Saturday, September 17, 2005

Busy Day at the Airport!

Today was a blast! I got to the airport at about eight o'clock this morning and started working on my Phantom. Don drove up a while later and took a look at how my plane was shaping up. He was there to get some time in on his Aeronca Chief after the plane had loitered around the hanger for a few months, but unfortunately his tires were low. He didn't want to drive all the way home for a pump, so the plan was to fly over to our friend Chris' airstrip and borrow a pump, then fly back to air up the tires on the Chief.

While Don was looking at his options, he glanced into another one of our flying partner's hangar and noticed that the wings of his Ultra-Piet were taken off his fuselage and broken to shreds, neatly placed in a little pile.

We knew he had been testing a differential braking system, and I naturally assumed that he had done a ground loop. I later spoke to him on the phone and found out that his engine quit shortly after taking off. He was at 300 feet or so and landed in a short field. He couldn't stop at the end of the field and had to drive the cockpit between two trees. He was OK, just a scratch on the elbow. He doesn't know if he will rebuild or not. It was a nice ultralight.

After our pre-flight preparations were complete, we hit the skies and were at Chris' about 30 minutes later. Some men were out picking up hay bales on Chris' property so I decided to take a shot of them hard at work in the hot sun. Don landed first and after my spectacular 720 degree descending spiral that lost about 1500 feet, I touched down and parked also. Soon discovered from Chris' wife that he wasn't home, but would be back shortly. While we were waiting, one of the guys picking up the bales stopped and talked to us for a while. As soon as he drove up he said "I've always wanted one of those, but before my wife died she told me I already had too many toys." I asked him what was stopping him from getting one now. He said, "Fear and common sense."

If you talk to somebody who has flown in general aviation airplanes and are comfortable with flying in them, when you ask them thier feeling about ultralights, most of them will tell you they wouldn't ever be willing to fly in an ultralight because they believe they are unsafe. They feel some false sense of security flying larger airplanes because they are completely enclosed in very thin aluminum sheet, or even fabric, and it makes them feel comforatable. I'll give you my take on that in just a bit.

Chris gave Don an air tank to use to fill up the tires on the Chief. We flew back to Fort Deposit and Don filled up his tires. We pulled the plane out of the hangar and after a few minutes of fiddling, he started the engine. Hand propping still really freaks me out. I went back to working on my Phantom while Don was warming up the engine and running it a different RPM settings, until I heard the engine quit about 20 minutes later. Don came over to my hangar and sat down and we chatted about this and that. He didn't want to fly his taildragger airplane if the wind was blowing anything over a breeze. It was hot as blazes, even in the shade of the hangar. Sweat was dripping off my face. I suggested that we get some lunch and gasoline in town, then come back and see what the wind was doing. Lunch at Subway was good and we returned to the airport about an hour later with 5 gallons of gas.

Don poured the 5 gallons into the tank and started up the Chief. He taxied around the tarmac a couple of times, then he taxied out to the far end of the runway as I positioned myself to take a picture.

Don took off just like a pro. I watched him fly the pattern several time and observed several landings, all of which looked great. I took a few shots then went back to working on the Phantom.
I worked for a while and when I heard the Chief come back on the tarmac, I went to the Chief's hangar to help push the plane back in to her space, but Don stopped on the tarmac and motioned to me to come over. He asked if I wanted to take a ride, which I certainly accepted. We took off and headed to Chris Sells' place. Climbing to altitude, our airspeed was 65 (MPH or Knots, I'm not sure) and when we leveled off, we were cruising at 75. The Chief has a 65 horsepower 4-cylinder 4-cycle Continental engine, and weighs somewhere in the neighborhood of 800 pounds or so. The power-to-weight ratio is less than most ultralights!

As we were flying to Chris' place, I kept wondering to myself, "What happens if the engine quits? We are going to go down, and most likely be seriously hurt or even die!" Seriously... I was very uncomfortable inside this airplane. If the engine quits in an ultralight, you can land almost anywhere, even in trees, and you will more than likely survive. I don't think the same is true for general aviation planes...even Cessnas and the like. And when you couple that with the speed envelope for some of the higher-performance ultralights (and now sportplanes) , to me, it's hard to understand or justify the cost and expense of owning a plane of this type. Of course, if you are an aviation purist and want to experience the nostalgia of owning and flying a 1946 Aeronca Chief...the fine specimen that I had the privilege of flying in is for sale...for a mere $14,000 dollars, and a steal at that!

We flew back home to Fort Deposit after circling our flying friend's airstrip and parked the Chief. It was getting late and I was getting hungry, so we both packed up and headed home after a great day of aviation!

Friday, September 16, 2005

A Real Mechanic

I saw this on a fellow aviator's blog and just had to have it for mine!

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Sunset as experienced by an Aviator!

Tuesday, September 13, 2005


Well, so far I'm way off on my initial time estimate for what it was going to take to repair the Phantom fairing. I've glassed-in the bottom and have done some repairs, but I still have much more sanding and glass lay-up to finish the process. I'd say I'm about 60% done. That's after working on it all last weekend and about an hour on Monday evening after work. It's really not too fun getting all that resin dust and glass fibers on your skin. I'll be really happy when I'm finished with this job. Wish I could have afforded a new pod. Here's some pictures of the fairing so far:

On a positive note, I've learned a bunch of stuff about composites. This site ( has quite a bit of good information about glass, carbon fiber and kevlar composits and sells all sorts of cloth, resin and supplies. I've found it to be a good resource, but I haven't purchased anything from them yet, but I may in the future.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Fiberglas parts...

I brought the Phantom's pod home from the airport last week and started to clean it up over the weekend. This thing is in bad shape. Apparently it's been repaired several times, and the quality of work is what I would call substandard. There's lots of Bondo body filler all over it, in fact, at the nose of the pod and the nosewheel opening, it's about a quarter inch thick! I don't have any more budget for a new pod, so I'm trying to salvage this one.

I must have ground and sanded on this thing for over six hours on Sunday and Monday. I've found a few repairs that I'll need to reinforce with some additional cloth and resin, especially around the edges. This pod is one of the old type with the open bottom and I really wish the bottom was covered. I might take this opportunity to close it, I'm not sure. At one point yesterday I actually gave up and stopped sanding and decided I was going to buy a new one, but changed my mind later when inspecting it again. It's got a lot to do with the over $400 that a new pod will cost. I'd rather spend it on something else. I'd say that I have another four hours sanding and prep work before I start the fiberglas repairs, then probably another two hours for paint. I'm limited as to what I can paint it with because I don't have a spray setup. I sure hate to use spray paint out of a can. I'll do what I can to make this pod look as good as possible, but I'm afraid that no matter what I do, it will look crappy. Such a shame to have a rebuilt aircraft with a substandard looking pod installed. Oh well, maybe I'm getting ahead of myself. Maybe it will look acceptable. I'll give it my best.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Flying is what it's all about!

When I got to the airport, there was a plane parked on the tarmac. This is pretty unusual for Ft. Deposit. Upon inspection, you could see that the propeller tips were bent.

I suspected that the pilot had forgotten to put the gear down. Besides the prop, nothing was apparently wrong from the topside. I looked underneath and sure enough, this plane had made a belly landing.

After preflighting my MX, I took off for the Fountain City Flyers radio-controlled airplane field in Autaugaville. This would be my third trip to that nicely manicured short strip. For the first time since I have purchased my GPS, I was going to attempt to navigate a 30-mile trip without using it. I had it with me to use as my altimeter, but that's it. There wasn't a cloud in the sky, but it was just slightly hazy.

A baseball field that I've never noticed before.

A closeup of the biggest lake at a gravel pit that is one of the landmarks that I use to get to Autaugaville.

As I was flying along, I was alarmed when I saw a HUGE shadow of an airplane zoom past me on the ground. I looked up, and a few thousand feet above me was a C-130 tooling along headed north. By the time I got the camera turned on, he was quite a ways away, but I thought I'd show the shot anyway, since the skys were clear blue.

Flying over another landmark slew, I noticed for the first time that the houses in this area are built on stilts to keep them dry in most floods. Heaven help them should a catastrophe flood come along.

First time I've ever seen a sailboat on the Alabama River, not only from the air, but EVER!

When I landed at the FCF field, nobody was there. This is the third time that I've been there and only once have I found a soul there. Oh well, I used the outhouse and decided to fly to the Prattville airport, which was only about 6 miles away.

Ray Hill is an Airframe and Powerplant mechanic (A&P) who runs his business out of Prattville in this hangar. Ray is a good guy who has helped me out when I needed that bolt or nut or washer that I didn't have. He's building a Wag Aircraft "Wag-A-Bond" in the rear room of the hangar. I'll get a picture of it next time I'm there and post it.

Heading back to Ft. Deposit, I took some more shots. This one is of a new bridge being built on Alabama Hwy. 14 right near the Prattville airport.

What appears to be a catfish pond.

Those aren't ducks, they are Canadian Geese and they didn't seem to be bothered by me at all, even though I was only a couple of hundred feet above them.

A typical Southern Baptist Church. This was the last shot of the flight. I flew about 80 miles and was in the air just over 2 hours. I had a great time. I worked on the Phantom some more for about an hour, then I went back home.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Phantom Shaping-up

I worked on the Phantom yesterday afternoon and today as well. She's coming together nicely. I've still got a lot of work to do, but progress is good. Installing the engine and pod with all associated gauge wiring, kill switch wiring and fuel system plumbing will take plenty of time. I also haven't disassembled the wings to inspect them; at this point, I'm not sure if I'm going to. Here's a couple of shots: