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
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
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.
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
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
We also visited Uncle Hugo's:
I liked our gate number
Pangur inspecting the take, and my new suitcase.
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.
The trip to Oshkosh was big enough that I split the story and photos among 6 blog entries. Here are links to the individual entries.
I'd originally planned to arrive and depart Oshkosh VFR. I managed it coming in. However, Wednesday morning, the field was open for VFR traffic, but it sure looked to me like the visibility didn't support safe or at least certainly legal VFR. So since I'd discovered on the way up that IFR reservations weren't a months-in-advance type of deal, I grabbed my laptop and requested a reservation for IFR outbound first thing Thursday morning...and got one!
By the time I made this decision, I didn't have a chance to get to a
printer to print out an IFR windshield sign. I didn't have markers to
make one. I didn't have transparent tape (or a scissors, really) to
cut up the VFR sign and make it into an IFR. So I cut and folded
creatively to make the sign into an IFR one:
As it turned out, I left so early that the marshallers weren't in position, so I didn't need it.
I filed this recommended route from the NOTAM:
I took off on 27, got turned south, then turned east to join my filed route at SHLTZ intersection.
It looks like I'm following the lower GPS here. I guess I must have put the filed route into both GPSs, and then when I was cleared direct to SHLTZ I then put that directive into the lower GPS.
I found this pair of indications amusing. Notice the box that the
airplane is inside in the upper photo:
That's a restricted zone, probably military use.
Since ATC can vector you around traffic or around the whole area if need be, it's Ok to fly through them flying IFR.
About halfway across Lake Michigan, they just cleared me directly to
my destination, Lansing Michigan, so you see here I'm leaving the
filed route and going direct-to.
It was a lovely day to fly, but enough clouds that it was firmly IFR
weather when I got to Lansing, so I flew the ILS approach.
Here's the route I ended up flying, from flightaware.com.
I had a meeting in Lansing, then I went back to the airplane, which
wouldn't start. My first order of business was to set out the tent
and sleeping bag since they were wet when I loaded up the plane at
I arranged for a mechanic to look at the plane the next day, so I needed a car to head to a hotel. I asked the FBO to get me the smallest car that Enterprise had; I got a mid-size Jeep sort of thing.
It had the same retro display types as the Chrysler we'd driven April.
I'm not going to go into the long annoying story of my stay in
Michigan. Suffice to say that the plane sat on the ground in Lansing
for far too long while I ran around trying to get a part fixed that
Since I had to do a bunch of driving, I got another car, and I
specifically asked for a sedan. I got a Hyundai Accent, which I
really like, and it got tremendous gas milage. Something over 41 mpg,
verified at the pump.
Back in the air, heading south to home. Have a little weather to
As it turns out, my course stayed just to the east of it.
The finger of rain in the last photo is the fuzzy middle bit of this photo, looking over the right wing.
Finally, passing Cincinatti on my way home.
This year, I took comparatively few photos. I was only at the show for three days. Monday I was concentrating on going to the Aeromart, picking up stuff, then getting it back to my camp site. By that point, I really didn't want to go out again. Tuesday I spent the day with my Uncle Bob, from whom I caught the flying bug. We walked around and went to some cool stuff, but I didn't take many photos. Wednesday I had other things to do, so I didn't take a lot of time walking around. Then Thursday I left. Being at Oshkosh is an excersize in becoming used to B-17 bombers flying overhead; so I didn't take pictures of stuff like that.
You know you're at Oshkosh when traffic has to yield to, say, a
Sopwith Camel taxi-ing. I didn't catch people having to stop for it,
but here it is continuing to taxi to parking:
Various groups have displays of mock-ups of war-style tent-cities.
They have authentic vehicles to go with them. Here's a really nice
early Willy's Jeep.
And the obligatory instrument panel shot.
The Jeep has a manual transmission. The tall gearshift connects to the main gearbox. It's a dog-leg configuration, meaning that first gear is DOWN from neutral:
R 2 | | +--+ | | 1 3The other two smaller levers control the transfer case. One shifts from 2-wheel-drive to 4-wheel drive, the other selects low range or high range.
Again, traffic yielding to a taxiing airplane.
While walking around with my Uncle, I ran into Bruce King of bkfliers.org and his second prototype.
He has designed and built a single-seat experimental amateur-built
airplane that he's built two of and is now selling plans for. He
first flew his second prototype this spring, and I've been followin
his his work via the web. I got a chance to talk to him and look over
the engine compartment of his airplane.
Bruce put a flywheel-end drive VW engine in it:
I always enjoy seeing interesting things that people use for cowl plugs.
One thing that was really cool was that for the first time in several years, Mooney itself had a presence at the show. Unfortunately, I only stopped by very very briefly on Monday because I was carrying my loot, and I didn't get there before they closed on Wednesday.
Three WW 1 era planes (replicas, I assume). I think the one in the
center is full sized and had an actual radial engine; the other two
had flat-4 VW engines.
This entry is pictures of my camp site at Oshkosh and the charging implements that I brought along.
Here's where I camped, at the west end of the North 40. The position
is being indicated by he Stratus GPS.
The inital unloading:
As a historical note, the weather at the time I landed was ASS cold. Something like 43 degrees F and windy. And I didn't have anything with long sleeves, because Oshkosh tends to be hot or humid in the summer. While I was unloading and pitching the tend, I wore my headset. I looked like a big-ol dork but at least my ears were warm.
I tied the plane down to "The Claw" anchors.
The knot securin the rope to the anchor is a double-bowline.
The top of the rope is tied to the plane's tie-down loops with two double locking half-hitches.
I pitched the tend behind the right wing facing the fuselage
as close to the wing as I could make it.
That way, I could step out of the tend and be at the luggage door in about two steps, which was nice.
My walkway in and out was between the horizontal stabilizer and the tent, which isn't ideal, but it worked, and kept the whole camp site fairly compact.
I realized I was going to be mostly away from plug-in electricity, with my phone and laptop and camera. In the past, I've brought a big battery pack to charge things from. Those dont' last very long, though. So this year I stopped by Harbor Freight and bought a brief-case size fold-out solar panel, with fittings so that I can connect it to car chargers to charge my gear.
Here's the briefcase solar panel sitting on the tail catching the
On the wing getting the mid-day sun
And then on the windshield to catch the late afternoon sun
The solar panel has a cable attached to it, that comes in the lower right to the plug at the bottom center:
The it plugs into a car-charger-type socket (top center). Then there's a car charger at the top center (with the blue light), into which is plugged a usb cable which then charges a device. Here's another charger charging the Stratus unit:
There are charging stations around; there's a big one at the North 40
shower house. Here's someone who has a battery back like I had who
had plugged them there:
EAA had other places around the grounds for this function too:
Honda combined this concept with advertising both for themselves and their generators by putting stations like this around the grounds:
This is a running generator with a couple of power strips on a little platform. It also had several chargers and cables already. I plugged in and charged my phone at one of these a couple of time. This station was right by the food court, and it was well-used.
Ok, finally time to depart to Oshkosh. Early Sunday morning. Here's
the end of the route:
North through Illinois, then curve west to fly to the city of Ripon to start the VFR arrival procedure. By the way, it was GREAT to have the NOTAM stored in the documents folder in Foreflight.
Once under way, I realized I was going to tangle with a bit of
The colored blocks are AIRMETs, which are areas of meteorological warnings. The grey one is IFR.
I also realized my course was going to cross throguh some rain, so I diverted a bit farther west.
Having diverted around the precip, I was noticing that the ceilings
(green and blue boxes) ahead of me were getting pretty low, so I
stopped and took a look at things at Rockford, Illinois.
I waited an hour and a half, at which point the weather seemed to be getting better rather than worse, so I headed out again. Things were mostly better, so I continued on into Oshkosh.
I don't have any photos of the last part of the flight; I was a single pilot, doing it for the first time, and so I was kinda busy. I hope someday I can have a movie camera in the plane taking footage when I go.
I got to fly myself to Oshkosh this year, in a plane of my own. w00t! The narrative of the journey, with all the gory details of the flying, is in this entry in August. This entry and the three after it have all the photos (which three weeks after I wrote the narrative entry, I've finally edited).
I had a few things to do to the airplane before going to Oshkosh. One
was making sure the lights were all up to snuff. One of the two
lights in the rotating beacon was out, so I ordered and replaced the
I also replaced the standard incandescent landing light with an LED one. It was a bit more expensive, but it draws MUCH less current. The specified approach to Oshkosh asks all airplanes to have all their lights, including landing light, on throughout the entire approach. I wanted to go easier on my electrical system. The old light is on the right and the new one is on the left.
Here's the LED light, installed and wired. The old light is a standard filament light, and so it doen't care which way electricity flows across it. The LED DOES, and as it turns out, it needed it flowing the opposite way as the old lights had. Fortunately there was just enough extra slack in the wires to attach them in the right direction without stretching.
In addition to printing out (and studying) the procedures in the
NOTAM, I printed out windshield signs to hold up so that the
marshallers on the ground will direct my airplane to the right spot.
The bottom one is for arrival, I want to park in "General Aviation Camping" (which is the area known as the "North Forty" at Oshkosh. The top sign is for departure, indicating that I'm intending to depart using "Visual Flight Rules". You'll hear more about that in the fourth entry on this trip.
And finally...I'm off! The Stratus sitting in its door handle
providing backup GPS guidance and weather updates
It was definitely summer Thunderstorm season. This trip was fairly calm, but there were storms to the south behind me that I managed to avoid (this is looking over my left shoulder.
It was nice weather, so I flew the route VFR, but I still had the GPSs
All of a sudden the Apollo started warning me a Restricted Zone. There's a tiny tiny one in Indiana that I happened to fly near (I was well above it but I didn't know that).
The restricted zone is the blue thing in the middle, labelled "R-3405". It's apparently a tethered balloon.
I scheduled things so that I was at work a few days before I
actually left for Oshkosh, to combine trips. Here's my office, with
my iPad and the Stratus recharging.
I flew up to Oshkosh early Sunday morning, but I rented a car for just
one day starting late morning Saturday so that I could run around town
and get last-minute supplies and stuff. It also allowed me to bring
my luggage and supplies back out to the airplane the night before
departure, so that when I actually left, I only had one bag to walk
out to the plane with. The car I rented was a Nissan Sentra. I don't
have any photos of the outside, but here's the instrument panel:
And oddly enough, unliky the vast majority of cars nowadays, it has an actual dedicated "accessory" position on the key cylinder.
In entry 2, I'll actually fly to Oshkosh itself (eventually).
I talked about Smart Cars and my experiences with car2go in a (relatively recent) blog post. That post was more concerned about the Smart Car itself rather than the car2go company, but it talks about that.
I ran across an internet post yesterday announcing that car2go is coming to Minneapolis, a city that I visit all the time. Whoo-hoo! I don't know that I'll always use it, but it's a very flexible option for some kinds of travel in the city.
For a very limited time while they're rolling out their service in a new city, they allow residents to sign up for the service without a fee. If you live anywhere at all in or near the Twin Cities metro area, I would encourage you to sign up for the service. There are no continuing membership fees; if you never use a car you don't pay anything, and they don't send you stuff unless you ask for it. They do ask for your driver's license information; a membership carries insurance with it, so they do the same level of check as getting new car insurance. The normal cost for signing up is something like $35.
The service is extremely slick and easy to use. One membership covers you for all their locations (at least on the same continent). I've used my membership to rent cars in Austin TX and Portland OR. You can rent any unused car any time and park it whenever and wherever you like, as long as it's a legal parking space.
It looks like the core area (where you can drop of a car) is the Minneapolis city limits. So it goes up to but doesn't include the St. Paul/Minneapolis airport. I wonder if at some point they're going to put a pod of car2go cars at the airport like they did in Austin; that would be really convenient.
And I do realize that there have been politics and bad feelings involved with car2go coming to the Cities. So there are definitely people who won't want to patronize them because of that, which is totally understandable. I'm certainly not saying that you should get a car2go membership instead of one of the other car-sharing companies in the area, just that it doesn't cost you anything to get this one (during the introductory period) and that way you can have it and try it out.
I flew to Oshkosh this year. It's bene a goal for so long it's difficult to believe it happened. I've been interested in aviation and airplanes all my life that I can remember. After I got hired in my current job in 2002, Mike, the guy who hired me, got me interested in going to the big Oshkosh airshow; he flies every year. I first drove and car-camped for part of the week at the show in 2004 on the way to England to join my wife there for our sort-of honeymoon epic vacation. In 2005 I went for the whole week. I've gone off and on since then, last year with my wife, but always by car. This was the first year I flew an airplane there myself, and I was thrilled that it could be my airplane.
The worry was to get the time free and to make sure the airplane was healthy. After a spring of having to iron out problems and bugs, I took a trip to Minnesota in early July (a subject for another post) that was remarkably free of mechanical difficulties. So I geared up in late July to fly to Airventure Oshkosh with business stops on both ends to help absorb the vacation days incurred.
I flew from home to my usual business stop at KCMI and stayed for the latter part of the week before the beginning of the show. I parked the Mooney at the FBO at the airport, which is really terrific and I like a lot. I bussed around town while I was there. I was actually only current for IFR flight through the end of July, which meant that I needed more logged instrument approaches if I was going to fly IFR in August (which included my flight back from the show; August 1 was Thursday when I was planning to leave). So I hooked up with a pilot friend and we flew 5 approaches at Willard over 2 days.
I packed for the trip in rather a hurry, and I needed to sort out an electrical power source for all my cameras and gadgets, so I rented a car on Saturday morning before the show. I went around and got campuing stuff, and easy-to-carry food (granola bars and stuff). I picked up a briefcase solar panel at Home Depot which I'll talk about later. And on Saturday afternoon, I got laundry done and drove all my stuff except for a single change of clothes and drove it out to the airplane, so that when I came Sunday morning I could just carry my one bag out to the airplane and take off.
Sunday morning of Oshkosh came, and I got out at a reasonable time, but not quite as soon as I wanted. The FBO opens at 5am, and the tower starts operations at 6. My plan had been to take off and be up off the ground before the tower opened, but I didn't quite make that. I dropped off the rental car and cranked the airplane up. There was actually an airliner who taxiied out ahead of me. I was just about to start taxiing when the tower started broadcasting, so my taxi and takeoff was actually under tower with a normal VFR departure.
The plane has almost 5 hours of fuel and the flight to Oshkosh is about 1.5 hours. As it turns out, fuel wasn't a consideration anyway. Weather in Illinois was pretty good but the clouds were coming down as I got into southern Wisonsin. I was looking at the weather via my Stratus, and ceilings in southern Wisconsin were getting pretty low north of Rockford, so I stopped there. It was a good stop; I was able to check the weather and I waited about an hour and a half. I ran into several groups of people in airplanes who were also going to Oshkosh and stopped for the same reason. I talked to a guy who had made his IFR reservation 3 days before, which intruiged me (more on that later).
I left there at 9am or so and heade north to Oshkosh once the weather north seemed to be getting steadily better. Pretty much the whole flight from Rockford I was already below 2000 feet just to stay under the clouds. Even with the improving conditions, it was just high enough to be able to safely/legally fly the 1800 ft MSL approach. One thing that's nice flying a Mooney--you mostly only have to worry about traffic that's directly ahead of you. If you see someone to the side, in a minute they're well behind you. I didn't get really close to anyone, but I saw a few distant airplanes as I flew past them.
I joined the VFR arrival procedure without incident. I didn't really see anyone to follow so I just headed up the railroad tracks from Ripon. I didn't have any trouble getting down to the prescribed 1800 feet and 90 kt speed required for the Airventure arrival procedure. They called me as "Mooney" which was fine. I was slightly concerned about rocking my wings enough to be obvious but that worked fine. I was instructed to go up the railroad tracks and make downwind for 27.
What surprised me was how high I seemed on the approach; part of that was I didnt' start decending nearly soon enough, so I ended up high on the turn to final (typical for me). I got cleared to land in the green dot, most of the way down the runway, which I even overshot, but that was fine. Taxiing was bumpy; this was the first time I'd taxiied the Mooney on grass, and I was going perpendicular to any ruts. But I got parked and started to make camp.
I'll tell the story of camping in another post. I was at the show Monday through Wednesday, including spending Tuesday with my uncle Bob who was an Air Force pilot and corporate executive jet pilot and was probably the person most directly responsible for inspiring me to become a pilot. It was a great few days, I saw cool stuff.
My plan all the while had been to arrive and depart VFR; that's the fun bit. However, the weather early Wednesday morning had me a bit worried. The field opened for departures promptly at 6am, and there were definitely airplanes departing. And the ATIS indicated VFR departures were open...but I dont' frankly think they were technically legally VFR. I watched airplanes depart 27 and dis-appear into a cloud 30 seconds after take-off. That got me worried. Even if I ended up being able to take off, what if I ended up trapped somewhere else in Wisconsin before I could fly over the lake?
So that got me thinking. I'd known there was an IFR "reservation" system for arrivals and departures, and I'd always assumed that all of the slots were filled months before and there was no point in a small single-engine airplane trying to get one. But then there was the guy in Rockford who said he'd gotten his reservations 72 hours ahead. So Wednesday morning, thinking that perhaps an IFR departure would be nice after all, I read the IFR departure section in detail. It turns out that you can ONLY get an IFR reservation slot 72 hours in advance. At that point, it was slightly less than 24 hours before I wanted to leave. My plan had been to depart just after 6am. What the heck, it couldn't hurt to check. So I popped up my laptop, got network through tethered through my phone. After a couple of false starts dealing with the reservation system, lo and behold, I had an IFR reservation for 06:30 Thursday morning. Whoo-hoo! Heck, if I'd known it would be that easy I probably would have planned to do it that way in the first place.
There are a couple of subleties to the Oshkosh IFR reservation system. First, you can reserve your slot up to 72 hours in advance. If you get your reservation more than 24 hours ahead of your slot, it's a "tentative" reservation, in which case you need to "confirm" it between 24 and 12 hours ahead. If you get it inside of 24 hours ahead of the slot (as I did) it's confirmed when you get it. So I ended up with a confirmed reservation form with a reservation number attached to it. I wrote the all-important number down, but just to be safe, I also printed that to a pdf file which I then saved onto a separate flash drive in case I needed to print it.
They also want you to file your flight plan at least several hours in advance, and to put the reservation number into the flight plan comments. So before I went to bed, I filed my flight plan, using a routing over Lake Michigan that was suggested in the departure NOTAM.
I got up Thursday morning, broke camp (with wet tent and camping gear, blech). I called for my clearance and permission for engine start, got it and they said to call when ready for taxi. So I pulled the airplane out into the aisle (with the help of my camping neighbors, thanks gents!) and cranked up and started taxiing. This was a bit more complicated because there was no-one out directing traffice, but I'd figured out the system in the days before.
I taxiied east along the south edge of 09/27. Ground called me just as I was about to get onto 13 to taxi southeast to get ready to depart 27. I stopped at the intersection of 4 and 13 to do my run-up, and get everything ready. Tower called me and instructed me to taxi straight ahead to the departure end of 27, so I did. I got cleared for takeoff, runway heading, and my squawk code, and I was off.
I got vectored straight west, then straight south, then straight east, then eventually joining my filed course. Once I was past the middle of Lake Michigan (I had a monster tail wind, which was really nice) they vectored me straight to Lansing. It's just as well that I departed VFR, because the weather in Lansing would have been tricky or impossible to land visually. I flew the actual real-live ILS into Lansing and stopped for my meeting and fuel. When I went to leave, I couldn't start the airplane, but that's another story.
[I've been meaning to write this post for weeks, but it's so huge and with many dozens of pictures I was dreading starting it. So I decided to write this post, with the bulk of the text in it, by itself. I will hopefully make more posts, maybe 3 of them, with all the photos and more commentary.]
When I needed a car in the spring four years ago, I did some serious shopping. I drove several different models. One of the cars I was interested in was the Smart Car, made by a division of Mercedes. It's very small, which I like, and it's very fuel efficient, which I like. It's also cute and fairly unqiue, which I think is cool as well. So I considered it very carefully when I was car shopping that year.
I thought it was quite comfortable. The handling is really good. However, in the one mile test drive in Knoxville when I tested one, I definitely notice the transmission didn't shift like I would have thought it should. That and the fact that it's a rear wheel drive car kept me from seriously considering buying one at the time.
I've spent a lot of time since then contemplating that decision. Was the transmission really that bad, or was I just being over-sensitive? Judging by other poeple's comments, Top Gear for instance, and a lot of videos on Youtube, I'm not alone in this. That's the one complaint about the car (the transmission). On the other hand, lots of people complain about driving original VWs and I like mine fine.
The real question here is: would I like it as a road car? That's the one over-riding requirement for any car for me, is it reasonable to take on a long road trip? You can't really figure that out unless you can do serious driving, but finding one to rent is tough. Avis car rental claims in various places on their web site that they rent them, but I've called them several times and asked for ANY Avis office that rents the Smart, and I've come up with zero.
However, there's another interesting avenue. There's a company called
car2go that provides short-term
micro-rentals in urban areas, and the car they rent is exclusively the
Smart ForTwo. Certain cities have fleets of these Smart cars and
they just sit around the city to be rented. You buy a membership with
the company, and they issue you a proximity card membership card:
You then use the card to rent any available car2go Smart car on the spot. You're charged for the amount of time you use the car, at a per-minute rate until you hit the amount for one hour. After an hour, you accumulate minutes again and so on. There's also a cap for the amount you pay per day. The daily cap is higher than a typical small car rental would be for a day, so it's mostly geared to using the car for an hour or two.
They're only available in select cities in North America at the moment, but they're adding more cities. I don't happen to live near any of them, but I travel a lot. After a few years of hemming and hawing about the Smart, I had my chance in 2012. I'd found out about Smart, and I was going to be in the Austin area in the fall, which is a city that has car2go cars. I got the car2go membership and brought the card along. Unfortunately, I'd already bought my airline tickets when I had this idea, so I ended up with not a lot of time to do any driving. I probably got 20 minutes driving total, and it was in a pretty heavy rain, so I didn't really get a feel for it (although it handled very very well in the rain).
This spring (2013) I ended up with work travel that I arranged to go through Austing to visit family and it ended at Portland (another city served by car2go) so I was able to plan my travel to heavily use car2go to try it out and to get some serious Smart car driving time.
To start out with, car2go had JUST installed a group of their cars at
the "The Parking Spot" facility at the Austin airport, so there are
always car2go cars there that you can grab at the airport and drive
into the city if you're arriving:
Each car has a proximity card reader inside the windshield on the
driver's side that also has an LCD status display that tells you if
the car is in an active rental and if not, if it's available to rent:
So you hold your card up to the reader, then it checks your account, activates your rental, and unlocks the driver's door:
Inside the car, there's a center console nav unit that's also a part
of the security system on the car. The ignition key is in a socket in
When you get into the car, you type your PIN into the console, then the rental is active and you can take the key.
The key cylinder is right behind the gear shift between the seats.
The Smart ForTwo is just two seats, of course, and a bit of luggage
space behind the seats over the engine. It's actually a reasonable
amount of room. It fit my big week-trip travelling suitcase just
and in fact it JUST fits lying down if you move the seats out of the fully-rearward position:
And a few dashboard shots because they amuse me:
In the 2012 trip, I only drove the Smart twice on two very short stints, and it was all in heavy rain. This trip in 2013, I had 5 rull runs in Smart cars. In Austin, I drove to meet family, then back to the airport. In Portland I stopped by local community college that has a bunch of Smart cars on their campus (which is a great idea, I think) so that I could drive one on the Interstate. And then travelling through Austin in my way back, I took a Smart to my hotel and then back to the airport to fly home.
So after all that driving, here are my impressions. The good things are what I thought they were. It's a fine car to ride around in. The handling, suspension, brakes are good. The seats and interior are comfortable. I like the instruments and the panel layout.
And finally, the transmission. As others have found, if you shift manually it's better. The only real annoyance is the shift from 1st to 2nd gear. If you get the rhythm right and shift manually, it's not too bad. So I wish that mercedes would just bloody well make a transmission that was better, but I would find it a mild annoyance but perfectly drivable.