Sunday, August 30, 2015

Long Weekends

In addition to Myday this week, I also took Thursday off. I don't normally do that, but sometimes I just can't get an appointment on a convenient Myday. This time around, it was an appointment to do the two year transponder check on the airplane. Opinions vary wildly on just what needs to be done for a two year VFR check, but at the end of the day it is simply intended to ensure that the altitude being reported from my transponder in response to an interrogation from ATC radar is accurate.

I respect you enough to not feel a compelling need to explain to you why accuracy matters in a thing like that.

So, the two years was up and I had to burn a vacation day to attend to it, which isn't the burden you may assume it to be. You see, I seldom take vacation unless the CFO wants to, and with our current situation with family responsibilities, we're taking even fewer.  This usually results in having a whole lot left over in December, which in turn results in me sitting around the house wondering why I hadn't used the time when the weather had been better.

The appointment was made three weeks in advance, and would come within a week of the expiration of the previous check. To get to the appointment, I had to fly forty miles to the south. That in itself is not burdensome, but if the weather had been bad....

It wasn't, and I had a nice flight down to the airport where I would be getting the test performed.

The easiest way to test whether the system is reporting a correct altitude is to fool the airplane into thinking that it's flying. To do this, calibrated pressurized air is pushed into the pitot tube and a calibrated vacuum is applied to the static ports on the side of the plane.

I'll be you'd like to get a closer look at that, no?

Well, here it is. The device attaches itself to the plane like a remora attaches to a shark, then....



You wanted a closer look at the hot chopper in the background.

Well, here it is:

As usual, there was too much leakage in the pitot tube junction where the tubes join just behind the Rotax prop RPM reduction gearbox. That means the top cowling has to come off, but I actually carry tools for that very purpose in my just-in-case box.

Once the leak is bypassed, the calibrated pressures are applied.

We passed the MODE 3A test (whatever that is), but the transponder was still refusing to report altitude.

There are varying opinions on whether the fact that I couldn't get the transponder out of GND (ground) and into ALT (altitude) mode was the cause. The technician thought the mode would change automatically once the GPS measured ground speed (which we had no control over) reached a certain value. A Dynon service person believes differently, and I have no reason to doubt him.

But he wasn't there.

I jumped into the transponder settings and simply told it to respond to my efforts to put it in ALT mode.

Once that was working, the technicians used the antique "fool the airplane" box to apply the calibrated pressures, and a fancy new (and obviously expensive) electronic box to read the reactions of the transponder.

Bada-bing and $155 later, it was done. 

The weather remained good on Myday, so Jeff and I flew up to Mt. Victory for brunch at what I call The Grass Runway Restaurant.

Just across the street, there is a nice little antique shop. Just the place for finding my own "fool the airplane" box, right?

It had everything you look for in a rural antique shop: a pick-up truck, a dog, and friendly proprietors.

"They can't let it alone."

Let's be honest here: they don't even try!

Myday wasn't quite done yet. I cashed in a chip with a local guy that I have been helping as he gets acclimated to his purchased-already-flying RV-12 and had him introduce me to a friend of his that has one of the New Polaris Slingshots.

Never heard of the Slingshot? Well, I hadn't either, but once I did, I simply had to see one.

Our mutual friend seemingly forgot to warn him about me. As evidence, I cite the fact that he let me drive it!

Here are the impressions I posted on Facebook while still steeping in the afterglow:
I drove a Polaris Slingshot today. It's quite an interesting car/motorcycle. The engine and drivetrain are the same as those in the Pontiac Soltice which is itself a peppy little two-seater. This gives it a 174 hp, and at a curb weight of 1,700 lbs. that's a generous portion of power.
The power is delivered to the single rear wheel through a five speed manual gearbox and a carbon fiber belt. The belt makes a whining sound which increases in frequency as the mph increase (which will be familiar to Scott Kuhar since we hear the same kind of sound in iRacing) which I think it pretty cool. The gearbox is tight and crisp. The clutch suited my tastes, but the accelerator seemed overly stiff to me. 
The ride is a visceral marriage of mechanical feel that speaks to you as a driver and a nearly cycle-like feeling of being more like a pedestrian moving quickly than a driver ensconced in a bubble. 
The brakes were very good. 
The steering is a little bit disappointing. The steering wheel itself is nice, albeit of too much diameter to give a truly racer feel. The extra diameter is needed, though, because the steering is somewhat stiff (which is fine - you would expect that with no power steering) because it feels like the shaft is plastic on plastic. In other words, it feel like the resistance was because of friction in the steering system. It was enough friction to keep the steering from returning to center on its own. I've never seen that in a car before. 
I adjusted to the feeling and response of the steering soon enough - it was just the first couple of turns that felt like I was having to provide too much input. Once I got the feel for it, I could see how driving this thing would be a study in self-discipline. It's amazingly fun to drive. The ride is softer than my old Miata, but has far better feel for the road than my SLK. 
It felt like... freedom.
Would I ever buy one? Well, maybe, but not new. They go for around $20k, which isn't horrible, but they are really more like a motorcycle than a car, and therefore fall solidly into the "toy" category.

For that I will wait to see what comes up in the used market in a few years,

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