Monday, January 29, 2007

The Winter Doldrums

It's a Hollywood rule: you can't have a submarine movie without at least one depth charge attack that forces the submarine crew to lie motionless and silent at the bottom of the ocean. You can't have a sailing ship movie without having the vessel stranded for endless days in the Doldrums, the area around the earth centered slightly north of the equator between the two belts of trade winds known for its warm, moist air, low air pressure, cloudiness, high humidity, light & variable winds, and various forms of severe weather such as thunderstorms and squalls (or so says The Mighty Google). And finally, you can't have an RV blog without suffering something similar in the way of prohibitively unflyable weather for what seems like weeks on end.

And so, here I am. It's weather suitable only for hibernation, but here I am cursed with existing as one of those pitiful mammals that isn't blessed with the ability to hibernate. Poor design decision on someone's part, that. If it's not cold, it's windy. If it's not windy, it's socked in with low hanging clouds. If it's not cloudy, it's cold. We've had a relatively mild winter thus far, but even a mild winter is winter none the less, and I'm simply not 100% in love with the whole climatic situation right now, truth be told.

The most recent weather related impediment thrown in my way was the couple of inches of snow we got late last week. A couple inches of snow doesn't sound like a big problem, and in reality it shouldn't be. But the overly helpful crew at the airport has a barn full of big snow plows, and doggone it, they're going to use them! And when they do, a couple of inches of that formerly benign snow become a three inch tall ice wall in front of the hangar when they allow some of the snow to dribble off of the blade right up tight against the hangar door. Surely there must exist a union work rule that prohibits the driver from actually picking up a shovel and clearing away the obstructing snow before it solidifies because they sure as hell don't do it. It's the same kind of rule that apparently prohibits a trash truck driver from cleaning up the mess he makes when he spills trash out of the can during the mechanized pick-up operation.

Absent all of the weather related challenges, I still have a problem: my right main tire has a slow leak. The tube is only a year old, and with the complete lack of flying activity of the last few weeks, I cannot figure out how it possibly could have developed a leak, but a flat tire is hard to mistake for anything else so there's no real question as to the accuracy of my diagnosis. In any event, I went to the hangar yesterday (I can at least step over the ice wall, even if it is insurmountable to the airplane - ironic that a machine of such capability and agility is stymied by that tiny little crest, isn't it?) and replaced the valve stem in the offending tube. Time will tell if that is all that was needed. Interestingly, as I returned to my garage I noted that the Miata too has a flattening tire. Weird!

I'm not on a complete aviation hiatus, though. I've still got A&P school on Monday and Wednesday nights. Night school is vastly different than day school in that there is no semblance of order in the classes that we take. This quarter, for example, is my fourth, which puts me maybe one-third of the way through the Airframe portion of the series, yet I'm in what is called a Capstone class. This is a class that a day student would take as the last in the airframe series. The class has to do with rigging and inspections, and is based on knowledge gained in every class that preceeded it. This dependency on previously taught material is most apparent in the written tests, which are extremely comprehensive. I'm being tested on material that I won't officially be taught until next year, or even the year after that! Fortuntely, it's typical FAA testing, which is to say a ton of multiple choice questions, all of which are published in answer guides. So, the challenge isn't so much the difficulty of the material; rather, it's the effort comes from the sheer volume of information I have to memorize. Good thing I'm not wasting a bunch of time flying, isn't it!

We did some rigging work on an old Piper Warrior last week. We found that the elevator up cable was seriously over tightened and that the rudder cables were seriously loose. The elevator cables were so mis-rigged that the cable would get very taut prior to full thrown being achieved on the elevator. Tightening and loosening the cables is a simple matter, though, involving only the adjustment of a turnbuckle on each cable. Those turnbuckles are obviously very critical to the operation of the airplane, and are therefore safety wired to keep them from working themselves loose and leaving some unfortunate aviator wondering why his frantic yoke inputs are being ignored to the degree normally reserved for 13 year-old daughters disregarding the directives of their father figure, a situation with which I am well versed. Not wanting to be responsible for such an incident, the good mechanic will secure said turnbuckles with .041 safety wire in a fancy single or double wrap pattern.

Well, not in the real world, mind you. Real world mechanics have modern little clips that pop right into the turnbuckle and call it a day without all of the drama and angst of a fullblown turnbuckle safety wiring session, a task that to me, at least, is orders of magnitude more difficult than normal safety wiring. A&P school mechanics are made of far more masochistic stuff, though, and do it the old fashioned way. That is, they bleed. Yes, it's true: there's nothing safe about safety wire! In fact, I believe myself to be highly allergic to it, as it seems that I cannot be in any kind of close proximity to it without spontaneously springing multiple blood leaks in my fingers and hands. It would be funny if..... well, it really is funny, at least for the rest of the class, most of whom don't seem to share my affliction.

Rigging the ailerons on the Warrior requires that they be locked in a neutral position, a feat accomplished via the simple expedient of inserting a 3/16" aileron rigging pin. 'Tisn't a sophisticated tool, that rigging pin, what with being nothing more than a nice, straight piece of 3/16" metal with a nice taper at the inserted end, but sophisticated or not, it does suffer the requirement that you be able to find it when needed. Which, of course, we could not. This put quite a damper in the evening, to be sure. There we were, only an hour into a five hour class, with no way to proceed without that darned rigging pin. "Improvise," my Dad used to say as a means of avoiding the drawing forth of the magical wallet of parental financial largesse to provide me with whatever my object of desire was at the moment, and the lesson remains with me to this day. "We need to improvise here, guys," I thought, drawing on the life experience that had been imparted to me during my formative years.

"Say," said I, "why don't we see if there's some 3/16" welding rod down in the welding shop?" "Capital idea," cried one and all. And it would have been, except for the pesky fact that the welding shop seems to favor 1/8" rod over all others. Whipped, dejected, and resolved to enduring a long night of inactivity, we filed out of the welding shop. But!! On the way out, my alert eyes noticed a coat rack populated with thick metal hangers. "How thick are those," I asked. Out came the trusty slide caliper, and with it's highly accurate (but infinitely inscrutable) vernier scale we determined the diameter of the hanger to be anywhere from .185" to 17.32" Close enough, on the low end estimate anyway. Mental note: start bringing the dial indicator caliper to class - those vernier scales might as well be written in sanskrit. One remaining problem: the designers of said hangers were of the paranoid (or possibly prescient) sort, and had permanently attached the hangers to the coat rack in the hopes of preventing exactly the type of purloining I was envisioning.

Well, it is a shop after all, and shops have all sorts of tools. Including hacksaws. Now I don't want to confess to actually procuring a hacksaw blade and sawing away at one of those hangers while a classmate guarded the door against nosy teachers, but the fact remains that within just a couple of minutes those ailerons on the Warrior were locked down tighter than OJ's fancy leather gloves. And it really should go without saying, because this is really just as predictable as can be, that I found the real rigging pin ten minutes later. Someone had left it in the pilot's seat of the Cessna 310, where I found it via unfortunate, yet time tested, method sitting on it. Funny, isn't it, that a tool designed to keep something immobile can cause such an extremely opposite reaction in me? Well, the class sure thought it was!

No comments:

Post a Comment