The annual Copperstate Fly In is held in late Fall every year. We first went out there in 2011 driving our Winnebago motorhome and camping for the weekend. I was about 3 years into the build process and needed to start figuring out things like avionics and interiors. This was a good opportunity to touch all of the goodies, and see all of the various vendor offerings. The next time I visited the fly in was in 2014 just shortly after getting done with my Phase 1 testing. This was my first out of state trip in the RV-9A, and I just flew in for the day with another potential RV builder. Both of these prior events were held in Casa Grande, AZ. In 2016 the Copperstate event moved up to Mesa, AZ at Falcon Field. This year I decided to try and get out there again. I guess every 3 years is my frequency for going.
The week leading up to the Fly In, I got a reservation for a cheap motel nearby, and got the Friday off from work. The weather reports were looking positive. The previous year it was baking out there, but this year the forecast was for mid-80’s and clear skies. I packed a bag with a change of clothes, my folding chair and an ice chest with some cold drinks.
Friday morning I was up and out of Ramona before the control tower opened. The skies were clear, but there was some serious smoke from some fires in Mexico that cut down the visibility a bit over the San Diego back country. I took the southern route towards the greater Phoenix area. Between here and there are several Restricted Areas for the military, so you can either go up towards Blythe, or down near Yuma. The flight on the southern route hugs the Mexico border and invariably at some point between El Centro and Yuma I will get a text from Verizon welcoming me to Mexico, along with the various rate plans for cell service. I ignore this and turn the phone on to Airplane mode.
I made a quick fuel stop in Gila Bend ($3.95 a gallon) so that I don’t have to deal with fueling at the fly in. There was quite a bit of traffic in Gila Bend on a Friday morning for such an out of the way airport. There is quite a bit of flight training schools in the Arizona area, since the weather is usually nice. I departed with full tanks and headed towards Mesa. Falcon Field is under the PHX Class Bravo airspace, so you have to descend early as you make your way to the airport. I picked up ATIS and called the tower frequency for the south runway to land. They switched me over to the north runway 4L tower frequency a couple of miles out. I landed and then got parked in the show plane parking at the end of the line.
I got the airplane tied down, then went over to get my wristband and register the airplane. It was just before 9am, so the crowds were very light. I took my Xootr scooter with me, and that was a nice way to quickly get around the flight line. I checked out the vendors and spent most of the day just hanging out by the airplane, taking pictures of airplanes, and talking with folks. I attended a couple of Forums. At some point a fellow RV builder friend of mine came by. He had driven to the event from LA. I asked him what he was doing for dinner and we made plans to meet up at the end of the day. He ended up being my taxi driver for the weekend (thanks, John!).
That evening he dropped me off at my motel, and later came back by to pick me up for dinner. The next morning he drove over again from his hotel to pick me up for breakfast and back to the Fly In. As I was dropping off my motel key in the lobby, I ran into one of my hangar neighbors at Ramona. Dave also needed transportation to the show, so the three of us ended up doing breakfast together before spending the day at the airport.
When I left the airport on Friday my airplane hadn’t been judged yet, but when I returned Saturday morning the judges had been there already. I was bummed because I wanted to be there to talk to the judges about the airplane. The crowds on Saturday were much bigger than Friday. It still wasn’t very crowded, but there was a steady stream of folks coming around and looking at the airplane all day. I spent most of the time sitting in my folding chair in the shade and watching the airplanes come and go. The purple paint job really gets attention.
I got ready to depart around 3pm Saturday and flew back the same southern route that I came in on. The airshow closed down around 4pm and I wanted to beat the departing crowds. Another easy 2 hour flight and I was back in the hangar well before sunset. Dave had stayed for another night and went to the Awards Banquet that night. He flew his vintage Waco Biplane out there and he wanted to depart early on Sunday to take advantage of the calmer morning winds to get back to Ramona. I saw him back in Ramona on Sunday afternoon and he handed me my award plaque for taking second place in the Metal aircraft category! His Waco took first place in the Antique aircraft category.
Having an airplane is a little bit like having a time machine. Long trips become quick trips. A recent set of family member’s health issues have really highlighted this fact. My Dad ended up in the hospital after a mild heart attack. Getting up to the LA/OC area from San Diego can be a huge pain due to dealing with the horrible traffic. I was able to fly up there in about 35 minutes instead of a 2+ hour drive. I took off from home, drove to the airport, pre-flighted the airplane and in under an hour I’m parked at Fullerton Airport which is close to Anaheim Regional Hospital. I did my first “Uber” ride, which was amazingly easy, and for about $7 I was soon at the hospital. After visiting for about an hour, back to the airport and another quick flight home. I’ve done this same trek about 3 more times in the last month. I figure I’ve saved well over 12 hours of just travel time.
My wife’s father also was in the hospital recently. She wanted to spend the weekend up at her parent’s house helping out, so I flew her up to Cable Airport in Upland, which is very close to their house. We got a late start on a Friday evening, so this was a rare (for me) night cross country flight. We left the house and got to the airport and were in the air a little after 7pm. I dropped her off and then flew back and was in the hangar by 9pm.
Our daughter is living in Salt Lake City while she is working on her Doctorate at the University of Utah. She was renting a tiny apartment for more than the cost of a house payment. This summer we made the decision to buy a rental house out there for her to live in. We closed escrow on the home just before Labor Day. We flew out there over Labor Day weekend to visit her, and to get the home set up and ready to occupy. The flight out was under 4 hours, which can be done non-stop. Compare this to the time it takes to drive, which is more like 12 hours with multiple fuel stops. A tank of aviation fuel is around $100-$125 (25 gallons at approximately $4-$5 per gallon). My tanks hold 36 gallons, but I rarely land with less than 10 gallons left. I use around 6-7 gallons per hour in cruise to go 150 Knots (over 172 mph). Much cheaper than two round-trip tickets on the airlines! And much less hassle – no parking issues/expense or TSA scrutiny. The economy and efficiency of the RV-9A are incredible for cross country trips like this.
Two weeks later, I flew out to SLC again to get the carpeting cleared out for new flooring prior to her moving in. I had to wait a bit for the low clouds that Saturday morning to lift, but a few miles east of the airport it was clear skies. I made it out to SLC again in under 4 hours. I also took a whole bunch of “dangerous” tools that TSA would never have allowed me to travel with. Marissa picked me up, we had lunch and then over to the house to meet with the flooring person at 2pm. He wrote up the flooring measurements and we went to Lowe’s to order the installation after tearing up and removing all of the carpeting. The trip home on Sunday was delayed a bit since we didn’t get everything we needed to get done the day before. I decided that to get home before dark, I needed to leave for the airport by 3pm. At 4pm I was back in the air headed home. You gain an hour going west, and I landed just as the sun set at 7pm in Ramona. I would have burned up a whole weekend just driving out there and back.
I know there is a saying “time to spare, go by air”, but with our usual beautiful weather here in SoCal, it is a rarity to have any weather delay issues for flights like these. My biggest concerns weather-wise on these trips was getting back to Ramona Airport before the coastal fog rolls in late in the evening. My airplane is not equipped for Instrument Flight Rules (IFR), and neither is the pilot! I can only think of a couple of scrubbed trips in the past 3 years (both to coastal destinations that had low clouds forecast), and those were probably me being much more cautious and not trying to push any limits.
This summer I was determined to view the total Solar Eclipse. Unfortunately, the date of 8/21/17 was my wife’s first day back teaching at her school. The daughters were also busy with school stuff and my son wasn’t able to get time off work. Solo trek, here I come.
In the year leading up to the eclipse, there were a couple of events being planned that I wanted to participate in on this trip. The first event is the Van’s Homecoming in Independence, Oregon put on by EAA 292. This was branded as Wings over Willamette, and they extended the weekend to Monday for the solar eclipse. They are located in the path of totality, so that looked like option number one. The other event was a campout in Garden Valley, Idaho put on by some folks at EAA 105 in Portland. This event looked like even more fun, since they also planned on doing camping and some whitewater rafting along the Payette River.
So my plan was to spend Friday flying up to Oregon. Then do a full Saturday at Wings over Willamette, and depart Sunday morning to fly over to Idaho. I figured that the better solar eclipse viewing weather would probably be in Idaho. Less chance for low clouds obscuring the view.
The weather in both locations ended up being perfect. On the flight up to Oregon there were multiple forest fires around Shasta/Trinity and the Cascades that provided quite a bit of smoke to deal with. In one spot it was so thick you could hardly see the ground. The Willamette Valley had clear skies and warm temps. Everyone there was wonderful and very complimentary on the purple paint job.
I stayed in one of the air park homes with my host, Doug, and this made it easy to be close to everything going on, and not have to pitch my tent. I will definitely be back again for this event. Lots of camaraderie with some very nice folks.
I was able to fly over some very beautiful country, and on the way home I detoured over Nevada’s Black Rock dry lake where the Burning Man festival is held each year. The event was a week later, but they were setting up everything. I blasted my way home with a fuel stop in Bishop, CA and got home from Idaho in about 5.5 hours.
This year we (me and my wife) made it to Oshkosh, Wisconsin for the EAA Airventure show. The flying plan for the trip out there was very similar to what I did last year. We departed early on Saturday, July 22 from Ramona. No camping equipment this year to haul. We were going to stay in the dorms at University of Wisconsin, Oshkosh. We packed pretty light. All of our clothes into the rolling carry-on bag (about 25 pounds), and other than folding chairs, drinks, snacks and some pillows we were able to keep the baggage weight to well under 100 pounds.
The early morning weather at Ramona airport can be foggy, since it lies in a valley. The ASOS was reporting mile and a quarter visibility, but at our hangar on the east end it was completely clear. We decided to taxi to the west end of the runway for take off so we could aim east for takeoff, and the other end of the runway was right up against a bank of ground fog. We launched at just after 5 am and headed to our first fuel stop in Arizona.
Our next part of the flight took us over New Mexico and into the panhandle of Texas. More cheap fuel at Dumas, TX and an excellent lunch of BBQ on the airport had us ready for the final push across Kansas and into Iowa.
We did another fuel stop at Red Oak, IA, then stopped in Ankeny for our overnight stay. The plane got tied down and we walked about a mile from the airport over to the hotel. Across from the hotel was an Outback Steakhouse where we ate dinner.
The weather the next morning was beautiful. We got up and did the quick walk back to the airport, then took off for Wisconsin. Just like last year, I did a fuel stop at Boscobel, which isn’t too far from Oshkosh. As we crossed the Wisconsin Dells, we went over the NOTAM details and started looking for traffic as we neared Ripon. We only saw two high wing airplanes following each other. They were really going slow. The NOTAM wants you at 90 knots IAS, and 1800 feet. We got around them and headed for the railroad tracks at Ripon. Listening in to the arrival frequency it was very chaotic. Some pilots should not be flying into Oshkosh! It wasn’t clear which runway was going to assigned to us until we got to Fisk and were told to keep following the railroad tracks and enter downwind for runway 27. I was really hoping for 36, because it is a much easier taxi to Homebuilt parking. We put the airplane down on the green dot, and were told to make our way off the runway to the right (north). Once we got on the paved taxiway, we were marshalled back on the grass adjacent and held there for 20 minutes while the mass arrival of Mooney’s paraded past on the taxiway. There were at least 50 airplanes! Finally, we got past them and were able to cross back over the runway we landed on, and finally aim south to the Homebuilt parking. My engine temps were pretty high, but nothing overheated. It took us almost 30 minutes after we landed until we were parked.
We pulled out our bags, wiped off the bugs and got everything tied down. We walked over to the Homebuilder’s Headquarters and registered the airplane and picked up our wristbands for the week. The welcome wagon gave us a ride to the Bus Park, where we bought bus passes to get us to and from the University of Wisconsin at Oshkosh Dorms. Checking in to our rooms took a while. They messed up our reservation, but finally got it all sorted out. By this time it was late afternoon and we really hadn’t eaten anything. We walked over to get Subway sandwiches, then took the bus again back to Airventure for the Homebuilder’s beer tasting party. We brought some San Diego IPA’s (St. Archer and Stone) and had a good time meeting up with a bunch of online friends. The last bus back to the dorms on Sunday leaves at 7pm, so we didn’t stay too long.
Monday we slept in pretty late and didn’t get to the show until almost noon. We checked out the EAA buildings and Christine picked up a Women-venture T-shirt. After we wandered through one of the four big exhibit hall buildings we took the shuttle down to the south end of the field to see the Ultralight and Rotorcraft areas. We had a good chat with the folks from Rainbow Aviation about all of their experimentations with 3D printing airplane parts. Christine has a number of 3D printers that she uses in her High School Engineering curriculum, and these real world applications are nice to show to her students. We also spent some time at the Red Bird flight simulators, checking them out as a possible platform for her Aeronautical Engineering class to learn how to fly.
We were heading back up to the main plaza as the airshow started with the roar of the Rockwell B-1B Bomber in full afterburner doing a fly by. We ended up walking through another exhibit hall, then went back around Boeing Plaza to get up close to the B-1B. We ended up back at our airplane and got out the folding chairs and relaxed while watching a number of B-25’s take to the skies. That afternoon we headed over to the RV Beer bash and met up with a bunch of friends and drank some Spotted Cow beers.
Tuesday we continued our tour of the Oshkosh Airventure grounds, taking in more exhibit halls, and checking out all of the Homebuilding vendor areas. We spent some time looking over the Teen Flight/Eagles Nest/Tango Flight RV-12 builds and talked with the mentors and students. I’m really hoping that we can get a program up and running in Ramona soon. At the Van’s Banquet that night they mentioned that there were over 50 schools doing RV-12 builds.
Wednesday started out visiting the EAA Museum and KidVenture. After a bit of lunch, we hit all of the education and job career tents, along with the EAA innovations and drone areas. They had some personal size drones, but I wasn’t sure if any of these were really flying yet. Still early days in the human sized quad-copter evolution. We also checked out all of the NASA displays and got to talk with some really nice folks about electric airplanes and how they are using 3D printing to design and mock up their experimental designs.
At the beginning of the air show we headed back to the airplane again to sit and watch the airshow. Along comes a golf cart with a video crew and they asked me if they could interview me on camera. They set up their gear, got me miked up and I did about 20 minutes talking with them about our trip out, the building of the RV-9A and all sorts of aviation related questions. I have no idea if this video will ever see the light of day, but it will be interesting to see what becomes of it. After the interview, I spent time talking with the various people who saw us sitting there and came over to ask questions. A surprising number of people recognized the airplane from my build log and commented on how helpful my site was for them.
As the airshow went on, the skies opened up and it started raining. We closed up the airplane and headed over to the Homebuilt Camping Pavilion to stay dry and to meet up with Mike and CJ so we could get a ride over to dinner at the Black Otter Supper Club for the rivetbangers.com dinner event. The prime rib cuts there are enormous and they did not disappoint this year.
Thursday was our planned departure day, and the weather cleared up and was beautiful for flying. We checked out of our dorm room and caught the bus back to Airventure, then dragged our stuff back to the airplane. I was a bit disappointed that my Judging card only had 2 of the 3 needed official judgings. I certainly wasn’t expecting any prize, but it would have been nice to at least have gotten in the running. We untied the plane, did a thorough preflight and got the airplane moved into the aisle for taxiing to the runway. It took a while to get an escort flagged down, but finally we started up and began the long taxi to the VFR departures. We got up in the air on runway 36 and did the sharp right turn to exit the Class D airspace. From there we flew north over Lake Winnebago towards Green Bay and around Lake Michigan to Mackinac Island.
Mackinac Island was just beautiful. We got there, paid our $12.50 landing fee to the Park Ranger (it is Michigan’s first State Park), and then decided to walk into town. Beautiful houses and gardens along the way, and we walked past the Grand Hotel, which is huge. We had a really late lunch (we lost another hour heading east), then walked around the main street to buy some famous fudge. We decided to do the horse taxi back to the airport, and this was well worth the $7 fare as we picked up and dropped off various folks along the way. We even went past the long porch at the Grand Hotel.
Back in the air, we flew around the Mackinac Bridge, then over to Traverse City to fill up with fuel. From there we headed south across Michigan to Plainwell airport where we met up with Christine’s friend (and former Band-Mom) Barb. It happened to be her birthday, so we went into Kalamazoo to a really nice brewpub to celebrate. We stayed up late chatting, and it was really nice to have a comfortable bed for the night (unlike the dorm beds).
Friday we took off to clear skies and headed around the south end of Lake Michigan, and kept south of Chicago into Iowa. We stopped at another tiny little airport in Vinton, IA to fill up with cheap gas, then we flew over and around the building clouds into South Dakota. As we neared Hot Springs, we had to go around a big thunder cell, but we had clear skies for most of the trip. At Hot Springs we had arranged to rent their courtesy car for the next day. We drove into town, got our hotel room, and had dinner.
Saturday we had an entire day to sight see in the Black Hills area. We got up early, had some breakfast at the hotel, then drove the short distance into Wind Cave National Park. We got to the visitor center just before they opened at 8am, and got in line for cave tour tickets. We took the Natural Entrance tour and got to see the tiny natural entrance, which is about the size of a cowboy hat. I’m glad we didn’t have to crawl in through that hole. We ended up going into a tunnel that was blasted, then down about 300 steps to the passages below. The cave was very different from the other ones we have visited. Not many stalagmites and stalactites, just a rare form of “box work” all over the walls and ceiling.
After we exited the cave via elevator, we drove north through Custer State Park and saw a large herd of Bison. The drive up to Mt. Rushmore was very scenic and it took us about an hour.
We could see Mt. Rushmore from the scenic road as we got closer. We paid our $10 parking pass fee, then walked through the viewing area and visitor center. It was pretty busy there, but certainly not overcrowded. We watched the video program and walked the path that goes around under the monument to the Sculptor’s Studio. It was a lot of stairs, so we headed back to the car and drove into Rapid City for lunch.
From Rapid City we got on the Interstate and headed east to Badlands National Park. Along the way, about every 100 yards is a sign touting “Wall Drug”. When we exited off the Interstate for Badlands, we noticed that there was also a Minutemen Missile National Historic Site, so we decided to stop and check it out. It was too late to drive out to an actual missile silo and tour it, but the visitor center had some interesting displays about the missiles and the Cold War. There were dozens and dozens of silos across South Dakota back in the day.
From there, we headed into Badlands NP, and drove the scenic drive back towards the west. The Badlands reminded me very much of Anza-Borrego’s badlands, just with more wildlife and grassy prairies. As we drove around the park, we got rained on from a passing thunderstorm. As the skies cleared, we got to see a gorgeous rainbow.
The road through the park led us back to Wall, SD, so we had to check out the Wall Drug store. Quite a tourist trap, but we did pick up some souvenirs, so I guess that’s how they keep in business! We didn’t even get a free ice water or 5 cent cup of coffee.
It was a long drive back to Hot Springs, but at 80 mph on the interstate, you can cover some distance, just not as fast as the airplane, which is more than double that. We had a late dinner of pizza and hit the sack.
Sunday and time to head back home. We returned the courtesy car and took off headed north so we could fly over Mt. Rushmore, and also fly over the Crazy Horse Memorial. The flight over Wyoming was easy, and there is absolutely nothing to see for hundreds of miles. As we neared Utah, we descended over I-80 through Parley’s Canyon near Park City and then under the SLC Class Bravo into South Valley Regional airport. Marissa met us at the FBO and we went to go get lunch. Christine planned on staying in Salt Lake with Marissa for the next week to go house hunting, and I hit the skies again to head home. I stopped in Delta, UT for cheap fuel after a very hot and bumpy flight, then another hour of bumps until I finally got closer to the desert over Mesquite, NV. There were a bunch of big storms just off of Las Vegas, so I had to veer around them, but I managed to make it home by 4pm with no problems. I put 29.7 hours on the airplane and it performed great the entire trip. Surprisingly, we had tail winds most of the trip.
Every Experimental Amateur Built airplane builder has a lot of leeway to make changes along the way with their aircraft. Some changes might be of dubious value and have negative impacts on safety. I don’t think anyone purposely tries to make poor choices with their changes, but it does happen. Van’s as a kit manufacturer sometimes will provide a part or design that might have some well known issues. As I went through my build log, I tried to document all of the little things that I did during the build that were not exactly like the plans, or where I incorporated well thought out improvements. In many places the plans just don’t tell you what to do and you have to figure out the best way to accomplish the desired results. I spent a lot of time on the internet researching and looking for ways to improve the build quality and safety of my airplane.
So what exactly did I do differently from the plans? Actually looking back, quite a bit. The basic air frame, controls, and structure remain unchanged. There is really no reason to do changes here unless you are redesigning the airplane to be something different. Variants of the Van’s RV series do exist, such as the Harmon Rocket and Super Six, and some builders make big changes like putting in automobile engines, create storage areas, and add extra fuel tanks. The changes I made were limited to the area of increased safety, convenience, reliability or aesthetics. I tried to keep them simple and straightforward, since increased complexity can have negative effects on safety and performance.
Van’s provides rod end bearings for the flap actuators that are press fitted to a threaded shank. The better solution would be to have a traditional rod end bearings that are secured with a bolt and washer to capture the bearing if it were ever to fail. I made this modification based on some comments given to other builders from their DAR inspectors. The replacement rod end bearings aren’t cheap, but for around $40, this modification is a no-brainer.
The method for making penetrations to the firewall for control cables and wires that Van’s shows in the plans are very rudimentary. Drill a hole, put some metal shielding and RTV to cover up any spaces left where CO or fire might enter the cabin. There are several nice aftermarket solutions to making the penetrations much more secure. I went with two Safeair Firewall all stainless steel penetrations for the wiring, and stainless steel eyeball fittings for all the control cables. Also, all of the fuel lines that penetrate the firewall are steel. The heater box is also stainless steel. I used a fire barrier product from 3M to seal around the firewall sides and the recess for the oil filter. All of the lock nuts forward of the firewall are full-metal and have no nylon. I also added a small fire extinguisher mount located on the center tunnel cover in the cabin for further safety in the event of a fire.
The inside of the cowling comes bare from Van’s. They recommend painting the inside surface. I fully sealed the inside of the cowling with epoxy that was tinted white. This makes a nice hard shell surface that reflects light better so you can check the engine during preflight, and if there are any oily drips, they can be easily wiped off. In the areas where the exhaust pipes are near the cowling, I added a thin layer of fireproofing and covered it with reflective aluminum that is peel and stick. The edges of the aluminum are sealed with epoxy to prevent oil from getting underneath.
The cowling is mounted to the fuselage using hinges. There are reports of hinge eyes breaking off, so the lower cowl hinges were upgraded to steel, instead of aluminum. The upper cowl hinges are accessed by the oil door. I created an aluminum bracket that captures the ends of the hinge pins securely. Without this, the hinge pins could back out a few inches. The vertical side hinge pins are kept in place by a simple spring system.
The filtered air box has a provision for Alternate Air. The mechanism provided by Van’s is a rotating closure that once open has to be reset by hand after removing the cowling. I designed a sliding closure that is fiberglassed in on to the bottom of the FAB. You can easily open and close this in flight. The design also has no nuts/bolts/washers/rivets that can get sucked into the engine. I put aluminum sheet on the bottom of the fiberglass air box for the filter to sit on. This will prevent the fiberglass from being rubbed on by the filter. I also incorporated some tabs that are bent up around the air filter element to keep it in place.
I installed the Dynon Angle-of-Attack pitot, so I have AOA capability and a pre-stall warning that is audible.
I installed a parking brake, which has come in handy many times. I mounted the parking brake on the firewall, but in a way that keeps it accessible and serviceable. The arm of the parking brake is limited by an aluminum stop, and on the stop is a micro switch that provides a signal to the EMS system. On the Skyview EFIS, if the parking brake is set, you will see a red indication. The parking brake handle has a locking feature, and is located off the panel and on the side of the fuselage so that it doesn’t need to be disconnected if you want to remove the panel.
I did a similar micro switch on the canopy latch. It will alert the pilot if the latch is open with a red indication.
The position and strobe lights are mounted on top of mirrored plexiglass so that the light generated is additionally reflected in the proper directions. The landing lights are off road units from Baja Designs and are located on the ends of the wings using a Duckworks mount. I get comments all of the time about how bright these lights are. The Vertical Power VP-X automatically switches the two landing lights to “wig-wag” mode above 90 knots. The wig-wag lighting increases your visibility to other pilots tremendously.
Another safety item is the addition of an O2 system. The RV-9A likes to fly high, and above 10,000 feet we go on supplemental oxygen. I have a fingertip pulse oximeter and it is surprising to see how quickly your O2 blood saturation can fall as you fly higher. The mounting system for the tank is provided by the manufacturer. I put the ring clamps on the side of the flap arm housing in the baggage compartment. I can easily reach behind the passenger seat to turn on and off the O2 flow. The lower ring clamp is bolted into nutplates so that it can be removed easily to be able to access the flap arms. It is kind of a puzzle to get these flap arm covers on and off, and without the use of nutplates here, you couldn’t get them on and off. The top ring clamp is bolted in place.
I also put upgraded locking gas caps on the airplane to prevent tampering with the fuel.
The tip up canopy on the RV series can be a problem with leaks when it rains. The very expensive avionics are right there on the sub panel. I did several things to have a completely leak free canopy. I sealed all of the gaps on the subpanel with sealant, and created some little “bridges” that span the gaps where the canopy frame hooks in. Over the top of this is a D-bulb seal, and along the side rails is some weather stripping. The expensive electronics are all forward of the subpanel to stay in a dry location. The top latch of the canopy is another potential problem. If it decides to turn on its own when you aren’t in the cabin, it could lock you out. I put a spring on the latch so you have to positively pull it down past the edge of the frame in order to turn it to the locked position. The side latch has a key lock matched to the ignition. I feel safer when the airplane is tied down somewhere that the cabin is secure from theft.
Van’s provides the fuselage cabin with some very flimsy arm rests. This is one of those known deficiency areas. I put in a reinforcement of thick aluminum angle along the edge of the arm rest and provided support for this on the sides.
I upgraded the seat belts to 5-point belts from Crow Enterprizes. These are certified for all motor racing sanctioning bodies and come with a quick cam release buckle.
The co-pilot stick is removable. Van’s has you bolt this in place. Instead of having to bolt and unbolt this, I used a spring push button lock to secure the stick. You can quickly reach down, press on the button and remove the stick. I put a hidden 9-pin D-sub connector in the throat of the co-pilot stick that connects all of the buttons on the stick as you insert it. Everything on the co-pilot stick works the same as the pilot stick — Push to talk, autopilot disconnect, full trim and flap operations. When I have passengers who are non-pilots, I usually take the stick out and stow it on some broom handle clamps that I have attached to the side of the flap motor housing, just behind the seat back. If needed in flight, I can reach back and grab the co-pilot stick and put it in place.
The interior of the cabin has upgraded foam seating from Oregon Aero, along with heated seats. I found room for the heated seat switches down between the seats in the spar carry through space. Overhead we put a shade on the canopy and there are dimmable LED lights on the panel, under the panel, and in the baggage compartment.
I upgraded the cabin vents with some high quality aluminum units. These close positively and keep the cabin from getting drafty on cold days, and wide open are a bit bigger than the stock plastic units that Van’s provides. Underneath the vents, I fabricated an extension where I located the headphone/microphone jacks. They are easy to access in this location and are out of the way when you get in and out of the cabin. The headphones when not in use are hung on a bracket just under the panel.
The oil filler access door on the cowling has a Hartwell style flush latch, instead of Van’s thumb screw bolts. I bonded a tab of stainless steel on the edge of the cowling where the latch contacts to prevent any wear and tear of the fiberglass. I also used a hidden hinge on the door, instead of Van’s simple hinge where the eyes would show. I salvaged the thick and stiff pink fiberglass that you cut out for the oil door, and bonded this to the flimsy oil door that Van’s provides to make it nice and stiff. It hasn’t popped open during any flights!
Since there are thousands of RV’s flying, weakness in any areas that have problems will come up on the VAF forums repeatedly. One of those areas is the aft engine baffle which can crack where the oil cooler is mounted. It is caused by the flexing back and forth along the vertical edge between the #4 cylinder and the rear baffle. I added a small stainless steel support made from tubing that connects the inward side of the oil cooler to the cylinder head and also beefed up the corner with some aluminum angle. No cracks after 400 hours! Another potential area for cracking is the top of the air filter box. I did the same type of support there and it is much more stable now.
The tip up canopy uses small but powerful lift struts to hold it open. When you close the canopy, the struts compress and push the canopy in towards the panel. I put some bump stops on the forward canopy frame to position the canopy correctly as it closes.
I also created some guide blocks for the aft canopy latches to center properly as you close the canopy. I’ve seen some RV’s where the canopy bubble got cracked when it was closed hard while misaligned.
I don’t have any filament light bulbs in the airplane. Everything is lit with LED’s. No more burned out bulbs to replace. LED’s also draw far fewer amps.
I reinforced the mounting of the cowling hinges with G-Flex epoxy. Amazing stuff, and this helps stabilize the surface under the fiberglass so that the rivets won’t work themselves loose.
The wires that control the pitch trim servo in the elevator are normally routed through the hole that Van’s provides for the manual trim cable. The electronic trim servo has very limited space for the wires to share this space, so I created a keyhole to hold a tiny snap bushing above the servo to keep the wires secure from the servo screws movements. The 5 wires are connected with D-sub pins, staggered to keep the diameter of the bundle narrow, and covered with heat shrink tubing and expanded sleeve tubing.
The brake pedals that Van’s provides are mounted with short, independent bolts on each side. This arrangement can have the brake pedals bind if they are misaligned on each side. I used stainless steel drill rod to make a single long bolt to keep the pedals securely in alignment. The ends are threaded and drilled for castle nuts with cotter pins. I added springs on the master brake cylinders down on the pedals to positively keep the brakes open when not being used. A stuck brake on landing would be a bad thing.
Another common problem that Van’s finally addressed recently was that the steps on the fuselage were cracking under use. I had these retrofitted with the reinforcements.
The plans call out for using a pop-rivet as a static air source. I decided to upgrade to the Safeair Pitot/Static system. The static ports are nicely turned aluminum with a threaded connection for tubing. My AOA and Pitot lines are continuous runs of tubing to the ADAHRS, and there is just one “tee” on the static line, so there are limited locations for leaks.
I did a few minor upgrades and changes to improve the appearances of the airplane. There isn’t a whole lot you can do without changing the kit basics. Some builders buy aftermarket cowlings, wingtips, wheel pants and such. I chose to keep these stock. Every big change costs more money and takes more time to build.
The standard canopy latch provided by Van’s is just cut out of sheet aluminum and sticks out from the side of the fuselage. JDAir makes a nicer flush mount canopy latch from billet aluminum. I like the flush look here. I did add a small spring to the latch to keep it securely locked in place when it is closed.
I also bought fuel drain fairings and fuel vents from JDAir that are CNC machined with a aerodynamic shape. They look better than the stock Van’s fittings that just hang down in the air stream.
The method that Van’s uses to mount the plexiglass canopy bubble to the frame has you drilling lots of holes into the bubble, countersinking them, and using screws to secure it to the frame. A number of other builders have bonded the canopy bubble to the frame using Sikaflex adhesive. This adhesive makes it possible to mount the plexiglass without drilling any holes that later could cause cracks to form. The adhesive requires you paint on some special primer to the plexiglass before the adhesive will bond. The primer gives a nice solid black look on the underlying surfaces like where the front section overlaps the roll bar. The Sikaflex bond is tenacious, yet pliable. The plexiglass will expand and contract when the temperature goes up and down. The Sikaflex is pliable enough to move with the plexiglass as it expands and contracts. My canopy was special ordered with UVA/UVB blocking plexiglass, so there is a reduced chance of any UV sunlight affecting the adhesive underneath.
I spent a lot of time figuring out where all of the wiring in the cabin would fit. I have two conduits that come down the center of the firewall, then go underneath the center tunnel cover for all of the wiring. You won’t see any exposed wiring down by your feet. I also deviated from Van’s locations for the throttle/mixture cables. Van’s has these cables hanging down by the rudder pedals and they pass through the firewall down low under the heater box. I moved the locations up on the firewall recess and the lines stay well above the pedals.
I had the side rails of the cabin bead blasted and anodized clear. This is a place where your feet can scrape up the surface as you enter and exit the cabin. The anodizing protects the aluminum and since there is no paint, there is nothing to wear off. I also had the brake pedals done the same way.
Van’s plans have you use hinge pins on the horizontal cowling connections. The hinge pins they sell have a little tab welded on with a screw hole to secure them in place that sticks out on the cowling. I think this looks awful, so I fabricated some hinge pin covers from fiberglass that are flush with the rest of the cowling. The hinge pin covers are shaped like a guitar pick.
I also added a little bit of “bling” to the instrument panel by doing some engine turning finish on the throttle/mixture subpanel. If you have ever seen any old classic planes like the Spirit of St. Louis, this technique was used on the cowling and in other places to give the surfaces some interest. It was fun but tedious to figure out how to do this on my drill press. After doing it on the tiny throttle sub panel, I was satisfied enough not to need to try it anywhere else on anything larger.
The instrument panel switches all have color coded caps, and have semi-circle guards to prevent your knees from actuating anything accidentally. There is room for another 10″ EFIS display on the passenger side, but I haven’t really needed one yet in my VFR flying. There is a RAM mount 1″ ball on that side of the panel and it will hold a phone or iPad.
Right before we had the airplane painted, I spent some time filling the pull rivet heads that are used in places on the tip fairings, elevator, flaps and ailerons. I mixed up a very small batch of epoxy with micro balloons and used a syringe to fill the holes. After painting, you really can’t tell what rivets are solid and which ones are pull rivets. Less opportunities for water to intrude on the airplane in tiny spaces.
After our Sunday breakfast flight to Hemet, we got back to Ramona and I started on the Annual Condition inspection, which has to be done before June. The airplane now has 383.4 hours on the Hobbs meter.
I took off the cowling and started with the compression check. My wife was going to borrow my air compressor for her classroom this week, but I quickly realized that I needed it first for the compression check. She helped me get that done, then she took off with my compressor. Her Engineering classroom at the High School has a new Haas CNC machine that needs compressed air, and they don’t have a compressor yet!
The engine was still hot, so I drained the oil, took a sample for analysis, pulled out the finger strainer and replaced the oil filter. The engine part of the annual takes a long time to complete, but every year I find something that needs attention. I checked all of the baffles, pulled the spark plugs, cleaned the threads of the spark plug holes, put a wrench on every nut/bolt/screw. I pulled off the air filter housing and it is holding up well. I had to reinforce it at the first annual, and since then, no problems. New oil in and everything safety wired in place. I lubed up all of the throttle/mixture controls. Re-torqued the prop bolts and made sure the adjustable prop blades were aligned properly. All of the exhaust hangers were OK, along with all of the fuel and oil lines. I checked the starter and alternator wiring and belt. I cleaned out the air filter and re-oiled it with the K&N filter oil. The air filter has shrunk a bit, but it still is serviceable. I called it a day around 6pm. I had to stop on the way home and order some new NGK BR8ES spark plugs from the local auto parts store. Eight new plugs were just $21. The old plugs were fine, but when they are this inexpensive, why not just put in new ones every year? The aviation plugs are more like $30 each! All that is left on the engine portion of the inspection is to re-time the P-mags, check the Ohm readings on the plug wires, and put in the new spark plugs.
I picked up the new spark plugs after work and then go to work cleaning up the plug adapters. I gapped the plugs, got new copper washers, and put on some anti-seize with a small brush. The plug wires all got checked with my Ohmmeter. I looked in all the plug holes with my eyes and a tiny flash light. I was hoping to borrow a borescope to take a more thorough look inside the cylinders, but I can do that some other time. I torqued all of the plugs into place and then got started on the wheels. I took off the main gear wheel pants. Brake lines look fine. I checked the brake pads, and they still have about 50 hours of use. I will order a new set of pads and put a note on my maintenance sheet to recheck these at around 420 hours. I cleaned up all of the brake dust on the calipers and wheels. I was going to rotate the tires, but frankly I couldn’t tell that they needed it. The Desser Monster Retreads are holding up very well. The original tires were shot at 200 hours. These have almost as much time and are probably at 50% tread left. Tomorrow I will jack up the airplane to check the bearings and then finish up the undercarriage, and start on the wings. I was able to get the wing gap seals off tonight and I checked the fuel lines and gear weldment bolts hidden under there.
I took last night off. Worked late down at the office in La Jolla, and by the time I got home, decided I was too tired to wrench on the airplane.
Back at it tonight. I jacked up the airplane and checked all of the wheels. I measured the breakout force on the nose wheel steering. I had a bunch of stuff to start on the wings. First I removed all of the inspection covers under the wings and looked at everything inside the wings. There is a Van’s Service Bulletin to check the aileron hinge attachments on the rear spar. I reached in with my iPhone to take some pictures of the area. Left wing was fine, other than some new splotches of primer from the paint job in the area. The other side had a surprise. There was some wadded up paper masking from the painter left up in there!
I lubed up all of the control rod bearings, made sure all of the nuts were tight, and looked over the gas tank attach bolts and screws. I also cleaned the underside of the wings and put some Rejex on the paint. The Rejex is a polymer coating that is super slick, like wax that will keep the bugs and dirt off the paint. I put the inspection covers back on and finished up all of the wing inspection items. The painter had gotten a little bit of over-spray on the fuel caps and canopy latch, so I went to work getting that all off. I repolished the canopy handle by taking everything apart, sanding it with 1000 grit paper, then buffing it with some white rouge polish. It came out looking great.
I got a late start to the evenings work at the hangar. I worked late again at the day job, but this time from my home office, so the commute time is not a factor. I put the wing gap fairings back in place. I also took apart the wingtip lights to get some more over-spray off the plexiglass covers and the mirrored plexi under the position and strobe lights. I used some Meguiar’s Clay Bar to rub all of the tiny particles off of the plexiglass. It worked great. I also was able to work out all of the bubbles on the new wing walks that I put on. Not exactly a maintenance thing, but it sure looks better now. Lastly, I drained all of the fuel out of the tanks for re-weighing the airplane post-paint job. I replaced the tiny O-rings on the fuel sump drains, and put some EZ-Turn Fuel Lube on the gas cap O-rings. I had flown the fuel down before the annual to 9.6 gallons left according to the fuel computer and gauges on the Dynon Skyview. That is pretty much exactly how much I ended up with in the fuel jugs. I also got working on making some paper templates for some paint protection film pieces I’m going to cut and put on the fuselage and gear legs to protect the new paint from the fairings rubbing against it.
Late Friday night, back to the hangar to do all of the interior inspections. I started by removing all of the seats, carpets, and unscrewing all of the baggage bulkheads, flap covers and center tunnel covers. I set an alarm on my iPhone for the next “top of the hour” to do the ELT tests, which have to be done in the first five minutes of the hour. I looked over all of the wiring, stringers, longerons and bulkheads in the aft of the fuselage. Checked the antennas, wiring, and autopilot servo back there. I did find another small wad of masking paper from the paint shop down where the flap rods retract. The flap motor worked fine, but it wasn’t turning off when it hits the limit, so I think I need to recalibrate the VP-X limits for down travel. Next up is the front of the cabin. I squeezed myself under the panel to check all of the wiring, heater controls and the fuel lines. I disassembled the fuel filter, which dumps fuel all over the floor no matter how many paper towels you have under it. I put a wrench on every nut/bolt down there. I did find one adel clamp holding some wires that had not been fully tightened down. The seat pans came out lastly and I lubed up all of the controls and made sure all of the wing bolts were still tight. I vacuumed up all of the dust and bits from the floors, and the carpets. I didn’t get out of there until well past midnight, but there are only a few things left to do on the tail, and then everything can be put back together.
I was only able to work on the airplane for a couple of hours this Saturday. I started with getting out my old Windows XP laptop to run the VP-X configurator. The flaps seemed to be working fine again with the original limits, but I tweaked the down travel limit just a bit. While I was under the panel I sprayed some more adhesive on the firewall and sound-proofing material to keep it from falling off. The rest of the day was spent screwing all of the interior panels back in place. Seat pans, flap covers, baggage bulkhead and center tunnel covers all back in place except for one. I found a broken nutplate on one of the tunnel covers that I need to drill out and replace. Unfortunately, the air compressor is still over at my wife’s classroom, so I can’t use the air drill or rivet squeezer.
My daughter’s 25th birthday, so I spent all day doing family stuff. Happy Birthday, Alicia!
Memorial Day holiday today, so I had the whole day to finish this inspection. I got the air compressor back, and used it to air drill out the broken nutplate, and then to set in a new one with the pneumatic squeezer. I put the center tunnel cover back in and got all of the interior carpeting and seats back in place. The last section to work on was the tail. I pulled off the tail fairings and got a wrench on all of the nuts and bolts for the horizontal and vertical stabilizers. I checked on the rudder and elevator bolts and trim tab. The last thing was to get the cowling and wheel pants back on. I bought some more paint protection film and spent hours getting it cut out and in place under the gear fairings. I had to head home to BBQ for the family, so the very last thing (re-weighing the airplane) will have to wait until tomorrow.
I got to the hangar after work and set up the ramps and scales. I pulled the airplane up on the scales and made sure everything was in place for the weigh-in.
Post paint job, she gained 38 pounds. Not all of that weight gain is paint. I have tires that are probably heavier (Monster Retreads), the Dynon Skyview Knob panel, a second COMM antenna, reinforced steps, brackets for the O2 tank, and upholstery now that wasn’t there the last time I weighed her. Empty weight, with 8 quarts of oil (I usually only fly with 6 quarts) is 1105 pounds.
After the weighing, I refilled the tanks with gas, did my pre-flight, fired her up and made sure everything was working before taking off around the pattern for a quick test flight.
Log book entry made, and I’m good to fly for another 12 calendar months. The cost was an oil filter, 6 quarts of oil with some Camguard additive, 8 new spark plugs, one new nutplate, some various lubricants, and two tiny O-rings for the fuel sumps. Try getting a certified airplane annual done for that!
I got the airplane reassembled after the paint shop had it for 7 weeks. My daughter was home for her abbreviated summer break after completing her first year of grad school. We picked up her best friend, along with my daughter’s new pet dog, Cooper, and drove up to Corona Airport on May 5. I’m sure they were keen on just dropping Dad off with all of his tools and then getting out of there, but I really needed their help to get the tail put back together. After a couple of hours we had the elevators back on. That stupid middle bolt and all of the washers that go in between the two weldments is excruciating work. I thought that the rudder would be easier, but it too gave us problems. Lots of over-spray on the rod end bearings had one of them locked up and not able to rotate. I had to do some scraping with a razor blade to free up the paint from the surfaces. Putting the washers and nuts on the rudder bolts requires fingers smaller than mine. Daughter to the rescue. She had no problem getting them on. Getting the trim tab re-wired up was another task that took up some time. The girls went and got us some lunch from In-N-Out Burger and then we then worked on trying to get the canopy and cowling back on. The canopy pins are difficult to line up, but we got it done after struggling for 30 minutes. One of the hinge pins for the cowling just wouldn’t go in easy. I later discovered that there was some clear coat over-spray that kept the hinge eyes just enough out of alignment to make it impossible to smoothly slide the hinge pins in. Around 4pm, it was obvious that the airplane wouldn’t be ready to fly that day. We drove back home (with a stop for ice cream), and the weather in Ramona was IFR anyway, so I was glad we bailed out and drove back. Cooper was chilling all day in the hangar and he got walked over to the nearby Dog Park a couple of times. He loves car rides and was a good boy all day.
I ordered some undersized hinge pins for the cowling from McMaster-Carr to make sure that I could get the cowling secured. The next several days were rainy here, so the next opportunity to get back to Corona ended up being Thursday 5/11. I didn’t have anyone available to drive up there with me, so I just took off early by myself and figured I would just leave my car in Corona if I could get the airplane all reassembled to fly it back home. It took another full day to get the wing tips, ailerons and flaps on the wings, and all of the gear leg fairings and pants on the wheels. I worked straight through from 8:30am to around 3:30pm and got everything done. It definitely takes longer than you think it will to get everything back on correctly. The guys at the paint shop took a bunch of photos before I took off. It came out looking great. I taxied over to the gas pumps, filled up and headed back home. Thankfully, the weather was clear and sunny. The next day, my older daughter had the day off work, so I flew her back up to Corona around lunch time, so she could drive my car back home. It is a half an hour flight for me, but a 2 hour drive for her!
That weekend we got to fly up to Cable Airport to have brunch with my in-laws for Mother’s Day, and then we flew over to Long Beach to visit my Mom. My APRS tracker wasn’t showing any of these flights, so I took off the wing tip and did some trouble shooting. Everything was powered up and seemed to be connected just fine. I used my handheld scanner to listen in on the frequency and I could hear the APRS burst of data and see that the LED on the unit was sending out packets. I did some night flying this week to get night current again, and the APRS was working OK again. This Saturday I flew my oldest daughter down to Brown Field for the monthly EAA Chapter 14 Pancake Breakfast, then we flew up over San Diego Lindbergh Field and up the coast on the way to Fullerton Airport where my brother, his wife and my nephew picked us up and took us over to my Dad’s for a sushi lunch. Sunday I took my wife up to Hemet for breakfast at Hangar One Cafe. I’ve been eating well since the airplane is back flying. The paint job sure gets attention. I’m sort of getting used to that now. It certainly stands out from the crowd.