Sunday, April 28, 2013

It doesn't matter...

Regular readers of this journal must surely be starting to wonder... "Why hasn't Pete flown yet? Does his in-depth knowledge of the tomfoolery that went into the building of this particular airplane give him pause??"

Well, no, the explanation is far more banal than that. It really has been simply a lack of opportunity. Wait long enough, though, and the Shakespeare-penning infinite monkeys of time will surely get around to providing an opportunity for just about anything. Saturday was that chance, in this case. The weather was forecast to be so close to perfect that even a stereotypical mother-in-law couldn't find flaws in it. To me, this opened up the range of places to go wide enough to include traditionally windy places like Burke-Lakefront Airport up north in downtown Cleveland. 

I've been up that way quite a few times and pretty much done all the obvious touristy things (this is going to be a problem until such time as I move out of state - with the long legs of the RV-6, I've pretty much plucked all of the low-hanging fruit, as defined by near-an-airport attractions in Ohio and surrounding areas) so I was looking for something new. Food is always an attraction, so I fired up and started looking for a good place within reasonable walking distance of the airport.

I found Slyman's.  I absolutely love corned beef, but as I am a particularly particular sort, I love it best in a good corned beef hash.  For example, this breakfast was very nearly the highlight of my Vegas Vacation a few years ago:

Pictures available on Slyman's web page indicated that such a thing would be available, albeit with a less glitzy presentation and sans the huge bloody mary:

And lo and behold, "** Now open on SATURDAYS!"  So proud of it, they are, that it's in all caps and BOLD.  That was enough for me - I fired off a text asking Pete if this would be of interest. The reply from Easily Piqued Pete was quick: "It doesn't matter where we go."  Perfect! A plan was formed.

Early the next morning, I was finishing up my planning for the trip when, as a precaution, I took one final look at the web site. And there I saw it: the fine print! Yes, open on SATURDAYS, but carry-out only, and NO Breakfast!


With insufficient time to find an alternate to justify the 120 nm flight, I decided to fly south instead. There is a restaurant at the Parkersburg, WV airport and it's only 85 miles away. Plus, I thought, maybe we would run into my buddy that has a work shop right there on the airport. And, as icing on the cake, it is a beautifully scenic region to fly over.

With the high ambient air pressure and the cool temperatures of the early morning, we climbed out of home base at a brisk pace.

Flying to the east takes us right over the former Rickenbacker Air Force Base, which is now primarily a hub for cargo flights.

A very slight detour took us over Lancaster, OH, where young Co-pilot Egg is currently matriculating, amongst other equally unsavory-sounding activities, I'm sure. Seriously, I'll bet she regularly masticates as well.  What's a father to do? You gotta let go some time...

Her abode is nestled somewhere in the clutch of homes just south of the fairgrounds.

After Lancaster, the topology is pretty much all trees and hills. It was during this portion of the flight that I discovered that the autopilot had taken a powder. Not in any spectacular sense, mind you. In fact, the air was so calm that it took a few minutes to notice that it was no longer maintaining a constant altitude. It wanted only to climb at a gentle 100 feet-per-minute, and absolutely refused to descend at all. Not a problem -- I just took over the flying. With the friendly weather, that was no burden at all.

Approaching the airport, we fly over the junction of the Muskingum and Ohio rivers, and a town that I had always assumed to be Parkersburg. Later in the day, I was to learn that this is in fact Marietta, Ohio.

We parked in front of the shop, but no one was home.

Off to the restaurant, then, where we had a spirited debate as to just how the establishment arrived at its nearly inexplicably arcane name.

And, as a felon will often return to the scene of the crime, I had to go back to the spot where I made my second most egregiously bad pun ever. How bad was it? You be the judge:

"Hey, do you know why this bear is waving?  Because he's gotta split!"

Bwahahaha -- get it?

Yes, yes, I know: that begs a question. Just for the sake of closure, the most egregiously bad pun occurred during one of our father/daughter trips to Oshkosh:

It was getting late and it was time to go retrieve Egg from work. I treated her to some delicious Wisconsin ice cream on the way home (these people really know their dairy products!!) and later we picked up some cheese curds. For those unfamiliar, 'curds' sound horrible. People seem to equate 'curd' with 'cod liver oil' or something equally unpalatable. Nothing could be further from the truth; curds are cheese at its freshest.
Unfortunately, they come in a sealed bag that is very difficult to open without scissors and we. of course, haven't a pair. Egg asked me how we were going to get the bag open without having scissors.
I, sage and wise old man that I am, replied, "Well, where there's a curd, there's a whey!"

After breakfast and as we were heading out of the Parkersburg airspace, I realized that I had committed a bit of a faux pas in telling the controller that we would be departing to the north. Parkersburg is actually more east of Columbus than it is south, so we would actually be flying to the west. To cover for my mistake, I told the tower that we had changed our minds and we were going to fly west along the Ohio river for awhile. Which, to be honest, is something that I like to do anyway.

I was intrigued by the location of this house out on an island in the middle of the river.

Some time spent on Google maps determined that the mansion in question has quite a history:

Blennerhassett Mansion
Constructed by a wealthy Anglo-Irish couple named Harman and Margaret Blennerhassett, the Blennerhassett Mansion became known during its brief existence as the Ohio Valley’s most beautiful private residence. Beyond its extravagantly landscaped lawns and gardens lay a dark wilderness broken only infrequently by scattered log cabins and a few small settlements. Thus the Blennerhassett Estate seemed like a jewel whose contrast with its crude frontier setting made it sparkle all the more.

Harman and Margaret sold their 7000 acre County Kerry estate in 1795 and emigrated to America, landing the next year in New York City. By the spring of 1798, they had located on the upper end of the Ohio River island two miles below the present-day Parkersburg, West Virginia, and started the construction of their new American home.

To the 18th-century European aristocracy, possessing a fine home was immensely important for it stood as the most outstanding symbol of the family’s social status, prestige and wealth. Thus, the Blennerhassetts set out to build a palace in the wilderness, a showplace, and they had both the money and good taste to see their dream through to completion.

When they moved into their house in the late summer, 1800, it contained 7,000 square feet of (daily living) interior floor space and a frontage of 186 feet ~ making it one of the United States’ largest homes. It was designed in the Palladian style with walkways and attached wing buildings curving upstream from a central structure like arms welcoming the approaching river traveler.

Probably the most interesting things I learned are that Parkersburg is much larger than, and located nowhere near where, I had thought it was.

Further along the river, I found what I was looking for: a barge and tow boat. Ever since reading Mark Twain as a youth, I have wondered what it would be like to ride the river. There are river cruises available should I ever get desperate enough to find out for myself. Desperation would be a requirement: the cruises are damned expensive!

Heading back to Columbus, we flew over Athens, OH. This is where Ohio University is located. Egg ostensibly attends OU, but only tangentially. She goes to the regional campus in Lancaster, and even then for just a few more days. Having finished her freshman year there, she will start nursing classes at the Mt. Carmel Lancaster regional campus in the fall.

Having burned through roughly ten gallons of gas (at 4 - 5 gallons per hour, the RV-12 is like a 50% off coupon for the "$100 hamburger" flights) I decided to stop in at Circleville for a refill. Circleville is one of the friendliest rural airports around, and that's really saying something as they are all pretty welcoming.

We also passed over my old kart racing track -- not much going on there. Maybe they're racing on Sundays now.

Back at the ranch, I was faced with the afternoon chores. First amongst them was a necessary repair to my weed whacker. For the second year in a row, I have found a brittle and broken fuel line leading from the tank to the carburetor. Last year I was able to fix it through the simple expedient of pulling more of the still-pliable fuel line out of the tank, although doing so did have a deleterious effect on its range - it could no longer reach all of the fuel in the tank. This year I had to apply a real fix.

The problem would, of course, finding suitable tubing. I doubted that I'd be able to find it in a Lowe's type of store. Having built R/C airplanes in my misspent youth, I knew where to go: the hobby shop would have just the stuff I needed. The trick would be in finding someone at the shop that knew which type of tubing to use - it is my experience these days that they usually don't know much about what they sell, except for R/C cars and trucks. 

Sure enough, I was met by an older guy that looked like he might be able to help, but he turned out to be a shockingly bigoted ("Japanese weed whacker? No wonder, you can't trust those G*$ D@&^$ Japs") know-nothing. The answer came from the tattooed, pierced, goth-looking young woman who I found working elbow-deep on a huge R/C truck. "Tygon is what you need; it's the only stuff that will hold up to unleaded gas."  

You simply can't judge by the package. She really knew her stuff!

An hour later, the whacker was whacking and I was patting myself on the back. Hoping to cash in on my accomplishment with a modicum of spousal praise, I was reminded that the standards have irrevocably shifted: "Really? [shrug] Well, you did build an airplane."

With the remainder of the fine afternoon simply begging for more outdoorsy activity, Egg and I took young Cabot out for a walk.  Sort of. Because from where I was standing? Well, it looked more like Cabot was walking Egg!

Not that it matters.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

To The Farm!


As has been detailed in these pages lo these many days, I have been trying to make a trip out west to visit the home offices of Schmetterling Aviation, finding my way blocked by various impediments, the most pernicious of which has been the Spring weather. At long last, the skies cleared and the winds abated sufficiently this past Sunday to allow for the record-setting and devil-taunting 66.6 nm flight.

Not only were the skies clear, they were by far the smoothest that I have flown in yet. When you consider the light weight and copious wing area of the RV-12, to be able to set the autopilot and just relax through a smooth, jostle-free flight of forty or so minutes indicates an air mass that is "stable" on the same sense as a fish lying on a bed of ice at your local fishmonger's retail establishment. Rare indeed is a flight during which I could have shaved with a straight razor, had such an inexplicable urge beset me.

I took advantage of the clement conditions by spending some time learning more about the autopilot and the GPS mapping system. I have typically been entering a single direct-to waypoint in the system and allowing the autopilot to fly us directly to the destination, although on a couple of my trips to Portsmouth I have actually entered a mid-trip waypoint to the flight plan whilst sitting on the ground waiting for the oil to reach an appropriate temperature.  In this case, I was attempting to add a new waypoint while already flying. It's not hard to add a waypoint to the active flight plan, I found, but it can be tricky to convince the Skyview, and by extension, that this new waypoint should become the current target.

I also learned that my attempt to smooth out the engine by tightening the tolerance between the angles of the two prop blades was successful, albeit at the cost of ten knots lost from my cruise speed. I found that the easiest way to get the prop blades set to a nearly identical angle was to adjust them such that each was hard against the stops in the prop hub. That had the unfortunate consequence of pitching the blades too shallowly - while the plane now climbs like a banshee with the hounds of hell chasing it, it cruises a bit slower. I'm inclined to live with it for now - I'm seldom in enough of a hurry to lament the loss of speed. Next time I have the spinner off, though...

The landing at Darke Co. was into a wind only ten degrees directionally displaced from being right down the runway so I was unable to ascertain the degree of crosswind ground control attained through the lessening of  the nose wheel break out torque, but it seemed easier to steer in all other modes so I am calling this one a win.

The highly amenable weather continued throughout the day, so the trip back to home base was just as nice as the trip away, albeit somewhat slower due to a headwind. So yeah, I lied: I missed those ten lost knots in cruise speed.

The weather stayed nice for another day, allowing an evening flight with a former co-worker under the auspices of refilling the fuel tank.   You might remember this guy from a previous flight in the RV-6. It was this flight that prompted me to relate the following:
When we reached a sufficient altitude, I offered JT the opportunity to take the controls for a little while but he declined. That happens now and then and it's just fine with me. I never insist on doing anything in the airplane that might make a passenger nervous or uncomfortable (with the notable exceptions of things Ihave to do like turn, or land) and I have had plenty of people turn down the chance to fly, but it always saddens me a little. I figure that letting someone fly an airplane, even if only for a few brief moments, is one of the most incredible things I can share with a person. To me, it is a gift of unimaginable magnitude to allow someone to do something that only a vanishingly small percentage of people throughout history have ever been able to do. To give people the opportunity to be able to say for the rest of their lives that they flew an airplane once, well, that's the single most sublime and meaningful gift I can give.
This time was different. I did the takeoff, of course, but once we got out away from the airport I let him take over. I coached him through the thirty-some miles down south to Circleville and didn't take over until we got down to pattern altitude. It was another great evening to fly.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

A Premonition

I had hoped, again, to fly out west for a visit to Schmetterling's home office, but yet again I was rebuffed by a forecast for uncomfortably hearty winds in the afternoon.  This time around it was 12 gusting 20, coming straight out of the south. The runway at Darke Co. points east/west so I would be taking the full brunt of it early in the takeoff roll, precisely when it can do the most damage. I canceled the flight and arranged to have Pete come over to the hangar to help with a few maintenance chores instead. Which reminds me: I received yet another service bulletin. This is the cost of being an early adopter, even if not in the first phase. As some of the older and more heavily used RV-12s get a significant number of hours on them, wear points are starting to show. Van's, to their credit, often develops a fix for the planes in the field and sends along any required parts and directions free of charge. Still, I cringe when I get one - some can be quite tricky and time-consuming to deal with.

There was no hurry to get to it, though, so we agreed that we would start after breakfast. We usually meet at the nearby Steak & Shake. We started meeting there after getting tired of $10 omelets at Bob Evan's and $3 krep from McDonalds. Steak & Shake is somewhere in between. It also helps that we have a regular waitress there that we really like. In fact, even the Sunday mornings that involve an early AM grocery shopping trip with the CFO as often as not end up with us visiting Kassie at Steak & Shake. 

I was thinking as I walked from the car to the front door of Steak & Shake that I don't know what we would do if Kassie stopped working there. In fact, I thought, I should tell her to make sure to let us know if that ever happened. Well, I never got the chance. My stray thought turned out to be a premonition.  As she met me at my usual booth with my coffee, she told me that she is moving to Phoenix next week.  


Once we finished eating and got to the hangar, I had a small job to do before starting on the service bulletin. While it didn't rise to the criticality of a service bulletin, it had come to my attention that Van's had redesigned the way that the canopy lift struts attach to the side of the fuselage. The old style had a simple bushing between the canopy strut and an aluminum angle piece riveted in place as a support. The bushing was not up to the task and eventually started to loosen up and wobble. Even with only 12 hours on the clock, mine too was demonstrating the weakness.

After the replacement bushing is installed, there is a notable difference.

It didn't take long at all to install the new bushings. First, the old bushing is removed. It's the one on the left. The new bushing, as can be seen below, is milled to fit into the hole on the end of the strut.

Thar required that the hole be dripped out to 3/8".  I was afraid that the brutality of a Uni-bit would leave a hellacious mess, but it actually turned out a nice, clean hole.

The bushing was a snug fit, but a pair of channel lock pliers encouraged it into the strut nicely.

There is a new washer required, too.

It bolted in as easy as could be.  Both sides combined took less than fifteen minutes.

So then it was on to the service bulletin. The cause of this particular change request was that the weight of the oil tank was causing cracks in a supporting bracket. The fix is to install a massive (relatively) new bracket at the bottom of the tank mount.  That would require removing the cowls. I would normally object to that, but after twelve flying hours on a brand new airplane, I thought it nigh time to get in there for an inspection anyway.

The included directions had us remove the battery and drain the oil from the sump. I removed the battery agreeably enough, but balked at draining the oil. I just removed the tank clamps and move the tank up out of the way.


I stuffed the new bracket in place to see if it fit.

Holes needed to be drilled through the outside of the main tank support and into the flanges of the new bracket. I measured the distance from the bottom of the bracket to the rivet line onto a piece of paper, cut a piece of it off, and used it to market the target line.

Some of the holes were impossible to get at from the outside in, so I drilled them from the inside out. That turned out to be the easier way to do it, in fact.

I very cleverly drilled the first hole such that the cleco, which wouldn't go in from the other side, was completely in the way of drilling the second hole.  Brilliant!

This hole also had to go from the inside out, but it was going to require drilling through a relatively flexible part of the tank mounting bracket, so I clamped the mounting bracket in place.

All in all, I think the service bulletin took somewhere between 30 to 45 minutes.  

As long as I had Pete's help, I had him press down on the tail so I could get a sawhorse to support the fuselage with the nose wheel off the ground. I wanted to loosen the torque nut one flat to see if that would make the steering less squirrelly in cross winds. That was easy enough, but because the hole for the cotter  pin had been positioned for what at the time was the correct torque, moving the nut down (by loosening it) left very little room for a new cotter pin to fit. That required a hammer to fix.

Another little thing that had been bugging me is that I don't have easy access to pens in this plane. I found an old pen holder and installed it where I would be able to reach it. The map box is just too far away when the shoulder straps are snugged down.

After finishing up the hangar work, I headed home for the first mow of the season. Being as I haven't mowed for so long, I seem to have at least partially forgotten how to drive the new zero turn radius mower. Unfortunately, I had to re-learn a hard lesson: because of the way the front wheels swivel, it is possible to get the mower into tight areas that you cannot back out of. And thus two new scars were added to the dozen or so that I have already put into the house with this mower.

Later, as I was putting the mower away, it struck me: normally mowing in high winds is a horrible experience, what with grass clippings blowing all over the place and getting inhaled or caught in my eyes. That didn't happen. I went in the house and checked on the weather: 7 knot winds out of the east. The forecast was wrong. As disappointing as that is, you just can't take the chance on them being right - 12 gusting 20 was not something to be trifled with.  Not at this stage of my experience with this airplane, anyway.

Saturday, April 6, 2013


As I get more comfortable in the plane, I'm finding that I want to range a little further and in a different direction than my trips down south to Portsmouth. One trip in particular that I very much want to make is out west to Darke Co. in order to visit the corporate offices of Schmetterling Corp. I had hoped to make such a trip yesterday, but the morning forecast showed winds at 11 knots gusting to 15, and afternoon winds of an even more prohibitive 17 gusting to 22. Even back in the halcyon days of RV-6 piloting, the afternoon winds would have been more than I was comfortable with. The morning winds, on the other have, would hand been  acceptable. Not so in the 12, at least not yet. I have not yet practiced in winds that high. So, rather than sit at home moping about my inability to comfortably fly in winds that are relatively common, I decided to devote the morning to practicing crosswind landings. It is time to adjust to the newer, lighter airplane.

Speaking of adjustments, there were two more that I was interested in. First of all, I wanted to address the issue of the propensity of the airplane to want to bank to the right when flying hands-off. This new turning tendency is a direct result of having added the trim tab on the rudder to make the airplane fly straight without having to constantly have my right foot pushing on the rudder pedal. I wasn't sure that I was going to be able to fix the rolling tendency without the addition of yet another trim tab, but I thought it worthwhile to at least try the Van's black magic solution before adding another ugly protuberance to the plane.  Van's approach is to crimp down the trailing edge of the flaperon on the "light" wing, which in my case was the left side.  I don't know the aerodynamic theory behind it, but there are people that swear that it works.  Being as how it is easier to add more squeeze that it is to remove too much, I very cautiously worked my way down the length of the left flaperon using a pair of sheet metal seaming pliers ever so gently squeezing the trailing edge radius.

The results can be seen here:

Surprisingly, even that minor crimping was enough to remove the rolling tendency entirely.

The other thing I wanted to adjust was the lackadaisical way in which the autopilot would turn the plane. It seemed as if it really wasn't trying very hard at all. I dug out the calibration instructions that came with the Skyview and found that there was a setting that told the autopilot to limit itself to a user-defined number of degrees per second to turn, or to limit itself to a given bank angle. The default setting was 3.5 degrees per second, or nearly a minute to make a 180 degree course reversal. Lollygagging, that is.  I changed it to target a bank angle of 35 degrees.  This too was quite a satisfactory change:

Having determined that my two adjustments were adequate, I proceeded on course to MadCo where I would practice a few crosswind landings and refuel against the day when I can finally make the trip out to Darke Co.  The winds at altitude were an indication of what I would be facing as I tried to land. As the winds were out of the south, I got a notably high cruise speed when heading north.  About 20 knots of the indicated 138 is due to the wind.

Before too very long, I was entering the left downwind for my first attempt:

Naturally you are wondering at this point how it went. Well, I'm here to tell you that your first landing in an LSA with a 15 knot crosswind is.... eye opening. Other orifices, on the other hand, may pucker to an appreciable degree.  Being as light as it is, the bumpiness of the air plays a significant factor. It also takes quite a bit of wing-down-into-the-wind combined with opposite rudder to maintain a straight line towards the runway. None of this is all that unusual, but having taught myself to let the plane get lower and slower than I was used to in the RV-6, I did find that I had to remind myself to add sufficient power to overcome the additional drag from the displaced flaperons and rudder.  

The other tricky thing was dealing with the turning tendency caused by the wind pushing against the vertical stab once on the runway. The swiveling nose wheel just doesn't help at all. I found myself zig-zagging a little bit as I tried to roll straight down the runway. Now that I have had some time to reflect on it, this zig-zagging might be an indication of another adjustment I need to make. When I was finishing up the plane, I torqued the breakout force of the nose wheel (the side force required to move it away from center) to the specified 26 ft-lbs. I've read that Van's has reduced that value. I think what might be happening is that I am making directional corrections that don't have any effect until the pressure gets high enough to overcome the breakout force. When it gets to the point that the nose wheel will swivel, it lunges into the correction to the degree that I have to catch it with an opposing input. Which then causes the same problem in reverse. The net result of which is my zig-zagging down the runway.

In theory.

The testing of that hypothesis will give me something to try next time the weather is a tetch windy.

Monday, April 1, 2013

We've got to stop meeting like this...

On our way out of Portsmouth, The Jackson Two slowed down a little (well, a lot) to let Warthog and I catch up. Now, through the miracle of ubiquitous cell phone cameras, you can see us join on their left wing, then cross under to the other side and rejoin on their right wing.  It's a little blurry -- ubiquitous doesn't mean high fidelity.

Yes, it was pretty bumpy, and yes, I was gripping the stick pretty tightly as a result.