Friday at the Golden West Fly In

Friday's attendance at Golden West was small, only about 30% of last year's Saturday attendance. But then I didn't see last year's Friday, so here's hoping that it's up today.

Two Harriers and two F/A-18s gave a good show, as always, and you had to keep one eye on the sky for the frequent fly-by of something out of the ordinary including a U-2 and a C-130.

The real interest on the ground, though, was the number of LSAs being shown. There were quite a few new and interesting aircraft even though the on-the-wheels versions were all in the $120,000 range. That's still too pricey for my pocket and, probably, a lot of others' given the news from Wall Street et al.

If civil aviation is to avoid becoming un-civil, the path will be led by the homebuilders.

The expansion of computers and glass got a boost with the display by Vertical Power. Where the market is nearing glut-stage vis-à-vis flight instruments, Vertical Power is looking inward to examine the health of the aircraft. The display goes beyond listing the voltage in each circuit; it starts by displaying a check list tailored to each portion of the flight and, similarly, displays the appropriate system. For instance, when starting the engine, oil pressure and rpm take the fore. Taxi mode puts those away and displays cylinder head temperature. Takeoff mode brings up manifold pressure.

Similarly, all the electrical parameters are displayed with diagnostics and alarms that certified aircraft can only dream of.

What the customer receives is a package consisting of a display and a black box (it's actually red) weighing only about 5 pounds. While not entirely plug and play, it does make the installation substantially easier in that the circuit protection is entirely within the system and is all solid state.

If you're at that stage of building where the fear of wires is looming large, surf on over to Vertical Power to take a close look.

Also of interest, even if you're not scratchbuilding, is the display by Stewart Systems. They're showing a method for both covering a fabric aircraft and then painting it. No stitching for the former and no smell for the latter make this an especially easy procedure.

We'll be testing this paint in an upcoming issue of KITPLANES.

Amy's RV-10: Cutting Costs Without Cutting Corners

If there is anything I've learned this year, it is this: The aviation stuff we do can be a little pricey. We've been breaking in an engine on a new airplane this past spring, and the fuel bill just arrived the other day. I sat down to read it. Good thing, because the number inside had me swoon. During an engine break-in period it is important that you run the engine hard and fast, and to counter the effect of all that combustion you have to leave the fuel full on, pushing lots and lots of avgas through the engine to burn and carry away the heat.

The good news is that this tried and true technique quickly seats the rings in the pistons and reduces oil consumption, and before you know it you have a fine, strong engine to fly behind for years to come. Well, if you can afford it.

Affordability is the very reason that my husband, with a little help from me, built this new airplane. We even built up the engine with low-compression cylinders that will allow us to switch to car gas if avgas becomes scarce, or far too expensive to burn. So far, though, car gas is keeping pretty good pace with avgas in its unprecedented inflation.

The RV-10, painstakingly riveted and sanded and carefully assembled with as much new, clean technology as we could afford over nearly four years, will help us continue to afford to fly for the next 20 years, we hope. It doesn't have an electric engine, and it's not a glider, but it is a fast, fairly heavy-lifting long-hauler for our family. And it will cost less to fly, eventually.

So what's my advice for cutting your costs in aviation without cutting corners? Upgrade to leaner and greener flying machines, of course. If you fly a weight-shift Light Sport Aircraft, consider the possibility of using an electric engine. Randall Fishman won Grand Champion at AirVenture 2007 with his flying design, and he promises to be back with an electrically driven motorglider this year. Sonex has also promised a true electric engine in a motorglider. And IndUS Aviation recently unveiled its Thorpedo, flying with a WAM turbocharged diesel engine, which puts out 120 hp on a measly 3 gph of jet A fuel.

Consider this, too. Collaborate and use your networking skills as a catalyst for developing new ideas about how to green up your aviation habit. Meet at events such as AirVenture or AOPA's Expo and, of course, at your local airport events. Talk about how your business is recycling, ride-sharing, and/or tuning its equipment for maximum efficiency. Are you using new technologies? Is there someone who can teach you how to do so? Group events are great opportunities for creative learning that can be individually applied. Besides, fly-in get-togethers are always great fun, too.

Catch up with me at EAA AirVenture, and we'll brainstorm about what we've learned there. I'll see you 'round the patch soon!

Batteries: Got a Question? Get an Answer!

We're working on an interview with some battery experts, and this is your chance to ask the tough questions. Have you wondered if dropping an aspirin in will help recover a dead battery (or was that chicken soup)? Then there's the story that charging a battery with it on a concrete floor is a bad idea. Really?

Some of the questions we've thought of are below. Send us yours and if we use it, you'll get the credit for asking.

  1. Why are aircraft batteries so expensive?
  2. Besides Gill and Concorde, who makes aircraft batteries?
  3. What’s the story of these batteries that have multi-cylinders for sides?
  4. Why does a car battery last so much longer than an aircraft battery?
  5. Are Li-ion (lithium-ion) batteries suitable for aircraft?
  6. Is there an easy way to know which batteries should never be run to flat?
  7. What’s the “old” technology vs. the “new”? If we’ve updated the panel, how about the battery?
  8. Is there a way to recover a dead battery?
  9. What are the failure modes and how do I avoid them?
  10. Is a solar-powered trickle charger a good idea?
  11. How do de-sulfators work (and what's sulfation)?
  12. What should I do with the battery if I don’t fly but once a month? I’m not going to pull it out and store it every month, so is there some easy way to care for it that will only cost me 10% of its life?
  13. Is there really any difference between an auto-parts store battery and an "official" aircraft battery? Can I use the cheaper version in my Experimental airplane?
  14. Vents, screw-on caps, totally sealed. Why the difference?
  15. How can I check the condition of the battery if I can’t get a hydrometer sample? See question 14.
  16. Overcharging is “bad”, but is undercharging any better?
  17. I left the charger on too long and boiled out the liquid; is it a goner?
  18. (your question here!)

Bob's Jabiru: Building a Solid-State Circuit Breaker Panel

With instrument panels now being populated by flat screens, digital readouts and all manner of 21st century silicon wizardry, it seems odd to rely on 60-year-old technology to protect them from power spikes. Specifically, the mechanical circuit breaker. Have you ever seen one on a computer?

Wondering what was new in the realm of electrical protection, we did some research the modern way, i.e., on the Internet, and came across an article by our own Jim Weir on the subject of polyfuses.

These solid-state circuit breakers are a matrix of plastic and carbon encapsulated in a dime-size wafer. When cool, they pass power through the carbon; when hot, the plastic melts and the carbon filaments are no longer connected. Take away the cause of the excess heat, the filaments reconnect and the circuit is reset.

With that in mind I decided to use this technology on my current project, a Jabiru J250. It turns out to be an exceptionally easy task; if you can figure out the wiring for the panel, you can build this with just a bit of help.

My assistance came in the form of a good friend, Rob, also a pilot, who is rather an expert in electronics.

Rob got a bit fancy, though. Your old mechanical circuit breaker has a satisfaction factor in that when it pops, you can see it. Granted, satisfaction doesn’t extend far if it does so in flight, but you see what I mean.

The polyfuse, however, is worse than a DOS error message for information. You don’t even get Gates speak; it just opens up. Rob decided to rectify (electrical pun intended) that by recognizing that the polyfuse continues to pass a minute amount of power even when tripped. An LED requires little power, so putting one in parallel with each circuit means that when it trips, the light goes on.

Now that the circuit is built, I’ll be installing it and reporting on its performance.

Amy's RV-10: High Flight

Eventually the day comes when your project morphs from a project to a full-fledged airplane. If you built it and got it certified, you have to get it in the air. It might not be you at the controls on the very first flight (you want someone qualified, and you may have spent more time building than flying in the past couple of seasons), but you’ll feel the tug in your gut even so as you watch it rotate and climb away.

It certainly got me right in the pit of my stomach, and for good reason, too. After all the prep, the pre-flighting, the taxiing to burn in the brakes, the waiting for the perfect quiet, calm, clear and cool morning, after all the checking and re-checking of our specs and our expectations, as 9AB rotated, there was a puff of white smoke and a chirp that emanated from the landing gear. I was watching from 30 yards off the side of the runway at midfield, my crash ax, pry bar and fire extinguisher at hand. It sounded innocuous, as if the pilot had tapped a brake inadvertently just at rotation, skidding a main tire just a bit. Then again, it could be that something stopped spinning.

I alerted the pilot via handheld radio, and as I did so another observer (we were stationed at equal intervals along the runway) chimed in that the nosewheel seemed to exhibit a pretty good shimmy on the roll. The pilot, busy just flying the airplane to altitude and noting all of the temperatures and pressures, grunted a “Roger that” and went back to the tasks at hand.

On the ground we gathered midfield, and despite our best efforts to be positive, we ruminated over the incident, trying to figure all of the possible causes and consequences, so that before the pilot brought the airplane back around for a landing, we could at the very least advise him on possible landing techniques or alternatives. It’s what good ground crews do when left to their own devices for the 45 minutes or so of an airplane’s first flight.

Finally, the airplane, circling at 5000 feet above the field, began its descent for landing. The pilot stuck to protocol and plan, which good test pilots are wont to do, and set up a fine, stable half-flaps approach, and held the machine off the ground, bleeding airspeed, until the mains touched so gently there was hardly a chirp. He squeezed the stick back, balancing gingerly to keep the tail skid and the front wheel off the asphalt until the air loads dwindled and the nose settled--at which point the skidding began.

The high-pitched squeal of rubber and asphalt scrubbing against each other, and the violent shaking and hopping of the nosegear let everyone know it was “go time,” and we rolled toward the airplane, even as the pilot worked the brakes to get the machine stopped safely without breaking anything else. With plenty of runway to spare, the plane slowed to an easy walk, but the white smoke trail from the nosegear told the story: Something had gone terribly wrong with that component.

The pilot shut down, and we surveyed the damage. One tire, skid through to the cord. One set of spacers caterwonky with a bit of scoring on the fork, and a bearing cage chewed to bits. We reconnoitered the tractor and a dolly and the tow bar and carefully rolled the beast back to the hangar.

Later that day the diagnosis came in. The airplane nosewheel had been assembled according to the original plans; however, in the past two years there had been problems (not this one in particular) with the original assembly design, and new spacers, along with a revised assembly process, had been sent out to builders. Ours had not yet been installed, most likely because of builder optimism (it seemed to be working fine the way it was). These are the lessons we take away.

All it cost us was a new tire, a new axle, bearings, bearing cage, washers and spacers and, of course, a couple of days. We were lucky. The pilot was skilled, and the airplane flew again with a nosewheel that spun freely on takeoff and landing.

Lesson learned? Look over those builder revisions you got, even the ones from years back, before you fly. Create a checklist to make sure you’ve made all the retrofits, and consider retrofitting even if you don't think you need to. The little problems become big awful fast on a first flight. You want to nip ’em all in the bud.

Rocky Mountain Fly In Canceled

Promoters of the Rocky Mountain Fly In, scheduled for September 19-21, 2008, announced this week that the event has been canceled for this year. According to Colorado Sport Aviation, which was organizing the show at Denver's Front Range airport, the event was canned because of "due to several local and national factors delaying the planning process." "We simply ran out of time to properly plan for the kind of quality event we wanted in 2008,” said Jim Cimiluca, CSA President.