With Wings As Eagles: Craig P. Steffen's Blog

Looking forward and back

2014 April 05 11:37

Buying an airplane a year and a half ago was a first (and probably only for a long time) experience. However, except for this last July, where I took a couple of big trips, I haven't had a chance to really fly it due to mechanical stuff. Once it's back together, I expect I'll be able to. So as far as the airplane goes, this spring/summer should be the first real season of travel in it.

I knew my vintage VW had problems even before I rebuilt the top end of the engine in 2008. When I rebuilt the top end, I found all kinds of other problems; the heads were machined wrong, they weren't attached to the engine right, the oil pump was messed up. Now that I've split the case, I've found other problems (some created by me). The big one is that the camshaft was wearing severely, so it's time it's replaced. Also--I bought new tie rods and new bushings, so I can finally get the front suspension into shape. If I can get the engine rebuilt and everything else all together, it will be a real car.

Harold Ramis, who played Egon Spengler in Ghostbusters and was one of the writers died a few weeks ago. He's young enough and Ghostbusters is enough of a milestone in my head that I hadn't ever thought about himm being gone. And David Letterman, while healthy as far as I know, announced the other night that he'll be retiring in the next year or so.

So I've had endings of things and renewal on my mind a bit of late. So when several of my favorite songs came up on the satellite radio during important times when I was driving, I've been (whimsically) considering those to be good omens.

And this one in paticular when I was driving down to pay the hangar rent:

So in that theme I'm going to try to carry farward and do things this spring/summer that I've meant to do before but just never have. I'll try to get slides scanned. I'll get a Christmas/update letter sent out. (I almost got there last year but I stalled). I'll try to get my stuff in the basement organized. I'll get the old front stoop demolished and the new one built (I'll talk about that in another blog post.)

And blogging once a day (on average) for the month of April is part of it. We'll see.

Box-shaped Beacon

2014 April 05 09:46

Since we decided to have the engine overhauled for our airplane after the prop strike, and the airplane was going to be up for annual anyway, I figured that was a good time to take care of all the stuff that needed to be worked on and that would take calendar time, since the time was incurred anyway.

One of the things I knew was up was the ELT batteries. Every civil airplane in the US (with certain limited exceptions) is required to have an "Emergency Locator Transmitter" (ELT) on board. This activates if there's a sudden shock (because of a crash) and transmits a signal so that search/rescuers can locate the plane by radio signal. The ELT is internally-powered by batteries. Modern ELTs are supposed to have a panel in view of the pilot that allows the pilot to turn it on or off, and indicates whether its transmitting. In any case, I knew that the batteries in the ELT were due for replacing this annual anyway.

My plane didn't have an ELT panel, so I'd been thinking about that. So when I was at Oshkosh last year, I bought a used ELT (very cheap) with a new install kit. First, I thought that it would be interesting to look inside and see how they worked. Second, I though perhaps that the install kit would allow me to put a panel in properly.

So, first step was to look at the old ELT and replace the batteries. It turns out that there were problems with the old one; it had broken mounting. Its batteries were also the style that had to be replaced by a specialized battery pack, not with off-the-shelf batteries.

So I asked my mechanic if we could just use the used one that I'd bought, which, as it turns out, can be batteried with Duracell D-cell batteries. He said it was fine to do that, as long as it tests out correctly. The one thing I needed to do was to clean off the battery terminals. At some point someone had left batteries in it too long, and the terminals were a little green.

So here are the battery terminals, nice and cleaned up and shiny:

Here's the ELT sitting on the desk, batteries in and tested. The cord is plugged back into the ELT itself to act as an emergency carry strap. Patches the airport cat looks on.

Here's Patches inspecting the left wing navigation light.

One thing I had to do was run the control cable from the back of the airplane where the ELT sits to the control panel, which I installed in the front instrument panel. Here's the left side of the body, with the interior mostly out, with the cable (which is really a phone wall cable) installed and indicated with red arrows.

And here's a close-up of the center section:

And finally, the ELT installed and ready to go, with the cable plugged in and the unit tested.

He had to split

2014 April 02 23:04

So I split the engine case of my vintage VW the other day:

So I found out what was putting the grit in the oil. I had used a crappy after-market distributor distributor clamp. The distributor is what holds the distributor drive shaft in the case agains the motion of the crankshaft, which is turning it but always trying to push the shaft out of the case. If the shaft gets too high, it eats up the brass gear on the crankshaft that's turning it.

That brass gear is toast, about 20% of the gear is gone. So I need a new one. And I'll replace a lot of other stuff in the engine. I got out my micrometers last night, and the camshaft is pretty badly worn too.

So I'm going to do a more thorough re-build than I had been contemplating. I'll add an oil filter to get the maximum amount of life out of it. I have other parts on order, I just need to find a machine shop that will regrind the crank.

Starting the Jump

2014 April 01 23:42

I've been horrible about blogging. I blogged a bunch last August/September and and then like three times since then. Oy. However, Molly Lewis, the wind beneath my wings as far as internet presence goes, vlogged pretty close to every day in April last year, which was an inspiration to me. So I'm going to try again this year to blog every day in April.

I have a bunch of stuff to write about, including lots of photos, but my laptop needs a reboot before I can edit photos and I need to go to bed. So a brief list:

Lots of good stuff to write about this month. And hopefully some new flying photos in the mix.

Ok, I got the photos. This is in January. I took my commission a little far as far as "cleaning up" the wiring, and and actually removed a bunch of the accessory wiring. Here it is, spread out on the floor:

And here was a couple of weeks ago, with everything back in and lit up for the first time:

Where Does Tab-A Go?

2014 March 02 16:05

Every since I bought my airplane, I've wondered how the avionics switches were wired in. There are three electrical busses that are original to the aircraft, and then an avionics bus. There are two switches to turn on the avionics bus; the main one in front of the pilot, and an auxiliary one on the other side, next to the avionics breakers.

Durin gone of my checkout flights, my instructor and I were flying and wondering about debugging another problem. I had the main avionics breaker on, and we wondered about auxiliary, so we turned it on as well. A couple of seconds later, it turned off (it's a breaker-switch). We didn't know why it did that, so we left it alone. I've never touched it in the air, but I've turned it on on the ground a couple of times.

But ever since then, I've wondered how it IS wired, and why it behaved the way it did. Generally if you turn on two switches in parallel, they'll each carry less current and so be LESS likely to trip.

However, I think I've figured it out. Here are a series of partial electrical system diagrams. I cut out the bit of the diagram from the origianl maintenance manual for the airplane. There are three busses. The bus on the right is the "main" bus, and that feeds all the loads that are always connected. It feeds the electrical turn coordinator, and the interior lights, the lighter socket, and so on.

The bus on the left is the "auxiliary" bus, which has all the stuff that the pilot turns on and off. Landing light, navigation lights, strobes, rotating beacon, heated pitot tube, electric fuel pump and that's where my primary avionics bus switch is. The bus in the middle is called the "power" bus. It connects to the battery, to the generator, and then feeds the other two busses. In both cases below, I've circled in red the tie point where the battery and generator connect to the power bus. It's not important except that's where the current comes FROM in all cases.

One of the breaker switches on the left bus feeds the magenta (purple-ish) wire that then feeds the avionics bus up on top. The black wire on the left goes from the main bus, through a separate breaker switch (the avionics aux) and then to the avionics bus.

First, here's how current flows to the avionics bus normally. The main avionics switch (on the left bus) is turned on, the aux avionics switch is turned off, so the black wire on the right doesn't carry current because it's disconnected. Current flows (marked with red chevrons) from the power bus through a wire to the left bus, then through the main avionics breaker switch through the magenta wire to the avionics bus.

If the main avionics switch is turned off but the aux avionics switch is turned on, here is the current flow instead. From the power bus to the main bus up the black wire, through the aux avionics switch to the avionics bus.

If BOTH avionics switches are turned on but there's nothing else in the system consuming current, then the current flow looks like the following. Some current flows through each breaker and along each wire. Although I haven't tested it, I believe in this case that both breaker/switches would stay turned on (wouldn't trip).

However, here it gets much more interesting. If, say, you had some things on the left bus turned on. This would be consistent with my circumstances when I was flying with my instructor; we were on a long cross-country flight with some clouds, so I probably would have had the nav lights and strobe lights on, at least. That's 10 or 12 amps coming off the bus on the left. The current flow is something like this:

There are now TWO paths for the current to take to the left bus to feed the lights that are on. One is the normal path from the power bus to the aux (left) bus. However, current can also flow to the main (right) bus, through the black wire, through the avionics aux breaker/switch, then from the avionics bus through the magenta wire to the aux (left) bus (opposite the normal direction of flow) and then to the aux bus and then to the lights. How much current flows in each branch is difficult to determine, and depends on the details of the wires and connections, but no matter what, some current is flowing through the aux avionics breaker switch that shouldn't be, and so its current burden is higher than it ought to be.

About September in winter

2013 December 23 21:15

I took a hybrid work/vacation trip to Minnesota in September. Work flew me up for meetings mid-week, and then my wife flew up on Thursday and we spent the weekend there and flew back home.

Pangur ignoring me as I prepared to leave.

This is a great mural in the middle of the main concourse in the Minneapolis/St. Paul airport. Just right of center is an image of the airport itself. In the lower left is an image of FCM (Flying Cloud), where I landed and parked my plane when I was in town in early July.

I stayed in "The Saint Paul Hotel" in downtown St. Paul. It's a super-swank hotel; the doorman had tux and top-hat; I felt a bit out of place. The phones there remind me of #2's phones in "The Prisoner":

The in-room phones have multiple lines:

9 pillows per bed--and not a large bed at that.

All the furniture is really nice with real wood finish. The TV was inside a wood cabinet; but on a flexible stand so it can be positioned so you can see it in the bed.

After one of the days of meetings, I snagged a ride with my friend Laura from college. She picked me up in downtown. This is us heading north on 35W, stopped in a traffice jam. Laura said "nothing good comes when the flashy-light truck passes you". True that.

For many years, I've employed the Zen method of renting cras. I sometimes have some idea of what I want when I go to the rental counter, but I usually take the recommendation of the person there, so I rarely get what I was thinking I would. However, this time that backfired on me. I got a Focus, which is a fine car, but I've driven them on rentals before. However, when I went to the parking lot, THIS was parked next to it in the rental lot:

It's a NEW New VW Beetle; I've been wanting to try one out since they came out a couple of years ago. I was so annoyed. :-P

The Focus I did end up driving was fine.

This is the first car I can remember that TELLS you how fast you have the cruise control set:

And then still shows the speed you HAD set it, but with it crossed out, when you have the cruise dis-engaged:

I realize I'm biased because I was born in Minneapolis, and growing up it was always the "big city" that we'd go visit. But I've always liked the downtown Minneapolis skyline:

In particular I like the IDS tower, which was build around the time that I was born, so it was kind of a destination when I was growing up:

Driving north on 35W:

Laura's 3D printer printing a captured thrust-bearing. (I will talk about that another time. It's a lovely fidget-toy; it lives in my office.)

We also visited Uncle Hugo's:

I liked our gate number

Pangur inspecting the take, and my new suitcase.

My day

2013 November 02 08:34

I flew to Missouri yesterday. In landing, we caught a gust which was much stronger than I was expecting. I was able to plant all three wheels on the pavement but ended up going off the runway at a bad angle and ended up with the plan stuck in soft (recently water-saturated) soil.

The passengers (my wife and I) were both fine. The only damage the airplane took was a chunk out of the tip of one of the propellor blades. Unfortunately that means a new prop, engine tear-down to check the crankshaft for damage. All of which is expensive but paid for by insurance. However, it's a huge logistical hassle and a black mark on my insurance record.

You can see our tracks in the grass leading away from the runway. The arrow points to the runway light that I suspect we hit with the prop.

Here's the end of the propellor blade.

And a close-up of the notch:

Here's the stuck nose gear. You can also see the tip of the other prop blade (which is undamaged as far as I can tell).

An uncomfortable day during parts of it. However, everyone survived, which is the important thing. Everything else can be repaired.

Oshkosh: The Blog Entry

2013 September 15 19:28

The trip to Oshkosh was big enough that I split the story and photos among 6 blog entries. Here are links to the individual entries.

Oshkosh 2013: coming home

2013 September 15 13:47

I'd originally planned to arrive and depart Oshkosh VFR. I managed it coming in. However, Wednesday morning, the field was open for VFR traffic, but it sure looked to me like the visibility didn't support safe or at least certainly legal VFR. So since I'd discovered on the way up that IFR reservations weren't a months-in-advance type of deal, I grabbed my laptop and requested a reservation for IFR outbound first thing Thursday morning...and got one!

By the time I made this decision, I didn't have a chance to get to a printer to print out an IFR windshield sign. I didn't have markers to make one. I didn't have transparent tape (or a scissors, really) to cut up the VFR sign and make it into an IFR. So I cut and folded creatively to make the sign into an IFR one:

As it turned out, I left so early that the marshallers weren't in position, so I didn't need it.

I filed this recommended route from the NOTAM:

I took off on 27, got turned south, then turned east to join my filed route at SHLTZ intersection.

It looks like I'm following the lower GPS here. I guess I must have put the filed route into both GPSs, and then when I was cleared direct to SHLTZ I then put that directive into the lower GPS.

I found this pair of indications amusing. Notice the box that the airplane is inside in the upper photo:

That's a restricted zone, probably military use.

Since ATC can vector you around traffic or around the whole area if need be, it's Ok to fly through them flying IFR.

About halfway across Lake Michigan, they just cleared me directly to my destination, Lansing Michigan, so you see here I'm leaving the filed route and going direct-to.

It was a lovely day to fly, but enough clouds that it was firmly IFR weather when I got to Lansing, so I flew the ILS approach.

Here's the route I ended up flying, from flightaware.com.

I had a meeting in Lansing, then I went back to the airplane, which wouldn't start. My first order of business was to set out the tent and sleeping bag since they were wet when I loaded up the plane at 5:30am.

I arranged for a mechanic to look at the plane the next day, so I needed a car to head to a hotel. I asked the FBO to get me the smallest car that Enterprise had; I got a mid-size Jeep sort of thing.

It had the same retro display types as the Chrysler we'd driven April.

I'm not going to go into the long annoying story of my stay in Michigan. Suffice to say that the plane sat on the ground in Lansing for far too long while I ran around trying to get a part fixed that wasn't broken.

Since I had to do a bunch of driving, I got another car, and I specifically asked for a sedan. I got a Hyundai Accent, which I really like, and it got tremendous gas milage. Something over 41 mpg, verified at the pump.

Back in the air, heading south to home. Have a little weather to dodge around.

As it turns out, my course stayed just to the east of it.

The finger of rain in the last photo is the fuzzy middle bit of this photo, looking over the right wing.

Finally, passing Cincinatti on my way home.

Oshkosh 2013: The Show

2013 September 15 13:16

This year, I took comparatively few photos. I was only at the show for three days. Monday I was concentrating on going to the Aeromart, picking up stuff, then getting it back to my camp site. By that point, I really didn't want to go out again. Tuesday I spent the day with my Uncle Bob, from whom I caught the flying bug. We walked around and went to some cool stuff, but I didn't take many photos. Wednesday I had other things to do, so I didn't take a lot of time walking around. Then Thursday I left. Being at Oshkosh is an excersize in becoming used to B-17 bombers flying overhead; so I didn't take pictures of stuff like that.

You know you're at Oshkosh when traffic has to yield to, say, a Sopwith Camel taxi-ing. I didn't catch people having to stop for it, but here it is continuing to taxi to parking:

Various groups have displays of mock-ups of war-style tent-cities. They have authentic vehicles to go with them. Here's a really nice early Willy's Jeep.

And the obligatory instrument panel shot.

The Jeep has a manual transmission. The tall gearshift connects to the main gearbox. It's a dog-leg configuration, meaning that first gear is DOWN from neutral:

R  2
|  |
|  |
1  3
The other two smaller levers control the transfer case. One shifts from 2-wheel-drive to 4-wheel drive, the other selects low range or high range.

Again, traffic yielding to a taxiing airplane.

While walking around with my Uncle, I ran into Bruce King of bkfliers.org and his second prototype. He has designed and built a single-seat experimental amateur-built airplane that he's built two of and is now selling plans for. He first flew his second prototype this spring, and I've been followin his his work via the web. I got a chance to talk to him and look over the engine compartment of his airplane.

Bruce put a flywheel-end drive VW engine in it:

I always enjoy seeing interesting things that people use for cowl plugs.

One thing that was really cool was that for the first time in several years, Mooney itself had a presence at the show. Unfortunately, I only stopped by very very briefly on Monday because I was carrying my loot, and I didn't get there before they closed on Wednesday.

Three WW 1 era planes (replicas, I assume). I think the one in the center is full sized and had an actual radial engine; the other two had flat-4 VW engines.

Oshkosh 2013 3 of 5

2013 September 15 12:21

This entry is pictures of my camp site at Oshkosh and the charging implements that I brought along.

Here's where I camped, at the west end of the North 40. The position is being indicated by he Stratus GPS.

The inital unloading:

As a historical note, the weather at the time I landed was ASS cold. Something like 43 degrees F and windy. And I didn't have anything with long sleeves, because Oshkosh tends to be hot or humid in the summer. While I was unloading and pitching the tend, I wore my headset. I looked like a big-ol dork but at least my ears were warm.

I tied the plane down to "The Claw" anchors.

The knot securin the rope to the anchor is a double-bowline.

The top of the rope is tied to the plane's tie-down loops with two double locking half-hitches.

I pitched the tend behind the right wing facing the fuselage

as close to the wing as I could make it.

That way, I could step out of the tend and be at the luggage door in about two steps, which was nice.

My walkway in and out was between the horizontal stabilizer and the tent, which isn't ideal, but it worked, and kept the whole camp site fairly compact.

I realized I was going to be mostly away from plug-in electricity, with my phone and laptop and camera. In the past, I've brought a big battery pack to charge things from. Those dont' last very long, though. So this year I stopped by Harbor Freight and bought a brief-case size fold-out solar panel, with fittings so that I can connect it to car chargers to charge my gear.

Here's the briefcase solar panel sitting on the tail catching the morning sun:

On the wing getting the mid-day sun

And then on the windshield to catch the late afternoon sun

The solar panel has a cable attached to it, that comes in the lower right to the plug at the bottom center:

The it plugs into a car-charger-type socket (top center). Then there's a car charger at the top center (with the blue light), into which is plugged a usb cable which then charges a device. Here's another charger charging the Stratus unit:

There are charging stations around; there's a big one at the North 40 shower house. Here's someone who has a battery back like I had who had plugged them there:

EAA had other places around the grounds for this function too:

Honda combined this concept with advertising both for themselves and their generators by putting stations like this around the grounds:

This is a running generator with a couple of power strips on a little platform. It also had several chargers and cables already. I plugged in and charged my phone at one of these a couple of time. This station was right by the food court, and it was well-used.

Oshkosh 2013 part 2 of 4

2013 September 15 12:15

Ok, finally time to depart to Oshkosh. Early Sunday morning. Here's the end of the route:

North through Illinois, then curve west to fly to the city of Ripon to start the VFR arrival procedure. By the way, it was GREAT to have the NOTAM stored in the documents folder in Foreflight.

Once under way, I realized I was going to tangle with a bit of weather.

The colored blocks are AIRMETs, which are areas of meteorological warnings. The grey one is IFR.

I also realized my course was going to cross throguh some rain, so I diverted a bit farther west.

Having diverted around the precip, I was noticing that the ceilings (green and blue boxes) ahead of me were getting pretty low, so I stopped and took a look at things at Rockford, Illinois.

I waited an hour and a half, at which point the weather seemed to be getting better rather than worse, so I headed out again. Things were mostly better, so I continued on into Oshkosh.

I don't have any photos of the last part of the flight; I was a single pilot, doing it for the first time, and so I was kinda busy. I hope someday I can have a movie camera in the plane taking footage when I go.