Sunday, February 18, 2007

"Why not Minot?"

"Freezin's the reason."

Or so said the conventional wisdom back in the day. Minot (pronounced my-not) is an air force base located in the northern regions of the fine state of North Dakota. Now as you can imagine, such a location can be on the chilly side for a large part of the year, so it is no surprise that troops like me that made their livings working outside in the elements might be reluctant to receive such an assignment. I ended up gettting South Korean and West German winters instead, which to be honest weren't all that much fun either.

What got me thinking about Minot was how darn cold it was in the hangar this morning. I started pulling cowls and panels at 9:30 this morning to get the plane ready for the A&P/IA that's doing my annual, taking advantage of the relatively balmy 15F temperature. Even though the annual isn't actually due until next month, it's clear that I won't be getting the plane out of the hangar any time soon, so it makes sense to get the annual out of the way even if the weather is a bit on the frigid side:

Removing the cowl always reminds me of my Dad's long ago suggestion that I become a country veterinarian. See, I have the arm for it:

I have to get my arm way up inside through the oil door to get at the hinge wires. It's a royal pain getting them in and out of there. Consequently, while there aren't many things that I'm qualified to tell a builder about putting together a Van's kit, there is one thing I feel qualified enough to say: If you don't use camlocks or airlocks on at least your top cowl, you will regret it. I'm getting better at managing the hinge wires, but to me that's a lot like saying I'm getting better at shoveling the sludge out of a septic tank. I really miss the airlocks I had on the Tampico.

I finally broke down last night and bought a speed wrench from Sears. I've been hoping Harbor Freight would eventually start carrying them, but I just couldn't wait any longer. Every screw on the underside of anything that I've removed with a screwdriver for the last few years has frustrated me, causing me to long for the old speed wrench that was my constant companion back when I was working on the RF-4s and SR-71s. The reason that I waited so long is that I'm always reluctant to shop at Sears. I think they have a high quality product, but I have a problem with the nearly non-existent customer service at my local store. As usual, I had to search out what I was looking for on my own and then go through the inevitable song and dance of trying to find someone to give my money to. Feh. But it was worth it: that speed wrench made all the difference this morning. It provides plenty of torque, doesn't give me blisters, and lives up to the 'speed' moniker quite well. Except for the jobs that required me to remove my gloves to get improved dexterity, I was pretty comfortable in my Walmartts(tm) (see, that's funny because I didn't want to spend the big bucks for real Carhartts, so I bought some cheap clones at Wal-Mart and call them Walmartts(tm)) while I was working:

And wow, could it ever be worse! Consider those poor folks that don't have a hangar:

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Snowing again

So, another few inches of snow will be providing a nice protective blanket on top of the ice from earlier this week. That's nice. I had planned on getting an early start on getting Papa ready for his annual physical this morning, but the sight of the new blanket of frustration floating down from above caused a quick re-evaluation of the cost/benefit analysis of warm comfortable house versus freezing cold hangar. Yes, sad as it is, the issue of the commute to the hangar on the snowy roads was actually a tie-breaker! If not for that, I would have forsaken the comforts of the stately manor for the opportunity to finally do something, anything, with the airplane.

The new snow is still piling on as I glance out the window, so it's going to be a while before start thinking about heading over to the barn. In the meantime, I continue to obsess over the idea of restoring an RV. If you recall, the stream of thought was triggered by seeing an older, formerly flying RV-4 for sale. Sans engine, the asking price was $13,000.

I think restoring a plane that had been flying would be a better fit for me than trying to complete an unfinished kit, which would be the other option at this price point. Fundamentally, I think it's easier to rebuild/replace something than it is to fabricate and fit the original part. Access can be much more difficult on an already finished airplane, but panels can be de-riveted for some of the more difficult jobs. Corrosion is potentially an issue, though, if the plane wasn't well primered and has been sitting in the back of a barn for a decade. A close pre-purchsse inspection of the plane would mitigate that.

If I were to restore the hypothetical RV-4, I would have to decide whether to take the low road (mid-time O-320, basic VFR comm and instruments, portable GPS) or the high road (new O-360, Dynon 180, GNS430). After a little spread sheet work and internet pricing queries, it looks like the low road approach would cost a total of around $40k, and the high road would get up into the $70s. The fundamental difference between the two approaches is what happens at the end: low road approach ends with me trying to sell the RV-4 in the low end of a crowded market. I'd probably break even financially, but that's ok since I'm not doing it to make money. The high road ends with me keeping the RV-4 and trying to sell the RV-6 in the middle tier of a crowded market. In the current market I'd probably end up taking a small loss, but not enough to matter.

Where would I work on it? Down in my basement. I have enough room down there to reassemble the plane and work on it whole, and the cellar doors are big enough to carry it down there in pieces, assuming the landing gear are removed. Obviously it would have to be disassembled again to get back out of the basement, but this is more the rule than the exception in the homebuilt world.

Man, that would be cool. It would have to be a storm of biblical proportions to keep me from walking downstairs to work on a plane.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Al's Revenge

Ok, I was a little hard on Mr. Gore in my previous posting, and I do know that there's a difference between climatic trends and comtemporaneous weather, and I don't deny that although we've made incredible progress on protecting the environment since the 70's, we can still do better, and I'm not doubting the accuracy of the supporting scientific analysis of existing weather data; I think the problem with the data is that the records are such a microscopically thin sliver of the millions of years this planet has existed that they cannot possibly be accurate predictors of the future. I do believe, however, that the current hysteria behind it is a farcical over-reaction that either accidentally or by design provides financial benefit to the very people that are hyping it the loudest. But that's neither here nor there, is it? It's an issue being addressed by gobs of boffins far smarter than me, so I really don't understand the complete and total retaliation by Al for my flippant attitude. I mean, he completely went overboard:

I was just finishing up the second plowing when the freezing rain started. And kept on coming. And coming. I think it was about five hours before it finally stopped. The result: nearly two inches of solid ice on every horizontal surface, and a quarter inch on vertical surfaces like garage doors. Particularly garage dooors, as it turns out. Frozen shut, they were. I consider myself lucky that the lift mechanisms didn't blow their guts out as they tried to lift completely immovable doors.

The irony, of course, is that it was a warming of the ambient temperature that caused the transition from snow to ice. Ironic twist there, Al. And your next move, ensuring that I'll be living with this stuff for weeks by hitting us with -2 F temps this morning, well... wow! What a way to twist the knife! I didn't know you had it in you! I surrender. You can have your Oscar. Please, just no more ice!

Here's the Papa Golf part of this post, just to keep at least arguably on topic: the annual isn't due until March, but it's clear that I'm stuck in the hangar for awhile. I'm going to go ahead and do it now. I plan on de-cowling and removing panels over the weekend. I'm not pulling the floor boards this year as that turned out to be a complete waste of effort, other than the recovery of some old clecos and such. I can also get the AD search on the engine done before the A&P starts the inspection on Monday.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Hey, I thought we had a deal!

Al Gore gets an Oscar nomination for his tale of the latest in a long line of impending climatic armageddons and in exchange for the Academy continuing to dumb down the academic and scientific rigor required for a movie to be considered a documentary, I don't have to plow snow. A fine deal, and it was going great there for awhile, but Al seems to have failed to uphold his end of the bargain. I just finished my second plowing of the driveway, getting the concrete cleared and the tractor back in the barn just in time for the precip to change from snow to freezing rain. Sigh. Snow is one thing, ice is something completely different, and far, far worse. Snow can be pushed around and bullied into submission, while ice has the tenacity of a rabid pitbull on steroids. Ick.

One of these days, me and Ohio are going to have a parting of ways. Some of us deal with it better than others, though:

Sunday, February 04, 2007

The (fiscal) dangers of faux hibernation

Yes, stuck inside again today, unwilling to brave the -12 degree wind chill. There aren't many things in life that are enhanced by negative numbers when you think about it: negative numbers are bad in your checking account, pay stub, winter temperatures, employer's annual P&L statement, and the like. The only example I can think of where I like to see negative numbers is in the grocery store receipt, where they total up the "savings" from your store loyalty card. And these are, as we all know, bogus savings in that these are the weekly discounts that used to be offered to one and all without the requirement of effectively selling data reflecting your purchasing behavior to a cabal of bean-counters in a marketing office somewhere. With regards to temperatures, I'm becoming a big fan of Celsius. When it's hot hot hot, say 90+ degrees Farenheit, it's only a brisk 33 degrees Celsius. And when it's a balmy 25 degrees Farenheit, the true reality of the bitter, bitter cold is reflected by the -4 degrees Celsius. Cooler in the summer, and a mathematical symbol to provide validation of your dog's refusal to go out in the morning in the winter: what's not to love about Celsius??

So, when both Farenheit AND Celsius are telling you that staying indoors is the wise course of action via the symbolic accentuation of the measurement with the dreaded negative sign, the challenge is to find something to occupy the mind that has developed a Pavlovian reaction to the combination of a weekend day and a clear, blue sky out the window: the incredible urge to do something, anything, having to do with an airplane. Today's manifestation of the airplane bug took the form of assessing where I am with the A&P program as it relates to questions of utility in the short-term, timing of classes, and balancing time spent out of the house with time spent in at least some proximity to my family. This line of thought was triggered by a decision I made last week: I'm not going to take classes in the Spring. Two classes are being offered back-to-back on Tuesdays and Thursdays, bringing the hours for each night to 4:30 - 11:00. Additionally, they total up to nine credit hours, at the rate of $70+ per hour. These both would be endurable if these were classes that would have direct applicability to my short term interests, which are limited to things that would be helpful in either maintaining my single engine light plane or building/restoring a similar plane. Classes on turbine engines or large hydraulic systems need not apply, in other words. Next quarter's classes did not meet those new criteria, nor will the Summer classes. Hence, I'm looking at least a 6 month hiatus. There's no problem with this in the long term since I'm not in any particular hurry to get done, but it does present a problem in that I won't have anything to work on.

One of the guys in my class had pretty much the same idea I had last year - he bought a project plane. I've been noodling that as well, going back and forth with various approaches I could take. I could find an old fabric biplane that needs restored, I could take over a partially completed kit, or I could look for a restoration project. I had been leaning towards the latter, so I definitely took note of this ad I came across on

This one has everything I was looking for: completed airframe requiring restoration but not major repair, a high-time engine for me to overhaul, and great resale possibilities. For example, I think it would be a fantastic learning experience to update the panel with something along these lines:

Since it's already in parts, it would be a simple matter to trailer it straight from Colorado to my basement. Think of it: a self-paced project, requiring relatively small initial investment (as compared to a brand new QuickBuild kit of some type), sitting right downstairs in the basement where I can effectively work on it whenever I want, without having to be 1) out of the house, and 2) working in a hangar that alternates between frigid cold and equatorial heat.

Tempting. Mighty tempting.

At the other end of the spectrum, there's this partially completed biplane:

It clearly has the benefit of lower acquisition cost, but I fear that might be a false economy. The risk of never being able to complete it would be much higher in that it is, as you can see, in a state of being far, far from complete, and there may very well be a good reason for the current builder throwing in the towel. A plane like that wouldn't come with the built-in peer-level support and easy parts availability of an RV, and it most assuredly wouldn't have the resale value of a two-seat RV. The skills learned by working on it would be valuable, but not as mainstream as those gained while working on the RV.

While clearly more affordable at the outset, I'm not sure that it would be a better value.

Alas, I fear the entire question to be entirely moot because when I'm faced with these "What to do, what to do?" questions, particularly those involving dollar amounts greater than $100, I invariably end up doing nothing.