Friday, June 25, 2010

Touch & Goes

Not always as easy as you'd think!

Monday, June 21, 2010

Cabot's Fathers Day

It wasn't intended to be, of course. I like puppy Cabot well enough, I suppose, and he will fly with me someday when he gets over the canine version of the Terrible Twos, but I don't view him as "the son I never had" or anything as emotionally crippled as that. No, the plan was to fly to DarkeCo (KVES) and pick up my own father before continuing on to Muncie, IN to have lunch at a new entry in the never-ending chain of restaurants that have tried to make a go of it in that particular location. The menu looked as if it would be worth the trip. Bacon and Sweet Onion Alfredo? You had me at "bacon."

The Sunday weather, which heretofore this year has consistently found weekends to be the perfect outlet for a week's worth of suppressed lacrimonious outbursts, exceeded all expectations and defied all forecasts. In a word, it was splendid. The preflight DUATS session was nothing more than a formality, what with the Weather-out-the-Window fairly strutting its splendor. There is the question of NOTAMs, though, and one really ought look in order to keep the whole deal legal in the eyes of the all-knowing, all-powerful FAA. Just in case the need for a little CYA comes along, really.

So there I was, scanning down through the page after page of NOTAMs, mostly to ensure that Dear Leader had successfully repaired back to the cloistered ramparts of Washington DC and taken his onerous TFR with him, when I happened across this:

Versailles OH (Darke County) [VES]: June NOTAM #283 issued by Dayton OH [DAY]
Aerodrome closed except prior permission required 937 - 417 - 5907

There's not much you can say to that other than "Awww, crap."

Now my boy Cabot may just be a young whelp, barely dry behind the ears, but even he can tell you that there's more than one way to gut a $6.95 puppy toy. While flying would have been preferable, I was not about to allow the focus on flying take precedent over the goal of the day which, as we all understand, was to sacrifice some measure of refined petroleum in pursuit of comestibles. Sure, the letter of the agenda could be met through the simple expedient of cooking my lunch on my propane cooktop, but when it comes to sacrificing the efforts of billions of diatoms, my altar of choice is and will always be a motorized vehicle. And, as millions of penguins have discovered before me, if you can't fly, you drive. Or in their case, walk, but you get the point. Cabot and I would take the Miata.

I have a nice route that I take that avoids highways and almost all towns. It's scenic and fun to drive, although it can be marred by getting caught behind a slow poke. Being still somewhat early on a Sunday morning, we made it more than halfway before encountering any kind of obstructing vehicle. Much to my chagrin and Cabot's enormous delight, the blockage in question took the form of a very recently used manure spreader. Keep in mind that one of the defining traits of a convertible is that you can see, hear, and smell everything when the top is down. Cabot, who clearly felt that our time spent drafting in the malodorous trail of the farm implement was the very highlight of the day, was as annoyed at our eventual passing of it as I was overjoyed. Only to catch up with this behemoth just a handful of miles later.

Note that the brake lights are illuminated. They must have been on some kind of automatic flashing circuit since they came on every 50 feet or so. Naturally this was a nice, curvy part of road with double yellow lines prohibiting the resumption of fun driving. Not even Cabot found this in the least bit amusing. It went on for miles. But, as they say, this too shall be passed, and we eventually were able to get around it.

It could have been worse. We managed to avoid the worst of the equine rush hour.

Although I think Cabot may have enjoyed tailing behind one of those for awhile, given his odd tastes.

The rest of Cabot's day was spent trying to move fast enough to negate any advantage the auto-focus on my camera may have had over him. For the most part, he succeeded admirably. It was nearly impossible to get a picture of him playing that was anywhere near in focus.

He sure was worn out when we got home. It was a full half an hour before he was rested enough to get back to surgically removed the squeaky heart of his puppy toys.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

.25 in a 12

It probably seems odd that I would jump into building an RV-12 without ever having so much as sat in one, but it's not as uncommon as you might think. It happens all the time, starting with Orville and Wilbur, if you think about it. That doesn't mean it's a comfortable thing, mind you. You might think that the worst case scenario is that I spend years building the plane and then find out that I don't particularly like the way it flies, but if you think about it for a second you will realize that there's an even worse thing that could happen: my first flight in the airplane would also be my first flight in that kind of airplane. Learning on the fly, so to speak. So not only would I be wondering if the plane would actually fly, I'd also be worried about whether the pilot could actually pilot it.

That issue was partially resolved today. I've been helping a fellow RV-12 builder with the configuration chores for all of the electronic gadgetry in his plane. Today I hoofed it over to Lancaster (KLHQ) to set up the part of the Dynon display that indicates the trim position. I drove over rather than taking the RV since the weather forecast was typical Ohio weekend: thunderstorms with the chance of more thunderstorms. Better to drive, I figured. That said, the weather had not yet finished its slide into the forecast crud, so there was a small window of opportunity for my first ride in an RV-12. The fuel tank was going to need to be removed later in the day, so burning off a gallon or two was deemed preferable to draining it out. To be honest, I didn't need much arm twisting to talk me into it.

While Mr. Rush was preflighting, I was busy taking pictures of areas of interest. "Areas of interest" to a builder is defined as the parts of the airplane currently under construction. In my case, that is the bottom chunk of the fuselage, in specificity the steps used to climb up onto the wing to enable ingress into the cockpit.

You can, of course, read all about that over on the Schmetterling blog.

The RV-12 is a few inches wider than the RV-6, so the seating was quite comfortable. The Rotax was a little reluctant to start but finally got its wind up with the application of the choke knob. New stuff already - my Lycoming doesn't have a choke knob. Once the engine was running (very, very smoothly!) the avionics master is turned on and the light show begins.

As we taxied out for takeoff, I made some adjustments to the avionics. Having just gone through this with my Garmin 396 last year, I was able to find the menu page on the 496 to shut off the highly irritating XM radio commercial that plays through the headsets. I also found the page to increase the brightness on the 496's screen - it was set low enough to be nearly invisible.

At the end of the runway, I saw one of the really cool differences between the old mechanical gauges of my RV-6 and the modern computerized stuff in the 12. Consider this picture:

The oil temperature is at 100 degrees, still twenty degrees below the 120 required by Rotax for exceeding 2,300 RPM on the engine. The engine RPM is shown in the upper right corner of the display - it was 2,240 RPM at the time. Notice that the RPM needle is in a very small green arc region, with yellow and red at higher RPMs. Now look at this picture:

The oil has warmed to 128 degrees and the colored arc around the tach has changed accordingly. The green arc has expanded to the full operating range of the engine. Let's see a mechanical tach do that!

The takeoff was brisk, quite possibly even more sprightly than the -6. We climbed out at 80 knots, showing about 800 feet per minute climb on the Dynon (once I was showed where to look for it, that is). The view over the nose was something that I expected to be better than the taildragger RV-6 on the ground, but I was still impressed with the forward visibility in the climb, too.

I took over the flying once we got away from inconveniently close objects and any other obstructions that I might fly into. I found the handling of the RV-12 to be very similar to the RV-6. It is nicely balanced in pitch and roll, meaning (to me, anyway) not that the forces in each axis are identical but rather that they go together as well as macaroni & cheese. The roll forces are light and the wing is willing and responsive, much like in the -6. This is often confused with "twitchy," but that's not an apt description. It's more accurately described as "turning by thought." You think about turning, your hand makes a small gesture of agreement, and the plane turns. This is wonderful in the roll axis (for VFR flying, and with an autopilot available to lend a hand while you nap or use the potty bag) but not at all desirable in pitch. When it comes to pitch, I want the plane to be a little more reluctant about changes. I don't want it to feel stiff, but I do want it to feel stable. That's the way the -6 is, and to my immense pleasure, that's the way the -12 is.

The RV-6, as with most (if not all) of the RVs, is tremendously easy to see out of. The -12 is even better. The aft location of the wing clears a lot of view downward. It's going to be fantastic for a photography platform.

I removed my headset for a few moments to see how loud the Rotax is. I've heard it described as quite noisy, and I suppose it is if you're used to heavier, store bought planes. I didn't think it was any louder than the RV-6. That's not to say that it isn't loud; it is. It's just that I'm used to it.

This being an Ohio weekend, the current weather had exceeded its five minute sell by date and was starting to look a little nasty. The few gallons that needed burned off were gone, so it was back to the airport.

Trust me, I have an RV grin on the inside!

Back in the pattern, the plane slowed down nicely. Since we were close to very hard and immovable things again, Mr. Rush was back on the stick. I begged a few seconds to see what the controls felt like at the slower speeds in the pattern and found that the forces hadn't changed much. That's a good thing, I figure. It didn't feel mushy. Mushy controls at landing speeds are what convince pilots that they are going too slow. This is how airplanes like Mooneys end up getting a bad reputation for landing "hot" and being "floaters."

I didn't make the landing, but it looked easy enough. For all I know, Mr. Rush's 3,300 hours have resulted in a "greaser every time" capability, but what I know for sure is that the landing he made for me in the -12 was a real keeper. Hopefully that had more to do with the airplane than it did with some form of super human ability and I too can finally make landings that don't have their own designated Seismic scale once I get my RV-12 done. 

Having had the dance, it was time to pay the piper and get busy on the Dynon work. As I get more comfortable with the menus and navigation on the Dynon, the easier it gets. It didn't take long at all to get the trim indicator working. Once you learn your way around the menus, it gets quite easy. You find the thing you want to configure and the Dynon provides step by step instructions. Very cool!

I'm glad we did the flying early; it wasn't long at all before the weekend weather arrived. These guys waited too long.

Monday, June 07, 2010

Finally - back in the air!

The cruise was, as you might imagine, a bit of a time sink from the week prior until a day or two after. A lot of preparation goes into a trip like that, and I always find it relaxing and a bit entertaining to sit back and watch it all being done by the very capable co-owner. All that sitting and watching still eats up a good deal of time, though. My sole function during the run-up phase to the end-of-month cruise was to schedule my appointment for my soon-to-expire FAA Class III physical. The earliest available date after getting back from the cruise was June 3rd. That seemed plenty soon enough. Or at least I thought so until the afternoon of June 2nd - it was (or would have been, had my legal status been slightly different) a good flying day. 

The physical was scheduled with the fourth doctor in as many inspections. The first, Dr. "Big Finger" Adrian (who received that nickname back in the day when the physical was a bit more invasive than it is now) had retired by the time I was due for a renewal six years ago. It's not that easy to find doctors that are willing to make the effort to get certified with the FAA to perform these things, and they don't do enough of them to make them very profitable. I found a doc down in Lancaster and figured I'd just drive down there after work, what with me working on the east side and all. 

I always, always, always underestimate just how far away Lancaster is.

I got the physical there, but swore I'd never go back. He schedules the physicals in groups of four (or at least he did on that day) and runs us all through at once. I sat and waited while he counseled another applicant for ten to fifteen minutes, telling him that he had paid his debt to society (I think it was a DUI case) and that he was sure he'd make a fine pilot. When he finally got to me, he told me he had saved me for last because despite his best efforts, he had been unable to find what I was hiding.

"Huh? I'm not hiding anything."

And this is where he really pissed me off: "Well if that's the case, why were you going to Dr. Adrian?"

I explained that I had been going to Dr. Adrian for twenty years because 1) his office was close to where I lived when I first moved to Columbus and 2) he ran a very pilot-friendly operation where you didn't need an appointment and his office was well configured to do a quick, efficient exam. As it turns out (at least according to Dr. Doubtful), Doc Adrian was a bit too pilot-friendly - he had a reputation for passing anyone that could show a pulse. The explanation satisfied the doc, but his attitude did not satisfy me. Besides which, Lancaster is a long way to go.

The next exam was with a doctor close to home. He retired soon after doing my exam. Seeing me in my skivvies may or may not have been the primary cause.

This year, I was referred to a doctor up in Dublin. I think I'll keep this one, despite my little faux pas. He's a pilot and shares ownership of a Ryan PT-22 with his father. The PT-22 was my first airplane, as long as Cox .049 control line planes count. How cool is that?? 

Oh, what was my faux pas? Well, he had me disrobe and, while I was doing so, he was putting on latex gloves. "Oh, we're back to doing that again?" I said as I was turning around to present my posterior view to him.

"NO! This is a frontal thing." 

Ah, turn head, cough. Get it. Thanks!

So, legal to fly again and it was simply a matter of waiting for an opportunity. The weather over the weekend was simply horrible, although I was able to fit in some lawn work and mower maintenance. Yippee!

Today was much better. Temps in the 70's, a light wind out of the northwest, a few puffy white floaters to give the sky some character. I've been pestering a co-worker to take a ride with me and she was ready and willing, so all conditions were aligned for a nice evening flight. But, and this is the perennial plight, where to go?

I was thinking "food!" I've been dieting for the first time in my life as a result of the immense amount of food that I had eaten on the cruise chip, most of which showed up in a picture taken of me on the beach in Honduras. This is a picture that you will never see. This is the kind of picture that is not suitable for a digital camera because there is no negative to burn. This picture could have been used for one of those old Sally Struthers "help this poor bloated-belly boy for just $5.00 a day" commercials. In short, this is the picture that had me eating tuna pita sandwiches all week.

This is the picture that made me very, very hungry. I didn't know this, but the defining trait of dieting is a nagging hunger. I wanted food!

The restaurant at Urbana is, I believe, closed on Mondays. I figured that was too short of a flight anyway, so decided to go to Portsmouth to eat at the Skyline. That's a nice flight because for the small investment of just a handful more miles you can go down a little further south and take a look at the barges working their way up and down the river. 

After reaching the river and looking around a bit, I headed west to position us for a midfield left downwind entry to runway 36. Approaching PMH from the west is tricky since it's down in a valley and therefore completely invisible from the west (and, I suppose, the east) but the GPS makes it a lot easier to find. The only problem then is my tree shyness. I like to stay higher than I really need to over the wooded hills to the west of the runway. This leaves me very high on base and final. The RV-6 comes down like shares of BP Oil when I need it to, but it requires a bit of finesse to catch the descent at just the right time to smooth out the flare and touch down.

I nearly greased it - just a couple of small chirpy bounces.

I then proceeded to completely negate any lasting effects from my tuna diet by eating an entire plate of country fried steak, corn, mac & cheese, and a salad drenched in honey mustard dressing. I only ate half of the roll, though. So there is that.

Heading back to Bolton, we were listening on 128.1 as the tower closed at 1930. It didn't seem all that busy, although a Cessna Conquest called in eleven miles northeast and planning a left downwind for runway 4. We were about the same distance to the south. A Conquest is a big twin engine turboprop, so I figured he'd get there pretty quick and wouldn't really be a factor. I had been planning on a straight in approach to the runway, but in light of the fact that there'd be a big twin flying a normal pattern, I decided to head off to the west in order to set up for a normal midfield downwind entry, or an entry directly into left base if the twin was clear by the time I got there.

The Cessna called left downwind while we were still six or seven miles out. All was shaping up well. He was taking forever to call left base, though. Another Cessna (a 182, I think, named Fifty-one Mike) called in six miles north and planning the left downwind. That messed up my idea of getting far enough north to make a midfield entry so I just went ahead and entered a three mile left base. I still hadn't heard from the big Cessna yet, so I keyed the mike and asked "where the Cessna that was on downwind to Bolton was."

Actually it was something like "where yew at?"  Good grammar falls by the wayside now and then.

The Cessna coming from the north (Fifty-one Mike) replied that he was still "five point five" north. Great, but that's not the guy I was looking for. I replied back that there was another Cessna on left downwind, but we had not heard from him again.

Then he pops up on the radio: "We're on the ground."

Thanks, Buddy. Good to know. Kinda wondering why you suddenly fell silent in the pattern, though.

The landing itself was a near boondoggle as I found the runway coming up from below at a prodigious rate, but I still had enough energy stored in the wing to catch the drop with a sharp (but small) tug back on the stick and a blip of power. It must have been the extra weight of that massive dinner that caused us to pick up that steep descent on final. Back to dieting tomorrow, it seems.