Sunday, February 26, 2006

Expanding the envelope

Today's weather was everything I had hoped yesterdays would be. The same blue skies, the same, uh, invigorating temperatures, but only half the wind. Still, it was blowing pretty good: 14 knots out of the northwest. Again, a pretty direct crosswind, slightly favoring runway 4, which would put it on the more difficult left side of the plane on takeoff. Between the torque of the engine and the effect on the tail feathers of the swirling air coming from the propellor, which both impart a left-turning tendency on the plane, it already requires a healthy amount of right rudder on takeoff. A left crosswind tries to "weathervane" the plane to the left, so the combination of all three factors indicated that there would be quite a bit of right rudder needed to keep her headed straight down the runway. It wasn't too bad while the tail was still down, but the was a definite lurch as the tailwheel lifted off the runway and authority for yaw control was ceded to the rudder.

Crosswind takeoff practice complete, I headed southwest and climbed to 10,500". It was pretty bumpy until I climbed through 5,500", but from there up to cruising altitude was glass smooth. Why such a high cruising altitude? Well, my plan for the day was to fly over downtown Cincinnati and see what kind of pictures I could get. Cincinnati International is a busy airport, though, and as such is positioned under Class B airspace. That means I can't just wander in and stooge around. I have to be invited in by the controllers, and they're way to busy to want to vector around a tourist. The Class B over Cincy tops out at 10,000", so the nearest VFR altitude to that was 10,000". The climb took about 15 - 20 minutes since I wasn't in any particular hurry to get up there, but once I did it was worth the effort. Beautiful blue sky and smooth air - great place to visit, even if you can't live there.

I grabbed a shot of Co-pilot Egg's favorite summer destination: Paramount's Kings Island:

As I passed along the north side of downtown in a big, gentle turn back to Bolton, I grabbed a few pictures of downtown:

Interestingly, I heard myself called out as traffic to approaching airliners on two separate occasions. I had always assumed that the airliners would be below the 10,000" ceiling by the time they got to the Class B. In fact, I've always thought that was the sole reason for having Class B.

On the way back to Bolton, I was monitoring the tower and heard a student/renter in a Cessna 172 call in for landing from the south. He was a little tentative on the radio, so I tagged him as either student solo or recently graduated pilot based at a non-tower controlled airport. Some of those guys go years without flying into a towered airport because dealing with air traffic controllers makes them nervous. He reported in at the position the tower had requested, so he was doing pretty well. Once landed, he was directed to exit the runway at Alpha 3.

Cessna: "I was wanting to just depart again."

Tower: "Well you should have told be that before I cleared you to land. Go ahead, take off."

I can't help thinking that I just witnessed the birth of a pilot that will forever be afraid of flying into a towered airport, and it was completely unnecessary. The scolding from the tower was completely unwarranted. Yes, as a courtesy to the controller a pilot will usually state his intentions upon initial contact with the tower. I always tell them, "466 papa golf, over Lilly Chapel (or Boutn, or wherever), inbound full stop." That let's them know that I'll be slowing to make a turn off on a taxiway so they won't get someone too close behind me in the pattern, but in the case today I was so far behind the guy in the 172 that I was no factor. A gentle reminder would have been plenty, and even then wouldn't really have been appropriate.

My landing was with the same 14 knot crosswind I had enjoyed on takeoff. It went pretty well, but I think I'm going to keep 15 knots as my personal limit for now.

Decision making

I really wanted to fly yesterday. I re-arranged the appointment with the tax guy just to free up the day so I could fly down to Richmond, KY for an RV fly-in. The weather in the morning looked great: clear, sparkly sky, light winds, and temps just above prohibitively cold. The bad news? Forecasts for winds out of the north at 16 gusting 23. Damn. I might have gone ahead with the Tampico, but I'm just not ready for winds like that in the RV. Or am I? I've had some pretty decent crosswind landings at winds speeds in the mid to high teens, and 16 gusting 23 is that much more. I could probably do it. And hey, forecasts are often wrong. Those fearful winds might not even develop!

Still, I have my personal comfort zone, and even though I intend to expand it to some day include windier than average days, I'd prefer to work my way up to it, and do it solo rather than with a trusting passenger. I finally decided not to risk it and scrubbed the trip.

The problem with decisions like this comes from the aforementioned occasional inaccuracy in the forecasts. I've canceled flights based on an unfriendly forecast before, only to be frustrated when the weather never arrives. It almost becomes a case of hoping the weather does what it was expected to do in order to vindicate the decision to stay home. This time I think events showed that I made the correct decision:

- The day didn't go without a couple of 'close calls'. One RV4 driver got hit by a nasty wind gust while landing and nosed it into the runway. The gear collapsed as all eyes watched in amazement. It skidded to it's left into the grass as the gear tucked under the belly like a couple of twisted pipe cleaners. No one on board was hurt but the plane was badly bruised. The engine mount sheared on both sides and the firewall and forward fuse were badly crimpled.

This report comes from a guy that was there. Whle I think it's terrible that someone had this accident (and I'm thankful that they weren't hurt!), it does tend to validate my decision to forego the trip and wait for more favorable conditions. There's no schadenfreude here, it's simply a reminder that the go/no-go decision should never, ever be swayed by the desire to make any given trip. As much as I would like to have gone yesterday, I feel pretty good today knowing that my beloved airplane is safe and sound in her hangar, not twisted and bent, lying on a flatbed trailer waiting for extensive and expensive repairs.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Planning the Panel

I spent some time pondering the panel upgrade, and the difficulties associated with removing the old panel and replacing it with a new one. The panel itself is no big deal, rather it's the stuff behind it that may cause problems if I don't plan this well enough. Fo rexample, the braces that are riveted into the bulkhead behind the panel will stay as-is in order to reduce the effort, and I will work around them by placing instruments where they won't conflict with the braces. Another decision I made today is that the position of the radio, transponder, and King GPS are immutable. There is a rectangular cut-out in the bulkhead that would be difficult to move without completely replacing the bulkhead, and because the bulkhead has the front top fuselage skin rivetted to it, I'd prefer to leave it alone. I taped some approximately sized paper in the locations where the major components will (tentatively) go:

There's an obvious change here since the last iteration: the mechanical pitot/static instruments didn't make the cut. There simply isn't room for them. Still desirous of some non-powered redundancy, though, I'm planning on adding a small airspeed indicator, altimeter, and a vertical card magnetic compass in the row of three instruments between the EFIS/Engine Monitor and the radios. The gauges currently in that row will be removed as they will no longer be needed.

I haven't decided what to do with the flap switch. It's ok where it is, but I'm thinking I'd like to keep the area below the radio/xpdr/GPS stack open to allow for future growth. The clock will need to find a new home as well. The avionics master switch will get moved to wherever I decide to gather the switches. I'm thinking about a "Lighting" group of switches, and the rest of the switches (Battery/Alternator/Fuel Pump/Avionics Master) being in a separate group.

The engine controls (throttle, mixture, primer) will stay where they are.

I also did a little research into my legal basis for doing this work. The first stop was the Operating Limitations specific to my airplane. The pertinent paragraph would be this one:

After incorporating a major change as described in FAR Part 21.93, the aircraft owner is required to re-establish compliance with FAR Part 91.319(b). All operations will be conducted day VFR in a sparsely populated area. The aircraft must remain in the flight test for a minimum of 5 hours. Persons non-essential to the flight shall not be carried. The aircraft owner shall make a detailed log book entry describing the change prior to the test flight. Following satisfactory completion of the required number of flight hours in the flight test area, the pilot shall certify in the records that the aircraft has been shown to comply with FAR Part 91.319(b). Compliance with FAR Part 91.319(b) shall be recorded in the aircraft records with the following or similarly worded statement: "I certify that the prescribed flight test hours have been completed and the aircraft is controllable throughout its normal range of speeds and throughout all manueuvers to be executed, has no hazardous operating characterisitics or design features, and is safe for operation. The following aircraft operating data has been demonstrated during the flight testing: Vso____, Vx____, and Vy____, and the weight______, and CG location______________ at which they were obtained.

Note the usage of the words "aircraft owner" rather than "aircraft builder" or "Certified Mechanic." That seems to cover me pretty well as far as recognition on the part of the FAA that entities other than the builder (aka, holder of the Repairman's Certificate) or an A&P will perform major alterations to the airplane. But what of the referenced regulations? What, for exmaple, is "a major change as described in FAR Part 21.93?" Well, here's the applicable snippet of FAR Part 21.93:

Sec. 21.93

Classification of changes in type design.

(a) In addition to changes in type design specified in paragraph (b) of this section, changes in type design are classified as minor and major. A "minor change" is one that has no appreciable effect on the weight, balance, structural strength, reliability, operational characteristics, or other characteristics affecting the airworthiness of the product. All other changes are "major changes" (except as provided in paragraph (b) of this section).

The part of this that is most pertinent to what I want to do is "appreciable effect on the weight, balance..." Without a doubt, I will be affecting both the weight and balance of the airplane and will have to conduct a new weight & balance inspection. Fortunately, I have been told that I will be able to use the school's scales, as long as I don't mind paying to get them calibrated.

I also have to re-establish complaince with FAR Part 91.319(b):

FAR 91.319(b)
(b) No person may operate an aircraft that has an experimental certificate outside of an area assigned by the Administrator until it is shown that--
(1) The aircraft is controllable throughout its normal range of speeds and throughout all the maneuvers to be executed; and
(2) The aircraft has no hazardous operating characteristics or design features.

In other words, I have to perform the five hours of test flying that demonstrate controllability and the lack of hazardous operating characteristics as spelled out in the Operating Limitations. That all seems eminently reasonable to me, and appears to address any questions as to my authority to perform this job.

There are a number of open questions remaining, such as whether to stay with a black panel or change to a dark gray with white lettering or a lighter gray with black loettering, whether or not to save a place for an autopilot (currently leaning towards "not"), and what to use for lettering/division lines. Here's a tricked-up panel that I like:

I like those switch guards, and I know where to find them...

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Cold as a witch's (insert suitable organ name here)...

Sometimes the sky beckons so strongly that a little thermal inconvenience can be accepted, and today was one of those days. Very little wind and copious sunshine, but single-digit temperatures. The cold weather was forecast a few days ago, though, so I was able to plan ahead and plug in the pre-heater. The only problem was where to go. Most of my day trips involve being outside at the destination, and that idea wan't very palatable today.

A quick check of the local RV flyers Yahoo group showed a 12:00 lunch at Urbana with at least three other RVs. Good enough for me! I managed to configure my clothing so as to offer plenty of layers that could be shed as needed, grabbed the camera, and headed for the hangar. Here's how Papa Golf winters:

The electrical cord goes to a heating pad glued to the bottom of the oil sump. It keeps the oil warm enough that it will flow more freely than it would if left at ambient temperature. I plug the cowl holes with the rags in hopes that enough heat will be retained that the battery is kept at least a little warm too, but it's an act of faith as to whether that makes any difference or not.

Having been on the pre-heater, I figured four primes would be just about right, and such was proven to be the case. When it's cold, I try to start with just enough throttle to get her going in an attempt to minimize the the number of strokes that occur before enough oil gets stirred around to provide some protection. Until the cylinders get warm enough to expand a bit, the fit between the piston and cylinder is pretty tight, and until the oil gets there, is to a large degree metal-to-metal contact. I had the prime and throttle just right, so when the engine started it was at just about the same rpm as the starter was already turning it. It doesn't get any more gentle than that!

The forecast was for clear skies, but we didn't quite have that. We had a scattered layer at 2,300' instead. That was easy to climb around, so I was in clear air at 3,500'. As cold as it was, and with the 30.50" altimter, I was climbing at 1,800 fpm at a 120mph! I grabbed a shot off the left wing as I climbed past the layer:

I got there about 10 mintutes before the rest of the guys, so I wandered around the diner a bit. This diner is on the list of those places I've only ever been to by airplane and don't know what they look like to groundlings. I'd say almost all pilots have a similar list. While I was out in the front parking lot of the diner reading the historical plaque that explains who the "Grimes" was that the airport is named after, I got to thinking that their old hangar might make a good background for a picture:

I had the same problem that I always have on these bright, sunny days. I don't know the right settings for the camera to keep them from coming out too dark, so I have to try to clean them up on the computer, and I'm afrad I'm not particularly good at it. I really ought to get a book from the library or see what I can find with another pass through the owner's manual.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Parts on order

I ordered the blank panel from Vans yesterday. It's only $40 or so, and will provide a pallette upon which to tape magazine cut-outs of various instruments. I hope to be buying a drill press from Harbor Freight this weekend too, although I'm not in any great hurry to start drilling holes in the new panel. The drill press I want is one sale, though, so I'm planning on getting it now even though I won't need it for a few weeks.

I've got a workbench set up in the basement, and also would like to get some nice worklights down there this weekend.

Since I was already placing an order from Van's, I went ahead and ordered a set of pre-view plans. I was tempted to buy the RV-8 plans so I could spend the next year reading through them, but the short-term need to be able to identify RV-6 parts trumped that and I ordered RV-6 plans. I need them for more than just the panel project; there are a few screws that need to be replaced before the annual (some previous owner or mechanic stripped a few of the heads) so I need the plans to make sure I'm ordering the right parts. For the Tampico I had a microfiche parts and maintenance manual and referred to it quite a bit - I assume I'll be doing the same with the RV-6 pre-view plans.

The 35 knot winds we had last night have abated and the ceilings are up to 3,200'. I'm not sure what to expect for the rest of the weekend, but I might be able to get a half hour of flying in this afternoon. Here's hoping, anyway!

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

About the panel...

I've been thinking about the panel again. In the latest version of the proposed upgrades, I still had the vacuum gyros from the exsiting panel, but had added an in-panel Garmin 396 and a VM1000C engine monitor. That seemed to be the best compromise between keeping as much as possible from the old panel while at the same time modernizing it in the areas where the largest real-world benefit would be realized. I'm not so sure anymore. The reason I say that is that I noticed this new Dynon unit today:

Because the engine monitor is integral to the EFIS, I would only need to buy a single display panel. Every time I had looked at buying an EFIS before, the cost quickly escalated beyond my budget because I would have had to buy a separate engine monitor too. A combined unit like this is still more expensive than just an EFIS, but it's less than a two screen display system. The economics of it now make more sense, so I'm going to go see if I can design a panel with the Dynon instead of the VM1000C and the old gyros. The would allow me to completely remove the vacuum pump and all of the plumbing, along with the relatively heavy mechanical flight instruments.

I have to check behind the panel to make sure it will fit around the supports that attach the panel to the bulkhead. This picture shows a tip-up canopy RV with a Dynon D-100 (same size as the Dynon 180) in the panel, so it looks like it shouldn't be a problem:

I'm still debating as to whether or not to keep the mechanical pitot/static instruments like this example did, but I'm leaning towards keeping them because they will provide a level of redundancy should I ever lose electrity, and because I already own them and it would be wasteful to just shelve them. I will go ahead and put the electric turn coordinator back in too, for the reasons above and additionally to hold a spot open for an autopilot if I decide to buy one. The autopilot is another debate: most of my flights to date have been relatively short, but that will probably change. As it is, on the trip to Oshkosh I did find myself wishing I could turn on an autopilot now and then to look at charts, etc. But, they're expensive and because my plane is already done, fairly difficult to install. For now I just want to keep my options open, and if the funds ever become available and I can find a good way to mount the servos without tearing too much of the plane apart, maybe I'll do it.

I'm also thinking about seeing what it would cost to get to a light IFR level. One for sure cost was just detailed above: I would have to have an autopilot before I'd fly IFR (IMC, more precisely. IFR can be flown in clear air - IMC means you're really in the clouds) in the RV. I'd also need a heated pitot tube, annunciators for the King 89b GPS, and I'd probably want a second comm radio. A second comm radio would then incur the cost of an audio panel, albeit a simple one.

See what happens when you get the avionics boulder rolling?

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Putting on my pants

As a reminder of why I only want to build in my temperature-controlled basement rather than in the hangar, Co-pilot Egg and I braved the 25 degree February weather and went to the hangar to re-install the wheel pants I took off for the tire and brake change last fall. Last time I tried putting the right side on, I had a problem with one of the screws not wanting to go all the way in, so I had been postponing the job until a day when I'd be able to go to Lowes for a replacement screw. Before doing that, though, I decided to try the problem screw in a different hole. That actually worked, which surprised me a bit.

So, I managed to get the pants back on a month before they will have to come off again for the annual inspection. I wanted to have them on, though, in case I make it down to the RV fly-in at Richmond, Ky at the end of this month. One should never, ever go to a crowded fly-in sans pants. It's simply not done.

Stringing it along...

I spent some time yesterday tyring to confirm that an RV wing and fuse would fit through the doors out of my basement, still hoping that I will be able to use all of that nice environmentally controlled space as a shop. I asked a few builders on the internet for the worst case dimensions of the pieces I'll want to build down there and determined that 16' x 4' is a very convervative requirement. To see if an object of that size would get out the doors and up the stairs, I ran a 16' piece of string attached to 4' tall objects at each end up the stairs just as it I was moving a solid object of that size, and it fit with an inch to spare. That should be plenty, and if it for some reason turns out not to be, there is a fallback plan. I could gain another few inches by removing the 2x4 frame that holds the downstairs door, and the first step of the stairs is plywood and could also be temporarily removed.

That concern addressed, I worked on answering a few more things I had been wondering about. For example, Van's charges $275 for the full-size plans for building the plane. I was wondering if I had to spring for the $275 plans just to build the tail kit, but it turns out that the appropriate plans are included with each kit. I was also wondering if the shop space I would be able to carve out in the basement would be enough, but seeing an RV-9A being built in a single car garage alleviated any worries about that. I'm also going to need a much larger air compressor that the 5hp 20 gallon compressor I keep in the hangar, and I got a second opinion on the idea that the larger, and likely even noisier, compressor would be best installed in a corner of the garage rather than down in the basement.

Now that I'm reasonably certain that I'll be able to build down in the basement for at least five years or so, it's time to really be sure that I want to proceed on this. It's a huge job, and the goal of owning an RV-8 could easily be accomplished using the instant gratification method I used to buy the RV-6. I'm reasonably sure that I could sell the 6 within a month for more than I paid for it last year, and the money that would be tied up in the tail, wings, fuse, and tools would provide the difference between the selling price of the 6 and the purchase price of a mid-range 8. It's hard to argue that I have to build an 8 to get an 8, after having so successfully proven that you can get the same plane already built for right around the cost of building it yourself.

But taking that path would lead me right back to where I am now, albeit with a plane that is 99% of what I want, rather than the 95% offered by the 6. I love the 6 that I have, and for the next few years I think the side-by-side seating fits my mission profile better than the tandem seating of the 8. My assumption in choosing the 8 to build is that my mission will have changed in five or more years when co-pilot Egg is off at college and I'm back to flying mostly alone. Still, I could go ahead and get the 8 now, but it wouldn't address the primary reason I came around to wanting to build the RV-8: I want to build something, and everything else I've looked at building had the fatal flaw of not being something I would want to keep once I'm done.

The problem arises when I have to explain why I want to build something. It's an extraordinarily difficult thing to explain - far harder than answering the "why do you want a pilots license," or "what's wrong with the Tampico, I thought you loved it?" type of questions I've had to answer before. I also have a history of taking quite a long time to get things done. My private license took 9 years. My four-year degree also took 9, unless you count the first abortive attempt too, in which case you could arguably state that it took more like 15. My instrument rating took 5 or 6 years. I think in my defense, however, that you have to note that I did, in fact, get those things done eventaully, and most of the delays had to do with simply not being able to consistently afford to pursue them. Flying has always been a luxury pass-time, and has been the first thing to go when money and/or time got tight. Still, the question of whether or not I have the drive and internal persistence to complete a project of this magnitude is valid, and I'd wager that every builder out there has had to ponder this.

Again, though, there are alternatives that make this a lower-risk proposition than you might assume. For example, if I decide after finishing the tail kit that I can't see spending the next few years doing more of the same, I would have two options. First, I could sell the completed tail and the majority of the tools. This happens fairly regularly, and it seems that there is a good market for that. The second option would be to start buying quickbuilds instead of slow-build kits. The quickbuild wings would cost a few thousand dollars more than the $5,800 slow-build option, and the fuse can be purchased the same way. In fact, I know a local builder that built the tail and wings, but went for the quickbuild fuselage. There's still plenty of work to be done with the quickbuilds, but taking that path would save at least three years of total build time. The decision as to which path to take can be made at any time, so it's very much a case of me being able to try the slow-build first with the tail, and deciding later how I want to proceed.

Once the airframe is more or less whole, the work becomes even more interesting, and since all that metal now looks like an airplane, the enthusiasm level is bound to rise. At that point, I think the risk of getting sick of the whole thing and quitting becomes pretty small. I suspect what kills most projects at this stage, and again it's important to note that the completed pieces can be sold off fairly easily at this point, is that this is where it becomes really expensive, really fast. The engine has to be purchased even though the plane is nowhere near ready for flight, simply because all of the paraphernalia that attaches to the engine has to be installed. It's also a great time to be working on the electrical wiring since everything is still accessible, and that means you probably have to start buying avionics as well. And, since the major components are assembled, it means another $200/month hangar expense. When I reach this stage, I'm probably going to have to take an equity loan against the value of the RV-6 to buy all the expensive stuff.

So, it becomes a bit of a balancing act. If I decide I want to get done quicker than I can with the slow-build, I have to be careful not to get done so quickly that I'm not ready for the pricier phase of the build yet. But, I don't want to string this out to the 10 year range, either. The huge benefit the RV-8 has over the F1 Rocket is that there are multiple options available for determining the overall build time, so I'm comfortable at least with my decision of which plane to build, should I finally decide once and for all that building is what I want to do.

Fortunately, there are things I can be doing now before being committed to proceed in any way. Cleaning out the area of the basement where I want my shop to be will be the first thing to do, and building some work benches will be next. I'll benefit from those projects whether I ever build a plane or not, so I'm going to get started on that.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Free At Last!

It didn't really look like it would be a nice day for flying today, but on the way home from work I noticed that the weather wasn't really that bad. While gloomy, the ceilings were around 6,000', and I only need 3,000' to fly around the local area. The automated weather system reported 10 miles visibility and winds west-ish at 6 knots. The forecast for this weekend includes precipitation deep enough to measure, so this looked to be my only chance.

My first inclination was to fly out to MadCo and do some stop and go landings - landings are the first thing I get rusty at in this plane, so a little practice seemed like a good idea. It turned out to be such a good idea that every other pilot in the area had thought of it too. There were three in the pattern at MadCo doing touch and goes, and another couple of arrivals calling in from a few miles out. That's a little too crowded for me, so I headed down to the southwest and practiced some maneuvering instead. A few steep banks later, I couldn't help thinking how little I miss the old Tampico. The RV is so much fun just to fly that I don't feel that I need to have a destination in order to justify the cost of flying it, like I did in the Tampico. And fifteen minutes or so at a time is plenty.

I called back in to Bolton tower over Lily Chapel just a few seconds after a Cessna 172. I didn't have him in sight, but I knew I had to be close and with my airspeed of 150 knots, I was going to catch up in hurry. He reported in with his altitude at 2,400, so at least I knew he was 300 feet below me. I also knew he was a reasonably experienced pilot. I could tell he was experienced by the way he volunteered his altitude without being asked to by the tower. That's something a low-time student pilot on a solo flight usually doesn't think to do, and it makes a big difference in which part of a pretty big sky you concentrate on while trying to visually locate him.

Experienced pilot or not, I really hate getting behind renter pilots in the pattern. They fly a wide enough pattern for a business jet, plodding along at 70 knots. Don't get me wrong, I have nothing against student pilots and/or renters, having been one myself for so long, but getting behind one in the pattern is just excruciating. When I finally caught sight of him, he was off to my right and about 500 feet below me.

I was still higher than I normally would be this close to the airport, having stayed up at 2,700 feet until I knew where he was and could safely descend. I turned a bit to the left and went into a dive so that I'd pass off his left wing far enough away that I wouldn't be in his way if he made a sudden turn, called him on the radio as I passed by his 9 o'clock so he could get a fix on my position, and hit the pattern at mid-field right downwind to 22 doing 140 mph. Normally at this point in the pattern I've slowed to about 110 mph in preparation for extending the flaps at 100 mph, which I do just before the turn to base leg. Getting slowed down from 140 to 100 that quickly was surprisingly easy, probably because I still don't have the wheel pants on and I'm dragging around those aerodynamically repugnant wheels. The tower warned the 172 that my roll-out would be slow, to which I took mild affront and decided to land a little beyond where I normally touch down in order to reduce the distance I have to roll out before getting to a taxiway. That worked superbly, and in fact resulted in a fabulous landing.

There were some momentous moments today. First, it's notable that one of the tower guys recognizes me and my landing habits now, just like they did back when I was in the Tampico. He's correct in that I do usually roll out pretty slowly in the RV-6 since it's hard to see out in front once the tail comes down, and if it's windy I'm usually having enough trouble keeping it straight anyway. Even so, it was just a bit surprising to hear him warning the other plane about it.

The other thing of note is how much finesse I put into the approach and landing. Modifying my normal patterns in response to changes in the traffic environment, such as landing long because I have another plane approaching behind me or I'm entering downwind at a different point and airspeed than usual are the kinds of things I did routinely in the Tampico, with the actual flying aspect of the approach and landing happening so subconsciously that it was if I were on autopilot. Tonight was the first time I remember that happening in the RV. I'm so comfortable with the plane now that I was able to concentrate fully on positioning myself correctly in the pattern without causing a conflict with the other plane, while still utilizing the full capabilities of my plane rather than meekly pulling in behind him. It wasn't that long ago that just getting around the pattern and making a nice landing was a big challenge, so this was pretty gratifying.


I almost got some flying in last night. The automated weather reporting system told me winds were 290 at 6 knots. I rushed on over to the airport and dragged the bird out of the hangar, saddled up, cranked the engine, and called the tower.

Tower: "Winds 290 @ 12, gusting 18."

Me: "Never mind."

I could live with the 12 knots, but the 18 is currently beyond my comfort zone, especially since I haven't been flyng very much.

School has been kind of slow too. We're still talking about aircraft materials, although we've finally finished with metal alloys. We had relatively brief discussions about wood, plastics, and composites. I'm not sure what's next, but soon we will be working on fabricating fluid lines, and that will be primarily lab work. That's the best stuff as far as I'm concerned. It's not that the things we're doing now aren't important - it's just that I prefer the actual mechanical work.

Next quarter is looking good. Rather than the regulations and environmental systems classes, I'm registered in one of the Structures classes. And, it's the one I want the most: aluminum shaping, fabricating, riveting, etc. Yeah! That's some stuff I can really, really use!

Why, you ask? Well, as regular readers will know I've been trying on ideas for ways to use some of this new learning on my own. I thought about restoring a Pitts, but eventually decided against it because of economic viability. It would be an open-ended project (essentially a money pit) with little possibility of recouping the costs at the end. A Pitts is a wonderful plane, but an experimental Pitts doesn't have a huge market. I also thought about building something less complicated than an RV, but again I would end up with a plane I don't want and would likely end up selling at a loss.

I finally came full circle and decided to build an RV. There was another option I considered, which was building an F1 Rocket. I love the Rocket, and if I could have any plane I wanted, this would be it. But it just doesn't fit what I'm looking for right now. It's only available as a quick build kit, which defeats the purpose of building. The other issue is cost. The quick build kit costs $40,000+, and you have to have that right up front. The engine is a six cylinder Lycoming, and that alone would cost more than $30,000.

I'm thinking a better approach would be to build an RV-8, which is the plane I wanted instead of the RV-6. I couldn't afford one, and Co-pilot Egg didn't want to have to ride in the back seat. Affordability can be addressed by building, and five years from now (the absolute soonest I would expect to have it done) I don't think she will be as concerned about where she rides.

The affordabilty issue is somewhat mitigated by the slow build. It starts out pretty easy: $1,450 for the tail kit. The tail will take at least a year for me to build. The next kit is the wings, and they go for $5,800. They too will take at least a year. Then comes the fuselage, which goes for around $7,000, I think. What it comes down to is that it will be at least five years before I need to make the major purchases like engine and avionics, and when I do, I will be looking at a 180hp engine rather than the very expensive 250hp the F1 Rocket wants. That will be much, much cheaper.

Of course, there are other costs right up front that I need to worry about. Tools alone will cost around $2,500, and I will need to build myself a shop. Preliminary measurements indicate that I might be able to build the tail, wings, and fuselage in my basement, and not have to work in the hangar until all those parts are done and ready to be assembled into an airplane. That would be a huge benefit for reasons of temperature control (it gets VERY hot and VERY cold in the hangar) and being in the house rather than a mile away in the hangar. The latter benefit is far more important than the former; a lot of planes don't get built because the time away from the family becomes an issue. Being right downstairs in the basement goes a long way towards resolving that.

So, this is all tentative, but I'm already pretty invested in the idea. So much so, in fact, that I'm already planning the paint scheme. I'm leaning towards staying with the military look, but using the Supermarine Spitfire as my model. Woooo, baby, that's one beautiful airplane!