Friday, January 3, 2014

The Project

There's no denying that the completion (well, excluding service bulletins and maintenance) of the RV-12 has left me in a void of inactivity.  It's not a "I'm sitting in a lotus position in the middle of a room humming yoga chants" kind of boredom, mind you. Between work and other interests like reading or online car racing, I manage to fill the hours. So it's not precisely business and/or distractions that I find myself craving, it's something far more elusive: a purpose/goal. I need to be working towards something.  Without a definable end point, how do I gauge progress? Without a measure of progression, how to I get a sense of satisfaction? Where is the inner glow of a difficult job done, or an easier job done well?

I've already thought about and rejected any number of ideas.

I considered building a Factory Five Project 818. The 818 is a kit car ($10,000 plus tax, shipping, and a few options) built using a Subura WRX for donor parts. It's a mid-engine, rear wheel drive sports car with the looks and some (more than enough for a street car!) of the performance of a Ferrari, for an estimated total cost of $18,000 - $20,000.

The problems are manifest:

  - no temperature controlled space to build it in
  - no non-temperature controlled space to build it in
  - no place to store it
  - cost

That one stays on the "some day" list for now.

I thought about selling my little sail boat and kayak in order to build a small 12-14' power boat. I don't use the kayak much anymore because I can't lift it up onto the top of the big Hyundai. I sold my other "guest" kayak (made a couple hundred bucks on the flip) to buy the sailboat, so now kayaking is a solo endeavor which, for the aforementioned  reason, doesn't work. Solo kayaking also suffers the same problem as the sailboat: I don't like doing things alone anymore.

I looked into building something like this Bateau Fast Skiff 14:

There are a few problems with this, too. First, it would need a trailer. I have one, but there is a sailboat sitting on it, and I would have to sell the sailboat to 1) get the cash out of it, and 2) free up the spot in the hangar where it's stored. Cost is also an issue, but not in the way you might think. The boat itself would cost about $2,100 to build, but then I would need an engine. Even used, that's at least $500 - $800. All up, I'd be about $3,000 into it. That's a problem when you consider this, which carries a $2,700 asking price:

It even comes with the trailer. And a spare tire. Hard to beat that.

I'm not exaggerating when I say that I have been thinking about this for months. With the long days stuck in the hours with cold, COLD air making any outdoor endeavor very uncomfortable, it has been more front-of-mind than usual.

Finally, however, I have found a project.

I am going to make....

a pilot.

It will require no work space. It will require no storage space. And while not being exactly cost free, it's a manageable kind of cost. To do this, though, I will have to become a Light Sport Certified Flight Instructor (CFI-S).  I have considered becoming an instructor before, but in the non-LSA world, that means getting a Commercial Rating first, which could easily cost up to or more than $5,000.

Things are different in the LSA world. No commercial rating is needed. The only requirements (absent the boilerplate requirements to speak English, etc.) are:

   -- 100 hours as pilot-in-charge (PIC) in a powered aircraft. I have 700+ hours.
   -- 50 hours of flight time in a single-engine airplane. All of those 700+ hours qualify.
   -- 25 hours of cross-country time. I get that many in any given year.
   -- 15 hours as PIC in an LSA airplane. I'm at roughly 40.

There are other requirements that can be boiled down to two written tests and a check ride. There is a prerequisite for the check ride: three hours of dual instruction in the 60 days preceding the check ride.

I will start with the written tests. The first one is practical knowledge - this is essentially the same test that I took decades ago when I was working on my first license. I doubt of I could pass that test today, although there is any outside chance that I could - it only takes a score of 70%.  That would meet the letter of the law, but it would be an unnecessary short cut.  Besides which, the oral portion of the check ride will require me to know my stuff, as will teaching a student.

To relearn all of this stuff at a high proficiency level, I went in search of training materials. After a somewhat prolonged search, I opted for the Sporty's Learn to Fly course on the iPad. There were other platform choices, but given the immense convenience of the iPad, which seldom leaves my side, I thought that would be the best way to go. All of the videos can be streamed via WiFi, or downloaded onto the iPad itself to allow for viewing from literally anywhere.  The program contains more than just the training videos, too. It also includes test preparation with a Test Simulator that uses actual FAA questions. Finally, you take a couple of timed practice tests and it tells Sporty's to send the endorsement required to take the written test. Total cost was $200 plus a cut for the government.

The second test is Fundamentals of Instruction. I'll have to buy another set of test prep software (or a book) for that, and it won't work on the iPad, but it's pretty straight forward stuff and should be easy to learn. I figure $50 at most.

The tests aren't free, either. $150 each. Ouch!  We're at $550, not counting the three hours paid to an instructor - figure $150 for that, so let's call it $700.

That's what the packaging to ship the Project 818 kit costs.  Not the shipping, the packaging for shipping.

So, for the sake of argument, what precisely do I intend to do with the CFI rating if/when I get it? That's easy: I'm going to teach someone to fly. I even have a candidate: there's a guy that I used to work with that has flown with me a couple of times. The first time was in the RV-6, and it was a notable flight in that he was one of those passengers that I get every now and then that don't want to try their hand at the controls. The second time was in the RV-12 and the situation was the exact opposite - he flew us for 20 - 30 minutes and did quite well at it.

There are a few issues, though. Because of the nature of the certification category of the plane, I can't do any commercial work in it, and that includes getting paid to instruct in it. That doesn't matter - I'm not doing it for the money. The gas isn't free either, but by law he is allowed to contribute pro-rata for fuel, oil, and airport expenditures if we share a common purpose, typically meaning that we both had a common reason to be there. This is intended to keep us from acting as de facto charter pilots. But this is a weird and murky area in the FAA rules, so even a split for the cost of the gas might be questionable from a legal standpoint. That's something I'll have to look into. Note that it's not the FAA regulations that are the question: they pretty much expect a CFI for charge for the service, but I can't use the airplane for hire.

If the worst case is that I do something I would have done anyway  (e.g. fly around with a friend on a pleasant evening) and foot the entire fuel cost, I can't make myself see that as a loss.  Figure fifteen hours at five gallons per hour with a worst case cost of $6 a gallon: $450. And like I said, I can guarantee that I was going to fly those hours anyway.  That takes me to what, $1,150? That's still less than a boat which, by the way, would be useless until Spring.

There is another wrinkle in that, for reasons having to do with insurance, he will not be able to fly solo in my plane. For that he would have to rent. Fortunately, there is a rental available up on his side of town. He would have to rent for roughly 7 - 9 hours. He's only required to do five hours of solo before the check ride, but he would also have to have a checkout from a CFI at the rental outfit (side benefit: that would like a practice check ride) and he would have to rent their plane for his actual check ride - that would add a few more hours.  On the plus side, it's a pretty nice looking plane (representative sample of a 2007 Evektor SportStar):

While there are still a few issues to be worked out, none of them seem to be show-stoppers. The worst case is that I get the rating and use it to teach in a rental. Not as convenient, but not a problem either. And if Co-pilot Egg ever decides that she wants to learn, all it would take is a call (and more money, one would assume) to the insurance company.

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