Sunday, July 31, 2005

Oshkosh - coming home

Saturday morning, after two days of the Oshkosh Experience, it was time to come home. I got to the plane sometime around 7:30, spent a few minutes getting the tie down stakes out of the ground and the canopy cover folded up and stuffed back into its bag, read through the departure instructions, and cranked up the engine. At this point, someone is supposed to show up on a scooter to escort you to the runway, and sure enough, there he was. After my misunderstanding on arrival of what I was supposed to do when someone in an orange vest pokes along in front of me, this went a lot better.

I had gotten a weather briefing Friday, and had the little blue piece of paper to prove it. As I sat in line waiting for takeoff, I came upon another orange vested person holding up a sign saying "Show me your briefing." I proudly displayed my little blue briefing sheet, but for some reason received an emphatic shake of the head and a directive to pull out of line and shut down. All I could think of was that they change the color of the briefing sheet each day and they wanted me to have a briefing for Saturday.

I pulled out of line, shut down, and popped the canopy to see what I had done wrong. The controller came up and said he needed to give me the mandatory departure briefing. He had the departure instructions from the 35 page NOTAM that I had with me. I showed him that I had the page right there with me, and apologized for not understanding what we was asking me to show him. Fortunately, the engine started up again with no difficulty and I was allowed to pull back into line.

When you get to the runway, they position two planes for takeoff, one on the right, one on the left. I was on the left side, with an older Cessna on the right. He was cleared to take off, and a few moments later, so was I. The procedure is to get airborne, then make an immediate right turn out over the lake so as to stay clear of the planes departing from the cross runway. The Cessna, being heavier and slower, took a lot more runway to get off the ground and then made a somewhat leisurely turn to the southeast. I was rapidly catching up with him, and really didn't want to get stuck behind him, so I turned inside of him.

The rule is to stay at 500 feet above the ground for the first five miles. Once outside the five mile restriction I climbed on up to 4,500'. I headed back to my first checkpoint which on arrival had been my last checkpoint before Ripon. Since I had no ATC to listen to, I dialed in the frequency for the Ripon arrival to see how things were going. That early in the morning it was very calm. Mental note: if I ever go again, get to Ripon early!

I eventually climbed to 6,500' and set up for the long ride home. Since I knew there wouldn't be any delays getting back into Bolton, unlike the delay I knew to expect over Ripon, I was able to go without a fuel stop. Everything was going swimmingly until I picked up a weather report for Fort Wayne, Indiana. I had tried monitoring the Flight Service frequency to glean weather info on the way, but had mistakenly remembered the frequency as 122.2. It's actually 122.0. Doh! So, hearing nothing on what I thought was the FSS frequency, I started monitoring the automated weather observation frequencies at airports 30 miles ahead of me. I was flying in clear weather, so the reports of clear skies and lots of visibility were no surprise. But when I dialed up Fort Wayne and heard a report of 200' ceilings and 1/2 mile visibilty, I was a bit surprised.

Sure enough, as I got close to Indiana I saw a solid undercast. I have no problem flying over an undercast as long as I know it's clear on the other side, but I had no idea how far this stuff went. I tried to duck down underneath it, but it was too low. Again, figuring discretion to be the better part of valor, I turned around and landed at a small airport I had just passed. After fertilizing the side of the hangar, (restrooms were locked up) I got on the phone and called flight service and they told me Ohio was clear. As long as I was making phone calls, I called home to let them know that I was going to be a little later than I had predicted. They confirmed the report with a "weather out the window" report of clear skies.

Back in the saddle and a climb to 7,500' to get over the skud. That was working well until just before the Ohio border where I saw a single ridge of high clouds. It's hard to tell whether you're high enough to clear the clouds until you get right up to them. These looked like they were going to be pretty high, so again I decided to see if I could duck under them. I went down to 3,500, and it looked like I'd be able to get under, but I couldn't see how far the clear air went. I was afraid that I'd get down under there and eventually run into a wall of cloud/fog. I decided to climb back up and see if I could get over them. Here is the beauty of a strong airplane: since I get 1,200 feet per minute of climb (as compared to about 300 in the Tampico) it was easy to climb back up. At 9,500 I was just over the tops, so proceeded into Ohio. Once clear of the ridge, I could see that the clouds were broken up ahead of me and that there would be no problem getting back down through them.

Twenty miles out of Madison County (I wanted to fill up the tanks - I had been flying about 3 hours now and that leaves me with only 45 minutes worth of gas) I descended to 3,500. This was down in the hot, bumpy air which isn't nearly as nice as the cool, smooth air I had been flying in. I made an extremely bad landing at MadCo, and it was with quite a bit of relief that I climbed out of the plane. It took 27 gallons to fill the tanks, then it was a short hop back to Bolton.

I pushed Papa Golf back in the hangar, and headed home. I was too hot and tired to clean the bugs and such off the wings, so went back a few hours and a long, cool shower later to take care of that.

So, the first big adventure is over. Will I ever do it again? At this point, I'm not sure. I don't think I will go next year, (UPDATE: I did, but I hitched a ride in a car, and stayed in Green Bay in an air conditioned room) but I think I will eventually go again. When I do, though, I think I will fly into Fond du Lac and take the shuttle bus to the show. This will make the flying easier, and will make it easier to find an air conditioned motel room. The financial situation will be better by then since I will surely have sold the Tampico, so I won't have to restrict my lodging expense to a $20 a night dorm room. The dorm room wasn't bad this year since we really got lucky with the weather, but that was not the typical situation. It's far more common for it to be blistering hot, and that makes for very uncomfortable sleeping conditions. I'm of the age where I really like my comforts, and too lay awake in sweltering heat doesn't appeal to me at all anymore. Not that it ever did, to be honest, but I'm far less tolerant of discomfort than I used to be.

It always pays to remember that adventures usually come with a bit if discomfort, but they're usually worth it. This was certainly the case with Papa Golf's trip to Oshkosh this year. What an incredible, and highly memorable, experience!

Saturday, July 30, 2005

Oshkosh, major photo op!

I took a few hundred pictures while walking around for a few hours on Friday. In no particular order, here are the ones that turned out the best.

Oshkosh, by gosh!

The local weather thursday morning was actually worse that it had been on Wednesday morning, but was just good enough for me to launch towards Oshkosh. I was in the air by 7:30, spiralling up through a hole in the clouds to an altitude of 8,500'. That put me in clear air over a broken undercast.

The first leg of the flight was two hours. It was particularly uncomfortable since I had put one of the pieces of styrofoam that I had removed before back in the seat cushion, thinking that I might enjoy a tad more padding for the long-ish flight. This new position caused me to have to hunch over to keep from banging my head against the canopy, which made my back hurt within the first 20 minutes, so the arrival at the first stop was a big relief. I yanked the extra padding back out and from there, it was just an hour north to the town of Ripon, WI.

C09 was the intended fuel stop, but it turned out to be a welcome human factors stop as well, if you get my meaning.

Ripon is the starting point of the approach into Oshkosh. The idea is for everyone arriving over Ripon to get into a single file line following the railroad tracks into Fisk. From there, a controller on the ground will tell you which runway to head towards. Here's the rub: there are a lot of planes over Ripon, all jockeying for position in line. I started monitoring the ATC frequency at Fisk when I was still about 30 miles south of Ripon. The first thing I heard was, "No one come in from Ripon. Keep holding out there until the tower can handle more traffic." There was also a lot of admonishment for the people that couldn't seem to get in line or keep the required half mile spacing behing the plane they were following. This creates a real mess for the control tower, who prefers a nice, orderly, well spaced string of planes. A gaggle is most certainly not what they want, but apparently they had just received one.

I figured I'd slow down to 100 knots and loiter my way in to Ripon in the hopes that the tower would be accepting traffic by the time I got there. That wasn't the case. When I got to Ripon, there were at least 20, probably more, planes orbiting the town. By 'orbiting' I really mean meandering aimlessly. There was just no order to it at all. As I established myself in a counterclockwise holding pattern around the outside of the town, it looked like at least 1/3 of the pilots decided tht that the 2/3s of us that were doing it that way were wrong. Some of these guys seemed to have no plan at all, other than trying to avoid whatever plane they happened to be pointing towards at the moment. After a couple of times where I saw a plane coming my way intent on becoming more intimate than I like with a total stranger, I moved a little further out from the town and flew a wider orbit.

The whole thing eventually became a game of aerial musical chairs. As you come up to the railroad tracks that lead to Fisk, you start thinking "Let us come in now, let us come in now, let us come in now" so you can be one of the first in line. As you cross the tracks, you start thinking "don't let us come in now, don't let us come in now, don't let us come in now" becuase if they chose that moment to allow incoming traffic, you'd be at the tail end of the mamba line, dealing with the accordian effect of planes in front of you struggling to keep their spacing. Of course, it's really more like playing musical chairs where half of the players are cheating. In other words, it's not a fun game.

After about 30 minutes of this, with it getting more crowded all the while, I was just past the railroad tracks when they told us to start coming in. Rather than go all the way around, only to have them stop traffic again by the time I could get in line, I turned right, back towards the tracks. There was only one other plane near the tracks, and it was a slow high wing so a short burst of power got me easily in front of him. Finally, I was headed towards Fisk.

Being first in line meant I didn't have to worry about spacing behind the plane in front of me, so I bumped my speed up to 110 knots to try to help the guys behind from getting bunched up. If you get too close to the plane in front of you, the controllers will call you out and either have you orbit Rush lake, or return to Ripon. No one, and I mean no one, wants to return to Ripon!! It reminds me of a quote from a movie: "Are you over Ripon? No, I don't think I will ever get over Ripon."

The Fisk controller cleared me to land on 36 Left, but when I got there I could see that there were still a lot of planes on the runway, and a B-17 bomber was on short final. I questioned the controller about it, and he changed my clearance to land on 36 Right. Sounded good to me, except I couldn't see a 36 Right. All I could see was a taxiway next to 36 Left, with "36 R" painted chalked on it. Well, landing on a taxiway: that's no big deal. I've been landing on relatively narrow runways ever since I started flying the RV. I had another RV close in front of me, so I had to make a few S turns on final for spacing, while internalizing the directive from the controller to land on the second half of the runway. There would be another plane landing behind me on the first half. I also was a little distracted by S turning down final with a B-17 landing on the next runway over. I sure wish I could have devoted a little time to watching it land, but I was just too busy.

There was a long line of planes waiting to taxi to the parking area. The B-17 had landed, and there was another coming in right behind it. We all sat out there waiting until the two B-17s could be moved off to their parking area. That was about 15 sweaty minutes, but finally the paddle wavers marshalled me towards the Homebuilt parking area. As I was taxing along, I got a sudden jolt when I looked to the left and saw a guy there driving a golf cart right in front of my wing. I hadn't seen him before so I thought it pretty lucky that I didn't run him over.

My path to parking is in red. And yes, all of those tiny white dots are airplanes. Oh, and you can see how narrow the 'runway' was!

He puttered along at a leisurely pace, prompting me to wonder why in the hell he wouldn't pull over so I could get around him. He finally turned off, so I progressed up the taxiway until I found a row with an empty spot. You probably can't visualize this. There were 20 some rows of planes, each row having 15 or 20 planes in it. It was basically a sea of planes, most of them RVs. I pulled into a spot, shut down the engine, opened the canopy, and breathed a sigh of relief for getting in safely and without screwing up.

Well, well. Here comes my buddy in the golf cart! "Didn't you see me turn off??!!," says he.

"Uh, yes."

"You were supposed to follow me!!"


Oh well.

I got out and tied down the plane, and it was off to the show!

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Oshkosh - Not today

The weather for this morning was forecast to be crud with layers of crap. In other words, not conducive to safe flying. Ceilings were to be 2000 or lower, and visibility severely limited by mist and haze. The forecast for Thursday looked much better, so discretion being the better part of valor, I decided to postpone for a day.

Naturally, conditions were far better than forecast when I woke up this morning, throwing me into the turmoil of having to make a decision as to whether to go or not. I checked the weather along the route and it was supposed to be pretty awful. Sometimes low clouds are ok, if they are spaced out a bit and it's clear above them. The problem is that ceiling reports (how high the clouds are above the ground) don't really paint the full picture. For example, if they're really tall clouds, you can't get over them. I looked on the weather radar and it looked like there was no avoiding having to deal with the clouds, so I decided to cancel the flight.

It was good that I did - I heard from another pilot that he tried to go, but was turned back at the Indiana border by a wall of clouds. No way through, no way under. By having avoided that, I saved gas money and a day of vacation, both valuable commodities.

Forecast for tomorrow is very good - it should be a very nice flight. I'm a little jittery about the crowd of planes that will be trying to get in line for the approach, but I'm really looking forward to the adventure.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Oshkosh - Trial Run

In preparation for the journey to AirVenture 2005 on Wednesday, I met up with an RV-6A owner based at Madison Co. He's been up there a few times and is experienced with flying in and out. Since there are thousands of planes flying in, there are special procedures established for arrival. Amongst them is the requirement to fly for an extended period at 90 knots, following the airplane in front of you. We went up north to a little town called Mechanicsburg and practiced having me follow him around the town at 90 knots and 2000'. I didn't anticipate having any problems with that, and none arose. I'm sure it will be a lot more hectic up near Oshkosh, but at least controlling the plane won't be a distraction.

After doing that for 10 - 15 minutes, he was heading up to Put-in-Bay and asked if I'd like to follow him up there. I figured I might as well - I had full tanks, it's only 35 - 40 minutes flying time in the RV, and the weather was July superb. Very few clouds, low-ish humidity, and light winds - really just about the best you can ask for. I knew it would be crowded up there since this was the day they celebrate "Xmas in July," but I again thought this would be good practice.

We flew up there at 7,500' where the air was relatively cool and very smooth. We had a bit of a headwind, so I was only able to wring 150 knots out of 466PG in cruise. Get that: only 150 knots. Ha! That would have been 90 - 95 in the Tampico!

It was, in fact, quite the party atmosphere on the island. The other guy had a folding bike in the back of his RV, but I had to walk down to the ferry to rent one. It was worth it, though, just to be able to see some of the quieter parts of the island. We rode around on the south end for awhile, then headed downtown to have a bite to eat.

Downtown was reminiscent of a frat party, but the partiers were mostly on boats in the bay. The bars were hopping, as were the touristy shops. We had lunch at a seafood place near the docks. I had a small cup of excellent lobster bisque, not wanting to eat too heavily on a hot day when I knew I was going to have to fly again. That's a recipe for getting sick in the plane, and that is definitely something to be avoided. That's a shame, because that was the best lobster bisque I've ever had, and the Maryland crab cakes looked phenominal as well. Maybe I'll go back sometime in the fall when it's not so hot, noisy, and crowded.

Xmas party in July. I like the dress code much better than the normal December Xmas!

Best bisque ever!

While getting the (very hot!) plane ready for departure, I spent some time talking to the folks that had stopped to take pictures of 'Papa.' As I was talking to them, a group of partiers drove by on a golf cart. They gave me the 'thumbs up' on the plane, and I heard one of the say to another, "Dude! That thing is f**king AWESOME!" I got a real kick out of that! The Tampico always stood out on the ramp, even when surrounded by far more expensive planes. Well, so does 'Papa.' I was parked right next to the other guy's RV-6A, a plane that he could easily sell for 50% more than what I paid for mine, but no one even glanced at it. The paint job and the rakish look of a taildragger really attact attention!

These guys were selling rides. I asked them how business was going. Their reply, "It's up on the air right now." Ugh.

The flight home was at 6,500', and with a little tailwind I was cruising at 160 knots. During the descent back into MadCo (I needed to refill the tanks so as to be ready early Wednesday morning) I was getting 180 knots. Man!

So, a very enjoyable flight and excellent preparation for the trip to Oshkosh.

Friday, July 22, 2005

First solo flight!

I had pretty good conditions for it: big, puffy clouds at about 5000 feet, and wind at or under 10 knots. The direction of the wind, directly across the runway, put the crosswind component right at my personal limit. Another knot or two and I would have cancelled.

The takeoff was a breeze! Without the weight of the instructor, I was in the air long before the accustomed point. The crosswind was easily handled with a little left aileron.

I climbed to 4500' and headed out west to the local practice area. With the wheel pants back on, I was doing 158 knots at 2450 rpm. Pretty good! A little of that was tailwind, though. Once I got out to the boonies, I decided to try an aileron roll. I've do a few of them in different types of airplanes, and found them to be quite simple. Still, I had given some thought as to how to approach the first few. I decided on 130 knots entry speed, node up 20 degrees, and pretty authoritative roll rate. I didn't want to take the stick to the stop, but I also didn't want to mush through it and spend too much time inverted. I wasn't sure how much the nose would drop or whether the enginer might burble a bit. So, first roll used about 3/4 aileron throw. It was pretty quick. I did a few more that way, then did a couple with full aileron deflection. Then I started using less aileron and a little back elevator while inverted. No problems with the engine at all, and the nose behaves nicely in pitch. Fun, but I started getting a little queasy after the 8th or 9th roll. It was pretty hot, too.

Heading back to Bolton, I slowed to 100 mph to practice extended flight at that speed. This is in preparation for the approach into Oshkosh, which requires miles of flight at 1800' and 100 mph. Actually, the requirement is 90 knots, which is 104 mph, so I kept it a notch above 100. Piece of cake, really, and doesn't concern me in the slightest in the overall package of flying to Oshkosh.

If you've read any prior posts on the flights, you'll be wondering how the landing turned out. This was, after all, my first solo landing, and with a fairly decent crosswind thrown in. Well, nothing to it. No bounce, and only a little sideways drift before I could get the aileron in. Very, very gratifying, and immensely valuable in confidence building.

What a fantastic machine.

Thursday, July 21, 2005


Rick Lee made some minor edits to one of my photos, and the results are spectacular:

Wow, what an improvement! Scary to look at through the eyes of a pilot, though.

Here's the original for comparison:

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Sixth Flight - cleared for solo!

We headed out west this afternoon mostly to kill off the remaining hour, but also because I wanted to see how long it took to make a trip that I've made many times in the Tampico. The answer: not as long. I really didn't time it, but it was a lot faster.

We made a few landings at various airports. While none of them were as good as last night's, due primarily to the heavier winds we had today, all were recoverable. One, into a grass strip, resulted in a big bounce after I accidentally landed tailwheel first. I handled that with a burst of power at the top of the bounce, which nicely flattened out the bounce and set me up for a decent second try at the flare.

We landed at Madison county as part of the instructor's plan to be dropped off there and have another guy he needed to fly with drop him off at Bolton later. I would have flown from MadCo to Bolton solo. That plan fell apart when the weather started to look pretty threatening. He cancelled his other flight and we headed back to Bolton together.

A few minutes with my logbook and we were done.

Next flight: SOLO!

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Fifth Flight

Some of you may remember that one of the travails I faced in deciding to buy a taildragger was the onerous insurance company requirement of 50 hours of dual instruction prior to solo flight. I would not have bought 466PG if I had been faced with that ridiculous requirement. AIG wrote me insurance requiring 10 hours dual prior to solo. I'm up to 8.9 of those hours now, and the next 1.1 is purely to satisfy the insurance company. The instructor is confident that I am ready to solo. And, depending on the wind conditions, so am I.

I had a very good flight tonight, but the winds were light enough to not really be a factor. I intend to limit myself to winds under 10 knots as my personal minimum for at least the next 5 or 10 hours. Not all of the landings were beauties, but all were finished safely without instructor input.

We flew a series of mini cross countries, each airport about 15 miles away from the next. The first was Delaware County (KDLZ), where the landing and takeoff were pretty good. Takeoffs were easier tonight since I decided to try a new technique, and the results were very good.

I decided not to push the stick as far forward during the initial takeoff roll. I got to thinking that forward visibility in an RV-6 is relatively good even with the tail sitting on the ground. The idea behind raising the tail early in the takeoff roll is to get better visibility and to get the rudder up into the airstream to give it more authority. This is a carryover from the old days when planes had locking tailwheels. The tailwheel was locked so it couldn't swivel - this would assist in keeping the plane straight, but at some point you're going to have to steer. To do this, they had to lift the tail to get the locked tailwheel off the ground. The tail wheel was unlocked while taxiing to allow it to swivel so the pilots could steer with the brakes and asymmetric engine thrust. Apparently it wasn't all that uncommon for a plane to have a landing or takeoff accident due to forgetting to lock or unlock the tailwheel.

By raising the nose early and high during takeoff by pushing forward enthusiastically on the stick, I think I ended up holding the plane down. I thought that if I relaxed the stick a bit more, the tail would eventually come up of its own accord, and the plane would just fly off the runway. Well, that has been proven to be true. I have much better control early in the roll, which keeps me from getting on the brakes to try to correct and ending up in a left to right oscillation down the runway. By the time I would give up and yank it into the air, we would already be 5 - 10 mph over the speed at which the plane would have taken off by itself, and I would be riding the brakes so hard I could feel a boost of acceleration when the tires broke free of the runway. I no longer feel that on takeoff, I'm right down the runway, and the plane is quite controllable when we lift off. I'm guessing this to be around 55 mph.

From Delaware, we headed west to Marysville (KMRT). I've never had a good landing at that airport, and tonight was no exception. By far the worst of the night. There was a lot of wind churn just off the approach end of the runway, and it really got hairy. It was the only landing tonight that I had to wrestle with.

Next stop was Urbana (I74), where I was afforded the opportunity to kick myself for not bringing my camera. A B-17 was there for a visit. I could have parked right next to it and gotten a kickass picture!

Out of Urbana, and into Weller Field (38I) just 3 miles away. Weller has to be seen to be believed. If you follow the link to AirNav, you'll see that there is no picture available. Let me tell you why. That was the most intimidating takeoff ever, and anyone that looked at a picture of that place beforehand would not even consider landing there.

The runway is a grass strip right behind a row of houses. And I mean right behind. These people have a runway literally in their back yards. And surprisingly, none of them seem to have airplanes. The runway slopes heavily uphill to the west, and has a lot of trees right off the end. And I mean right off the end. Visualize a green, uphill sloping bowling lane, with pins shaped like trees. We landed to the west, facing the trees (and a good thing too - landing downhill would have been a disaster!), taxied back, and took off to the west.

Uphill, grass, and with very little headwind, at nearly gross weight (the most the plane can legally carry), looking at threatening trees, I kinda wondered how this takeoff was going to turn out. It's a 2500 foot runway, though, so in theory there was plenty of room. But the thing about an experimental is, each one is completely different from the next. There has not been a government mandated test program for this airplane, nor is there enough consistency between individual airplanes to allow for a "test one, apply to all" testing process. Mine has been built with no modifications or deviation from the factory plans, however, and I have a strong, healthy engine. So, off we went.

It went ok. I kept the takeoff roll straight down the runway, which turned out to be a good thing since that's where the shorter trees were. I'm not 100% sure we would have cleared the bigger ones had I drifted off to one side or the other. That was never really a problem, though, since by this time I was pretty sure I had this thing figured out. I now know how to ride this bike without training wheels.

Madison County for gas, then back to the grass strip with the fairway hazard trees that I've talked about before. That went fine, and the instructor called Bolton tower. To give at least an estimated position to help the tower quickly get a handle on where we were, the instructor told him we were one mile west of Darby Dan. It's more like southwest, but it shouldn't have mattered. Thinking we were due west, the controller asked us to report midfield right downwind to runway 4. All this time I had been heading south, so by the time I turned east to head towards the airport, we were south of the runway. From this position, it's easier to enter on an extended base leg (from which a 90 degree is turn is made to line up on final) than head back up north to make a downwind (180 degrees from landing direction) and from there make the base leg. At my request, the instructor told the tower that a left base would work better for us than a downwind, and asked if that would cause him any problems.

It seemed to. This is a routine request, he had no other planes in the pattern, and there was no reason in hell to get the snide "you said you were off of Darby Dan" response. The instructor is an air traffic controller, and he sure wasn't impressed with that. Neither was I. I've had problems with this guy before. He's the type of controller that seems to hate airplanes and pilots, which naturally makes one wonder why he chose air traffic control as a profession. But, no biggy. Hard to wipe off that RV grin. And, of course, the good landing helped. Had a little crosswind and got some of the same tire chatter that broke the right side wheel pant, but all in all not bad.

So, one more hour tomorrow to satisfy AIG and I'm solo. I'm not sure where I'm going to go, but I am definitely going to go somewhere. I don't think I was ready for Oshkosh, but maybe someting in Tennesee or Michigan. I'm only getting 140 knots without the wheel pants, so I don't want to go too far, but I want to go somplace I wouldn't have taken the Tampico because it was so much slower.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Not going anywhere fast...

The wonderful weather I had for the first week of flying the RV has really abandoned me. It's been absolute crud for days and days now. Not any meaningful rain, though, as much as my lawn needs it. Nope, just muggy, hazy, cruddy, low ceilings and damp heat.


I'm writing off a trip to Oshkosh this year. It just wasn't coming together for me, and I figure there's always next year. I sure would like to get in the air agin, though!

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Fourth Flight

It's all starting to come together. Ten takeoffs and landings today, and all without instructor assistance. Not all of them were picture perfect, mind you. In a case of not being able to have cake and eat it too, I'm doing much better with directional control, but I've developed a bounce. That'll go away eventually. It comes from carrying too much speed into the landing, but the wind was 8-10 knots, by far the most I've had to deal with in the RV. It changes the way things look in the flare - I feel like I'm too slow because I have 10 more mph of airspeed on the nose than I'm used to, which reduces the ground speed by an equal amount.

We did 5 or 6 stop-and-goes at Bolton, which were great except for the bounces. We then headed over to Columbus Southwest and made a few landings on the grass. I hate takeoffs there because there is a bump in the middle of the runway that launches us into the air at about 50 mph. The plane will fly at 50, but just barely. The trick is to let it fly up a foot or two, level off to allow it to gain speed, then climb out. You don't want to let it settle back down onto the grass, so that's a bit more challenging than it may sound.

From there we headed over to Darby Dan. This is a fairly narrow paved runway, and because of its orientation the wind had a much higher crosswind component. Landing was so-so, which is too bad since there were six mechanics watching the show. On the second takeoff from Darby, the instructor pulled the throttle to idle to simulate the loss of the engine. There is a grass strip just off the departure end, which he knew about of course, so I had to try to get the plane slowed down to land pretty quickly. This grass strip has an enormous pair of trees just on the left edge (if you're landing to the west) which really focus your attention. They're almost like fairway hazards. Bad news if you have a hook. I had to really hammer right rudder and counter the resulting turning tendancy with left aileron (this is called a forward slip) to add drag to the plane to get it slowed down. It turned out that had this been an actual emergency I probably would have been able to land and stop before running off into the adjoining corn field, but since this was training there was no reason to risk it. I applied full throttle about 5 feet off the ground and went around. He pulled the throttle again on downwind. I have no idea how well an RV-6 glides, so I didn't put the flaps down until I thought we had the runway made. Even then, I think I got them down a bit early as it took a blip of throttle to clear the trees. The landing itself went fine and I was able to keep the big trees out of play. The subsequent takeoff went well too.

Back to Bolton. The instructor asked for a wheel landing, which requires a bit more finesse than the 3-pointers I had been doing. Naturally I bounced horribly, and had to abort the wheel landing in favor of a safer 3-pointer. Good decision making according to the instructor. Finesse can come later. Right now I'm happy to simply be landing unassisted, even if it's ugly.

We taxiied back to the hangar, me drenched in sweat. A few of my landings were made even more difficult from the sweat burning in my eyes. I might have to consider a sweat band to keep that from happening.

The plane is flying great, and continues to impress me more and more every time I fly it. Today I was impressed to learn that it will fly at 50 mph. I learned that by botching a takeoff and pulling the plane into the air rather than struggle with it on the ground. Simply amazing: we were near gross weight, on a hot, humid day, and that plane lifted off and flew at 50 mph! What an incredible machine!

So, 6.9 hours in the book. Another 3.1 to satisfy the insurance co. I'm developing a lot of faith in their actuaries, since I think 10 hours is going to be right around the point where I feel comfortable flying alone.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Avionics dilemma

Assuming that I can afford to do either, I'm debating the merits of installing a Dynon instrument set vs. installing an autopilot. The Dynon instruments would replace all of the mechanical stuff in the panel, which is nice since some of the mechanical stuff isn't very good. For example, the fuel gauges are mediocre at best, the vacuum/gyro system has some kind of problem that keeps it from spooling up on the ground, and the engine/electrical gauges take up space I could use for other things. The Dynons, being completely self-contained, don't need the engine driven vacuum pump that currently drives the gyros. The vacuum pump and gyro instruments would be completely removed, resulting in a 6 - 10lb. (just guessing) weight reduction. Just abouteEvery mechanical gauge in the instrument panel would be replaced by a more reliable, accurate, and lighter display on the Dynon screens. Total cost would be around $4,500.

For just about the same money, I could get a digital autopilot that would interface with the King GPS to provide completely automatic navigation solution. I would also get altitude hold, which is very nice.

I'm leaning towards the Dynon's, but the installation would be far more complex than the autopilot, and the autopilot installation itself is pretty complex.

I'm also kicking around the idea of trying to find a builder that would build new landing gear fairings and the new style wheel pants for an affordable hourly rate. Fiberglass work is not anything I'm interested in doing - I'd rather work on wiring and avionics. Luckily, I have a choice!

The Dynons look good! Too bad it's just pictures.

Mounted the Garmin 295

I had thought I was going to have to use my older, smaller Pilot III GPS because I couldn't find enough room in the cockpit for the 295, but I turned out that I had room for the 295 after all. Another RV-6 builder based at Bolton had some scrap aluminum on hand, so he fabricated a little mount for me that I was able to bolt onto the glare shield. The power line runs down from the canopy to the power bus behind the panel. It bounces around a bit, but the location is great.

The GPS mount.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Back to the Tampico

I still can't fly 466PG solo, and the Tampico needed to be flown, so we flew up to Put-in-Bay today. It took a few minutes to get re-accustomed to it after having spent most of the week flying the RV-6.

The weather was nice and smooth on the way up, although we had to deal with a slight headwind. It got a bit bouncy on the way back, though.

It's a nice little airport, and it only takes a few minutes to flag down one of the 5 island taxis for a ride into town.

This is the town as seen from the top of the Perry Monument.

The airport is south of town. We had a wind from the north, so didn't have to land over the trees.

Seagulls everywhere. The streets and sidewalks are pretty clean, but the water is a mess. Plenty of pickings for these guys.

When we got back to the airport, we found that an RV-7A had parked next to us.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Just a few pix...

Macho pilot!

Parked at Urbana-Grimes. That's what it looks like with the wheel pants off.

Hogarth relaxing at the hangar. He hasn't yet figured out that he won't be able to fly with me anymore.

Third Flight

Dawn Patrol. 0700 departure. The visibility wasn't too good at 4 miles in haze. There were a few clouds pretty low, but nothing we couldn't work around.

The tower doesn't open until 7:30, so we just headed out to runway 4. I told the instructor that I didn't want to do any grass runways today, my thinking being that they're too forgiving and don't prepare me for the inevitable landing back at Bolton. He agreed to give it a try so we headed over to Madison County. The wind was almost dead calm, with just a little breeze from the east. We lined up for runway 9, but that was a bit of a problem. Turning into the sun really showed how hazy it was - it was darn near impossible to see the runway. As we turned final I was able to see it well enough to proceed.

We made three landings, and if I do say so myself, they were pretty good. The subsequent takeoffs were also really good. Next stop was Urbana-Grimes where we hoped to land and get breakfast. Urbana-Grimes is pretty close to a river, so it's always a little worse weather in the mornings than everywhere else, and today was no exception. We had to duck down under some pretty low clouds, find the runway again in the haze, and land. It all turned out well, and I made my first good 'wheel' landing. Up until then I had been doing 3-point landings. The difference is that a 3-point landing is at a full stall, theoretically landing on all 3 wheels at the same time. In a wheel landing, you hold the tail up as you roll out. The idea is that you have a bit more control from the rudder, and a bit better visibility. It was no big deal to do, and frankly, I didn't see any increased benefit to it at all.

We had a good breakfast and flew back to Bolton. I put the plane away and wondered how tough it was going to be to not fly again until Monday. The break in flying does give me a chance to do some work on the plane, though. I went home and got Hogarth and some supplies and headed back to the hangar.

I installed a plastic bin in the back behind the seats to carry little chocks, a screwdriver, and the control gust locks. I want to have that stuff with me, but I don't want it flopping around back there. I velcroed the bin to the carpet to hold it in place. I also taped actual size pictures of the Dynon instruments to the panel to get an idea of what they'd look like in the panel. Pretty nice!

So, no more flying until Monday. Bummer.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Second Flight

We took off just after 1:30 pm, and it was hot. I had already spent most of the day at the hangar installing the Garmin 295. There's a guy a couple of hangars over that just finished his RV-6 after 14 years of building. He had some scrap aluminum to use to make a mount, so he cut that out for me, drilled it, bolted the back of the Garmin mount to it, loaned me his drill and sent me off to install it. That took an hour and a trip to Lowes, and the wiring took another half hour. I'm going to have to re-do the wiring though. In flight, the GPS was whining about its external power gowing away every few seconds. I'm going to have to wire it to the primary 12 VDC bus, but that's too far away for the wire I have now. I'm going to need a patch wire to splice onto it so I can get it wired to the main 12 volt source.

The takeoff was so-so. Paved runways are just not my friends right now. We flew out west for a few minutes so I could get the feel of the plane again, then turned back for Columbus-Southwest to try a few landings and takeoffs on grass. The first few landings were real bouncers, which is unfortunate since my mechanic and his crew from the airport were standing there watching. Ah well, he has a taildragger he so he knows what's it's like to learn to land one.

Bolton was landing on runway 4, which increases the amount of traffic on the west side of the airport. Since Columbus-Southwest is only a couple of miles to the west of Bolton, the instructor decided to go to another grass airport he knew of. This one was just southwest of Bolton, and it only took a few minutes to get there. The runway has a large stand of trees at one end, so normal policy is to land towards the trees and take off away from them. This provided a tailwind of 5 to 8 knots on landing. The instructor earned his pay on this one - he had to apply a significant amount of rudder on final. Without his input, I may have wrecked the plane. This again proves why the insurance companies were reluctant to insure a pilot with 0 hours tailwheel time in a tailwheel airplane. It also explains why they were so particular as to the experience level of the instructor. I've come to believe that you can't be taught how to land a taildragger. You have to learn it yourself, but you have to have someone there that can pull your fat out of the fire until you do.

We visited with the owners of the strip, Jim & Dondi Miller. We toured his hangar and marvelled at all the neat aviation stuff he has. His plane is a Stearman biplane, and there's a Waco biplane parked right next to it. There's a Harley-Davidson cruiser, probably a classic, parked in front of the Stearman. There's a living space to the side, with a full kitchen, a huge relaxation room, zillions of cool pictures and artifacts, and two big dogs. Simply an incredible place! That said, there was a time, no more than a couple of years ago, when I would have been seriously envious. Oddly enough, today I wasn't. With my new house only a mile from the hangar, and the RV-6 to bring back the challenge of flying, I didn't really look at all that stuff with any kind of longing at all.

We took off out of there with no problem, and decided to circle back and land over the trees. On final I could only see half on the runway beyond the trees. The instructor suggested staying a little high over the trees in case we hit a downdraft and slipping away the extra altitude once we were clear of them. I've always liked forward slips and did them regularly in the Tampico. In a forward slip, you apply aileron (sidewise movement of the control stick) in one direction, and rudder in the opposite direction. This crabs the plane, and the side of the fuselage acts as a big speed brake. You don't want to slow down, though, so you lower the nose to maintain airpseed. This allows you to lose height rapidly without gaining a lot of airspeed.

We came over the trees and I moved the stick to the left and pushed hard on the right rudder. We came down like a rock until we were about 50 feet above the ground. I released the rudder and centered the stick and slowed our descent. It's a strong testimony to the feeling of control I have in this plane that I would hold a slip that long. Usually in the Tampico I'd only slip down to 200 feet. The difference between the Tampico and the RV-6 seems like what you'd feel if you moved from a Buick sedan to a Miata.

We took off again and followed I-71 down to a grass airport named Port-O-John. This one had a more more narrow runway than we had been using, and had the distraction of being right next to I-71. Maybe that focused my concentration a bit more because it was the best landing I had made yet. Straight down the runway, no swerves. Whooo-hoo! The takeoff was just as good. So, back to Bolton to try the paved beast again.

How did it go? I don't want to talk about it.

I've gotten into the habit of post-flight inspecting the plane. I never really had to do that with the Tampico. But the RV-6 has just come out of annual, and things will usually vibrate loose for the first few hours. The radio vibrated out enough to lose its connection while we were out flying, for example. There were also a couple of loose screws after the first flight. This time, though, there was actual damage.

The right wheel pant had broken through the bolt and washer that holds it onto the wheel nut. It hadn't hit anything, but all the zigging and zagging back and forth on the paved runways was probably enough to roll the tire over to rub on it. I went ahead and took it and the left side off. I probably won't put them back on until I go to Oshkosh. It costs 5 - 10 mph to leave them off, but I'm weeks away from going any significant distance.

I put the plane back in the hangar, cleaned off the bugs, and grabbed a brew from the fridge. I sat on the couch and just stared at the plane while I enjoyed the breeze, the cold beer, and the sounds of the airport. I'm sure enjoying my vacation!

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Things I want to change

After only an hour or so flying it, I can already see some things I want to change.

First, I want to cut about three inches off of each control stick. They're way too long. I noticed that I was most comfortable with my hand just below the grip. Also, if the sticks were shorter they wouldn't be so close to the instument panel when pushed forward. This should be a pretty easy job, assuming I can find someone with a saw that will cut the sticks.

Second, the fuel gauges and resistance sending units are craptacular and must be replaced. We flew the right tank to well below half, but the gauge quite blithly reported full fuel. Can't have that! I'm not sure if I want to do this right away, or wait until someday when I replace the entire panel and intall Dynon units. For now I'm back to doing what Cessna pilots do: keeping track of how many hours I've flown on each tank. I did that to some degree on the Tampico, but had trustworthy fuel gauges as a backup. Now I need to be a bit more anal about it.

Third, I found a spot to mount my little GPS Pilot III, but it will require fabricating a mount out of sheet metal. I'm going to mount it to the bottom of the canopy glare shield. I'll also have to remove the outside air temp gauge (which I don't care about) and the emergency canopy release lever (which I want to get competely rid of since it introduces more risk than it mitigates) to make room for it. I'll update the Tampico For Sale ad to replace the Pilot III with the Garmin 295, which is a much better GPS anyway. Maybe it'll help it sell.

Fourth, I need too figure out why the directional gyro precesses like a drunken sailor. This may wait for the Dynon intruments too. I won't need it as much once I get the Pilot III GPS mounted.

Fifth, I want to install an autopilot. I won't need that until I start taking long trips, though.

Sixth, install landing lights. Bolton tower was calling me out as traffic to a departing 172, so I tried to turn on the landing light to make me easier to see. Oops! I have a landing light switch, but no landing light! Hopefully this indicates that the wiring is in place and all I have to do is cut a hole in the wing and install the light itself.

These are all little things. I'm extremely happy with the plane, and if I didn't have the freedom to change these things, I'd probably learn to live with them.

First Flight

Saddled up at around 8:30 am. Once settled in with the instructor, I started the engine for the first time - nothing to it. It cranks right up. Called the tower and requested taxi for takeoff, then headed out to the runway. Taxiing is not a whole lot different than it is in a nosewheel plane, although it's harder to see directly in front since the engine is out there blocking the view. I imagine it's quite a bit harder on a windy day - we only had 6 knots or so of wind. I like the way it turns on the ground - it feels completely different since the steerable wheel is way back behind me instead of out in front. It reminded me of how weird a helicopter feels compared to an airplane. It also took a little effort just to find things on the new instrument panel. Four years of habit are going to be hard to break.

The end-of-runway engine run-up was straightforward, nothing too different from what I'm used to. That done, it was time for the first takeoff. I held the brakes and ran the throttle all the way up. Released the brakes and right away had to get on the rudder to hold it straight. This is a habit I had gotten out of after four years in the Tampico. It has the engine offset a few degrees to the right to minimize the need for rudder on takeoff. After zig-zagging down the runway trying to get used to the responsiveness of the rudder we were off and flying. At that point, the work was done and I could play a little. Once in the air, it's just like any other airplane, except a LOT more fun to fly. We headed out to the practice area and did a few stalls and slow flight, mostly so I'd know how it handled when we slowed it down for landing. It retains its solid feel even below 100 knots - I half expected it to get kind of mushy on the controls, so that was a pleasant surprise.

The weather was pretty hazy so I had a hard time keeping track of where we were. Good thing I practiced using the GPS last night - I was able to dial in Madison Co. and get my bearings. After a few minutes of just flying around seeing how fast it would go (155 knots) we headed to Columbus Southwest, which is a grass runway airfield just a couple of miles west of Bolton. The instructor told me we'd do my first landings there because it's a lot easier to control on grass than concrete. The grass allows the tires to slide side to side much easier than concrete, which helps keep me from over-controlling the rudder. The approach was easy enough since it's easy to gain or lose altitude and hold heading, and it wasn't particularly windy. We did four landings, taxiing back and taking off after each. Each was better than the one before it, but none were very good. The instructor didn't need to take over once, though, which is a really good sign. It's clear why the insurance company wants 10 hours of dual, though!

From Southwest we went over to Madison Co. for gas. This was my first landing on concrete and it was harrowing. I did it myself (no instructor assistance) but I could tell he wanted to take over. I just kept telling him "I'm ok, I've got it," even though I'm not sure either of us really believed it.

After gassing up, I made a pretty darn good takeoff and we headed back to the practice area over Lake Madison State Park. I did some 90 degree banks with climbs, dives, and rudder turns - basically just threw it around the sky for awhile. I managed to find Lilly Chapel in the haze and low clouds (the weather was worse than forecast and was getting pretty crappy by this time) and called the tower. I had been doing really well remembering to say "Experimental 466 Papa Golf," but something about reporting over Lilly Chapel in the Tampico is so ingrained that I replied with "Report mid-field right down wind 22, Tampico 81 Juliet Alpha." Doh!

My second landing on a paved runway was slightly better than my first, but still not what you would want to do in front of witnesses. Taxi back was easy as could be, and I really enjoyed the 90 degree turn to park in front of the hangar. Taildraggers will pivot on one of the main landing gear, so you can make these nifty, tight turns.

Shut down, pushed her into the hangar, cleaned the bugs off the wings, and I was done for the day.

Next lesson is tomorrow at 3:30. I'll be ready!

Monday, July 04, 2005

It's here!

The RV-6 was delivered today. The logistics were somewhat interesting. I met the CFI at Bolton field at 9:00 to give him the pink slip for the 6. The seller showed up at about 9:10 in his V-tail Bonanza to shuttle the instructor down to Lancaster Co. They went up flying for awhile, giving the CFI some experience in the airplane. They landed, the seller jumped out, and the CFI flew solo up to Bolton. I video taped the arrival for posterity, then met him at the hangar. It took a few minutes to get him out of the plane - he had the RV grin! We went over his schedule and set up appointments for my dual instruction, starting tomorrow morning at 8:30.

I spent a few hours in the hangar, cleaining up some bug splats and unloading all of the log books, old plans, receipts, and all the other documentation. I took an inch of styrofoam out of the pilot side seat, so now my headset doesn't bang in the canopy. I also spent some time just learing where the switches and knobs are, and generally getting familiar with the plane. Everything is very different from what I'm used to, even the seatbelts. I'm really looking forward to tomorrow, though!

I haven't been able to find a place to mount my Garmin 295 GPS. It's just too big, and the control sticks don't help. They need about 3" cut off on each to keep them from getting so close to the instrument panel. That's all going to take time, so I downloaded a simulator for the King KLN-89B that's in it and practiced with that this afternoon. It's not as nice as the Garmin, but it's the one that will eventually be driving the autopilot, so I need to know how to use it.