ADS-B followup

Fun stuff…  so I’m playing around with several different aviation apps on my Android tablet, with a Stratux setup just sitting on the window sill of the spare bedroom where it can “see” enough GPS satellites to get a position fix.  I’ve got one SDR radio receiver on it, set up for 1090 MHz to catch transponders in passing aircraft.  I went in to plug the power in to charge the tablet — I’d left it in there overnight — and saw half a dozen targets displayed.  I zoomed in a little and there’s an American flight at 31,000… A Virgin flight headed for Newark…  Hey, wait a minute — one looks familiar!


N151MH – a friend and fellow EAA Chapter 80 member, out in his ADS-B “out” equipped RV-12.  Absolutely beautiful day for it, too!  Have fun, Mike!

Adding ADS-B IN

I really wanted to add ADS-B to the RV-12, for some pretty obvious reasons.  Getting weather and traffic data for improved situational awareness seems like a really good idea.  I’m also not thrilled with the tiny buttons and small screen of the Garmin 496 currently mounted in the panel.  So, I started looking at various alternatives for ADS-B IN.  I figured I had several choices…

  1. Do nothing.  No weather, no traffic, no expense.  Punch flight plans into the Garmin 496 by hand, let that drive the autopilot.  It’s not the worst fate, but there are better ideas.  Cost: None.  Benefit: None.
  2. Pay a ridiculous amount monthly for XM WX, still get no traffic.  No freakin’ way.  Cost: High (several hundred per year).  Benefit: Very low.
  3. Replace the Garmin 496 with a 696 and GDL-39.  I was almost there.  I bought and repaired a used 696 and it’s very nice.  The GDL-39 is not cheap, but I’d have traffic and WX.  Flight planning is easier, but the maps need updating ($$).  Plus it would take MAJOR surgery on the panel — like rip everything out, rearrange it all and rebuild the entire panel with everything custom.  Cost: Mid-high, even after selling the 496 (it’s a little scuffed and gouged on the edges).  Benefit: Mid-high.
  4. Foreflight running on an iPad Mini, with Stratux.  It’s almost a perfect solution…  but it won’t drive the autopilot, which means I’d have to enter the flight plan twice (once in FF, once on the 496) and any enroute changes would need to be done in two places to keep the AP on course.  Foreflight would require an annual expense, though it’s not too bad.  And of course iPad Minis are not cheap.  Cost: High.  Benefit: High.
  5. Avare running on a Galaxy Tab S2 8″, with Stratux.  Avare is completely free including charts, maps, approach plated, A/FD, all of it.  It’s not QUITE as nice or as smooth as ForeFlight, but fairly close.  And it will drive the autopilot with a bluetooth-serial converter, which FF cannot do.  I can keep the 496 in the panel as a backup just in case.  Cost: Medium.  Benefit: High.

I seriously considered 3 through 5.  If I’d been able to figure out how to reduce the amount of panel rework for the 696, or if the cost of the GDL39 wasn’t so high ($400+ used) I’d have probably done that.  As it is, I picked up a used 696 cheap, repaired the battery connector, and will sell it — probably for enough profit to pay for the Galaxy Tab.  That would make my total ADS-B/EFB setup cost under $200, even after mounting good antennas on the plane.


Back to building

Between HR 3708 and S.2103 and the FAA’s recent decision to look at some easing of the third class medical requirements, I am hopeful enough that I will be able to fly the RV-7 that I’ve decided to keep it and continue building.  I’ve ordered the fuselage kit and am finishing up the wings while waiting for it to arrive (which will be 8-10 weeks).

I was just about to pull the trigger on a Champ to fly…  but just couldn’t do it.  I’ll have to content myself with flying with a CFI for a while, and/or bumming rides whenever I can.

Pursuit of a new airplane

It looks like I won’t be able to fly the RV-7 (barring a major change in medical certification requirements).  I can still fly with Sport Pilot privileges, as long as I can self-certify that I’m fit to fly.  Since both my regular doc and the cardiologist agree that there’s no reason I can’t fly, I’m looking forward to getting on the air again.

The problem?  There are no light sport aircraft around here to fly.  No one rents them, and as yet I have not found any clubs or partnerships that offer one.  My attempts to get my own flying club to look into LSA ownership were met with considerable resistance…  odd, given that we have lost or are losing at least three memberships due to lost medical certificates, and there is at least one other member who hasn’t flown in quite some time due to – yeah, you guessed it, no medical.  Still, the average pilot who does NOT have to fly LSA knows virtually nothing about light sport aircraft.

Anyway, it looks like if I want to fly again in the foreseeable future, I’m going to have to either own outright or form a partnership or club.  I’d looked into forming a partnership to purchase an RV-12, but we were only able to get two partners together — wed need at least 4, preferably 5.  After exploring all other options, I have pretty much settled on an Aeronca 7AC Champion, commonly known as a Champ.

Why a Champ?  There are a number of reasons.  Cost is a big one.  Champs are plentiful and relatively inexpensive.  With tandem seating (front & rear seats) they’re roomier than, say, a side-by-side Taylorcraft or Luscombe.  They’re faster than a Cub, and are flown solo from the front seat instead of the rear.  They also generally cost less than a Cub.  If equipped with a (slightly) upgraded engine, say an 85 HP C-85 instead of the original 65 HP A65, I’m told the climb and cruise performance is quite good for the type.

There are plenty of flying Champs out there for sale.  I’m chasing one or two “projects” that will need to be restored.  Why do that, when I can get a flying aircraft for about the same cost?  Simple.  These planes were built in the mid to late 1940s.  If I’m going to fly it, I want to know that every single tube, weld, fastener and part is sound and airworthy.  While rebuilding I can use all new hardware and replace or repair any part that is not 100% up to snuff.  I can also take the opportunity to do some updates to the plane — better brakes, for example; newer fabric, better seat restraints, etc.  How far i take that depends a lot on what kind of deal i can get on an engine, since either of the ones I’m looking at will need the engine replaced.  Of course it’s also a balancing act — literally — to put what you want in it, but keep the empty weight as low as possible.

Of course, this doesn’t mean I wouldn’t consider a flying example if the right airplane comes along at the right price.  I would not complain about a year spent flying instead of building.


Airplane hunting

Since I am not likely to be able to renew my FAA third class medical, I’m now limited to flying with Sport Pilot privileges – at least for the time being.  This situation could possibly change at some future date, but when or indeed if that ever happens is anyone’s guess.  For my part, I’m not really willing to simply give up and hope for the best.

Unfortunately, the options for flying with Sport Pilot privileges around here are nil.  There are no Light Sport Aircraft (LSA) available for rent anywhere.  My flying club doesn’t have one, and won’t be adding one (I tried, it was shot down – so to speak).  I have not found anyone looking for a partner in one, and my efforts to find a few partners to buy an RV-12 have so far fallen short.  And while an RV-12 wouldn’t cost (much) more than I was planning on eventually spending on the RV-7, it would be a much larger expense up front — and the same cost for a far less capable airplane.

So, I’ve been exploring other options.  here are some that I’ve looked at:

Ultralights.  No thanks.  Zero utility, and I would probably have conditions favorable enough to fly for 2-3 months out of the year.  Next!

Single-seat LSAs (Fly Baby, various other experimentals).  Sorry, needs to have two seats.  And while I’d love to fly a replica WWI biplane, it’s really got to have an enclosed cockpit.

Remos, CTLS, various other S-LSA planes:  Nice rides, but priced well above what I’m willing to spend.  Good deals start around $85K and go up from there.  It took about ten minutes to eliminate an entire class of airplane from consideration.

Ercoupe 415-C.  While I originally didn’t pay a lot of attention to the Ercoupe due to the relatively narrow cabin and the sorry state of a lot of the examples for sale, I started looking more closely at them recently.  They’re not terribly expensive, and range from “really nice” to “kinda cool” to “cute” – and downhill rapidly from there.  Unfortunately, they are pretty porky and don’t have anywhere near enough useful load left.  They do have starters and electrical systems, but would realistically be good only for solo flying.

Cubs.  If you’re not a Cub aficionado, these will seem a little overpriced due to the Cub name.  Slow.  I mean, all LSAs will be slow, but the Cub brings it to a whole new level.  Solo flight from the rear seat.  Most have no electrical system and no starter.  Of course there are dozens of different Cub models and modifications, but the variants that would make good candidates for us are very rare and/or quite expensive.

Taylorcraft: Poor visibility, narrow cockpit and some gymnastics required to get in and out.  Priced fairly reasonably.  Have not looked into STCs for things like electrical system, etc.

Luscombe:  All metal, which is good.  Narrow side-by-side cockpit (like the Chief and T-craft), and a reputation for being substantially more challenging to land and taxi.

Aeroncas:  Prewar models are simply too slow.  The postwar Chief is attractively priced, but the side by side cabin is again quite narrow.  Most have no electrical system/radio/xponder/starter.  Lots of STCs to fix most shortcomings, but none to make it 4″ wider.  The LSA market has driven the prices on Champs up some, but there are still reasonable deals to be had.  Tons of STCs to do pretty much anything to them, if you’ve got the time and a friendly A&P/IA.

Bearhawk LSA: This one looked very promising.  The quick-build kit available relieves me of the welding, which is good.  Unfortunately the list of things NOT included in the kit mean the total cost would most likely be more than I’m willing to spend on a day-VFR, 100-knot cruiser.  If I were willing to build from plans and do all my own welding, I’d be all over this…  but I’m not.

Sigh.  There really seems to be no good option.  I’m continuing to keep an eye out for a “project” Aeronca that I could (re)build to spec.  If I happen to find one outfitted the way I want (C-85-12, starter, alternator, battery) for a decent price I’m all over it, but so far have not seen much.


Seeking RV-12 Partners

I am currently looking for a few partners to go in together on an RV-12.

The way I can see this working is four partners sharing ownership of an RV-12, either completed or mostly built.

  • Why an RV-12?  It’s an LSA, and currently the best option I can find.  It can be operated as an E-LSA, meaning the flexibility of owner maintenance and inspections.  It’s reasonably fast; reasonably inexpensive; Rotax powered; burns Mogas.   Would I consider something else?  Sure, if it’s reasonably fast, affordable, etc.  Probably not a Champ.
  • Why four partners?  According to the insurance broker I talked to (Shawna at nation Air), this keeps the insurance simple and inexpensive.  With 4 pilots it’s an airplane with 4 pilots.  With 5 pilots it’s considered a club and insured differently.  With four partners, I think scheduling conflicts cold be kept to a minimum.  Would I consider fewer or more partners?  Sure, it depends on how the numbers work out.
  • Why not build?  I have no problem with building.  But, there are nearly-complete RV-12s out there right now for not much more than, or even slightly less than, the cost of the kits.  If we can fly in a few months instead of a year or two, so much the better.  There are also built, flying, low-time RV-12s available for a very small premium over the cost of an unbuilt kit.  Would I consider building instead?  Sure, we’d just have to work out the details.
  • Do you have a particular plane in mind?  I have a few potential candidates.  One is a factory built 12, complete with ALL options available from Van’s, with major assembly work complete.  It includes the engine and prop.  Another is amateur built, and is complete from teh firewall back – we’d buy the engine and prop from Van’s.  Either would cost about wht the kits cost, give or take a couple thousand.  I also see a couple of low-time flying RV-12s for sale in the upper 70s to low 80s.  Of course all of these are subject to prior sale; I don’t want to rush into this deal, but if I can find partners soon it would be good.
  • How would this work?  I can see a couple of different possibilities.  One would be a simple partnership, co-owning the plane.  Another would be a club, with the club owning the lane and four members of the club.  The structure would be something we’d need to discuss and agree on; I don’t have a strong preference.  My only preference would be an arrangement that protects everyone and makes it easy and hassle-free to enjoy flying.
  • Where would the plane be kept?  I would strongly prefer Millard.  I would not rule out Eppley, if that worked out better for a majority of partners.  Blair, Wahoo, etc are simply too far for me.
  • What would it cost?  That’s the big question, isn’t it?  My calculations indicate we could make it work for an initial investment of $20K per person – that’s buying the plane, shipping it to Omaha, and even getting it painted after final assembly and phase 1 flight testing.  Monthly fixed expenses would run around $80-90 per partner for the hangar and insurance.  Flying time would run between $30-$35 per hour wet, if you include a fairly generous engine reserve — enough to have a top-notch major overhaul done by a nationally known shop at TBO.  That’s some pretty cheap flying.
  • When are you looking to do this?  Soon.  Now. Last week.  Next week.  As soon as I can find a couple more pilots interested in joining the partnership.
  • What kind of flying do you plan to do?  Like most recreational flyers, mostly shorter flights from an hour or so to several hours; $100 hamburgers, fly-ins, day trips to visit friends and relatives, that kind of thing.  The longest trip I would anticipate would be 5 days to a week, possibly once a year.


POA 2013 Gastons Fly-In

Last weekend Lisa and I flew down to Lakeview, AR for the annual fly-in for a bunch of people from the Pilots of America web board.  Naturally we had a stiff headwind both ways, so the trip was more flying than I had counted on.  We had a good time, met some good people, and I gained some valuable experience and learned a few things.  The trip down was uneventful if a bit slow due to the wind, but the real fun was the Gaston’s arrival.  We made a high pass over the runway just for me to get my bearings and figure out how to deal with the terrain on the base and final approach legs.  In the end it was a nice, soft, full-flap soft field landing, no drama.  The trip back was more of a challenge — we took off in the rain, waited on weather at Mountain Home, had a very stiff crosswind when landing to refuel in Lawrence (but still eased it in nicely, if I do say so myself) and made it into Omaha as the ceiling was dropping.  Another 9.4 hours in the log book!

Some of the highlights…

And some shots of the happy couple…

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Grass can be fun

No, not THAT kind of grass, or even that kind.  Yesterday I did my first flying from a grass runway.  I took an instructor along since I hadn’t done it before.  During primary flight training you get instruction in and have to demonstrate the “soft-field” takeoff and landing techniques, but it’s almost always on pavement.  In fact, the flight schools I trained with specifically prohibited ever landing their rental planes on anything unpaved!  Not so with the flying club.

On the way to Auburn
On the way to Auburn

We flew down to Auburn, NE where there is a 4000′ long turf runway in good condition.  When we arrived we did a low pass — I skimmed along the left edge of the runway maybe 30-40 feet off the ground at most, while Ryan checked out the runway condition and grass length from the right side.  It looked good, so I climbed out and turned back for the downwind leg.  A full-flap approach, carry a little throttle through the flare for a soft touchdown with the nose wheel in the air, and we’re down.  The field had not been mowed recently, so we got plenty of extra drag from thick grass and weeds. You turn a little wider, and there’s plenty of throttle needed about midway through the turn to keep your speed up so you don’t get stuck.  It’s different, but not hard to do.

I turned and taxied back to the end of the runway and did a soft-field takeoff much differently than I have ever done before. On real grass, you need to really get the nose wheel up as soon as possible and lift off well under stall speed, then level off while you’re still in ground effect while you pick up speed.  At 80 MPH I’d begin climbing and raise the flaps.  We did a few touch & gos after that, then headed back to Millard.  I’m glad I had Ryan along — it helped to have his advice trying to stay in ground effect, and a little post-landing coaching on the approach.