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Posts by fdorrin:
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
Aspen Battery: The emergency backup battery in the Aspen PFD must be replaced every 3 years for it to remain airworthy. Even though I had asked, and reminded them, the shop missed it and I had to go back today to complete that portion of the IFR recertification. They apologized for missing it, and put me at the head of the line on their schedule. I’m good with that. I actually think working with Lancaster Aviation will be a positive experience, and need professionals to help me keep this amazing airplane in flying condition.
Without pre-heat, I would not be able to get this work done on my airplane. No way. It would be March before all this was accomplished.
Last night it was slightly below zero degrees Fahrenheit in Chesapeake City, and it didn’t get any better by the time I arrived at my hangar. The sun was just coming up and my dashboard read 7 degrees. Entering the hangar, my nacelles were warm to the touch; the cabin was comfortably warm; and the hangar itself was as cold as a walk-in freezer. I have no idea what the oil temperature actually is.
I completed my pre-flight inspection with the hangar door closed to keep out the slight winds that were making it feel colder. The last items on the pre-flight were to pull the plug on the 3 pre-heaters; fold up the blankets and put them aside; and then finally to remove each heater to a storage location. I have an old desk in the hangar that holds the nacelle heaters in specific drawers, and the cabin heater comes out of the back of the airplane and is placed on a shelf in the back. Each one an easy reach when it is time to re-install.
The Hornet 45 model from aircraftheaters.com is what I used in the cabin. I’ve mentioned that I think it needs a handle to be able to better grip, and I’m more convinced of that every time I use it. The airflow arrow could be easier to see as well, but I won’t add an arrow sticker because I don’t know if the constant heat will wear that down. The metal frame itself acts as feet, and could be protected with rubber something. It isn’t sharp, but I have to constantly lean it against my upholstery in the back, and then go outside the airplane to move it. A handle would help.
Starting up: It is really cold outside. I’ve done an effective pre-flight and have 22 gallons of fuel in just the mains. I won’t be switching tanks for this 15 min flight up to Lancaster, but the full aux and nacelle tanks are there if I need them. I start the right engine first and it fires right up. There is zero oil pressure reading for what seemed like an eternity, but was probably only 10-15 seconds. The right engine has 100W mineral oil still, which is thick as molasses.
Starting the left engine with its variable viscosity oil had the same experience. Fired right up and ran smooth while the first oil pressure indication took the same length of time. I’d be using runway 32 today, and was glad for the taxi time to warm things up. The cabin, of course was comfortable in this bullshit cold, and I’m liking that a ton. It will give my attitude indicator and autopilot a much easier time of warming up, and I think have a direct impact on radio longevity.
The flying: Oh my God! Pushing up the power on these engines is thrilling in this cold. I fly along in ground effect to blue line, and then pitch up 15 degrees (112 mph) to climb like an elevator to 500′. I’ll do this flight at 2500′ to ensure I don’t puncture Class B above, and because I like sensation of speed low to the ground. I’m looking at 200mph ground speeds this morning, and the airspace is quiet – just me.
Picking up the ATIS at Lancaster, I realize that I should have investigated how much snow they received. Tower recommended I use runway 26 and avoid the landing threshold since it had ice and snow compacted there. The runway condition code was 4 4 4, which is impossible to translate into actionable information other than ‘Be Careful’.
Landing 26 I could clearly see patches of ice across the surface, but a mostly clear lane to the right of the centerline. That is where I touched down and rolled out, use no brakes at all and whatever rudder was available.
The taxiways I used to pick my way over to Lancaster Avionics were completely snow and ice covered. Not the place you’d want to be in wind, so I appreciated the light winds I found this morning. I couldn’t take a picture of the really bad ones since I was on a high state of alert for sliding.
I finally turned into the shops ramp and realized maybe a better weather review should have been done by me. What I found was an inclined ramp that was 100% compacted ice covered by snow. The entry that was blocked by a cirrus owner who could have chocked the airplane just about anywhere else to leave it clear for the mere mortals coming behind him. I mumbled something about his being a pecker-head to leave his airplane where he did, and I maneuvered gently around him whilst avoiding the fuel truck on my left. Dufus.
The shop had a technician just waiting for me, and he went out onto the frigid ramp to swap the battery. How difficult could this possibly be? I sat in the office to stay warm; worried about the engines cooling again after a short flight; and was happy when he came in a short time later and declared me ready to go. I paid the bill and picked up another sticker for my logbook. IFR Certification in the bag!
Taking off runway 26: I taxied Alpha – Delta – cross runway 31 for a long taxi to runway 26. I wanted the runway I had landed on since I know where the ice is, and didn’t have to ask for it. Plows were on runway 31 trying to improve its condition. The taxi over got the engines warm again, and I was cleared for departure a short time later.
Power coming in sounded great, but I was running out of dry patches and rolling over ice when I realized I had zero airspeed indicated on BOTH my Aspen and my analog indicator. In a flash I decided that moisture must have gotten into the pitot mast somehow, and decided NOT to abort the takeoff. I flicked on the Pitot heat while climbing out and deciding what to do. Let the pitot heat try to open itself, or return to the shop over ice covered taxiways to have them look at it.
I flew just a few miles south before calling the tower and telling them I’d be coming back. With no airspeed, I used pitch, power, and performance to use known parameters and just estimate what the airspeed would be. Landing gear down on left base for 26 again; pitch up temporarily and listen to the wind before deploying full flaps and landing. I was happy with my performance during this event. Getting more familiar with my airplane.
I left the heat on all the way to the ramp and braved the ice skating rink back to the shop. Now two of the techs came right out and looked at me saying ‘Airspeed?’. I nodded and they got to work. Apparently the plastic Tee fitting used to route the pitot pressure to both instruments broke in the cold when it was moved. I suspect is was handled roughly, but what the hell. It was minus 19 C on the ramp where the tech was working; that is minus 2 degrees F. Bullshit cold. Stuff happens.
New T fitting installed, I picked up yet another sticker for my logbook. The tech felt responsible and the shop didn’t charge me either time nor material. Called it warranty.
I taxied back out to runway 26 and across the frozen tundra. Cleared for departure with the wind now about 7 knots, I scanned the airspeed a bit sooner. No movement and no airspeed (red – Xs on the Aspen), I rejected on the runway and taxied back once again. Takes about 20 minutes every time I do this, and one cold ass engine start sequence.
Back on the ramp again, now 2 techs got involved. As they were headed out, I told them to get their test equipment to ensure we had this right before I started up again. I’d need the airspeed ground tested to avoid another taxi experience and rejected takeoff. The second tech already had the test equipment in his hand, plus new hoses and metal fittings to replace my older style fittings. They pulled the sundeck and replaced the plumbing back to the firewall this time, and it all tested fine.
Going Home: Calling for taxi clearance once again, the ground controller responded – ‘Are you sure?’. Confidence is high, I responded. Let’s give this a try.
Runway 31 was available now. The departure was easy and the performance on this clear cold day was spectacular. Winds were now gusting over 20 and the bumps were considerable on the way home. I had talked with Matt about my flying down to Georgetown after this appointment, instead of doing our maintenance and inspections Feb 1st. I’m glad he wasn’t available to move it – you never know how things are going to go.
All through the day my engines ran well and the vibration only came on for short periods. I’m convincing myself that the engines will show themselves good tomorrow, and I’ll continue to work my squawks down up north over the coming weeks.
That’s enough for now. It is Friday morning as I write this. I’m leaving the house at 6:45 to once again do a frigid morning departure. Flying to Georgetown’s Delaware Coastal Airport for a maintenance session with Matt. Engine oil; filter inspection; compression check; and strobe light diagnostic.
Fly Safe and Stay warm!
Comments Off on Jan 31, 2019 – Replacing the Aspen Battery and Other Drama
The morning departure from Wilmington was made just as the sun was coming up. I love starting my morning like this – cruising along at over 200mph not more than 2000′ over the ground. Engines were super smooth, sounds were fantastic, and the scenery just beautiful. I made it to Lancaster in very little time, and taxied into Lancaster Avionics to the get the IFR Certs done. I’d be waiting for the airplane, since I didn’t want to inconvenience anyone with rides and arrangements to save only a few hours.
The IFR work is on my squawk list, which is my ‘project’ for this spring and summer. Up first is determining if I need a new engine soon, or will get to fly these for another year or two. This vibration thing is bugging me. I want super smooth.
Squawk List: in order of priority as of this morning.
- Vibration: oil change, compression check, and visual inspection of both engines set for Friday. I want to be sure I’m not getting ready to lose another cylinder. Significant vibration was experienced at high power settings on takeoff from Lancaster yesterday.
- Right Strobe Light Out: Matt and I will investigate Friday. I noticed the right strobe not working when I fired up in the dark. Hoping the wire wasn’t cut during all the work.
- Paint Repairs: Kendall up at Lancaster Aero gave me a great price and great support for the repairs. I’m waiting for him to fit me into his schedule and we’ll get that done.
- Left Mixture Cable Binding: This was almost a show stopper before I added pre-heaters. Very hard to move the cable when it’s cold. Replace at first oil change up north with Paul.
- Autopilot: While it worked in various modes since I started flying it again, it is having some issues that need to be addressed. I will make a specific squawk list and arrange to have Lancaster Avionics bench test and repair.
This list doesn’t seem all that bad, given that the airplane has been inactive for two years. I have now flown approximately 20 hours in it since Jan 6th, and am committed to getting as close to perfect as is possible.
On the vibration issue, I’ve done several tests to try to identify the source. I was unable to find a pattern by altering prop speeds or power. With the vibration present, the flight controls were rock steady so I was sure it wasn’t airframe related. With the vibration absent – I pushed the nose over into a high speed descent. Smooth flight demonstrated that the airframe wasn’t the source.
The leading theory is that the ignition wires may be worn and need replacing. Intermittent firing could lead to such vibration. I attempted to confirm this when the vibration was present by turning off magnetos, one at a time. That didn’t tell me anything, so I’ll plan on replacing the wires on both engines just to be sure. Maybe also look at the magnetos while I’m at it. If I still cannot identify the issue after that, I’ll start shutting engines down in flight when the weather gets a bit warmer.
The last flight home yesterday was Interesting. On departure the vibration was very strong in a full power climb. I don’t recall ever having vibration on departure, so this was new. I was alert but the power was good on both sides; ball in the center; and all indications on both sides were good. On that same flight, I did a long and fast descent at 20″ of manifold pressure toward runway 14 at Wilmington. The vibration was completely absent – the sound and feel was amazing. I love this airplane – it’s fast and slick and sexy. I will have no problem running this issue all the way down. We’ll get it right.
Lancaster Avionics Update: Kyle, I think his name was, worked on my airplane from 8am to 2pm to recertify me for instrument flight. The Aspen was reporting high on altitude and needed a more involved adjustment, while the analog (which I use normally) was 35′ low. They are both in tolerance now, of course.
I didn’t expect to like dealing with this shop based on my previous impressions. Don’t ask me where I came to think that this shop would be difficult to deal with, but that is what I was thinking. After talking with the techs and staff, and walking through their shop several times, I’m feeling more comfortable that they know what they are doing and will provide a reasonably priced and knowledgable service. Some of the equipment I fly is dated, and you need a particular set of skills to keep it working. I’m going to need these guys.
When I returned home last night, I put the stickers into the aircraft logbooks, along with the performance records for the altimeters. I checked to ensure all of the requirements were met and that I’d be legal, but found a problem. Even though I checked ahead of time that they had my Aspen battery replacement in stock, and reminded them more than once that it was a required item, they seem to have forgotten. I have to go back.
The battery is used for emergency backup and was last replaced in September, 2014. The long downtime began in October, 2016, during which time the battery expired (2017). It is definitely due.
EBB58 Emergency Backup Battery (use with MFD P/N 910-00001-002) The EBB58 Emergency Backup Battery when installed must be visually inspected and tested as described below once every 12 months to ensure it meets the minimum 30-minute requirement for powering the EFD1000 MFD under all foreseeable conditions. The EBB58 must be replaced every 3 years (from the date of installation) or 2200 flight hours (from the time of installation) (whichever occurs first), or if it fails the following visual or operational tests.
My schedule is ramping up the next two weeks, so I don’t know when I’ll fit in a visit for that battery now. It can be frustrating to spend all day there and come home incomplete. Oh well – I’ll get it done.
I do like having an experienced shop available to me though. I previously had used Penn Avionics for my autopilot maintenance, but they are now closed.
There are changes coming at FlightSafety. For me anyway. I am excited with the opportunities I have to learn new things and to fly OPE (other peoples equipment). I have two contract trips in WestWind jets this month that I’m looking forward to, and I’m sure there will be plenty more this year as well. Almost too good to be true.
Beginning in mid-year I’ll be learning something new. I can’t say anything more at this time, other than I’ll have a good amount of studying to do, and my travel schedule will be full. Beverly is very supportive and will be relying on her siblings more to support the home front and our seniors. It will be a busy year for all of us.
With any luck, my airplane squawk list will be zeroed out, and I’ll be able to use it to travel to all these flying opportunities. That is my plan, after all – ride the Harley to the airport; my airplane to the jet; and the jet to anywhere.
Comments Off on Jan 29, 2019 – Addressing Squawks
It was dark and cold when I pulled N833DF out of the hangar this morning. I really don’t like winter much at all. My pre-heaters are working perfectly. Wam cabin for sure, and warm engines for the start.
I took off from KILG around 7am this morning and flew low and fast up to Lancaster. The ride was smooth and so were the engines. No vibrations.
This is the first time working with this shop. They appear to be busy and I was greeted at the front desk was a less than warm reception. I have asked them to do the IFR certification; update the Aspen PFD software and it’s battery; update the Garmin 530W software; update the transponder; and to clean the contacts on the Altimatic III control head. It’s been an hour and a half so far, and I have no idea how long this might take.
Starting up in the dark this morning, I noted that the right strobe light isn’t working. I spoke with Matt and If I get done in time, I’ll fly down to GED to have him help me figure it out. These lights are add-ons and not required for flight, so I’ll leave them off until we look into this.
I’ll update this post once the work is done and I can evaluate the experience. It will be interesting to see what the autopilot does after the contacts gets cleaned. wouldn’t it be amazing if all the issues there evaporated.
Comments Off on Jan 28, 2019 – Lancaster Avionics