Web Site: http://www.airdorrin.com
Posts by fdorrin:
Strange title for someone who has been flying IMC for years, I know. I flew N833DF up to Lancaster this morning in a little bit of weather. The forecast for today had been predicting 700′ ceilings and thunderstorms most of the last few days leading up to this morning. When I got up though, Chesapeake City skies were clear with calm winds.
The forecast for Lancaster was reporting 1600′ ceilings, which ended up actually being around 1300′ with tops around 2200′. The thin cloud layers were surprisingly dark, and the turbulence within them was spirited. Occasional moderate made it a challenge to keep the airplane on rails all the way down the ILS, but I kept it within standards all the way down.
Preparation for this trip began days ago by watching the weather. When I realized this short trip would involve IMC, I set my personal minimum in this airplane at 1000′. It’s been 2.5 years since I’ve used this airplane in IMC, and I’d be turning on Pitot Heat and Defrost Heat for the first time in several years. I want to ease back into IMC with this machine.
Last night I fired up my simulator for one complete trip from KILG to KLNS, followed by four different ILS 8 scenarios to minimums. I also did two GPS approaches to cover my bases, until I was comfortable I’d exercised my process. I was ready for 1000′ minimums after that. It amazes me how relevant an 11 year old simulator can be with occasional updates.
My crazy schedule this week is a product of several occurrences. It looks like our Westwind simulator is getting retired. They just can’t keep it going any longer, so my schedule for the week cleared right out. I worked Monday and then only an hour on Thursday. I took advantage of that time off and knocked out a doctors appointments for my allergy suffering of late, and also managed to renew my FAA Medical. Since the last medical I’d started using low dose Lisinopril, and I was worried about that. Combined with the cancer history and controlled Asthma, I felt it was more difficult to stay under the radar. Turns out I was worried about nothing, and my BP came in just fine.
I also has a laundry list of calls to follow up on that require hand-holding. Delaware Motor Vehicles was one – I’ve been cajoling them to refund the road tax they impose on my airplane and give me a refund. It has been several years since I submitted one, so they needed me to update their paperwork. In short – their process failed and it took 7 calls and 5 people to get it fixed. Still no money, but the calls have been completed.
My Honda CRV intermittent wipers stopped working, and I only just noticed it with all this rain. I tracked that back to having my windshield replaced 6 weeks ago, and that was confirmed during my service call at Honda. Fortunately, Honda covered it under warranty and assumed it was a manufacturing thing. There was silicone grease over the lenses, and once removed and cleaned, the wipers started working again. I’m anal, so I called SafeLite Auto back and reported the issue I’d had. I felt pressure to get this fixed before Bev and I go on a driving vacation next week.
N833DF airplane maintenance had been scheduled since last week for today. The autopilot control head spent a month sitting out in Illinois somewhere, waiting to get serviced. When Lancaster Avionics called to tell me it was ready, FRIDAY was the only day I could possibly get back to Lancaster and wait for the airplane. I really didn’t want to put my friends out and have someone drive me back and forth if I could avoid it. So Friday it would have to be.
I’m working next week on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. Leaving for vacation on Thursday, so it’s either Friday; get someone to drive me twice back and forth so I can leave the airplane on Tuesday; or wait another three weeks to get the work done. I felt pressure to get this fixed before Bev and I go on a driving vacation next week, and I had to take steps to avoid being tempted to flying in too challenging of a condition for the first N833DF IMC flight in awhile.
I set my personal minimums at 1000′, so naturally the Friday forecast has been consistently below that leading up to today. Last night I went to bed expecting 700 overcast in rain, for which I’d have called off the trip. Thunderstorms were supposed to rule the area as well, so it wasn’t looking good.
Waking up this morning, however, I was greeted with calm winds and clear skies in Chesapeake City. Surprise! It turned out that Lancaster would still require an instrument approach, however, but at least the ceilings were 1500′ instead of 700′. I fired up XM weather and let the ADS-B weather update itself as I got the engines turning.
Taxiing out from my Hangar in the West Tees, I picked up my first instrument approach clearance in this airplane for some time. Oh man this has been a long time coming, and I was glad to get moving again. Watching Ben fly low approaches in the Westwind smoothly reminds me that these are perishable skills that must be practiced. I need to practice in real conditions more often. Flying approaches in my own airplane will help me be that smooth when it’s my turn on the left side in those jets. Owning my own airplane and flying it professionally within it’s limits is just so very cool.
So the ride up here was flown by hand and took about 20 minutes. Wilmington had wind, but was clear of most of the weather. Lancaster had broken overcast 1500, which was more like 1300. Windshear at 2000′ was significant – 40 knots to 15 knots – and the turbulence occasional moderate. The ILS 8 worked great, and I broke out with the nose pointed 20 degrees right of the centerline to track the course. That sheared to 5 degrees over the threshold. I came in a bit hot – 105 over the fence – and could have slowed down a bit earlier in retrospect.
I also could have checked XM weather more closely for storms. I had a good eyeball evaluation going, but there are some building areas out there this morning. Small hail warnings for this area, so the instability will continue and probably worsen.
Now that I’m here, I’ll catch up with my sister for lunch since she lives up here. I’ll plan my trip home around whatever weather shows up, and use a local hotel if the weather gets too gnarly.
N833DF was smooth and powerful today. It is trips like this – even the short ones – that remind me how very worth it this machine is. I can’t wait to try out my autopilot and new flightstream 210. He who dies with the most toys wins!
Comments Off on May 10, 2019 – Successful IMC
Oh man – I’m slightly bummed!: I am flying a one day Westwind jet trip Thursday and it was my first opportunity to fly myself up there and back in 3DF. Easy trip and a potential perfect day. The definition of the perfect day is riding to the airport on my Harley; jumping in my beautiful twin and flying up to the jet to go play.
N833DF is in fine shape, even though the autopilot is still in AutoPilot Central’s purgatory. I really am expecting to hear something any minute now on that one. It’s been a month now guys – get off your butts! The airplane is ready is all other respects, so I planned to fly up at 9000′ and leave it in the hangar there.
Note that the folks that hired me for the trip are really being nice to me. 3DF will stay in the hangar while I’m there and they’ll cover the cost while I’m traveling. Nice!
Weather Planning for a the operational altitudes of a light twin is not something I’ve done for over two years! The tools continuously improve, and I started out getting a handle on thunderstorm potential. My schedule was opened up so that I could leave anytime during the day today, and be sure not to get stopped by expected storms. It’s only a two hour flight, so I felt good with it. Ceilings would be as low as 1500′, but my personal minimums are 1000′ until I get more time in my airplane IMC. So the weather looked fine.
You can see that there is rain and lots of moisture enroute, but at first glance this looks like an easy ride.
Then I thought I’d better check the icing levels. I found the forecast at right. I had forgotten what the symbols meant, so I then had to go and get the Aviation Weather Handbook.
The dark blue boundary (circle, line dashed) indicates icing conditions. The altitude range is included in a blue details box. The top number gives the height of the top icing layer; and the bottom left number gives the height of the lowest icing layer. If a bottom right number is listed, it means the bottom of the icing layer varies between these altitudes over the specific area. Altitudes are labeled in hundreds of feet. You can see that the box covering Vermont goes down to 1000′.
I had assumed that since we were having more nice days that ICE wouldn’t be a factor. Surprise! Looks like icing for this trip between Delaware and Vermont will in fact be a big factor – No Go Item. I’m seeing overcast ceilings from 1500′ to 6100′ with rain in the area and a freezing level down to the surface. Icing, where it occurs, is expected to be moderate. I’m rusty with these forecasts, but re-learning it quickly. After checking it four different times, I let the client know I’d need an airline ticket after all. Bummer!
Lancaster Avionics is doing the autopilot maintenance and I was talking with them this week. While the autopilot is being worked on, I decided to add a FlightStream 210 to my airplane. I explained that I need to do this in one day – the logistics of my going back and forth is just too painful. Hopefully, by next week I’ll have an autopilot and the new ability to upload and download flight plans from my ipad. Come on guys – let’s get this done!
Comments Off on May 1, 2019 – Aborted Travel
In early April I needed to fly my airplane up for autopilot work. It would be there for a week or so, and then I’d have to go get it and bring it home. The paint shop was scheduled for the end of the month, and the two things together would mark the end of the restoration project. N833DF would be whole again.
The logistics of moving the airplane around on top of work and home schedules turned out to be a real challenge. Kelly helped me out with the first move. She is an FSI work buddy who flew up to Lancaster to bring me home in her nicely equipped Cessna 150. It really is nice. She got a chance to be reminded what adding a 230# lump to the right seat does to a small airplane, and I got to enjoy a low and slow ride home. I really did enjoy it; particularly the landing in gusting winds. Kelly does a nice job and really helped me out getting this project moving. Thanks! I went to work on the other side of the field, right after she got me back home.
That same day the paint shop called and said they were ready for my airplane a month earlier than planned. I explained where it was and that I’d get it to them as soon as the autopilot shop work was complete. Kendall Horst is the owner/operator of Lancaster Aero (the paint shop), and gave me the flexibility I needed. No pressure.
Lancaster Avionics is doing the autopilot work, and they called about a week later to say that the airplane was ready. For this trip I could drive myself up for the test flight; move the airplane to Smoketown, and just UBER back to get my car. That was the plan, anyway. So much easier when you can just do it yourself.
It was my birthday on April 2nd, and I drove up to do the test flight. The technician and I set out to fly a typical flight pattern he laid out to ensure all of the features of the autopilot system were working. At initial startup, it was obvious that the pitch trim wheel didn’t pass a pre-flight test. No response at all. Sucks to be me – I’d be coming up here again I think.
The technician, I think his name was Steve, was very professional and safety conscious. I could tell he was knowledgable and appreciated his CRM, even though he wasn’t a pilot.
We went flying even with the pre-flight failure of pitch trim. In the process, discovering that the rest of the system was working great. Lateral and vertical guidance was available in both level flight and approach mode and without the issues I’d reported. Nice! No wing rocking and much tighter glide slope tracking.
I wondered why he couldn’t bench test determine the pitch trim wheel wasn’t working, but didn’t pursue the issue further. At this point, the altitude select wasn’t available, nor was the ability to control pitch directly with the wheel. The work the shop had done was evident in the improved performance, but I was disappointed that more work would be needed. The cost is less important at the moment than the logistical challenges of moving myself and my airplane around.
Back at the Lancaster Avionics shop, we called Autopilot Central to see if they could service the control head. If not – I had 90% of the functionality of the system already, so that was something. It turns out that the issues with my 1967 autopilot would be addressable, so I left it behind for the shop to ship it out. The unit is still out there now, but has been waiting to be looked at for almost a month. I’m looking forward to getting it back!
With a hole in my panel now, I left for the paint shop around 11am. Flying the airplane about 5 nm away to Smoketown, I made a long landing with a tailwind on rwy 28 there. I avoid landing east since it is over an obstacle and downhill on a 2700′ strip. No thanks.
I met with Kendall there and he assured me he’d have N833DF in the hangar shortly after I left. I reviewed one more time what needed to be done. Very exciting to be making progress like this before the summer fully arrived.
My sister Sue offered to take me to lunch for my birthday, and I had her meet me at Smoketown. Conveniently we had a great lunch at Lancaster Airport, so I could grab my car when we were done. I had a wonderful birthday lunch and managed through more of the travel logistics. The drive home was peaceful, and the wife had even arranged coverage for mom so we could go to dinner.
Later in the week the paint shop called and told me that the repairs were complete. I talked with several airplane friends to arrange a flight up there to pick it up, but schedules weren’t coming together. Home life is still crazy, so my wife couldn’t drive me up. We are still trapped in our own home taking care of her mom. That means I had to reach out and inconvenience friends to get the job done. Simple tasks that should be easy to accomplish become a monumental effort. Frustrating.
I have a neighbor – Tom – who has been very nice in helping me out a few times. He is willing to jump in the car to drive me where I need to go, so I ended up reaching out to him. Three hours of round trip driving is allot to ask, but I was out of options. He is not only helping me, but helping Beverly by keeping her out of the logistics.
The airplane is home now and in the hangar. Then I got myself pretty sick. High levels of pollen were evident at the start of all this, when the trees suddenly exploded to life all around us. One thing lead to another, and I developed laryngitis and a serious sinus infection by last Saturday. I was miserable and in pain. Antibiotics were prescribed and life improved since I started that regimen, but suddenly reacted to those with some unpleasant side effects I won’t go into here. I’ll survive a few more weeks and pray for several heavy rain storms to knock it all down.
N833DF is coming along, and so am I. Feeling a little better – allot better actually – but not entirely out of the woods on the allergy thing. I went flying just yesterday morning and did pretty well holding heading and altitude without the autopilot. I’m still waiting to hear from AutoPilot Central on my repairs. I’m anxious to close that chapter.
I was scheduled to work beginning around noon, so I pulled the airplane out of the hangar and flew it south early in the morning. There are so many other things I should have been thinking about, like organizing my tools; cleaning the basement; installing deck lights; and even organizing my hangar. I’ve been feeling terrible though, so going flying was what I needed.
Lots of wind today, but I’m not worried about it. I’ve pretty much returned to fighting trim in basic airplane handling for the PA30 on the first day I returned to flying it. If you’d followed this blog, you know that I flew in challenging conditions from the first test flight.
The choreography involved with configuring the airplane during the various phases of flight is what I seem to have lost. It is improving, but my ability to stay ahead of the airplane and configure for the next phase of flight smoothly, without thinking about it, is a work in progress.
In this airplane, you have to get a rhythm and flow to your process to get the aircraft properly configured from takeoff through approach through touchdown without working too hard.
Lots going on, so there is plenty of content to write about. I’ll get to it later this week or next.
Comments Off on Apr 25, 2019 – Getting into the Grove!
Now that the project work that is zeroing out my remaining squawks is nearing completion, it’s time to start thinking about next steps. Improving the panel and installing engine monitoring.
The Autopilot work is nearing completion. The Avionics shop told me that if the timing worked out, they’d even drive down to the Smoketown paint shop and re-install the control head for me. Damn nice of them to offer, even though I’m not sure that it will work out that way. The paint repair work may already be complete as I write this.
Engine Care: I ordered my oil analysis kits this morning from Blackstone Labs. I have about 20 hours left before the next oil change, when I plan to begin this testing.
The engines are starting and running great. Never better. I have noticed that is difficult to get them sync’d up while they are cold. I figure that this is probably a prop governor showing it’s age, or complaining from the two years of not being used. The vibration concerns I’ve had are gone, and I can attribute those to my re-learning how to sync and manage props.
Deciding when to replace the engines is not an easy decision, so I purchased Mike Busch’s book on aircraft engine management. I’m holding off for a bit more with getting the engines done, consistent with the preponderance of evidence and advice. While I had planned to overhaul / replace both engines this year, there is an incredible amount of strong opinions out there talking about overhauling on condition rather than time. As for condition; One A&P will tell you that the wear I found on one cylinder will definitely be present on the other cylinders of the same age on the same engine. Still other A&Ps will tell you that this just isn’t so.
For now I’ll keep a close eye on them while I keep flying the engines as they are. I’m beginning an oil analysis plan as of the next oil change to get more information, and will be installing engine monitors at the next annual (February). Compression checks and visual inspections of the cylinders (borescope) at each oil change will also be done.
Engine Monitors: I am considering the JPI EDM 790 for my aircraft. I definitely want better data by cylinder in the hopes of being more aware of my engine health. Fuel consumption and planning would also be a nice addition.
The plan would be to install the unit during the annual in January/February, which I also plan to participate in. I hope it will be a nice winter project that will get me out of the house and productive in the bitter cold months.
Full speed ahead. Fly Safe!
Comments Off on April 3, 2019 – N833DF Path Forward
Today is my birthday, and I started it off by driving up to Lancaster airport (KLNS) to test fly my airplane. The ride took about 1.5 hours and all if it was back roads, low speed limits, and lots of stops. I’ve been spoiled being able to fly up there the majority of the times I’ve visited.
Lancaster Avionics has been checking out my Altimatic IIIb autopilot (Century) for the last few days, and declared it fixed and ready for flight testing. I arrived early and found that the technician that had done the work, Jim Goode, was not available today. Scott would be replacing him for the test flight this morning.
I pre-flighted the airplane and was distracted before I got in. The chocks were still on the nose and the baggage door was still open after I got in. I had to rely on Scott to clean those up, and I don’t think that move filled him with confidence in me.
Things quickly became more professional, and I briefed the non-pilot technician on how we should conduct the flight. Actually, we briefed each other. I was very impressed with how Scott got into the airplane with a plan already worked out. He’d done this many times and wanted me to fly north into an area that I didn’t often fly VFR. He was familiar though, so I reviewed the chart and determined it could be done safely and clear of airspace intrusions during our testing.
We flew north between two clear ridges, and began maneuvering by autopilot. Heading turns, roll mode, and altitude holds with tweaking done at each step. The left and right turns by heading bug had to be tweaked somewhat to give me 22 degrees of bank. Previously I’d seen spirited roll rates and 30 degrees of bank (as I recall anyway), so he tweaked that down to specs. The pitch trim was working and the turbulence over the ridges was managed well in altitude hold mode.
Next up was the pitch trim test. This is what I squawked originally, and this issue was still there. This should have been caught on the ground, and I’m not sure why it wasn’t. I’ll take it on faith that they wanted more information from the flight test, and were looking to minimize my expense if they could. On that note, Scott wanted to continue the test flight to prove his theory. We’d already seen that the pitch trim system would hold altitude, and now we wanted to see if the trim system would work in approach mode. I called Harrisburg on 126.45 to ask for vectors to the ILS 8 at Lancaster.
Engaging heading mode during vectors, the autopilot tracked true on both heading and altitude. There was absolutely no wing wobble in lateral guidance mode – no hunting for the course. I switched to GPSS mode and that also worked true, so approach capability might be there.
I returned to heading mode and began slowing down to gear speed. With the approach mode engaged, I extended the gear at glideslope intercept and kept the flaps clean. Flying 130 mph (112 knots) is required for the autopilot to be smooth, and that is also my Vfe (max flaps extended speed). I kept the flaps up as I normally do and the approach was flown at autopilot all the way in.
I can use the autopilot in the state it is in now, so if they can’t fix the pitch wheel, I’ll still have a functioning autopilot but with no altitude pre-select. The pitch trim wheel (#5 in the image at right) is the culprit. Sitting for two years unused, I figure that corrosion must have reached a critical point and it stopped working altogether.
Come to think of it, this may have been the original issue that caused the nose to dive on that Angel Flight several years ago. The other problems were found while investigating that issue, so here we are today. At this point, trim cables and pulleys are new, the autopilot has been thoroughly vetted and adjusted, and the pitch trim wheel will be repaired by Autopilot Central.
On the ground I was told that a significant static leak was found and repaired while doing this work. That was interesting news, given that the IFR certification was just completed a month or so ago. During that visit it had been bitter cold, and I had experienced several issues with my PITOT system. Taking off on ice, I was too late to abort by the tine I noticed that both airspeed indicators were zero. It took them three tries and replacing several broken hoses and connectors before I was able to leave on that occasion.
Now I’m told that the static system had leaks that required new plumbing to be installed. It is fixed now, and ready to go. Again I’ll have to take it at face value that the original equipment packed it in during the long sit on the ground. Just don’t know why it was missed on the IFR certs, so I’ll ask when I go back.
The good news is that the autopilot is useful and accurate in its current state. The bad news is that we need to find someone that can repair it if I want all the features to work. I authorized a call to autopilot central to attempt to return the unit to 100%. Mark Forth coordinates all this work and made the call to see if Autopilot Central could do it. They said that yes, they could take care of the repair for that particular part. I am very lucky that it could be fixed and that I will be able to get some additional life out of it.
Scott went out to pack up his tools and bag up all of the hardware for the autopilot head. I’d be able to fly the airplane in the interim, and more importantly, would be able to move the airplane down to Smoketown (only 6 miles southeast) for the paint repairs I needed. Awesome!
Scott and Mark told me they’d drive down to Smoketown and re-install the repaired unit when it came back, if the paint shop still had it. That is excellent customer service, but I’m not sure if that will help at the end of the day. Still – it was cool that they offered to do that.
The service provided by Lancaster Avionics was very good, in my opinion. It appears that some things were missed in the process during each of my visits. Their pricing is fair, however, and the support they provided made up for any missteps. I’m happy to have these guys for local support.
Scott’s conduct of the test flight was first rate and professional. Getting the autopilot operating without the hunting is a special thrill as well, so it’s all good.
I departed for Smoketown and the paint shop around 11am. Before I left I sent a text to my sister Susan, as she planned to pick me up there for a birthday lunch. After lunch I’d have her drop me at my car, which I necessarily left at the Avionics shop. With a birthday dinner planned for later that evening, my time table was actually working.
The landing at Smoketown was not my best. I had a bit of a tailwind landing rwy 28. The runway is 2700′ with obstacles, and a tailwind there should be taken seriously. I’m never going to land on runway 10 though, as that would be over an obstacle and downhill to boot. Not going to happen.
Mild gusts made precise airspeed control on final a challenge. I landed longer than usual, and used more runway and brakes than ever before. Expecting to land, since I had done it so many times before, I was not as prepared to go around as I should have been. As it was, I rolled out with plenty of room, but needed more brakes than I like to use. All is well that ends well, I suppose.
Kendall owns and operates Lancaster Aero, the shop that has painted both of my airplanes. He is giving me a considerable break on the paint repairs. I met him to review the work when I dropped off the airplane.
I added wing seals and repainting the gear doors to the work list. Both doors show signs of peeling, so I’ll have them redone while it’s there. I also told him that if he found other areas on the airplane, to just do them and add the charges necessary. Kendall has been great and the paint looks wonderful. I can not wait to get it back!!
Then I learned that the paint repairs would be done tomorrow!! Wow!! That means I’ll be able to go get the airplane back home over the next few days. Awesome news for sure. Dave is an instructor and contract pilot at work, who offered to fly me up in his C182. I’ll return the favor when he needs to get his airplane up there for prop work. Life is good!
My birthday was all the more special when other pilots kept stopping to admire my airplane. Met several nice folks on the ramps we visited yesterday, and they all made me feel good about N833DF.
Comments Off on April 2, 2019 – Autopilot and Paint
I want to update you about exciting news on my airplane. Having found solid talent to care for every aspect of the airplane, all I had to manage was the logistics of moving it around. I’ll talk about that briefly before getting to the good stuff. Consider yourself as my therapist this morning.
Life is good, generally, but its busy and sometimes stressful. What a no brainer sentence that is. I’m leaving it in there anyway, since it fits so well with the experience.
My father in-law passed away last month. Both he and my mother in-law have been living with us for more than a year now, since we moved to Chesapeake City. Their health has been in decline for some time, but we have been blessed to be in a position to offer them a supported retirement on the water front of the C&D canal. It’s nice here and my wife is their full time staff for medical visits, taxes, meals, and every other one of life’s necessities. The necessary result of all that activity is that Bev and I have been tethered to our house completely. No romantic dates or dinners. No vacations. Just work and home.
With Dad gone now, Mom is in serious decline. Delores suffered another TIA yesterday (mini-stroke) that dealt her with another serious setback in functional abilities. We’ve been warned that these will continue until the last one happens, so Bev and I are not surprised. Hospice support has been excellent, but Bev’s workload continues to rise. Neither of us sleep normally, and are constantly tired. This isn’t easy.
Given the activities on the home front, Beverly is not available to help me move the airplane. That means that the logistics of dealing with remote airplane maintenance gets more complicated. Anything I do here requires mind-numbing logistics, and inconveniencing other people. I am having incredibly selfish thoughts, I get it. I will have others.
Regarding my work schedule. It totally sucks at this point, and has been bad for several weeks. I’m sure this is karma and payback for the crazy good schedule I’ve enjoyed all winter long. I am both a hypocrite and a pilot, so I complain allot to my boss and express my unhappiness. Can’t seem to help not growling about it, least he think everything is ok and Frank is the new night shift guy.
Having said that, the staff is down two instructors. It is just Frank and two great octogenarian aviators. The only solution to my complaining would be to give these two gentlemen more work. That isn’t a solution at all, so I have to make it clear that I believe the boss needs to reduce the accepted reservations in the pipeline to more reasonable levels. Oh – and the simulator is unreliable, so scheduled 4 hour sessions routinely become 6 hour sessions. All this snowballs with major problems and then we are working everyday. Thats just bullshit. This is emotion talking – it isn’t as bad as I make it sound. I just have to keep reminding myself of that.
On the other hand, the pay is ridiculously good and I get to fly as a contract pilot on the side and get paid for that too. What the hell am I complaining about? I am doing what I planned to do 30 years ago, and getting paid far more to do it than I imagined possible in aviation. The money I make here allows me to keep a significant portion of our retirement money turned off. It also allows me to spend money on gadgets and fuel for my airplane without any fear of damaging my long term retirement funds. Perfect.
Back to the autopilot and paint projects: I am excitedly looking forward to completing those last steps of this long restoration. I’ll start flying more aggressively when both these projects are completed; restoring my proficiency in both instrument and night flying my airplane. Next year will be a travel year for Beverly and I, and we are looking forward to going places!
Autopilot work: I set up appointments for the autopilot work a month out with Lancaster Avionics. They had looked into the general condition of my equipment when I had the IFR certs done in February. Satisfied that I was taking care of things and had already replaced old wires and connectors with modern ones, they agreed to maintain my autopilot. I had restored and upgraded the autopilot right after I purchased the airplane in 2009.
Moving the airplane up to Lancaster airport (KLNS) from my new home base at New Castle County (KILG) was the easy part. Getting my butt to work the same day became the challenge. The work schedule complaints I’ve been having looked all the worse since they appeared to continuously complicate every option for arranging this move.
Kelly ended up being my air-taxi for the day. She has a very nice Cessna 150, and I found it surprisingly enjoyable to fly north at 200mph, and then south at only 90+ mph. It was a great flight that got me home in time for work, and allowed me to drop off the airplane a day earlier than they needed it. I was assured they’d have me in a hangar for the overnights.
I did take the precaution of having my son Chris ready to drive south and take me home. It would have been an emergency option though, since that would hand him 6 hours of driving round trip. I probably would have Uber’d home or rented a car of it got to that.
I left the autopilot in the hands of Jim Goode, who I was so glad to have found. He is knowledgable and proficient with these old autopilots – the Altimatic IIIb systems. He told me to send him all the log entries, which I did, and that he’d call me if the work was going to be incredibly expensive. Good enough.
The day after I dropped off the airplane, my paint guy calls. Lancaster Aero is at Smoketown on a 2700′ runway with obstacles. I’ve gotten pretty good at flying into this airport in a light twin, given that it is below my personal minimums for light twins in short fields. Kendall moved up my paint appointment from 4/22 to NOW, so I obviously want to get over there and grab the opening ASAP. The pressure was on to get it all done!
Late Friday (yesterday) I get a call that the autopilot is fixed. I’m euphoric! That’s exactly what I wanted to hear, that I’d have a system in working order. Jim tells me he’ll need a calibration flight before signing it off, and I’m even happier that he’ll take the time to do that. I can envision we’ll fly an ILS or two like I did with Ken Thomas of Penn Avionics almost 10 years ago. I’ll probably get two years of good service out of the autopilot now, before it needs to be serviced again. Bring it on!
So now I’ll be driving up solo on my birthday (4/2). I have an eye surgeons appointment first, so I won’t get up to Lancaster until 11:30 to 1pm. I’m hoping he’ll be ready to go and I don’t have to wait. I have dinner plans back home that night.
We’ll do the test flight and I’ll pay for the airplane. Then I fly the airplane about 10 miles to Smoketown, dropping it off to the paint guy before they close that office. From there I’ll have to Uber back to Lancaster airport to pick up my car. I’ll be smiling on the 1.5 hour drive back home.
I’m not sure how long they’ll keep the airplane to paint it, but I don’t care as long as it comes back ready to go. I plan to spend an entire day polishing spinners and doing general upkeep with it comes back. I can’t wait.
Comments Off on Mar 30, 2019 – More Progress!
There is allot going on at the moment. Winter refuses to let go and the chill wind and turbulence remain strong. N833DF is going strong, but there is allot to do to get the airplane fully up to standards, and my skills back to where they need to be.
I set goals early in this return to flight that require me to do repetitive flights in the general area. It can get a little boring limiting myself to DAY VFR and flights where I know I can get a ride home if the airplane were to have an issue. I’m sure it is unnecessary by now, with some 30 hours on the aircraft since returning to flight Jan 6th.
I am holding to those limits I proposed at the outset, however, because there is no need to be less conservative than that. The only two people in the airplane so far have been Matt, because he did the work, and Mike, because he accepted the risk and is a pilot known to me. No other passengers and certainly no Angel flights until the first 50 hours and zero squawks. By then I’ll have had the engines inspected for the third time, and have my squawk list pretty well zeroed out.
Current Squawk List N833DF: is a living document, obviously.
- Autopilot / Pitch trim: Taking the airplane north to Lancaster Avionics on 3/26 to address the autopilot issues. Pitch trim goes full limits on the pre-flight, so something isn’t right. The servo has been overhauled already, but everything about pitch trim has been disturbed. They’ll keep the airplane a few days and bench test everything to make it right.
- Paint Repair: The paint repairs are scheduled for end of April up at Lancaster Aero. Once that is done, it will be the removal of the last obvious sign of the major work done. It will be a milestone – full return to service. I’ll start improving the airplane right afterwards.
- Nose bonnet screws: Several quarter turn screws on the nose bonnet aren’t grabbing anything. I need to spend some time with it, or get Paul to repair/replace.
- Lubricate or replace Left engine mixture control. It is binding badly. Once repaired, adjust both sides again for full and matching travel.
- Heater inspection: Flying in the cold of November (new pre-heat system works!), I’ve needed cabin heat more than before. Frankly, I had forgotten how to use it effectively and ended up over-heating and tripping it off. I reset the breaker and verified on the last flight that it is working again. Talk with Paul to ensure I’m using it in the best way, and also ensure that the control travel is appropriate (it takes very little movement of the heat knob to get blasting heat, and that may contribute to overheating. Otherwise, check the combustion fan and the overall operation.
- Left flap is loose on the rail tracks. It is not causing any vibration nor moving in flight. Check the rollers.
- Improve/Replace Avionics Master with lockable switch
Improvements I’m thinking about:
- Begin oil analysis on both engines
- Exchange positions of the flap indicator with the vacuum indicator
- Reposition Strobe Light Switch
- Install new JPI 790 Engine Instrument: This assumes the following:
– Includes CHT, EGT, Oil Pressure, Oil Temperature, Fuel Flow (integrated with 530WAAS
– Remove EGT and other superfluous gauges as necessary.
- Investigate adding an Ammeter for each alternator, with voltage
- Investigate Nose gear LED – looks nice
Instrument Approach Practice really just began on the last flight. Early on I knew it was ill-advised to try to monitor all the things that might go wrong while hand flying a fast airplane in high winds and turbulence. I have yet to be able to fly on a still day.
What I am actually practicing is holding altitude and airspeed while managing fuel and configuration. This is normal stuff, but without an autopilot and while getting your head bounced off the ceiling because you are low on a local flight, it can be a challenge to properly brief and configure for the approach. I’m rusty, I admit it.
So yesterdays flight went more smoothly, but I still deviated 200′ high in turbulence while I briefed myself. That sucks. Airspeed control was better, in that I’ve finally gotten back into the groove of planning ahead for a powered, high speed descent that will arrive on the final approach speed with an airspeed low enough to get the gear out. It’s getting better. Having my autopilot back will speed the process of return to instrument flight. Doing night flights with my buddy Tom will help me test all the lights and make sure I can deal with the extra workload as well. I’ll do night flying right after 50 hours and the next inspection.
Mind you – I’m very current in night and IMC flying in the jets. Flying solo in an airplane that had all this work done is a different matter though.
Great day at hangar: It was warm yesterday and the T-Hangars were alive with activity. My neighbor, Terrence, next door has an older Baron. He and his friend Tony came over and were all compliments about my airplane. Yup – that never gets old. We had a good talk and it is quite possible that Terrence and I will go play golf in North Carolina for a day or two this summer. Tony flies a G280, which I’ll be doing later this year. He may well be a great contact in the area that will help me establish myself for G280 contract work. Should be fun.
It is supposed to rain AGAIN this afternoon. I’m going to ride the Harley out to the airport and clean up the airplane from yesterday. Bugs started coming out, and we met at low altitude and high airspeed. Bummer for them / clean up for me.
Fly safe! God it is great to be airborne again.
Comments Off on Mar 24, 2019 – Aviation Update
For those of you that suffer from SAD – Seasonally Affected Disorder – I can relate. I don’t know if that is what I have, but I generally hate the month of February every year. I find myself going to work in the dark; driving home in the dark; going to bed early; and not doing much, if any, exercise. I eat too much bad food, drink too much beer, and generally slough around waiting for it to get warm.
Winter continues to hold on this week, but its grip on my ankles is weakening. I’ll keep walking ahead until winter’s grip loosens.
It’s getting better. We had a 75 degree day this past week, and I rode the motorcycle to the airport to go flying. Love those kind of days. While I’m in the funk of winter, I can’t bring myself to do much project work, and certainly don’t want to work outside. Now that I’m coming out of my funk though, I have a ton of work to get to.
Projects I’m spending time on:
- Studying for the next jet. This on is state of the art and new, versus the Jurassic Jets I’ve been flying. I have allot of work to do before I head to Texas and start training.
- Reading ‘Grant’, about the life of General Grant during the civil war. It is a large novel that is incredibly well written and an easy read. I see lots of parallels in the politicians and newspapers of the time. Neither has changed much in all that time.
- N833DF maintenance and improvements
- AutoPilot work scheduled for March 26th
- Paint repairs to restore the paint after the restoration process – April 22nd
- Replace Left engine mixture cable and AD Refresh at next maint (25 more hours)
- Engine evaluations – keep running; overhaul; replace
- Reading Mike Busch’s Engine book. He is a noted expert on GA engines and I’m educating myself on how to evaluate my engines.
- Collecting and reading articles from Aviation Consumer Magazine on refreshing your engine(s)
- Gathering information and quotes on overhauls from noted vendors
- Meeting with the next A&P to discuss a path forward (engine monitors, oil analysis, monitoring methods, etc)
- Exercise: I just took my first walk of the season, bundled up in 40 degree wind. I really need to get back on track, and walking routinely will get me ready to get my bicycle out again.
- Developing a path forward: I have begun to consider where I’d like to be in a few years. The last few weeks of work has been less than fun, and I’m wondering where Bev and I will be in 5 years. Contract pilot? Retired traveler in my new airplane with fresh engines?
- Instrument Training: I haven’t been flying my PA30 in IMC or even at night since I got it back. My plan is to get everything fixed first: autopilot; paint; and to at least get one more inspection on the engines. After that I’ll start flying instrument procedures and get my process down. Then I’ll start traveling.
I’ll update this blog in the middle of all this; particularly after the autopilot comes back on line.
Comments Off on March 17, 2019 – Fingernails on my Ankles
It’s Saturday Feb 9th and the weather cooperated for this second attempt to finish up the project with Matt. We are ending on a good note and Matt is a trusted and valued friend and expert. There is no doubt I’ll be reaching out for his advice as I continue to care for this vintage performer.
I’m finding that my taste for flying in any weather has waned a bit; at least in this machine. I am sure that some of that is self-preservation. Intentionally slowing down my progress as I learn to trust the engines and instruments again. The airplane has been sitting for two years and the return to getting full use out of everything will take some time and effort. I have the time and will make the effort.
The wind and turbulence has been present on every single hour of the 25 hours logged thus far. Not one single smooth ride that i can recall. In fact, the very first flight on Jan 6th was in 19 knots gusting to almost 30. I sat on the ramp in VFR conditions watching the windsock whip around in various directions that were only generally aligned with the runway. The first flight with Matt went fine but in all the fuss I’d forgotten to visually check the fuel myself.
I was running out of daylight and pressing up against another risk factor – night flying – so I verbally confirmed with Matt that he had added 8 gallons a side. With that assurance and the fuel gauges reporting the same, I decided to launch, but limit that first run to 30 minutes in the vicinity of the airport. That first flight went fine, so I landed and filled all of the tanks to take the airplane home. I’m a dumbass for missing that critical step – a visual fuel check and cap security inspection – I know how it would have looked if I ran low on fuel or lost a cap on a maiden flight after 26 months on the ground. Mr NTSB investigator – the preflight was intense and done three times. We doubled checked everything, but I have to admit that the fuel thing evaded me. What an idiot.
While pleased that I hadn’t forgotten how to fly a light twin airplane, it was evident that i was nowhere near as smooth in flying THIS airplane than I once was. I was missing steps in my flow process and delayed in reconfiguring. I didn’t like what I saw, and I’m still improving it. Give me time.
Returning for this inspection, I landed at Delaware Coastal just as Matt was arriving in his truck. He followed me down to Ezra’s hangar where we’d do the work, and met me on the ramp. What he was watching is puffing oil smoke from the right engine, so he told me he’d have to look for the possibility of another cracked cylinder on that engine. Ok – I’m game. I’ll either get another cylinder to get me home, and ultimately buy a Factory Reman and swap that engine now. I’m going to do it at some point anyway, so maybe do it earlier and enjoy more of the hours from it myself. I’m 61 and will maybe fly this until I’m 80. We’ll see how that goes.
We’ll be inspecting engines; re-torquing the gear bolts; inspecting the metal work; and taking a look at why the right strobe flash tube isn’t doing its thing.
Engines: Matt’s first chore was to do a compression check on both engines, and he started with the left where the good news would likely be found. I spent my time removing panels for him, but had to be reminded several times to stay clear of the props while he was adding compressed air. Putting compressed air into the cylinders could get you bonked on the head with a blade. Matt was patient with me and keep pulling me over to show me what he’d found, or how he was doing what he does. He never lost sight of safety.
Compressions on the left engine looked great and there are no outward signs of wear or developing issues. The left engine has an ECI cylinder and an associated AD (airworthiness directive) requiring replacement at 2000 hours. I have another 400 hours left on that side, so we’ll keep running that one a little longer.
The right engine is where Matt observed oily smoke while taxiing in. Previously he found that the #1 cylinder compressions were out of specs and that had prevented returning to service at the end of 2018. The only clue had been reduced compression, and a vibration that may have been related. I purchased an overhauled cylinder to replace that one, and now we are looking for another bad one, potentially.
Each cylinder on the right engine actually checked good on compression. The associated picture shows oil on the exhaust stack, however, so Matt inserted a camera into the cylinder to have a look. We were both expecting to find cracks, but found none. What was evident, however, was a pool of residual oil in that cylinder – #2 in the right engine. It was deemed safe to return to service.
Matt and I talked about this at length. The cylinder we replaced had valve guides that were very worn, allowing the valve to wobble around on the seat at times. It is likely that other cylinders of the same vintage could have similar wear. Had I not replaced Cylinder #1, it eventually would have failed. I’d like to head off an issue with the other cylinders, so I left there convinced that I’d be ordering a factory reman and being done with this.
I replaced all of the panels and we wrapped up the engine work.
Landing Gear and Metal Work inspection was next. Three of us worked to jack up the airplane just off of the ground. Matt removed safety wire and checked the torque on the gear bolts, while looking around for any signs of disturbance to the newly riveted parts and sheet metal in the area. It all looked good, so we lowered the airplane to the ground while I took off the right wing tip.
Strobe Light: The right strobe light wasn’t working and taking off the right wing tip showed me that it wasn’t an easy fix, like neglecting to plug in a connector. I put the tip back on and did some research into a replacement bulb. Keep in mind that the wires for this aftermarket install that I had done in 2010 all pass through the area that had been extensively worked on. I was concerned the wire may have been damaged or disconnected inside the wing.
Do i need to order just a bulb (flash tube); part of the fixture; a molex connector; or what? Will any of this even fix the problem? Frustrated that I could not get a straight answer from anyone on what exactly to order, I pulled the trigger and took a chance by ordering only the flash tube – no Molex connector. Turns out that I had ordered the correct replacement; the bulb had been the problem after all. Furthermore, I only needed to remove three screws to replace it and the job was done in minutes. Good to know for the next time.
Transitioning Maintenance: Matt is developing his business and doing warbird restorations and other things. I’ll transition my maintenance back to an A&P I’ve used in the past. My plan is to put another 30 hours on the airplane and take it to Paul at 33N for an oil change. There we will discuss my squawk list; plans for the right engine; and a path forward to maintain and improve the airplane’s capabilities.
I’ll have more to say in the coming weeks. No flying for me for another week or so. My father in-law lived with us and recently passed away. When that is all settled, I’m on the schedule and working for 8 straight days. Probably do some flying in there during daylight, but then again it will be cold and snowy here in the coming weeks.
Another complication will be coming up in the second half of this year as well. I will be getting type rated in a new jet that will keep me very busy and working away from home for weeks at a time.
I still have to get the paint repaired!! One step at a time.
Comments Off on Feb 9, 2019 – ‘Final’ Inspection
I flew into Vermont and then did the leg into Montreal with Ben in the morning. The view was spectacular, as it always is when you can see anything at all. Click on the picture and the runway will show crystal clear. I’ve been flying all these legs as FO from the right seat so far. Our plan is to get me over to the left, but the timing of these trips presents a challenge. We’ll see how that goes.
We had one pax with us from Burlington, and picked up three more in Montreal. Flying south as the sun came up, I found the scene and sensations relaxing. This was going to be another great trip.
We had some avionics bugs to chase down and document as we headed south. Nothing unusual or challenging, but it was an opportunity to do some diagnostics.
The temperature was 75 degrees at home in Delaware on the day prior to the trip; below freezing in Vermont and Montreal on the night I arrived; and 75 degrees again when we got to Raleigh around 10am or so. Our departure wasn’t until 4pm the next day, so we had the rest of the day today and most of tomorrow to enjoy the area.
After a nice brunch of corned beef hash and eggs, we checked in early at our hotel. Ben did some work and I finished an excellent book I had downloaded a few days ago. Later we headed out for southern barbecue and a few drinks.
Returning to the hotel area, I received a text from my cousin Ginny. She happened to realize that I was in the area from a FB Post, and volunteered to come meet us. Our rendezvous was at the Chilli’s Restaurant adjacent to our hotel.
I had a few drinks with them, and Ben graciously hung out with us, blending right in. He is a very easy young man to fly with and be around. We had a very nice time that evening.
I need some exercise but didn’t get to it again. Ben did go running, and I ended up walking over to the best buy to replace a worn phone case. Grey Goose was kicking my butt this morning, so walking it off was a good idea.
The next morning I buzzed my wife and got a wonderful smile in return. That was followed by a real razzing about not calling her or texting her last night. She has lots on her plate with ailing parents, and I’d like to use that as an excuse today. I was being caring and considerate. She wasn’t buying it, Love that girl.
Comments Off on Feb 5, 2019 – WestWind Contract Trip