A year’s worth of updates

Time flies when you’re ignoring a blog, right? I’ll catch up.

  • The Mercedes is gone. After everything I’d fixed on it, when the transmission decided it didn’t want to work reliably any more — screw it, I was done. It was an awesome car to drive, but not so much fun to own. I replaced it with a much newer 2018 BMW 540i Xdrive, which has been wonderful.
  • Still flying occasionally, but nowhere near as much as I should or want to.
  • Nothing’s happened with the Mustang, other than getting the engine put back together.
  • We’ve picked up a couple more rental houses; that enterprise is going pretty well overall.
  • We switched from Visible to T-Mobile. Visible had great service when we signed up; it slowly degraded to barely usable. TMO has been better, but not great.
  • I just dumped CenturyLink. Our CenturyLink fiber service has been down since Wednesday morning (it’s Friday now). It took me three hours to get through to a human there, on the phone, who told me they could have someone out Saturday morning. Absolutely appalling service. We were up and running on Cox within an hour of leaving the house to go pick up their equipment.
  • Now I remember why I didn’t like Cox’s equipment… zero flexibility, no control over your own local network at all. You can’t even set your own DNS, so my Pi-Hole is not functional. I’ve got new equipment coming this afternoon. New cable modem, router, and mesh wifi.
  • I left my long time employer (a bank) a little over a year ago and now work for another bank.

2017 flying activity

Well, another year in the log book.  I made one of my goals, which was to fly over 50 hours in 2017.  I barely squeaked by that with 50.8 for the year.  However, I missed the other one – that was to pass the 200 hour mark for total hours.  I’m just short at 198.  I didn’t fly at all for most of October and November; I medically self-grounded due to some unplanned hospital time.  December went from too crappy (low clouds, rain, etc) to too cold; we finished the year with a week or two of sub-zero temps.  I would have flown a few more hours if I’d been able.  Still, there was some good flying in ’17.  I got my BFR done in November, so I’m good to go for two more years.

2017 started with the Harlan, IA chili feed for some cold-weather flying.  That was my second year for that, and I love the trip over and back.  Flying over the winter landscape is always beautiful, and the heat in teh RV-12 works quite well.  Next was a trip along the Missouri up to Mobridge, SD where a bunch of us enjoyed a nice lunch at a family-run restaurant up there.  An extended trip along that river is still on my to-do list.  I flew a couple of poker runs during the year, flew three Lorimers (well, two Lorimers and a former Lorimer) and as near as I can recall, sixteen Young Eagles.  I flew into Oshkosh solo (36L arrival and departure) and camped in Homebuilt Camping for the second time.  Lisa and I were able to use the plane twice during the year to do things that either we couldn’t have made it to by car, or would have been really tedious drives.  The first was Hastings for Tom’s retirement party, and the second was Carroll, IA for a family gathering.  I even managed to get Pete up for a couple of flights, after his amazing success in dropping nearly 100#.  I can only hope to have half as much success shedding excess baggage myself this year.

I’m very much looking forward to expanding my flying activity in 2018.  I haven’t decided whether to make Airventure or not this year, but I do want to take a couple of cross-country trips, log more hours, and get as many kids up in the air as possible.  After the flight review experience I had in November, I’ve also got a new appreciation for what the RV-12 is capable of and what I can handle.  I hope to expand my personal flying envelope this year.  I want to get more practice at slow flight and stalls to get more comfortable with a view of more green than blue.  I want to fly farther, fly higher, fly lower, and see more Gs than before.  We’ll see what 2018 has in store.

Just burning gas…

Saturday morning (5/6) there was a Young Eagles rally at Millard Airport.  There were not a lot of kids to fly, and I was done with my one flight before 10.  It was a perfect day, and I wasn’t ready to quit flying — not after many weeks of out of town travel, bad weather and competing priorities that kept me out of the cockpit.  I decided, in a semi-random way, to fly out to O’Neill, NE and back.  Just because.

I’d been to O’Neill, briefly, back in 2012.  My student pilot long cross-country trip included a quick stop-and-go at KONL, when weather blew up my planned route.  Today that wouldn’t be a problem.  I launched from Millard and headed northwest, about 138 nautical miles (159 statute miles) as the Dale flies.  Once I climbed up to 6500 feet it was nice and smooth, and with the outside air temp at about 52 degrees I could keep it reasonably cool.

Selfie time!

After a little more than an hour and a half I landed in O’Neill.  Surprisingly, I was not alone on the ramp.  A King Air was parked in front of the Jet A pump, and a Piper Malibu was in front of the 100 LL pump.  I still had 10 gallons of unleaded premium in the tank, plenty of fuel for the return trip — especially since I’d have a tailwind.  A Comanche showed up at the pump while I checked out the FBO – a pretty nice little facility, even including a couple of beds for pilots to use if they need to stay the night.  I bummed around for half an hour or so, drank some water, then followed the Comanche and the Malibu out.

The ride back to Omaha was again smooth and relaxing at 7500 MSL.  I flew part of the trip by had, and let Otto fly the rest.  I hadn’t let Otto do en route climbs and descents before, so I played with those functions.  They worked fine, with Otto doing a decent job of maintaining a climb or descent rate of 500 feet per minute.

Somewhere a little north of Albion, NE.

If you do the math, it’s about 21.6 MPG if you take the headwind into account. I got a little better fuel economy on the return trip with a 15 kt tailwind.

All in all it was a pretty good day.  I put 3.7 ours in the log book, flew one more Young Eagle, and burned about as much gas as that Malibu in O’Neill probably did before he hit his cruise altitude.  I may not be as fast, or as pretty, or have as many seats, but I’m still flying, and that’s good.


New gadget testing

Along with load of keyer circuit board delivered today were some prototypes I had ordered.  I’m working on three different projects for the plane.

  1. Bluetooth stereo interface to the intercom.  This one is a little frustrating.  I have a BT stereo module, and the interface between the headset microphones and the mic input works fine.  I can make a call with my cell, and I sound fine on the other end.  However, the intercom music input is designed for speaker level outputs.  The BT module has line level outputs.  I have another one that will, like many others I see, drive speakers — but it has no mic input and the speaker drive is not suited for common ground.  I don’t want to add a separate stereo amplifier, but I may have to.
  2. The second board will allow switching between the Garmin GPS and a BT serial connection, so I can drive the autopilot from my tablet running Avare or Naviator.  This one needs a little tweaking but will be OK.  I had assumed since the BT serial module has a 3.3V output, that it is non-inverted serial.  Nope.  It’s inverted.  Tomorrow I’ll do some mods to turn the inverting level shifter in a non-inverting level shifter (it’s just a 2N7000 and a couple of resistors).
  3. Have not even assembled the third one yet, it’s a lower priority.  This one will let me add a canopy latch alarm to the Dynon D180 equipped RV-12.  I’ve gotten good about latching the canopy before the run-up, but I’d still like to get this board working.  It piggybacks the canopy latch on the spar pin line, and alarms if the spar pins don’t show as latched (kind of important), OR if the canopy is not fully latched AND the engine is above 3900 RPM.  That way you can start up and taxi with the canopy propped open, but it will alarm during the runup if it’s not latched.  To do that we have to monitor the serial data stream from the D180 to grab the engine RPM.


A new regulator for the Rotax 912

Depending on whom you listen to, the Ducati regulator supplied with the Rotax 912 ULS in the RV-12 is either a good, solid piece of equipment or a failure just waiting to happen.  I have not had mine fail, but I have noticed that the charging voltage is a little low.  I don’t think I have ever seen it above 13.7 V while in flight, and it’s lower on the ground.  Given that Odyssey recommends 14.2 to 14.7 V charge voltage, I’d like to see it a little higher to get as much life out of the battery as possible.

I’ve read quite a bit on VAF about replacing the original regulator with one designed for John Deere garden tractors.  The compatible John Deere part number is AM101406, and aftermarket replacements are readily available.  They’re everywhere, as a matter of fact.  As it turns out, it seems to be a pretty popular regulator for other applications as well.  At $30 a pop or so, delivered, they’re pretty inexpensive as well.  The only challenge is mounting it, since the hole spacing on the Ducati is wider than the JD item.  The Ducati regulator is about 3-5/8″ between the hole, while the JD replacement item is more like 2-3/8″.

There are several ways to skin this cat.  Some guys have installed an additional nut plate.  My plane is built and I really don’t want that hassle.  I wanted to use the hardware I had on hand, and be able to switch back to the original regulator if needed.  Since mine has not failed, it will be fine to use as a spare.

Below are pictures of a mounting plate that I fabricated from some .125″ stock I had on hand.  Actually it was part of a piece of AL angle stock, with one side cut off with a band saw.  I marked and drilled holes to match the Ducati regulator, then counterbored 1/2″ holes on the bottom to clear a pair of AN3 bolts I had on hand that just happened to be exactly the length I needed.  This mounting plate allows me to use the original pair of bolts to mount the assembly in the plane, and if it ever becomes necessary I can drop in the original regulator with the same bolts.

A brief ground run confirmed that the charge voltage holds steady at 14.2 V down to about 1700 RPM or so, where it drops off slightly.  I noticed none of the voltage fluctuation I have seen with the Ducati regulator.  I’ll throw the original in the plane for a while just in case, but so far it’s looking good.

My First Condition Inspection

Well, it’s time to do the first condition inspection on the RV-12.  A lot of the work to be done has already been done as I did various repairs and upgrades, but nonetheless I’m going through the entire inspection from start to finish so I don’t miss anything.

Last night I started out by removing the external panels needed to do the inspection.  Inspection covers, top and bottom cowl and the tail fairing all came off.  I’ll do the wheel pants after the plane is up on the maintenance stands, which will be after I get a helper to help me pull the wings yet again.  I pulled and inspected all eight spark plugs – no surprises there, they look fine with a little bit of lead deposits.  No oil, no carbon, good color.  I didn’t measure the gap but will do that before pitching them.

I measured the coolant hoses I’ll need to replace, and ordered what I hope are all of the firewall-forward parts I’ll need.  This is not only the first condition inspection I’m doing, but also the 5-year point for the engine.  Rotax specifies a lot of parts to replace at the 5-year mark.  While these part replacements are not mandatory foe E-LSA, but I plan to do them in the interest of safety and reliability.  I have ordered new conductive Teflon fuel lines, a new mechanical fuel pump, new coolant hoses, the 5-year carburetor replacement parts, etc.  Today I’ll order the hose clamp tool I’ll need, as well as some upgrade parts I want to install during the annual.


Back at it again

Well, I was finally able to get some flying in this weekend.  The plane was gone for a month, then between lousy weather and some repairs ad modifications I was working on I had it down for a couple more weeks.  Finally on Saturday I put it all back together.  Pete helped me put the wings back on, and I was able to get out Sunday and do some flying.  I made a total of three flights, with some weather delays and checking in between to make sure my oil and coolant levels were OK, etc.

I did a total of nine landings.  it was a little gusty, which made it challenging to fly a consistent pattern.  Of course having not flown for a while made it even more challenging.  Of the nine landings I did, only one was truly crappy – I had a significant gust and some wind shear on very short final that increased the “pucker factor” for a few seconds, and the end result was not entirely graceful.  I’m OK with the overall results though.  Not entirely satisfied; I’ll be getting more practice in so I can improve on the consistency and accuracy of my landings.  I also want to start working on my “spot landing” skills in preparation for flying to Oshkosh for Airventure.  I know it just takes practice, and the weather is gradually improving to the point where I’ll be able to get more flying time in.

In the mean time, I’ll be re-entering the customizations that had been made to the Dynon D180 EFIS.  The software update that I did to fix an autopilot nav disconnect issue reset everything to factory settings.  Seriously, who does that?  Everything down to the fuel flow K-factor was wiped.  Now I’m getting high fuel flow alarms that won’t go away until I’ve figured out the correction factor to use.  I’ll take a look at the laptop I used to do the backup and upgrade, maybe those settings were preserved in the backup and I’ll be able to retrieve them.  Maybe.  I’m not holding my breath.

I’ve also decided to go ahead and build a new canopy for the Canary.  It won’t be cheap, but it will be done right and hopefully will look better as well.  On the bright side, once I have the building work done I can put the old one back on the plane while doing the finish work on the new one.  I’ll still have the plane out of service for a while, but not a long.  And I can replace that horrible rear window while I’m at it.

It’s going to be a busy and expensive Spring.

USB charging for the RV-12

I decided that the only thing I would ever use the 12V power point in my RV-12 for would be to plug in USB power supplies.  So, I figured, why not bypass the middleman and just install a USB charging plug?

It’s trivially easy to find a dual-outlet USB charging jack with the same form factor as the Van’s supplied 12V outlet.  The only downside I could find was a constant 10-15 mA current draw.  The USB power point is a switching regulator and an LED.  Even after clipping one lead to the LED it still draws about 10 mA.  Now, normally the 12V power point is wired directly to the battery positive terminal with an in-line fuse holder.  It would probably take a long time for that 10-15 mA drain to make a real impact on the capacity of the PC680 battery in the RV-12.  It would only be a factor if the battery were weak anyway — precisely when you don’t want any excess drain.  Plus, the old repair guy in me just doesn’t like the idea of cheaply produced electronics left under power all the time, unattended in an airplane parked in a hangar.  Just to be sure I could shut everything off, I moved the supply lead from the positive battery terminal to the switched side (inboard side) of the master contactor.  Now I have USB power controlled by the master switch.

It may be that at some point I will want to plug in something that requires 12 V – like a tire inflator, for example.  I plan to put some leads and small battery clamps on the old power point and keep it around just in case.