Tuesday, December 30, 2014


With 19 or 20 contiguous days off of work (as a result of not using all of my vacation time throughout the year), you would think that I'd get some flying done, but as it turned out, not so much.

Weather mostly, but also a degree of lassitude that I chalk up to the aptly acronymized Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD.

Luckily, it's not hard to fill the time stuck in the house as I have plenty of time-wasters readily available. I have auto racing sims, combat flight sims, a Kindle for reading, and I recently picked up a drawing tablet for my computer. The latter isn't really a toy - I bought it for use with shared whiteboards to help me describe things to remote co-workers over the internet - but there's no rule against using it so see if I can teach myself to draw.

Drawing is one of those things that I wish I could be good at, but simply don't have the innate skills that would allow for it to happen naturally. "Maybe with enough practice..." I thought.

Well. Maybe not, although as I learned how to use different software applications as I was working with it, I accidentally built up the skills that would allow me to customize the car paint used in one of my racing sims. I added my name and some sponsorship to this Lotus 48 Formula 1 car:

While I was at it, I painted up a Mazda 787 Lemans racer with Schmetterling sponsorship:

As far as the flight sims, well, here are a couple of YouTube movies that I recorded. This one is an attempt at formation flight in an F-86:

This one is an air to ground attack in an FW-190D:

Like I said: time wasters. I did do one productive, non-computer thing, though. With gas in my local area selling for $1.77 a gallon, I decided that it was time to bite the bullet and build myself a fueling rig to make it easier to use the cheap gas that the Rotax engine prefers over the expensive av gas (close to $6 a gallon!) I've been using. With a differential like that, the money spent on the fuel rig will be easily recouped.

In any event, a good weather forecast broke through my winter ennui today and convinced me that I would benefit from a flight down to the Ohio River to have lunch. I would normally meet Kyle somewhere, but his plane is currently broken - his oil pressure sender died as, it turns out, is quite typical in installations such as that done by Rotax where the vibration sensitive sensor is mounted directly onto a big, vibrating engine.

The senders aren't particularly cheap, so relocation solutions have popped up in the aftermarket that move the sensor to a safer location, such as the firewall. Kyle will be installing one of those in addition to replacing his broken sensor. I figure I should go ahead and do that too, before my sensor inevitably falls victim to its location in a rough neighborhood, but haven't yet worked up the requisite motivation.

The trip had a somewhat ignominious beginning when I had to recycle the Dynon to get the ADSB module to boot up. That seems to happen when it has been sitting in a deeply cold hangar. I then needed to use the spar pin override button to start the engine - those spar pin sensors are also somewhat finicky when it's very cold. Then the engine ran very, very rough for awhile, but that was rectified when I realized that I hadn't turned of the engine choke.

Electronics aren't the only things that work sub-par in the cold.

With everything finally up and running, I taxied down to the departure end of runway 4, where I did my engine run-up. That all went fine, but.... I had this nagging feeling that the canopy was vibrating a bit more than it should.

It wasn't latched.

That was enough to just stop and give my rusty flying brain a chance to catch up. A 2nd run through the pre-takeoff ritual showed everything else to be configured correctly, so off we went.

Just outside of the Bolton Class D airspace, the ADSB traffic reporting system picked up a plane on an oblique collision course with us, albeit a couple of hundred feet lower than our 3,500', Normally that's not an issue, but this one had a very long yellow arrow pointing in it's direction of travel, which indicated that it was moving fast. Sure enough, I could see it visually four or five miles away, which acted as an indication that it was big too, not just fast.  Probably an airliner, I figured, and under ATC control. Surely they would vector it around us....

They didn't. I didn't think a 400' altitude differential was nearly enough, so I yanked us into a steep climb. It ended up being a Boeing 737, as I could clearly see as it passed underneath us. It was very odd to see a plane like that at such a low altitude outside of the Port Columbus Class C airspace, but the reason became clear as we saw him make a wide right turn to land at Rickenbacker, a former military airbase now used for cargo hauling flights.

The air was smooth and we had a nice tailwind, so everything was going fine, right up until we got the hills down south. These are the very same hills I was over a few months ago when I made a prudent turn back to Bolton when the engine started running rough. There must be a jinx - we were five or six miles into the hills when I noticed the oil pressure dropping.

Within a minute it was showing 0 PSI.

My first thought was that I should have gotten that sensor relocation done, but my nearly immediate second thought was that just because the problem was almost certainly with the sensor, that doesn't mean it couldn't be something far worse, and flying over inhospitable terrain with an open question like that would be anything but prudent.

We turned back.

The first goal was to get back to the flat, empty farm fields. From there we would have a lot more options. I also set the GPS to take us in the direction of Circleville, where I knew I could land if the engine truly had a problem. Once there, if everything was still running smoothly and in the green, it's just another short hop back to Bolton.

That's what we ended up doing, but even with a near certainty that the engine was perfectly healthy, it was still somewhat uncomfortable.

Coming back into Bolton, I had to steepen my approach descent as another big plane, this one a C-130 Hercules, seemed hellbent on going right through us rather than around us. We went under him at a 400' differential.

All in all, it was one my more eventful flights to nowhere.

An oil pressure sender and a relocation kit are both on order, and I'm back to flight sims.

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