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.

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