That includes Friday and Saturday.
You folks who follow this blog on Facebook already know this stuff, this is more for those who don’t, and the general public at large.
Last time, I had just made my appointment for inspection on 1/25. I spent a bit of time freaking out about this because work is a torrential downpour right now and there was enough stuff to do to make me concerned that we wouldn’t finish by Saturday. I had planned to take Friday off, but there was a thing at USC I was scheduled to do so that was out. But like a bolt of lightning from on high, the USC event was cancelled, so I took a vacation day.
David Prescott , who’s appeared on these pages before, volunteered to help, so we were on the freeway at 8am on Friday morning, heading to Oxnard with the intention of crossing every t and dotting every i we could find on the ship from one end to the other. We cleaned out all the metal chips, spare hardware, and tools that have collected in hard-to-reach places over the years, securing wires, removing the remaining access panels, and generally making things ready for the inspection. There was a fair bit of safety wiring, which Dave did, while I fixed and dressed wiring underneath the panel that had come undone during the Great Magneto Adventure. All the stuff on the list from last time got done, and as many of those chronically deprioritized small fixes as we could do.
Then we cleaned up the shop. That hangar is a study in constrained chaos. There are two and a half airplanes, a car on a trailer, and an empire of tools and hardware. Our goal was to make my rented portion of the hangar as clean and clutter-free as possible. Difficult with an asphalt floor, but we did really well. All the tools were put away and organized in such a way that it would be easy to find what we needed if we had to fix something during the inspection. That was Dave’s doing. Very smart. We both knew that the greatest amount of wasted time is in the act of looking for something that should be in a known, proper place. This time, adherence to that idea paid concrete dividends.
As we worked through the plane, I checked off items on the 100-hour condition inspection checklist, at least the ones that applied, since this is a new aircraft. We also spent some time measuring the control surfaces’ travel to ensure they were within limits called out by the construction manual. They were, for the most part. Flaps need a minor adjustment, ailerons, rudder, and elevators are good, and we got the elevator trim adjusted correctly.
I also wound up adjusting the fail-safe spring on the purge valve. Ron found me a spring the other day, which worked fine, but I twisted it around in kind of a half-assed manner to get it to work. Friday, I undid it and reworked it with a pair of safety-wire pliers so now it looks clean and is much better.
I couldn’t tell you all the little things we did. Mostly it involved getting eyes in places that haven’t been looked at in years and fixing anything that needed to be fixed and generally making temporary solutions permanent.
Saturday was the inspection itself.
Adam Valdez got there at about 8:30, and the family had come along for the ride. While they were getting some brunch, Adam performed a very thorough inspection of the aircraft. He started at the tail and worked his way forward. He said that usually he finds small things, like missing cotter pins, nuts, things like that. I was thinking, you’re not going to find much. We went over this thing yesterday. But sure enough, he found some minor issues that we didn’t even think to check for.
At about 9:30, David Voelker of the FAA stopped by to brief me on what my operating limitations and some of the regs regarding phase one testing are. Mr. Voelker’s an excellent guy. He loves general aviation, and he makes time to personally contact each new builder to brief them, which is really cool of him to do. He doesn’t have to, but he does.
“How many hours do you have?” He asked me.
“About 125 or so,” I said. “I’m not sure, I didn’t bring my logbook. Today was the last day I expected to go flying.”
Then he informed me that I am now a test pilot. A TEST PILOT. Let that sink in for a while. And as a test pilot, I have certain responsibilities, number one of which is to protect the non-participating public from a fairly dangerous activity that we as aviators and experimental airplane builders willingly and deliberately choose to do, but that they don’t.
I don’t think he was expecting me to have such a low number on my flight clock. He did ask me about tailwheel training, and transition training, and currency. Then it was a bit of a socratic dialogue about the regs, and the purpose of all the questions he asked me was not to make sure I could quote the regulations chapter and verse, but that I understood that the purpose of my operating limitations is to keep me within the constraints of the prime directive stated above. It boils down to: don’t fly over population, leave yourself an out, and it’s OK to tell ATC “unable to comply” if their directions put you in conflict with the above. Lots of good advice, and an invitation to call any time I had a question.
Altogether an informative and pleasant process.
While this was going on, Adam had found the most onerous squawk of the day: None of the rudder pedal attach bolts had cotter pins on them, but there was nothing I could do about it in the middle of my briefing. Fortunately Dave picked up the slack and got out ahead of Adam, looking for loose jam nuts and other similar gaffes.
The only fly in this otherwise smooth ointment was one of the local airport bums who really wasn’t able to take the hint that this wasn’t a social gathering and it might be best if he came back in a couple of hours after everything was over, and please, for fuck’s sake don’t ask the FAA guy or the DAR inane questions while they’re trying to impart information to me that might save my life or my pilot’s license. And absolutely do not start kibitzing while i’m upside down under the panel trying to put 8 sets of cotter pins on bolts I can’t see and dropping 3/8″ wrenches and pliers on my face.
I was debating throwing him out of my hangar, but he’s one of the old heads at the airport, and I didn’t want to risk pissing him off. You never know the ways people can make your life miserable until they do. In retrospect, it may have been worth it.
Mr. Voelker headed out, then I worked on the rudder pedal cotter pins for a while. At that point, Adam was inspecting the engine, where he found a couple of missing nuts and a backwards safety wiring. He taught Dave the cool trick of safety-wiring drilled bolt heads, which I picked up secondhand. He also found that the throttle had about 1/8″ of travel left to go full, and the mixture didn’t actually go all the way to lean, both easily fixed by adjustments to the cable travel.
After that, it was time to do paperwork. Dave took over the cotter-pinning of the rudder pedals, and I sat down with Adam to go over the 8130 forms, operating limitations, and other signature-requiring documents. With the stroke of a pen and a handshake, I had an airplane!
He autographed my as-yet-unpainted right wingtip, then left us to fix the few remaining squawks.