Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Owning the Winter Lake

Even in December in Alabama we get days approaching 70 degrees. The wind is mild and the sun is shining, although low in the sky. Boats are off the lake. Leaves are off the trees. Enjoy this time! Our planes get to enjoy the extra performance of the denser air and the smoothness of a wake free lake. Even the water is clearer this time of year. Winter air is drier, so our views are undisturbed for up to a 100 miles at times. I especially enjoy being able to see into the woods through the bare trees, making all kinds of interesting places that are ours to explore once we spot them from the air.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Alabama Winter Seaplane Survival Guide

November 15th: I am still flying in short sleeves. The lake belongs almost exclusively to me. I can land nearly anywhere without boat wakes, and am unlikely to annoy anyone on the lake with my flying contraption. There is still an occassional pontoon boat or bass fisherman, but they are widely spread. The trees are in full color. The air is crystal clear and I can see for 50 miles in any direction. And my sunset flights don't conflict with dinner since the days are so short. Seaplane life is good on Lake Martin.



December 15th: Flying floats for the next few months can be really rewarding without the challenges of other lake users. You must plan a little more carefully for your cross countries. Fuel will be more scarce as fewer marinas are open and since lake levels are down there are fewer and more treacherous places to splash in. More importantly, you should use the extra power afforded by the cooler weather and lower density altitudes to carry the necessities for an unplanned emergency landing.



During the summer months shorts and light clothing are the norm, But in the winter, exposure could be an issue in a very short time. Carrying supplies, a first aid kit, and warm clothing and/or blankets for emergencies is more urgent for any cross-country flight. Chances of quick rescue are good during the summer months on a busy lake, not so on a deserted winter lake. Be safe, be prepared, and enjoy winter float flying.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Frosty Wings

Got frost on your wings? Taxi the plane out into the sun. This will start the melting process. If the temps are above freezing, you can help the air melt the wings by doing some step taxiing out in the sun. This puts more warm air over the wings. Usually you will see the water running off the back of the wings in a jiffy.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Winter Battery Maintenance

We depend on lots of batteries when we fly. First in importance is the airplane battery. It is critical in the winter months to keep all fluid at the proper levels, and that it's kept charged and as warm as possible. A quality trickle charger can mean the difference between a long, cold preflight concluding with a failed start, and a long, cold preflight followed by a wonderful winter flight.


Pilot accessories such as portable GPSs, ANR headsets, handheld VHF radios, and flashlights are particularly susceptible to the cold winter nights. I take all of my battery powered pilot toys into the house at night, rather than leave them in the plane or even in the car trunk. Batteries drain fast when they have to light up frozen components. As a side benefit, you are removing an incentive for someone to pry open your airplane door to steal your goodies. So take care of your batteries and keep 'em warm.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Fall Seaplane Flying in Alabama



This is really the best flying of the year. We can at last enjoy wake free lakes and relatively long days. Gone is much of the bumpiness and intense heat of summer afternoons. Our weather becomes consistent for days on end, for better or worse. From the air, the changing trees create unique patterns on the landscape as they explode into color.



Fall pilots enjoy the added bonus of actually getting more of the rated horsepower from the engine—pretty exciting after enduring high density altitudes all summer.This is also the time of year to get night current again (in your land plane), as well as getting comfortable with windier days following fronts. With the season's new flying pleasures, however, comes the need for alertness to different kinds of seasonal water hazards.



As lake levels fall (typical for this time of year), the risks of boat traffic are replaced with those from unmarked shallow areas. The receding water reveals new spots which were not marked with bouys during summer's higher water levels. Be sure to do a good flying survey of your prospective landing area before committing your floats to risk. The truly shallow areas can often be seen from a low pass. It's harder to see submerged logs and pilings, so be extra observant.




As days get cooler and the water gets calmer, it's really tempting to just fire up the engine and blast off. Be sure to taxi around long enough to allow the engine and oil to warm up to a reasonable operating temperature. Once in the air, enjoy the clear days and beauty of our great country. Most of all, appreciate the privilege and freedom of flight.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Things to do with a seaplane

We bought our seaplane in 1997. We had owned the lake house for five or six years by then, and I had spent lots of time growing up on that lake at my father's cabin. Once we got the plane it was really liberating. There was so much to explore and do.


Lake Martin has 750 miles of shoreline and there are lakes above and below it that are not accessible by boat, and impractical in a car. I originally envisioned taking the seadoo or the fishing boat on a trailer to these other lakes, but this never happened because of the effort involved.



Boats are generally so slow and expensive to operate from a fuel standpoint that getting very far on the lake is just not practical. Even a seadoo which you would think would be fast and efficient can only go about 50 mph for any length of time all the while burning 10 or more gallons per hour. The plane burns 8 gallons per hour while cruising easily at 100 mph. The very nature of the plane is to go far fast. You do miss some of the local scenery on the way, but there is so much other scenery you get from the plane view that you never see from the boat.



I was noticing yesterday all of the azaleas that are blooming in the middle of the woods. Unless you are a pilot flying low you would miss it. A whole world opened up to me and my family when we added the plane. My daughter and I go exploring on many weekends. We almost always get comments about how cool the plane is and we have seem way more of the lake in the last few years than I explored in the 30 years prior to having the seaplane.



We also use the plane to go and visit friends and until recently our old family lake house. We take the plane to lunch and dinner on the lake. A stir is caused when the plane pulls up. It is always a positive reaction. I will let people sit in the plane if they show interest. I love to encourage aviation interest and we do it wherever we go. We are very careful not to intimidate or annoy anyone with our activities, and it does take being careful. So we use it as a way to explore and a way to get to dinner.



I often take it to the lakeside country club for golf. We even use it to go pick up pizzas. The local Domino's will not deliver to our lake house because of the distance, but they will deliver to the local marina where I can fly in with the plane. The pizza guy really gets a kick out of delivering to a plane. Part of what makes our plane so practical is that it lives at our dock full time. I think it actually helps the property values.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Protecting the seaplane from wind and storms.

Our seaplane has no wheels and we have no water access to a hangar as yet. I dream of building a hangar on our lake lot, but most of my dreams like this are just not practical. I would probably spend fifty to a hundred thousand dollars to protect a fifty thousand dollar airplane. Whatever I build to protect the plane cannot reduce its utility by making it tougher to get it into the water and flying.


When I originally bought the plane it lived out of the water on a pontoon boat trailer. This got the plane out of the water, but left it vulnerable to trees, wind, and limbs. It also put the plane really high off the ground making it tough to tie down and tougher to preflight and fuel. The real clincher, though, was how tough it was to get onto the trailer in a high wind situation. Storms come up pretty darn quickly in Alabama. Usually the first indication is the gust front, and by the time that gets to us, we are already in trouble for threading the needle to put the plane on the trailer. It sits best on the trailer with the tail towards the trailer tongue, so that means a turn around on the water as well. I never had any issues or damage while doing these manuevers, although I personally got wet a few times. It became clear to me that I needed to keep the plane closer to the water and better tied down.


I built a U shaped dock to hold the plane which gave me multiple points to tie it up and tie it down. I then built a ramp in the middle of the slip and attached a winch and cables to lift the ramp/platform and the plane out of the water. This whole deal cost me a couple of weekends and about $2,000 including the wood, floatation foam and the winch. I was very proud of my engineering feat when I finished. This dock has provided me and the plane with years of protection and support. It has held up through several hurricanes and countless storms and boat wakes.


I am about to need a new winch, and my cabling corrodes and gives out every two or three years. The dock provides a great place to work on, fuel, and preflight the plane, and it has multiple points for tie downs. The support platform keeps the floats mostly out of the water and it keeps them stationary to the dock. When docking the plane, the platform acts like a ramp and keeps the floats from bashing into the back of the dock. The dock also weighs enough to hold the plane down during a storm, so it is secure at the dock. I can relax a little more when I hear about storms heading for Lake Martin. I still worry but just not quite as much. I still wish for a hangar.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Protecting the seaplane from the Alabama sun

The Alabama sun can be brutal. We have temperatures into the 100s sometimes for days from July through September. It is not a dry heat like Phoenix. This is a wet and sticky heat. Our plexiglass windows deteriorate in the sun. The UV rays break down the polymers and make the glass cloudy and eventually the plastic will craze and look almost shattered.




Our avionics and our bodies don't care much for heat either. UV rays also attack our upholstery and interior plastics. I use a cabin cover which I bought from Bruce's Custom Covers at http://www.aircraftcovers.com.%20these/ are very durable and easy to put on and take off. I have tried other brands which can be cheaper, but they were not as sturdy and they fell apart after just a few years.




The covers protect all of the glass in the plane as well as reducing the internal temperatures. I suspect it even helps prevent hail damage to the windows by providing a barrier. I have one of these covers for the Twin Comanche as well ,and when I have to park the plane outside for even a few hours, I install the cover to keep the plane from getting too hot during the warm months. I still wish for a hangar, but at $350-$400 vs $50,000 for a hangar, as well as easy on and off, the cover just has too many plusses.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Glider Clubs




One of the really amazing things about glider flying is that it is a group endeavour. If a tow plane is involved then there are at least two people required to launch. Optimally there is also a wing walker to lift the wing while the tow plane gets us going. There are self launch gliders, but part of the ambiance of gliding is being with the other pilots and telling stories. I belong to the Sylacauga Soaring Society glider club. The club operates several gliders and a Piper Pawnee tow plane. Every weekend there are at least a few guys from the club lurking around the airport. If the weather is bad then they will be working on their planes or just hangar flying. If the weather is good then they will hang out by the launch area on the field. If there is a glider to fetch or launch then they will help. There are cookouts and other more social events as well. Bob Hey is one of the founders of the club and he is the make it happen guy. He is nearly always on the field on the weekends. He sends a recap of the past day's/weekend's activities even if not much happened, and he generally facilitates the activities. Most of all Bob makes everyone feel welcome to the group. I feel that I am really fortunate to have become a part of this group and to have the privilege of flying with these guys. http://www.sylacaugasoaring.com/ You can contact me or Bob to arrange a demo flight.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Seaplane Passenger Briefing




Many of my first-time passengers are nervous about flying in a small plane—add that to the stress of flying in a seaplane. This is usually exacerbated during the pre-flight briefing when I mention the unlikely chance that we could be involved in an accident on the water; but it's also an opportunity to ease that tension with practical information and to mention seaplanes' excellent record in off-airport landings.





The briefing should cover the necessary topics while emphasizing the safety benefits of seaplane flying. On the positive side, seaplanes have several distinct safety advantages over land planes. To begin with, on Lake Martin we have about a 22 mile long runway ahead and 44,000 acres of runway below us almost the entire flight.





We have the option of landing on water or land without serious danger. Because the floats have very strong keels, seaplanes can be landed on grass safely without damage, or even on a concrete runway if necessary with minimal risk to the plane or occupants. All of that stucture below and in front of the passenger compartment helps to keep the plane upright.




Seaplanes fuselages also have structural enhancements to withstand the rigors of the water. The floats provide extra strength in front of and below the cockpit, which protects the occupants in the event of a landing accident.





The most serious issue in an accident is getting out of a sinking airplane. This is why pre-flight briefing is crucial. Passengers must be prepared for that unlikely event—they must be shown how to find and release seat belts, door, and window latches while upside-down, and the should feel free to kick out anything needed for egress. Finally they must know how and when to inflate life jackets.





The life jacket and the briefing—knowing what do and when in an emergency— should actually be a comfort to the wary first-time passenger, giving him/her a sense of security in the face of a new and exciting experience. Our life jackets are CO2 powered, but they must be manually activated and they must be worn. A life jacket in the back of the plane is of little use to someone who might be injured or cannot get access to the plane. At best it is a stressful activity to find the life jacket and actually put it on in the water.





I also like to include the standard type items in a briefing. How to use the seat belts. When the quiet times are. Too many pilots don't let their passengers know that there are times when a sterile and quiet cockpit are important. It won't do to have to tell this passenger to be quiet when you actually need to be concentrating on the task at hand.









Just be sure that you give your passengers a complete and rehersed briefing. You will look professional and make them feel more comfortable

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Mooring Strategies




Never assume your airplane is going to stay exactly where you put it while it's on the water. My plane is fairly secure at its specially built seaplane dock, which raises it out of the water and provides multiple solid tie downs. If it's anywhere else, I am never really at ease.
Strange docks are probably the worst. You never know how well anchored their cleats are going to be, or how rough the structure of the dock will be on the floats (be wary of objects below the surface that can jab at the sides of the floats). I am also nervous about other (especially pontoon type) boats that have roofs that can hit my wings. Boaters are not accustomed to other boats having a 12 foot overhang out to the sides. So I worry about these roofs denting my wings, ailerons, flaps etc.





Beaching is another matter. If the wind is blowing directly into the beach, you are in better shape but otherwise you need to check on the plane all the time. I had one instance this summer when I went back to the plane, and a pontoon boat was in the place I had beached my plane, and the boat was using my rope still tied to the tree that I had tied off to! My plane was nearby but loose, and fortunately the wind was keeping it at the beach. I can't imagine doing this to another boat. When we take the plane to lunch dinner in the plane, I usually check on it every 15-20 minutes.




During the drought of 2007, I had to leave the plane at the beach for nearly 8 months, while the water kept going down and then while the water came back up. I had to move the plane every 2-3 days. As the water was going down, I had to move the plane out deeper to keep it from being stuck for the rest of the season on the beach. I would keep one line on the tail cleat and one on each wing tie down attached to a large auger type tie down screw. When the water was coming up. the danger is with the tie downs over stressing the wings by pulling down while the floats are pushing up. The other fear is that the plane will pull the screws out of the ground and thus be free to float away. This up and down issue can also be an issue in coastal regions where the tide may change several feet in the coarse of a day. A floating dock or constant attention are really the only options.




The seaplane base at Oshkosh uses bouys achored to the lake bottom. A line is tied to the front of each pontoon and the planes are allowed to rotate into the wind. This assumes a pretty protected area, a secure bouy and that your floats don't leak too much.




The best sollution is to get the plane out of the water, but that is not always possible or convenient.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Seaplane Right Of Way



The question of who has the right of way on the water comes up very often in training. An airplane on the water has the same right-of-way as any power boat. Logic (and the Marine Police Regulations) dictates that the less manueverable craft should have the right-of-way.
A vessel towing anything is supposed to have ultimate right of way. Sail boats and unpowered craft come next on the food chain. Then there are power boats. The fact is that we are much less manueverable than a power boat. Most seaplanes do not have reverse. We have no neutral. We have limited steering. While on the step (high speed taxi) we have even more limitted steering and stopping options. While in the plow attitude even our vision is limitted by the nose of the plane.



This only matters if the other boaters know or recognize our challenges. Unfortunately, this is not the reality. The other critical fact is that boaters greatly outnumber seaplane pilots. They will have a much better chance of getting us kicked off the lake than we would have of getting them to recognize we are not a threat to their safety and happiness.



Part of being a good seaplane pilot is to learn to be defensive if not transparent in all our actions. Don't fly low over houses and boats. Don't fly super early in the morning. Don't do anything that might scare the other boaters. Give way whenever there may be a question. I have heard boaters worry that a seaplane might lose control and crash into their pontoon boat on landing. I have no easy way to educate thus guy, and there are thousands more like him. Our best course of action is to expose these people to as many good examples of seaplane courtesy as we can.




Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Seaplane Landing Issues




Some of the most striking views and greatest flying adventures are afforded the seaplane pilot. You can never use the same water runway twice.



Our paved runways are hard and fixed. Fences keep the area as sterile and aviation-centric as possible. There is never a rogue wave that came from some distant truck on the interstate. We never have a 12-year-old on a 130hp SeaDoo trying to get a better look at the airplane taking off; or randomly cruising in and out of blind coves, completely oblivious of his surroundings. Seldom is there a power line strung across our intended runway. The FAA has done a fine job of making sure that our land runways are pretty free and clear of troubles. This is not to say that deer and recently giant lizards in Florida haven't made their way onto runways and that another plane might take the runway in front of us. We still have to be vigilant.




Simply landing or taking off from the water changes it. It creates waves that can last for hours. By the same token, there are few things in flying more satisfying than executing a perfect glassy water landing. Every landing and every day is a learning experience and a new piece of water conquered. Yesterday I was eying the river below Lake Martin. It was a perfect sheet of glass. I setup to land and as I was coming down I started noticing debris in the water and lots of it. It was mostly tree limbs and sometimes whole trees. I aborted my landing. Recent rainfalls have been pounding the state, causing the rivers to swell.






Land planes rarely have to worry about the depth of the runway, but to a seaplane this is an issue of great importance. Lake Martin is very clear and a simple fly over of the landing zone will show the orange clay bottom if the water is shallow. Rivers are almost always too murky to see the bottom. Some rivers in the state won't allow you to see more than a foot or two and if the bottom is a dark color then you will never see the problem area. Still it is worth the fly over to check for debris. If there is a current, shallow water will change the surface pattern on the water.






The last obstacle that I am going to talk about is probably the most important and usually the easiest to avoid. Boaters.... We have a great view of the landing zone as we turn to final. I like to look for any boater that might come into my area. Personal Watercraft, PWCs, are the most trouble, since they can change direction at the drop of a hat (sometimes literally as a cap blows off), and the are stupid fast. They can dart out from a dock or a hidden cove. PWCs are so loud for the driver that they will never hear a seaplane and they are so personal that the driver is ususally focused straight ahead. I am ever vigilant for these guys.






This is part of what makes seaplane training so important. The seaplane pilot has to be more aware of his surroundings. The good thing is that the surroundings are so interesting that it is not a chore at all.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Responsible Float Flying




We are fortunate to have many beautiful, clean lakes and rivers in which to play in Alabama. These are largely open to seaplane activity, while the majority of Georgia waterways are closed to seaplane traffic. We must cherish and protect the privilege of using our state’s wateways by being considerate of lake residents and boaters.
Most people living on the lake appreciate calm, quiet days, and almost none of them bought a lake house to be under an airport traffic pattern. Most of the comments I get from lake users are positive and they think the seaplane is pretty cool, but I am very careful not to frighten or annoy anyone.

Most of the time the seaplane attracts its own trouble. We will do two or three landing before boats start to congregate to watch the seaplane. The simple solution is to wave to the boaters and find a new place to play. During the summer and on busy lake weekends I try not to stay in one spot too long anyway.

There are many un-inhabited areas of the lake. Sometimes one side of the shore has houses and the other side does not. It is very easy to use a right hand pattern instead of left to use the side that does not have houses. Simple, painless and effective, but you do have to think about it to make it happen. I am also really carefull not to fly directly over houses climbing out when the engine is screaming. Just a few simple thoughts can keep a lake open to seaplanes.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Float protection at the dock

Floats are designed different from boats. Most boats are designed with the widest part about 2 feet above the waterline. Most docks are designed for boats with no attention paid to what is below the waterline. Floats are very fragile above the rub rail. A nail will go right through them. So we need to be carefull around docks.





One problem with floatplanes and docking is that fenders (boat bumpers) don't protect the floats. Why? Because the fenders float and the wide parts of the floats are actually below the water line. Here's a solution that actually will also keep the seaplane away from the dock and keep some light tension on the bow and stern ropes. Take a standard cylindrical boat fender and tie enough weight to the bottom of the float to just sink it. Attach a rope to the upper end of the fender and tie it or hook it to the wing tie down with enough length to set the fender next to the widest part of the float . The rope pulling on the tie down will actually pull the plane away from the dock thus providing a buffer zone.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Density Altitude and Seaplanes



Summer is really here in Alabama. With humidity like warm butter and temperatures heading into the 90s, the AWOSs are now reporting the density altitude is in the remarks section.


Any airplane will have to contend with loss of cool dense air to burn in the engine and the wings and prop will have to work harder for lift and thrust. Planes will continue to fly off the runway with about the same indicated airspeed as a 10 degree winter day, but the ground speed and true airspeed will be considerably higher as the density altitude increases since the air is thinner. This is just like what happens when the airplane climbs. Our airspeed drops and our true airspeed clims. The engine will produce less horsepower, the prop will be less efficient, and the wings will have to work harder to fly in the less dense air.



Seaplanes have one extra piece of drag as the ground speed, or water speed increases, water drag. Water drag is the seaplane's worst enemy as far as accellerating enough to take off anyway. When you take off from glassy water you can feel the suction of the water's grasp as it finally gives up and lets the airplane fly. Water drag increases at the square of speed, so as we accellerate, the water's effect on the plane increases dramatically. Land planes do not have this issue. This is another reason that seaplanes need to have extra horsepower, flatter pitched props, and STOL kits. It is not just that their owners have extra money to throw at their planes. The planes really need this stuff to get airborne. There is a weight and density altitude that will just not be able to gather enough ground speed to take off.




What can we do to mitigate density altitude. We can fly earlier in the morning or later in the afternoon. We can reduce weight as much as possible, by pumping the floats thoroughly before flight, leaving gear or fuel behind. We can fly directly into the wind to increase airspeed as much as possible. We can fly down river which will increase airspeed as well but it will also reduce water speed. Using good glassy water techniques can help, including raising one float on take off and getting the pitch just right to minimize drag. One final thing we can do if the water is calm, we can make some waves to reduce the drag on the floats. Glassy water is the worst. So leave yourself more room on these high and hot density altitude days and keep your cool.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

The Mind of a Pilot



It has been said that the general public tends to think of general aviation pilots as daredevils. Sure, there are airline pilots, who present that professional doctorly stigma, but most of the public have seen airshow pilots, test pilots, and fighter pilots. The film industry uses airplanes and pilots to add excitement and danger to the picture. I know and have taught piltos from all these walks. I would not classify any of them as daredevils. Pilots who are truely daredevils tend to wash out or scare themselves out of the business. It all has to do with the way pilots think.




Pilots by nature are control freaks (I am one of them). Many of them are afraid of heights (I am one of them) . Most of all Pilots are planners, which really hails back to the control freak part. Pilots are habitual planners. It may not always be on paper, but plans are being made and modified all the time and when a plan is executing, the pilot is examining that plan for flaws and developing backup and contignency plans. Lets take the pilots that I have listed above and discuss their jobs. You will notice a similarity. For the sake of brevity, I am not going to list every pilot job, so don't get upset if I don't list your favorite pilot profession.




Airline Pilots.


Whether it is a regional jet or a major airline, all of these guys have shown that they can pass the most rigorous test that the FAA can come up with. They have to know their planes inside and out, understand the FAA rules to a "T", and they have show that they can fly the plane very consistently. Most importantly these guys can be in charge and make correct decisions very quickly. In their training they are hit with terrible scenarios that happen at the worst time. How do they do it? The plans are always subject to change, and the pilot has already thought through a plan of action for most of these scenarios. So when scenario number 4017 comes up then the pilot has thought about it before. When Capt. Sully lost both engines over NY, he knew that he needed a plan. The first part of the plan was to fly the plane, the second part of the plan is find a place to put this beast down without hurting too many people. He made the plan for the Hudson River and executed it beatifully.




Airshow Pilots


These guys are masters of making something look completely out of control. In truth, they have rehearsed their act over and over and over again. They know that the forth turn will be to the north followed by a loop and a barrel roll. Everything is perfectly choreographed. There may be slight changes to the plan because of technical or weather reasons.




Test Pilots


Test pilots have a daunting task. Their job is to find the limits and the characteristics of the test aircraft. In order find limits, you have to exceed some of them. Obviously they don't want to do anything that would over stress the airplane, but the do need to test the flight envelope. Again, every part of every flight plan is thought out and contigency plans are thought out as well. If and when things go awry then they simply activate a plan and hopefully all will turn out well.




Fighter Pilots


Adaptability is the key here. Fighter pilots also have a plan to start out with. Part of that plan is looking for someone else trying to ruin their day. The enemy will try to give the fighter pilot as little warning as possible to react to gun fire or missle fire. The fighter pilot has also been taught a bag of tricks which in essesnse are small plans to be executed. What these guys do IS dangerous. They are out there risking their necks for us. The planning and the training that they do reduces that risk and helps make a terrible risk managable and survivable.




Me.


I have done some things that seem risky, but in those cases, I have done everything possible, to minimize the risks. This morning I had a plan to go to Shelby County Airport (EET) and move our Arrow to Bessemer Airport, and then to move the Cub back to Shelby County Airport (a plane swap), because I needed to have some work done on the Cub. The weather the evening before was picture perfect. I woke up to fog, thick fog. It turned into rain and thunderstorms. It was an hour drive to EET. I watched the weather on the Garmin 496 the whole way in the truck. It was getting better and then worse again. As I got to EET, I just kept driving. I had already made the contigency plan to drive on to Bessemer Airport if the weather did not look good. So I had a plan. I evaluated it until, I had to actually abandon it, and then it was easilly abandoned and the new plan activated. My work got done on the Cub so the ends were met with alternate means. When I had to do a trailer take off of my seaplane, I spent weeks planning every detail and every contigency in my head. I was still nervous, because I was afraid of the unknown things that might come up. I knew that I had done a good job of researching and studying thus eliminating as many unknowns as possible.




We are taught as pilots to stay ahead of the airplane. Don't dwell on what you have done. So your last landing wasn't your best. What counts is the next landing. Even if you broke something on the airplane with your last landing. The only thing effective that you can do about it now is fly the plane to your next landing. The really important thing is the next 5 things that you are going to do, not the last. If you know what those next five things are then you are ahead of the game. If you just sit back and react to whatever happens to you then you will be ill prepared for whatever those five things are. If those five things are planned and executed then all should be well with the world.


Adaptability vs Compusivity
As I said before. Part of this mindset has to be adaptability. Pilots are almost universally goal oriented people. We have ratings and certificates that we have worked hard to achieve. We have to draw a line though at the thought that a mission must be completed as planned or even completed at all. There are some pilots every year that push on, even though the odds are turning against them. This is the pressing on into deteriorating weather or skipping a precautionary fuel stop. We all know that no mission is worth dying for, but somehow these complusive pilots feel the need to stick to their original plan. The best pilots, the ones that live to be old pilots, are not afraid to craft and adopt a new plan when the current one is not panning out.





Judging wind direction and velocity


I was flying the Twin Comanche into ALX (Alex City, AL) the other day. The AWOS was on the fritz, and there are no other nearby airports with weather reporting. I flew over a nearby lake which gave me the exact wind direction and a decent estimation of the velocity.
Basically, the water on the windward side of the lake is glassy while the other side of the lake has increasing waves going up to the shore. Judging velocity takes a little more experience and depends on the fetch, which is the length of the lake from the windward shore to the leeward shore.



The waves increase from the windward side to the leeward side. Glassy water indicates winds less than 3 mph. Small ripples indicate 3-7mph. Medium waves without white caps indicate 7-10 mph. Some white caps indicate wind less than 15mph. Lots of white caps indicate more. All of this is for a fetch of about a mile in length.

Using bodies of water for your wind indication can be done at altitude and does not require a low pass over the airport to see a tiny windsock. In addition, the water is not likely to be affected by hangars and other airport structures as many windsocks are.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

New Ratings




I had a big ratings year last year. I plan to describe each new rating in detail, but I wanted to talk a little about new ratings in general. Ever since I was a boy scout I have liked learning new things and earning the merit badge. Each new badge required study and actions. Once all the requirements were met I would take an oral test and either passed and recieved my new badge or I would fail and have to try again at a later date. Each badge was a sign that I had at least a working knowledge of the subject or skill that the badge stood for. This was nearly instant gratification. Once the badge was earned, it was mine to wear proudly. The toughest badge that all pilots must earn is the private piltos licence. To get there we had to slay many dragons personal, practical, family related, medical, and financial. The courage that we had to garner to actually go to the airport and setup that first demo flight is non trivial. It is the first thing that separates pilots from those who have not tried it. Yes... There are those who try it and quit, and those who try it and never go up again, but at least they made the effort and got to the airport and flew. Once we have that private or sport pilot license, we truely have joined a new fraternity/sorority of special individuals. We have been measured and found good enough to fly by ourselves and even take passengers aloft. We can go out and rent a plane whenever we want. (after passing a checkout flight) Usually after that initial time when you are on cloud nine and you have flown all your friends that you can talk into it, and you have done the hundred dollar hamberger a few times. You may have even taken a couple of trips. There is a malaise that develops in some pilots. They stop going to the airport as often. Work and family excuses/pressures interfere with getting to the airport. What you need is to get out there and earn another badge or two. Master a new type of plane. Get some new skills. My demons were college and finances. I started flying when I was 16. I got my private licence shortly after my 17th birthday. I was a valet at a local country club to earn the money to fly. Once I had the licence I flew a good bit, for a while. Then it got further and further in between flights. I got through my first biannual flight review. I did some spin training. I did a few cross country flights. I got to my second biannual flight review and never actually finished it. I stayed away from the airport for 11 years. I graduated from college, got married (twice), and had a few jobs. I was always looking upward, and thinking that I need to get back up there. I took a buddy of mine who was curious about flying. I arranged a demo flight for him. He had a great time and purchased a Cessna "Learn to Fly" CD course. He still has yet to take up lessons, but I got the bug again. I started by getting a good BFR and got my complex aircraft sign off. I started working on my instrument rating as well. This got me steeped in aviation again. I even bought a part of a Cessna 206. I was hooked again. After the instrument raing, I tried to get a seaplane rating, but never finished the training because I really didn't hit it off with my instructor. I eventually got the seaplane rating after I bought a seaplane. I have added a rating or a skill every couple of years until last year. I guess I was pent up or something but I added private helicopter, ATP multi-engine, private, commercial, and CFIG glider ratings. I would get a new temporary certificate before my permanent one came in the mail. I had a great time. I may be running out of ratings to do pretty soon, but there are tons of new aviation things left to try. Every new rating or skill increases all of your flying awarenes, and it keeps flying fun and interesting.

Snakes on a Seaplane

I was flying the seaplane today on Yates lake just below Lake Martin Dam. I often go here when the main lake is more busy than I would prefer. There are only a few houses on the lake and very few boats. It is about 10 miles long and 1500 feet wide for most of its body. It is an awesome seaplane lake with often perfectly glassy water since it is down in a canyon of sorts. Today my student and I were idling around in the middle of the lake just appreciating mother nature's grandure when my student noticed something moving pretty fast in the water. It looked like a large snake swiming across the lake. We taxied over to investigate, and sure enough it was a snake about four feet long . It was apparently as interested in the seaplane as we were in it. As we taxied by, it climbed up onto the back of the right float. It did not look happy, but then again, what makes a snake look happy? It stared at me as I peered through my open window and kind of rared back like it wanted to strike. I was too far away and inside the plane, which was where I intended to stay. I was concerned that it might find a more secure perch on the plane or maybe even gain access to the cockpit, but this was unlikely. I was not about to get out. I am sure that the weight and balance was not good with a ten pound snake that far back on the float. We gunned the plane a bit and it decided to depart the float. Now I was mad at myself for not snapping a picture with my iPhone.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Pilot's Fear of Doctors

Most pilots flying today have to have a medical certificate in order to fly. This medical has to be renewed as often as every 6 months for an airline pilot to as long as 5 years for younger private pilots. The FAA wants to make sure that you are fit to fly. They don't want pilots dropping unconscious in the sky, and they want us to be lucid and in control of the airplane. We are all required to self certify for every flight as well. We cannot fly under the influence of any of a cadre of drugs and substances, and even a common cold may be enough of an impediment to keep us on the ground. We should not even fly if we are distracted by work or family issues. We have to treat flying as serious business that may need our full attention.



We as pilots do what many people would consider a daredevil sport. Operating a machine thousands of feet above the ground with nothing but invisible air keeping us from our doom. When the time comes to meet our medical examiner for our medical renewal, we all have some trepidation. I usually try to see my regular doctor before meeting with the FAA designated medical examiner, (AME) just to see if there is anything to worry about. I have generally been pretty healthy over the years, but one bad reading from the AME and I cannot fly. Once the exam starts the die are cast. You can discontinue once something is found, and come back another day for a try. All this has a tendency to raise blood pressure, which is another trigger point with the FAA. Too high no fly. My BP is generally pretty normal except when at the AME. I have pilot frined who have issues with their hearts or diabetes or cancer. These guys really have it tough. They can get a medical but not without extra tests and waiting for month for an answer from the FAA in Oaklahoma City, sometimes just to get a letter requesting more information. Many of these people you would never suspect that they have an issue.



I have a commercial medical which means that I go through this process annually. I always feel better after I leave the doctors office. (so far). I can fly for another year, unless something bad like cancer gets me in the mean time.



There is one other option. In the past few years the FAA has created a Sport pilot certificate. This one only requires a drivers licence and self medical certification. It also limits the kinds of airplanes that you can fly to the smaller, slower, and simpler breeds. Pilots that have higher certificate ratings like private, commercial, or ATP can fly as sport pilots in sport qualified planes as long as they did not fail their last medical and they are generally in acceptable health. A bit of a catch 22.



The only other option is to fly gliders or ballons. These craft do not require a medical to operate. This is my backup plan should all else fail.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

New Tailwheel










I have changed many a tire in my day. It is one of those things that the FAA has graciously allowed the lowly non-mechanic pilot to do, but this one was different. My cub has a solid rubber tailwheel tire. This was upgraded from just a tail skid back in the 40s. In some ways the tail skid seems like it would be easier to control for some of my students, as the stearable tailswheel seems to baffle some people. The skid would have been a stricktly grass operation however. The scraping sound on the asphalt would drive me nuts. Anyway... My plane came with this tailwheel that has been on it for some number of years. Much of the solid rubber has worn away and some of the metal that the solid rubber is bound to was starting to show through. It was also no longer really round. When rolled, it did not have a round orbit, but more an escentric orbit. Every time that I landed the plane you could hear and feel the tailwheel. I thought this was just a normal part of flying this particular airplane. Anyway... Since there was metal showing, I ordered a new tailwheel tire from Aircraft Spruce. It came with new bearings, a new hubcap, a new hub bolt, and even a new cotter pin for about $95. The old tire came off really easily and the new one went on just as easily. I was done with the change in less than 30 minutes. I did four landings after the change and the feeling is like night and day. When the tailwheel comes down or on a three point landing the ride is smooth and quiet. I should have done this years ago.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Rejuvenation - The Flight Home

In order to get the seaplane back to Lake Martin after its restoration at Bibb County Airport, it was necessary to execute a trailer take off. (video link to follow) We ran up the engine and back taxied the plane down the runway. It was very disconcerting to have so little control, as I was at the mercy of the driver of the truck. We wanted to use every bit of available runway. I had read everything I could on the subject of trailer take- offs and watched all the other videos that I could find. I had been though the sequence a million times in my head. At the end of the runway I did another run up and then we unstrapped the plane from the trailer. I was in constant contact with the driver of the truck over the radio. I gave the go ahead to start the roll. I added power to keep positive thrust as we accelerated and I kept down elevator to "pin" the plane to the trailer. I did not want the plane to tilt back or slide forward, and I wanted sufficient airspeed to climb over the truck.



Once we reached 50 kts I began to raise the pitch. According to the truck driver we hit 70 mph before liftoff. The plane came easily off the trailer and climbed and accelerated nicely. I lost contact with my ground crew by radio shortly after takeoff. My partner in the Twin Comanche, Allen, was going to follow me to the lake, but since we could not make radio contact he went back to Bessemer. The flight to Lake Martin was about 45 minutes.



About 15 minutes into the flight I started getting a random 200 rpm drop in engine speed. The drop kept coming and going. I was 10 minutes from Lay Lake so I continued the flight and kept my eyes out for suitable landing spots should things go badly. The drop turned more rhythmic as I got to Lay Lake. Once over the lake I climbed to 5,000 feet. I could see Lake Martin and I felt that I could make it. I had people on the water at Lake Martin. If I landed in Lay Lake on untested floats it could be ugly. So I made the journey home. The engine did not get any worse, but I was sure glad to see my home lake and my buddy waiting for me in the pontoon boat. I had not landed a seaplane in 4 months, which did not help my stress level. Neither did the fact that the float skins were new and untested. I set up and landed near my buddy and then taxied straight to the dock to do another leak check. Once at the dock, I called everyone to inform them that I was good. The rejuvenation project was finally at an end and I could sleep well. The issue with the rpm drop turned out to be a bad ignition lead. I bought a fresh new harness from Aircraft Spruce. If you would like to see the video follow the link-www.waterwings.com/video.html

























It was very sweet to finish this project and land back into Lake Martin. Thanks to Erol Kyzer and Allen Taylor for the videography and Kevin Williams for the metal work and paint job on the plane. The airplane design is by Anna Welden (my daughter).

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Rejuvenation - Assembly







The paint is finally done and the floats are attached. The plane is starting to look like a plane again. Every piece that we add back on takes us one step closer to flying again. While the deconstruction was interesting and it was nice to be "Out with the old" putting stuff back together is way more inspiring. We had been pretty careful during the deconstruction to make sure that every piece is accounted for. Unless this is done religiously, the construction phase will be trouble. Many of these parts are hard to find and expensive. Some nuts are in the hundreds of dollars. We did a great job of being careful and we found pretty much everything that we needed to put the plane back into flying condition. One of the most difficult operations was putting the wings back on. This required 4 people. Two of us held the wing while the mechanic attached the bolts. There are only a few bolts but the tolerances are very tight where they go. There are only 4 bolts that hold a wing on. Two hold the strut and two hold the wing root to the plane. The first three bolts seem to go pretty easily. The last one always seems to be tough. It took a couple of hours to attach both wings. The prop and the spinner and all the control surfaces went on pretty easilly as well. After about 2 days we had a complete plane. All painted and ready to go, except for the leak test on the floats. We went ahead and fueled the plane and ran it. The plane is very "tippy" on the trailer. If you get too far back on the floats it will fall back onto the back part of the floats. We strapped the plane down to keep it stable. It felt very nice to spend some time in the completed cockpit and to actually hear the engine run. It started easily and ran perfectly. We kept it running for about 15 minutes. I was very happy for about 20 minutes. We then decided to do a leak test on the floats, by putting water in them with the hose. There were very many leaks. My hopes of flying were dashed for several days while thinks dried out and more sealant was applied.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Rejuvenation - Geometry



We had been very careful to leave the float attachment gear on the plane and not to touch the flying wires that keep everything in line, but as the time came to paint the floats and all of this gear, we decided to remove it and thus do a better job painting these parts. So we built a rig to raise the plane from the lifting rigs on top. These rings are good for lifting straight up, but it is not good to put a side load on them, so we used a 6x6 piece of lumber and ran eye bolts through them. We then attached chain via shackles to the eye bolts and we lifted the plane using a chain hoist that we purchases for about $90 from Harbour Frieght. The chain hoist worked really well since it is a gentle and controlable lift. The chain will scratch or remove paint if you are not careful with it. We raised the plane gently supporting the tail with another human. Once the plane was up it was pretty stable. We then unbolted the attachment gear. This is another on of those things that is really strong as long as everything is attached and tight, but it turnned into a pile of spaggetti when off the plane. It is important to keep track of which parts go where and to remove as few parts as possible. Once some of the tubes were off I was able to really clean out some "years old" dirt dauber nests from inside the tubes. More useful load for me.... We reversed the process once everything was painted. We installthed the attachment gear to the floats first while they were on the trailer. We rolled the trailer under the raised airplane and lined everything up as best we could and lowered the plane to the gear. It took several hours to get everything attached, but not tight. The tightening would wait until we got the geometry straight. It would not do to have the floats improperly aligned with the plane or each other. All these things are possible with the miriad of possible adjustments. We found points on each wing as a reference and tightened this and loosened that until everything came into alignment. This was not nearly as bad a process as I imagined. We did a great job, because the first landing was very comfortable.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Rejuvenation - Painting the plane










Actually getting paint on the plane was very exiting. After looking at naked metal for months to actually see it with paint was really the begining of the end. While a P51 with yards of polished aluminum is a thing of absolute beauty, a Cessna 150 with dull etched (for painting purposes), is just sad. When the first coat of Zinc Chromate went on my painter sent me a photo., I showed all my friends, until I reallized that the really just did not get it. Even my family was unimpressed. I was giddy. Later that day, the first coats of gray primer went on and then the first coats of white paint. The painting process is really messy and stinky. To start with you need a low humidity and reasonably warm day or a really good paint booth that has climate and humidity controls with really good venting. Everything that does not get paint needs to be really well masked off. The air supply for the paint gun needs to be dry with astrigent sponges. Dust control is also a serious issue. The surfaces that are to be painted must be totally free of grease, finger prints, dust, or any type of contaminants. The area around the plane needs to be as clean as possible as well. Once everything is ready paint is mixed an put into the gun. You want to keep a wet line going so it helps to have someone mixing paint while the painter is going, to minimize the down time when the gun runs dry. Once the process starts you need to finish an entire coat. This means the painter needs to hold the gun up for hours sometimes. The paint that does not go onto the plane creates a terrible fog that gets on and into everything. A respirator and preferably a paint suit is a really good idea. These are not chemicals that you want to inhale, ingest, or soak into your skin. Once done properly the results are very pleasing.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Rejuvenation - The paint scheme






We had definitely decided to move away from the 80s inspired orange and yellow paint scheme that the plane came with. We were thinking about white with a blue Nike like swoosh and this would have been fine. It would look kind of like the newer 172s out there. One of my goals was to use a white that was close enough to a Krylon white that would allow easy paint patches to the floats not if but when they happen. We went to the paint store and chose the colors that would work and priced out everything. Planes use a whole lot of paint since there is so much surface area and you want to use the best paint that you can afford. You can count on spending a couple thousand dollars just for the supplies, primer, and paint. There are a bunch of chemicals that have to be mixed together to make the paint so have a professional help you out, or just let your paint guy handle everything. For my birthday in February my daughter, a budding artist, surprised me with a paint scheme for the plane. It was really pretty and striking, which is fortunate, since it would have been a very sticky family dilemma if I did not use her artwork. So the plan changed. Fortunately we had not actually bought the color part of the paint yet. I took her with me to the paint store and we picked out the colors together. I am color blind and she is not so this worked out. Afterward we flew to an airport restaurant for lunch and a helicopter ride, but more on that in another post. After all was said and done, we really ended up with a pretty plane. I have had numerous comments to the positive, and one prospective student has asked if we would be training in the pretty plane or the orange one. (The old plane colors are still on the website, and there is a slide show of the new colors) So be creative and make your plane a work of art. If you do not have a budding artist available to you there are several companies out there that will design you something cool.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Rejuvenation - Installing new insulation



The insulation in the 150 appeared to be original. It was a fiberglass type substance that turns to dust when messed with. I really like to fly with the windows open in the summer and since the interior plastic was in such bad shape it was free to blow in places. We removed all of this anyway as part of the inspection and for the opportunity to re-zinc chromate the metal. The new insulation which we bought from Aircraft Spruce comes in a roll that is two feet wide and as long as you want. It has aluminum like backing on both sides and is made of what looks like newspaper stuff. It is very easy to work with and can be cut with scissors. It is not an irritant like fiberglass. Every time I work with fiberglass insulation, I spend days picking out tiny pieces of it from my skin. To install the stuff just cut it and spray some contact cement on the backing and the plane interior and stick it in after it drys for about 30 seconds. This was one of the easiest jobs in the restoration. I am looking forward to a quieter and more friendly ride.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Rejuvenation - Skining the floats

My floats were getting new skins. This meant drilling out aproximately 1,200 rivets in each float. We started with a bunch of #21 cobalt drill bits from Aircraft Spruce. We used pneumatic drills, which are lighter weight and more powerful than the cordless kind. I eventually got to the point where I could drill a rivet with either my right or my left hand. The trick is to stay in the center of the rivet and drill straight into it. Done properly, you just have to drill the top of the rivet off and then hit it with a punch to drive it out of the hole. This leaves a hole the same size for the new rivet that will have to go back in. Not all of our holes were perfect and we spent literally hours drilling.



It took as long or longer to pull the bottoms off as it did to replace them. Once the skins were off we could really inspect the insides of the floats. They were really in pretty good shape. We also decided to replace the middle and front bulkheads. One was dented really badly, and the middle bulkheads were pretty corroded. Now was the time to do it while the skins were off. This process took about a month. We ordered new parts from EDO, the float manufacturer, and Peck Aero Products in Canada. http://peckaero.com/ Ed Peck owns the operation and he was very very knowlegable and helpful. He even offered to reskin the floats for me. I winced at the thought of all that shipping and delay. In hindsight it might have been a good plan. We learned many lessons pulling these things apart and putting them back together that I am sure Ed learn a long long time ago and not at the expense of my time and the quality of the job that we did on my floats. I had lots fo bonding time with my mechanic and I learned a ton. I probably spent $3250 on float parts. They were all very pretty and shiney and new when they arrived. We used the old skins for a template for the new ones and we got to drill thousands of new holes in these very shiney and new parts. Once all the holes were drilled we started assembly. This was very exciting to see. I had witness so much destruction as the dead parts were removed and now they were being replaced with shiney new parts. When the float skins come off the float loses a bunch of its strength and the become flimsey. As the new parts were added back on everything became strong again. Very satisfying. I was starting to get the itch to fly the plane really badly now. All the ribs and doublers were added to the bottom skins before they were applied to the rest of the float. This made the rivets much easier to install. There are only about 40-50 rivets that have to be installed using two people. One person is on the bottom of the float shooting the rivets while the other is reaching in through the inspection hole trying to buck the rivet. Doing all of this you end up covered in sealant as well. We used latex glove for most of this process and the sealant would really stick to everything. The sealant is a two part substance that actually mixes inside the tube and it has a relatively short shelf life of 6 weeks and a working time that you can choose when you buy the tube. Some of the stains from the sealant will be a part of my wardrobe for years to come.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Rejuventaion - The windows

It would not work to paint the plane without replacing the glass. The windshield and the rear window in the 150 were in need of replacement. They were not shot, but this was the time to do it. I selected the thickest windshield that I could find. The rear windows are not as critical and as far as I could tell from my research, they only come in one thickness. The website at Great Lakes Aero Products was very helpful. http://www.glapinc.com/ It is just a matter of picking out your plane from the menus and choosing a color, a thickness, and whether or not you want a compass mount.



I chose a clear windshield that is 0.187 inches thick without the compass mount. The color choices are clear, green, or grey. In retrospect, the compass mount would probably have been a good idea. When we mounted mine my mechanic actually mounted it crooked. I spent many sleepless hours that night worrying about how to remove the mount and replace it. I reality, it came off easily since we used the wrong kind of glue to start with. The windshield came out pretty quickly compared to the rear window. We removed a bunch of screws and pulled. Then we cleaned all of the putty out of the channels that the window came out of.



The rear window was riveted in, which meant we had to drill out all of those rivets. This took another several hours. After lunch we put the new rear window in. We applied the supplied felt to the window and put fresh sealant in the channels that hold the window and then we shoved. This was an ugly process with lots of grunting and maybe an expletive or two. There is no good place to push or pull on the window and the channels are very tight. The window has to fit ALL the way into the channels or it will not fit properly at the bottom, where we had to rivet the hold-down piece back in. Once the window went in, it was time to rivet. This is a loud process in general, but inside the plane, bucking the rivets while my mechanic shot the rivets from the outside, was truly terrible. I wore my Bose headsets with the ANR on. I don't think they were designed for this but it was way better than nothing. The windshield went in easier. At least I was not involved in the process as we ran out of time that day. It is really nice having new glass, and from a cost standpoint, this is one of the cheaper improvements ,especially considering the benefit.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Rejuvenation - The evaluation



We are at the point where the paint has been removed. The plane is naked and the floats are separated. We had to use a crane to lift the plane and remove the floats. I think it is shivering a little from shyness. It's time for a thorough inspection of the skin. The airframe was free of corrosion and cracks. There were a few rivets in the wings that needed replacing. We even pulled out the entire interior, cleaned and inspected everything inside and out. This was also an opportunity to re-zinc chromate everything inside, then we repaint all the exposed surfaces. This was very exciting since I have spent a thousand hours in the plane thinking that it would be nice if the paint were not worn off some of these parts.


The only parts that really needed love were the floats. These were original with the plane when it was new back in 1967. The airplane spent a number of years as a land plane while the floats sat in storage. As far as I can tell from the books, the plane was not put back on floats until the mid-80s, when it was painted and upgraded to a 150 hp engine. I think that was the last time it was on wheels. These floats have been in the water or near the water for the last 24 years. That is a huge amount of time and wetness to cause corrosion. The worst of it was at the step area and the skeg, the deepest part of the float. The skeg and the bottom skins on the front half of the floats needed to be replaced. This is a terrible and expensive process. So we began locating the parts that we would need. At least we had a new plan. The old plan which was to only clean and paint the plane was out the window. This float project would take lots of time and effort. We would work on getting the fuselage and wings prepped and ready to paint while parts arrived for the floats. We would also spend a good bit of time taking the floats apart.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Big toys for little repairs




A couple of weeks ago while training some seaplane students we noticed a squeak while the plane was sitting at the dock. This was odd and we initially decided that the squeak was the dock making noises. We later determined that the noise was coming from the plane since we heard it on the water miles from dock. I went over the plane after each flight, tightening this and that, thinking that I had resolved the issue. Since we had had the floats off during the winter restoration, I believed that some things had just loosened up after the redo.


Finally I found a crack in the forward cross bar that connects the floats to the plane. You could not see the crack unless you looked inside the engine compartment. No more flying would occur until we found a new part and fixed it. The plane would have to be lifted and the engine separately lifted in order to replace this part, since the plane sits on it and the engine connects to the plane through this part. I arranged for my mechanic, Kevin Williams, to come up and look and replace it once I found the part. Buying parts for a rare bird (there are not many Cessna 150 seaplanes) that is 40 years old can sometimes be an adventure. In this case it was fairly easy.


Now I had to find a way to lift the plane. The airplane is built to be lifted by 4 rings located on the tops of the wings. Land planes can generally be jacked up, but this does not work for straight floatplanes which may need to be swapped from land gear to water gear. If we were at an airport with a hangar we could have lifted it with a chain hoist, but here at the lake this is not an option. I investigated a local marina with a huge forklift for boats, but we would not be able to get the plane out of the water safely there. I called the RSC equipment rental people in Alexander City. They hooked me up with a fork lift with an extendable arm capable of lifting 6,000lbs. They were very helpful and delivered the monster as well as demonstrated how to work it.


Everything came together nicely. I had an aircraft mechanic, a huge lifting mechanism, my new part, and good weather. The whole operation took place in a few hours. We only had to remove and replace a few critical and terribly placed bolts. We got big man points and testosterone from operating the large machine and accomplishing our goal. We even got to watch Kevin drive two trucks home. One truck was on the trailer that we used to pull the broken seaplane out of the water, but it was still a sight to see.

I had a excellent flight that afternoon and proclaimed the seaplane to be the best lake toy ever.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Rejuvenation -- Stripping the plane

The first step in an aircraft paint job is to prepare the surface for paint. This means stripping. Paint adds many pounds to an aircraft and the best paint jobs start with a good prep. I have heard of people painting over the old paint but this is generally a bad idea. Paint sticks best to a primer coat and a primer coat sticks best to a clean metal surface.



There are several chemical methods to strip paint and these are the most commonly used. The other option is sanding, but that is hard work and hard on the airplane. We were looking for a quick and environmentally clean method. We chose to strip the plane using Soda Blasting. http://www.ibssodablasting.com/ This is kind of like sand blasting but using much more delicate baking soda. The process took two days and cost a little over $3,000. I felt that this was expensive, but it was fast, effective, and environmentally safe. The surface of the blasted plane was very nice for paint application. Once the blasting was done we went over the entire airframe and floats to look for damage that needs to be repaired. Can you feel the pain of my wallet?

Time for Rejuvenation-taking the plane out of the water

My plane's paint was getting very tired, the floats were leaking, and parts of the interior could use some love. It has given and given and given over the years. It has sat out in the summer sun...through numerous thunder storms...and alone all winter in the cold. I think it knows that our other airplanes live in hangars.


The 25 year old paint job has done its work, and the floats are starting to leak more than they should. So how does one deal with the rejuvenation of a plane that lives at a dock? You put the plane on a trailer, take the wings off, and drive the plane to a hangar for the work to be done. I had a really good final flight and parked the plane back on the trailer, which is really just a pontoon boat trailer with the bunks set at the proper width for the floats. It was very sad to park it for the last time for months

The first step was to drain all the fuel from the wings, otherwise it would be messy when we removed them. This took about 30 minutes. While that was happening the mechanic, Kevin, started unhooking things like control cables and flaps. Once that was done we stood precariously on the bed of the truck holding the wing tips while Kevin took out the four bolts that connect each wing to the plane. Two hold the strut on and two hold the wing root to the plane. In about 3 hours we had everything dealt with and I watched my dearly loved plane drive away. It would be months before I could fly it again.


Ahead of us we had stripping, fixing everything we can find to fix, replacing the glass, updating some of the avionics, replacing the carpet and the insulation, repairing the floats, and generally doing everything to the plane that can and needs to be done while the paint is not an issue--cosmetic things that have been put off for years because it might mess up the paint. I should get back a plane in excellent shape that looks like new. So she would be down for a while. I would spend more money than I planned. There would be unexpected issues to be dealt with. For now I would just have to fly other types of planes, dream of my rejuvenated plane to come, and pine for for seaplane flying.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Glider Rating for Power Pilots





Several of the new ratings that I picked up last year were glider ratings. I added private, commercial, and glider instructor ratings to my flying portfolio. My first flight was a demo flight with one of the club members at the Sylacauga Soaring Society. It was a pretty short flight and we did not find much lift to play with, but I was effectively hooked. The glider we flew was a Blanik L13 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/LET_L-13_Blan%C3%ADk which is a two place tandem ship. Gliders are not big inside, but I haven't felt cramped, and I have taken several of my larger friends up with ease. If fact, the front seat of the L-13 feels much like the cockit of a fighter jet. No not the high tech part... There is no engine out front and the nose of the plane just drops away leaving you an incredible view.

These planes are very easy to fly and since every landing is "dead stick" it makes you a better and safer pilot in many ways. The most scarey part for most people is the whole tow plane experience. There is really little to fear. We are in constant contact with the tow plane via radio and there is a set of visual signal should that fail. . If we have a rope break below 200' agl then you simply land straight ahead. We have the ability to get the glider on the ground quickly and land in a very short distance. If the rope breaks above 200' we have the altitude to get back to the airport. Being towed is pretty simple as well. During the take off it is important not to climb the glider too quickly in order to keep from pulling up on the tail of the tow plane. Once established in the climb, the glider pilot just mimics what the tow plane is doing and stays pretty much directly behind the tow plane. If the towplane makes a 15 degree bank then the glider must make a 15 degree bank. Once we get to our desired altitude we release the tow rope and the glider banks right and climbs while the tow plane, which can feel the glider release, banks left and decends.

The glider then starts looking for lift. The bumpier the day the better. Once we find a thermal we can circle in it to climb as high as the thermal goes, which is usually to the bottom of the cloud deck if there is one. We also watch for soaring birds since these guys do it for a living tbey are really good at finding thermals. The feeling of climbing without and engine is really exceptional. Once we decide to land or we run out of lift we head back to the airport.

The L-13 glider has a glide ratio of 28:1 so we just need to head back soon enough to make a pattern. As long as we get to downwind with around a thousand feet, we are in good shape. We fly a normal pattern with a downwind entry if abeam the numbers instead of a power reduction we add some spoilers. The more spoiler we add the more we decend. If we take them out then we float. Most gliders only have only one main wheel and a tailwheel. You would think this might be wierd, but it is really much easier than most three wheeled tail draggers. There is just not much to mess up. The L13 is landed in a very flat attitude in order to not hit the tailwheel really early. Once we hit the ground we have a very effective hand brake and the spoilers. We just need to keep the ailerons active to keep the wings from hitting the ground too fast. The wings usually have skids or rollerblade type wheels so it is okay for them to touch the ground once the speed is minimal.

The glider rating is easy to pick up and will expand your horizons as a power pilot. It will also give you some flying capabilities should your medical become a problem and you are still safe to fly. There is no FAA written for current power pilots. You will have to fly with an instructor for a while and get a solo endorsment (which requires a pre-solo written test). You have to accomplish ten solo flights and get the proper endorsements from your instructor to take the private checkride.

For more detail goto http://www.ssa.org/sport/gliderpilot.asp If you are in the Birmingham, Alabama area you should checkout www.sylacaugasoaring.com

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Flying the new Cub Engine

The only real gripe I have had with my Piper J3 Cub was its climb capability, especially with a passenger aboard. It has always leapt off the ground, but once in the air it would climb very slowly. So slowly with a passenger, that it was a little scary for fear of losing the engine at a bad time.

Today we finished the installation by safety wiring the prop and running up the engine. For the first run-up we tied the plane to my truck, since the brakes on a Cub would never hold the plane at full power. It was also a precaution, in case there was an issue with the throttle. Before starting the engine, we had to prime the oil pump by spinning the prop with the bottom spark plugs removed until we saw oil pressure.

Once everything was set up, verified and secured, we began the process of starting the plane. I sat in the cockpit to hold the brakes while my mechanic propped the plane. With everything new and tight we expected the engine to be hard to start. It was. Once we got it going though and verified oil pressure, it was a great sound. Once the oil was warmed up, we ran it up to full power. It was obvious that there was much more power than the old engine. This one pulls 200 rpm more than the old one. One of my concerns was that my prop would need to be re-pitched to keep the RPMs below the red line for the engine. I still have a margin. After the run-up we shut down and put the cowling on the plane. It was time to fly.


Taxiing out to the runway it was interesting getting used to the new sound of the engine idling. It has a very different sound from the old one. The wind was calm and the sky was clear. Perfect. I did another pre-takeoff run up, and I taxied onto the runway. As I advanced the throttle, everything felt normal until about halfway to wide open. There was a rush of power that I had never felt in the Cub. It leapt off the ground as usual in about 200 feet, but instead of slowly climbing out, it was really climbing nicely. I was at pattern altitude by the time I was ready to turn downwind. There was never a question of making it back to the runway if there had been an issue. I climbed to 3,000 feet and hovered over the airport for about 20 minutes. The oil temp and pressure were stable so I decided to see what kind of climb it had beyond 3,000 feet. I took the plane up to 7,500 feet. It would have taken most of a tank of gas to get to 7,500 feet with the old engine. After 45 minutes, I started down. This engine upgrade has really given the Cub a new and interesting capability. Wahooo....

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Cub Propeller Bolts

From my last blog you may remember that I was all ready to run the new Cub engine, except for the want of proper propeller bolts. Unfortunately the Home Depot does not carry these.

Most bolts for airplanes are military spec "AN" type bolts. "AN" stands for Army/Navy and the numbers following the AN describe the bolt. An AN6 bolt is 5/16" thick with 24 pitch threads. AN6C would be stainless steel. AN6 alone would be cad plated. AN6H has a hole drilled in the head for safety wire. After the initial AN6H there is a dash and another number to describe the length of the bolt and whether the shaft is drilled for a cotter pin. For more take a look at the following link. http://www.aircraftspruce.com/catalog/hapages/anbolts.php

The bolts I needed were AN6H-32A. They were $3.75 each, and I needed and bought six. I went to the airport after work today and installed the bolts to make sure they were the right size. Tomorrow morning, I am meeting my mechanic to actually run the engine and hopeflully fly the plane. It will be interesting to see whether I am going to have to have the prop repitched or replaced. The new engine should produce more power and may spin the prop beyond safe engine parameters.

Monday, June 8, 2009

New Cub Engine

I got the call the other day from Don's Dream Machines. Don let me hear my new engine running. It was very exciting. He also told me that it would be in Birmingham on Thursday or Friday of last week and all weekend. Unfortunately, I would be out of town when it arrived, so I had it set up to be held at the trucking company. I would have to wait to install the new powerplant. The weekend went well, and I looked forward to Monday morning and my engine install.

I got back to town late Sunday night, and went to the trucking company in a special area of Birmingham at 11pm. The folks at Roadway Express trucking were very friendly and helpful. They loaded the crated engine onto my truck and off I went. I met my mechanic at the airport at 7:15 the next morning. We uncrated the engine and took inventory. The engine builder had sent fresh engine mounts and even nice new exhaust gaskets. I had anticipated this need and ordered these items already, but I appreciated the gesture. The engine went on pretty easily in about 3 hours. The only thing we were missing were prop bolts. The ones on the old engine were the unremovable type, so they went to the engine builder with the old engine. Sadly this was a no-go item. I ordered new bolts today after failing to acquire any locally. They'll be here tomorrow afternoon. Wednesday will be the first run, and I'll get to take the first flight. It will be tenuous. I'll hover over the airport for about an hour to test out the engine, staying within gliding distance of a runway. Anticipation.....

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Helicopter Rating

As a fixed wing pilot I felt pretty accomplished. I had commercial single engine land and sea and multi engine ratings. I am an instructor in seaplanes and land planes. I even teach tailwheel training. I had always had a fascination with choppers. My neighbor at the lake has a Hughes 500 chopper that he lands on his specially built dock. I think that is really cool. He thinks my seaplane is kinda cool too. I have watched him land and take off for years and I have even flown with him in the chopper and the seaplane. I have also taken the tourist flights over New York City and the Grand Canyon. I even bought several videos on helicopter and watched them several times.

One day while we were visiting the nearest $100 hamburger joint I noticed a guy doing patterns in Hughs 269 helicopter. I asked a guy at the restaurant and learned that there was someone giving lessons in my own area. I had looked at going to Atlanta for training or buying my own helicopter and getting someone local to train me. This was great news. I waited for the chopper to land and talked to the instructor for a few minutes. I called him later to setup a time for a demo flight.

The instructor turned out to be, Greg Turley, the Chief of Police for Pell City, Alabama and he was just getting his school setup. He was super nice and easy to get along with. I signed up for lessons right after the demo flight.

The helicopter is amazingly responsive and maneuverable. It is not however very stable. You are very busy most of the time while you are flying it. I was horribly uncoordinated trying to mesh all of my current knowledge into this new contraption. Not all of the old knowledge applies. Some of our airplane knowledge is counter to what the chopper wants to do. I was going to learn lots of new stuff. I was jazzed.

The cost was reasonable compared to my other options and the time involved is minor. Most of my general aviation knowledge applies like FARs, Navigation and Airport Rules. You learn a lot about gyroscopes and their properties. There are many spinning things on a helicopter. It takes 30 hours in the helicopter (as an airplane pilot) to apply for the rating and there is no written test if you are a private airplane pilot.. The reading and studying is pretty easy if you are the least bit mechanical. The PTS maneuvers are pretty simple once you start to master the machine.

I soloed after about 15 hours and I was every bit as giddy as my first airplane solo. I told everyone I knew and sent them photos. By the time I was ready for the checkride things were feeling pretty natural. I was not having to think before every action. Mark Newman was my examiner and everything went really well. I learn yet a few more things about helicopters during the ride. As long as you know the required material examiners usually like to teach you something extra.

So if you really want something to challenge your brain give helicopter flying a try. The view from a chopper is incredible and controlling this most versatile of machines will really get your juices flowing. If you live in the Birmingham area you should look up Greg Turley of Alabama Helicopters alabamahelicopters@aol.com and http://alabamahelicopters.weebly.com/

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

New Cub Engine










I have been thinking of a new engine for my Cub for a while. It is an 85hp Continental that was field overhauled about 700 hours ago. That 700 hours is over 24 years. The planes leaps off the ground, like all Cubs do, but then it crawls into the air. In the pattern, with a passenger, I am lucky to get to pattern altitude on a reasonalby cool day. In the summer I am lucky if I can get to 2000 feet in cruise. It is not so bad if I am solo. Don's Dream Machines has an STC to put 0-200 parts on the C-85 Continental thus raising its power a bit. I don't pretend that my old 85hp engine is really putting out 85hp any more. So I am hoping for a dramatic improvement.

Don Swords, owner of Don's Dream Machines, http://www.donsdreammachines.com/ came highly recomended by some of my cub friends and was very helpful on the phone. He already had an engine being built that would be ready in 3 weeks. I would not have to take down my airplane until the new engine was built. I would have to send him my mags, carburator, and oil sump to put on the new engine, and the old engine as a core. My down time should be minimal.

I am really looking forward to the new engine. I have owned the plane for 3 years, so there is 21 years worth of unknown. How was it treated? Did it sit for long periods of time? It is not obvious from the logs. It is obvious due to its relatively low time 500 hrs over 20+ years that the plane did not fly very regularly. I put 200 hours on it in the 3 years that I have owned it. The first couple of flights on the new engine will be tenuous. I will circle the airport for an hour and follow the break in procedures which go on for a number of hours after the first.

Still, I ran the old engine one last time before I started taking it apart. It has been running exceptionally well, ever since the new one was ordered. I just had to hear it one more time and let it take a few last breathes of air. It came off and was loaded into my truck in a little over 2 hours. I drove it to a trucking company for its final trip to Georgia and I was a little melancholy when I drove away. It has served me well with only a small bit of stress once in the pattern when a mag died on me. I landed safely and easily at the airport. The rest of the time it has generally started easily and run smoothly, giving me hours of Cub flying pleasure.