Saturday, October 29, 2005

Cheap wheelbarrow tires

I started out for the airport late this morning, around 11:00. It's getting a bit cold here in central Alabama and leaving later in the day gives the sun time to warm things up!

I forgot to pick up an innertube for my flat tire, and being Saturday, I couldn't find a place open that would have the tube. I wound up going to Harbor Freight, who didn't have the right size tube either. Instead, they had a large selection of already mounted tires with tubes. I figured I didn't have much to lose, so I bought two 10" tires, thinking I could use them as spares when I have a flat. I continued on to the airport.

My October goal to finish my Phantom has passed, and I'm really not a whole lot closer to finishing than I was at the beginning of October. I guess it will be done when it is done! I worked on it some today, installing the stainless steel free-air shroud, then re-installing the old fan tower. I had removed it earlier to machine some clearance for the free-air shroud. I worked a bit more on the pushrod system for the steering, and I think it will work out well.

After doing as much as I could on the Phantom, I decided to swap wheels and tires on the MX and go fly. In about 10 minutes, I had both tires done. The didn't run very true, I'll tell you that much, but they DID allow me to get off the ground. I stayed very close to the airport as I'm still breaking in the newly-rebuilt points 503 that I installed about two hours ago. I've got to replace the bearings for the fan shaft. They are very rough turning, but it just so happens that I can use the ones that I removed from the fan shroud of the Phantom. I'll try to squeeze that in sometime next weekend.

I flew for about 30 minutes, doing touch-and-gos. I even did my last landing with an intentionally shut-down engine. Of course I was very close to the strip and had plenty of altitude. I'm a chicken!

I really want to get that Phantom finished soon!

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Flying with Billy...well, almost!

It was windy about mid-morning today, but the sky was blue as could be. I was thinking the wind would die down this evening, and I would plan to arrive at the airport late in the afternoon and possibly work on the Phantom before I went flying the MX.

When I got to the airport about 3:30, imagine my surprise when I pull up to my hangar and I see my fellow Phantom owner Billy's airplane parked outside of my hangar! I got out and said hello and we talked about Phantom stuff and little improvements here and there that I could make to mine. I looked over his very carefully and asked questions about lots of things. We talked for quite a few minutes, my mind was racing thinking about things to ask while I had the chance. Billy was answering and giving suggestions just as fast as I was asking!

Billy wanted to go flying with me, and it was obvious that I wasn't going to have enough time to fly AND to work on the Phantom, so of course I chose to fly! That is until I saw that I had a flat tire. I quickly removed the tire and and sped off to the gas station for air. Within 10 minutes I was back and when I was putting the tire back on, I could hear the air escaping. I had just enough air to last through my preflight and taxi about halfway down the runway before the tire was again flat. Billy was following me, waiting for me to take off. I waved at him gesturing to take off and head back since the sun was rapidly setting. I taxied back to the hangar, removed the tire and threw it van. I started to work on the Phantom some more, but was unsuccessful. When I tried to install the brake cables to the brake bands, there was a bracket missing, so I stopped there. When I tried to install the stainless steel free air scoop, it didn't fit because there is some material that has to be removed from the fan tower first, which wasn't mentioned in the instructions.

With the sun at the horizon and the shadows getting long, I picked up my tools and secured everything and headed for home my self-imposed Phantom completion date of October 31st looks like it may be in jeopardy. Oh well, I guess I'll get over it.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Swapping the engine on the MX

I arrived about 8:00 and made preparations to install an engine on my MX. Last weekend, I took the provision 8 503 off of the MX and moved it to it's perch on top of the Phantom's keel tube. Of course, this left me in a non-flyable condition which can't be tolerated very well.

Some time back, before and during my neck surgery recovery, I rebuilt a points-type 503 engine that I purchased on eBay. This was the engine that I was going to swap back on to the MX. It's the first Rotax that I've completely rebuilt, even replacing the PTO-side crank bearings. I've pulled heads off of Rotax engines before, and completely disassembled a few, but never re-assembled one until this 503. Of course, I was very carefully during assembly and had no problems. I was a bit paranoid about the case sealing, but it went well as did everything else.

While I was working on the details, my friend Dean drove up and I took a break and sat down and chatted with him for an hour or so. Dean is a great guy. He told me that he had decided that he would re-build the wings from his Ultra-Piet that he sort-of crashed last month after his engine quit after take-off. He was at about 300 feet AGL and had to put the plane down in a short field. He ran out of room an had to put the wings between two trees. The fuselage, prop and engine escaped damage. See my post from Saturday, September 17th for pictures. When Dean left, I got back to working on the MX.

It took me slightly less than one hour to actually mount the engine on the MX. Getting the angle relative to the coupler and driveshaft took a couple more hours. Everything was going just fine until I installed the exhaust manifold. One of the bolts stripped out as I was tightening it. I left it as tight as I could with the intentions of fixing it at a later time. Everything else went according to plan when noon came around, I was ready to test run. After I pulled the plane out of the hangar, I gave a squirt of primer and pulled the rope. The engine didn't fire, so I pulled again. Gas started pouring out of the fuel line, which I had forgotten to attach to the carburetor. Idiot! After securing the fuel line, I squirted another shot from the primer and pulled the rope. It fired! It died of course, but after a bit more priming and another pull, it started right up! I pulled the throttle up to a very high idle and this is when I noticed my Tiny Tach reading was way off! Oh, I guess I need a model 1C for a points engine...not a 2C for a Ducatti CDI like I used to have on the MX. I wrapped the tach lead around only 1 plug wire and the readings dropped back to normal.

I taxied the MX to the windsock pole where I tied the tail so I could do some run-up. I didn't specifically follow the Rotax break-in procedure, but the important thing to remember when breaking in an engine is the heat-up, cool-down cycle of expansion and contraction. I strapped in and advanced the throttle to 3500 for about a minute while observing that the CHT and EGT were within range, then I let the engine idle until the CHTs dropped to 250 degrees. Then I revved the engine to 4000 RPM for about a minute, then let it cool. I followed the same cycle to 5500 RPM when the tach started acting screwy. After that, I decided to go full-throttle for a minute, during which time the temps were fine. I wouldn't expect anything different because the prop pitch and jetting were already set for a 503 engine. I let the engine cool back to 250 on the CHTs and untied the tail and taxied back to the hangar. I was quite happy with the engine test.

I worked on the Phantom for a while, allowing the MX engine to cool completely, all the while waiting for the windsock to drop down a bit. While I was running-up the rebuilt engine, the sock was going through periods of 45 degree angles and up! I didn't want to fly a new engine with winds that strong, so I kept waiting, while working on the Phantom.

I switched the shoulder harness belts around so they were correctly position. I had installed them backwards. I installed the lap belts. I worked out a mock-up of a pushrod system that I'm going to use for the nosewheel steering instead of the stock springs, that I don't like. I installed the new throttle cable bracket that came with my custom 3-way splitter for dual carbs and oil injection. When I started to route the cable through the front strut, I couldn't get the splitter to fit. This means that I have to remove the tube to allow room to push the cable through. I really didn't want to do that. It's a bitch getting a bolt through both ends with spacers both on the inside and the outside. I'll save that for later.

The winds died down a bit, but were still stronger that I prefer. I could test fly the MX, but the winds were strong enough that I wouldn't be flying anywhere. I only had about two gallons (maybe less) of fuel in the tank, so I decided just to fly some patterns, getting some real-life wide open throttle/cruise/idle cycles in. I took off uneventfully and the engine seemed to be working well. I climbed to about 500 AGL, pulled the throttle back and then performed the cross-wind, down-wind, base and final legs of the pattern. As I approached the numbers, the wind suddenly eased up, causing me to drop to the surface hard enough that I bounced about two feet. I shoved the throttle forward quick enough that when I came back down from the bounce, the next bounce was only a few inches high as I pulled the throttle back to idle. The right wing came up...I shoved the stick right to deploy the spoiler and I pushed rudder to the right. The right wing came down, I straightened up and then the left wing came up. I pushed left rudder and it came down and I was finally planted on the ground. I've had things like this happen so many times that I didn't even think about what I was doing as it was happening. It is only as I write this that I really realize how many things we do when piloting our craft that become natural reactions.

Sunday, October 09, 2005


SERFI this year was somewhat of a let-down. I decided the day before not to fly there, as it was raining on Friday and the winds were expected to be 10-15 all day on Saturday. My son and I were going to drive instead. Fifteen minutes out, I noticed that I left the camera at home. The pictures in this post were provided by James Kirkland, who owns a beautiful modified Quicksilver that is stationed out of the Greenville, Alabama airport.

Saturday morning at my house, it was clear and about 60 degrees. We started south on I-65 about 7:30, stopping for breakfast on the way. When we got south of Greenville, Alabama, it was starting to cloud up. When we got to Evergreen, it was completely overcast and the wind was blowing the wind sock straight out. Just a few planes were there at that time, but they were starting to arrive steadily.

Wes and I walked around and looked at a few of the experimental airplanes, the warbirds, which were all military trainers. There was the SNJ that resides at Greenville that I've posted about before, along with a radio-controlled (1/5?)scale model of the same aircraft.

There was also a PT-19 that was there last year, as well as a short version of it's purchase, duty station, abandonment and restoration. There was a PT-23 which to me looked like a radial-engined version of the PT-19.

Then there was an observation plane with an enclosed bubble cockpit that looked really strange. It was an all metal, single engine, somewhat large airplane with an in-line engine. Later in the morning, another appeared, but in civilian paint. My friend Kyle tells me it a Navion. After doing a little searching on, I find that the plane is built by Ryan Aviation. The civilian designation is indeed Navion-B. The military designation is L-17. Thanks Kyle!

Only three ultralights made it to this fly-in, a single-place Challenger, a two-place Challenger and one of the Mini-Max versions.

This is the second SERFI that I've been to, the first was larger but not necessarily any better. It was an interesting activity to visit, but I wish I could have flown. Maybe next year in the Phantom!

Thursday, October 06, 2005

The prop saga...

I was disappointed that I didn't see a package from UPS on the porch last night when I got home from work. I have been expecting it for some time. I ordered the prop from Phantom Aeronautics, which is a reseller of the Powerfin line. Getting Erik from Phantom on the phone is sometimes hit-or-miss and I had been missing lately, so on Tuesday, I decided to call Powerfin Inc., to check on the status. I assume I spoke to the owner, but I didn't get a name. He was not cooperative at all. He didn't want to give me any information about the status of the prop. His line of reasoning was that I ordered the prop from Phantom, so I needed to be speaking to Phantom about the status. Because I knew that the prop was going to be shipped from the factory to my house, I couldn't buy his line of reasoning. I could understand completely if I were trying to settle a financial dispute, but this was not the case. After restating my position and why I was calling, twice, he was still uncooperative. I didn't get terribly rude with the guy, but I'm sure he was hearing my impatience through my vocal inflections. After I realized I wasn't going to get a delivery status or tracking number, I kindly said good-bye to the man.

So, yesterday when I got home the prop wasn't there waiting for me. I started working on the instrument panel for my Phantom, sanding and fitting and cutting out holes for the instruments. I worked past twilight and had to turn on the porch floodlight to continue seeing. As I was returning back to the router, I see my neighbor walking towards me with a box in her hand. She said, "I think this is yours..." to which I replied, "Does it say Powerfin on it?" "Yep, it sure does". I took the box and thanked her profusely for bringing it to me. I set it inside the house and quickly cleaned up my tools so I could go inspect my prop.

Imagine my surprise when I opened the box and reached in and felt three propeller blades. I guess this would be normal, except for the fact that I had ordered a two-bladed propeller. I did this because the three-bladed prop was $150 more and I didn't see the value, but they really look good when compared to the plain old two-bladed variety. After I unpacked the blades, I reached in for the hub, hoping to find a three blade hub, but it wasn't going to be. There, in my hands, were two beautifully machined, beautifully anodized, aluminum two-blade propeller hubs. I was really puzzled about the third blade and at the time, I was very tempted to keep it. After the haze settled, I realized that I need to send the blade back. I'm going to call Powerfin today and see if he wants me to send the blade back to Phantom or to him. At $125 a blade, I'm sure the guy will be happy to deal with me now!

Moral of the story, if you are the manufacturer of a product, when you are speaking to the end user of your product, regardless of who you purchased it from, it would be wise to be overly helpful and cooperative. This is especially true if your product is a low-volume, specialty product. I'm going to have fun talking to Mr. Powerfin on the phone. In his defense, he was never impolite on the phone, but he wasn't helpful either.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Preparations for SERFI

The EAA is holding their annual South-East Regional Fly-In this weekend in Evergreen, Alabama. My friend Don and I intend to fly down from Ft. Deposit on Saturday as early as the fog will permit. If the weather looks like it will be good on Sunday morning, we are going to camp out at the airport on Saturday night. I've never flown to SERFI before, but I have once flown to Middleton Field in Evergreen (Saturday, April 16th, in the archives). It's about 50 miles one-way. Just under two hours in no-wind conditions. We both washed our planes last weekend are making final preparations for the trip. Should be a fun time. I'll get some pics and post them next week sometime.

Phantom work is going slow. I went out last week and permanently attached the stab, fin, rudder and elevator halves. I assembled the kingpost and attached it to the keel. A new torque tube/bellcrank assembly arrived last night from Phantom and I'm going to try to install it tonight and hook-up and adjust the elevator. That will complete the fuselage assembly except for the engine mounting and plumbing, pod/windshield/instrument panel assembly and gauge hook-up. I'm going to shoot for the end of October as a completion date. I still have lots of work to do. I have to complete the surface prep of the pod and get it painted. So far I would estimate that I have about 10 hours into fiberglas repair and sanding. It's been a bunch of nasty, dusty work but I believe the results will be acceptable. It won't look like new, but I think it will be presentable.

I'll give a pilot report on SERFI when I get back.