Annual Condition Inspection 2022

My A&P school is off for summer and my annual is due in June, so it is time to get started on my condition inspection. I scheduled my Transponder recertification check for June 1, so it is now in sync with my annual. The transponder has to be checked every 24 calendar months, so I am now good until June 30, 2024. The check takes about 2 minutes for them to do, and they charge $250 for this privilege.

Wednesday 6/08

I did a morning flight out to Borrego Springs to get the oil warmed up and to put another hour on my Hobbs meter. My last annual was at 881 hours, and the airplane was at 980. I had to at least get 100 hours between annuals. The self serve gas in Borrego Springs is probably the cheapest gas around, but the temps in the desert are really starting to get hot. I landed and filled up in the 95F degree heat, then flew around the desert area playing with the autopilot calibration settings. The recent Dynon Skyview updates seem to have made the autopilot much more sensitive and jerky when turning or trying to maintain altitude. I made my way back to Ramona and landed with 981.4 hours on the airplane.

I started off with de-cowling the engine and starting the oil change. I took a good look over the engine and really didn’t see anything amiss, except for two broken rivets on the lower cowling that holds the right side hinge. These had been broken previously when my exhaust hanger had cracked and the exhaust pipe had been banging down on the lower cowling. I didn’t see anything broken on the exhaust system or the hangers, so maybe it is just my engine mounts sagging a bit more as they age. The exhaust has the built in mufflers that are wider and take up more space against the lower cowl. I ended up removing the broken rivets and reaming out the holes for the next size larger rivets. Hopefully, these larger diameter rivets will fix the issue permanently.

Two new rivets of a larger size on the lower cowling hinge.

Part of the engine inspection involves checking the ignition system. I have dual P-mags on the engine. The P-mags require at each annual to be removed and the bearings checked for “excessive play”. There is no tolerances given, so it is a bit vague on what constitutes “excessive play”. I found on the right side that the shaft was quite a bit loose from side to side, and on the left side the shaft wasn’t as loose, but it was definitely moving a bit. These probably shouldn’t be loose at all, so I’m going to send them back to the manufacturer for a checkup. Hopefully, they will do a quick turn around on these.

P-mags off and ready to be shipped to Texas for servicing of the loose bearings.
Thursday 6/09

The rest of the engine inspection went without any issues. I did just the usual inspections of all of the plumbing, wiring, lubrication of controls, and cleaning. Lycoming aircraft engines do have a tendency to leak oil, but my engine is still remarkably clean after almost 1000 hours.

I also completed the propeller inspections and didn’t find any issues. The bolts on the hub were all still torqued properly, and other than a few superficial chips and nicks on the back side of the blades that were filled with an epoxy and cab-o-sil mixture, the prop and spinner looked in great shape.

Friday 6/10

I came back the next morning and boxed up the P-mags for shipping back to the manufacturer for a flat-rate fee service check. The price has gone up a bit since the last time. I also took my vixen file to the now hardened dots of epoxy on the prop to get them cut back to the surface. I sanded the back of the prop until it was nice and smooth, then sprayed on some flat black paint. After that I spent the rest of the day running around with shopping errands and had my annual physical appointment.

Saturday 6/11

My next work session started early (for me). I spent some time getting my air compressor fixed. It has a cold start valve that likes to stick which then pops the thermal breaker on the compressor. A new cold start valve was ordered, but it is still having the issues. Sometimes the compressor works just fine and cycles as needed and runs perfectly, then at some point it just struggles to get started. I added a Tee fitting and a ball valve so that I can manually control the start up if needed. I also got a new 50′ hose to replace the old leaking rubber hose. Hopefully, without all of the leakiness the compressor won’t have to cycle on/off as much.

I used my Meguiar’s clay bar to really clean up the paint on the fiberglass cowling and nose wheel pant. I had some deeply imbedded dirt and insect goo on them. After wiping it all down, I put on some ceramic nanotechnology coating. I used this last year and it seemed to work pretty well.

The engine checklist items are all completed except for reinstalling the P-mags and doing the timing procedure. I moved on to doing the fuselage and cabin inspections. First I took out all of the interior parts like carpets, seats, seat pans, baggage bulkhead and flap access panels. I checked on all of the control tubes and flap/trim operations, then gave everything a squirt of some LPS-2 lubricant. I wormed my way into the back of the fuselage and then was under the panel and checked all of the various bolts, rudder pedals and brakes and found nothing that needed any attention. Most of the checks here go pretty quick. It is mostly a matter of checking that nothing has come loose, and everything that moves get some lubricant. As it started to get hot in my hangar, I cleaned up all of the interior, vacuumed out all of the dust and debris, then started putting everything back in.

Inspecting the back of the fuselage.
Monday 6/13

I started by using some cleaner on all of the seats. They can get surprisingly dirty since you have to step on the seat cushions when you get in and out of the airplane. I finished up the tail section inspections. I spent some time cleaning up the elevators, horizontal stabilizer, vertical stabilizer and rudder. Again, using the clay bar to get all of the accumulated grime off the paint, then I got everything wiped down with the ceramic coating.

I got started on the wing section of the inspection. I took off the wheel pants and opened up all of the inspection access panels. I managed to shear off one of the screws in the access panel on the left wing. I got the screw body removed and it seems to just have cracked in half. It didn’t seem too tight, but maybe it was over torqued? I spent the rest of the day cleaning all of the undersides of the wings, using the clay bar. There was quite a bit of red stuff that got cleaned off. I think it might be from something like the fire retardant used by the CalFire planes down the ramp. They leak a bit, and when it rains here the taxiways get lots of puddles. I used my mechanics creeper to get around under the wing and it is very tiring to scoot around down there and get everything clean. I didn’t find any issues inside the wings. Van’s has a Service Bulletin that requires a yearly inspection for cracks on the inboard aileron hinge attach rivets. Since my RV-9A is non-aerobatic, I don’t do much yanking and banking, so it probably isn’t much of a problem on this aircraft.

Wings top and bottom got cleaned and polished.
Wednesday 6/15

I’m not in any hurry with the P-mags off for servicing, so I slacked off on Tuesday. Back at it, I started with taking my laptop to the hangar so I could verify some Vertical Power VP-X settings. They were fine. The software for the VP-X requires that you must to connect to the unit to see anything, even though you are allowed to save the configuration to a local file on the computer. It would be really nice to be able to just load that file with the application, then be able to view the parameters without having to get out the special cross-over ethernet cable and plug it into the unit. After that I spent a bit of time looking over my electrical system to see how best to install a Dynon Skyview Dimmer Knob that I bought months ago. This knob allows you to control the dimming or brightening of the EFIS displays directly, instead of having to go into the menus on the Skyview. Not something that is essential, since I’ve lived without this just fine for the last 8 years of flying, but if I’m going to add this to the new IFR panel (someday) I’d like to figure it out now. The knob has just 3 wires; power, ground and dimmer output. Both of my EFIS displays are connected via a separate 25-pin D-sub connector bus. Various signals go into these connectors and get shared out to other connectors. From this bus, I send out various signals to the ADS-B unit, Transponder, Emergency Locator Transponder and the Intercomm. The new dimmer output signal just needs to be connected to the right pin to go to both displays, and then I just needed 12V power and a ground. There was already power and ground on the bus for the ELT, so I’m just going to share those with the dimmer knob. Ground is ground, so no problem sharing that signal. The ELT power is coming from a 1 Amp circuit on my automotive fuse block that I use to power various lighting and low power circuits. I don’t think the dimmer knob pulls any appreciable amperage from the 40mA needed by the ELT for the GPS position communication transmissions. I can always dedicate another 1 Amp fuse if needed later. I was able to plug the dimmer knob into a new 25-pin connector that I had and just plug it into the existing bus. I got this configured and played around with it a bit and it seems to work fine for both displays. I’ll probably need to tweak it more some evening to get the low level dimming set up for night flight.

The next section of the condition inspection involved checking the wheels, tires and brakes. I wanted to swap my main gear tires around since the outer edge always wears more than the inner edge. It is always a messy job since you have to grease the bearings and clean off all of the brake dust. I jacked up the airplane and got the wheels removed, then deflated them and flipped the tires on the wheels around. Hopefully, I can get another 100 hours out of these tires. I moved on to the nose wheel and found that my nose tire is really out of round. I knew this when I put it on there back in December of 2018, but with 350 more hours on it now, it is really bad. I’ve noticed when taxiing it really shakes the nose gear, so why not just replace it now? I’ve got a new one ordered from Aircraft Spruce and it should be here in a few days. I also check the nose wheel breakout force and it is right where it needs to be.

Thursday 6/16

I spent the day updating the Dynon Skyview map data, then I put the main gear fairings back on the wheels. I checked the air pressure in the tires after rotating them yesterday and they seem to be stable and holding pressure. Most of my afternoon was spent on the cleaning and ceramic coating of the top of the wings and fuselage. Surprising how much area has to get sprayed down and buffed, but the paint job deserved to be taken care of yearly (besides wiping off the bugs after every flight). I cleaned up the cabin area, too. I love it when the airplane is super clean and polished! I think I’ve also figured out a good place to install the new dimmer knob. I just need to drill some holes in the panel for that. So until the new tire and P-mags arrive back here, I’m basically done with the condition inspection.

Monday 6/20

The new nose tire arrived over the weekend, so I was able to pull off the old one and get the new one on. I found that the tube inside, which was holding air fine, had several places where it had been scrunched up on itself inside the old tire. I decided to swap out the inner tube with my spare one. I’ll keep the old one as a spare in my tool kit. This new tire is nice and round! I also checked on my P-mag shipment and it made it back to Texas as of 6/15. I’m hoping that they get turned around quickly so I can get back in the air.

Tuesday 6/21

Got email back about my P-mags. They are done and on their way back! Should have them on Thursday. I’ve been spending most of this week working with Terry on his RV-14A tail kit.

Friday 6/24

After a one day delay, the P-mags have arrived back from Texas. I also got back the oil analysis report and it was good as usual with no issues found.

Saturday 6/25

I braved the heat today and managed to install both of the P-mags back on the engine. My hangar was easily over 100F! Too hot to go fly.

The P-mags are easy to install. You can orient them in any direction and then they are timed by simply blowing into the manifold pressure line when the engine is set to Top Dead Center on Cylinder #1. I also made sure that the Electronic Ignition Commander instrument had the correct custom timing curve enabled.

Almost airworthy again.
Sunday 6/26

I got over to the airport earlier today before it got too hot out. I installed the cowlings, did a thorough pre-flight check, then did various run ups and checks on the engine before flying it around the pattern. I did a touch and go, then headed out towards the coast for a bit. Everything was nominal. I landed and then pulled the airplane back into the hangar and decided to go ahead and mount the new dimmer knob on the panel. This required drilling a couple of holes in the panel. I ended up locating the knob under the key switch on the left side of the primary EFIS display.

New dimmer knob below the key switch.

Last thing is to fill out the logbook and sign off the condition inspection. Time to go fly somewhere!

Spring Camping Trips

Two trips, three weeks apart! I finally feel like we are back to traveling.

Columbia, California

At the end of April my son Alex and I flew up to Columbia, CA for a night of camping. We took off Saturday morning and flew non-stop up along the Sierra Foothills to the little gold mining town of Columbia. This town is a State Historical Park within walking distance of the airport. It is like stepping back into the 1850’s California Gold Rush. A bit touristy, but very fun to visit.

Downtown Columbia.

We landed, set up camp, then took the trail into town where we looked in the various shops and museums until we ended up at an old time saloon for some lunch. After we toured the city (3 blocks at most) we hung out in our campsite until dinner time. We ended up walking back later that afternoon and picked up some sandwiches for dinner, then made a nice campfire before hitting the tent.

The next morning we walked over to Mandy’s Cafe for breakfast, then we took off for home. On the flight back we detoured over to Yosemite National Park and circled the Hetch Hetchy Valley and Yosemite Valley. A recent storm had blanketed the high country with snow and it was very scenic.

Half Dome.

Alex took some 360 degree video and uploaded some of the videos to his YouTube channel:

  1. Ramona (KRNM) Departure
  2. Columbia (O22) Arrival
  3. Columbia Departure
  4. Yosemite Valley
  5. Ramona Arrival

I have all of my photos from the weekend online here.

Escalante, Utah

My next camping trip was with Marissa. We flew out on Friday afternoon to Escalante, Utah. My friend Ethan also flew out in his RV-10. The plan was to camp for two nights and do some hiking in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. We ended up getting to borrow a car from the airport manager to drive out to the town for dinner on Friday night and to the trailhead on Saturday morning. We did a beautiful 6 mile round trip hike out to Lower Calf Creek Falls. Highly recommended!

Marissa and Bruce at Lower Calf Creek Falls.

Saturday night at the airport we were joined by a couple of other campers and hikers who also flew in. The airport has a really nice pilot lounge with a restroom and shower. The campground has a shaded area for cooking with a microwave, BBQ, refrigerator and picnic table. They also had plenty of firewood and a fire pit that we used both nights.

Sunday morning we took off for Page, Arizona to get some breakfast, and then we flew back to Ramona over the Grand Canyon. Marissa’s first time with me doing the canyon crossing. Weather was perfect all weekend with just a little bit of gusty winds in the afternoons. The flight back home was pretty smooth at 10,500′.

Flying over the Grand Canyon.

Photos from the Escalante camping trip are here.

Now to plan the next airplane camping adventure!

A&P School Semester #3

We are approaching Spring Break, so I just thought I would do a quick blog on my third semester of A&P school at Miramar College. I’m officially at the half way point in this program. As I’ve noted in the prior semesters, just getting enrolled in all of the classes is the challenge. I was on the wait list for all of my classes (again), but there was one class that I couldn’t even get on the wait list! That class is the D.C. Electronics course that is a prerequisite for some other later classes, so missing it this semester would be holding me back from getting through the curriculum in the 5 semesters full time track. Fortunately, a second class was added, but it was a day time class instead of the usual night classes. This was fine with me, since I’m free during the days. I was able to get enrolled in this day session, which means I have to get up early on Monday’s to get to classes that start at 7:40am. I was able to get added to the rest of the classes that I was wait listed on, so I am still on track. The class load for Spring 2022 is 15 units with the following classes:

  • Aircraft Welding and Sheet Metal Structures (lecture and lab)
  • Aircraft Landing Gear Systems (lecture and lab)
  • Aircraft Cabin Atmosphere (lecture and lab)
  • Basic D.C. Electronics (lecture and lab)

My weekly schedule feels lighter than last semester even though I’m taking slightly more units. I have the Monday day time class, then just the sheet metal lab on Tuesday which starts at 6:10pm. The Wednesday and Thursday classes are the typical 4:30-10:50pm. It is nice to again have Friday’s off.

The D.C. Electronics class is pretty easy, and the labs are straightforward. We spend lots of time analyzing and making little circuits with resistors, batteries or power supplies, and then we take measurements with the multi-meters for voltages, ohms and current. My BS in Electrical Engineering gives me some advantage here, although I haven’t really used any of my EE knowledge in the past 40 years!

The Sheet Metal class is also pretty easy, since I have already done lots of riveting when I built my RV-9A. There are multiple sheet metal projects that are basic riveting practice with different types of rivets. I’m now working on the airfoil project, which requires some sheet metal bending that I haven’t really done before. You mark out ribs, spars and skins on flat aluminum sheets of various thickness, then you bend them up on the box and pan brake. We learned all about things like Bend Allowances and Set Back to develop the exact measurements for the flat part before bending. We are also going to get to do some welding which will be just basic Oxy-Acetelyne gas type welding.

The Cabin Atmosphere class deals with aircraft pressurization systems, oxygen systems, anti-icing/de-icing systems and heating/ventilation systems in commercial aircraft.

An Air Cycle Machine mock up for cabin heating and ventilation.
Anti-Icing mockup. We have to do an oral checkout on all of these systems.

The Landing Gear class is all about landing gear, tires, wheels, struts, shock cords, alignment, retraction systems and brakes. We are going to be doing the second half of the semester down at Montgomery Field in the Miramar College hangar where they have a number of different aircraft to work on.

Nose strut from a Cessna 205. We had to completely disassemble and reassemble this.

Our Spring Break week lined up with my wife’s school district, so we are going to take a quick vacation trip to Hawaii. Aloha!

FlyLED’s Installation

The original LED position lights and strobes on the airplane were bought from Ztron Labs, which has since gone out of business. I had in the past had to send the lights in for repair when the strobes on the right side wouldn’t come on. They charged me some money, resoldered some components on the board and sent them back. They had been working fine since then, and since I really don’t fly much at night it wasn’t worth the time and energy to replace them.

I took off the mirrored plexiglass from the wing cut outs and these will be replaced by the new FlyLED circuit boards.

At Oshkosh 2021, FlyLED’s were having a special on their lights. I decided to pull the plug on the Ztron Labs lights and switch to the FlyLED’s. I had the opportunity to install a set of their lights on Josh’s RV-9A and they were far superior in the their brightness over the Ztron Labs lights. The FlyLED’s are also pretty affordable compared to some of the higher end lighting options for certified aircraft.

The left side board definitely will require some trimming to fit under the wing tip lens.

One of the draw backs of the Ztron Labs lights was how they were wired. The position lights and strobes shared a common power circuit, and the disabling of the strobes (needed when flying at night in the clouds) involved grounding the separate wire that was used to synchronize the strobe lights on the wings and tail. This meant that the installation of the FlyLED’s would require a new power circuit, along with some rewiring behind the panel and under the seats. Unfortunately, all of the power circuits on my Vertical Power VP-X Sport were already in use. This meant that I would have to upgrade to the VP-X Pro to get 8 more power circuits. My future IFR panel upgrade is going to require more power circuits anyway, so I might as well do the swap now and get the new lights installed.

New VP-X Pro on top, old VP-X Sport below. The Pro version has 8 additional circuits on connector J8.

The VP-X Pro has an additional connector that I would need to buy. The rest of the current connectors on the VP-X Sport would all just plug in and work. I checked the usual places and from what I could tell, this “J8” connector was back ordered from the usual suppliers. At Oshkosh I talked with the Vertical Power customer support representative, whom I know, and he said he could probably find me one. Sure enough, I emailed him after the show and he sent me out the needed J8 connector, along with some spare pins. Thanks, Chad!

The FlyLED’s kit arrived (they are made in Australia) several weeks after Oshkosh. I ordered the “Do It Yourself” assembly kit to save some money. This meant that I would have to solder all the components on the boards myself. There are several boards in the kit. The position lights in the wing are basically circuit boards shaped to fit the standard Van’s wing tip cut outs (some trimming is required to fit your wing tips). You just need to solder on some connectors, resistors, and some surface mounted LED’s (red on the left, green on the right, and white for the strobes). There is also a control board that takes in the power/ground wires for the position and strobe lights, and then distributes it to the boards on the wing tips and the tail. The control board is a little more involved in the assembly, but the instructions are very clear and it wasn’t difficult to build. The basic kit doesn’t come with a tail light, but I bought that from them as well, and it didn’t require any assembly.

LED’s get soldered on the face of the boards.
Connectors and resistors get added to the back of the boards.

I got out my soldering kit and went to work on the boards. Once everything is in place, you can test the lights with just a 9V battery. The control board has some small DIP switches to control the various functions of the lights, such as pattern, timing and such. I played around with the settings and found the pattern and timing I liked.

The control board has all of these discrete components soldered on.

The plain white circuit boards look rather unattractive, but the instructions say you can paint them if you want. I taped up and masked off the LED’s, then bought some bright silver metallic spray paint to pretty them up.

Fast forward a couple of months, and I finally got around to purchasing the new VP-X Pro box. It came just after Thanksgiving, but with my A&P classes finishing up the Fall semester, I didn’t want to start working on this upgrade until my winter break. I spent the first part of January working on a couple of fuel tank leak repair jobs. I finally got time to start on installing my new lights on January 13. I had to take out the interior of the airplane so I could access the existing position/strobe wiring under the pilot seat and take out the pilot EFIS display to access the switch wiring. Taking out the seat pans involves unscrewing about 60 screws. I previously had a wiring distribution block glued down on the bottom fuselage skin that took in the power/grounds/synch wires for the lights, and then routed them out to the wingtips and the tail. The existing wires could stay, but I needed to find a place to mount the new control board which would take the place of the old distribution block. I had bought a plastic box that the control board could be mounted in, but it wouldn’t fit very well down under the seat. The control board came with some plastic standoffs that could be easily attached to the seat rib, so I drilled the 4 corner holes and got everything mounted securely. I removed the old distribution block. The existing wires could then be connected up to the new control board. The control board connector is a 15-pin female D-sub and the old distribution board used 1/4″ spade connectors. I needed to go buy a male D-sub connector, and some opposite gender spade connectors to create a small adapter cable.

Control board mounted on the seat rib.

Under the panel, I had to rewire my Strobe switch to now turn ON/OFF the new power circuit instead of just grounding the sync wire for the old lights. The old Strobe switch was basically a disable switch, so up was OFF, and down was ON (opposite of every other switch, so I had mounted it upside down). I needed to flip that one switch to now work so up was ON, and down was OFF. This involved taking all of the switches off of the panel, just so I could drill a tiny hole to hold the anti-rotation washer for that Strobe switch. I was able to pull out the sync wire and swap it for the new switch control wire, and then move the sync wire over to the new J8 connector power circuit for the newly independent Strobe switch. I also pulled out the VP-X Sport, and swapped in the new VP-X Pro. Getting in and out from under the panel is not fun, and I must have squeezed myself down there a dozen times.

This switch had to be flipped over to now power the strobe circuit instead of just grounding the sync wire for the old lights.

I spent most of the day on Saturday making up the new spade to D-sub adapter cable. Once it was finished, I connected it up to the existing wires and plugged the other end into the control board.

Adapter cable to take the existing wires for connecting up to the new control board.

I pulled off the lower rudder fairing so I could get access to the wiring for the tail position light and strobe. The new FlyLED’s tail light only has two wires, and previously the tail had three (no more need for the sync wire). I pulled out the old light, took off the existing connector, and then crimped on new pins to the new light and hooked it up. The first of the new lights has been connected!

Adapter cable connected up to the existing spade connectors and old wiring harnesses.

I got an earlier start on Sunday. I pulled off the old lights, cut off the 3 pin connectors, and installed new 4 pin connectors on the existing wires. The wiring is shielded 3 conductor cable, and the old lights didn’t use the grounded shielding. I had to add a new fourth wire to the new lights from the ground shield. I worked on cutting out the new locations for the wing tip lights. The FlyLED boards have some resistors, connectors and heat sinks that protrude below the boards as they sit on the wing tip cut out, so you have to open up the mounting location on the wing tips. This took most of the day. The installation instructions have some templates you can follow to cut the wing tip mounting locations. I taped off the area, marked it with a Sharpie pen, and used my Dremel cutting wheel to get the area all cut properly. A bit of sanding and some more cutting was required to get the new light boards to sit correctly. I also was able to locate where to drill the boards for screws, and then get the screw holes drilled and the nutplates ready for installation.

New 4-pin connectors for the new light boards.
Cut outs made and nutplate holes drilled.

I mounted the nutplates, then put the light boards in the wing tip cutouts.

Silver painted light boards mounted in the wing tip cut out.

It was almost ready to flip the switches and see if it all works, but first I needed to program the new VP-X Pro using their configurator application. I hooked up my laptop to the provided cross-over ethernet cable and went to work re-entering all of the circuit data and switch assignments. I had previously taken photos of each page in the configurator with all of the old settings. It was just a matter of going through every menu and getting all of my settings back in place.

Time to turn them on! I hit the Position light switch and got to see everything lit up correctly. Now for the Strobe lights. The left wing and tail strobes were blinking correctly, but the right wing strobes were on continuously, but not blinking. Something is definitely either mis-wired or malfunctioning. I made a short video showing the problem.

I started with using the ohmmeter to check continuity across all of the right wing wires. Around this time my friend Martin, who is building an RV-10, came over. He suggested swapping the light boards on each wing tip. Now on the left side the right light board was blinking properly, and left light board on the right side was on continuously. From this we could tell that it wasn’t a problem with the right wing light board. It would either be something on the control board or in the right wing wiring. I reached out to FlyLED’s and the owner got back to me right away. He needed me to do some specific tests to see whether or not the control board might be the problem (unlikely), or something amiss with my wiring (more likely). I used a better ohmmeter with a beeper setting to perform the “beep test” in the FlyLED’s troubleshooting manual. It seemed to check out so the board was working properly. The next step was to recheck the continuity on the pins on the connector that are for the right wing. Lo and behold, I did find a short! It was where the shielding on the cable is connected up to a ground wire, and for some reason it is shorting on one of the other wires inside the cable. This is all underneath some heat shrink tubing that was from the original wiring. I wiggled around the wires and got the short to go away and the right side strobes started blinking like they are supposed to.

Back at it the next day, I disconnected the 4 spade connectors that feed the wires to the right wing light board. I used a single edge razor to cut open the area on the cable where the shielding is soldered to the black ground wire. Under the solder I found some of the insulation on the Strobe negative wire melted which exposed the wire strands. I made the repairs and this time used a Solder Sleeve to make the ground wire to shielding connection. Everything got connected back up and this time the right side strobes were blinking like they should.

Well, there’s your problem! Melted wire insulation under the soldering allowed the shielding to contact the white/blue wire strands.

I spent the rest of the day finishing up by putting the seat pans back in place and getting al of the interior back into the airplane. Here’s what the position lights look like on the airplane.

This upgrade took me about a week. It always takes longer than you think it will. However, now I’ve got all of the additional circuits I need for the IFR panel upgrade. Stay tuned for that.

Flying Stats for 2021

Happy New Year! A quick blog post to recap my 2021 flying activities. I almost made it to triple digits in 2021, but ended up with only 98.9 hours of flying time in the RV-9A. This has been the least amount of annual flying since I completed the airplane. Last year I just barely cracked 100 hours, and I had a feeling that this year was going to turn out similar.

12/31/2021

The global COVID-19 pandemic continued to put a bit of a damper on the flying. However, I did manage to take a couple of longer trips. Oshkosh Airventure 2021 was the big trip this year, and I wrote all about it here. The only other overnight trips were up to the Northern California area, first with my daughter Alicia for a weekend fly-in at Georgetown where we camped on her birthday weekend, and then with my wife up to Sonoma for some wine tasting and sight seeing. I did some lunch flights, but they were just to the usual local places like Hemet, Corona, Montgomery and the EAA Chapter 14 meetings at Brown Field. Alicia and I went to the Bakersfield EAA Chapter 71 lunch fly in and we also were able to have lunch at Harris Ranch on the way back from Georgetown.

Probably the biggest impact on my flying this year was just the time commitment spent being a full-time student again. I finally got a spot in the Miramar College Aviation Maintenance Technician program. I started in the Spring semester and got through all of the General courses, then in the Fall semester I took the next block of classes. It is still difficult to get spots in the classes, but hopefully I can get added to all of the Spring 2022 classes I need. One year down, one and a half to go!

As far as the airplane maintenance goes, I didn’t really have much work to do on the RV-9A beyond the annual inspection and oil changes. I did a modification to the front cylinder baffle that cured my temperature imbalance on the left side CHT’s. The scratched up wing tip got repainted at Corona Air Paint. I have some electronic upgrades planned, but the IFR panel has still not been completed. I did buy the upgraded Vertical Power VP-X Pro, and some new FlyLED’s position and strobe lights. I hope to get those installed here between semesters.

No more scratches on the wing tip!

I did a couple of pre-buy inspections this summer. One was on another RV-9A and the other one was an RV-14A. Both sales went through and I caught quite a few little issues that were easily fixable. I did a pre-buy on an RV-7 kit that was partially built (tail/wings only). I also did some more tank repair jobs on an RV-4, RV-9A and RV-10. I also fixed some RV-10 door latch sensors.

I visited 10 new airports. At the end of 2021 the airplane had 947.4 hours on the Hobbs meter. My total flying time in my logbook is 1087.6 hours (690.2 hours of cross country time, and 42.2 night).

My goals (again) for 2022 are to continue with the A&P courses, get the airplane IFR capable, get myself Instrument rated, and get that Commercial certificate. Let’s hope that the COVID-19 pandemic finally goes away and we can once again start to move about more freely.

Adding a Flop Tube to an RV-4 Fuel Tank

I just finished up a quick little job installing a flop tube in an RV-4 fuel tank. What is a flop tube? It is a flexible fuel pickup line that “flops” around when you fly inverted. It can pick up fuel from the top side of the fuel tank when you are upside down. It is primarily used when you are doing aerobatics. It is an approved modification to the standard fuel pick up design. Van’s Aircraft has some information available on the RV-4 plans and also sells the material.

Plans showing the flop tube installation.

I flew up to Compton to meet with the owner and see what we could do to open up his fuel tank and get the flop tube installed. He had already taken the fuel tank off the wing, and had removed the access panel on the side of the tank where the fuel sender lives. The standard tank has the fuel sender in the first bay of the wing tank mounted on the inboard rib. The flop tube would interfere with the fuel sender, so the sender has to move to the second bay and be installed on the back baffle of the tank.

The flop tube would normally sit and pickup fuel from where the standard tank fuel outlet sits down in the lowest point of the tank. The standard fuel outlet gets plugged, and the flop tube moves the fuel outlet to near the leading edge of the tank. This requires some changes to the fuel tubing that leads into the fuselage and the fuel selector. We had to drill a new hole at the front of the tank for the new AN 833-6D bulkhead elbow fitting.

Looking inside the tank where the new flop tube connects to the elbow fitting which is being held by the anti-rotation bracket. Tubing on the left is the fuel vent line.

Another modification is to add a small hinged flap over the hole that allows fuel to move between the bays. This helps keep the fuel in the first bay when you are doing aerobatic maneuvers. I had prefabricated this from material I had on hand. There are also some “anti-hangup guards” that need to be installed inside the bay to keep the flop tube from accidentally getting stuck behind the internal stiffeners.

Hinged door on the bottom left. Cover plate and guard strip in the center keep the flop tube from getting hung up on the internal stiffener on the bottom of the tank.

I took a bunch of tools with me, but as usually happens, when you get working on the project you will find that you need something that is left back in my hangar. We were able to get the holes drilled in the tank, but the day was getting short, and I needed to be back in Ramona before sunset. The forecasted weather was going to have potential fog rolling back in the evening, and it was getting very hazy. If the visibility got below 3 miles, I would be stuck. The RV-4 fuel tank was small enough to fit inside my RV-9A on the passenger side. I took off the passenger seat back and we were able to get the tank situated so I could fly back home with it.

During the week, I got busy working on installing the little flap cover and guard strips. I had to use pull rivets on these items because there is no way inside the tank to buck a standard rivet. Another item needed for the installation is an anti-rotation bracket to hold the new elbow solidly in place and keep the flop tube from coming loose. Van’s has anti-rotation brackets available and I had some spares on hand, so instead of trying to fabricate something from scratch I had to figure out if it would fit. The prefabbed anti-rotation bracket looked like it would just clear the tank attach angle that sits on the outer part of the tank. This involved using a mirror on a stick to get a good view inside the tank. I drilled some mounting holes on the side of the tank and got it in place with some clecos. I used some pull rivets to secure it in place on the innermost rib of the tank. These are special sealed end pull rivets that are correct for use on fuel tanks. As I installed the flop tube, elbow and bracket, I smeared tank sealant on everything.

New AN elbow fitting in front of the tank attach bracket, and the clecos holding the anti-rotation bracket.

The fuel sender relocation was pretty easy. Again, I had to use some tiny flush pull rivets for the nutplates that are used for the screws that secure the fuel sender to the back baffle. We put a new fuel sending unit in the tank, even though the old one was still working. I changed out the old Phillips head screws with some socket head screws when I put the sender and the side plate back on.

New hole for the fuel sender in the second bay of the fuel tank. Nutplates get installed here with tiny flush mounted pull rivets.

I flew back up to Compton on Sunday to deliver the modified tank, and to help get the tank installed back on the wing. The owner had already gotten a new longer aluminum fuel tube ready. We just had to get the tank on, bend and cut the new tubing to the right length, and then flare the end to fit on the tank. This actually took quite a bit of time, since there isn’t a whole bunch of room for the tubing where it goes around the forward tank attach brackets. We massaged the tubing in place and finally got it all aligned and tightened down. The tank needed to be leak checked, and I didn’t have the fuel cap for it when it was at my hangar. He was able to get it checked later with the Van’s leak tester kit. The sealant also needs to firm up for a couple of days before he can fill it with fuel and slosh it around to make sure all of the debris is out. The last thing needed is also to extend the wire that goes over to the relocated fuel sender.

The other anti-hangup guard is mounted on the access plate.
Just enough room for the new fuel line to get around the tank attach brackets and get connected to the new fuel pickup location.

This was a fun job and I got it done in about 8 hours of labor. We had all of the other parts and materials ready, so we didn’t have to wait to get any shipments.

A&P School Semester #2

Has it been 3 months since I did a new blog entry? Yes. Yes, it has…

I managed to get registered for all of the A&P classes I needed this semester. As a student who already has a college degree (or two), I’m basically at the back of the line for getting into these community college classes. I was on the wait list for every class, but was able to get added to the following 9 classes:

  • Aircraft Wood, Fabric, Finishing and Composite Structures (lecture and lab)
  • Aircraft Assembly, Rigging and Inspections (lecture and lab)
  • Powerplant Ignition Systems (lecture and lab)
  • Induction and Fuel Metering (lecture and lab)
  • Aircraft Fire Protection and Digital Logic (online)

I’m basically at school from 4:30pm to 11:00pm 4 days a week, with Wednesdays off. So far I’ve really been enjoying these classes over the General topic ones I took last semester. It is great to be able to focus on a particular subject in the curriculum. The online class is easy and is only 1 unit, so the amount of time spent in it is about 1-2 hours per week with watching videos, discussion forums, and quizzes.

The Assembly, Rigging and Inspections class has been pretty basic stuff. How to make sure the aircraft you are working has everything rigged correctly (including helicopters), along with how to do inspections. The class is taught by one of the adjuncts who works on big jets for a purple box package delivery company. He doesn’t do little airplanes with pistons. It’s a completely different perspective on what work life would be working at the airlines. He has a lot of good stories and advice.

Swaging cables in the rigging lab.

The Wood, Fabric, Finishes and Composites class has quite a bit of material to cover and the lab/lecture is the longest of the classes. I’ve never done any fabric or wood stuff, so this is all new to me. The lab projects for this class have been really fun and challenging. We had to buy some materials for this class (PolyFiber System and West System epoxy). We learned how to cover an aircraft with the PolyFiber System. We did a small airfoil project which involved cutting, gluing and heat shrinking the fabric, then lacing the ribs with waxed cord, covering the lacing with tapes and putting on some inspection covers and a drain hole cover. This involved several weeks of work before we could spray on the silver UV protection cover coats. As of this week, we are just finishing up a composite airfoil project where we built templates from aluminum sheet metal, used a hot-wire to cut some polystyrene foam to shape, then laid up layers of unidirectional and bidirectional fiberglass over the surface. We have also done a couple of other projects like registration markings, stitching repairs on fabric, seat belt inspections, and plastic repairs.

PolyFiber fabric glued on the frame before shrinking with the iron.
Nice and tight after some ironing.
Lacing stitched on the center rib, UV protection sprayed on and ready for a finish coat of paint.
Underside of project with an inspection port and tiny drain hole cover up in the top left corner (lowest point in the wing).
Using a hot wire cutter to slice out an airfoil shape from a foam block.
Composite airfoil project foam cutout template held in with T pins and hot wired to shape.

The Induction and Fuel Metering class has mostly focused on carburetors. We have disassembled, inspected and reassembled float carbs and pressure carbs. The lectures have been on induction systems like turbos and superchargers.

The Ignition Systems class is a bit shorter than the others. We first learned all about magnetos, and we did a project where we disassembled, inspected and reassembled a magneto, internally set the timing, and then put it on a test stand to see if it would make sparks (it did). We also used a magneto timing box to externally time magnetos on some of the engines in the lab. We performed a harness inspection on some spark plug wires and we should finish up the semester with spark plugs and turbine igniters.

I keep pretty busy during the week just reading all of the materials, studying for tests, and doing the report writing portions of the classes. I haven’t done a whole lot of flying this fall. I have gone up to Long Beach to help work on Marc’s RV-10, and I did a couple of flights to Corona to get supplies from Aircraft Spruce for my classes (and get my scratched up wing tip repainted). The rest of my flying has just been quick local flights here and there to keep the oil warmed up on my engine. I was hoping to be able to take advantage of the great weather we have in fall to fly somewhere for a little vacation, but I really haven’t had the time to plan anything.

I’ve got an upgrade to my RV-9A’s lighting (FlyLED position and strobes) in the works, but I haven’t had the time to get it started. I soldered up all of the electronics and bench tested the lights, but I need to upgrade my power circuitry to handle them. The Vertical Power VP-X Sport in the airplane is all out of circuits, so I’m going to swap it out for the VP-X Pro which has 8 more circuits. This will also finally get the airplane ready for the IFR instrumentation additions. I have a couple of other quick fuel tank related jobs scheduled for some other RV’s that are going to keep me busy over the Fall semester break at Thanksgiving.

FlyLED’s control board project.

The third semester class schedule is now out, and I’m ready to enroll for Spring 2022 classes. In talking with my cohorts, it looks like they mostly are getting their class registration appointments already done this week (early November). My registration appointment isn’t until 11/29! This pretty much guarantees I’ll be on the wait list again. Hopefully, I should be able to get in the classes I need to keep on track.

Baffle Modifications

I guess after 900 hours of flying, the airplane should be very well sorted out and working great, but there is always room for some improvements. On my flight out and back to Oshkosh for Airventure 2021, I had a lot of time to stare at my engine’s cylinder head temperature readings (CHT’s). I regularly fly Lean of Peak (LOP) and the cylinder temps are pretty happy there. The right bank of cylinders (#1 and #3) are usually within 20 degrees of each other, and a similar story with the left bank (#2 and #4). However, the left bank usually runs hotter than the right bank. My #2 cylinder (front left) is always the hottest when climbing and cruising. It can be at 360F while at the same time the #1 cylinder (front right) can be running at 310F. In cruise #1 is usually the coolest. When I adjust the mixture to get to LOP, all of the CHT’s peak pretty close to one another, so the fuel flow from each of the injectors seems well balanced and is not the problem. I haven’t had any intake leaks, so the obvious issue seems to be down to the amount of airflow the cylinders are getting for cooling.

During my Phase 1 flying I started cutting down the air dams on the front baffles to try and find the right balance between temps on the right and left sides of the engine. I chopped down the air dam in front of cylinder #2 the most, but it hasn’t been working to cool the cylinder as well as I’d like it to.

The way the cooling fins are cast on Lycoming cylinders, there isn’t much fin depth on one side of the cylinder. In the center of the engine between pairs of cylinders this isn’t a problem, since this thin side is paired up with the other side that has much more fin depth. This allows the cooling air to flow down and around the cylinders. The two problem areas are where the thin fin depth sides butt up against the metal baffling on the front of cylinder #2 and at the rear of cylinder #3. Many builders will add a small duct on cylinder #3 to aid in cooling of that cylinder (you can Google references online to the “Braly Mod”).

Depth of fins in the cast cylinder head is 1/16″.

I recently did a pre-buy inspection of another RV-9A and the builder had done some similar modifications to his front baffle on cylinder #2. This similarly increases the airflow and cooling. He claimed that his change completely cured the hot temps on cylinder #2. This modification is pretty simple, so I decided to give it a try on my airplane.

I had my cowling off after the Oshkosh trip to do an oil change, so I started looking into what it would take to make this baffle modification.

The first step is to remove the baffling around cylinder #2. Fortunately, the way the baffle pieces are designed, removing it just involves unscrewing and unbolting a few fasteners from the engine case and cylinders. The hardest part is just figuring out how to get the unfastened portion off and out. It is a bit of a puzzle to unlock the baffle from the engine.

Baffle section around #2 removed from the engine.

I started by making some markings on the baffle where openings will need to be cut. I elected to keep most of the lower baffle material intact, and just do some small cuts. I can always enlarge them later if needed.

Initial markings and cuts on the front baffle. The part of the cylinder with the minimum fin depth is right where the top of the baffle touches the cylinder.
This is what it looks like underneath wth the view of baffle with hole cut out for more airflow around the fins.

After the cuts were made, and smoothed out with some filing I made a small template out of paper for the new ducting. I went through my stack of scrap aluminum pieces and found some suitable sheet of the the same thickness as the original baffle material. I cut out the rough shape on the band saw and then used some sheet metal bending tools to get the duct piece roughed out into the basic shape. After many iterations of fitting, grinding and bending, the duct was ready to match drill and mount on the original baffle.

New ducting fabricated from scrap aluminum sheet material.

I took some time to really clean up the baffle, sand down some rough areas and then gave it a good wiping down with acetone prior to painting the new and old pieces.

New duct temporarily in place on lower baffle.

The next day I got out the rivets and attached the new duct to the baffle, and reinstalled the already cut down air dam. I figured that I would keep the air dam as is, so I can only have one variable to work with in my post-modification testing.

Air dam back in place and held in with clecos.

Reinstallation was easy. I put new lockwashers under the various screws that hold the baffle segment on the engine, and ran some high temp RTV around the edges of the baffling to reseal everything.

Inside view of lower baffle with new duct and opening.
Riveted in place and painted.
All you can see of the modification from the front and top side is a narrow slot to allow more airflow to the bottom side of the cylinder cooling fins.

I let the paint and RTV set up for a day. The next day I went for a quick test flight. I took off and did a long climb at best climb speed (Vy is 83 knots) from take off to 5000 feet. This would normally get cylinder #2 pretty hot. I usually lower the nose and climb at 110-115 knots to manage the temps on #2. I was really glad to see that the modification seemed to be working. The balance between #2 and #4 on the left bank was only a couple of degrees, instead of 20+. I lowered the nose, leaned out the engine and did some flight at cruise speeds. Again, the temps were almost the same front to back and side to side. I finished off the testing with some slow flight and did a long straight in final approach to the airport for landing. The #2 cylinder temp was lower and much more balanced front to back. I’ll have to do more flight testing, but this certainly looks promising. The flight was in the morning and the air temperature was not as hot as it has been for some of my recent afternoon flights where the CHT on #2 had gotten up above 400F. Keeping the CHT’s down below 400F during climbs can be challenging in the summertime when the outside air temps are pushing triple digits.

Airventure Oshkosh 2021

After a year off, the worlds biggest aviation event in Oshkosh, Wisconsin is back for 2021. I had made my plans over June to attend. I got my NOTAM and wristband delivered in advance, and a hotel booked to stay Saturday night on the way out there. The days before leaving were mostly spent getting items packed, snacks/beer purchased, and weather forecasts watched.

The airplane had a fresh oil change at my annual inspection last month, so it was ready to go. I gathered up all of my camping stuff and weighed everything. I had just under 100 pounds to load, but since I was going alone, the overall weight wasn’t going to be a problem. I still had about 200+ pounds of weight left after packing everything in.

I had been watching the weather over the week prior and it wasn’t going to be easy to get east over Arizona and New Mexico. A big monsoonal system had set up over the Southwest area and it wasn’t moving or dissipating. Thunderstorms are not something to mess with.

The default Plan A would be to get up early on Saturday morning, fly to St. Johns, AZ for fuel, and then cross the southern end of the Rockies over in New Mexico, get lunch in the Texas panhandle and fly up over Oklahoma and Kansas into Iowa for the night.

Plan B was to try and jump start Plan A by getting out to Arizona on Friday so we could get an earlier start from there to get across New Mexico. Plan A and B were both scratched off fairly easily given the heavy thunderstorms that seemed to set up over the area all week.

Plan C was to aim further north towards Utah and Wyoming and cross the Rockies along Interstate 80. The forecast looked best for Plan C, but there was still a risk of some lingering storms in the southwest along the Arizona and Utah border.

My friend Ethan was also going to Oshkosh in his RV-10, so we had been chatting daily about these flight planning options. He was going to try and get to Prescott, AZ, but the weather was horrible there on Friday. Instead he took off Friday for Kanab, Utah. I elected to stick with leaving Saturday morning, but head in the same direction.

The new airport at Grand Canyon West is right on the rim.

I was up early on Saturday and took off before sunrise headed to Kanab. The weather was a bit hazy, and there were just a few clouds along the way. I flew over the west end of the Grand Canyon and just got a few small rain drops over the Bullhead City area. Sunny skies in Kanab as I got fuel.

Getting refueled in Kanab, Utah

By the time I got to Kanab, Ethan had already taken off. Another pair of RV’s from Ramona (Ken in his RV-7 and Jim in his RV-9A) had left less than an hour after me. We also had been coordinating our flight plans in the weeks prior. Flying at 9,500 feet over the Utah backcountry most of the way, we surprisingly had decent cell phone coverage and had been texting back and forth as we flew.

My next stop was going to be Rawlins, Wyoming for lunch, but as we got up towards that area the heat and density altitude was looking like it was going to be an issue. Ethan headed farther east to Torrington, Wyoming for fuel, and I went just a bit further to Scottsbluff, Nebraska. The airport at Scottsbluff has a restaurant on the field, so I had lunch there. As I was getting ready to leave, Ken and Jim arrived. Ken landed and his tire went flat. I had brought a spare tube, so he took it. We were able to get the airplane lifted up enough to get the wheel removed so he could fix the flat. I still had 3 hours to go in order to get to Iowa for the night, so I took off. Ken and Jim stayed the night in Scottsbluff. I got to Ankeny, Iowa around 8pm, walked to the hotel and met up with Ethan to go get some dinner.

Our route out to Oshkosh.

The next morning we met up in the hotel lobby and got a ride back to the airport. We headed out in trail to the Oshkosh Fisk arrival. This year the procedure was modified a bit to have several new waypoints to feed the normal Ripon waypoint into Oshkosh. Ethan and I were communicating on the air-to-air frequency. We were able to hear the Oshkosh ATIS at about 95 miles out. The ATIS said to use Endeavor Bridge as the first waypoint in the arrival. As we listened to Fisk arrival frequency, the FAA controllers there were of course (like previous years) doing something completely different. The controllers were telling people to line up even farther out at Portage. This confused a lot of pilots who were repeatedly asking them what was “Portage”, and why it wasn’t in the NOTAM. I knew that Portage was a small town with an airport just south of Endeavor Bridge. The arrival stream was now really long and spread out (a good thing), but since ATIS was saying one thing and the controllers another, it did make a bit of a mess. We were told to hold at Portage (again, nothing in the NOTAM about what this meant), and when they released this hold everyone started heading to the Endeavor Bridge waypoint. We got in line somewhere in between the two waypoints and I was following a pair of high wing aircraft by about a mile. Ethan was right behind me a half mile back. We had to putt along slowly at 90 knots and 1000′ above the ground for about 30 miles until we got to Ripon and Fisk. It was good to hear the Fisk controllers calling out the N numbers of airplanes that were trying to short cut this long line. Big brother is watching!

The arrival traffic coming into Oshkosh was well sorted out before Ripon.

We both got slotted over to land on Runway 36L and the yellow dot. I made a smooth landing, but the controllers were constantly telling us to quickly get off the runway over to the grass. I let down my nosewheel and got a big shimmy going that was disconcerting. Once I slowed and was in the grass it went away. Ethan was right behind and we taxied to Homebuilt Camping and were parked next to each other. I got a couple of texts from friends who were watching our progress. Our landings were captured on the EAA Live YouTube feed. (scroll to about the 9 minute mark to see me arrive and 9:35 for Ethan).

We made it! Parked in HBC at Oshkosh.

I set up camp, got the airplane tied down, registered and then wandered around for a while. The big beer tasting event at Homebuilt camping was later that evening. After we had our fill of beer I met up with Ken and Jim and we got some food at the SOS Bros. tent just outside the main gate. It was pretty hot and humid that day and I didn’t get much sleep. Ear plugs are recommended for the loud music at SOS Bros.

I got up Monday morning and spent most of the day walking around. I happened upon the Van’s presentation and heard about the new RV-15. They weren’t saying much other than high wing bush plane. I ran into lots of friends as I walked around all of the Exhibit halls. I took in the big jets on Boeing Plaza. They had a flying eye hospital plane there, along with a German Luftwaffe Airbus A400 cargo plane, and a US Air Force C-17. I sat in on a gas welding forum, but I wasn’t really dressed appropriately to actually play with the torch. I headed back to the camp site to sit in the shade and drink a cold beverage. It was really hot at over 90 degrees and the high humidity was not something I’m used to. Around 5pm we went over to the RV Social beer event, and eventually back to get some food up the road at SOS Bros.

It was another warm and humid evening in the tent and I left my rain fly unzipped to try and get a bit of breeze to cool off. At 1am they broadcasted a weather Alert over the PA system. I zipped up my rain fly as it had started raining and then the wind came in very strong. Around 4am, another band of storms swept in and it started raining pretty hard. My poor old tent got drenched. I managed to keep dry, but lots of water was starting to enter from the floor of the tent. I eventually got up and went to go get some pancakes at the EAA Chapters breakfast area over by Camp Scholler. As I was there, the rain started to dissipate and by the time I got back to the tent, it was starting to get sunny. I spent a bit of time drying everything out, and I wiped off the rain from my airplane. My camping neighbor had a big shade structure that toppled over in the wind and it scratched up the paint on my wing tip. He was gracious and it will be touched up eventually. Thankfully, no damage to anything critical.

Ouch! Big scratch in the paint on the wing tip.

My plan for Tuesday was to get all the way to the south end and work my way back up to show center. I got on the tram and went from the Vintage area to the South 40, then walked back up to the Ultralight area. I took all of the various tram lines back around to the Homebuilt pavilion and got ready for the Rivetbangers dinner at the Black Otter Supper Club. I had to get back over to the North 40 and take the bus to the Super 8 gate where I met up with my ride. There were about 30 people at the event this year and it is always a fun time with some great people. I elected not to get the 32oz Prime Rib, and instead settled on the “small” Ribeye steak ( just over 1 pound).

Wednesday I got up early and watched the sunrise. The Homebuilder HQ has a free donut meet and greet event, so I walked down there. The topic of the day was the weather forecasted for that evening. A huge storm was headed to Oshkosh with possible tornadoes and 1″ hail, not to mention inches of rain. There were lots of people leaving the homebuilt camping area. Ethan and I talked about our options. I really wanted to stay through Friday, but I didn’t really have anything crucial to be there for later in the week. My plan for Wednesday was to wander around the Warbirds for a bit and do some more forums. It also looked like they would be cancelling the Wednesday evening airshow.

Not wanting to see my airplane get damaged (beyond the wingtip scratched paint), and having to suffer more rain with my old tent, it was best to just call it done for the week and head back home. I packed up everything, went back to Homebuilt HQ and got my unused camping nights refunded. I got my VFR departure brief, looked over the weather and tried to come up with a plan for my return trek. The weather directly west was cloudy and rainy, but it looked clear to the south. I got in the airplane, got escorted to the flight line and was told it might be 30 minutes of taxiing until I could take off. Fortunately, I got to short cut the departure line and in 5 minutes I was off and heading south. I’m not sure how that happened, but I just followed the directions of the people holding the orange sticks. I headed to Quad Cities (Moline), Illinois for some cheap fuel. I had to get down under a broken layer of clouds and flew along the Mississippi River straight in for an easy landing. My plan for the day was to get close to the Rockies, spend the night and depart the next morning to get across the mountains and home. My niece and her husband live in Centennial, Colorado so I texted them and then was on my way. One fuel stop in Nebraska and I then landed for the night at Centennial Airport. I got picked up and we went out for a nice Mexican dinner.

Good thing to have left early. This storm looked nasty. Yellow circle is KOSH and the storm is headed in that direction.

I got dropped off early in the morning back at Centennial. I needed to get gas, so I started up and taxied over a short way to the self-serve fuel pump. After filling up, I couldn’t get the airplane to start! The engine was too warmed up for a cold start, and not hot enough for a hot start, so I ended up with a flooded engine. I almost drained the battery trying to start it. I decided to walk away for a bit to let it cool down. I walked back to the FBO lounge for a bathroom break, and by the time I got back to the airplane it had cooled off enough to get it started using the cold start procedure. Oh the joys of ancient aircraft engine technology, manual mixture controls, boost pumps and fuel vapor lock. After I finally got the engine going, the airport did a runway change, so I ended up taxiing all the way to the other end of the airport for take off. There were jets galore here and I was about fifth in line to depart. My poor engine was already really hot as I climbed out of there towards the Rockies.

The path home was more or less made up as I went along. I flew towards the mountains and it was clear skies and smooth air, so I kept heading southwest over the Rockies. I climbed up to 13,500′ and put on the oxygen. I ended up landing in Aztec, NM for a quick gas stop, then all the way across Arizona dodging the building thunderstorms. Surprisingly, the air was pretty smooth, and I was able to see a clear path between the big areas of rain. I had the most turbulence of the trip just getting back over the local mountains into San Diego.

Map of the return trip.
Flight tracks for the last leg from Denver to home. Some big thunderstorms were over Flagstaff and Prescott, so I went around them.

The trip out and back was a total of 24.9 hours on the airplane. It is pretty amazing to fly over half way across the country in a couple of days in a little airplane I built in my garage. These are very capable little machines. Having moving maps with synthetic terrain mapping, GPS, autopilot, weather and traffic information with sophisticated engine and fuel management information all readily available make it an excellent cross country traveler.

I was bummed about having to leave early for the bad weather, but it was probably best to get out of Oshkosh before the big storm. Thankfully the hail and tornadoes didn’t hit the Airventure grounds. They did get 2″ of rain and it was very windy. The little town of Ripon just west of Oshkosh did get some heavy storm damage. It was a good, but short trip and I’ll definitely be there again next year. An abbreviated Oshkosh Airventure is better than none!

My photo album from the trip is here. Lots of pictures and captions.

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Annual Condition Inspection 2021

My airplane’s condition inspection is due again. For some unknown reason, I always seem to pick the hottest week of the year to work on it. This has been 7 years of flying and the airplane has 881 hours total time.

Day 1

I had lent a couple of my tools to another RV owner so he could get his condition inspection done the week prior. I did a quick flight over to his hangar at Gillespie Field and then got started with removing the cowling so I could get the oil drained while the engine was hot. As I was removing the lower cowling, a bolt from the baffles fell out. I also immediately saw that another of my exhaust hangers had cracked. I grabbed a new lock washer for the bolt, and thankfully, I had a spare exhaust hanger to install as the oil drained out. I got on the new filter and pulled the oil screen on the bottom of the oil pan. The oil screen had a bit of carbon debris in it, but nothing there was metallic or magnetic. This time I was smart and I used a plastic bottle that I cut up as a drip catcher for the oil screen. I removed all of the lower spark plugs and cleaned out the threads in the cylinders. The lower plugs always have lots of lead build up. The top plugs are always clean. I packaged up my oil sample to send off for analysis. The old oil filter got cut opened and examined for any metal. Didn’t find anything metallic, but just some small flakes of carbon like the oil screen had.

Dropped the cowling and this screw fell out on the floor.
Found a cracked exhaust hanger.
Replacement exhaust hanger next to the broken one.

Day 2

I had hoped to get the compression checked while the engine was hot, but no one was around yesterday afternoon to assist. I ended up doing the compression check today by myself. I’ve done it solo before, and it isn’t too hard, but it is much easier and safer to have another person hold the prop when you pressurize the cylinders. Compressions were all in the 70’s, so that is good. I then took out the top spark plugs and cleaned up all of the spark plug adapters and ran the thread chaser in all of them, and the cylinders. I brought the laptop, so I was able to borescope all of the cylinders and take screen shots. The valves all looked good.

This year I purchased new fuel and oil pressure senders. The fuel pressure sender I had was recalled and Dynon put out a Service Bulletin to replace it. The oil pressure sender was still working fine, but I decided that I might as well upgrade it also to the new specification. This involved splicing into the wiring to add a +5V and Ground line for the new sender. I had bought some solder sleeves, so I used those to tee off the existing power and ground wires. I spent the rest of the day getting the new spark plugs installed and checking all of the engine lines, nuts/bolts, controls, and serviced the air filter. The K&N air filter was replaced last year and looked very clean, so I just hit it with a bit of air filter oil without doing the full clean/wash process.

New pressure senders (with the wires attached) to replace the old units.

I took off the prop spinner, inspected everything on the prop, and re-torqued the bolts. I had a small nick on the back of the prop, so I smoothed it out and mixed up some epoxy with cab-o-sil to fill it.

Day 3

This morning I made a quick stop at the grocery store to get some water, tea, sodas to replenish my hangar’s refrigerator. The high temp today was 100F and it was humid. I have to have some hydration as I sweat away in the hangar! I got to work with the vixen file on the prop to shave off the excess epoxy. Some light sanding and then a layer of flat black paint finished the prop off.

Next up was to check the P-mag timing, ohm out the spark plug wires and do a thorough engine cleaning. To finish off the engine section of the inspection I cleaned off the cowling and gave it a ceramic coating. The ceramic coating is something new I’m trying on the airplane. Hopefully, it will make the smashed bugs easy to clean off. I also replaced the rubber seals on the lower cowling entry. The painter oversprayed purple paint on these when the airplane was painted. The paint has really stiffened these up and they were starting to rub up against and wear into the lower baffle ramps.

I took out the seats and took off the back baggage bulkheads to begin my inspection of the aft fuselage area. I lubricated all of the elevator control rods with LPS-2 spray lube, along with the flap linkages. Lots of little things to inspect here, like the seat belt anchors, ELT connections, AP pitch servo, ADAHRS units and the static lines.

I tested the flaps, trim, interior lights, position lights and strobes. I did notice that my left strobes didn’t disable properly when I turned them off and had the position lights on. The right and tail light strobes did turn off. The disabling circuit is just switched to ground, and the switch is common to all 3 lights, so it must be in the LED light circuitry itself. This is not the first time I’ve had issues with these cheap lights from (now defunct) Ztron Labs. Maybe it is time to replace these. The FlyLED’s I put on Josh’s RV-9A were super bright and affordable.

Day 4

Spent my morning taking the dog to the vet for a quick checkup. Got to the airport around noon. Not as hot out today, so that was nice.

I started off by taking out the seat pans. Lots and lots of screws. Once I had those off, I extracted the auxiliary fuel pump and fuel filter. The fuel filter just had a few little bits of fuzzy stuff inside that needed to be cleaned out.

I set my iPhone alarm to go off at the top of the hour and I did the Emergency Locator Transponder checks in the 5 minutes after the hour that they are allowed to be turned on for testing. The rear fuselage is ready to be closed up, but I needed the extra leg room that having the baggage area bulkhead out provides when I lie down to get under the panel. With the fuel pump out, I had access to the main wiring runs. I needed to run 3 wires out to my new heated pitot tube. I started by getting a wire fishing tool into the wing from the access panel on the underside. Then I was able to pull the 3 wires into the wing. Next step was to route those wires up behind the panel. The heated pitot power wire gets added to the Vertical Power VP-X box. The Ground wire simply goes to my ground block on the firewall, and the status wire then goes into the Engine Management System box. It’s not fun to wedge yourself under the panel, and invariably I’ll get situated then find myself needing a tool that I can’t reach. I left for the day with most of the wire in place, but nothing hooked up. I am using waxed lacing cord for the wire bundles, so I have to cut off the old ones and add new ones to secure the new wires. Tedious work, but it looks nicer than using plastic tie wraps.

Day 5

I spent most of the day under the panel finishing up the lacing and getting the 3 wires for the heated pitot connected. I got the corrugated plastic covering back in place over the wires and then put back the center tunnel cover and fuel pump in place. The access under the panel is so tight!

Once the wiring was in place, I got out the laptop and the VP-X crossover ethernet cable to reprogram the unit. I enabled the new 15A circuit and set it up to use one of my existing switches on the panel (the autopilot switch). I moved the autopilot switch over to the APRS tracking switch, and then made the APRS “Always On” (no more need for the switch). I always fly with the APRS tracking on, so it really doesn’t need to be switched from the panel. I can always go into the VP-X menu on the Dynon Skyview and disable it if needed. The Pitot Heat Status widget was added to the EMS pages and I verified that everything worked and that the pitot gets hot when turned on. I used my Dymo label maker to relabel the two switches on the panel.

I had considered buying the various IFR instruments to redo the panel during this inspection, but I’m going to wait until after Oshkosh to see if anything new is coming before I spend the money. After doing some more planning, I think that I will definitely upgrade my VP-X Sport to the Pro model and this will get me the additional circuits I need to hook up the Garmin GPS navigator, the back up Attitude Indicator, the remote Magnetometer, the Autopilot/Autotrim unit and update my Nav/Strobes to the FlyLED’s.

Moving to the VP-X Pro means I really only need the one additional J8 connector. I found several places that sell these Molex 150XL backshells online, but they are all backordered and out of stock. Buying a complete VP-X Pro wiring harness is an option but it is expensive and way more than I need. Vertical Power will lend builders a special crimp tool for the pins. Seems like a lot of hassle for 8 wires and pins extra on the Pro model. The professional grade crimper can be bought for a mere $425!

Day 6

I took the next day off to help my wife clean out her classrooms for the summer. Also had to run a few personal errands. I was also pretty tired and sore from yesterday’s under the panel work. And it was pretty hot and humid here.

I started my next day’s work session opening up the tail fairing and inspecting all of the bolts there, and lubricating the elevator linkages. I made sure all of the rod end bolts were secured with tight jam nuts. I cleaned and inspected all of the tail surfaces and then applied some ceramic coating on the empennage.

I gave my cordless screwdriver a workout and took off all of the access panels and tips off of the wings. I played around with the left strobe connector and the problem with the strobe disabling on that side disappeared. I’m also looking at potentially adding a GPS antenna for the IFR GPS navigator in the right wing tip. I bent up a little bracket out of sheet metal and made sure it would fit on the end rib of the wing. The bracket needs to be level in flight, so I built a little offset in it to handle the dihedral of the wing. I’m not going to actually install this until I get the unit.

I got some photos of the aileron bracket rivets on the wing rear spar. Van’s has a service bulletin to check these annually. No cracks! I checked and lubed all of the aileron bellcrank control rod bearings.

I finished up the day getting the wheel pants and gear leg fairings all removed so that I can look at the brakes and wheels tomorrow.

I noticed some tiny cracking or crazing in the paint where the wheel pant is mounted. Just on the right side wheel pant.
The center strap over the wheel nut was missing a screw on this side, which would have allowed the wheel pant to vibrate. New screw and lockwasher installed.

Day 7

I got to the airport and started to work on the wheels and brakes. I got out my jacks and got the airplane up off the ground. The brakes on the left side looked down to the minimum, so I removed the wheel and caliper. I had bought a set of pads in advance so changing them should have been a quick job. I was setting up my pneumatic squeezer to set the brake pad rivets when I accidentally caught the end of my finger in the squeezer. My finger was smashed pretty badly. Thankfully, the dies were set to be mostly wide open. after tending to first aid and getting the bleeding somewhat under control, I took off for home. Brakes can wait for a day or two while my finger heals.

Definitely need new brake pads.

Day 8

My finger was feeling much better today. Still hurting, but not throbbing. I got over to the airport in the late afternoon and managed to finish off the new brake pad installation. I got the wheel bearings regreased and the wheels back on. I checked the nose wheel and verified the breakout force. I started cleaning up the hangar and put away lots of my tools and supplies. I should be able to finish up everything tomorrow.

My squished fingertip.

Day 9

Another late afternoon start, but not much left to do. I put on the gear leg fairings, and set out cleaning the wings top and bottom. After that I continued with applying the ceramic coating on the wings. I pulled the airplane out of the hangar and got it started, then checked the fuel/oil pressure readings with the new senders. The fuel pressure used to be 23-33 psi (engine mechanical pump and electric boost pump readings are within 10 psi of each other), now I’m seeing 33-43 psi. Same relative range but the new sender seems to be calibrated higher? I think the old readings were more correct since the mechanical pump should be producing around 25 psi of fuel pressure. I wasn’t able to do a static RPM run, since my brake pads aren’t bedded yet. Not much stopping power until they get snubbed for a few cycles.

After the engine run I checked for any leaks, and found nothing so I finished installing the cowlings. Then I started up again and did an up and back taxi run and stomped on the brakes several times. The instructions for the brake pad bedding say to do this procedure at least twice and to let the brakes cool for at least 10-15 minutes between runs. It was really overcast today, and as I was taxiing, drops of rain started. I decided to just put the airplane back in the hangar and I’ll finish off the brake pad bedding for tomorrow. I want to be able to do a full static run up prior to flight, and right now the brakes are starting to slip at just 1500 RPM.

Day 10

I got all of the legal paperwork completed in my log books to return the airplane for flight. I posted a query on Vans Air Force about the pressure sensors and got back a potential solution. There are two Kavlico V2 items in the menu. I had inadvertently selected the wrong one. I did a quick engine run after switching the sensor selection and it now looks normal again. I ran the airplane up and down the taxiway and did another set of hard stops. I did a full engine run up to see the static RPM, and then parked back at my hangar to get the wheel pants reinstalled. After they were back on I did a quick flight around the airport and made sure everything was running fine. No issues! I’m ready to be back in the air.