November 21, 2014 – Flight Test Day 2

Dealing with the logistics of arranging the next test series of test flights, I reviewed my calendar and emailed the two A&Ps up in Smoketown about my availability. When I left Smoketown after the first series of flights on the 19th, it didn’t sound as if they could commit to working the problem before I had to be back at work with Piedmont on the 22nd. That meant we’d have to wait to try again on Dec 3rd.

I let them know I did not plan on taking the airplane home before the work was completed and the airplane accepted. The airplane looks wonderful, but it had to be fully restored to flying status before I’d accept it. I know that puts them in a bind for both hangar space and getting paid, but it was the right thing to do.

To their credit, I heard from Kendall sometime on the 20th that both shops would make time to get it done the next day before I went back to work. They understood how much driving my wife had to do to get me there, so Kendall offered to come get me in his SkyLark. At 8:30 am Friday morning, I met him at Delaware Airpark for the ride north.

The flight up was slower than I was used to, but very much enjoyable. It was also a nice change to not be flying while we cruised at 4000′ or so northbound. I thought to myself that with one or two flights under our belts this morning, I’d be on my way home a bit after noon. I was hoping that the two guys had worked out a plan based on the previous days flying that would facilitate that result.

All the flights today would include Kendall for focused observation; hand flying on his own to experience the effects of adjustments made; and picture taking for ground discussions. There wasn’t a plan, per se, since they really weren’t sure why the right wind was dropping so precipitously. Now that I KNOW what the issue was, it was obvious, but at this time we were all stymied.

Adjustments focused on the ailerons – rigging; manual trim tabs; stops. The second flight of the day resulted in some improvement, but left me with an angle to the yoke in level flight. Not worried about that right away, but it did uptick my stress levels (I’m anal). I’ll ignore it in the short term while we try to understand what is going on.

Subsequent flights left me with widely adjusted trim tabs and ailerons that weren’t flush. We weren’t going in the right direction regarding performance. In fact, nothing was changing and list of things to fix later was growing. Everyone agreed we weren’t making progress with ailerons. Four flights into this I was getting tired and just a bit frustrated. Lots of engine starts and short field operations for little gain.

Kendall and Dennis decided to take some of the aileron trim back out for the fifth flight, and take a very close look at the flaps again. It was 2pm or so by now, and I reminded them there was a limit to the number of iterations we’d be able to do in daylight. I was sticking to my guns on that, which meant I’d need a ride home. I let that hang in the air for a moment.

Flaps on the PA30 are rather large and I think effective. In discussion, I do remember it coming up that stop positions had changed and would be adjusted before I left, but that was discounted in our work to trim the airplane out. It deserved another visit at this point, so we’ll try looking at that now. Using protractors and visual inspections, both flaps were adjusted to closer tolerances.

Kendall and I departed for the same drill on what was to be our last try for the day. I was very aware of the danger that comes with repeated test flights that present no new challenges; include built-in distractions; and are performed in what I’d call a challenging environment. You can lose your sense of awareness (fear) and get caught unaware if something goes wrong.

Before taking the runway, we briefed on complacency. I openly discussed the fact that the risk for gear-ups increased with these repeated short hops interrupted with technical discussions and frustrations. Kendall was very helpful in keeping us on task, and I gave him emergency duties and asked for his backup on the gear and flying blue-line during emergencies. I enabled the Aspen Tapes so he could call out airspeeds as necessary. Sterile cockpit rules were reviewed.

Climbing through 300′ I noticed a change in performance. Anything different at this point would be good. We climbed to 1700′ and nosed over to accelerate. Holy Cow!! We rolled slowly LEFT when the controls were released. Accelerating to cruise speed – the left roll continued but would be called a mild out of trim condition. No longer did the airplane have a spirited desire to be upside down.

Kendall and I high fived, and we did a few more tests at 1800′ in the bumps before heading back. I was tired, but willing to continue if they thought we could get it done in daylight. I could tell the two of them were under time pressure after losing another day on this airplane, however.

On the ground again, Kendall suggested I fly the airplane for awhile to see how it felt. I read this as a signal we were done for the day. Flying me home would be a burden for him, I understand, but I don’t want them to check the project as completed until the work is fully completed. These thoughts were all unspoken – I agreed to take the airplane home in this condition and let Kendall out while my engines were running.

Flying home, I accelerated to around 170 knots in cruise at 3000′ or so. I found the left banking tendency to be predictable, repeatable, and manageable enough to use the autopilot without concern. The Yoke had a right bank neutral position, and the right aileron was up in the wind flying straight and level. The aileron tabs were highly deflected during the flight testing as well, and all those indications were annoying. Incredibly annoying given my investment in this airplane.

The good news is that now we found the reason for all the drama. The left flap stops had been changed during all the work, which left the left flap lower than the right when fully retracted. The effects of this were significant.

Pause for a moment to consider the fact that two experienced A&Ps, and one experienced owner/pilot could not detect the slight deflected flap by just looking at it. The roll forces in cruise caused by this condition were surprising. Makes you think about what an actual split-flap condition would be like.

My day wasn’t done when I landed at Georgetown. I put the airplane in my hangar and still had hours of driving to do and errands to run. With reserve and flights on the schedule, I’d work with the shops to set up another visit – hopefully the last. I really wanted this to be done by now!

The next session will be Dec 3rd, weather permitting. Looking forward to cleaning up the controls and calling this project complete. I’ll release the insurance funds and call it a day.

Both shops are doing good work, and giving me allot of attention. This will end well.

Fly Safe.