Avionics Master Switch

3 hours.

Originally when I built the electrical system, I was of a mind that an avionics master switch is a single point of failure and should be avoided.  I have since changed my mind.  First,  my comm2 radio has no off switch (MGL V6), second, I really want my comm and audio panel volume settings to be set and left alone.   Third, and this is the most important thing, I want to minimize the danger of transient voltage spikes damaging very expensive equipment when starting and shutting down the engine.

The simple fix is adding an avionics fuse block inline with the Endurance bus with a switch in between.   The EFIS has its own power switch and will remain on the E-bus.  So far so good, and the install went smoothly, except for the time I dropped the passenger stick through-bolt down the hole between the center section ribs.  That was fun, because my fat hand doesn’t fit past the stick through the access hole, and I wasn’t about to take the floor panel off.   I then fished around with a magnetic screwdriver bit holder, and that sort of worked, but then somehow, I dropped that in there too.   After a brief bit of grumbling (seriously, how long can you stay mad being at an airport), I was able to fish that out of there with a couple of long aircraft drill bits held like chopsticks.   After that, I got my bolt back.

I forgot to bring little zip-ties to re-secure the DB25 connector on the pax stick.  Also, I forgot to bring my little screwdriver so I could tighten up the connector on the back of COMM 2, which will get fixed tomorrow morning before work.

So now I’m less worried about blowing up my avionics than I was.  But the process was suspiciously painless, right up until that last bit.

Selfies in Flight

Given all the hullabaloo regarding selfies in flight brought on by this incident, I thought I’d share my thoughts on a few things.

First, the actual flight that crashed had no record of the pilot taking pictures.   That happened on the flight BEFORE the crash, meaning he went up, his pax took a bunch of flash pictures at night in bad weather (not smart), but managed to land safely.  The NTSB is assuming the behavior on the previous flight happened on the incident flight as well.   From the article,. what is evident is that the pilot took off in bad weather at night, became disoriented, stalled the aircraft, and hit the ground at a high rate and angle.   The hubbub is a perfect storm of the NTSB engaging in raw speculation, a public conditioned for decades to fear airplanes, and a popular trend in social media.

Second, after some research (granted, not  much) there is nothing in the Part 91 FARs prohibiting use of a camera in the cockpit, either by the pilot or passenger.   It may be a bad idea in certain situations, but it’s one pursued at the pilot’s discretion, and that’s how it should be.

Aviators go through extensive training and live under the banhammer of the FAA to achieve one primary goal:  The safety of the non-participating public from an activity that we do voluntarily.   It is the duty of the pilot not to subject people or property to unnecessary risk.  Every aviator makes that call on every flight, and the choice to do something or not do something based on risk are what we like to call personal minimums.   For instance, if the airspace is crowded, the radio is busy, or I’m otherwise in a situation of high pilot workload, pulling out a camera is probably not a good idea, and in those situations, taking photos is below my personal minimums.

However, if I’m cruising in an empty sky, in contact with ATC, and at a high enough altitude, I think it’s OK to take a few shots.   After all, it’s the only way I have to share what’s outside my window with all of you.

Update:  I’d like to point you to this extremely informative article by Bob Collins, which says pretty much what I said, except a whole lot clearer and better.

 

 

A Weekend in San Luis Obispo

We’ve been planning to get out of town for a bit, so we decided to head up to San Luis Obispo for a long weekend.   Friday morning, after we were done buying a new car in the hell that is Hamer Toyota, we dropped off the dog with the sitter and headed out.

Above the Pen Mar Golf course at the end of Rwy21

Above the Pen Mar Golf course at the end of Rwy21

After 313TD’s wheels left the earth, the day got a whole lot better real fast.   It was stupid hot out though.   My oil temps were running 220 before we got north of Malibu, so I put the nose down and cruised us for a while to bring it down.

 

Leaving Malibu behind.  PCH below. Surf's up.

Leaving Malibu behind. PCH below. Surf’s up.

We went along the coast for a while, then cut east to get on course for the San Marcus VOR.   In the pic there, Point Dume in Malibu is about middle of frame.

Have I mentioned that I love flight-following?   We picked up a squawk code at SMO and they hung with us all the way.   I went with the San Marcus VOR as a waypoint, because I wanted to stay clear of the mountains and stay near the many airports on the way up there.  It’s an Experimental aircraft.   Every flight is a test flight.

But the flight, once we got to 10,500ft, was smooth and fast.   There was a little bit of chop over the foothills, and the climb lasted longer than I’d have liked because of the oil temps, but it was easy going once we got there.   Fuel burn was about 9gph and we held it to a respectable 182 mph the whole way to San Luis Obispo.

Arrival at SLO

Arrival at SLO

We had some high overcast, which helped, because it eased up the in-cabin temperatures quite a bit for us.  Although, at 10,500ft, it’s pretty chilly.   The RV-7 is a drafty airplane, at least mine is.

Arrival over farmland, SLO

Arrival over farmland, SLO

It’s amazing how a little rain turns everything green.  Greenish.   This will all be brown 3 months from now.  Or on fire.  Take your pick.

On glide path for rwy29, KSBP

On glide path for rwy29, KSBP

On final approach to KSBP, runway 29.   The weather couldn’t have been nicer, and 313TD handled the trip perfectly.

After touchdown, we parked at transient, and the very friendly, very helpful folks at the San Luis Jet Center gave us a ride to the FBO in their golf cart.   We picked up a rental car from Enterprise, which is right there next to the Jet Center.

NOTAM:  If you call and reserve a car, walk the 200 steps to pick it up yourself.   If you have the Jet Center people deliver the keys to you, a $22/day car becomes a $44/day car.

But we stayed at a nice AirBnB really close to town, and we did several of the recommended activities, namely a hike in the Johnson Ranch open space preserve, a picnic lunch on the river in town, a trip to the Hearst Castle (which was awesome), and right before we left, we took a quick walk through the Bishop Peak Trail.   We didn’t go all the way up, that would have been crazy.   Just a quick walk through the woods, where Shelley took this pic:

Hike in the woods before departing

Hike in the woods before departing

I want to live amongst the rocks and trees.

Our day was better than somebody’s:  On our way up to the trailhead, the road was blocked by the Fire Department, putting out a house fire that coated the whole valley in a stream of wispy smoke.

SLOPreflight

Preflighting 313TD before departure

Even with the hike, were were preflighting at 9:30AM, before the heat started.

Making sure no birds nested in my intakes.

Making sure no birds nested in my intakes.

No birds in my cowl?  good.

Departing Rwy 29 takeoff roll

Departing Rwy 29 takeoff roll

Squawk code obtained, cleared for takeoff, RWY29, left downwind departure.

Takeoff Roll SLO 2

Takeoff Roll SLO 2

Winds were calm, and takeoff was nice.   Yes, I could be a little more over the centerline, I’ll work on that, I promise.

Departing rw7 29

Departing rw7 29

These planes really don’t need much runway at all, and with cooler temps, my oil temp wasn’t complaining.

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Rolling into the downwind at San Luis Obispo

We basically reversed the trip, heading to the San Marcus VOR, then back to SMO.

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Another absolutely amazing day for a flight.   In March.  In a t-shirt.  Here we’re looking sort of West-ish, heading Southeast.

Looking West, now south of KSBP

Looking West, now south of KSBP

That’s US101 off our starboard wing.   If we’d taken that, in a car, we’d have spent 3 hours on the road.   Actual flight time there was 53 minutes, according to the flight clock on the transponder, and 57 minutes back.

At altitude it was a little chilly, so we got to use the cabin heat, which puts out a respectable volume of hot air.  The cold draft from the rear of the plane tells me I’m going to be investing in hats if we live someplace cold, but it was definitely workable.

Over Ventura, we did a slow descent from 9500ft to 3500ft, to get in under the LAX Class B along the coast.   But as soon as we dropped below 4500 feet the outside temperature went way up.   Not only that, flight following handed us off to 125.5, and they refused to call us back, which was weird.   I thought my radio may have malfed again, so we pulled out the handheld, but it was just SoCal being rude.  SMO tower heard us just fine.  There was pretty much nobody in the pattern or inbound so they cleared us to land while we were still above the Palisades, which is probably the only time that’s ever happened to me.   Of course, by the time we got into the pattern the temperature outside was 85 degrees, which makes for a sticky, miserable flight if you don’t have AC.

A huge thanks to Shelley for all the pics and for spotting traffic outside the window.

Annual Inspection 2015

Believe it or not, it’s been a year since 313TD was given its special airworthiness certificate.   In that year, I’ve put 65 hours on it, which is respectable.   But alas, no matter the hours, the regs say you have to do an annual inspection.

I won’t bother posting the whole list of items checked, but I did find a few things I wasn’t terribly happy about.

  • Throttle cable got a little too close to the exhaust.  Operation seems fine, but the plastic wrap is bubbled slightly where the heat-wrap runs out.   It also chafes against the fuel pump.   I wired up a fix, we’ll see if it stays.
  • The wires going into the lower rudder cover are a little chafed.   Wrapped ’em up good.
  • Left side fuel vent line fitting was loose.  Blue residue inside the wing root fairing.
  • The screws holding the spinner on were crap.  Two of them stripped out and had to be removed via drill.  Replaced all with 6/32 stainless.
  • Stripped out a mag screw.  Why do they make those things with Torx fittings?   Suck it, Slick Aircraft.   I was able to drill off the screw and replace it with a slotted one like it’s supposed to have.
  • Fuel hose from throttle body to injection spider was loose at the spider.   That’s the only really scary one.  But this is what inspections are for.
  • Left aft wheel pant cracked.   I think I may have jammed a chock under it a little too hard at some point.  I have to fix this over the weekend.

To do the job, I rented some floor space from Andre over at Bill’s Air Center.   Once I got in, I was able to do the job in 3-4 hour chunks, using  mostly my own tools.     The guys there are awesome!   It really helps to have several master aircraft mechanics occasionally looking over your shoulder and helping you out with the hard stuff.   But really, most of the pain is dealing with access panels.   So many screws.    I have a few things left, but mostly I wanted to get out of the shop and give Andre his floor space back.    Here’s what’s left:

  • Adjust Idle.   This is the biggest one.   I re-timed the mags, and it looks like they’re better than the last time I did them, plus with a set of clean plugs, the engine runs way better.   Problem is, the idle is about 200rpm too high, and it stumbles a bit on throttle advance.   I suspect this is because of the change in timing.
  • Fix wheel pant.   Without this, I can’t fly.   That happens ASAP.
  • Reinstall interior.   I took most of it out and left it at home while I was working.   Seemed like the smart thing to do.
  • Fix o-ring on right fuel drain.  Fuel leaks are not cool.

I also fixed a couple of things that were annoying me, like the canopy latch being too tight to allow smooth operation.

So once I get my to-do’s done, I’ll make a logbook entry certifying its airworthiness and take it for a test flight.

A couple of laps around SMO

A while back, my MGL V6 radio crapped the bed and put me back in my pre-redundant-radio situation.   Not a big deal, and especially now, because I really, really wanted to see Santa Monica at sunset in a plane I built myself.   I needed to get some fuel anyway, so I headed up to the airport and got going.

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That nest of snakes down there is the I-10/I-405 interchange.   The sun is setting on the Santa Monica bay.

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Heading east, towards Hollywood.   The sun hitting the buildings at this time of day is almost as cool as the sun hitting the water.

 

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An attempt to compose the photo to look like the City of Santa Monica signage.  This is a bit of an FU to the airport-closing shenanigans the city pulls every chance they get.

New cowl plugs!

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Moving to SMO, Flying to Palm Springs, and a Trip around the Bay.`

I know, I should post more, and add more pictures.  I’ll do that, it’s just that when I’m flying, I’m really not thinking about photography.   I should probably be using this blog instead of Facebrag to post updates about N313TD’s flying career as well, so I’ll try to do more of that.

About 3 weeks ago, I finally quit the hangar at OXR and moved the plane to Santa Monica Airport.   On Saturday I rode the Amtrak train to Oxnard, got a ride from the train station to the airport and flew the plane back.   Planes, trains, and automobiles.   The only mode of transportation I didn’t use that day was a boat.

I got a tie-down in Lower Southeast parking, and you can see it if you’re driving south on Bundy just before Airport Way.  It’s next to the fence by the dog park, nestled between a hulking, ancient Navion and some kind of large Cessna.   I think it’s a 182.    I’m not happy about having to keep it outside, but that’s just the way it is, and the Bruce’s cover I got covers up all the plexi and the seam between the canopy and forward skin.   It’s already rained since, and my stuff stayed dry, so I’m happy about that.

The following day was Shelley’s first flight.   We should not have gone; it was windy, bumpy, and crowded.   Most crowded I’ve ever seen it at SMO, with a sky full of English-as-a-second-language pilots who couldn’t seem to shut the fuck up.   At one point I was “number 5 following the Cirrus” and my downwind leg went nearly to Dodger Stadium.   There was a nasty turbulent layer about 100 feet off the runway and apparently, I’ve been fighter-jocking this plane since day 1, because Shelley was not comforted by the technique displayed during most phases of flight.     We had to go around twice: first time, I didn’t like the landing and the drift.   Second time we were too high.  Third time was the charm, but I have to say that was the worst flight I’d had in the plane so far.

Since then, I’ve been learning to program routes into the EFIS, learning the 430, and stopping by the plane whenever I can.  It’s not as nice as having a hangar, but it’s infinitely better not to spend an hour on the road before I can fly or tinker.  It’s not so bad.   The Bruce’s cover works great and I’m able to tie the plane down securely enough, and I made some nice chocks out of aluminum scrap and 14-ga. wire.

This past weekend, we went to see one of my best friends from back in the day get married in Palm Springs.   This would be Shelley’s and my first destination flight with the new plane, and first flight post-scary/unpleasant day.   I’d been watching the weather nearly obsessively, using SkyVector to make my flight plan, checking forecasts, and especially checking trends in Banning Pass, which can get really nasty when the wind’s coming from the north.   I was also a little intimidated by KPSP, being an international airport that services regular jet traffic.

I took the afternoon off work and we got prepped and ready to go by about 2:30pm.  Picked up a little fuel at SMO, then headed out.   Weather and traffic at SMO was way better this time around, plus we got a flight following squawk code on the runway.   Flight Following is awesome.   We had handoffs and coverage all the way into Palm Springs.   Our route was Santa Monica, El Monte, Brackett, Riverside, Banning, Palm Springs.   There were a few bumps in Banning Pass, but nothing terrible and once we got to Palm Springs we were literally the only aircraft in the sky.   We were cleared to land on rwy13R which we did easily because there was a 4kt wind right down the runway.   Oh, and the Signature FBO treatment is very nice.

Coming back we got flight following again, and the marine layer cleared up in time for us to land at SMO, I thought we might have to divert to Van Nuys, but we were all good.   Did a modified straight in, landed, all good.

Rockin the clock.

5 hours.

Last time I went flying, there was a very odd glitch.  On the first takeoff of the day, if I do a quick pattern, on base leg before final, I’ll lose my AHRS and compass.   This was intermittent, and I couldn’t reproduce it on the ground.   This week it got worse: If I landed and taxied back to the hangar and shut down the engine, the instruments would come back.  With the engine running, the AHRS and compass are inop.  This is WEIRD.   Strange things happen when voltage dips below 10v, but my backup battery and system voltage both were above 12v.   A quick check of the RCA cables revealed one loose.

Bingo.  RCA cables as aircraft duty connectors are a the worst idea in a collection of bad ideas, but there’s not a lot I can do about it.    Added item to maintenance checklist.   No weirdness from the radio either.

But the futzing around cost me an hour of valuable good weather.  I had planned to get 4 hours of flight time today; I got 2.   That’s only 14 hours left on the Phase 1 countdown clock.   But I need all this crap to stop happening so I can do some real tests.

Onward.

10 Hour Oil Change

8 hours.

OK, it’s the 13.2 hour oil change, but who’s counting?   I got out there as early as I could and set the engine to draining.  The cheesy quick-drain valve on the sump has an absolutely abysmal flow rate, but it has a fitting for a length of hose so you can drain it into a container and not get dirty oil all over the place.   I set it going and worked on other things.   After it had put some oil in the bucket, I took the oil filter off.   This is tricky, because the spin-on oil filter is basically a can full of dirty oil that just wants to dribble it everywhere it can.   The neat trick I figured out is to wrap a rag around the bottom of it while taking it off.

The next thing to do was cut the filter apart and have a look at the filter element.  The guys left an oil filter cutter on the workbench for me, but it was the wrong type, and didn’t work with my filter.   My filter has the threaded fitting on it, and this cutter is designed for a filter with the threaded hole.    No big thing.   I just put it in the vise and cut it apart with a rotary grinder.

I found no metal bits on the filter element.   None.   That was very cool.   That means my engine isn’t shredding some vital part of itself as it runs.  I also took out the screen and had a look at that. One solitary aluminum chip (which I suspect actually came from the bench I set it down on), and a couple of dark, non-metallic flakes and that was it.    I spun on the new filter and safety-wired it up, then replaced the oil screen and wired it.

A fairly detailed inspection showed no chafing or burning, but there was a weird discoloration on the firesleeve of one of my fuel lines.   I need to check that out, but I think it’s just from some oil that got on there before.

And finally, today, I dialed in the governor.  I had been getting a max takeoff RPM of about 2459, which was enough to get it in the sky, but the takeoff power on that engine is supposed to be 2700.   A turn and a half of the fine pitch screw on the gov, and my takeoff RPM is now 2650.   I’ll call that a win.    The weather turned out to be decent – clear skies with wind 11 at 260, so I got a chance to fly a bit.   Maintenance clock was reset to 25 hours, and I’m back to testing.

No More Wobble.

16 hours.

Going to have to sum up last week as well.   Last weekend I did the fiberglass layups on the intersection fairings.   I hate those things.  As is typical with Van’s fiberglass, the fit is garbage.   Add my lack of skill to that, and the result is a set of ugly  fairings that just barely managed to get the job done.   I may wind up reworking the whole landing gear fairing mess, but for now, these will do.   I think if I actually make them smooth and trim off the excess, I’ll get a couple of knots out of them, but the process went like this:  Saturday – Fiddle with wet fiberglasss layups all day.   Sunday – trim the extra bits off, install some platenuts for mounting hardware, go flying.

That’s when I noticed the wing wobble.  running flat-out, with ground speed at around 190mph, trimmed up, the slightest bounce on the stick would cause a divergent oscillation..  This is without the autopilot, au naturel.   Bump the stick, the wiggle starts and just gets worse.    So I had to leave it for another week.

This week:

2 hours fiddling, almost 3 hours flying.  I can live with that.   First thing on the agenda was to double check the gear leg fairing alignment.   No issue there.   Next was clocking the governor back a couple of notches on the control shaft to get more RPM on my takeoff run.  It currently tops out at 2549, when it should be around 2600-2650.   One notch is too coarse of an adjustment; I wasn’t able to cycle the prop during runup, so I had to set it back to where it was.    With that fixed,  I went up just to confirm the oscillation, and sure enough, predictable and repeatable.   So I came back down and checked my rigging.  Turns out, one of the ailerons was off.   Not sure how that happened, but whatever it was, it wasn’t enough to cause a problem with the gear fairings and wheel pants off, at least not until the autopilot was engaged.   The AP couldn’t keep up with the oscillation either.    And, because I’d read about it, I checked the trailing edge of the ailerons.  The control surface is supposed to be absolutely flat from front to back, and then it wraps around where the trailing edge is bent.   This being a quickbuild kit, you’d think they’d be just fine.   Not so.  If the surfaces bulge outward at all, they can cause instability, so you do the heavy-wing treatment: Squeeze the trailing edges so the top and bottom are flat and not curved outward.   Even a little convex is OK.   But the idea is to go easy, not even enough to notice visually.

That was the magic bullet.    Hands-off, the stick stayed rock solid.   Repeating the bump test had the wings settle back to trimmed bank angle.   The autopilot was still a little twitchy though.   The fix for that was to move the AP control linkage to the innermost hole on the servo arm.  Less motion, more precise control increments in the stepper motor.   So that was awesome.   Being able to steer the plane with the heading bug is cool.

With everything trimmed up, balls to the wall, I managed to get 192mph ground speed in level flight.   The fuel burn was absolutely decadent, but it was pretty cool to go almost 200mph.   Oh, and the oil door stayed closed, which was nice.

So I did some more speed runs and spent some time getting familiar with the new handling.   A little different with gear fairings.   It doesn’t slow down as fast, for one thing.   I landed at SZP, went back to OXR, then spent some time in the pattern.   Landings are a little different as well.