Sunday, November 27, 2005

Now THAT'S an oil change

Time to change the oil again, and this time I decided to include a couple of other projects. I've been wanting to install a quick drain plug, and I've been wanting to change the direction of the cowl hinges that hold the top and bottom cowl halves together.

I had a four day weekend to work with, so I thought it a good time to get these done. I pulled the cowls off and took a look around the engine area. It's always nice to get a good, close look at stuff under the cowl and re-convince myself that everything is firmly attached. I've been reading quite a bit on engine-related stuff in the Bingelis On Engines book I bought, so everytime I look I learn something new about Papa Golf. This time I noticed that I have a conical engine mount, rather than the Dynafocal mount I'm used to. The difference in the two is the angle that the four attachment bolts go into the engine. The conical mount bolts go into the engine case perpendicular to the back of the engine. A dynafocal mount puts the bolts in on a diagonal pointing towards an extended focal point from the inner ring of the mount. The difference is cost vs. smoothness. The conical mount is a few hundred dollars cheaper than the dynafocal, but it doesn't dampen engine vibrations as well. That goes a long way towards explaining why I feel so much more vibration in the RV than I did in the Tampico, something I've been wondering about.

You can see both types of mount here. The first pictures show a conical mount on an RV-6, and pictures further down the page show the dynafocal mount.

I also discovered that it's pretty darn hard to get the oil drain plug out when the ambient temperature is 25 degrees F. After nearly rounding it off completely, I managed to get a big enough wrench on it to get it off of there, but let's just say it's a good thing I was replacing it with the quick drain valve anyway. In my glee at finally getting the recalcitrant bugger off of there, I nearly forgot to remove the plug from the oil catch pan before letting the dirty oil pour out. Co-pilot Egg was there to remind me and save the day. What an unbelievable mess that would have been!

I thought my troubles were over once the drain plug was loose, but the oil filter was just as reluctant to come off as the plug had been. Winter sucks. After enough struggling with the filter wrench, it finally broke loose. By this time, of course, the plastic grocery bag I had positioned over the filter as a prophylactic against oil spilling all down the back of the engine had slipped out of position and a torrent of inky black oil did just that. I keep plenty of paper towls and kitty litter on hand for just this kind of thing, but it sure is nasty work.

The cowl hinge pins will work just like the old ones in holding the cowl halves together, but because they will be installed from the front, rather than through the instrument panel, they will be shorter and thus less prone to bending when being pushed in. They have screw tabs on them to hold them in place, so a couple of nutplates needed to be installed. I got some help with that from Rick, who's building a Vans RV-9A. We glued the nutplates in, but I left the cowl out in the garage over night where it was too cold for the epoxy to set correctly. Since the glue didn't thicken up like it would have in a warmer environment, it all ran down the side of the cowl instead of staying on the nutplate. I brought the cowl inside and re-glued the nutplates. You wouldn't think you'd see things like this in the house of a non-builder:

The glue was nicely set this morning, so the cowl is ready to go back on the plane. Hopefully I can get that done today and get back in the air!


Cowls went back on with no problems. Co-pilot Egg was able to assist, thus proving that the job can be accomplished by one moderately competent adult and an extremely competent almost 12 year old. The new cowl pins from Vans worked great! They were so much easier than the old pins, and I don't have to worry about any hidden bulges back behind the panel masking the fact that the pins aren't fully in.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

A mini-editorial

I don't do much editorializing on this blog, but I have to say, this is stupid:

Brosius said Malleck told him it was "the most hair-raising experience" of his life. Malleck said the situation went from bad to worse. "First I had two people in trouble -- the pilot and mechanic in the plane," he said. "Then we added the driver and the two men in the pickup, and I had five people in potential trouble."

Yeah, no kidding! I like the way he makes it sound like the bad situation was done to him, rather than by him.

He goes on to say that he got the idea from seeing a TV news report about someone else doing the same thing.

In my opinion, he should have seen a news report about someone doing the same thing, and being prosecuted for it. That is the message that should be sent: the FAA will not tolerate this kind of stupidity.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Camera Quandry Resolved

I went with the Olympus. It's a generation newer than the Nikon, comes with twice the lenses, and with the 10% off sale at BestBuy, it was pretty close to the same price as the Nikon.

It's supposed to ge delivered today, so watch for some test photos soon!


Nice weather this weekend, but just couldn't find the time to fly. I did get away long enough to take the dog for a walk and get a few practice shots with the new camera, though:

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

More educashun

I had so much fun at the electrical wiring class last month that I started thinking seriously about getting an A&P certificate. For those that aren't sure what that is, an A&P certificate (Airframe and Powerplant) is the FAA license required to work on airplanes. I don't necessarily need it to work on Papa Golf because it's an Experimental, but if I wanted to be able to work on store bought planes or sign off the annual condition on a homebuilt, including Papa Golf, I would need the certificate.

I had thought about doing it before since there is a school that has a program for it right on Bolton Field and you just can't beat that for convenience, but I thought I'd have to do the whole two year Associates Degree program. This turns out to not be true; I can take just the classes required for the FAA certification. They offer classes at night, but due to scheduling challenges and only wanting to take one class at a time, it will take 3 - 5 years to complete the training. That's fine by me - there's no real hurry to do it. This is long-term planning for when I'm ready to semi-retire, and since I'm only 44, that will be awhile.

I've been looking at the curriculum and it's pretty exciting. My first class will be Aviation 117 (basic aviation maintenance), which I believe is concerned mostly with tools and safety practices. There's a lab component too, so there must be some wrenching on airplanes and/or engines involved. It is descibed thusly in the course catalog:

Develop an understanding of basic aviation maintenance procedures and the tools used by the aircraft technician. Covers identification and selection of materials used in aircraft construction. Practice in fabricating and installing fluid lines and fittings. Select and perform non-destructive inspection processes.

There are no prerequisites for the class, but I will at some point have to go backwards and take:

AVI 111 Aviation Theory (A,SP)
Basic science for the aviation maintenance technician, including aerodynamics and flight stability, mathematics, physics, and weight and balance effects


AVI 115 Aircraft Maintenance Regulations, Pubs., and Records (A,SP)
Application of Federal Aviation Regulations to aircraft maintenance and the aircraft technician. The use of aircraft maintenance forms, records, publications, and other pertinent technical data.

It starts to get really interesting after that. I should have a head start on this one with my Air Force history, the smattering of EE classes I took, and my recent EAA class:

AVI 121 Basic Electricity (W,SU)
Inspect and service batteries. Determine the relationship of voltage, current, and resistance in electrical circuits. Measure voltage, current, resistance, and continuity, calculate and measure power, read and interpret aircraft electrical circuit diagrams including solid state devices, and logic functions. Calculate and measure capacitance and inductance, and operating principles of generators, alternators, and motors.

The AVN117 class starts Jan 3rd. Watch this space for updates!

Monday, November 14, 2005

Update: Improved Columbus picture

I thought I was doing pretty well just getting the morning haze out of the Columbus picture, but evidently I left a little bit on the table:

If I could find a way to fit Rick Lee inside my camera, I'd get shots like this all the time!

I guess there's more to this than knowing where the "I'm Feeling Lucky" button is in Picassa!

Thanks Rick!

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Our first UFO

The Ohio Valley RV Group periodically have functions they refer to as UFO's. I think it stands for Ultimate Fly Out, but I'm not 100% sure of that. Basically a UFO involves a mini fly-in at a designated airport. This one was at New Philadelphia (KPHD) Harry Clever Field, over towards the eastern side of Ohio. The weather was terrific for flying again, so I launched out of Bolton at about 9:30 and headed east.

Downtown Columbus as seen from my lofty perch

The skies were severe-clear, and I had a pretty good tailwind out of the west, so I climbed to 5500' to get over the Columbus class C airspace and enjoyed a smooth, relaxing flight at 165 knots. About 20 miles out of New Philly, I began a 500 foot per minute descent and watched as the GPS speed approach 180 knots. It finally topped out at 184. My thrill in this was tempered by the realization that I was going to be going against those same winds on the way home, but it was still a great feeling!

Approaching New Philly

As I approached the airport from the west, it appeared that everyone had managed to arrive at the same time. In reality, there were only four other RVs in the pattern, but the difference in patterns that they were flying caused a bit of crowding at the end of the runway. As I turned final behind one of the RVs, another that had flown a closer pattern turned in front of me. That's not all that unusual, and as long as everyone communicates what's going on and what their intentions are, it all works out fine. He heard me on the radio confirming that I had him in sight and would be landing right behind him, so he compensated by landing a bit long and leaving the near end of the runway for me. It was nowhere near as tight as the landing clearances at Oshkosh, and the level of cooperation and competance kept everything neat and orderly.

Parked on the flightline

Closer look at the tail art

I didn't make a formal count, but there had to be between 15 and 20 RVs there. It's always fun to walk around looking at them and seeing how other builders did things. Today I was particularly interested in looking at the cowl hinge wires that hold the top and bottom cowl halves together. The large majority used the front-to-back method, and I'm not sure if any of them used the through-the-panel method like my plane has. Those that had the front-to-back were pretty much evenly split between those that had a fancy custom plate to secure the end of the hinge and those that had a simple screw into a nut plate. I'm convinced that I'm going to change mine to the front-to-back method since 1) it will make a huge difference in the maintainability of the plane, and 2) it looks to be a very straightforward job. I went ahead and ordered the Vans cowl hinge kits to get started. The only thing that I will have to figure out is how to install nut plates on the cowl to hold the retaining screw.

I visited with some of the other RV folks and had a nice lunch. As I meet more and more RV pilots, I continue to be struck by how many of them are professional military or airline pilots. They seem to really gravitate to the Vans planes. I like to think it's because the RVs fly like small, light fighters. Wish I had thought to ask one of them how they compare to various military jets in their flying qualities.

Departing New Philly

As predicted, the flight back to Bolton took a bit longer. I tried to stay low, hoping the winds would be lighter, but the bumps at 3500' encouraged me to try for a smoother ride a little higher. It smoothed out considerably at 4500, but I was only making 125 knots. I consoled myself with the idea that I would have only been doing 75 - 80 in the Tampico, which seemed to help.

The winds at Bolton had really picked up while I was gone, and I was a little surprised to hear "winds 190 at 14" when I contacted the tower. That's a pretty healthy crosswind, but I was able to get her settled in with only a few small bounces. I could feel the wind tugging at the stick as I taxiied in.

One of the nicest things about flying this time of year is that there are very few bugs. Clean-up was a cinch, so I was able to get the bird bedded down with a minimum of fuss and get home just in time to catch the last few minutes of the football game.

What a great way to spend a Saturday! I'll have to play catch-up on my chores tomorrow, but it's worth it!

Veterans Day Flying

As a veteran of five years active duty in the Air Force, and another six years in the Ohio Air National Guard, I decided it was about time that I took a day off of work to celebrate Veterans Day, and decided that there could be no better way to celebrate our freedoms than to go flying. I had a bit of an ulterior motive: my transponder was out of date on its required two year inspection and I needed to get that done.

The transponder is an electronic device in the airplane that "listens" for air traffic control radar, and when it detects it, enhances the signal by encoding the current altitude of the plane and transmitting it back. This allows the controllers to see me clearly on the radar screen and know what my altitude is. Because the controllers need that altitude data to work other traffic around me, it needs to be accurate. To ensure that requisite accuracy, the FAA mandates an inspection and/or calibration every other year. It's an easy enough job for the most part, and only takes a few minutes, but getting the plane to the shop and waiting for them to get to it can take days.

My new favorite fuel airport, Highland County, has an avionics shop on the airport, and I was able to arrange with them to fly the plane in and get the calibration done while I wait. It's a pretty laid-back place, as you would expect from a friendly, quiet country airport. The avionics guy that I had been swapping voicemail with suggested that I get down there "first thing in the morning, and we'll git 'r done."

Now, it isn't always the case that I want what I call a "gitterdunner" working on the plane, but this is a pretty routine operation so there were no worries there. I checked their shop hours, which are 8am - 5pm. Between that and "first thing in the morning," I assumed we were agreeing that I should be there at roughly 8:15 am, and that's exactly what I did. I forgot to factor in the gitterdunner factor, and realized my error when the guy showed up at 10am. It was a gorgeous fall day, so that was no big deal. The neat thing about country airports is how darned friendly and open everyone is. It was a nice couple of hours just chewing the fat with the guys that attend the airport during the day.

The inspection itself revealed no problems with the transponder, and after another hour of shooting the breeze with the avionics guy, it was done. This left the rest of the day open for whatever I wanted to do, and the obvious answer was fly some more. Now that the transponder is legal again, I can fly near the big cities like Cincinnati and Cleveland. I had been putting off a trip to Sporty's since it's in what's called the Mode C Veil around Cincy and the Mode C veil requires a legal encoding transponder to be in the plane and fully functional. I really wanted to get doen there because I wanted to buy a carbon monoxide detector, and since they only cost $9.95, I didn't want to pay shipping costs. I need the CO detector before I will use the cockpit heat since the heat source is a cuff around one of the exhaust pipes. If there is an exhaust leak and you use the heater, you're just pumping the cockpit full of carbon monoxide, which will eventually knock you out, more than likely resulting in a fatal crash.

From Highland to Sporty's is only 15 minutes or so, so I decided to go get the CO detector and next year's AOPA calendar, another item I like to have bit don't like to pay shipping on. That all went well and I headed back to Bolton. Along the way, I saw a plane slightly ahead of me and at my 2:00 position (off to my right). He was below me, but on a converging course. As we got closer, I could see that I was going to catch up with him and pass over him. As he came through on my left side, he was slightly behind me. Here's the point: I passed him (in other words, I was going faster than him) and he was in a Bonanza! Bonanzas are pretty fast planes, but they use a lot of horsepower to do it. I passed him with 150hp. Of course, it's not all about speed: he could carry 5 or 6 people and a lot of baggage very comfortably, whereas I can carry two people, a little baggage, and it's relatively cramped. Still...

I made three landings yesterday, and all were very good. It helps that there was very little wind, but it was still gratifying to not botch a single one.

All in all, I don't think there's a better way to spend a nice fall day that flying around Ohio with your pants off. (Wheel pants, that is! I haven't put them back on since the tire change, and I'm not sure I will. Don't really need them for the short trips I take, and they block the view of the brakes, which I want to keep an eye on for awhile).

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Camera Quandry

I'm looking for a new camera to assist in chronicaling the adventures of N466PG. The 3 megapixel Fuji digital I have now is pretty good for what it is, which is essentially an unsophisticated snapshot camera with a fairly decent lens, but it falls short in a number of areas. With the Fuji, I just figure if I take enough pictures, one or two are statistically bound to turn out fairly well. There're times, though, when a "hope for the best" approach doesn't cut it. Oshkosh was a good example of that. I got a few good pictures, but I was also very disappointed that some (many!) of the others didn't turn out because of weaknesses in, or lack of manual control over, exposure, focus, shutter lag, and depth of field.

So, I'm looking for a new camera. I want at least 6 megapixels to enable much tighter cropping, a multi-zone auto-focus, a multi-segment light meter, and the ability to manually override all of the above. I want a hot shoe for the flash so I'm not beholden to the in-camera flash, I want to be able to 'bracket' pictures with exposure/focal length settings, I want to be able to use various lenses, and I want almost instantaneous response to power-up and shutter release.

In short, I want a digital SLR. And I want it to be realtive small and light.

I have narrowed my choice to these two:

- Olympus Evolt E-500
- Nikon D-50

As usual, both have strong pluses and minuses. Prices are comparable, so that won't be the deciding factor. Right now I'm leaning towards the Olympus based on its somewhat more ergonomic design (have you ever wondered how I get in-flight pictures? Hint: one hand on the camera, the other flying the plane) and its 2.5 inch LCD screen. On the down side, it takes more that a second to power up due to the sensor shaker that removes dust from the sensor, but its shutter release is as fast as the Nikon's. Tough, tough call.