Miramar Airshow

I’ve lived in Ramona for 27 years and have driven down to my work offices near La Jolla passed the Miramar base (formerly a Naval Air Station, now a Marine Corps Air Station) literally thousands of times. I had never stepped on the base or even attended their annual airshow until Thursday evening when I got to fly my RV-9A into Miramar to participate as a static display aircraft. We were invited to attend by another pilot who flies an RV-10. He knew the contact person at Miramar who would arrange the approvals. He ended up not being able to attend with his RV-10, but we had an RV-7, an RV-4 and my RV-9A on the ramp for the 3 days of the airshow.

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Getting to land at an active military base can be quite the challenge with having to get a formal PPR (Prior Permission Required). We were given several forms to fill out and send back, and then on Wednesday I was able to secure a PPR and time slot for arrival. My time slot was for 6:30pm on Thursday. Sunset was going to be 6:39pm, so it would be tight to get in while the sun was still up. I packed up my folding chair and some other items to take then waited at the airport to take off. The flight would be just under 10 minutes from Ramona to Miramar. The weather in Ramona on Thursday was marginal VFR. Low overcast and lots of misty rain showers. I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to depart, but at around 5:45 it looked like I could get straight out to the west under the 2500′ overcast where it was looking much better along the coast. Miramar was reporting VFR weather.

I got the airplane out and taxied for takeoff. The airport had been very quiet all day due to the weather, so the guys in the tower were able to get me a VFR squawk code and clearance ready with SoCal ATC. I took off a bit early from my PPR time, but I just wanted to get out of Ramona while there was a clear window from the weather. I got handed over to ATC, cleared into the Bravo, then handed over to the Miramar Tower and cleared to land all in about 8 minutes. Runway 24R at Miramar is 12,000 feet long and I only used about 5% of that. They had me back taxi on the runway and hold clear until they could get me an escort truck to follow. This took a while, but eventually I was able to taxi over and park in the area for static displays.

I chocked the wheels, put in the cowl plugs, pitot cover, control locks and canopy cover on and locked it up for the night. I had my daughter drive down and pick me up. Unfortunately, she wasn’t able to drive into the base by the gate guard so I had to walk over a mile to get off the base and meet her.

I drove myself down on Friday and Saturday and spent the day around the airplane talking with folks. I had a plethora of people comment on the purple color and ask all sorts of questions. I was amazed at some of the questions people had.

  • Did you fly it here? Uh, yes, I didn’t drive it here!
  • Can I take a selfie with it? Uh, sure. Just please don’t touch the prop, or really anything else on the airplane.
  • Can I sit in it? Um, no. I did let some potential builders try it on, and a few really well behaved children got in it on Friday when the crowds were light.
  • How far can you go? Like on a tank of gas? About 4-5 hours. I usually like to stop and refuel after 3 hours.
  • How far have you gone? Across the US. I’ve been to 18 states so far.
  • How fast does it go? Top speed or cruise? Miles per hour or Knots? Basically 3 times faster than driving somewhere.
  • How high can you go? I’m limited as a VFR pilot to 18,000 feet. The airplane will go higher than that.
  • Why purple? Why not! 10,000 RV’s flying and this one is the purple one.
  • Who made the quilt? My wife!
  • How much does it weigh? Empty or Max Gross?
  • How much can it carry? 2 people, full fuel and 100 pounds of baggage.
  • Can it land on water? No, those are wheel pants, not pontoons!
  • Why does it say EXPERIMENTAL? Because I built it in my garage! It is amateur built.

I had only a couple of kids that tried yanking on the flaps, wing tips, etc. Most folks were respectful, but I did put some “Look but please don’t touch” signs on the airplane. A large percentage of people I talked to at greater length were pilots, potential builders or at least had heard of Van’s RV aircraft. Some people were just jaw dropped when I said that I built it in my garage. I also ran into several friends and former co-workers at the show.

On Sunday, my wife dropped me off and headed back home. She wasn’t feeling well all weekend, so walking around was not something she wanted to endure. Sunday was the best weather day and the crowds were much larger than Saturday. After the Blue Angels show completed, we were told to hang out by the airplane and get it ready to go once they got the crowds off the field. We had to push the airplanes over to the “hot” ramp, but I had 3 nice strong Marines who helped. Departure was easy, and I was back in Ramona in about 10 minutes.

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Show center with the Blue Angels parked on the flight line as I depart from the airshow.

I took a bunch of photographs of the three day event and uploaded them here.

 

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Fixing a Canopy

I was reading the Van’s Air Force Forums and came across a post asking if anyone could help repair a smashed canopy on a non-Van’s small aerobatic airplane. I wasn’t sure if I should go too far out of my way to get involved in the one part of my RV-9A build that was a true test of my patience – the canopy. The owner of this smashed canopy also flies an RV-4 and he was fairly close by in the LA area, so I flew up to meet with him and to take a look at the job. I’m not currently working a full time job, so I thought about it and decided to give it a shot.

The canopy was damaged when a gust of wind broke the tether on it and the “tip-over” style canopy hit the wing hard. It was cracked into pieces and was not airworthy. The airplane was put into a hangar in Apple Valley (KAPV) where the incident happened, and the canopy was removed and taken back to LA. The owner purchased a new plexiglass bubble but was unable to find anyone who would take on this repair job.

I looked it over carefully and got a better understanding how the plexiglass was originally fitted on to the metal frame. It was held in by countersunk machine screws and nuts, then the tops of the screw heads were buried under lots of fiberglass and filler. There was no way to just simply unscrew them with the heads buried. It would have to be cut out, then the new bubble fitted, match drilled and screwed back onto the metal frame. After that, the canopy would need to be reconstructed with fiberglass and fillers.

The canopy is pretty small (it is for a small single seat airplane). The challenge was how to get the canopy back down to my hangar in Ramona. I was able to just get it to fit inside my RV-9A in the passenger seat area. I had to remove the seat cushions and seat back. It had only about a half inch of clearance to my canopy when it was closed. I loaded up the canopy and the replacement bubble, put some padded quilts strategically around it to prevent any rubbing, then flew it back to Ramona.

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A bit of a tight squeeze, but it fits inside for transport back to Ramona. Just another good reason to have some beautiful quilts in the airplane at all times.

Once I got it back in the hangar, the work of disassembly began. I was able to use the air die grinder tool with a cut-off wheel to cut the fiberglass frame around the edges of the plexiglass. I used my Dremel Vibrating saw to cut under the filler and over the plexiglass. I also used several different grit levels of 3M Roloc sanding discs to get most of the filler off so that I could remove the embedded screws.

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Here you can see the screw heads starting to become accessible for unscrewing under the removed filler and fiberglass.

With the old cracked plexiglass off the frame, I set about to fit the new bubble in place. The new plexiglass was somewhat close to the original, but nowhere near an identical fit. There were several big problems to address. The first was that the corners of the new plexiglass bubble, if you placed them on the metal frame corners, it created a huge 1 inch gap at the top of the canopy frame. This meant that the corners needed to be trimmed up so that the plexiglass would lay down flat on the top of the metal frame so that it could be screwed back into place. Unfortunately, the sides of the new plexiglass bubble are quite bowed out and they didn’t lay flat against the metal frame on the sides. Also, the new bubble was much shorter front to back than the original one. This left a one inch plus gap at the front of the frame. The front of the canopy frame is not metal, but just fiberglass. In fact, the front of the canopy frame was completely cracked in half when the accident occurred.

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Initial cut at the back side of the bubble. Blue tape marks off where to cut to free up the bubble from the frame.
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The old cracked bubble is now free from the frame.
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The metal and fiberglass frame. The yellow tape at the front edge is holding together the cracked in half front section that is just fiberglass.

Time to figure out how to solve all of these issues. I decided that the cracked fiberglass in the front had to be fixed first to at least get the front more stable prior to trying to cut any of the new plexiglass. I used some cleco clamps and some scrap J-stringer material to get the front held together to fix it back to its original shape. The crack was fairly clean, so it was just a matter of holding the two sides in place while new fiberglass layers could be put underneath.

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Fixing the front fiberglass frame that was cracked in half.

I flew up to Aircraft Spruce in Corona and got all of the necessary rebuild supplies. The epoxy resin and hardener from my RV-9A build was approaching 10 years old, so I bought a new West System epoxy kit for this project. The hardware that I removed from the original canopy was just cheap hardware store stuff. I bought new cad plated AN nuts, washers and countersink machine screws. The correct aircraft grade hardware is pretty inexpensive, so I’m not sure why the original builder of this airplane used Home Depot grade hardware. I also had to buy some paint and sanding pads. I had plenty of fiberglass and filler material on hand already.

I put several layers of new fiberglass on the front of the canopy after sanding away lots of filler to expose the underlying fiberglass fabric. After this, the front of the canopy was stable enough to begin fitting the new plexiglass. It was clear that I needed to trim some material off of the lower sides of the canopy to allow it to sit correctly on the top of the frame. However, the sides were still way too bowed out to lay flat on the horizontal side rails of the frame.

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The aft edge of the new bubble is lined up with the aft portion of the metal frame. No extra material here on the new bubble to trim any of the length off here!
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With the aft edge in place, the front edge of the bubble is quite a bit shorter than the original canopy. The black dashed line is where the front edge of the canopy slopes up to meet the plexiglass. This will need to be cut away and redone. Note the cracked front edge held together with yellow tape.
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With the aft edge clamped to the frame, the sides of the canopy are bowed out too far to even think about getting this tight enough to drill for screws. I can easily get my fingers in between the side frame rail and the plexiglass.
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It is the same story with the other side. The flat portion of the canopy bubble (where my fingertips are) sits far too low to match up with the existing frame .

 

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If you move the sides up to where they lay flat on the side frames, then the top part of the canopy sits way too high over this top part of the frame.

I took some of the plexiglass trimmings and played around with my heat gun to see if I could heat the material enough to get it reshaped. This was a bit stressful to consider this approach. Too much heat and you could warp or damage the new plexiglass. Too little heat and you risk cracking the plexiglass. I went at it very gently and slowly got just enough heat to start to being able to slowly move the plexiglass flatter along the side rails of the frame. I found some scraps of straight bar stock and used that with some spring clamps to slowly and methodically bend the plexiglass into position flat against the frame.

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Lots of cleco clamps and slow methodical heating is starting to make this sit on the frame much nicer.
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A lot of patience is required to get the plexiglass just warm enough to move, but not too much to damage it.
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Same process on the other side. The object is to get the part of the plexiglass that will be drilled for screws to be flush up against the metal frame.

The next task was to start drilling the screw holes in the plexiglass to match up with the original holes in the metal frame. You need to be very careful when you drill plexiglass so that you don’t introduce any cracks. The original canopy bubble had multiple cracks emanating from the screw holes. When I disassembled the original canopy, I found that several of the frame screw holes still had small metal burrs, which probably caused the cracking. I ran my deburring tool around all of the existing holes and sanded down the frame to make sure it was completely smooth.

I took an old #30 drill bit and modified the rake of the bit so that it would cleanly drill the plexiglass without catching and cracking the bubble. Basically, the process here is to dull the bit so that it shaves away the hole, rather than having the drill bit cutting and pulling itself into the hole where it might introduce cracking. I had a small block of wood pressed up against the plexiglass to drill into. This also helps prevent the bit from making cracks in the plexiglass. It also greatly helps to be drilling into warm plexiglass, so I again used the heat gun to get the plexiglass warmed up a bit for this drilling operation. I used clecos to hold the plexiglass tight against the metal frame as I worked my way around.

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The screw holes are all drilled and clecos are now holding it in place on the frame.

With the plexiglass now in place, I could continue to trim off the excess plexiglass around the edges. I made some marks at the edges of the frame, then after the plexiglass was taken back off the frame, I put down masking tape to define the lines at these marks for cutting. With plexiglass, after every cut, it is important to smooth out the edges so there won’t be any stressors on the edge that might start a crack. A quick sanding with 220 grit sandpaper, and then higher grit counts, and finally a plexiglass scraper to polish and round over the edges of the plexiglass will help prevent cracking. I also went about the process of countersinking all of the holes for the new screws, and enlarging the #30 holes up to 5/32″ for the #6 screws. The screw holes in the plexiglass need to be opened up so that the threads of the screws have some wiggle room for thermal expansion and contraction.

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Getting some sun on the plexiglass to warm it up before we trim the edges and enlarge the screw holes.
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I trimmed up to the blue tape, then sanded and polished the edges of the plexiglass.

I put down some electrical tape to define the limits of the new fairing around the canopy, and then put some thick 20 mil pipe tape to mask off the edges of the fiberglass on the bubble. The thick pipe tape makes it easy to sand down to that level while protecting the underlying plexiglass. Once that was in place, I used some 80 grit sandpaper to scuff up the exposed plexiglass that would be underneath the fiberglass so that it would have some purchase and stick better.

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Pipe tape masks the edges that will get scuffed and fiberglassed over. The existing filler on the frame was sanded off about an inch wide and down to the underlying tan colored fiberglass around the edges of the bubble.

At this point, the new canopy is fitted on the metal frame, but the frame is still quite wobbly since the front of the frame isn’t being held in any sort of position. Remember that big 1 inch gap at the front edge? It allowed the frame to move around a lot. Also, the original fiberglass at the top rear of the canopy is no longer solidly attached to the bubble. It needs to be held in the correct location so that it would fit tightly against the fuselage. I needed to get this flexible mess firmly back in place on the airplane before any of the new fiberglass was laid up to lock it back in place.

I made arrangements to meet the owner, and the owner of the hangar that the airplane was being stored in so that I could fit the canopy  back on the airplane and put down some initial fiberglass layups. A quick 45 minute flight from Ramona up to Apple Valley with the canopy again sitting in the passenger seat area was done. When I got up there, I got out my big box of supplies (hoping that I didn’t forget anything!) and started to work. I taped up the airplane enough to prevent any epoxy from getting on the airplane, and hopefully to keep the canopy from getting accidentally glued in place. I used more tape and some popsicle sticks to put a consistent gap in and under the existing canopy fiberglass and the fuselage. I measured out the necessary fiberglass pieces and then went to work getting them wetted with black tinted epoxy and laid down over the plexiglass.  It took about 3 hours to get 3 layers down all the way around the plexiglass and on to the frame.

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The canopy is back on the airplane and set into the correct position before laying up new fiberglass.
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Fiberglass layers are on and some peel ply dacron tape is put over the layups to smooth them out, absorb up the extra epoxy and give it some texture for additional layers. Time to walk away for the day and let it harden.

I flew back up the next morning and retrieved the canopy. It came right off and was now nice and rigidly held in place by the fiberglass lay ups. Once I had this frame back in my hangar, I went about sanding down some of the high spots, putting more layers on for additional strength and filling the low spots with micro or flox mixtures.  I put flox (cotton flox fibers mixed into black tinted epoxy to make a thick slurry) under the fiberglass on the interior. The next 9 days of work on this repair project consisted of a few hours of sand, sand, sand and fill, fill, fill. I was able to get the sides, top and front all smoothed out. The reason it takes so many days is that you can only put down a small amount of filler (micro glass balloons mixed with epoxy until it is thick like cake frosting) at a single session. Gravity likes to take what you have carefully applied and make it sag into a mess. I would try to position the canopy in a mostly level position for each segment of filler. Then you get to wait 10-15 hours for the epoxy filler to harden fully for sanding. I also used a nifty little metal wood scraping tool to make the curved transition from the frame to the plexiglass at the front. The scraper quickly removes the excess filler and got it easily into a smooth shape. I also used a variety of Dura-block sanding blocks to keep from introducing any new low spots by just using your fingertips while sanding.

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Additional fiberglass layers added to the front of the canopy for strength.
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Adding more layers of gray micro to fill over the fiberglass layers on the sides.
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I used black tint on the micro and it ended up as different shades of gray. You can see the lighter gray on the front and darker down the sides.
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This is about all you can do in one filling session. The canopy is propped up to try and keep the new micro filler mostly level so it won’t sag and run down the frame.
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This corner of the canopy had a couple of cracks in the fiberglass. I added some more layers to stiffen this up.
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Just a final smear of micro to fill some of the low spots on the back part of the canopy. I put a small piece of peel ply at the bottom just to see if it would help keep the micro from sagging. It seemed to work OK for this.
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The micro filler gets lots of tiny bubbles introduced when you mix it up thick. Sanding it down exposes these pinholes, so you get to go back and fill them all again. Repeat as necessary.
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I masked off the interior so that I could put a coat of black gloss paint on the fiberglass to match up with the original look of the canopy.

I finally finished up the filling and then masked off all of the frame so that I could repaint the interior parts with some black paint, and I put some gray sandable primer on the exterior. After this all dried, I pulled off the masking tapes, electrical tape, pipe tape, etc. and got the canopy cleaned up a bit. I flew it back up to Apple Valley and was able to get it installed on the airplane. The owner met me up there and was able to finally fly it back to his home airport.

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Better than new! Back on the airplane and ready to fly home. It will need some final paint work to match the rest of the red color of the fuselage.

The total hours spent on this repair was around 42 hours over 3 weeks not counting the various flights up and back to Apple Valley and to Aircraft Spruce in Corona for supplies. I was glad to be able to work on this project and hopefully I can do other tasks like this in the future for other airplane owners and builders. Most A&P mechanics don’t have the time or inclination to do labor intensive and tedious repair work like this.

 

 

EAA Airventure Oshkosh 2019

It’s that time of the year again to make the pilgrimage to Oshkosh for EAA Airventure. This year my daughter Alicia made the trip with me. Our plans were pretty wide open to get there and get back. She is not working over the summer, and I’m still unemployed and enjoying semi-retirement. The weather forecast for the week was sketchy up until a few days before the travel weekend. For us on the west coast the weather looked great, except for the lingering early morning fog that can keep our airport at low IFR until it burns off. We decided to leave on Thursday evening and fly to Las Vegas. My wife’s cousin lives in Henderson and is fairly close to the Boulder City airport. We packed up and weighed all of our camping gear, food, clothes and managed to get it all stuffed into the baggage area.

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Packed up and ready to head to Las Vegas, NV on Thursday night.

The Las Vegas area was experiencing some gusty winds during the day, but it was forecast to die off at dusk. We arrived in Boulder City just as the sun was setting and it was not too bad with the winds. It was pretty hot! We got picked up and spent the night, and then were back to the airport and in the skies by 8am.

Our first stop was to Williams, AZ for some gas. The airport there is very nice and since it is at a higher altitude, we wouldn’t have to have a lengthy climb back up to get to cruising altitudes. The runway there is plenty long, but we were at gross weight and the Density Altitude was 9600′. The RV-9A took off with no problem and we slowly climbed out over Flagstaff and headed towards New Mexico. This was our longest leg of the whole trip at 3.6 hours where we landed in Dumas, TX. There is a nice BBQ restaurant right on the field and we had a nice late lunch. The weather at Dumas was very windy and HOT. Much hotter than Las Vegas. We landed into the winds on the shorter runway with no problem even though the gusts were up to 28 knots. As we got filled up with gas the plane was getting moved around by the wind. The air temps there were hitting 109F as we left for Kansas.

We climbed up to cooler air and were pretty comfortable on this leg. We landed just on the outskirts of Kansas City at Miami County Airport to get some cheap gas. It was hot and humid there. We texted my daughter Marissa who is now living in Kansas City, MO to expect us in about 30 minutes at Lee’s Summit airport. She met us there, we tied down for the weekend and went off to get some food and adult beverages after a long day of flying.

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Glad to be in Kansas City with Marissa for the weekend.
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Tied down for the weekend in Lee’s Summit, MO.

It was blazing hot and humid in Kansas City over the weekend. We took time on Saturday to visit the World War One Memorial and Museum. The museum is very nice and we spent several hours taking it all in. We also went up into the top of the tower before it was closed due to the heat advisory. Great views of the KC area from up there.

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The WW1 Monument and Museum in Kansas City, MO.
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Downtown KC from the top of the tower.

I spent a lot of the weekend looking at the weather forecasts in Oshkosh. I was glad to be in KC on Saturday as Oshkosh looked to get pounded by several big thunderstorms. Those storms ended up dumping 5-6 inches of rain and closing the field to landings, so we got to spend Sunday in KC instead of trying to make it to Oshkosh. I had signed up for the text messages for OSHARRIVALS and later on Sunday afternoon they opened up the arrivals for Homebuilts. I watched on my FlightRadar24 app and was glad not to be in the swarm of arrivals that afternoon, which soon became completely saturated. The weather that had been in Oshkosh was slowly making its way down to KC. That evening it stormed pretty good in KC, but when we got up early on Monday morning, the storms had blown through and the skies were clear all the way to Oshkosh.

Marissa dropped us off at Lee’s Summit airport on her way to work, and we loaded up our stuff and got ready to depart. My Dynon Skyview EFIS must not have liked all of the heat and humidity and it was having some difficulty getting the screen going. It was just a bunch of pink and blue staticky lines. I’ve experienced this behavior before and it just takes several reboots to get it to settle down and come up correctly. The other anomaly was one of my Autopilot servos wasn’t getting either power or ground. I ended up leaving the Autopilot off and hand flew it all the way to Oshkosh. We made a fuel stop in Platteville, WI so we would arrive with plenty of gas.

About 60 miles out from the FISK arrival to Oshkosh, we were able to hear the controllers. It didn’t sound too crazy, which was good. They wanted the aircraft to aim for the SW corner of Green Lake to get into line before you got to Ripon and started to follow the train tracks. When we got closer, the traffic display gave us a better picture of the number of airplanes doing the arrival.

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Mostly a nice line of airplanes headed to Ripon and not a swarm like last year.

By the time we got to Ripon we were in pretty good shape following a Bonanza by 1.5 miles. One airplane tried to get in between us, but he turned away and was out over the highway and not the railroad tracks. We got to Fisk and were told to rock our wings and head to runway 36L. We landed on the Yellow Dot and then were able to taxi easily to Homebuilt Camping.

We ended up on the extreme south end of HBC, which is closer to the main entrance, but it was a bit far from the bathrooms and showers.

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We made it!

We got registered, bought our passes and set up our tent. We then headed into the exhibit halls to look around. Alicia got some T-shirts and other swag and we stopped by the main plaza to check out the big airplanes. Monday night was the RV Beer Bash and we spent some time there and then got some food down the street at the SOS Bros. tent.

Tuesday we hiked over to the EAA Chapters Pavilion for the pancake breakfast, then took the trams down to the Ultralight area where we watched them take off and land on the grass runway. We worked our way back up to the Vintage area, but it was still closed to arrivals due to the muddy grounds. We did the other exhibit halls and saw more of the vendors and the new location of the Federal Government exhibits. Tuesday night was the Rivetbangers dinner at the Black Otter Supper Club, so we got to have a really nice Prime Rib dinner with them.

Wednesday we got up and headed to the Homebuilders HQ for the free donuts. From there we headed over to the Warbirds and took the tram tour.  The weather was much warmer than it had been earlier in the week, and we decided to go and see the NASA and Innovations area. There is a lot of interesting stuff in the Drones and Urban Mobility areas. Not sure if these flying Uber’s will ever be a reality, but there is a lot of money being invested in these technologies. Wednesday afternoon we did another beer bash hosted by the Gallagher Insurance folks. Alicia ate her leftover Prime Rib and we got some roasted corn at HBC. We took our folding chairs and went over to the main runway to watch the night airshow.

Alicia went to go hear the presentation on the OpenSky project jet powered glider from Japan. They were going to demo it on the runway before the night airshow so we sat at show center by the announcers and were able to see it fly.

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Watching the M-02J glider on the Jumbotron.
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The pilot lays on top of the wing in a harness and can maneuver the glider. It is very unique looking and is based on an animated film.

The beginning of the night airshow kicked off with a very loud F-22 making lots of afterburner noise. Glad to have some earplugs for that demonstration.

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The F-22 kicked off the night airshow.

Thursday morning we got up and had breakfast at the Nature Center for the EAA Technical Counselors and Flight Advisors. From there we walked over to Pioneer Field and the EAA Museum where we took in all of the exhibits and airplanes. We got on the bus to head back to Homebuilt Camping and relaxed. We made a final sweep of the main plaza and saw the big airplanes, like the NOAA Hurricane Hunter. Thursday night we took the North 40 bus out to the Super 8 Motel gate and attended the Uncontrolled Airspace Podcast tie down party where we had a couple of beers. We had a nice sushi dinner at a nearby restaurant and Alicia ran over to the Target to buy a few items. We were starting to get eaten alive by the mosquitos that evening.

Friday was our day to depart. We got up early and cleaned up the campsite and packed everything back into the airplane. The skies were mostly overcast and it looked like rain was on its way. We walked up to the Homebuilt HQ and checked out and got our camping refund for the nights we wouldn’t be there. After a quick Departure briefing, we were able to get an escort out to the taxiway. We were told it might be 30 minutes or so in line, and it was. There was a gear up landing on the main runway, so we turned off the engine and waited until they got people lined up and departing again on the parallel taxiway, which is used as a runway during Airventure. As we left we had to keep an eye out for other airplanes and some rainy weather. We got sprinkled on a bit, but were able to thread our way towards Iowa where the weather was clear and sunny. The Autopilot seemed to be back online and working fine for the long flight home.

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The weather as we left Oshkosh was rainy in Madison, but we were able to find a gap and go west towards Iowa. Lots of airplanes heading in all directions!

We landed in Vinton, IA for gas and I added a quart of oil to the engine. From there we flew to Lexington, NE and there we were able to borrow the courtesy car and go get some lunch. Our plan for the day was to get close to the Rockies so that we could cross them the next morning before any thunderstorms started building. We originally thought that Colorado Springs might be the destination, but as we were in Lexington, the radar was showing storms already in that area. The other option was to go more northerly and aim for Rawlins, WY for the night. There were a couple of big thunderstorms in Nebraska and Colorado, but there was a nice big gap straight to Rawlins, so we called and booked a hotel room and took off. We landed in Rawlins and tied down for the night, then got a ride to our hotel.

Saturday morning we got up, had breakfast at the hotel, then walked back to the airport. It was only a 1/4 mile away. They had filled us up with gas and we took off to go towards Moab, UT and Page, AZ. We flew right over Arches and Canyonlands NP, then we went over Lake Powell and Rainbow Bridge and landed in Page. We took the courtesy car there to get some lunch and then took off to fly home over the Grand Canyon. The scenery on this leg is just epic.

The flight over the Grand Canyon was pretty bumpy and the clouds were really starting to build. Once we got to California the air smoothed out. We landed back in Ramona after a total of 27.5 hours out and back to Oshkosh.

I uploaded all of the photos we took on our web site.

Filled Logbook #2

I have finally filled my second logbook with flight entries starting from April 2016 to July 2019. All of these entries were flying in my Van’s RV-9A. This logbook was a bit thicker than the previous one, so there are more entries. This one had 43 pages with 7 entries per page, so a total of 301 flights. Some of the flights are single leg entries, and others are out and back. The number of hours flown since the last logbook was filled was 425.6, and 300.6 of that was cross-country (trips more than 50 nautical miles away).  I’ve got over 1100 takeoffs and landings. Total pilot time is 816.8 hours. The RV-9A now has 675 hours. My last flight in this logbook was up to Corona to get some supplies and parts from Aircraft Spruce in preparation for heading to Oshkosh later this week.

Some of the highlights in this logbook are my three trips out to Airventure Oshkosh in 2016, 2017 and 2018. Getting the plane painted was the longest down time of almost 2 months. We did multiple trips out to Salt Lake City to visit our daughter. We did vacations to Napa, Paso Robles, Mackinac Island, Idaho for the Total Solar Eclipse, and Big Bend National Park in Texas.

Most of my flights were between my home base in Ramona and the Los Angeles and Orange County areas. I did numerous flights to visit my Dad after he started having health issues. Sadly, he recently passed away in June. The airplane is quite a great little time machine that can get us up to the LA area in about 35 minutes instead of a 2+ hour drive. The other predominate flying destinations were to partake in the proverbial “$100 Hamburger”, or in our case we did mostly breakfast flights. Thankfully, my cost to fly is much lower than $100 for most of these.

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A familiar stop at Fullerton Airport to visit family.

So as I reflect upon these entries, it leads one to think of new places to go. I’m still working on my “bucket list” of destinations. Oshkosh 2019 is next week, and I have plans to attend with my daughter, Alicia. I can’t wait! Stay tuned for another blog posting after we get back.

RV-9A Brake Upgrade

The stock brakes on my Van’s RV-9A are sized just large enough to handle an aborted take off at max gross weight. I have had a couple of occasions where hard braking on landings have resulted in the over heating of the brakes. The stock brake discs are rather thin. The amount of material on the brake discs acts as a thermal sink, so having thicker discs will have more thermal capacity and therefore allow harder and longer braking before the brakes overheat. So why have my stock brakes been inadequate? My RV-9A has a fuel injected engine and after landing on a hot day with a heat soaked engine, the fuel in the tiny distribution lines will start to boil and vaporize. This causes the engine to stumble and quit if the idle gets much below 1000 RPMs. Not being able to have the engine idle below 1000 RPM leads to taxiing speeds that need to be slowed by more brake application. When the brakes are already thermally soaked, you can get brake fade or failure.

Last year on July 4, my wife and I went on a quick flight to go fill up with some cheap gas at a nearby airport, and then to fly along some of the local San Diego beaches to see the holiday crowds. We landed just a bit long at our fuel stop and I tried to make the last turn off on the right side of the runway where the fuel tanks were located when my right brake pedal went soft. I wasn’t able to make the right turn. Thankfully, there was still plenty of runway left, and the last taxi turn off at the end was to the left. We let the brakes cool down, got our fuel, and our braking on the right side came back. My wife gave the go ahead right then and there to go get some better brakes. Having higher braking capacity is an easy choice for increased safety of landings or aborted take offs.

Later that month at Airventure Oshkosh I set out to see what options were available for getting better brake performance. One option was to completely change the stock Van’s brakes supplied by Matco Manufacturing over to brake systems made by either Grove or Beringer. The upgraded brakes from Grove provide dual piston calipers and larger pads. The downside would be that their upgrade kit requires new wheels, which added a lot to the price of this upgrade. I was also not sure if the dual piston calipers would fit inside of my existing wheel pants without trimming or enlarging the opening (and harming the nice new paint job). The Beringer option is also even more expensive and also requires that you update your wheels. The Beringer wheels require the use of more expensive and less common tubeless tires. My conversation with Matco about their upgrades turned out to be the best option. They do sell a thicker brake disc, a wider spacer and longer bolts that use the existing caliper assembly. This “high energy” option doubles the thermal capacity of the braking and allows you to retain the stock wheels and tires.

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Stock, thinner brake disc on the left. New high energy, thicker brake disc on the right.
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A thicker spacer and longer bolts (left side) are also required with the high energy brake upgrade.

At this year’s annual condition inspection I was ready to finally get the brake upgrade completed. My main gear tires were ready to be replaced. I had already updated the O-rings in the calipers to the higher temperature capable Viton material. These O-rings had been in place for the last year and have worked fine keeping the brake fluid in the system even when the brake temps have been high.

I started off getting everything disassembled. I jacked up the airplane and took the wheel pants and gear leg fairings completely off. The wheel nuts, spacers, bearings and wheels also get removed. The tires get deflated and then I removed the valve stem inside the tube. I used a bead breaker to get the tires off of the wheel rims. I thoroughly scrubbed down the wheels with soapy water, and got all of the brake dust off of the calipers. It is a very messy job. I took out the single Allen head bolt that secures the brake flange to the gear leg, and removed the entire bracket which holds the brake caliper and wheel pants.

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The brake flange with the caliper mount and wheel pant bracket.

There are 3 bolts on the wheel halves that hold the two sides of the wheels together along with the brake disc. Reassembly begins with getting the inside of the new tires and tubes coated in talc and inserted back into the tire. A little bit of compressed air will fill up the tube so that you can position it correctly with the valve stem lined up with the red dot on the new tire. The rims get bolted together with the new high energy discs. Be careful not to pinch the tube between the wheel halves.

The extra thickness of the upgraded discs changes some of the geometry with the wheel pant brackets. The stock brake discs run really close to the wheel pant brackets, and the new thicker disc requires some extra space here. The suggestion by Matco was to simply move the mounting of the brake caliper bracket from the outside face of the brake flange over to the inside face. This moves the wheel pant bracket an additional 1/8″ away from the original brake disc location. The brake flange location is set by the single Allen head bolt that secures it to the landing gear axle. Since that location doesn’t change, you don’t need to adjust any of the spacers, wheel nuts and cotter pin locations used to mount the wheels. The wheel pant bracket just sits in the same location and uses the same spacers/washers/nuts/bolts.

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The brake flange is the white powder coated weldment that slips over the main gear axle. It has the brake caliper mount attached on the outside (right side) face.

I removed the four bolts and three spacers that hold the wheel pant bracket to the brake flange. Then I moved the caliper bracket over to the other face of the brake flange, and remounted the bolts and spacers that hold the wheel pant bracket.

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The brake caliper mount is now moved over to the inner face of brake flange to make room for the thicker brake disc against the wheel pant bracket (bottom).

Reassembly is straight forward. You reattach the brake flange with the relocated brake caliper bracket and wheel pant bracket assembly to the main gear axle with the single Allen head bolt. Then on goes the wheel spacers, bearings (re-lubed with fresh grease), the wheel with new brake disc, and finally the wheel nut and cotter pin.

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Fully assembled and back on the gear. You can see the thicker brake disc alongside the relocated wheel pant bracket. The thicker spacer and bolts secure the brake pads to the caliper assembly.

 

I also put new brake pads on the calipers, so that required an initial break in and bedding of the fresh surfaces on both the pads and the new discs. This was done by taxiing at a brisk 30-40 mph and then a hard application of the brakes to quickly slow down, but not to fully stop the airplane. After the brakes have cooled off for 10-15 minutes, the same process is done again.

I inspected the brakes after the bedding process and then I took off for a quick lap around the pattern. I did another hard application of the brakes on my landing to get a feel for the grip of the upgraded brakes. The braking with the new discs felt much stronger.

The last step in this upgrade was to get the wheel pants back on. This was the moment of truth as to whether or not the new location of the brake caliper and wheel pant brackets being moved over 1/8″ inch would affect the reassembly. I was able to line up the existing wheel pant screw locations to the new location of the wheel pant brackets without any problems. The wheel pants and brackets have enough flexibility to accommodate this very minor location change.

The quantity and part numbers from Matco for the upgrade are as follows:

  • Qty 2 – WHLD164-017HE – ROTOR, BRAKE DISC HIGH ENERGY
  • Qty 2 – WHLBSPE5L – SPACER, Long CALIPER E-SERIES
  • Qty 4 – MSCAN4-22A – BOLT

Note that these part numbers may not currently be found on their web site, and you may have to call Matco directly to order these parts.

Annual Condition Inspection 2019

It’s that time of the year again to do the annual condition inspection on the RV-9A! This year I didn’t fly quite as much as the prior years. It was down for a while back in the fall dealing with the stuck exhaust valve. This winter was particularly cold and rainy, so that affected my flying hours. Last year’s annual took a long time, since I had to send out my P-mags for new firmware and a checkup. I’m hoping this year I can get it done quickly. I made a trip up to Aircraft Spruce right before Memorial Day and picked up almost all of the supplies I needed, except I wasn’t able to get my usual case of oil. I only really needed 1 more quart beyond the 5 I still had in the hangar, but they were completely out. I guess that Shell is going through some sort of repackaging change and that is what has them completely out as they switch over. Rumor has it the new “case” size will be a six quart package. I bought the additional quart of oil from the FBO.

Day 1

I started on some of the checks on Saturday, June 8. I took time to really wash off all of the bugs on the wings and tail, then I applied some Rejex polymer coating. I took off the tail fairings and put a wrench on all of the nuts and bolts that hold the tail on the fueslage. I lubed up the bearings on the elevators and rudder, along with checking the trim tab operation. I also lubed up the controls for the ailerons and flaps. Then, I closed up the tail fairings.

Day 2

I went around the pattern twice just to heat up the oil and the Hobbs is now showing 661.1 hours. The oil was last changed back around the New Year, and usually it would be changed out at 40-50 hours or 3-4 months. The oil had only 30 hours and it had been over 5 months. Back in the hangar I took off the cowling and drained the oil. I took out the oil screen from the bottom of the sump and for the first time found just a few flakes of stuff in there. Looked like mostly bits of carbon. A sample of the oil will be sent out for analysis.

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With the help of some hangar neighbors we also did the compression test while the engine was warm. All of the cylinders were mid-70’s, so that means they are all in good shape. I went through all of the spark plug adapters and cleaned up the threads on them. I had already bought the replacement automotive spark plugs, so I gapped them and got them ready to go.  One of the squawks this year involves the fuel pressure sender. I’ve had it trigger a high fuel pressure alarm on a couple of occasions. From what I can gather searching the web, these old VDO style senders that were shipped by Dynon can fail in this manner. They never leaked, but having that bright red LED light up on the instrument panel sure gets your attention. The newer pressure senders are from Kavlico and they require a couple of additional wires (+5V power and ground) be connected. I connected up some appropriately colored wires to the ones provided on the sender and got them fished into the pass-through on the firewall so I can connect these up to the existing +5V power line used by the Manifold Pressure sender, and the ground block. At about 4pm, the temperature at the airport was hitting triple digits, so I called it a day.

Day 3

I was able to spend the entire day (Monday) in the hangar. I’m currently not working, so I’ve got my week days free (I’m still looking for a new Software Engineering Programmer or Manager position). Another hangar neighbor was back from a quick flight before it got too hot outside, and I was able to borrow his borescope to look inside my cylinders. Last year I did a similar borescope check, but I was using my work laptop to run the software and capture the photos of the valves. Since I no longer have that job (or laptop), I just used his to view the valves and didn’t snap any photos. They all looked fine. After that I went ahead and put the new spark plugs back into the cylinders.

I had also taken off my P-mags to inspect them, so they went back on. I’ve been having some lingering “Timing Divergence Alarm” issues on my Electronic Ignition Commander instrument. The TDA goes off if the timing positions are different between the Left and Right P-mags. The engine seems happy by all of the other measures (EGT/CHT/MAP/RPM/etc), but the alarm comes and goes randomly. Some flights it sits there at 2-3 degree difference, which is normal, and other flights it will just jump all around between 2-7 degrees, and the timing advance degree indicated by the P-mag will be slightly different. I decided to block off the Manifold Pressure lines on the last couple of flights and that prevents the timing advance from happening, and they looked OK on the EIC, but I would still randomly get the TDA alarms. The gears on both the engine and P-mags look fine and all of the connections (wires and tubes) were good. Anyway, I swapped the P-mag sides to see if the timing advance difference follows. I also checked all of the spark plug wires for resistance and they checked out. Other items today were getting the oil filter back on and filling up the engine with fresh oil, and cleaning out the air filter. I checked all of the other engine related items on the list, such as fuel/oil lines, exhaust, intakes, hoses, controls, and starter.

Day 4

I started off this morning by removing the spinner and propeller. The prop was in good shape, so no issues there other than some very tiny blemishes on the back surfaces. I had planned on replacing the alternator belt since it had been on for almost 6 years. However, after looking at it carefully, I couldn’t see any difference from the new belt I bought. I’ll throw the new belt in the tool bag and revisit this next year. These automotive belts should last quite a while. While the belt was off the alternator I was able to check it and it was spinning smoothly. I cleaned up the spinner and put it back together and got everything torqued and safety wired on the nose of the airplane. Next up was cleaning off the wheel pants and gear leg fairings. The pants can take a beating being down next to the ground, but I didn’t find anything beyond some light scratches in the paint and lots of dirt and grime.

My next task was to work on the changes required to fit the upgraded and thicker high energy brake discs. I’ll eventually write up this whole upgrade to the brakes in another blog entry, but for now I test fitted the right side and it looks like it all fits fine once the brackets get moved over on the axle. I was mostly worried about having to move the wheel pant bracket over, and then whether or not this affected the existing screw holes alignment. Thankfully, there is a bit of slop and the bracket is only moving about 1/8″ to one side.

Day 5

I finished up the right side main gear with putting on the new brake disc on the wheel, along with a new Desser Monster retread tire. Cleaning up the wheels and brakes is a very dirty job. I spent the entire day doing the new brakes and tires on both main gear legs. I finished off with cleaning the wheel pants and applying some more Rejex coating on the paint. I have to say I really like this Rejex stuff. It goes on and off very easy and quickly and the coating it leaves really doesn’t allow anything to stick to the paint (like dead bugs and grime).

Day 6

The task for today was to get all of the access panels on the wings opened up. There is a service bulletin on the aileron bracket attachment rivets on the rear spar. I took some photos with the smart phone and was able to see that there are no cracks.

I lubed up the controls, and checked all of the fuel tank connections, checked under the wing tips, then moved on to the wiring of the new fuel pressure sender. Getting under the panel is quite an effort, but I was able to splice in the new power and ground lines after moving stuff around under the panel for access. Tip for future builders. Leave lots of slack on all of the wiring runs, and have big service loops so that you can drop all of the wiring down for easy access.

After the new wires were connected, I powered on the fuel pump and saw that the fuel pressures indicated were back where they should be with the new sender.

Lastly, I cleaned off the undersides of the wings and got them ready for some waxing with Rejex. I was too wiped out from my under the panel contortions to start on that. At least the temperature today in the hangar was much cooler.

I’m hoping that tomorrow it will be finished up.

Day 7

Well today I gave my cordless screwdriver a workout. I started out by taking off all of the access panels, bulkheads, seat pans and tunnel covers off. I worked my way from back to front. Nothing really to report except as you put a wrench on every nut and bolt you will find the occasional one that just isn’t as torqued as it should be. I cleaned out the fuel filter, but there was only a few little bits of stuff in there. I got out my shop vac and really took some time to get all of the grime out from under the seats and floor. I use some diluted Dawn ship soap in a spray bottle to get the dirt cleaned up. Once all of the controls were lubed up with some LPS2, I started the process of putting all of the screws back in place. I’m happy to report that I ended up without any extra or missing screws. After that I did the cleaning and waxing of the rest of the fuselage, and cleaned the canopy thoroughly.

At 5pm  about the only thing left to do was to clean up the tools and stuff in the hangar and pull her out to fire up the engine. I did all of the post maintenance pre-flighting and engine run ups, then got the cowling back on. With the new brakes, you have to do some taxi runs in order to bed them so that they have some grip. I did a taxi run, then came back and checked on the brakes and wheels. The bigger discs seem to work well, and they did get heated up on the taxi run. After they cooled off for 15 minutes, I taxied over to the runway, took off and did a lap in the pattern with a full stop landing. The brakes really worked well. I took off again and flew over to Gillespie (KSEE) to fill up the fuel tanks. Gas over there is almost a dollar a gallon cheaper than at Ramona ($4.25 vs. $5.19). Besides, it is a fun quick flight and the weather was still nice there before the June gloom heads in for the night. On the way back to Ramona, I called the tower at the San Vicente Lake reporting point and they cleared me to land from 8 miles out. Another nice smooth landing and some more hard braking to get those discs and pads bedded in, and back to the hangar. I completed all of the paperwork for the condition inspection and took a good look at the wheels and brakes, and then put the wheel pants back on. Now I’m good for another year of flying. This condition inspection was certainly my quickest so far and it still took a solid week of full time effort. If anyone out there claims they can do an annual in a day or two I would be very skeptical. I’m just glad I didn’t find anything unexpected (and I certainly tried), other than finding just one missing screw on one of the main gear wheel pants.

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Ready to go after the annual condition inspection.

Matco Manufacturing Tour

In March, I spent a couple of weeks in Salt Lake City with my daughter. She is living in our rental house there. We are doing some construction on the house, so I drove out there with a bunch of stuff I needed to take to work on. It was just too much to take in the airplane, and the weather that time of year is rather iffy. In fact, it snowed and rained most of the two weeks I was there. I posted a quick note on VAF asking if there was anything happening in the area related to RV’s and flying, and got word that the EAA Chapter 23 in Bountiful was going to get a tour of the Matco Manufacturing facility adjoining the field. I’ve flown into Skypark at Bountiful many times, but I didn’t know that Matco was located there. Matco manufactures the wheels and brakes for the Van’s RV line of aircraft.

At Oshkosh last summer I sought them (and some other wheel/brake manufacturers)  out looking for ways to improve my brake performance. I’ve had some overheating issues with the brakes and was looking for some thicker brake discs. At Oshkosh they did say that they had a “high-energy” (HE) option for the standard Van’s brakes. On my nosegear RV-9A, you have to steer with the rudder pedals and use differential braking as necessary to control your direction on the ground. With my fuel injected engine not liking to idle very low when it is hot, I have to keep the RPM’s up around 1000 or risk having the fuel boil in the injector lines and the engine will quit while taxiing. This means the airplane likes to taxi pretty fast and then you get to use the brakes a lot. I had looked on the Matco web site for these HE part numbers, but wasn’t able to find them to order.

The day before the tour, I took a lunch time drive over to their location and talked with them about getting the upgraded HE discs, which also require some thicker spacers and longer bolts. I ended up buying the necessary parts and then came back the next evening to get the behind the scenes tour.

Here are the photos from the tour that I took.

I will be installing the new upgraded brakes at this year’s annual condition inspection, which is coming up in June.