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

What a half-year

2015 October 03 23:49

Wow. What a year I've had since February. February was vey snowy, and March wasn't any different. (All the things I mention in passing here I will hopefully write a whole blog post about with photos. I just want to get the sequence down here while I'm thinking about it.)

At the beginning of March, I worked with my wife on her professional organization's conference, which almost got snowed out. So the planning and the aftermath of that took more time an concentration than we expected (we drove there and back; much snow). In the middle of March I took a conference trip to San Jose California (flew commercial). On the way, due to airline weirdness, I spent a couple of days driving around Minnesota. Then the conference in California, and then I spent a day at the Computer History Museum in Montain View, and then flew back home. Then, with less than a week at home, I flew wife and I to Houston to visit her brother there. Much touristing was done, then we flew home.

April: Got a front mini-porch put on the house. Got a new phone. April 6, my maternal Grandmother died, so my wife and I made plans to fly up to be at the funeral. We flew up on April 10 and back on April 12. Then the rest of the month was getting my airplane annualed. This was the most normal annual I've had, but still, it ended up being extended for a week because we had to get a part of adjust the front landing gear.

Plane annualed and flown home at the beginning of May. Mid-May, flew my plane to Texas (dodging storms), then flew commercial to Oregon for a several day work thing, then commercial back to Texas. Then a Mooney event in Texas, and then attempted to fly home. Got to Mississippi; the electric pump on the plane failed when I went to fly home. So that was a week and change of wrangling to get that back.

Sometime early in the spring, we decided that we were going to start actively pursuing an international adoption from China. We decided to target bringing the kid home in summer of 2016. We spent a lot of time in May, for instance, sending out from background checks from all the states we've each lived in since turning 18 (turns out I've lived in several.).

The first big component of the paperwork was the home study. This included three visits with a social worker. The first two were in May, the last one was June 10. During that visit, the social worker talked about their upcoming hosting program. We told her that we hadn't been interested, but it turns out, they'd lowered the fees. So we decided to sign on.

So as of June 10, suddenly we were preparing for having a kid in the house. So things suddenly got super-busy. June wasn't bad; I didn't have a lot of trips, but lots of paperwork and working in the room that our guest would be staying in.

At the beginning of July, we went (flew commercial) to Minnesota to Convergence. Then we came back and spent time finishing prep for the kid. He arrived on July 16th, and flew back to China on August 9th. That's a whole story for another time. The conclusion is that we can be parents, we want to be parents, and in face we're going to pursue being parents to that child (which you can do if you're the host family).

So now starting 3rd week of August, my wife and I are both taking spoken Chinese. The 2nd weekend of September, we went to the planning meeting of the conference that organization will be throwing in March. The next weekend we hosted a Chinese Med School instructor (I took him flying). This weekend my wife is at a conference; but I'm writing this blog post because this is the first real chance I've had to catch up in forever.

Yesterday and today I ordered a bunch of parts for my vintage VW. I hope to put it back together in a few weeks.

Phew. Just typing that made me tired.

Final answer: busy summer, and we're super-excited that we'll be adopting a really great and sweet kid this coming year. Not a ton of flying, but some good stuff in March and in May.

Details on a lot of this stuff in the (hopefully near) future. This was just the overview. Photos too.

Driving a Prius

2015 July 11 20:12

I normally get at least a couple of cell phone photos of the rental cars I drive, but this trip, I didn't manage to do it.

R and I flew Delta from TYS to MSP to attend Convergence and see friends. Our original plans had been to go to Oshkosh and GenCon later on in July (this year they're the same week) but there's a Big Exciting Thing happening the last two weeks of July and the first week of August which shifted our schedule (more on this in another post in the near future, I'd imagine).

We flew up on Friday morning on the direct flight, and so we got to the hotel at around 11am. Even though we spent most of the weekend at the hotel, we went ahead and rented a car for the sake of convenience. It also meant that we could go directly to the hotel as fast as possible to get our badges (which turned out not to be a problem).

We rented a car from Enterprise. They didn't have any compacts, but has it turned out, they had a Toyota Prius available. I wouldn't have reserved it; my understanding is they're typically a premium-cost vehicle, but they had it available and it was only a slight upcharge from the reservation we'd made. So we rented it and drove it around the city from Friday morning when we got in through Tuesday late afternoon when we left.

It was interesting to drive, not too different than other cars with a couple of exceptions. Steering as normal. I had to really push down a lot on the gas pedal to accelerate well; I later found out that was probably because we were in "eco" mode; it apparently changes the value on the accelerator curve. Acceleration actually wasn't bad, except for the squishy pedal. The one thing that was really strange was when the gas engine would just stop when you were driving slow (like driving around a parking lot). That's eerie the first time it happens.

Proximity key fob for ignition, which is fine, and push-button start. Since it's a Prius, of course, it may or may not actually start the gasoline engine when you start it. THe proximit fob unlocks the door before you touch it, which I HATE; you can't check before you leave the car that the driver's door is locked.

The gearshift is purely electrical, so it has an odd feel. You have four postions that you move the gear shift to from rest; Reverse, Neutral, Drive, and Braking. Park is a separate button next to the gear shift.

One huge thing that this car fell down on was that it didn't have a "your lights are on" warning buzzer.

So all in all, a perfectly fine car to drive. I'm glad I drove one, but I wouldn't go out of my way to do it again. The gas milage frankly isn't enough better than conventional cars that I'd want to have one for that reason, and putting up with its quirks makes that easier.

What I've been doing...

2015 April 28 23:00

I meant to come and have the annual of the plane take 3 or perhaps 4 days. *sigh* It's not super-bad, I get to stay and play with the parents-in-law who are awesome, but it's been two weeks as of tomorrow and I miss my wife and cats.

This post is about what I've been doing. Early on we cleaned and check spark plugs; everything looking healthy there.

One of the big things I've done this trip is take all the belly panels off my plane for the first time. Here they are laid out with piles of screws.

I forgot to put something in the picture to scale; the panels are about 2 feed wide, top to bottom in the image. There's about a few hundred screws holding them to the airplane.

Getting the screws out wasn't trivial. Three of them had actually completely frozen, so I had to cut a slot in their heads with a dremel tool to get them out.

Another thing I got to mess with was taking off and putting on the spinner.

I painted the pressure plate (highlighted by the red arrow), and then installed the forward bulkhead with new screws. Just waiting for the mechanic's approval to put that part back together.

So what's the fuss about? Why did I stay longer? Well, I needed to have a spacing collar installed in the nose gear for better handling. THe collar is the silver ring; the white plate is the pressure plate at the top of the gear doughnuts.

And as long as we're taking the nose disk shock tower apart, I decided to have the shock disks in the nose gear replaced.

Also, while I've been driving back and forth to the hangar (1 h 20 min each way) I've been testing chargers to see which one worked best charging my iPad mini.

So tomorrow, hopefully by mid-day the nose gear will be back together and I can start planning for the trip home.

Installing the Stratus

2015 April 07 10:04

Here's what I've been doing with the Stratus. Here's my working cardboard template that I'm getting into shape.

I'm basically making a basket or tray that holds the stratus along the axis of the airplane, so that I can see the status lights, and so that it doesn't slide off into my lap from the glare shield. I did this very early in the year.

A few weeks later, I put together a more precise version of the tray. Here I've put it together.

Eventually the thought is to make the tray out of Aluminum so it's stiffer, but the cardboard will do for a short-lived version.

The green cord is a USB power cord that runs along the top of the glare shield and then comes over by the pilot to power the iPad.

The cardboard tray, cable tied into place on the compass mounting tube, with the Stratus sitting in/on it. And the power cable to the Stratus:

Here's what the setup looks like from outside the windshield:

If I park the airplane just right, I can get the car into the hangar with the airplane still in it and shut the door:

A closer view of the above shot. You can see the oil cooler nicely here in the lower corner of the cowl. You can also see the Stratus in its mount under the windshield.

And after a couple of hours of futzing and prepping, the airplane is ready for its trip to Texas (another post).

The weather was likely to be fairly cold the morning that we left; you can see the extension cord going in the oil door on the cowl; it's attached to the engine heater plug and comes from a timer on the other end. I set it to start warming the oil several hours before we got to the hangar. It worked great.

Socket before

2015 April 07 09:38

An addendum to the last post. When I went to test the Bolse charger in flight, I noticed that it kept popping the breaker. The below photos are the "before" of the inside of the lighter socket.

Here's the bottom of the socket.

The outer barrel is connected to ground. The center stud at the back is connected to positive voltage through a breaker. There's a tang also connected to positive voltage that sticks out toward the camera that's also at positive voltage. Notice on this side (which is lower right in the socket as it sits in the plane) there's a nice cutout in the barrel for the tang to make sure they don't touch.

Now here's two other shots of the other side of the lighter socket.

Note that there are TWO cutouts, but the other tang lands directly in between them. In other words, if the tang gets pushed out from the center, it touches the side of the barrel. As you can see, it's done so quite a bit; the edge of the tang is eroded.

What it looks like to me here is that the barrel and the pieces that sits in the back of the barrel don't match. I presume there's a three-tang pattern and a two-tang pattern, and someone later replaced the back part of the barrel with the wrong piece. Since it causes shorts, I almost wonder if it wasn't a former owner doing some "hangar fairy" maintenance. Also mildly amusing that no one since then noticed it.

Charging: going forward

2015 April 06 22:40

Last year sometime, I bought a charger to go in the airplane. It has three outputs, with different current capacities marked on the USB ports:

It worked pretty well for my accessory electronics in my airplane while I was flying. The 2.4A output was enough to charge the Stratus GPS/ADS-B unit, and the lower 1.5A output would charge my iPad.

Well, I got another one to charge the two devices, a newer one without the labels, with the hopes that since all the outputs were the same, it would be able to supply full output current to all three outputs.

Not so much, it turns out. Only output that can charge the Stratus is the top on, and the other ports act the same as the labelled one. So in other words, the unlabelled one is the same as the labelled one just without the physical labels. Oh well. More recently I've been investigating other charging solutions. (Both of the 3-output white chargers are "Bolse" brand.)

One interesting thing I ran into while testing the newer charger was that if I pushed it into the power socket (formerly lighter socket) all the way, it would trip the breaker. Looking inside, you can see why:

The yellow dot indicates the tang on the hot part of the socket. You can see it's scored on the edge where it's touched the side. I suspect that someone put the back part of the socket from a car into the socket from the airplane. This is something I'll have to talk to my mechanic at annual (which is soon). My temporary solution is the red cardboard strip that keeps the tang from touching the grounding barrel.

The reason that I'm getting the charging stuff set up is that I bought an iPad mini 2 for my electronic charts.

Next to my hand is my old iPad 1 that I've had for a few years, and farther away from my hand is the mini. Both are running foreflight here.

I have a RAM ball mount on the bottom of the pilot's yoke in my airplane. I have a RAM mounting arm and an iPad mini mount to hold the mini in front of the yoke. Here you see how I've modified the arm, so that the arm will sit up flush with the yoke shaft:

And here's the iPad mini on its mount on the yoke. This is basically my view sitting in the pilot's seat.

The full-size iPad is pretty bulky, but the mini is perfect. I can read the approach plate (as shown) but I can see the panel and switches just fine. I've flown four big cross-country flights with it mounted this way, including a real instrument approach in significant IFR conditions, and this worked great.

Oh, and another thing: The Bolse charger wasn't able to charge the Stratus and the iPad mini continuously for all the flights. Sometime during the second flight, it stopped charging the stratus. I don't know if it gets too hot or what, but the flights were finished under battery power. Which is fine, but I wish I could get a solution that would continue to charge for arbitrary amounts of time.

I realized the other day that I don't have any ANY photos of the airplane in the last dozen or so blog posts, here here are a couple. This was March 1 when I went out to the hangar and test the fit of the iPad and test the charger. After two weeks of basically being snowed in, we were able to get out of the house, but the hangars still had a ridge of snow from it falling off the roof of the hangar building.

And just because it amuses me, a closer version of that same photo:

I love the asymmetric look of the nose, the landing light on the right side and the oil cooler on the left. If you look closely, just to the right (from our point of view) in the windshield is the Stratus taped to the glare shield. The saga of the mounting technology for the Stratus is another post entirely.

Major Victory in January: wiper motor!

2015 April 06 08:08

The one real problem I've ever had with my 2008 VW has been the wiper motor. I had the motor replaced early on under warranty, and then a couple of years later, I had the gear mechanism replace on my dime. I guess it's just under-engineered, because it started to intermittently fail over the winter, and failed completely in January (when I was loaning the car to someone--OOPS!).

It failed on me COMPLETELY when I was out shopping. I drove it home, in a bit a rain, very slowly. I do NOT recommend that. I won't do it again. That was kinda scary.

Anyway, I got it home (that was a Friday, I think) and so I got out the big manual for the car. I decided that getting to the wiper motor assembly didn't look too bad, so I brought that car into the garage and tore into it. It wasn't, indeed, that bad. Here's the motor and wiper arm assembly out of the car:

and so first thing Saturday morning, I drove down to the VW dealer in Knoxville and bought a new motor.

Pangur, inspecting the new motor:

I installed it, and so by mid-afternoon, less than 24 hours after it had completely failed on me, the car was recommissioned. So it may well happen again, but now I know I can repair it quickly for only the cost of the part itself.

March part 1

2015 April 06 07:23

Wow--March was quite a month. Even in January, March was already shaping up to be a busy month. I had significant trips/commitments early in the month and late in the month. Then I had the bright idea to stick a really busy work trip with personal travel on both ends in the middle. So March was very busy with travel; as I write this on April 6, it's just finally settling out and this week should be back to a normal-ish schedule.

The first journey was a trip up to Cincinattii to help my wife run a conference. This was an absolute committment on my part, and has been on my schedule for at least six months. The two weeks of snowmageddon at the end of February were not encouraging for this trip. The conference was Friday/Saturday. Earlier in the week, the state of Kentucky wasn't doing too badly, but it was looking a lot of the state would get snow dumped on it on Wednesday and Thursday, so us just getting to the conference was looking iffy.

Given the snow that was expected to land on Thursday, if we started heading north on Thursday morning, it was likely we wouldn't be able to get out of town. So we decided to outmaneuver the weather. Wednesday afternoon (in fine weather) we drove to Lexington and stayed in a hotel right on the north side, next to the interstate, so the roads we would be driving on would have the best snow removal possible.

That worked fine. But we did get the expected snow over night. When we got up, the car was caked with nigh on a foot of snow:

That morning, I did the first clear-start-scrape-defrost cycle I've done in many many years. I know people in Minnesota do that every day in parts of the winter, but it's been a while for me. I also backed it across the parking lot so that it was clear of the snow piles around it. The end result was pretty good:

While we were having breakfast I made some poor attempts at bird photography while we were having lunch.

Due to the higgledy-piggledy of the snow and its effect on the conference schedule, the conference days itself were super-busy, so I really don't have anything to show. One really nice thing: right across the street from the hotel was a Joe's Crab Shack:

I think if I were reviewing that as a design for an establishment in a game, I would perhaps ask them to pull back the character a bit.

And last thing: on the way home, I saw this advertisement in a truck stop bathroom. It got me thinking more about car (and also airplane) USB chargers, which is another topic that I've been working on this past month.

So the trip to Cincinatti was the opening salvo of the month. The big trip in the middle of the month was yet to come.

The Dropoff

2015 January 06 00:33

So, after I broke the airplane (November 2013), we did all the initial insurance stuff, and got a mechanic involved and got him working on removing the propeller and the engine. Since we didn't have a car there, we drove my father-in-law's truck back home.

So we went back to their place for Thanksgiving. While we were there, I went to the airport and helped with the final removal of the engine, and then we put the engine and the (broken) propeller on the truck, then I drove it to the house. Then the next day, I got up super-early, and drive the prop and the engine to repair places in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and 6+ hour drive each way.

Because I really really wanted to get the engine and prop to their respective places during business hours, I was in a big hurry. I only got a few photos on that trip, and none at all of the back of the truck with the stuff loaded, which totally bums me out. Ah well; here are a few of them (along with a couple of others relating to the electronics).

Patches the airport cat inspects my tool bag; this is the day of the engine removal.

5:22am, I'm about to head out. My GPS is on the windshield, dialed in for Tulsa.

The panel of the truck; my view for most of the day.

That's it. Like I said, a super-busy day.

Later on, the following January:

Before I bundled the wires all in for the new instruments, I had a test setup to make sure all the components worked right. This was the temporary wiring panel. And here's the instrument sub-panel, turned on for test for the first time:

What I did last winter: Fabrication

2015 January 05 00:03

The story so far: On November 1, 2013, I broke our airplane. Due to a combination of freakishly gusty wind and my missing a couple of details, I put the airplane down but we ran off the runway and clipped the propeller. This lead to insurance replacing the prop and helping with engine inspection, to which we added getting the engine overhauled.

Due to various circumstances, that meant that getting the airplane flying again was a several month process. Since it was going to be down all that time, I decided to go ahead and update and fix some things that needed doing.

I was mostly happy with the instrumentation in the airplane, but one thing I was NOT was the ammeter. It was an analog galvanometer, and it frankly barely worked. It had some bias in it, so the zero it read in the air when the battery was all charged was different than what it ready on the ground when everything was off. Consequently, I didn't feel that I could tell reliably from that meter if the charging system was working or not. So I decided to install an EI digital volt/ammeter. However, there's no slot, so I had to make one. There was a blank part of the panel, which it turns out covered up a place where you can put avionics. Over the winter, I fabricated a panel to fill that space.

The new sub-panel was to hold the new ammeter, and the engine monitor which had already been in the plane but putting it there would move it closer to the pilot and easier to see and operate. It would also hold the breaker for the engine monitor, the breaker for the volt/amp meter, and the breaker for the new digital tachometer that I was also putting in.

Here's how the airplane sat for over four months. The engine was gone, being overhauled. Sad.

This is where I was realizing that I could fit two instruments into that space, but not using those inserts.

Test fit of the test panel. The ammeter is installed.

At this point I'd realized that it would make sense to have the engine monitor closer to the pilot (on the left) because you're always looking at that and often using the switches, and the ammeter goes better farther away on the right because it's easier to glance and and you're basically never touching it. Thus the test cuts for the switches in both sockets. This is still the test panel. I've made marker lines on it so that I can use it as a template for cutting and drilling the real panel.

The real panel, cut from 6061-T6 Aluminum. I've cut out one of the instrument holes and I'm in the process of nibbling out the second one. I've drilled the holes for the stiffening ribs (which will have to be re-done).

All the holes are in, including the ones at the top for the breakers.

Final test fit, before being...

painted black.

Here's the panel wired and ready to go in.

These two posts have photos of the final panel in the airplane with the gauges running.

So far, so good with new-year's resolutions. I've blogged for 2 of the 4 days of the new year (including this post) and I've walked on the treadmill for 3 of the 4 days.

Starting off right

2015 January 04 00:09

I've made a bunch of new-year's resolutions...which I've already strictly broken, but I'm going to pursue anyway. I wanted to excersize daily, which I've done 2 out of the 3 days. I've wanted to blog a lot; this is the start of that. More on that in another post.

The airplane is doing well. I'm starting to have reasonable confidence in it for trips, so that increases planning flexibility. I installed a "kool-skoop" (their spelling, not mine) that brings in air on a hot day when you're taxiing on the ground. Great tool, and taxiiing in hot weather is much less annoying.

And I'm finally collecting the tools and parts to put my VW back together. I still need to get a camshaft; I'm using the crank and various camshafts sitting in the left block half to do some camshaft testing.

I'm starting a big cleaning project; that starts today. The plan is that will be finished 2 weeks from today on Sunday.

Now with a new platform!

2014 December 07 09:39

The fall has been good, but busy. Work is good, the fall conference went really well. There have been a couple of changes, so I don't have photo editing and uploading sorted out yet, so this post is text-only.

The plane is doing superbly well. I took two signifnicant trips in it, in October and November, and absolutely NOTHING went wrong. This was a first. So I'm beginning to trust it much more for trips and such. The one last thing I want to do for this winter is to install an engine heater, so that I can electrically pre-heat the engine when it's cold. That will make life easier on it.

I didn't work on my old Beetle at all this fall, but I've started doing that again recently. I'd like to get it back in commission in the spring. I'm going to rebuild the engine, and now I'm working on assessing exactly what parts I need. The crankshaft is reground and I have new bearings. I was convinced recently that I probably really do need a new camshaft, so in the last week I've been working on assessing what exactly I need. I'll have another post on that soon.

I got a new phone early in the year. The way it mounts as a drive is different than older phones, so pulling photos off of it is different. You can easily pull images from folders that you've created, but it doesn't seem to want to pull images directly from the raw camera volume. That technique worked so well for so long; I don't get why that needed a whole new protocol. :-/

And *just* recently (Wednesday) we got new laptops. My wife was looking for one, and pinged me about a deal on Amazon. I liked it enough that I decided I wanted one too. They are Lenovo X140e Thinkpads. So I've gone away somewhat from ultraportables, but it's a relaly nice laptop, and not TOO heavy, with lots of battery life. I'm typing on it now. More keyboard throw and sound than I'm used to, but it's not bad.

More soon, but I at least wanted to get something up here.