Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Technology at our fingertips

My profession is computers, but my flying is really more of a religion to me. Generally I believe that simpler is better. The Piper Cub is evidence of how wonderful flight can be with just the simple things. It was built in 1939 and has survived 71 years of bouncing around the sky and runways with very little technology. Much of the time technology makes the cockpit more complicated as is evident by the extra training required to fly a technically advanced aircraft.

I have just added an Apple IPAD to the items that I carry in the cockpit, becauseI do believe that this will simplify my flying. I always have a scramble before a flight getting all the charts and plates that we should all have when flying cross-country. None of the local FBOs carry all the charts needed, so I must think ahead to order them, and then pay for shipping. Still some charts are often back-ordered, leaving me in a lurch.

With the ForeFlight app on the IPAD I can have ALL the charts in the country for about $50 a year--IFR, VFR, and approach plates. The PowerPilot app gives me free AFDs for the entire country. I also use Dropbox which gives me easy access to scanned material like POHs, W/B, and PTSs for training and checkrides. There are a billion more apps out there. The IPAD is very daylight viewable. I was able to read it sitting on my dock last Saturday with late afternoon sun, also last week in the cockpit, and the battery is reported to last for 10 hours of continuous use. I have yet to see the battery last that long, but a full charge should last a flight.

All that being said, the IPAD could potentially be one more distraction--one that can keep our eyes inside the cockpit instead of outside looking for traffic and flying the airplane. However, used responsibly as a tool to get the charts we need and are dealing with anyway in the cockpit, the IPAD rocks.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Protecting the seaplane from insects

Dirt daubers and wasps are my biggest trouble makers.

Both of these guys can crawl into remarkably small holes and build nests. Tbe dirt daubers are generally harmless except for two things. They look a lot like wasps, which to the uninitiated can cause screaming, and they build nests out of mud and clay. Dirt daubers have just a couple of yellow stripes while wasps will have many yellow stripes down their stingers.

There is an unlimited supply of clay around our lake and there is an almost unlimited number of holes for dirt daubers to sneak into your plane to make a nest. These nests are mostly just heavy, thus reducing your payload. Your best bet for protection is to put steel wool in any large openings and put screen over the smaller ones that you can get to. I do an annual purge of the nests after the spring nesting season.

Wasps make a more paper-like nest. These are light and don't really cause much of an issue, but the wasps themselves CAN cause havoc in the cockpit. Many people have severe or even fatal reactions to a wasp sting, so these guys are not to be trifled with. Prevention using the same method as dealing with dirt daubers is your best bet, and if you get a wasp loose in the cockpit, don't panic, just let your training step in and FLY THE PLANE.

Protecting the seaplane from birds

We have three kinds of critters that attack our plane. We will take them on one at a time.

Birds like planes. They have lots of places to perch. Planes have many orifices in which build nests. Planes are generally tougher for bird predators to get into. Birds are experts at building nests. They pick a spot and they start bringing in materials. In our neck of the woods, pine straw is the chosen building material.

Hangar doors are pretty good at keeping out most birds, assuming that they are closed and attached to a fairly secure hangar. The next best bet is a set of cowl plugs. I purchased a set from Bruce's Custom Covers for less than $100. These are nicely made to fit your plane and generally have your N-Number embroidered into the cover. They even have little idiot flags that stick up beyond the cowling to signal that you should not start the engine with them installed. I imagine the spinner would catch on the string that holds the plugs together and it would rip them out and toss them aside, before they could let the aircooled engine cook itself, but I know of instances where pilots have taken off with the plugs intalled only to cook the engine. So use these during a post flight and don't forget to remove them during the preflight.

I have still had one bird nest problem even when using the plugs. The bird went in through the hole in the bottom of the cowling where the hot air gets out of the engine and the nose wheel would protrude, if I had one. I am very happy with my plugs and I use them religously. My only issue with them now is they matched the old paint scheme and they have the old N-Number on them. I can live with it. The plugs that came with my plane were just cut out pieces of foam that someone drilled a hole in for the rope that tied them together. The vinyl covered plugs are much nicer and neater to work with. Do a thorough preflight. Look for telltale pieces of pine straw around and on the plane. If you find some, investigate thoroughly.

The other problem planes have with birds is the droppings. These are corrosive to aluminum and at best they can stain your paint. I had bird stain all over the wings of my Cub from where the previous owner let this happen and did not clean the droppings off quickly enough. I have not found a solution for fixing the paint. Statues and blow up representations of predatory birds and snakes in the vicinity of your plane will help scare off some of these intruders. If you have droppings on your paint, deal with them immediately. Damage can start in 24 hours.