the safety aspects of the Skyview.

The winds were again favoring a straight-in to runway 18 just as they had been a week ago, but for the same reasons as last time I decided against doing it. The winds were a little stronger out of the south this time around, though, so we wouldn't be able to just circle around to land on runway 36. Instead, I had Warthog fly us out to the east to put us a couple miles away from the airport and nicely positioned to enter the pattern on a left base to runway 18. That too is a bit of a short cut, but heading further south just to turn around and enter the pattern on a downwind leg would have put us head-on into anyone flying a very wide patter. We also could have gone to the west and entered on a crosswind leg, but that would put us head-on into the calcified-brain pilot that still thinks runway 18 has a right-turn traffic pattern. It's been a few years now, but those guys are still out there, I'm betting. 

The ensuing landing was firm, but passable.

We had time to wander around a little bit after lunch. We walked around to the other side of the fence to get a closer took at the Air Traffic Controller.

Then we walked over to the tie-down ramp to commiserate over the sad demise of an airplane that has clearly been abandoned to a slow, insidious death by negligence.

The saddest picture of all. Clearly someone had intended to fly again soon and never made it:

After settin' a spell with The Jackson Two in the rocking chairs in the small terminal building, we headed back to our respective planes for our trips home.  They were ready to go before I was, so I was sitting on the taxiway waiting as they went by on runway 18, just lifting into the air as they reached my waiting position. Right around that time, a voice came over the radio: "Such-and-such is on a three mile straight-in for runway 36."

So here it was! The reason we don't do straight-in approaches. This guy clearly hadn't been listening to the radio or he would have known that there was a departing airplane heading straight at him. I keyed the mic and said, "You have a plane departing one-eight." That was enough to convince him that a left downwind to one-eight would be more appropriate.

The flight back was bumpy. I am beginning to believe that with this airplane, all flights are going to be bumpy. I was rewarded with the best landing I have ever made in an RV-12, though, so it all balanced out.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Human Ballast

As the idiom goes, "March: in like a lion, out like a.... well, like an ill-tempered grizzly bear with bursitis." At least that's how it has seemed this year, anyway. But into every rainy, windy, snowy month, a day or two of decent weather may crop up now and then, albeit most typically on a work day. Today, however, was one of those rare gems we luck into every now and then. A little cold early, but forecast to warm up to a bearably temperate afternoon. Light winds under gray clouds, those too expected to diminish throughout the day and allow us to enjoy some cyan in the palette.  And best of all, no competing demands on my time. 

Flying weather.

But where to go? The thing about being surprised at having the opportunity to fly is that quite unsurprisingly, no plans are in place. Through the miracle of modern telephony, though, a 9:30 breakfast rendezvous with The Jackson Two was arranged for an airport diner down in the southern reaches of Ohio. I arrived at the hangar in plenty of time for an on-time departure which one would expect to be able to parlay into the symmetrical on-time arrival, but I had forgotten that I had left the fuel tank endowed with an insufficient amount of juice to make the trip. Reluctant to pay the unconscionable $6.70 per gallon being demanded by my domicile, I decided that I would have to suffer the indignity of being late for breakfast so that I could hop over to nearby Madison County to procure the requisite petroleum for the equally unconscionable yet slightly more palatable rate of $5.53 per.  

Once tanked up, I headed south towards Portsmouth. The Skyview, having taken into account each and every minute facet of the operation, proudly proclaimed that we would arrive at 9:35, a mere five minutes late. While it would have meant a chillier day, a little wind out of the north might have rectified the problem of my impending tardiness, but it was not to be. The nearly straight up plumes of the power plant that I flew over confirmed what the Mighty Skyview had already postulated: little to no wind to be found.

With no prevailing wind to determine which direction to land, one would think that my southward flight would culminate in a landing on the southerly-facing runway, but to think that would be to ignore the hyper-judgmental nature of pilots. Landing in the most efficient way possible would fly in the face of one of the nonsensical bugaboos of airport etiquette: I would be tried and sentenced in the court of aviator obsessive-compulsiveness and ineluctably found guilty of performing the despicable straight-in approach.  No, it would be better to brave the intimidatingly large hills on the west side of the runway and fly a left downwind to a landing facing to the north, the very direction from which I had come.

You may think I'm joking about the potential ramifications of flying the despised straight-in approach, but consider, if you will, the rather deadly piece of hardware placed on the airport grounds to prevent any such malfeasance.  See it right over there by the flag? yeah, not to be trifled with, that.

Yeah, rub it in: my canopy doesn't lock. Providing a lock would have added $1.82 to the cost of the kit -- can't have that!

One passingly decent breakfast delivered by a more than passingly cute young waitress later, it was back to the end of the north-facing runway for to commence my journey back... north. Oddly enough, the straight-out departure is perfectly acceptable, and admittedly made somewhat safer by the fact that the risk of ostracization and/or anti-aircraft fire precludes most fliers from arriving directly into departing northbound aircraft such as my own.

Funny how that all works out, isn't it?

I was no sooner home than I realized that weather Karma was hunkered down in the tundra waiting to pounce on me like a March lion on an April gazelle: the forecast for Sunday was abysmal. I've heard that Eskimos have some unbelievable number of words to describe the various and sundry types of frozen precipitation they encounter up there in their frozen wasteland -- we're slated to receive no less that half of them all at once in the next 24 - 48 hours. Rather than idle away the afternoon sitting at home, I thought, perhaps I ought to go back to the airport and fly some more. This naturally presented a bit of a quandary: what possible reason could I come up with to justify flying twice in the same day??

Where there's a will, there's... a scheming homicidal relative, if old 50's era mysteries are to be believed.

Oops, no, another malformed trope.

What I meant to say is that where there's a will, there's a way.  (See also: Where there's a curd, there's a whey) After a little thought, I came up with the perfect plan: I would contact Co-pilot Rick, my companion on many, many flights back in my taildragger days. If he turned out to be amenable to a ride in a semi-proven airplane, I could kill a number of birds with, uh, poor choice of words accomplish a number of goals. To wit, I could see how the airplane behaves with an additional [redacted] pounds of human ballast on board, I could hop back over to MadCo to avail myself of the shiny new compass rose painted on the parking apron to improve the accuracy of the Skyview's determination of magnetic compass direction (the previous somewhat deficient calibration having been performed with my iPad sitting in the pilot's seat while Pete and I pushed the plane around through the four cardinal headings), and I could refill the fuel reservoir to prevent future tardiness.

Being of a kind and generous nature (to a fault, I tell ya, A FAULT!), I let Rick fly around for awhile to get a feel for the new plane. As he is considering building one himself some day, I thought he should do what I didn't do: try flying one before leaping into building one. I took over for the landing, of course.  My generosity has limits.

So, for the second time in one day I found myself pouring liquid gold into the tank.

The new compass rose was provided courtesy of a local high school, Class of 2012, or so I infer from the signature painted in the central circle. I ought to send a thank-you note -- compass roses are hard to find these days, but eminently useful. Having one nearby has benefited me a number of times.

All in all, it was a pretty good day, the glow of which I currently find myself basking in. Which is good, because the next few are going to be fairly rotten if the forecasts are even remotely accurate.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Returning to Urbana

There was a time back when I was still regularly flying the RV-6 when it seemed almost a weekly ritual to fly over to Urbana for breakfast. It wasn't that often, or course, but it was pretty frequent. With the the requisite five hours of probation nearly finished and nice weather in the forecast, it seemed that perhaps the time was ripe to reinvigorate the routine. 

The temps were in the 30's as we climbed out of Bolton, as was the ambient atmospheric pressure. Low temps and high pressure are the recipe for good engine and wing performance and this morning was a case in point: I'd swear I saw 1,700 fpm indicated on the Skyview.

It was a smooth ride at 3,500', so I let the autopilot practice its skills while I did some sightseeing. Nothing much to see, really, other than flat brown fields hiding under a dusting of snow.

Back when I was a regular at the airport diner, I used to like to park over in the corner between the restaurant and the maintenance shop. That practice is now apparently verboten. Fortunately Delta Golf and I were the first to arrive (at least via airplane) and there was no shortage of parking spots out on the ramp.

The Jackson Two arrived about a half hour later as I was well into my third cup of coffee. Well, the fourth if you count the one I had before leaving the house.  We had a nice breakfast before walking over to the hangar where a B-17 bomber is being restored. While the primary purpose of the hangar is to house the B-17 project, there are a few other planes parked in there as well. The first to be encountered is a DC-3.

It's in somewhat rough condition - I think it spent its last productive years hauling cargo. Most of the avionics have been either removed or eaten by mice. It's hard to tell which.

I always thought a neat vacation would be to go somewhere to earn the type rating required to fly as a co-pilot in a DC-3. If it ever happens, it won't be this year. We spent this year's vacation budget last year.

Still, I like sitting in the front seats.

You have to wonder how many sets of hands have held onto those controls over the years.

I was not surprised to see the ashtray, but I'm not sure what the other two thingys do. My theory is that the engine starting cartridges (have you ever seen Flight of the Phoenix?) go in there, but I can't prove it.


After an hour of Google hunting, I found the answer:

They control the cowl flaps (or "gills"):

I wonder why one needle is shaped differently than the other.

Moving over to the B-17, I found that I look at things differently now that I have built an airplane. When I first saw these numbers, it reminded me of some of the odd fractions Van's likes to put in the plans. 35 feet, 315/16ths? Now that's odd. Having looked at it again, though, I think it is actually 25 feet, 3 and 15/16 inches.

Last time I was there, they were building the jigs to form new engine nacelles. It would appear that the jigs are done and are now in use for building the nacelles. Note the supercharger embedded in the frame.

I've never been able to figure out how the throttle quadrant works on the B-17. There are four engines, but six throttle controls. My guess is that a pilot would manipulate engines 1 and 4 (the furthest outboard on each wing) using the top handles, engines 2 and 3 using the bottom handles, and all four using the middle handles.

These are the control handles that the bombardier would have used to open the bomb bay doors and drop the bombs. Well, maybe not to drop the bombs, maybe just to configure how the bombs would be dropped and/or which bombs would be dropped. The bomb release itself was probably an electrical switch somewhere in the vicinity of the Norden bomb sight.

Norden bomb sight (a fascinating piece of equipment):

Decorative stuff:

This is the oxygen control panel for the bombardier.

This is a WWII B-24 veteran that survived thirty missions over Europe. He told us a story about how his B-24 was hit with a dud 88mm anti-aircraft round. He attributes the failure of the round to explode to it having been manufactured with slave labor.I guess it was as true then as it is now: you just can't enslave good help anymore.

This is, I believe, a firewall waiting to be restored or sacrificed for parts.

I understood that a B-17G carried a crew of ten. If that is the case, it must have been hellishly hard to find ten guys that averaged 120 pounds each.

There is also one of my fave planes EVER hangared there - this is a B-25:

It seems to be in for its annual inspection. Do you think the spark plug budget is significantly expensive? These are from just one of the two engines!

Back at the DC-3, I was still in rivet-looking mode. Through some strange accident of design, they had to do some modification of the manufactured heads to get these to fit.

People often wonder how they got pilots to fly these old buckets. I think it has to do with the on-board cocktail mixers.

Working under the theory that wartime planes needed to be easily disassemble for shipping overseas, I think that's why they had this row of bolts holding the outer wing panels together with the wing roots.

Walking back to our planes, we came across a cute little Luscombe.

My departure from Urbana was interesting, to say the least. I think it was my first takeoff with a crosswind, and I didn't like it. Before the rudder has a chance to become powerful enough to correct the forward path against a blustery wind, the brakes are the only way to do it. But applying the brakes during takeoff seems counter-productive. In short, it was the sloppiest takeoff I've made yet.

Once we were away from the airport, I slowed down a bit to let The Jackson Two catch up.

Somewhere lost in the haze out there is downtown Columbus.

And there's home base, right in front of my nose.

Today was one of the first really nice flying days that has fallen on a weekend. As such, the airport environment was somewhat crowded. Five targets in the air, and there was a sixth climbing off of the runway.

Left downwind to runway four took me right over my neighborhood.

The landing went well (in fact, both of today's landings were okay now that I'm not resting my feet on the brake pedals - I think the dragging brakes were causing the problem I had with thumping the nose wheel down) and I parked in front of the hangar having completed my five hour probationary period. No more 50 mile limit, and whenever I feel ready for it, I can carry a passenger!