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.


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

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. 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. 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.