11th August 2012

Look in the sky! It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s…

No, not superman, actually, it is a plane.

After nearly six years of construction and 1950 hours in the shop (not counting the time spent researching, planning, ordering parts, and so on), today was the big day.  We couldn’t have had better weather if it had been custom ordered.  Clear skies, winds practically dead calm, and impressive flight visibility for most of the day.

I met test pilot and transition trainer Tom Berge at the airport shortly after 7am, and we discussed the plan for the day.  I needed to complete 3 more hours of transition training in Tom’s RV-7A, and then there was the first flight business.  Tom needed to fly my plane for a full hour to satisfy insurance requirements and verify the data from the first flight.  So we decided that we would do half the training, come back to inspect, reassemble, and fly my plane; then finish the transition training, and then the remainder of the first hour on my plane.  We flew the first 1:45 of training, focused on emergency procedures, to the north and came back to Red Wing.

Tom worked through his final inspection of the plane, and I worked on installing the inspection panels and cowling while Allison was treated to a quick hop in Tom’s 7A.  Then it was ready to go, after talking through the systems and instrument panel.  Pulled the plane out and started her up, and he headed off to the runup area for the final ground checks.  By the time Allison & I walked out to the taxiway, he was almost ready to go, and an uneventful takeoff and climbout ensued.  He circled the airport for several laps before heading to the northeast to climb up and explore stalls and slow flight, and determine airspeeds and power settings for the pattern.  A quick call on the radio let me know everything was working fine so far.  After 35 minutes or so, back to the airport for landing (which happened down at the far end of the airport, so no photos of the actual landing).

Off to lunch for food and discussion, then we headed south for the remainder of the transition training; we headed to Winona, which is the southernmost point of my small test flight area (which is essentially 1/4 of a 30NM radius circle from Red Wing: KRGK-3T3-KLUM-KONA-KRGK).  Stalls, slips, and aborted takeoffs this time, then back to Red Wing.

Another half hour or so of test flight by Tom got us to 1.1 of flight time on the plane so far.  By the time he headed back to the airport, Bob Collins and Brad, another local RV builder, had stopped by to say hi, Bob having just finished his 40 hour flight test period.  After Tom landed and taxied back, I snapped this photo of the three RV’s lined up on the ramp.

Tom & I talked through the list of squawks, transfer of knowledge on the pattern flying power settings & airspeeds he determined during his test flights, then he signed the logbooks and turned the keys over to me.  I decided to take a bit of a walk to relax and breathe a bit before taking the plane up myself.  Tom departed in his 7A, and after 15 or 20 minutes, and readjusting the seats & harnesses, it was time to head up.  The winds were still calm, though the summer haze had returned as the day wore on.  Taxi and runup, radio call, takeoff…yep, she flies like an airplane.  I flew a similar profile as the first flight: several racetracks over the field climbing to 4500′, then off to the northeast for stalls and pattern simulation at 5500′.  After flying around for a bit east of Ellsworth, I brought it back to the airport and descended to pattern altitude…the first approach ended up being quite high–as I’d really expected it to be, since this plane doesn’t come down as readily as the 7A.  For experience, I held the descent to about 100′, then went around again.  Adjusting the second pattern resulted in a fine approach and landing.

She flies!  The stick forces are significantly higher than I had grown used to in the 7A, it really takes a solid pull to hold full up elevator.  Roll rate is slower than the 7A, so it’s not quite as “fun,” but feels more solid and stable.  As with any complex piece of machinery, there are several bugs to work out (including weak radio and a heavy left wing), but we’ll get there in due time.  It’s going to be fun.

(There is video from the first flights, many GB of it; I’ll post it once I’ve cut it down to a not-overwhelming montage, and wait for it to upload over my wee DSL uplink.)

This has been a major project, and I couldn’t have done it alone, there are many people to thank…a bunch of locals, Pete Howell (RV-9A, whose travel stories are an inspiration unto themselves), Mike Behnke (RV-9A, who gave my first RV ride, and who my panel design is modeled after), Bob Collins (RV-7A, author and collector of RV stories on his website, inspiration, and help with the airworthiness documentation), and the others who I’ve met or planes I’ve looked at during the builder’s club meetings.  The online RV community and all the folks who post their build logs on the web for us others to research and steal ideas from.

The inimitable Tom Berge, for putting up with me through 15 hours of transition training (boost pump off, don’t raise the nose!), advice on the plane and flying in general, and putting his life on the line for the first flight.

And of course, to Allison, who has tolerated parts and plans scattered around the house…fuel tanks in the living room…her car being kicked out of the garage to make way for larger airplane parts…my lack of lawn care in favor of more shop time…all the lonely evenings with me hiding in the shop or hangar (it’ll be different having me around the house again, I’m sure)…airplane purchases draining money out of our account as fast as we can put it back in…  And through all of it, managed to smile and tell me I should quit complaining and get back to the shop.

Add one to the big board … N627DW has flown.

Hours: 2.0 | Posted in Endgame, Flight Test | 6 Comments

10th August 2012

Gentlemen, you have an airplane

Out to the airport early today, to meet the DAR for the airworthiness inspection.  The inspection went well–shorter than my expectation, a quick engine run, and in the end, I’m the owner of a shiny Special Airworthiness Certificate, now installed in the plane.  No squawks on the inspection…hooray!

   

With that hurdle cleared, the rest of the day was spent reassembling the plane.  Inspection covers, fairings, wheelpants, interior panels, carpet were all reinstalled.  A few panels remain off, so that the test pilot can re-inspect the flight control systems before the first flight.  Because the seat pans are out, the seats are also out, and the cowling is off as well.  Before installing the baggage wall, I armed the ELT.

I decided when reinstalling the spinner to see how it would work just using screws, and omitting the tinnerman washers — it turned out nice, the look is much cleaner without the tinnermans, and there is plenty of fiberglass for the heads to bear on, so it shouldn’t be an issue.  If required in the future, it’s easy to add them back.  For now, I’m alot happier with the way it looks.

I added a #8 nutplate on the underside of the aft tail cone, in front of the tiedown ring, for mounting a video camera.  I took one of the GoPro flat surface mounts and modified it so that it could be mounted with a #8 screw and tinnerman washer, as I don’t trust adhesives at 200 mph!  Mounted it to the tailcone, and took some test clips to aim the camera.  If the mount proves stable enough, the video should be decent — you see the full wingspan at the top of the frame, with a bit of the horizon above, the landing gear, and a wide view of the terrain below.  I also snapped in the camera to the mounting point on the roll bar brace, which will get forward-looking video including the panel.

 

Checked some programming on the VP-X for flap control and wig-wag: making sure the entered airspeeds are correct, fixing the neutral trim position, and locating & setting the 15° flap stop.  For now, I’ve left the flaps in momentary (push and hold) mode; after flight testing and proving out the settings, I’ll switch it to position preset mode (where a single click of the switch advances to the next increment of flaps, and a click raises them, without needing to hold the switch).

Re-checked the tire pressures and added air.  I intentionally set them a couple PSI higher than the nominal setting; at the rate they deflate, they’ll be right on by tomorrow.

Talked the insurance agent and bound flight coverage effective tomorrow.

Tom Berge is coming down tomorrow, we’ll make an early start and hope to finish up the remaining 3 hours of training, and do the first flight, before the day is up.  The weather forecast couldn’t be better: clear skies, cool temps, and little to no wind.

Milestone: 1949.7 logged shop hours, airworthy and ready for first flight!

Hours: 10.0 | Posted in Endgame | Comments Off

9th August 2012

Ready for inspection

No work on the plane yesterday, as I came home from the office and put in a second 8-hour shift working to get some client projects out the door.  The previous night, I sorted through my build documentation pile and found all the in-progress inspection sheets from tech counselor visits and packing lists.  Also finished the first version of the POH and entered the checklists into the EFIS data card.

Tonight after work, I slipped out to the hangar and polished off the rest of the work there.  Removed the spinner and cut the safety wire on the prop, loosened the bolts, and retorqued them to the specified value.  Reinstalled the safety wire, but left the spinner off for the inspection.

Pumped a few squirts of grease into the nosegear fork pivot, for good measure.  I have a little rubber cap for the zerk that I found in the Fly Market at OSH a couple years back, which is supposed to keep the leaking down in case the ball doesn’t stay firmly seated.

Loaded the checklist file into the EFIS and made sure it displayed properly, and verified the fuel level alarms are set the way I want them.

Finally, with the condition inspection checklist complete (except for the fairing/inspection panel reinstallation lines), I signed off on the engine ground run and inspection entries in the logbooks.  Finally, laid out all the documentation, build log, POH, logbooks, tech counselor reports, and so on, for the inspection.

We are officially ready for the DAR inspection.  With any luck, we’ll be airworthy by the weekend.

Hours: 2.7 | Posted in Endgame | Comments Off

6th August 2012

Inspection pending

I heard back from the DAR today…the inspection is officially scheduled for 8:30 Friday morning.

Just a couple things to wrap up before then: I need to remove the spinner, retorque the prop bolts, and add some grease to the nosegear pivot.  Also, make the final entries in the engine & airframe logbooks.

I also want to test the comm radio, but that may not happen until later, since I know the radio doesn’t work well inside the hangar with its double-layer metal walls.  And, I’ll load the checklists into the EFIS when I have them finished.

Insurance needs to be finalized, first flight still to be set up, and 3 more hours of transition training — but we’re getting close…

Posted in Endgame | 1 Comment

5th August 2012

Engine run done

Logged another 3 hours on transition training this morning on a neat trip over to Waukesha (near Milwaukee WI).  We picked up flight following on the way out for the experience, and did some autopilot work on the way back.  In between, saw a nice RV-3 and a T-6, and heard some classical guitar.  The 1:15-ish enroute time gave us a chance to talk about various aspects of owning, maintaining, and flying these machines, along with being a safe pilot.  A fun day, for sure.

Back on the ground, looked over yesterday’s work, updated some paperwork, and finally pulled the plane out for another engine run.  The last thing on my engine check checklist was to verify that turning the fuel selector to “off” did indeed shut down the fuel flow to the engine.  Testing showed that it did, though it takes a surprisingly long time for all the fuel to be sucked out of the lines (at least at the low RPM’s I was running).  I also did another ignition check, and verified yesterday’s idle speed findings.  Having nothing better to do, I taxied down to the compass rose and checked the indications on the EFIS for north and south…right on.  Back to the hangar, shutdown with 1.02 on the Hobbs…engine runs complete.

Inspected the FWF for leaks, as I’ve done after each engine run…all clear.  The last remaining task on the condition inspection checklist is to pull the spinner & inspect the prop, then retorque the prop bolts.  I also need to finish up work on the preliminary POH, including checklists and preflight inspection.  And, “publish” the build log for the inspection.  Then, it’s just waiting for the inspector to stop by.

Hours: 1.6 | Posted in Endgame | Comments Off

4th August 2012

To 12,000′ without leaving the ground

The last big push is underway…

Mike, a tech at SteinAir who has a Zenith on the field, brought down the static & transponder test gear, and I met him at the hangar this morning.  An hour later, we had tested the static system for leaks (it’s good), and put the encoder/transponder through their paces.  I’m within 20 feet up to 12,000′, which was where we stopped testing.  Allison ran out with the checkbook that I forgot, and we got the inspection sticker in the log.

Installed the document pocket I picked up on the last Spruce order…it’s attached to the side wall with velcro.  Finished removing fairings, panels, and wheelpants.  With the wheelpants off, I was able to drill & install the miniature nutplates I bought, to the outboard wheelpant brackets.

Measured and set up the assortment of strings to align the gearleg fairings, and clamped them down in place.  I’ll need to draw some marks from the fairing to the leg, so they can be reinstalled into the correct position without having to redo all the string business, should they need to be removed for service.

Started working through the condition inspection checklist, for one last checkover of everything on the plane.  Once finished, I’ll sign off the inspection in the logbook, which is part of the airworthiness process.

It cooled off as dusk prepared to fall, so I pulled the plane out and finished off the day with an engine runup.  I had adjusted the idle stop on the throttle, since the engine wanted to quit the last time I pulled it to idle.  In order to check that it’s set right, the engine needs to warm up, so I ran it for awhile keeping an eye on the temperatures.  The idle setting checked out perfectly–she idles right around 600 RPM…it’s a touch rough down there, but it stays running, and bumping the throttle to 680 or so smooths it right out.  Another round of mag checks, and a verification that “off” on the P-lead does kill both ignitions.  Also checked the parking brake holding power.  All in all, added another .3 to the clock; engine runs should be complete tomorrow.

Also spent what probably amounted to an hour or two sitting in the seat, learning the buttonology/knobology of the EFIS display, setting up radio sidetone, audio alert volume, and so on.

Hours: 9.5 | Posted in Endgame | Comments Off

2nd August 2012

Small progress being made

The first week back at work after time away always feels long. Made it out to the airport tonight for a couple hours, and updated the software in the EFIS, loaded the latest map files, as well as removed all the panels aft of the seats, and started pulling seatpan screws. Also added a placard to the bulkhead channel behind the seats, stating the max baggage capacity. I stopped off at Menard’s on the way and bought a little organizer caddy to hold the various fasteners from all the panels.

Talked to the MIDO today, and they said they had received the packet and already sent it out to the DAR, so I called to let him know it was on the way. He called back later in the day to say he had it, and needed a measurement of the wing, which I emailed to him after coming back from the hangar. Also talked to SteinAir and set up a transponder inspection for Saturday morning. And, scheduled more training with Tom Berge for Sunday late morning/afternoon.

Hours: 2.2 | Posted in Endgame | Comments Off

30th July 2012

Time to waste? Schedule a transponder inspection.

Called in late to work and headed off to the airport this morning to take care of the transponder/altimeter correlation check that’s required before using the transponder.  I’d talked to the local shop about this last week, so I stopped in again to be sure they still had time to do it, then taxied the plane over to their hangar.  Out came the guy with the test rig, and after finding the serial numbers for the encoder (a function performed by my EFIS) and transponder, he asked if the EFIS could be installed in a certified airplane.  “No,” I said, “but this is an experimental aircraft.”  He told me it didn’t matter, and that if it couldn’t be installed in a Cessna, he couldn’t certify it.  I advised him that I didn’t believe this to be true, and he wandered off to ask someone else.

When he returned, he said OK, he could do it, “because the encoder is built into the transponder.”  Not so, I knew, because I wired and plumbed the panel myself, and I have the installation manual right here on my Ipad…but I wasn’t going to argue the point, since he was now saying he could do it.  Then, he had me pull the transponder out of the rack, whereupon he pointed to what appears to be an unused small screw hole on the back of the case, and told me that this was the static port, and I needed to have a static line plumbed to it; without that, I would be encoding the cabin static pressure, and they’d sent someone else away for the same reason before.  If I were to put the transponder in a vacuum chamber, he told me, it would read whatever pressure was in the chamber.  (FWIW, the install manual has arrows pointing to that screw hole saying “unused.”)

Well, at that point it was becoming evident that he didn’t know what he was talking about (there is no mention whatsoever in the manual of any static port, plumbing, or built-in encoders), so I took my transponder back, thanked him for his time and the education, and taxied back to the hangar.  Pushed the plane in and went to work…frustrated that I’d driven all the way over and taken time from work for that; now I’ll need to ask for more time to deal with it it later.

I’ll call SteinAir once they open back up after Oshkosh on Wednesday, and see if they have time to make a field trip with their test rig to complete these checks.  At this point, I don’t really have much of a choice but to have someone travel in to do it, at whatever that costs.  I suppose I could fly with the transponder disabled and locate a friendly shop later at one of my Phase I airports, but having the transponder active in the (busy-ish) airspace around the cities is an aid to see-and-avoid, since traffic systems and TCAS can’t do anything with non-transponder aircraft.

Later in the day, talked to the DAR about the airworthiness paperwork, and confirmed that they really do need (or at least want) a full hour of ground run on the engine, despite the 2-hour test stand run, and all systems checking out OK in the runs that have been done so far.  Had the FAA forms notarized, and dropped the packet in the mail to the MIDO on the way home from work.  I’ll call them later in the week to be sure they got it, and then let the DAR know it’s ready.  At this point, I think we can comfortably say that the inspection is “pending.”

Hours: 0.8 | Posted in Endgame | 1 Comment

29th July 2012

All dressed up & no place to go

Headed off to the airport with Allison tonight, to calibrate the fuel tanks.  We pulled the plane over to the pumps, and she sat in the cabin and pushed buttons while I added fuel, 2 gallons at a time, to each tank.  I also wanted to calibrate the dipstick tube that I made at the same time, but it seems the diameter is too large — the tube won’t hold the fuel.  I’ll have to find a smaller tube and redo that part later.  30 gallons of fuel later (15 in each tank; the gauges stop increasing at around 14.2 gallons), the tanks were calibrated.

Rather than tow the plane back to the hangar with an extra 180 lbs on board, I had Allison move over to the passenger seat, and I fired up the engine and taxied back.  First, we went down to the run-up area and did a run-up, mag check, and static RPM check.  Back to the hangar, I tried an idle RPM check before shutting down, but the engine wanted to quit somewhere south of 500 RPM, so it looks like I’ll have to adjust the idle stop up a little higher.  Allison thought taxiing around the airport was neat, though it was a bit loud for her.

Before putting the plane back inside, I parked it in front of the hangar and took a series of photos that I’ll send in as the official inspection packet photos, along with some “glamour shots”…

 

Back in the hangar, we removed the cowling, wing inspection panels, and tail fairing.  Later this week, I’ll get the rest of the fairings & panels removed again.  I looked over the FWF for leaks or chafing and found neither.

I put together the rest of the inspection packet tonight, and printed off a shipping label; hopefully I’ll talk to the DAR tomorrow and ship off the packet from the post office at work.

Hours: 4.5 | Posted in Endgame | Comments Off

28th July 2012

Asking her weight

Today was the day to weight the plane, I hauled the scales to the hangar and spent the afternoon getting ready. Essentially, this meant installing every panel, cover, piece of equipment, cowling, and so forth, to get the airplane to the same weight condition it will be for flight. The process took several hours to complete, and I ran out of screws and washers when I was several short of the end. I did get everything installed, though, inside and out. Wing root fairings, cowling, forward carpet.

I also remounted the fire extinguisher on the tunnel cover between the seats, as I mentioned earlier. Menard’s didn’t have any suitable spacers that I could find, so I just used a stack of large-area washers for now; I’ll replace them with something lighter when I find or make it.

Once all the panels and covers were on, I installed the seats and the seatback braces, then adjusted the shoulder harnesses and trimmed the excessive extra length off the strap that runs aft; there’s still plenty left, I could probably trim another 18 inches, but just in case, I’ll wait until after I’ve flown and had a chance to adjust everything.

Drained all the fuel out of the tanks, too.

With everything set, I rigged up the scales, blocks, and ramps, and hauled the plane up onto them. Moment of truth…turns out she’s a bit of a big girl. 1103 lbs. I was surprised, since I have a light prop, non-oversized engine, minimal interior, and only a partial panel. I’ll have to poke around a bit and see how bad it is, but I seem to recall mid- to high-1000′s (1050-1090) being more normal.

Even with the higher weight, the CG seems fine, and all the loading scenarios I can think up are within the envelope. So it comes down to a matter of how much weight there is to add additional equipment before it starts to cut into useful load that’s actually used.

I blame all the primer and interior paint for the weight, and I know some of my fiberglass work isn’t as light as it would be, if someone who knew what they were doing with glass did the work.

So, now I can finish up the airworthiness paper trail and set the government cogs in motion, to bring first flight one step closer.

Hours: 7.0 | Posted in Endgame | Comments Off