Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Traveling as a Group

There are a lot of benefits accrued through the building of an airplane, and one of the longer lasting is the friendships built in concert with the plane itself. In the case of any airplane in the Van's Aircraft fleet, this is even more common due to the popularity of the designs. In my case, I was building an RV-12, which is probably the fastest selling model in the fleet.

The first co-builder to emerge was Kyle; he and his father had been considering building a twelve and asked if they could stop by one evening to see if it appeared to be something achievable for them. I was always willing to have people stop by, although a cold winter night with temperatures in the twenties wasn't the most conducive environment. It turned out well - I was at a stage that was going to require a few hundred rivets to be pulled, and that is a very easy thing to teach. I showed them how to use the pneumatic puller, then I mostly just sat in front of the propane heater (which I had taken to calling "The Cone of Comfort") while they riveted the skins onto the entire tail cone. 

Tom Sawyer has nothing on me when it comes to getting other people to do my  work.

Having enjoyed the always riveting experience of, well... riveting, they ordered a kit soon after that and were actually done with their build and in the air long before I was.

The second to show was Jan. He was one of those guys that already had a plane at the airport, but was intrigued by the twelve. He wasn't all that interested in building one, but he liked the economics of flying at 115-ish knots with a fuel burn less than six gallons per hour. He eventually came across a partially completed kit which be bought. My plane was done by then, so we paired up for the next 18 months in getting his plane finished, with an occasional assist from Kyle.

Now that we all three have our own airplanes to fly, it's a simple matter to get the group together for day trips. The most recent trip was to a small town on the eastern side of Ohio. Cambridge is near a county airport (KCDI) that has at least one courtesy car, and Kyle knew of a fine diner in town. Knowing my affinity for diners, he thought (correctly) that it would be a nice place to go for lunch.

With Jan and I being co-located, we had the option of pairing up in one or the other of our planes, but that would have defeated the purpose - flying out in loose formation would be a lot more fun. Kyle would just meet us at the airport.

The trip was uneventful and we were soon headed out the door of the FBO in search of the courtesy car. As with many of Ohio's county airports, KCDI has a retired military bird on a pedestal out front.  

Here's the line-up of RV-12s - quite the disparity in paint designs, eh?

If you ever find yourself at KCDI with the keys to a courtesy car in hand, and those keys fit anything other than the black Vibe, and especially if they fit the silver mini-van, go back inside and get the other keys. We were halfway downtown when we got called back to the airport to exchange cars. Apparently the van isn't road worthy; we hadn't noticed anything amiss, but truth be told with your typical airport courtesy car it can be hard to tell the difference. 

The Vibe was pretty nice, though,

The focal point of downtown Cambridge is the clock tower sitting atop what I guessed to be the district courthouse:

Our lunch destination was Theo's Restaurant, which quite gratifyingly had exactly the kind of menu items you hope to see in a family-owned diner.

I opted for the Cabbage Rolls, which I found to be quite satisfying.

Just across the street in an antique shop called The Penny Corner, probably due to to fact that the building began life as a JC Penney store.

I'm always on the hunt for quirky things and this slumbering cat caught my eye; I couldn't figure out it was being marketed as food or as an appliance.

I would have never thought of crafting a fish out of a bull's horn.

Honest truth, I momentarily thought the title of this book was "The Art of the Comb-over," probably because I'm of the age where that kind of scalp coverage strategy is becoming personally pertinent.

Very close by the antique store was a small art gallery, where we found an artist at work. Or evidence thereof, more accurately.

This store front caught my eye as we walked by - they might want to consider either a name change, or a somewhat more cohesive product mix.

Back at the (presumed) courthouse, I took a closer look at the artillery piece located in the front lawn.

Specifically, I couldn't help noticing the tires on the US--made gun: Vorwerk is a German company.

Ironic, that.

Our 2015 winter was relatively benign, but it's still quite refreshing to see the colors coming back into the trees.

This truly was the classic car dealer - the showroom was on the first floor of one of the buildings downtown - no mega lots here!

The next stop was at the local bakery.

The original plan was to fly back home, but KCDI is only 11nm from I10, the county airport for Noble County, Ohio. It's an airport in a beautiful location - the runway sits between the two prongs of a lake. It's just a short walk from the runway down to the lake.  The weather was gorgeous, so... why not?

I've never understood this sign - if this made any sense, we wouldn't fly over an altitude of 10' - if the first 10' doesn't get ya, the other 3,490' won't either.

The departure out of I10 was the opposite of uneventful. Just after rotation, the Rotax 912 that powers my RV-12 started running rough, and the unmistakable smell of gasoline started emanating from the other side of the firewall. I knew a number of things immediately:

  - this was indicative of a carburetor float no longer floating
  - there were no suitable areas in front of me to land on should the engine pack it in for the day
  - even partial power is better than no power, and the roughness had pretty much gone away anyway,
  - so the most expedient thing to do was to fly the pattern back to the departure runway.

Once safely back on the ramp, I got out my emergency tools and Tom Sawyer-ed Kyle into removing the top cowl.

Old habits die hard.

The offending carb was easy to find - it incriminated itself by spraying gas out of its overflow tube.

The carbs are due to be disassembled and inspected at 200 hours and my bird was clocking in at just over 181 hours at this point, so it occurred to us that the problem was likely to be a little bit of stickiness on one of the floats. Removing the floats and cleaning them off a bit was easily accomplished and the ensuing engine run-up indicated that the problem was solved, at least for now.

The return flight was again uneventful, but it looks like that 200 hour inspection is going to happen 18 hours early.

It helped a great deal to have Kyle there with me - had we not been able to diagnose and fix the problem, having a ride home sure would have come in handy!

Also, this served to prove yet again that travelling in groups can have enormous benefits.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Peace of Mind, or, Flying Gear is Expensive

My personal experience is that you don't have much to worry about when it comes to leaving things in your airplane while you're out and about - pilots are generally pretty decent folk. But... who's to say it will only be other pilots wandering around on the ramp?  With a thousand or more dollars worth of easily carried devices sitting there for the taking, it's always possible that I may return some day to find that my headsets are gone and I have no means of communicating with the folks in the tower when I get back to base.

To put it bluntly, I worry about theft.

Any number of DIY canopy locking schemes have come up from the always-inventive RV-12 builders, but I was hoping for something that wouldn't require cutting slots in the cockpit sills. I'm a flyer now, not a builder, so I was also hoping for something relatively easy to install.

And here it is!

A few months ago I did a test installation of a development version of an RV-12 canopy lock designed by Aircraft Specialty. You may remember that outfit as the place that offers replacement fuels to replace the Rotax lines that have to be replaced every five years.

They have now designed a simple yet elegant solution that replaces the stock canopy latch handle with a new handle that has a locking cylinder embedded in it. Installation requires drilling only a single hole in the canopy frame. All told, I think it took less than an hour.

Tool needs are minimal, and I already had everything I needed except for a 6/32" lock nut, which was easily found at the Lowe's Aircraft Supply shop.  I also needed an 8-32 tap, a 9/64" drill bit, and a 1/16" allen head driver.  Optionally, you might want to have a little double-sided tape as well.

The kit includes everything else you will need.

Most of the installation is intuitive. The way it works is that the lock itself screws into the threaded hole in the latch handle. One of the three included cylinders will provide a repository for the lock's locking pin.  The installation of the cylinder requires a hole to be drilled in the canopy frame, and the double-sided tape is useful for holding the cylinder in place while you match drill the hole in the canopy frame.

You will have noticed that there are three* of the cylinders, but you only use one. Because of length variances in the building of the canopy latch mechanism, cylinders of various heights are included.

* See update below

The three provided cylinders differ in height by .020" of an inch to allow for variations in the original installation of the canopy.

My installation method was to first test fit the latch handle onto the post at the top of the canopy in order to select the correct sized cylinder.

The latch handle was not delivered tapped (see update below), just like the original handle from Van's. An 8-32 tap takes care of that quite readily.

The lock mechanism screws right into the handle. At this point I did not use any Loc-Tite or other product to keep the lock from backing out; I saved that for last step in case I needed to remove it during the rest of the installation.

The open and close directions are etched into the handle. This being an early prototype, they were oriented incorrectly. That problem was quickly fixed.

I used the original screw from my old handle to hold the new handle in place temporarily. The screw that comes with the kit is designed to not be removable after installation, so I held that off until final installation too.

I closed the latch (my installation required a little filing on the inside latch to make up for a little variance between my handle and the new handle), then placed the best-fit cylinder under the latch, pushed down and latched the locking pin to align the cylinder, and used the double-sided tape to hold it in place.

The latching handle was then removed, and I used a 9/64" bit to drill down through the cylinder into the canopy frame. The provided hex head bold goes from top to bottom down through the locking cylinder and into the hole drilling in the canopy frame. The 6/32" lock nut is fastened from inside the frame - this fastens the locking cylinder into place.

Once that was done, I simply screwed the locking mechanism into that handle with a dollop of Loc-Tite and fastened the handle onto the post as usual. I didn't use the permanent locking screw provided with the kit - every now and then I have to be able to remove the handle to tighten up the swiveling action of the latch - normal maintenance for an RV-12.

I recognize that by forgoing the security of the un-removable screw I will have to live with the risk that anyone with a screwdriver could remove the handle and gain access to the airplane, but I figure anyone willing to go to that length is just as likely to just break the canopy, so it seems to be a good compromise.


The canopy latch is now available for purchase.  There are some notable differences between the development kit and the production kit:

  • Six sizes of locking cylinder are provided
  • All holes are tapped
  • The labels on the handle are silkscreened rather than etched
  • There is now a safety interlock to prevent accidental locking 
  • While the handle is still red, it's a much brighter red.

You can see how the canopy lock with the safety interlock works in this mercifully short video:

Monday, January 25, 2016

Just follow the line...

As many of you know, I've been flying with a couple of guys that are either currently taking flight instruction, or who had started with a couple of lessons in the past but weren't able to keep going. When I fly with people in that kind of situation, I like to fly from the right seat and let them have the Captain's chair.  I also like to treat the flight as if it is actually a formal lesson - that's in furtherance of my long-term goal of obtaining an LSA Instructor Certification.

To rewind the clock a little bit, I have to share that I had always worried that I would not be particularly well suited to the role of instructor, my primary concern being that it would be hard for be to forget what I already know to a degree sufficient to allow me to explain relatively complex things that I personally do as a matter of routine, but that to an inexperienced pilot might be completely mind-boggling. Flying with low-time students has put that to the test, and I am pleased to announce that it isn't as big of a problem as I had thought it might be.

Then again....

I remember back in the day that I myself had difficulty understanding how to correctly enter the landing pattern at an untowered (more accurately referred to as "uncontrolled") airport. The FAA put out an advisory circular (the 'advisory' part is debatable if you're ever in an incident that was caused by ignoring the FAA's "suggestion" or "advice") in 1993 on the subject, but I found it to be somewhat less than illuminating.

You can read it yourself at this link.

 Here are a couple of the more salient passages:
a. Prior to entering the traffic pattern at an airport without an operating control tower, aircraft should avoid the flow of traffic until established on the entry leg. For example, wind and landing direction indicators can be checked while at an altitude above the traffic pattern. When the proper traffic pattern direction has been determined, the pilot should then proceed to a point well clear of the pattern before descending to the pattern altitude. 
b, Arriving aircraft should be at the appropriate traffic pattern altitude before entering the traffic pattern. Entry to the downwind leg should be at a 45-degree angle abeam the midpoint of the runway.
To be fair, while I find this image to be somewhat over-crowded and confusing, it does follow the descriptive paragraphs above, and those two concepts are pretty easy to understand anyway.

The problem for me always came down to figuring out what to do if I was approach from the "wrong" side of the runway.  If you look at point "1", it should be obvious that if I am approach the ostensibly east-west runway from the northeast, it is a trivial exercise to manage the FAA-preferred entry to the left downwind for the east-facing runway. But what if the prevailing wind direction happens to be from the west? I would need to be on the other side of the airport to make the required standard left turns to the westerly-facing runway - how do I get there?

The way that I was taught to address that scenario is to crossover the airport at midfield ("[airport name] traffic, experimental yada yada is six miles north, planning a midfield crosswind to left downwind runway 27") and turn left into the downwind.  Other variations include the very similar method of entering a true crosswind leg west of the departure end of runway 27 (in the diagram, that would be the 'base' leg shown between points "2" and "3", but it would continue south of the airport to enable a left turn onto the downwind leg), or if approaching from the east as shown in the diagram, flying an 'upwind' leg on the path labeled as 'downwind' in the diagram. Note that that choice would be particularly dangerous on a low-wind day, or if the wind is more or less perpendicular to the runway - in instances like that, it's a pilot's decision as to which direction to land. You could conceivably end up nose-to-nose with a pilot whose decision was opposite to yours.

This is an awful lot for an inexperience pilot to try to figure out 15-20 miles away from arriving at the airport to land. This turned out to be something that I could not adequately explain while in flight, so I spent quite a few hours noodling out a way to simply the process.

I eventually distilled the whole thing down to a pretty simple concept: ignoring straight-in approaches and approaches from directions perpendicular to the airport, there are only two ways the runway can present itself to an arriving airplane: it will either be diagonal with the approach end to the left, or diagonal with the approach end to the right.  The wind is also a variable, but it has no bearing (pun intentional) on how the runway looks to the pilot.

With that in mind, I was able to develop the Pattern Entry Assistant:

The usage of these is quite simple. These are printed two-sided, so one need only flip the card over to match the expected orientation on the runway. The idea is to remain at least 500 ft. above the published traffic pattern altitude (TPA) until well clear of the airport area, then descend to TPA. This can be seen in the change from green to red on the respective lines.  It does need to be drawn better; I am not in the least bit artistically inclined.

Determining what that expected orientation can be done through mental visualization ("we're approaching from due south and the runway in use is likely to be Rwy 32, so it the approach end will be to my right"), or one could simply zoom in on the airport as depicted on a decent moving map display such as the Dynon Skyview.

With a good moving map GPS, it would also be easy to create an applicable waypoint to match the correct starting point as depicted on the card, although this would require advance knowledge of what the prevailing winds will be upon arrival. Absent that, an overflight of the airport would be required.

Once the waypoint is reached and the landing direction determined, it's a simple matter to just follow the line and manage the descent as described above.

I had an opportunity to perform an inflight test with a neophyte to see how well it would work:

It seemed to work well enough on the first try, but obviously the "student" would improve rapidly over the next couple of flights,

So, what do you think?

Monday, January 18, 2016

The RV Community

I have given a lot of people rides in both my RV-6 and now in my RV-12, and I always enjoy it as least as much as they do. Having been blessed with owning a Van's RV for what, nine or ten years now, it's easy to forget what wonderful little airplanes they are. Just as humans can get used to just about anything, there is a similar risk of getting so used to things that they start to be taken for granted - flying with people that have never been in a small plane before, or pilots that have never experienced the physical freedom of a nimble little sport plane, tends to remind the owner of what a special privilege it is to have one of these things.

I have to be honest, though: I don't remember everyone I've given a ride to, but they sure do remember me! There's one guy at the airport that has had to remind me twice now that he took a ride with me. 

And now as I write this, I realize that I've forgotten his name. 


On the other hand, there are some rides that are very memorable. There was a 50-something guy that had never flown in an airplane of any type, despite a life-long interest. And, or course, many of the very pretty young women are easily recalled.

And then there was Phil.

Phil called me one day last May to introduce himself as a fellow RV-12 builder in search of a ride. Naturally I told him that I'd be happy to give him one, and all he had to do was let me know when he wanted to come out to the airport. There was a pause.... then he somewhat reluctantly told me that doing so would be a three hour round trip. "No problem," I told him, "I'll fly out to Zanesville and you can meet me there." That's less than a half hour trip in the 12, so it was no big deal at all.

The ride was memorable mostly because of how effusively ebullient he was. I've seen that in younger people, and sometimes in 50-somethings as mentioned above, but seldom in the late-60s to 70-something group. That's not to say that they don't enjoy or appreciate it, because they do, but this guy was almost giddy.  When we landed, we went through the obligatory "can I give you same gas money" dance, wherein they offer a couple of times and I respectfully decline. 

Besides the fact that accepting money flies right in the face of FAA regulations, I really don't think it's necessary. I enjoy the flying, and the hourly costs of flying an RV-12 are so low that my out-of-pocket cost is nearly insignificant. And besides, I'm really just re-paying the debts incurred from those times in the past when it was I that was asking for/receiving rides in RVs. 

This willingness to share the experience is by no means unique to me - it's really just part and parcel with the mores of the RV Community.

What I have failed to realize, though, is that what I consider to be nothing more than a small favor may very well be measured at a far higher worth to the recipient of what I think of as minimal largess.

Obviously Phil had been one of those that received more than what I thought I was giving. I could tell that this was the case when I got back to home base and picked up my phone to close my domestic flight plan (the text I send home to tell my spouse that I had cheated fate once again) and saw that I had a text from Phil telling me to make sure to look over to the passenger side - he had left something in the plane.

I did so, and found two wadded up $50 bills.

Sigh. Very few of them have ever resorted to subterfuge to get past my barriers.

I had to do something with those bills, so I eventually decided to stash them away in a couple of places where they may someday become handy in one of those situations where I suddenly find myself in need of some cash. Believe it or not, I still run across airports that don't take credit cards for gas.

I never forgot Phil's ride, but it had receded to the back corners of my memory until late last December when I received a message from Phil's wife telling me that he had passed away in November.

She told me that she was contacting me because she thought I would want to know how much that ride had meant to Phil. 

I did.

I took a day or two to absorb the news, then remembered that I had taken a couple of pictures of him during the flight, which is something I try to do with everyone that rides with me. I was able to dig those out of my picture repository and send the better of the two to her, for which she was very grateful.

Then I had another thought.

I never know how to approach emotionally sensitive things like this, so I cautiously composed another message to her that went something like "I apologize if this is inappropriate, but if you need help selling the kit, please let me know and I'll be happy to assist."

She took me up on the offer this past weekend, so I drove out to the very nice heated garage where Phil had been building the plane in order to assess the situation. In order to sell the kit, I would have to have a pretty good idea of what the state of the build was, and just as importantly, how well organized it was. As it turned out, it was in extremely good condition, very well organized, and looked like it should be very easy to sell.  

In fact, I may have already sold it. I have a friend that lives nearby that has expressed an interest in just this kind of deal.

As I was looking around the shop, I also suggested that she would have no trouble selling the specialty tools as well.  As I was winnowing them out from the more day-to-day tools, I came across one that I need myself, so I told her I would be making an offer on it.

When I had all of the airplane parts separated out from lawnmower parts and the like, I asked her how much she wanted for the tool, based on the price I found by looking on Aircraft Spruce.

She paused, clearly thinking it through, then finally said, "Well, I guess I need to know what your fee is going to be first."

I have to confess to being momentarily stunned by the question; I can't imagine anyone in the RV community would even consider charging a fee for what I had done for her.

I told her that there would be no fee - in fact, it was a nice opportunity to use the knowledge that I spent three years building, only to never need again. 

Happy to do it!

She thought for a few minutes, then said "How about $100 for the tool?"

Perfect!  I actually remember where I stashed away those two 50's!

Thanks, Phil!

Oh, she also asked if I had known that Phil was ill at the time we went flying together. I had not, but as it was cancer, he probably did. 

He very likely knew that flight would be the only flight he would ever have in an RV-12 - my eyes are getting misty just from writing this. 

Now I better understand the worth people may be putting on those rides that I consider to be just another chance to fly my airplane.

It can be quite high.