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 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 If you are in the Birmingham, Alabama area you should checkout

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.

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 and

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, 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.