Complied with SB 14-01-31

While inspecting the plane for this year’s condition inspection, I discovered the dreaded crack near the bend of the forward horizontal stabilizer spar. You can see the crack emanating from the bottom of the u-shaped notch at the top of the spar.

I came over bright and early one Saturday morning and disassembled the empennage in about 2 hours. I didn’t get any pictures of the process or the naked empennage, but you can imagine what it looks like.

I brought the horizontal stabilizer home since it will be much more convenient to work on here. My buddy Greg dropped by and helped me drill most of the structure. He brought some handy drill guides that helped us hit the center of each rivet (though we still buggered a few).

I didn’t get too many pictures during the process, but I did do a few things differently than the SB specifies. The SB asks you to drill out only the first two rivets along the forward spar so that you can slide a thin stainless steel shim between the skin and spar to protect the skin when trimming the spar. I decided to drill out a couple of additional rivets.

This allowed me to wedge in a thin (1/4″) wood piece to space the spar away from the skin. Not only does that help protect the skin, it makes it far easier to smooth out the cut after trimming the spar.

I also cleco-clamped a putty knife to the spar web at the bend to protect the spar from the Dremel wheel. I’m really glad I did this as I bumped it several times during the cut and I know I would have damaged the spar.

There were a handful of holes that were unfortunately elongated slightly. I decided to step these up to -5 rivets and drilled the holes out with a #20 bit. It was a slightly different set between the left and right side, so I decided to drill out some additional holes so that the -5 rivets were symmetric between each side. Fortunately, all holes turned out nice and round after doing so. I thought I might need to install cherrymax rivets in these holes, so I calculated the grip length for each hole based on the material stackup. I ended up shooting a bucking solid AN470 rivets in every holes.

After carefully finding the end of the crack, I stop drilled it with a #40 bit and deburred it.

I didn’t get a picture, but I elongated the hole toward the crack slightly and then smoothed everything out.

Greg dropped by a couple more times to help me rivet the structure and reassemble it. The plane was down for about a week, but I’m glad to have this behind me and know that it’s far more robust than it was before.

Added Oil Cooler Quick Drain

Saf-Air recently released an adaptor that allows you to add a quick drain to an AN fitting. My oil cooler has a tee fitting at the lowest point that I installed a cap on, but draining the oil from this point was always a bit of a pain. The adaptor lets me replace the cap with a quick drain that I can attach a hose to.

Unfortunately, my oil cooler was too close to the firewall for me to install it directly on the tee, so I needed to add a 90º fitting to point the assembly downward. I assembled the pieces on the bench since it was much easier to safety wire this way.

I then installed the assembly to the tee on the lower port of the oil cooler.

The quick drain points slightly forward and nicely clears the engine mount and brake line.

Pulled ELT and Replaced Batteries

After the ELT was triggered on the return from KY, I called ACK and they said the most common reason I could have experienced the issue was moisture in the audio remote. Fortunately, ACK is located right here in San Jose, CA, so I dropped by their office one morning on the way into work with the ELT and audio remote.

Fortunately, there was no moisture in the audio remote, but they replaced the battery while they had it open. They also opened the ELT to see if there were any issues there. I had one of the very first units and they said they had some issues with the early digital boards, so they replaced it at no charge. I also picked up a new ELT battery for $100 since it has to be replaced if the ELT transmits for more than 1 hour. Finally, there’s a battery in the panel mounted remote that needs to be replaced every 10 years. Even though mine was only 7 years old or so, I went ahead and replaced it so that the ELT won’t need any servicing for the forseeable future.

I had forgotten that I didn’t add nutplates to the subpanel for attaching the audio remote, so getting the nuts off was a bit of a pain in the ass. I knew it would be even more painful to reinstall them, so I used a couple of Command Adhesive strips. These can hold 3 lbs each and this whole unit only weighs a few ounces.

30th High School Reunion

It’s hard to believe it’s been 30 years since I graduated from High School. I went back for my 25th reunion, but that couldn’t possibly have been 5 years ago, right?!?! Weather is always a factor in October, so I have been watching it like a hawk for the past couple of weeks. Surprisingly, it looked like I was going to get a break and have a nice clear area between two storm fronts moving eastbound. I took off in sunny skies on Oct. 9th for my first stop in Gallup, NM. I’m visiting family in Tulsa, OK, but the storm will prevent me from getting there on the first day.

There was weather over the Sierras, so I ran around the south end which took me right over the center of Las Vegas, NV. I was above the Bravo airspace, so I banked over and got a nice shot of McCarran airport and the strip.

It also took me right over the Grand Canyon. In all of my years of flying, I have never flown over the Grand Canyon. I’ve caught a glimpse of it from the window of a commercial aircraft, but it’s hard to appreciate the scale of this place from 35,000+ feet. When driving, you can only see a tiny fraction of the canyon from the rim, so you can’t really tell how long it is.

There are parts of the canyon that are 15+ miles wide and it’s well over 100 miles from end to end. It took me over a half hour to fly from one end to the other, and I enjoyed spectacular views like this the whole time. It was about an hour before sunset, and this photo simply doesn’t do justice to the brilliant colors and panoramic view.

The storms moving eastbound gave me a nice 25-40kt tailwind for the entire flight from CA to KY. The weather was nearly perfect with the exception of a high overcast in Tulsa, OK which required an instrument clearance to descend through. There were also scattered showers when I left Tulsa, but they were easy to dodge and I barely got wet.

After an enjoyable visit with family and friends in both Tulsa, OK and Lexington, KY, it was time to head for home. I had planned to run up to Minneapolis, MN to visit a buddy, but a low overcast with ice blocked me. I’ll have to do that next year on the way to or from Oshkosh.

The next day was much better with a much higher overcast. There was still icing forecast in the clouds, so that kept me down around 3’000 AGL for the first few hundred miles, but I wanted to stay low anyway since the headwinds up high were 45+kts. Since I was headed all the way back without overnighting anywhere, I got a fairly early start since I knew it would be a long day.

One odd thing I noticed before the flight was the ELT light was flashing, and it wasn’t flashing when I landed several days prior. Hitting the reset button didn’t do anything, nor did killing power to the ELT, so I decided to deal with it when I got home.

Somewhere over Louisville, KY, I get a frantic text from my wife. She was woken up by a call from the US Air Force saying they had an emergency signal from my aircraft. I was able to relay messages through her back to the Air Force about what was going on. They said it was fine to continue to my first fuel stop, but not to continue without resolving the problem. Unfortunately, that will require removing the baggage bulkhead to gain access to the ELT so that I can shut it off. Since it was running on its own battery (since I had removed power from it), there was a chance it was going to run out of juice before then anyway, so I pressed on. Not too surprisingly, the battery did die a couple of hours later. What was surprising though was that the ELT powered up on the next leg and behaved normally.

Storms kept me north of my normal route through OK, NM, and AZ. Staying low until CO limited my headwinds to under 10kts, but I had to climb to 14,500′ to clear the Rockies. Fortunately, a high-pressure system over the southwest created westward flow along the second half of the flight, so I enjoyed 20+kt tailwinds for the remainder of the flight.

I crossed 300 hours on the plane during the final leg from Grand Junction, CO to San Jose, CA!

Crossing NV at 14,500′, the tailwind climed to 25kts in smooth air.

I flew near the Crescent Dunes solar energy farm near Tonopah, NV.

To give you a sense of scale, that central tower is 640′ tall and the entire circle is nearly 2 mi in diameter. Each one of those little mirrors is 30’x42′ and turns to keep the sun focused on the top of the tower.

I crossed the Sierras just south of Mono Lake. There’s a little airport next to the lake, but I’ve never made a trip up here. It’s a pretty quick flight from home, so I should make a point of doing that some time.

My flight also took me right over Yosemite, so I grabbed a quick shot of Half Dome…

…and El Capitan. After this, I started a shallow descent all the way back to the bay area. That let me leave the power in for the descent. That plus the tailwind kept me well over 200kts across the ground for most of the descent.

Inspection after Over G

During the flight back from Oshkosh, my buddy and I hit some massive clear-air turbulence west of Salt Lake City. We slammed our heads on the canopy and then the plane pitched up nearly 45º. It was a little hard to tell how much of the diversion from level flight was caused by the turbulence vs. my instinctual response of pulling on the stick when we hit the initial negative-G, but we ended up reading a peak of 6.1 on the G meter. Fortunately, we were low on gas since we were near the end of our leg, so we only weighed about 1,670 lbs.

A quick call to Van’s technical support confirmed what I was already assuming: these planes are strong and I’m unlikely to have damaged anything. They asked me to remove the wing-root fairings and empennage fairing and look for any wrinkled metal. Assuming none was found, fly on!

I pulled both wing-root fairings (unfortunately stripping two phillips screws in the process), and gave everything a thorough inspection. Everything looked a perfect as the last time I have the fairings off, so I buttoned everything back up. The structure here is really beefy, so I really wasn’t expecting to find anything in this area.

While the tail is certainly quite strong, is needs to be quite light. That necessitates using much thinner structure back here. While I wasn’t too worried about the wing roots, I was a little more concerned about the tail. I spent extra time here just to be safe, but like the wings, everything here looked perfect.

I buttoned everything back up and took off for a formation flight with a couple of buddies. These really are amazing aircraft, and it’s good to have reassurance of just how strong they really are!

Garmin G5 Issue Resolved

I dropped by the hangar last night after our EAA meeting to try and further diagnose why the G5 wouldn’t power up. I called Stein on Saturday and he suggested pulling the backup battery, but I decided to just try powering it up again without changing anything. Low and behold, the unit powered up just fine! The backup battery was dead, so apparently it was keeping the unit in an odd state. A quick call back to SteinAir this morning confirmed that this is a known issue and Garmin has a fix on the way (if not already available).

Installed Garmin G5

I received my new Garmin G5, so it’s time to pull out the old TruTrak Gemini.

The G5 installation kit includes a clever mounting ring that attaches behind the hole using the standard instrument mounting holes and has a hole for an alignment pin at the top and a threaded hole at the bottom.

With the mounting ring installed, installing the G5 just takes a moment using a 3/32″ Allen key through the lower hole to secure the unit.

Fortunately, I had enough slack in the pitot and static tubing to connect to the new fittings. Even the wiring was pretty trivial as the d-sub connector that went to the Gemini had only four wires (power, ground, RS-232 in, and a dimmer connection). For my installation, I only needed the first three of these since the G5 has a photocell and provides automatic dimming. I did need to rearrange the other three wires and change the GTN-635 serial format, but that was all straightforward.

After doing the ground config and a vibration test, I shut down the plane to get ready for a quick test flight. Unfortunately, when I went to start the plane up again, the G5 wouldn’t power up. After diagnosing all of the connections and finding nothing wrong, I left for the day.

Test Fit Garmin G5

I’ve never been very happy with the TruTrak Gemini PFD. The AHRS is iffy and it would often show in incorrect attitude.

After seeing the Garmin G5 at Oshkosh and hearing how happy people were with them, I decided it was a good time to replace it with something better. I was pretty sure the G5 would fit, but I was concerned about it covering up the labels for the two push/pull cables below and whether the backup battery would interfere with the angled brace behind the panel. Fortunately, my buddy Greg had a G5 he hadn’t installed yet and he let me borrow it to confirm it would fit. Here I’m just holding the unit in the hole from the rear. You can see that it fits flush against the instrument panel, but does cover the labels below.

Though it’s tight, it does clear everything behind the panel!

From above, you can see that there’s nearly 1/4″ of clearance between the backup battery and the angled support.

Oshkosh 2018

I left for Oshkosh the Saturday before the show for a planned overnight stop in Salt Lake City. Unfortunately, I got a later start than I planned, so I didn’t end up leaving until early afternoon which put me right in the middle of the afternoon bumps and storms. Approaching the Sierras, it was clear I was going to have to dodge some buildups.

I brought oxygen, so I tried popping up to 17,500′ to get above them, but they still towered above me. The plane is pretty mushy at 17,500′ and the autopilot couldn’t keep the wings level, so I dropped back down to pick my way through.

Past the Sierras, I had mostly clear skies until a couple of hundred miles outside Salt Lake City. I normally fly through the two large restricted areas west of the city, but storms had that corridor completely blocked off. The air was smooth and I had a nice tailwind, so I didn’t mind the diversion around them to the north too much.

I got an early start the next morning and after dodging a few early morning storms, had no significant weather all the way to Oshkosh. Past my first fuel stop, I flew over a solid overcast for a couple of hundred miles, but it cleared out about an hour west of Oshkosh.

The arrival into the show was insane. I started listening to the arrival frequency about 100 miles out and it sounded like complete chaos. The controller was constantly chastising pilots for being too close together or not in single file. I heard the same chatter last year, but the arrival was empty when I got there, so I pressed on to take a look for myself. Not surprisingly, it hadn’t gotten any better and perhaps even got a little worse.

The controller was pretty clear that nobody should cross RIPON (the first fix on the arrival), so I entered the Green Lake hold to await improvement. Planes were everywhere and plenty of people were not at their assigned altitudes or airspeeds (1,800′ & 90kts or 2,300′ & 135kts). There were even a number of clueless pilots who flew right threw the hold, oblivious to all of the planes around them. The controller said to expect a wait time of about 30 minutes, but multiple people chimed in on the frequency that they had been holding for 2.5 hours or longer.

After a number of turns around Green Lake, there hadn’t been any reminders to not cross RIPON in quite awhile, so I proceeded up the tracks to FISKE, only to be told to start holding at Rush Lake; progress! They had shutdown 36L & 36R for some mass arrivals, so they were down to one runway and were asking for two miles in trail spacing on the arrival. Every time you tried to create this much spacing, five other planes would fill the gap and you looked like the jerk who was following too close to the plane in front of you. Argh!

While holding, one pilot (who was still outside RIPON) said he was fuel critical and asked for priority. The controller suggested he go to his alternate, but the pilot protested and claimed he didn’t have enough fuel to get there. The controller mentioned that the alternate was only 13nm away, and again the pilot claimed he didn’t have enough fuel to get there. This was obviously bullshit since Oshkosh is still 15nm from RIPON and he was outside that, but the controller gave him a priority arrival. Another pilot got on frequency and said he’d already thrown up twice and needed to get on the ground, so the controller also cleared him through.

After a bunch of turns around Rush Lake, I was headed up the tracks for the umpteenth time. Every single plane ahead of me was told to turn left and reenter the hold, but I got lucky and got the right turn into the show. After 1.5 hours of holding, I was finally cleared to land on 36R and taxied into Homebuilt Camping!

Welcome to Oshkosh!

While visiting the Aircraft Spruce booth, I saw they had a combination prop lock on their display rack. Since picking locks is kind of a hobby of mine, I fiddled with it while a couple of friends were looking at something else. I popped the lock open in less than one minute, without even looking at the dials. Anyone who would steal your airplane would be at least as skilled at picking locks, so please don’t trust them to keep your plane safe.

Fixed Sticking Heater Valve

I had an IPC & BFR the other night and my new heater valve was stuck slightly open. It was a warm night, and hot air blowing on my feet was pretty miserable. Since I’m leaving for Oshkosh in less than a week, I really wanted to fix this before flying across the hot midwest.

Unfortunately, getting to the heater valve requires pulling out most of the forward interior, seat pans, doghouse and tunnel cover. Once I was in there, it was about a two minute fix to determine what was sticking and fix it. The corner of the lower door flange was digging in to the bottom of the heater valve. A very slight bend of the lower flange fixed the issue nicely.