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

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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.

No squawks

2014 June 28 20:56

It's been sort of a busy spring. I've been dealing with all the stuff of getting the airplane back in the air, and getting all the minor bugs fixed. Then I had to wait to get it signed off for IFR flight. I also had to go and get myself current for IFR since I hadn't flown much over the winter. And the time this took was extended because the weather has been stormy and horrid all spring. It was really difficult to find a solid half day so that I could just go flying and wasnt' worried that I was going to get fogged in and waste the trip down to the airport. And what I really need to do now is just take the airplane out and fly it a bunch, to make sure the engine's all broken in.

But finally...finally...Thursday evening I had a chance to just take it out and fly. I did check a couple of last things that I'd had fixed or adusted, but everything worked fine, I had a smooth uneventful flight, and everything just worked. And the significant old squawks were gone and no new ones showed up. I spent a little effort paying attention to the storms and rain around the area, I did fly through a little rain, but even that was uneventful. It just worked. Nothing happen. I just spun the engine for an hour and a half, and then came back home. It's been so rare that that's happened, and it was lovely.

And of course, since taking instrument panel photos is my fetish, here are a few:

GPS/radio stack. Nothing special about this except no rubber bands on the controls at the bottom keeping them from slipping (fixed the friction during winter annual). Also--I checked for the old electrical fault by banging on the ceiling. That's definitely gone now. Whoo-hoo!

The new digital tach is in the upper left. The new ammeter is to the right. Both working just like I'd hoped. (To airplane people: the reason cylinder #1 isn't showing any EGT is because a mechanic replaced the #1 exhaust probe without asking and put in the wrong kind, so it's flaky. I forgot to fix that this winter.)

Bottom row engine gauges firmly in the green at cruise.

Another thing that happened over the winter while the mechanic was adjusting the door was we tore the leather strap pull-handle. He re-attached it, but had to shorten the strap a bit, so my Stratus GPS/ADS-B device no longer fits in the door strap. So I have to find a new place for it to sit. Here's the temporary location, on the left side of the glare shield on top of the optical tach I have taped there. This allows Foreflight to display my position and display weather radar in flight, like so:

Since I was using both my iPad and the Stratus, I got to test out the lighter socket charger that I got. Historically, I've had problems with chargers holding voltage enough to charge devices in the airplane. Here it is for sale on Amazon. I'm very pleased that it worked like a champ!

That charger has three slots, a 2.4A, and two 1.5A slots. The 2.4 is labeled "tablet", and then the other two are labelled "Apple" and "Android". Since generaly the iPad tends to be very power-hungry, I plugged the iPad cord into the 2.4 slot, which worked fine. However, the Stratus power light blinked red when plugged into the 1.5 (which I think means it can't charge). So I switched them, and it actually worked. So the Stratus was running and charging happily on the 2.4 A slot and my iPad was running and charging on the 1.5A slot. Successful test!

Oh, and just in case there was any question, the Great Smoky Mountains are lovely and picturesque from the air.

Another 5 flights or so like this would be really really groovy. Here's hoping.

I used to land there!

2014 April 26 20:31

I flew through Atlanta on my way from Texas to Missouri to pick up my plane a couple of weeks ago. Departing Atlanta, we flew over Peachtree DeKalb airport, where I've flown a few times and gone for flight instruction and classes and stuff.

They used to have an east-west runday, but the west end of it's been remove and hangars built there. I assume that's a good thing; it means the airport is growing and being used. And it was frankly plenty busy as it was. Here's some photos that I managed to snag out the window:

I looked in the publications about the airport; the change was fairly recent.

Recently, I looked at the airnav.com page for PDK, and it had an old photo. I sent them a copy of the second photo above, and as of this writing, April 26, my photo is now the one for that airport. Cool! (I'm sure they'll get a better photo with fewer clouds in the not-too distant future, but for now, it's neat that I have a photo there. )

A New New Beetle after all...

2014 April 24 22:33

So up until recently, I hadn't driven a New New Beetle. (I don't think that's what it's called. To me, the post-1998 VW "Beetle"s were the "New Beetle" so when they changed the design for 2013, I think it was, I think if it as the New New Beetle.

Anyway, I'd been wanting to drive one. Enterprise rental car had one when I was renting one time, but I didn't know that until I was in the parking lot and it was too late then.

Since my plane was down for 5+ months over the winter, and the last flight I took in it was the one that ended with it being damaged, I thought it might be a really smart thing to go get some dual time with an instructor. So I took two flights over the winter to get some take-off and landing practice. That was very useful, and I'm glad I did it. One of the times I combined it with taking my car for an oil change. I borrowed one of their fleet vehicles while mine was being worked on; it was a Beetle:

Instrument panel:

They've moved away from the single round instrument, so that's a change. A very nice instrument panel, though.

They did a really superb job of sculpting the right side of the dash board:

The upper glove box is meant to look like the vintage Beetle's only glove box. However, there's another, bigger one down below (which contains an iPad cable, presumably for audio, highlighted by the green arrow):

The luggage area is definitely bigger than mine, which is great. It actually does have a latch:

Which is the VW logo in the back.

It was very nice to drive. I liked it. I think I like the aesthetic of my car better, which more suggests an original Beetle, but this would be a fine car.

New Pretty Gauges

2014 April 24 21:55

I was planning on blogging every day in April. Ha. I got busy and went to the MAPA convention and got delayed (again) until I could fly the plane back and I've just been busy. I should stop promising to do that.

Anyway, the airplane is physically flyable, annualed (so it's legal to fly) and back home. Yay! Here are a few photos of the gauges while flying back the last leg from Bowling Green.

Here's the stock 6-pack engine cluster.

The upper right gauge, the old ammeter, has been replaced by a new digital one (see next photo) and so it's marked INOPerative. The important thing here is the bottom three gauges are all firmly in the green (actually, the cylinder head temp, the lower right one, is basically below; this plane cools superbly well at cruise).

And here's upper-right side of the instrument panel:

In the lower left is the stock manifold pressure gauge and fuel pressure gauge. In the upper left is the new Horizon Tachometer. I really like how it looks and how it works. The area in the center was a blank panel up to this winter's annual. The orange engine meter (bar graph thing in the center) was all the way over on the right where the blank round panel now is. I moved it closer so it's easy for the pilot to see it and get at the switches. The third meter, the one with the single switch right below it, is my new volmeter/ammeter. I got it because the stock ammeter just didn't read very well.

The area in the center that's shinier black is a panel that I fabricated. The engine monitor is an older electronics piece, so it's fairly long and kind of heavy. THe extra screws that you see in the panel are attaching reinforcing rails to the back of the panel. Two of the breakers are for the new instruments. The third is for the engine monitor; it had been protected with an in-line fuse from the avioincs panel, but I wanted it on all the time, so I instead put a breaker and now it's powered from the main bus. And in the upper right is the control/sense plane for the new ELT (emergency locator transmitter).

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.