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

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.

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: