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

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.


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. )