Friday, January 30, 2015

The Bug

February. The worst month of my life. We aren't even there yet, and here I sit with a fuzzy head, an aching chest, and a cough that engages my gag reflex in a most disconcerting way. The weather gurus are predicting another half foot of snow, timed perfectly for my Monday commute across town. It's dark for more than half of the 24 hour day.

What's not to like?

I have, over the years, learned not to make important decisions in February when my seasonal depression is at its peak and having an undue influence on my general outlook on life. The month of February is the closest I get to something akin to clinical depression.

There was a time, though, still fresh in my mind, when I didn't suffer nearly as greatly. I remember a time when I would be outside, or near enough to, with temperatures in the teens doing productive work, and enjoying it. It was, in fact, a spell of time that I had such an overarching interest in a project that I was working on that weather, daylight, and day-to-day frustrations were pushed lower on the intensity scale than normal.

This is a nostalgic view, of course, and even in the very beginnings of my annual doldrums I recognize that. That said, nostalgia may soften the sharp edges of the past, but it does not invent the memory of good times out of whole cloth. The more difficult and frustrating times may lose some of their potency, and the highlights may shine brighter in reflection than they did as the happened, but even after applying the filter of time those memories remain valid.

I miss building.

I miss blogging about building.

I miss always having something to do with my time.

As much as I enjoy owning and flying a brand new, state of the art airplane, I feel like I lost something on the day it was deemed to be "done."

This did not start today. It did not start this week, or even this month. I've tried coming up with other things to do, but I built the RV-12 for a reason: building an airplane was something that I had always wanted to do. As it turns out, it still is.

It's tricky, though. I have no interest in replacing the 12. It does a great job at satisfying just about every one of my aviation needs. Nor do I have any interest in building another 12 - that would seem pointless in the same way that I don't have the desire to own a vacation property: I like variety.

So, what aviation needs are not served by my nifty little machine?

Well, it certainly is handy for flying out to visit folks, or to go to nice places like the Ohio Bass islands easily. It's great for giving rides to people that have never been in a small plane before and watching their eyes light up when they take the controls, even briefly.  It's even a great way to travel a hundred miles or so for an average meal at an airport diner.

That last one there - the one where I'm flying hundreds of miles for a burger that I wouldn't have driven ten miles for. That's the tell. It's not the burger that is the appeal of those trips, it's the act of flying. And this is where the 12, although comfortable and capable, falls just a wee bit short. Yes, it's flying, but it's flying thousands of feet above the ground, enclosed in a wind proof capsule, surrounded by metal.

Nothing wrong with that at all, but it lacks something of the very essence of flying. The wind in your hair, the scents of the land you're flying over, the intimacy of being only hundreds of feet off the ground, the freedom to frolic in three dimensions in the way that only an airplane strong enough to stay in one piece at +6 and -3 Gs.

This is the type of flying that would complement that of the 12, not replace it.

It's like I've always said, when it comes to airplanes, you need at least two but no more than five.

So where does one come across a machine that provides all of that?

Open cockpit biplanes.  Wood, fabric, simple instruments, and just enough modernity to keep from getting lost.

That's what I would like to build.

Fortunately, kits exist for that, and they are pretty reasonably priced. Take, for example, the Fisher Flying Products Youngster V:

Fisher is an established kit manufacturer with decades of experience behind them and a fleet of no less than fourteen different airplanes running the gamut from ultralight airplanes all the way up to an 80% scale replica of the venerable de Havilland Tiger Moth.

The Tiger Moth replica is an attractive option, but at double the cost and almost twice the size as the Youngster, I just don't think it fits the "low-cost" requirement and also is just too big.  The single-seat Youngster evokes the Mitty-esque sense of the early heydey of sport flight much better.

The Fisher planes are wood and fabric (well, Dacron these days - authenticity often equates to maintenance burden and unreliability) kits, designed for first-time builders on something of a budget. The wood is aircraft-grade Sitka spruce for things that are built up of stringers and birch ply for the solid skins. Engine options include a 50hp Rotax two-cycle or a 65hp Volkswagon engine.

A lot of people look askance at VW powerplants on airplanes, but just as many are equally distrustful of the Rotax 912 I have in the RV-12.  Their viewpoint is not entirely unfair. VW engines have been used in homebuilt planes since the very infancy of the genre, and as with anything that has been around for awhile, they have gained and kept a reputation based on issue with the earliest efforts. This is why you don't fly to Europe in a Wright Brothers jumbo jet.

The modern aviation VW engine pretty much just uses the original engine case to house critical components beefed up for aviation use. One of the leading providers of aviation grade VW engines describe some of the enhancements:

The Crankshaft.

The heart of the engine is the crankshaft. It has to be able to absorb, dissipate and transmit. Our 82mm forged E4340 steel crankshaft is made specifically for aircraft use. It features a rectangle flat milled key for the prop hub. The crankshaft has a 3 degree taper on it that is mated to our Force One prop hub. The bolt that retains the hub is a fine thread bolt that is 3.5" long. The threads in the crankshaft are machined in the crankshaft about 3" down from the end. For the first 1.250" the thread is relieved so the pulling or retention loads is placed at the rear of the thread in the larger diameter of the crankshaft. This crankshaft is made specifically for the rigors of driving a propeller. It is not an "out of the box" automotive crankshaft as used by one competitor. In the 25+ years this current crankshaft design has been manufactured, it has never suffered a failure. Our E4340 crank is manufactured from a forged billet and machined in the USA. 69mm crankshafts are made from a 4140 forging.

The Force One Prop Hub and Main Bearing.

While not totally unique to aviation, it is in many respects when combined with our crankshaft. We recognized from early on from a number of crankshaft/prop hub failures with 82mm crankshafts and shrink fit and short tapered hubs, that perhaps it was not the best way to build stroker engines for longevity.

The Force One Prop Hub rides in a engine lubricated bearing that the case is machined out for. The Force One Bearing is pressure lubricated, utilizes 2 seals for oil control. The total bearing area has 4 to 5 more surface area than does a standard #4 position, VW bearing. But the important point is the hub is supported in the bearing instead of being attached forward of the bearing, as is the case when using a shrink fit or standard tapered prop hub. As the fit between the hub and the crank is on a 3 degree taper, it can be removed repeatedly without wearing out either tapered surface. With shrink fit hub, the .002" interference fit will eventually erode with multiple removals.

With our Force One Hub, we can still use the brass distributor drive gear to drive a secondary or primary ignition system. Another competitors crankshaft does not have the brass gear on the crankshaft and cannot use a primary or secondary ignition in the distributor hole.
They also offer an optional second ignition system, which would definitely be on my must-have list.

It's hard to figure out the total cost of the engine package, of course, because you have to add in things like the engine mount and propeller, but I'm estimating that it would top out at just about the same cost as the airframe. The airframe kit is very complete, up to and including the covering fabric. It sells for $8,700, but you have to throw in a few hundred for crating and shipping. They also sell the kit as three separate subkits, but that only serves to triple the additional charges associated with getting the thing to your door.

Where would I keep it? There is a small, grass runway airport no more than five miles from my house.

One thing that's still an open question, and a relatively big one at that, is how much of it could be built in my basement - one aspect of building the 12 that no amount of nostalgia can gloss over is just how hot and cold it can get working out in the hangar!

So, will I do it?

I don't know. I try to never make decisions like this in February.


Anonymous said...

In the "Jeep" world, i always tease the guys that deem their project "complete". With an airplane like yours, I believe it is hard to say, "It's an on going project" once it has been certified to fly. So maybe another option for you would be to get an old Jeep. ;-) I know that is not your passion so maybe you should look for an old WW II fighter that would certainly take years to complete or join a team working on one. Just a few random thoughts as I consider my time line for building a winch mount for the winch I purchased a year ago, along with the under carriage lighting intended for night rides that I haven't even taken this Jeep on. (lights also purchased a year ago)

Anonymous said...

Here's a thought - learn to fly a helicopter and get rotor-wing added to your certificate. Then build yourself a helicopter. There are some interesting kits available for one, two or four occupants. Not sure what your budget is but some of the single place helicopters are not too expensive.

Steve said...

I forget his name, but there's a guy with one of the most beautiful homebuilt biplanes I've ever seen at AXV. Might want to wander up that direction one day and hunt him down.

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