It’s that time of the year again to write up another blog entry to review the flying I did in 2018. This year I did not have as much flying time as the previous years. The total time this year was down to just 122.9 hours. The airplane ended the year with 634.1 hours total time on the Hobbs meter. In my last flight this year, I hit 1000 landings! My total Pilot-In-Command time stands at 775.6 hours, and I ended the year with 500.1 hours of Cross Country flying time.
This year we again did the long trip to Oshkosh. We also made it out to Salt Lake City four times to visit our daughter and to deal with some more home improvement and plumbing issues with the rental house there. I had some minor ignition issues that were bugging me, and the airplane had a lengthy annual this year. I also had to deal with a stuck exhaust valve, and the airplane was down for almost a month while I worked on that. I also updated my ADS-B unit, and I had to replace a failed autopilot servo. That downtime put a bit of a damper on the flying hours. I also spent a lot of my spare time this year dealing with a major project at our house involving landscaping our yard. We didn’t really have any free weekends to do some of the trips we had hoped to take this year.
I did get to fly with 6 new people in the airplane for their first rides, and I hit 7 new airports. I ended up the year with a trip out to Yuma, AZ to meet up with some of my Dad’s cousins whom I hadn’t seen in 49 years. Here’s to more flying fun in 2019! Happy New Year.
After the big trip to Oshkosh we really haven’t been doing a whole lot of flying lately. We did fly out to Salt Lake City to visit Marissa over Labor Day weekend, and then I ended up back there in the beginning of October. Our rental house there had a water pipe burst and flood the basement with a foot of water. I was able to take off Monday afternoon and get out there in about 3:35 with a nice tailwind. After dealing with water damage companies, plumbers and insurance, I was able to find a weather window on Friday afternoon to head back home.
On the flight back, I had an anomaly with the autopilot Roll servo going offline, and then later getting a Skyview secondary network failure. All of this came and went by itself. After it cleared itself, I was able to use the Autopilot normally. About 30 minutes into the flight, my Primary Flight Display on the Skyview EFIS went blank. The engine and map pages were still up and running. The alert was an ADAHRS FAIL and another secondary network failure. After about 30 seconds, it all came back and was fine for the rest of the flight home.
The weather during the week I was in Utah was rainy and the airplane was tied down outside. I wondered if it could be due to wetness, but I had the canopy covered and it wasn’t wet inside the fuselage.
The next day was the Ramona Air Fair. I was scheduled to fly Young Eagles for EAA Chapter 14. When I got to the airport Saturday morning it was very low IFR conditions and the weather report said that it might clear by 11am. I pulled the airplane out of the hangar and started it up to taxi over to the fuel island. I was low on fuel after the non-stop flight back from Utah. The engine fired right up, but then it really started running roughly. I played with the mixture, thinking it might be a fouled spark plug, and switched the P-Mags from Left to Right and back to Both which made no difference. The CHT/EGT gauge showed that cylinder 3 wasn’t coming up to temps. Then just as fast as it came on, it was back running smoothly and the temps came up. I taxied down to the ramp by the Tower where the Air Fair was going on. There were just a few planes there due to the weather, and I ended up hanging out at the airplane all day talking to people. The weather never really cleared up to more than Marginal VFR. I wasn’t going to fly any Young Eagles unless it was clear VFR weather. No fun to do scud running with other people’s children. Photos from the day are here.
The engine ran fine as I taxied back to the hangar. The next Monday I had to fly up to Fullerton, CA to pick up a friend of my daughter, who was visiting. I fired up the engine and it did just a bit of the same rough running with cylinder #3 showing coolness, then back to running smoothly and warming up. I have to admit a dilemma here on whether to scrub the flight or not. I let the engine warm up, and did a thorough preflight run up or two and everything was running fine. OK, let’s go. The flight up and back was uneventful, with no autopilot or engine issues.
Back home I got down to searching online to see what might be going on with the autopilot and the engine. The consensus on the engine was probably a sticky exhaust valve. Van’s Airforce Forums has plenty of information about how to cure this. There is an excellent writeup by Mike Bullock on how he went through this and was able to ream out the carbon buildup from the valve guide and get the engine running smoothly again.
In order to get access to the valve, you have to compress the valve springs. This requires a special tool, which isn’t cheap. Mike modified a couple of pry bars to make his own home-built valve spring compression tool. I went off to Home Depot and got my own pair of pry bars for less than $15, and went to grinding away various bits to make it work.
LIttle pry bar riveted to the big pry bar.
Big pry bar ground down to make a nice fork to press on the valve springs
I spent all of the next weekend working on the sticky valve. It was definitely stuck. I won’t bore you here with the process, so if you are interested, read Mike’s post above in the link. I did go through all of the cylinders to see if any others were sticky, but they were all smooth. I had to drop the exhaust pipes for access inside the cylinder heads. It took a few days before I could put everything back together since I was short a few lock washers required on the exhaust nuts.
As the plane was just sitting in the hangar, the autopilot roll servo must have just locked itself up without any power on. I noticed this as I was walking around the airplane and I touched the aileron and found it completely stuck in position. I wiggled the aileron and it gave a quite a bit of resistance, until it “popped” and then it was smooth again. Again, back home and searching the internet I determined that it was probably the “shear screw” in the autopilot servo that “popped”. The shear screw is there to break in case the autopilot ever gets stuck. You can overwhelm the autopilot with the stick and shear this little brass screw to regain manual control if needed.
I powered up the Skyview system and went into the Setup and Systems menus to get to the autopilot hardware calibration screen. Moving the stick around showed the pitch servo coordinates moving around, but nothing for the roll servo coordinates. Time to extract the servo from the right wing.
The servo motor was completely locked up and the shear screw was definitely broken. Very strange to have the motor just lock up and I was very glad this didn’t happen while flying. I called up Dynon the next morning and got an RMA number to send the servo back for a rebuild. Since it was long out of warranty, they will rebuild it for a flat fee of $175. From looking online at the Dynon Forums, other people have had this happen, and it looks like the servo might have caused the issue with the secondary network and the previous ADAHRS FAIL issue. The Autopilot servos are also on the same network. The network has a redundant pair of network wires, so there is a primary and secondary path for the network.
The other thing going on with the airplane is an update to the ADS-B unit. Dynon originally provided an ADS-B unit SV-ADSB-470 which had just weather and traffic input from ground stations. They later came out with an updated unit SV-ADSB-472 which also can get traffic input from other ADS-B equipped aircraft without needing proximity to a ground station. The initial 470 units from Dynon had some limitations, and this was going to be fixed with the 472 units. Dynon announced back in early 2017 that they would have a trade in program for owners of the 470 units. However, the early 472 units had some hardware issues. Here we are a year and a half later and the updated 472 units are fixed now and back shipping. Dynon called me this week and asked if I still wanted to trade-in the old for the new unit. I said yes, so they are charging me $308 for the new unit (saving $500 for the cost of a new unit) and I have to mail them back the old unit within 30 days. Now I get to crawl back into the rear fuselage and swap out these units.
Lastly, since the airplane is grounded, I might as well also get my new tires mounted. The front nose wheel steering break out forces also seems to have gone up recently, so I need to take that all apart and get it re-lubed up and the force on the fork set correctly.
I also dropped off the Oxygen tank for a refill. We went through most of the O2 on the trips to and from Utah. The second trip out there I was up high at 15,500′ getting pushed along by some strong tailwinds. You can’t do that high flying without supplemental oxygen.
I’m hoping to be back flying again soon! I’ve got a few trips planned in the coming months.
We made the pilgrimage again this year to the biggest aviation event in the world, EAA’s Airventure in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. This was my third time visiting, so I had a bit more knowledge about the event and what I wanted to do once I got there. My son Alex went along this year and we tent camped in HomeBuilt Camping.
The week leading up to the trip was a bit stressful. I have been having some little issues with the ignition on the airplane. The P-mags were both just overhauled and updated at the annual condition inspection in June, but after putting them back on there were some little issues I had to work through. I have the Electronic Ignition Commander display, so I was able to cure the first issue pretty easily. The P-mags came back from the factory set to the most advanced timing settings of 40 degrees, which caused my cylinder temps to get very hot. I figured out that one and pushed them a different timing curve more suited to my engine. I thought it all was good after that, but I was still getting this ever so slight stutter occasionally. The EIC unit was also showing some timing divergence between the left and right P-mags. There is a nice bright red LED that blinks when that happens, so it definitely gets your attention. I flew on the Monday night before our departure to do an inflight Lean of Peak ignition stress test, Mag check and induction leak check. Everything seemed OK, except for cylinder #1’s EGT was quite a bit higher on one P-mag. This means I have a weak spark on that mag and plug. I wasn’t sure exactly why it is happening, but I did take off the P-mags to inspect them, and re-time them, and make sure all of the wires are in good shape. During this process I found one of the spark plug connectors was just a bit loose (on cylinder #1). Turns out one of the spark plug wire terminal clips was broken.
Eureka! Broken clip on the plug connector.
I pulled a good clip off of this spare connector.
This was finally found on the Thursday night before we left on Saturday. I had bought a new plug for the one cylinder that was suspect (I love having all of the data from the EFIS display to point you directly to the problem cylinder), but it wasn’t the plug, but the connection to the plug wire. I had bought a spare spark plug terminal and boot during my annual inspection, so I was able to pop off the broken clip and get the spare one on. After that, the engine was back to running smoothly. However, I was still seeing a random bit of divergence when I did a ground run up of the engine. The timing advance on one P-mag will be different from the other P-mag and the divergence alarm can still pop up. On Friday, I flew over to Gillespie Field to fill up the fuel tanks, and to just see if the ignition was behaving. Thankfully, it was OK and I figured the problems were behind me. Also a big shout out and thank you to Bill Repucci of EIC who worked with me over the phone several nights in a row to troubleshoot all of the ignition issues.
Saturday – Departure Day
The plan was to depart Saturday morning at dawn and head to Ankeny, Iowa for the first night. The weather forecast looked like there might be some lingering thunderstorms over the Arizona desert, and there was. We loaded up the airplane with all of the camping gear and our bags. I had weighed everything beforehand and we ended up having to leave behind our two folding chairs (15 pounds too heavy).
We took off around 6:15am and once in the air we could see on the ADS-B weather display that it looked clearer to the north of Arizona, so we headed towards Lake Havasu then turned east. We got just a touch of rain on us at Havasu. Somewhere west of Flagstaff on the emergency guard frequency 121.5 (always good to monitor that) we heard an Emergency Locator Transponder going off. I contacted Prescott Flight Service and let them know. We were able to fly directly over Meteor Crater, then we landed in Holbrook, Arizona for our first fuel stop.
Our next leg took us across New Mexico between Santa Fe and Albuquerque. We landed in Dumas, Texas where it was 101 degrees. We filled up our bellies with some good BBQ from the restaurant on the airport, and gassed up for the next leg. On both of these long legs the airplane was purring just fine and no timing issues at all. We cut across the panhandle of Oklahoma and then Kansas towards Iowa. We did our third fuel stop at Clarinda, Iowa. All the way the skies were clear and we got to Ankeny in the early evening. The hotel is just a short walk from the airport, and we went over to the nearby Outback Steakhouse restaurant for some good food and drinks.
To Oshkosh, or not to Oshkosh?
The forecast for Sunday in Iowa was clear, but to the east in Wisconsin it was low overcast and Oshkosh was probably going to be IFR until noon. We walked over to a nearby IHOP in the morning, had breakfast, and did a late checkout from the hotel at noon. We headed back to the airport and took off for Wisconsin around 1pm, figuring we would be in Oshkosh by 3pm and the weather would be clear there. It was, but I think everyone else flying in had the same idea. As we flew east the cloud layers started showing up and we descended underneath them. We landed at Boscobel, Wisconsin to top off the fuel for our last leg into Oshkosh. About 40 miles out we could just start to pick up the Oshkosh ATIS and arrival information, along with the Approach controller frequency for Ripon and Fisk, which are the waypoints for the VFR arrivals.
As we got closer we started seeing lots and lots of airplanes all heading to Ripon. The controllers were overwhelmed and they really were only letting a trickle of airplanes into the field for some reason. We could see on the EFIS traffic display literally hundreds of airplanes all circling the approach area. Not Good. We could hear the controllers just telling every to line up a mile (or two) in trail. Within 2 miles of us, there were probably over a dozen airplanes! That’s not going to work well. We decided to stay away from this mess and we ended up circling the Green Lake hold 3 times. At this point we had been up for well over an hour of circling and by doing the math we could see that the mess was just getting worse and worse. It would just be dumb luck to get through Ripon to Fisk to Oshkosh for landing. I punched in the nearest airports on the GPS and we diverted to Wautoma. Better to be on the ground and safe than to have a mid-air collision. We definitely came way too close to other airplanes circling in the Green Lake hold. It looked worse on the screen farther ahead. Lots of tempers were flaring on the radio with people getting cut off and other stupid pilot tricks like going the wrong way in the holds.
The Wautoma airport had about 30 airplanes already down on the ramp, so we landed, taxied over and parked on the grass area by the fuel station. There were about 6 planes already in line for gas. We ended up just tying down, pitching the tent and spending the night there. We were able to get into the nearby town for some dinner, and we got to sit around and visit with all of the other refugees from Oshkosh. By 8pm there were at least 70 planes on the ground for the night. We could listen to the Fisk approach on liveatc.net, and watch the conga line of traffic on flightradar24.com safely from our smart phones. Landing away from Oshkosh meant we missed the HomeBuilt Camping Beer bash, but I was very glad to NOT be stressed about trying to get there. We were also able to eventually top off the fuel tanks later that evening, so in the morning we would have plenty of loiter time if needed. I figured it would probably be just as bad the next morning (it was).
To Oshkosh, Take Two
We got up early, broke camp, packed up and were in the air before the 7am arrival opening at Oshkosh. This time we only got turned away once. We headed to Ripon, then over the railroad tracks to Fisk and the controllers again were overloaded and told everyone to “turn left” and go back to Ripon. Our second attempt again had us right over the train tracks, but there were airplanes both right and left of us. Some high, some low. You are supposed to be directly over the railroad tracks at 1800′ and going 90 knots. I stuck to this track and ended up getting past a trio of slower and lower Cubs that were too low and off to the left side of us, then we pulled away from a slow going low-wing airplane that was high and to the right of us. Next thing I know, we are over Fisk and we have good spacing back from the airplane directly out in front of us. Rock the wings and welcome to Oshkosh for landing on Runway 27’s green dot. We made it finally!
The next several hours on Monday were spent tying down the airplane, unloading everything, setting up camp, and getting registered. We ended up at the very south end of the HomeBuilt Camping area, where we were at least closer to the show center. We got some lunch and wandered around various exhibit halls looking for some good swag. We were just checking out the Boeing Plaza area when we ran into my niece’s husband, (actor/comedian Johnny Pemberton) and his brother and Dad. Amazing that with tens of thousands of people over acres and acres that we would accidentally bump into them.
They just were there for the day and they wanted to come see my airplane later. That afternoon we hopped on the trams and went all the way to the South 40, then all the way back to the home built area. We met up again at our camp and they got to take a look at the purple RV. Monday night is the RV beer bash, so we spent some hours there talking to all of the RV folks.
At 8pm we left the beer bash and walked back up to Boeing Plaza where the opening night concert was just finishing. We walked over to the Balloon glow and took some pictures of the show planes along the flight line.
We hit some more exhibit halls and wandered around more of the show. We decided to take the Warbird Tram tour, which was great. They drive you out and about in the Warbirds area and talk about all of the different types of airplanes there. From there we hit the Homebuilt area and Alex got to sit in the RV-14A. Yes, it has more leg room and shoulder space than the RV-9A, but I’m not going to start building one any time soon.
Tuesday evening was the RivetBangers.com dinner event at the Black Otter Supper Club where the 32oz Prime Rib is the small cut. Always a good time, and we took back plenty of leftovers.
We walked around in the NASA pavilion and also hit up the Innovations area. After that we again walked around the Boeing Plaza and decided to spend some time in the Vintage area. We lined up for the Vintage Tram tour and were first in line waiting in the shade when the tram arrived, by the time we walked the 10 feet to the tram it was completely full! We ended up just walking around the area looking at all of the cool Biplanes. Where else would you see a dozen Staggerwing Beechcrafts lined up in a row?
They also had a nice selection of WWI aircraft to celebrate the 100 years since the war. We also walked the flight line and saw all of the aerobatic planes at the IAC headquarters. There were just so many airplanes to look at, it was hard to not be overloaded with aviation. We ended up back at our airplane for the afternoon airshow and took some shade under the wing and watched. Alex had a headache, so he decided he didn’t want to go to the Young Eagles awards ceremony and dinner event at the Museum. I ended up going over there by myself (free meal!). I sat down at a table with some other YE volunteers and got to see Jeff Skiles, Sean D. Tucker and Jack Pelton give out some awards. I left there after the ceremonies and headed back to the flight line for the evening airshow. The weather was looking like it was going to rain and it did right as the show started. There was a big thunderstorm headed to Oshkosh, so they canceled the night airshow. We ended up back at the HBC pavilion and did some beer drinking while the rain really came down. Thankfully, it let up a bit and we were able to get back to the tent before the next cell hit the area. It got really windy and then the rain really started coming down. The tent held up fine and we stayed dry.
The weather the next morning was clear, but everything outside was drenched. I had put the travel cover on the airplane to keep the rain from getting inside. It held up and kept the electronics dry. Alex and I decided to head out to the Museum and Pioneer Airport where they have the helicopter rides. We got in line, paid our $49 and got to go up in a Bell 47 helicopter. They take a route over the grounds that lasts maybe 8 minutes, but it is well worth it to look down and see everything. The campgrounds are just huge where all of the non-fly-in campers stay during the week.
After the helicopter ride, we did a quick pass through the EAA Museum. We hit some of the last remaining exhibit areas that we hadn’t been to yet. I went over to the FAA display and was able to get them to pull up my ADS-B compliance report (which was acceptable). I’m now good for the 2020 deadline to be in compliance. We did some last minute shopping for souvenirs and also did another pass of the One Week Wonder RV-12 build. We got there just a bit too late to pull a rivet on the wings. On the way back to the campsite, we took a look at the Bally Bomber. This is a 1/3 scale B-17 that can be piloted by a single person. Scratch built, it took the builder decades to complete.
The UCAP podcast tie down party was over by the North 40, so we got on the bus to take us over there. We had some beers and talked with some other folks and Dave Higdon, who is one of the podcasters. We were hungry so we walked across the street from the airport and found a Mexican restaurant for dinner.
Time to pack up and head home!
We got the camping gear all packed up, and checked out from the HBC. The weather was looking VFR, but there were some lingering low clouds over Wisconsin until we got more to the west. We got in the conga line to depart and took off on Runway 36 without too much delay. Our first gas stop was Mauston – New Lisbon, Wisconsin. After that we were able to get above the scattered clouds and we made it all the way across Minnesota and landed in Yankton, South Dakota. The EAA chapter in Yankton had a nice lunch spread for pilots, so we donated some dollars and filled up on hot dogs, chips, soda and desert.
The next leg was a long one. We left Yankton as the thunderstorms were starting to pop up over South Dakota and Nebraska. We diverted just a bit to the north and went around the main cells that were between us and Wyoming. The skies became much clearer as we headed west. We crossed the Rockies in Wyoming and we headed towards Casper with a nice tailwind (the only time we had one). From Casper we turned towards Rock Springs and it got pretty bumpy on this leg. We got tossed about for an hour or so. Anytime the autopilot can’t handle the airplane, you know it is pretty rough. We landed at Rock Springs and filled up again with gas. The winds were better on the next leg as we headed towards Salt Lake City for our overnight stop. We landed in Bountiful, Utah and Marissa came over to pick us up. We had a nice dinner and spent the night at her house.
I got up early on Saturday before it got too hot outside and did some yard work on the rental house by trimming some bushes and pulling all of the weeds. I guess this means I can write off this trip for tax purposes!
Already pushing 90 degrees at 9am.
No more weeds!
We had breakfast, then headed for the airport around 10:30am. The clouds were again starting to build up some thunderstorms, and we dodged a few of them in central Utah. Once we got over the Nevada desert the clouds disappeared, but we fought some strong headwinds the entire way home. It took us 4.4 hours on this leg from Bountiful to Ramona. We were back at the airport and in the hangar by 3pm.
You’ve heard of the “black box” in all of the Commercial airliners. It is there to record all of the flight parameters so in the event of an accident or incident, the investigators can get a clear picture of what actually happened. Today’s modern electronic flight information systems (EFIS) do much of this same functionality. The EFIS records numerous data parameters during every flight. Then the recorded data can be downloaded from the EFIS and examined. It sounds complicated, but it is very simple and easy to do.
The Dynon Skyview EFIS in my airplane can be configured to record at different rates. The data rate determines how much data it can store at any given time. The data rate can be anywhere from 16 times per second (16Hz) to every six seconds (.1Hz). The faster the data recording frequency, the less time your recording will cover but the granularity is maximized. The EFIS will always record the most recent 15 minutes at the higher frequency. For most flights I leave the data rate at a lower rate, just so I don’t have to download the data after every flight. Most of the parameters being recorded do not change at a high enough rate to warrant the faster recording frequency. For example, your outside air temperature (OAT) isn’t going to be changing degrees multiple times per second. You might see the OAT change a few degrees in several minutes. For flight testing, you can increase the recording rate to get more data points per second.
So what sort of parameters are recorded? It depends on your EFIS, and what signals you pass to it. For example, the most common ones are the temperatures of the cylinder heads, exhaust gases, oil, outside air, pressures of the fuel and oil, rates of climb, altitude, voltage, amperage, heading, engine RPM, etc. Some of the parameters are less interesting, such as the canopy latch status and parking brake setting, but if there was an accident, something like this might be relevant.
The data rate (approximately once per second) I have set for N5771H gives me almost 8 hours of flight data, which takes up about 60Mb and includes 60+ flight data parameters. All I have to do is remember to download the data to a USB drive. On the Dynon Skyview, you hold down two buttons (the rightmost 2 buttons simultaneously) to get to the SETUP page, then select EXPORT USER DATA LOGS. It takes less than a minute. Unplug the USB stick and now you have your data ready to import on your PC.
Now that you have this data, what do you do with it? The raw data on the USB stick is all comma separated values (CSV format) lines of data, and is very hard to understand in that format. Here is where “Big Data” comes to the rescue. There is a terrific online site, savvyanalysis.com, that will let you upload and store your data for free. They provide a web page that allows you to select which parameters you want to examine and they draw this up in graphical format. The data that you add to the site adds to their database of flight data, and some of the insights that are derived from this large pool of data are fascinating. The proprietor of Savvy Analysis, Mike Busch, gave a seminar (part 1 and part 2 are on EAA’s webinar site) last year here in San Diego that I attended. He talked at length about the millions of flights they now store in their database, and what sort of information they can glean from it. For a particular airplane like the Cirrus SR-22, or a Cessna 172, they can see things like the average temperature spreads across the cylinders, or what fuel flows are for cruise, etc. He said that the CHT spread on the Cessna, which was designed before fancy computers could do airflow simulations was not as tight as the new Cirrus airplanes. For additional fees, they will grade your airplane’s operation and how you are managing these parameters compared to other similar aircraft. They also can diagnose problems remotely just from looking at the data you upload for your airplane. You might have a clogged fuel injector, or a bad spark plug and this data will pinpoint exactly what might be the cause of a rough running engine. They can even see from the data if you have a valve ready to fail!
The EFIS data is also something that the manufacturer of the unit might want to see to troubleshoot a product issue. I know that Dynon has in the past has had software issues that could be diagnosed by looking at the EFIS data that is recorded. They also save some “black-box” data that is only useful to the manufacturer.
In my early flights of N5771H before the engine rings were fully broken in, I did a mag-check and had a very rough engine on one mag. It was definitely a fouled plug, because I could see that a particular cylinder’s EGT was going hotter. I headed back to the hangar and knew exactly which spark plug to pull out and clean. I put it back in and was able to fly without issues.
If you want to see ALL of my flight data, its available here. Click on a flight, then you can see the EGT and CHT data by default. If you look on the right side of the graph, you will see a box with “None” next to both the top and bottom graphs. You can use the pull down menu in the box to select other parameters to graph. It will overlay another parameter from the data on to the EGT or CHT graph. You can overlay 4 parameters on a page. I usually look at PALT (Pressure Altitude) which show my climbs and descents, and FF (Fuel Flow). You can see when the PALT rises, that is my take-off, then the FF will go down as I lean the engine. Other interesting parameters to graph are the TAS (True Air Speed), VERT_SPEED (vertical speed) and Percent Power. You can do the same selection on the EGT and CHT pull down boxes on the left side of the graphs to compare any 4 data variables. For each flight, there is also a “Show Flight Map” link at the bottom and this brings up a map with the GPS latitude/longitude coordinates on a map showing exactly where I’ve flown.
It is always good to look over the data after a long cross country flight and see if anything was out of normal ranges. Welcome to the future of BIG DATA in aviation.
It’s that time again! I get to tear the airplane apart and put it all back together again. At least that’s what it feels like. Let’s get started by warming up the engine and getting some temperature into the oil. Tuesday 5/15 in the evening I take off around the pattern and do 2 full stop landings. Before I shutdown the EFIS, I select the Skyview battery test, which runs the EFIS on the backup battery for 45 minute to pass the annual required check. Back in the hangar I take off the cowling, and start working on the compression test for the cylinders. The test goes well and all of the cylinders have good compression (between 74 and 77 psi). As long as they aren’t below 60, it is considered a good cylinder. I’m sure I could futz around with the prop and maybe gain a few PSI on each cylinder, but I’m doing this solo and it isn’t the best situation with 80 PSI of pressure in a cylinder that wants to fling the prop around and hurt you.
I pull out all of the rest of the spark plugs and peer inside the cylinders. All of the bottom plugs have a bit of lead deposits, but the top ones are clean. Nothing looks out of order with the plugs, but for a mere $20 I can replace all of the automotive style spark plugs, so that’s what I do every year.
As I work on the spark plugs, I connect up the oil drain hose and get all of the oil out of the engine. I collect some of the oil to send out for analysis. The oil filter gets pulled off and a new one put one. I also pull out the strainer on the bottom of the pan. It is clean, nothing caught by it. Getting the strainer off is a pain, and it leaks quite a bit of oil even after it all is drained out of the pan. A new crush washer on the strainer and it gets put back in place nice and tightened.
Back in the hangar, I finish up safety wiring the oil filter and strainer plug. I have a lengthy checklist that I follow, so I just start working my way down the list. I go over all of the exhaust system. I make sure everything is tight. I did notice that a couple of the exhaust hangers (rubber tubing with hose clamps) were slipping a bit. I moved the hose clamps and re-tightened them up. I lubed the exhaust pipe joints with Mouse Milk. All of the nuts/bolts/tubing was checked for torque. Baffles around the engine get inspected for cracks/looseness. I cleaned out all of the fuel injector nozzles and went over all of the fuel hoses. The big job tonight was to take off the P-mags and get them sent off for a firmware update and 500 hour service. I also pulled off the filtered air box, cleaned out the air filter and let it dry. I got the engine inspection part of the list almost completed.
I wasn’t able to get to the hangar the next day, but Friday night I basically finished up the engine and prop portion of the checklist. I inspected the alternator and belt, then re-tightened it all up. Same with the starter connections. I took off the spinner and re-torqued the propeller, made sure the blades were in good shape. I finished up by getting the spinner back on.
I spent most of Saturday running around doing other things, but I did manage to put in a few hours before dinner. The task this day was getting the wheel pants and gear leg fairings all off. Then the access plates on the wings all came off, and also the wing tips. I pulled out the APRS antenna that has been problematic and I might have found the issue with it.
The wing root fairings come off and I lubed all of the rod end bearings and hinges in the flaps and ailerons. I checked the nav and position lights, along with the landing lights. I gave my cordless screwdriver quite the workout with all of the screws involved.
I spent the morning finishing up the wings. I forgot to plug in the cordless screwdriver battery the night before, so after installing about half of the screws back into the various fairings and covers, it quit. My right arm got a workout screwing the rest of them in by hand. I did find something unusual in the root of the left wing. It appears that one of the painters last year left a pocket knife in the the wing! I didn’t notice this last year and this year I just happened to see something down in there with my flash light. The knife has a nice overspray of purple paint all over it, which made it blend right in.
Slow and steady progress continues. I cleaned up all of the cowling and gear fairings. I have a wheel pant that needs some patching, but tonight it was just lots of cleaning. I did get into the tail section and did all of the inspections in that area. I took off all of the access panels and tail fairing, then made sure every nut and bolt is still tightly torqued. Nothing of note in this area. I did lube up all of the rudder and elevator bushings, and also got the trim tab lightly lubed. Fairings back on and next up is the remainder of the cabin and fuselage.
Time to start on the fuselage interior parts. The seats and cushions all come out, along with the carpets. I gave the cordless screwdriver another workout taking off all of the screws on the baggage bulkhead, flap covers and seat pans. I disconnected the GPS and took off the old Dynon GPS receiver. I bought the updated 2020 ADS-B compliant version. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the correct crimping tool at the hangar to finish that job. I did get all of the rest of the control rods and flap actuators lubed up and the rest of the back fuselage checked out. The ELT was also checked. I was able to borrow a hangar neighbor’s borescope. I just need to get the software installed on the laptop to capture the images of the cylinder valves.
I got the software working for the borescope at home and took the laptop to the hangar. It took a bit to get the hang of using it, but the pictures and view inside the cylinders was worth the look. The cylinders all look fine. The piston tops have a bit of build up, but that is to be expected with leaded fuel. The valves also looked fine. I couldn’t see any big issues or differences between them.
I then was able to get the new spark plugs installed and torqued. Just a little bit of anti-seize on the threads, and some dielectric silicone grease on the insulators to keep the boots from sticking. New copper washers, too.
I got the connector pins crimped on to the new GPS antenna. The old antenna had the wires coming off the back just a little off-center. The new one has the wires pretty dead center. I had to enlarge the hole under the antenna just a bit to get the screw holes to line up again. I was able to get into the set up menu on the Dynon Skyview and set the input source to the SV-2020-GPS and set the transponder to send the higher spec and baud rate. I did get a couple of satellites on the screen from inside the hangar, but not enough to set a valid position.
The rest of the night was spent crawling under the instrument panel inspecting everything and making sure all of the nuts/bolts on the center spar carry-though, wing bolts and gear weldments, and fuel lines were tight. I also decided to pull off the foam I had put on the firewall. It just won’t stay on there, even with the 3M industrial glue. I doubt it is making any noise difference, and with the Bose noise cancelling headsets, you really don’t need any soundproofing. Rudder pedals and toe brakes look OK. I just need to get all of the dust debris cleaned up on the floors and then I can put everything back together.
Getting nearer to the end of this. I took off early from work. Friday before a 3 day weekend, so why not get an early start. The P-mags haven’t shown up yet, so I’m probably not going to be flying anywhere this weekend. I got busy vacuuming up all of the dust and debris in the cockpit. Once that was clean, I sprayed down all of the floors and sides of the cabin with some soapy water. Amazing how much dirt gets in here. The covers go back on the fuel pump, the seat pans and the flap covers and finally the baggage bulkhead panels. Then the seat backs are put in along with the seat cushions. I vacuumed all of the carpeting and put that back in place. The O2 bottle and the other little things like headsets get reinstalled. I finished up that whole area. The final section in the annual checklist is the wheels/brakes/tires. I also have the wheel pant to fix and fill and paint. I think this will keep me busy for a couple more days.
Just a short session in the hangar today. I bought a new spark plug boot, but it is not the same as the others. It is usable but I guess I’ll wait to get the P-mags back and see if my email to them asking for a replacement was seen and taken care of. I checked the fuel drains and cleaned off the fuel caps and re-lubed the O-rings on the caps with some Fuel-Lube. I got down on the mechanics creeper and went under the belly and sprayed everything with some Simple Green cleaner to get the exhaust grime off the belly. Last task was to sand down the damage to the wheel pant and put a couple of layers of fiberglass cloth on there. Since I had some epoxy mixed up, I decided to fill a little bit of the back of the prop where there was some small nicks. This should set up by tomorrow and be ready for me to sand it all down smooth.
I had hopes of spending some long days out at the hangar over the Memorial Day weekend, but ended up watching the Monaco GP and Indy 500, and cleaning the house, weeding the yard, all that kind of stuff. My P-mags haven’t shown up back here, so there was not much chance of getting the airplane back flying. So it is now Tuesday evening and I’m finally back out working on it. I sanded down the epoxy filler on the prop and got that masked off and repainted. I sanded down the layers of fiberglass on the wheel pant and laid up some micro to fill out the area that needs painting. I started on the gear legs by taking off the last of the fairings and cleaning them off. Lastly, I filled the engine with fresh oil.
I got busy after work and sanded down the micro on the wheel pant. Sprayed some sandable primer on there and left it to dry. I got the wings jacked up and took off the wheels and brakes. I was able to break the bead on one tire and flipped it around on the wheel. I also took off the brakes to change out the O-rings and inspect everything. I bought new Viton O-rings for the calipers, but getting the puck back in was a disaster. I think I might have ruined the puck because it got locked in at a slight angle. I had to hit the brake caliper with some compressed air to pop it back out. It looks like a nice slice of new O-ring was cut off trying to get this thing back in place. I sanded down the puck and tried again with more care and the same thing happened again. Time to stop for the night and re-assess the situation tomorrow. It shouldn’t be that hard to press the puck into place, but I think the Viton O-rings are harder than the Buna N originals. Thankfully, parts are not too expensive. A new puck is $5. I will probably replace the pads too. They looked cracked in some places and on one side it was getting pretty thin. Still no sign of the P-mags being shipped back. Time to call them and see what is going on.
I made the call to Emag-air and eventually got called back. The P-mags are on their way back! I made it out to the airport on Saturday morning for a bit. I was able to rotate the other tire, and get all of the brake stuff cleaned up. I’m going to go ahead and redo the brake pads, so that stuff is ordered and should show up in the mail this next week. I regreased the wheel bearings with my bearing packer tool. Most of the time was spent sanding down the primer on the wheel pants. Lots of little pin holes on my repair, so I sprayed more primer on there. I should be able to spray the color on there next session. I bought some rattle can clear gloss that will be the final coating.
The new brake parts showed up today, so I rebuilt them and got the tires back on. This time I was much more careful inserting the brake puck, along with more lubrication, they slide right in without any problem. I also checked the front tire and wheel and the breakout force on the nose gear. I still need to bleed the brake fluid in the lines. I didn’t have the right connector for the air compressor to the new touch up spray gun, so the paint on the wheel pants will have to wait another day. I’m going to just pull off the ones I have on the other spray gun and use that.
The P-mags finally arrived! Tonight I got them installed again. It is not too big of a hassle to get them back in place and wired up. The connectors just plug in and get tightened down with some small screws. I put on the new gaskets and plugged in the manifold pressure lines. Timing these is easy. They don’t have to line up with anything on the engine case. You just set the crank to TDC via a small alignment pin that fits in a hole in the starter motor, then power on and blow into the pressure tubing twice to get them set. There is an LED on each P-mag that let’s you know you’ve set TDC. Cycle the power and they are good to go. Next task was to bleed the brakes. I got out my little garden sprayer that I use with the brake fluid and hook that up to the bleeder valve, then use the pressure from the sprayer to push the fluid up through the lines. I managed to make a mess on one side. The brake fluid is slippery and the plastic fittings that I have to use to get from the larger tubing size that fits over the spray nozzle down to the smaller tubing for the bleeder valve slipped apart. I had a big puddle of fluid to mop up! Note to self: get some proper barbed hose fittings. I finished up by testing the firmness of the brake pedals, and they felt good. I will need to bed the new brake pads and check them before the wheel pants go on. Speaking of the wheel pants, I still haven’t painted them, so that will be the last thing I need to do to complete the annual, besides firing up the engine and doing a final systems check.
I think it is finally done. Well, mostly done. I still have some paint to put on the wheel pant and put those back on. At least I can be airworthy without gear leg fairings and wheel pants. I got out to the hangar late this evening and all I had left was to fire up the engine and make sure it works. I pulled the airplane out of the hangar, chocked the wheels (new brake pads aren’t bedded yet) and it started right up. I ran it for a few minutes, then shut it down, back into the hangar and got the cowling back on. Once more out of the hangar, I did some taxiing up and down the airport to get the brake pads bedded. I checked the pads and they look like they are starting to grab better. Nothing leaking out of the brake system and the pedals felt good. Now I can do the necessary paperwork and make the airplane officially airworthy again. Hopefully, I can get the wheel pant painted soon and get back in the air with all of the parts attached.
I made the requisite log book entries that make the annual condition inspection official this morning. After a long day of work I got out to the airport and took it around the pattern, then I flew down to Gillespie Field in El Cajon (KSEE) to fill her up with $4.25 per gallon 100LL fuel. Everything was working fine. No issues that I could tell. The new GPS was working fine. After I returned to the hangar, I put back on the gear leg fairings and the nose wheel pant. Now I just need to spray some paint on the wheel pant that needed repair and get them back on. I also need to clean out the hangar and put all of the tools and supplies away. I also need to wash the dust off.
I think this annual will go down as my longest one (so far). It was also one of the most expensive. I spent just over $300 on the P-mag overhaul, $50 on the brakes, $20 for spark plugs and about $75 for an oil change. I’m not counting the GPS upgrade as maintenance. I’m sure if I had taken the airplane to a shop for this work, it would have been thousands. I’m good to fly now until June 30, 2019.
Another year of flying, so time to reflect a bit on my 2017 statistics. Hours this year were up just a bit at 151.2 hours flown. This was up about 10 hours from last year. The total time on the airplane at the end of 2017 was 511.2 hours. My pilot-in-command time is now 655 hours and 900 take-offs/landings.
This year the airplane was down for 2 months getting painted. I definitely made up for it after it was completed. We managed to make it out to Oshkosh Airventure in Wisconsin, and extended the trip to also visit Mackinac Island and Plainwell, Michigan, and some National Parks in South Dakota. We did 3 trips out to Salt Lake City, UT to visit our daughter. I also did a long weekend trip up to Independence, OR for the Van’s Homecoming event, then over to Garden Valley, ID for the Solar Eclipse. We did some other lunch flights out to new places like Harris Ranch, Bakersfield, and Chiraco Summit. I took the airplane out to the Copperstate Fly-In where the airplane won second place in the metal homebuilt category! We also did a long weekend trip out to Big Bend National Park and stayed in an Airstream trailer “casita” in Terlingua, TX.
I hit 3 more states, flew with 7 people who had not yet been up in the airplane, and did my first Young Eagles flights for EAA Chapter 14. The map of airports visited got 24 new pins added.
So what are the plans for 2018? I still have plenty of places on the bucket list. Hopefully, another Oshkosh Airventure trip will happen. I’m hoping to be able to go up to Oregon and Washington state and over to Idaho and Montana.
The annual Copperstate Fly In is held in late Fall every year. We first went out there in 2011 driving our Winnebago motorhome and camping for the weekend. I was about 3 years into the build process and needed to start figuring out things like avionics and interiors. This was a good opportunity to touch all of the goodies, and see all of the various vendor offerings. The next time I visited the fly in was in 2014 just shortly after getting done with my Phase 1 testing. This was my first out of state trip in the RV-9A, and I just flew in for the day with another potential RV builder. Both of these prior events were held in Casa Grande, AZ. In 2016 the Copperstate event moved up to Mesa, AZ at Falcon Field. This year I decided to try and get out there again. I guess every 3 years is my frequency for going.
The week leading up to the Fly In, I got a reservation for a cheap motel nearby, and got the Friday off from work. The weather reports were looking positive. The previous year it was baking out there, but this year the forecast was for mid-80’s and clear skies. I packed a bag with a change of clothes, my folding chair and an ice chest with some cold drinks.
Friday morning I was up and out of Ramona before the control tower opened. The skies were clear, but there was some serious smoke from some fires in Mexico that cut down the visibility a bit over the San Diego back country. I took the southern route towards the greater Phoenix area. Between here and there are several Restricted Areas for the military, so you can either go up towards Blythe, or down near Yuma. The flight on the southern route hugs the Mexico border and invariably at some point between El Centro and Yuma I will get a text from Verizon welcoming me to Mexico, along with the various rate plans for cell service. I ignore this and turn the phone on to Airplane mode.
I made a quick fuel stop in Gila Bend ($3.95 a gallon) so that I don’t have to deal with fueling at the fly in. There was quite a bit of traffic in Gila Bend on a Friday morning for such an out of the way airport. There is quite a bit of flight training schools in the Arizona area, since the weather is usually nice. I departed with full tanks and headed towards Mesa. Falcon Field is under the PHX Class Bravo airspace, so you have to descend early as you make your way to the airport. I picked up ATIS and called the tower frequency for the south runway to land. They switched me over to the north runway 4L tower frequency a couple of miles out. I landed and then got parked in the show plane parking at the end of the line.
I got the airplane tied down, then went over to get my wristband and register the airplane. It was just before 9am, so the crowds were very light. I took my Xootr scooter with me, and that was a nice way to quickly get around the flight line. I checked out the vendors and spent most of the day just hanging out by the airplane, taking pictures of airplanes, and talking with folks. I attended a couple of Forums. At some point a fellow RV builder friend of mine came by. He had driven to the event from LA. I asked him what he was doing for dinner and we made plans to meet up at the end of the day. He ended up being my taxi driver for the weekend (thanks, John!).
That evening he dropped me off at my motel, and later came back by to pick me up for dinner. The next morning he drove over again from his hotel to pick me up for breakfast and back to the Fly In. As I was dropping off my motel key in the lobby, I ran into one of my hangar neighbors at Ramona. Dave also needed transportation to the show, so the three of us ended up doing breakfast together before spending the day at the airport.
When I left the airport on Friday my airplane hadn’t been judged yet, but when I returned Saturday morning the judges had been there already. I was bummed because I wanted to be there to talk to the judges about the airplane. The crowds on Saturday were much bigger than Friday. It still wasn’t very crowded, but there was a steady stream of folks coming around and looking at the airplane all day. I spent most of the time sitting in my folding chair in the shade and watching the airplanes come and go. The purple paint job really gets attention.
I got ready to depart around 3pm Saturday and flew back the same southern route that I came in on. The airshow closed down around 4pm and I wanted to beat the departing crowds. Another easy 2 hour flight and I was back in the hangar well before sunset. Dave had stayed for another night and went to the Awards Banquet that night. He flew his vintage Waco Biplane out there and he wanted to depart early on Sunday to take advantage of the calmer morning winds to get back to Ramona. I saw him back in Ramona on Sunday afternoon and he handed me my award plaque for taking second place in the Metal aircraft category! His Waco took first place in the Antique aircraft category.