Saturday, March 21, 2009

Easiest annual inspection evah!

I'll skip the usual Weather-out-the-Window&trade report since quite frankly, I didn't even look. All I cared about today was that it would be warm enough to work in the hangar without having to resort to wearing the warm-but-bulky Walmartts©. Today's job was to replace all of the panels that I had removed earlier in the week in preparation for the annual inspection of the airplane by a licensed mechanic. The inspection went quite well this year, and will reset the bar for cheapest annual ever.

Even though I had taken the incredibly silly risk of challenging the mechanic by telling him that I thought it unlikely that we would find anything wrong at all, I got off pretty easy. He found a couple of rivets in the belly that could stand to be tightened up, a moist area on the right side brake caliper that could indicate a small brake fluid leak, and a little more brake fluid on the passenger side brake pedal, which is surely a matter of karmic retribution for having insisted that Co-pilot Rick taxi us to the end of the runway last week.

"Cheap" should not be confused with "easy," though. Just the work of removing the engine cowls and all of the inspection panels takes a couple of hours of crawling around on the dirty hangar floor with a screwdriver. Karma plays a role here, too. I had saved the removal of the prop spinner (the bright red thing at the very front of the plane) for last as it has traditionally the easiest thing to remove. This time, though, the second to last screw was rounded, and I couldn't get it our with a screwdriver. I was forced to use the inaptly named easy-out to remove it. The easy-out is every bit as poorly named as "safety wire," the wire that I manage to stab myself with to the degree that it draws blood every single time I work with it.

The easy-out requires drilling a hole down in the middle of the screw which then allows the easy-out (which looks like a tapered, reverse direction drill bit) to get a "bite" on the sides of the hole and thus allows you to remove the screw. This sounds easier that it is, particularly if, like me, your drill is an $8 piece of crap bought from Harbor Freight. Now don't get me wrong: I'm sure you can get a quite nice air drill from Harbor Freight. But I hereby contend that you cannot get a quality $8 air drill. Mine has apparently given me all of the drilling that it feels obligated to provide for $8 because it just quit working. No warning at all; it just quit. Fortunately, the guy that was working on his plane two hangars down recognized the symptoms of the ensuing spree of profanity and walked down to offer the use of his electric drill and I soon had the offending screw removed.

As I said, today's plan was primarily to replace the inspection panels and engine cowls. Replacing the cowls is a two man job, though, so I asked Co-pilot Rick to come down and help. I put him to work with the panels while I replaced the oil filter, filled up the engine with fresh oil, and prepared to remove the landing gear wheels in order to re-pack the wheel bearings with fresh grease. I have to remove the brake pads to get the wheel off the axle, so I planned on replacing the O-ring on the right side caliper while I was at it.

Any kind of work on the wheels requires the removal of the aerodynamic wheel fairings, but those were already off for the inspection. They're a bit of a pain to get on and off of the plane, so it makes sense to do as much as you can while they're off. Unfortunately, as I was taking off the right side brake pad, I could see that it was worn down to the point where it will soon need replacing. At that point, all plans for bearing repacking and the like were tossed aside until such time as I can procure new brake pads. That decision left us with nothing more to do than run the engine for a few minutes to check for fluid leaks and, assuming none were found, to replace the cowls.

We finished up at right around lunch time, and it was impossible not to see that a perfect flying day had developed while we were busy working. The annual is not actually due until the end of April, so there was nothing keeping us from flying off somewhere for lunch. There's no problem with just leaving the wheel fairings off for now, other than the loss of about 12 mph in flight. I figure I can afford that for awhile.

The control tower reported calm winds and nearly unlimited visibility under clear skies, so we decided a quick hop to Urbana would be the perfect end to our morning's tasks. I called home to relate that there had been a change of plans:

"We're done with the airplane work, so we're going to fly up to Urbana," I reported.

"Why?," the co-owner replied.

"What do you mean 'why'? For lunch, of course!"

She said, "I said pie, not why."

"Oh. OK. I never forget to bring pie!"

So, off we went. We were taxied out to runway 22, and after a run-up I told the tower that we were going to depart to the west. He cleared us for takeoff and we were soon climbing through the clear air, but finding it to be bumpier than we had expected. Just a few miles to the west of Bolton, we heard Cessna 172 'Four Six Quebec Foxtrot' check in "over Lilly Chapel, inbound for landing." The tower asked him to report a mid-field right downwind to 22, but failed to alert him to the fact that a departing RV-6 (us) was heading directly at him. I hate it when they don't alert opposing traffic to each other! Figuring that the guy in the 172 would angle himself towards the midfield while we were coming off the departure end, it seemed that turning a bit to the south would give us good clearance from him and expediting a climb to a higher altitude would put us above him. The problem is, "Over Lilly Chapel" doesn't always mean what it sounds like; it more often means "in the general vicinity of Lilly Chapel," and now and then means nothing more than being in the same zip code. I alerted Co-pilot Rick to be on the lookout.

Sure enough, we were close enough to Lilly Chapel after a few minutes to believe that surely he was past us when Rick saw him abeam and below us. In other words, he had to have been at least three or four miles away from the reporting point as he keyed the mike to alert the world that he was "over" it. Yeah, just like I'm "over" my crush on Valerie Bertinelli. I keyed the mike to report to the tower that "we're clear of Quebec Foxtrot," thinking that even if the tower didn't care, surely the other guy would want to know. I would have, had the positions been reversed.

The tower called back: "Four six six Papa Golf, frequency change approved." Now there's a non sequitur for you! He might as well have just said "So?" or, as teenagers like to say, "Whatever."

In another occurrence of close cohabitation of space, as we were nearing Urbana we heard a Piper Archer call in as being "10 miles southeast of the airport." As we too were approaching from the southeast, I took a quick glance at the miles remaining on the GPS: 10.2 miles. This was a little easier situation to resolve for a number of reasons. First, there's no way an Archer is going to hit us from behind, with or without my wheel fairings installed. The only real risk would be converging headings, or me descending down onto him if my view of him was blocked by my wings. I could see that he wasn't right in front of us, though, so all I had to do to clear up the situation was push the throttle in to boost our speed up to something completely out of the purview of the Archer family. That worked - we picked up a mile and a half on him by the time we hit the pattern.

The ramp was packed, (which is unfortunate because I bounced the landing) but I parked in a spot right in front of the ramp gate. This was quite courteous of me as it turned out, as it saved a lot of people a long walk to go over to look at Papa. He draws quite a crowd, particularly on a ramp populated almost entirely by the ubiquitous store-bought generic airplanes like Pipers and Cessnas. I had thought about trying the new Buffalo burger that I mentioned last week, but I chickened out (so to speak) and went with one of my favorites: grilled bologna. My hands were still kind of grimy from the preceding maintenance work, so I went to the Men's to wash up. It was there, while looking in the mirror, that I saw the number one problem of impromptu flights: I didn't have a hat with me. Now, most people think the hat is to keep the sun out of our eyes, but that isn't the primary function. No, the single most important thing that the hat does is protect against headset hair. Alas, I had it. I had it bad.

Knowing through painful experience that it is possible for the restaurant to run out of pie on busy days, I perused the selection as we were placing our lunch orders. I saw no sign of black raspberry, the co-owner's pie of choice. The waitress said that had plenty of crumb peach, and she would check in the kitchen to see if they had a hidden stash of the highly prized blackberry. I called home to see if the peach would suffice, and while I was still on the phone the waitress returned to share the propitious news that they did, in fact, have another slice of blackberry. I offered the co-owner the choice between the two, and received a rhetorical query in response.

"Why not both?"

To be perfectly honest, even after almost 18 years of marriage, it surprises me that I didn't see that one coming!

As we were taxiing back out to the runway for our departure back to Bolton, co-pilot Rick noticed that a spiffy new hangar had been built. As we traded theories as to its intended use, I surmised that it was owned by the buffalo ranch that provides the meat to the restaurant. "What would a buffalo ranch need a hangar for," you ask? Well, I figure, they use it as a place to keep the buffalo wings!

The flight back to Bolton was still a bit choppy, with strong enough bumps to occasionally bounce us hard enough to hit our heads against the canopy. It's not a long ride, though, so it wasn't long before I reported to Bolton tower that we were "over Darby Dan (we were!) inbound full stop." Co-pilot Rick and I had just discussed what clearance we would get, and we were unanimous in thinking we'd get "report two mile right base to runway 22."

The tower replied, "Four Six Six Papa Golf, report two mile right base to runway 4."

Again, I have to admit that I didn't see that one coming! This not being anywhere near my first time doing this, though, I knew that he had misspoken and replied, "Do you want right base to 4, or to 22?"

I swear, even from 8 miles out I could see that man cringe at his mistake! Still, it's better to be sure, and he did correct the clearance to runway 22. I made a pretty smooth landing to make up for the not-so-great landing at Urbana. We arrived back to the hangar, ascertained that none of the piece/parts we had replaced had fallen off in flight, and pushed Papa back into the hangar. It was a pretty good flight, considering that it had been completely impromptu. That's the beauty of general aviation, though.

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