Monday, April 30, 2012

Only flat on the bottom

It wasn't meant to be. Although storms were moving in late afternoon the weather right now looked pretty good. I might be able to squeeze in a few landings at Butter Valley if I hurried. (HAH...never hurry, it doesn't help.)

Harry had his door open so I stopped by to talk. He is very busy, in this economy and this business that is great news. I had planned for an oil change in April, but the windy weather forced me to postpone until May. While is calendar is full, he'll try to squeeze me in next week.

The Preflight was normal until I tried to move her out of the hangar. Once I removed the pant I could see the tire was completely flat. I used my little compressor and inflated to 1.8 bars and waited. It seemed to hold and I could find not other indications of a leak so I put the pant back on pulled her out. Normal start and warm up, I drove down the little concrete strip between the hangars. I did notice a left pull as I went across the grass, but no issue as we back taxied on runway 16. There is nearly 700' of turf before the asphalt so I had a chance to taxi out onto the grass again, and she did pull to the left. I shut her down and checked. The tire looked OK, but hidden by the pant and the turf it was really hard to see anything. So I started her up, ran the checklists and made my take off call. We were easily up before the asphalt.

Closed pattern, I made my best effort at a soft field landing. You MUST land on the grass for RWY16, the asphalt drops away at a steep angle making a go around the only choice if you allow her to float. We landed short of the asphalt and I let her roll to about mid-field. I tried to make a right turn...nope Well, I could but it was very awkward. Time to head back to the hangar.

As we climbed the hill to get around the old silo she started to drift left. I was on the concrete now so turning should not be an issue. I shut her down right there. Yep, flat tire. So I removed the pant again, pumped the tire up again and rolled her to the barn. The picture tells 'the rest of the story'. I told Harry to put a tube on order and block out some time for me whenever he can.

Friday, April 20, 2012

A Little Round-Robin

Vertical Power on Monday rolled out its VP-400 system, a back-up EFIS that flies the aircraft safely to the best runway in an emergency. During flight, the VP-400 constantly searches for the best runway to land in an engine-out glide scenario. In an emergency, the pilot presses a red button on the instrument panel and the system automatically flies the aircraft to the best runway for landing. On short final, the pilot disconnects the system and lands the plane manually.
I took off on Rwy 16 and departed 7N8 as a Cessna Sky-Master was entering downwind. Hazy visibility, 3K scattered and a few bumps, but still a good day to go flying. I wanted to try something. I climbed to the base of the layer, engaged the autopilot, stabilized the all systems then pulled the power to idle. I punched the Nearest button on the 696, selected the the first airport on the list and mashed the Direct (enter-enter) key. Sally slowed to 60kts and told me she couldn't maintain altitude so began a turning descent (at best glide speed) back to Butter Valley. Not exactly the same as the referenced product from Vertical Power, but still pretty impressive to a guy accustomed to hand flying these PPELs.

It wasn't a good day for sky diving so I headed over to KCKZ for a landing. It has a nice wide runway but the taxi ways are a bit scary. Very narrow and their edge markers are posts that stick up about a foot. Sally isn't very tall and I was concerned we might not have enough clearance. We did. (BTW no mid-field take offs on Rwy 26.)

Then over to KUKT. A Warrior in the pattern, a Sky-hawk 5 miles south and a Cirrus 3 miles north. I entered on the 45 as the other Piper was beginning his crosswind turn. Slipped to get rid of a little excess altitude and was able to make the first turn off. Then I comfortably watched the show at the hold short line as the other planes made their landings.

All too soon it was back to "people to see, appointments to be kept". A cross wind entry at 7N8 for a nice landing on Rwy 34, the Sky-Master was still parked on the turf with those big vertical fins encroaching just a bit, but no issue. I always liked those airplanes.

The trip back to the barn is more familiar now. Hangared,  covered and chocked, it was time to get back to the real world. I hope we have good weather tomorrow.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Pattern work, High work

Winds 10 gust 20, winds 15 gust 25, winds just too **** high to enjoy flying! I would do it to go on a trip or something else important but not to just go out and get beat up. Gorgeous clear blue skies occasionally dotted with little puffy clouds but gale force winds kept me grounded for far too long. Yesterday it changed. Forecast at 5 to 10 kts it looked like a "go" so after work I hurried out to the airport. The windsock showed a little breeze but nothing that would keep me on the ground.

She burped after 60 pulls with the oil about midway on the flat now. A few more hours before an oil change. 100LL still in the tanks, enough for two hours with a reserve. Coolant is fine, hoses, engine mounts, propeller, tires, all look good. My first time pulling her out of the hangar. The carpenter has done a nice job on the hangar doors, even marking them with arrows so I know which way to pull them open. Sally rolls out easily, down the shallow grade until the wing tips are clear then an easy turn onto the taxi way.  She's dusty. I should probably get some tarps to cover her wings. All of the mechanical connections look good and the gas is dry. I walked down the taxi way between the hangars to insure there were no surprises, then climbed in and enjoyed the feeling of being back in the saddle again. I made a new checklist (color coded!) and ran through the remaining items before shouting "CLEAR".

Don't hurry to get airborne, enjoy the moment.

We drove down around the old water tower, carefully out onto the grass and down the hill behind the planes parked on the line. Then onto a little asphalt square close to the runway where I could do a run-up. All good. I let a golf cart go by in front of me and waved as he passed. Stick in my gut as I rolled across the remaining turf before the runway. The windsock showed a little wind right down the runway. Final checks, full power, green gauges, 4900 rpm and 45 kts, I let her do the takeoff. I just guided her between the trees. Ahhh, the freedom rushed back through me.

My altitude bug was set at pattern altitude and Sally called 500' for the crosswind turn. I alerted Butter Valley traffic that we'd be staying in the pattern. A few gusty bumps, my offset was a bit close, 4200 rpm gave me about 75 kts, so I dropped full flaps as soon as I pulled the power to idle. 60 kts. Sally called 500' midway on base and I felt high as I turned final but remembered the sink hole over the grass just after the ugly tree.  We sunk and I was tempted to add some throttle but speed was 55 kts so I tweaked the attitude just a bit. Wait for it. Just a touch of flare, wait. No squeak, no thump, the wheels just rolled onto the runway. And THAT is what got me hooked in the first place.

A couple more good (not AS good) landings and we left to play up a little higher. She stalls clean right at 35kts (we're light). S-turns at 60 degree angle of bank are comfortable (don't add too much back pressure and you MUST use your feet). Time to go home.

Descended too fast and cooled the oil below 122. I must remember that.

One more nice landing and back to the barn. Cautious taxi. Getting a better feel for where those wingtips are out there. I rolled past our door and shut her down, and sat and enjoyed it.

Easily maneuvered her back into her spot, no tow bar, just pressure on the spinner to push the nose in the right direction. Chocks, covers, and closed the doors. When can we do this again?

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Gust Lock

Weather day. Gusty winds, overcast and rain is not a good mix for VFR flying so I knew I would be staying on the ground. But I had work to do. As I arrived at the airport I could see the carpenter was working on the hangar doors. I had hoped to see new doors being installed, but instead he was hired to repair the old ones. Still an improvement I can appreciate. I made sure I wouldn't be in his way, then pulled the cover back and opened the canopy. About that time I heard rain on the roof. I smiled at the prospect of working on my plane in a covered spot.

This appeared to be a simple installation. Two holes were to be drilled in the bottom of the panel to accept locking studs held in place with 5/16 hex nuts. So, how to position myself to drill the holes? Memories of working on my car as a kid came flooding back. Upside down in a bucket seat, flashlight in my mouth while squeezing my hands under the dash to to some wiring or whatever. A teenager can do it in a snap, if you're over fifty its not so easy. I positioned myself in the copilot's seat and kind of rolled inverted into the pilot's seat (making sure ALL tools were within reach) and used a center punch and a ruler to mark the hole location. Slowly, carefully I drilled the holes making sure I wasn't going to hit anying vital. Next I used all three of my hands to hold the nut, thread the studs and hold the flashlight while tightening the assembly with an open end wrench.

I'm very pleased with the results, however the lower left side of my back is still reminding me that unusual attitudes do not come for free anymore.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Round Robin

Weather - Work - Winds. It has been tough to get some flight time in lately.  While the temperature has been great, strong gust winds have kept us on the ground. On those rare occasions when the weather was marginal, my work desk was over-flowing or I was out of town. I tried to take another trip up to 6B6 near Boston, but that fell through due to fog. Destination was VFR but at home and most of the way up was LIFR, low ceilings and limited visibility.

All of the pieces fell into place on Friday afternoon. Once the last PowerPoint was done I scrambled to the airport and started the preflight. Oil was good but water level was WAY down. My last flight had been in the warmer air temperature with the baffles still on and oil temps had fluctuated at the high end. I took the baffles off after that flight. The overflow bottle looked fine, but the tube was high in the bottle. Fortunately I had some coolant in my hangar (trunk of the car) and was able to top her off. Everything else looked good.

Ground operations went well.  As I waited for the oil to warm I cleaned up my PFD by removing some clutter and redundant information.The Dynon system is a little confusing at first but straight forward once you get use to the menus.  I was glad that the DSAB initiated properly and all subsystems were recognized. I programed the 696 for KUKT, KLOM, KPTW and then finally N47. I set the autopilot to alert me for a cruising altitude of 3500'. Final checks were good, take off normal and we departed out on the 45.

Pennsylvania is turning green. Most of the farms are plowed with new crops going in, lawns are coming back to life and the trees have that yellow-green haze you only see in the Spring. The weather was clear, but the temperatures we had become accustomed to were gone. OAT 9. I started my descent into Quakertown a bit late and Sally told me about it, alerting me to "High RPM". A year ago I was still trying to figure this one out, but now understand if the ROTAX oil gets below 122 the EMS shifts the RPM scale to lower values. This means 3500 is now in the yellow range. This can be avoided by using the proper descent profile. I sat on the ground at KUKT for 5 minutes letting the oil temperature rise into the normal range. Takeoff was normal and we departed heading for Wings.

Some traffic in the air this day. Pipers, Cessnas, and at least one Cirrus were spotted on our trip. I think everyone was trying to take advantage of good flying weather as the weekend forecast was lousy. I was #2 in the pattern behind a Helo  on a straight in approach, really no factor. As I turned Base a Cirrus called in over the field but again I was ell clear. I very nice landing at my old home field and I was off by the first turn off. Once again the oil temp had sunk below the normal range and I sat in the run up area waiting for it to rise. I enjoyed watching the Cirrus come in to land. Takeoff was normal and we departed heading for Heritage Field.

Even more traffic here. One on a VOR approach, another 3 miles south of the field, and one turning base to final. And me.  The nuclear cooling towers at Limerick make a great wind sock but also sit under the left hand traffic pattern, so the standard procedure at KPTW is right hand turns. Although I was set up for a 5 mile straight in I opted to fly to the north and enter on a 45. I tend to fly just a bit wider when the runway is on the other side of the airplane as it seems to give me a better chance to correct any misjudgements on the base leg. I didn't need it this time as the approach was good leading to a comfortable landing. Off at the first exit and taxi back to the approach end. Takeoff was normal and we departed heading for Pottstown Municipal.

Quiet radios on 122.8. No one was out playing today, at least not in the pattern. I took the straight in this time from 4 miles out. Landed a bit long and a touch fast but nothing unsafe. A great flying day.

After I tied her and covered her I jumped in the car to head up to Butter Valley. I had been told that they would have a hangar available if I was still interested. YES! Unfortunately there was no room at the inn when I arrived, and my contact had taken the day off. I'll pursue this next week. I would just love to put a roof over our head.