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

Trip to Austin, Part 3

2017 February 12 17:30

Sleeping overnight in Meridian, Mississippi on the way back home, I was figuring the trip was going pretty well. I'd been delayed by half a day by weather, but that was vastly better than several of my colleagues. So I headed to the airport first thing Monday morning to fly the last leg home.

.....aaaaaand there was no response from the electrical fuel pump. It's not NECESSARY to fly the plane, or even to start it, but it IS the backup in case the engine-driven fuel pump fails. So I had it towed to the local repair place:

Here's the culprit, ready to be shipped off as an exchange for an overhauled pump:

The shop on the field was mostly a turbine-airplane place, but I was able to help a mechanic get the proper access panel off and get him to the electric fuel pump. I then arranged to overnight the bad pump to the people with spares, and my wonderful wife (thanks darling!) shipped a check to the repair place (they don't take credit cards). Then I rented a car a drove back home, and left the plane there to be fixed once they got the pump back.

I ended up renting a Hyundai of some sort. I felt it was good omen when songs like this kept coming on the satellite radio:

Obligatory instrument panel photo (pretty efficient car):

And a nice underpass on the way home.

I did get the airplane back eventually. But first, other house stuff.


Trip to Austin, Part 2

2017 February 10 09:07

Back in Austin, the plan was to fly my plane to Kerrville to the Mooney fly-in, so that I could, finally, have my plan parked on the field in front of the Mooney factory. The weather was crappy enough that I decided to leave it tied down in Austin

and rent a car and drive to Austin instead.

My vague memory of the original planned sequence was this. I flew commercial from Oregon to Austin Friday morning. I got into Austin mid-afternoon Friday. I had planned then to fly my airplane to Kerrville and stay Friday and Saturday nights, and then fly all the way home on Sunday.

(My vague recollection is): The weather was bad in Austin when I got there, so I decided to wait to Saturday morning to fly. I was so tired I mostly went to bed. Saturday morning, the weather was slightly better but I'd have to be doing an instrument approach into crappy weather into Kerrville, so I decided not to. I rented a car to drive to Kerrville and back. (A lot of this is because I was giving a talk on electronic flight bag solutions that I hadn't finished yet. I'm a really really bad procrastinator sometimes.)

I rented the car in a huge hurry Saturday morning because I had to get on the road. I drove to the hotel in Kerrville and then sat in my hotel room for an hour finishing my talk. I gave the talk, that was fine, and then that evening was the banquet, which I stayed for the food and about the first half of the entertainment part. Since I was leaving so early the next morning, I ditched out of the rest of the evening.

I left super-early Sunday morning, like 4am. My plan was to race the thunderstorms that were coming in to Austin and try to get off the ground going east before they hit. It was interesting to drive with thunderstorms right behind you in the dark on roads you don't know. I got to Austin, and before I could get out of the rental car, it was bucketing down rain.

The car was GREAT to drive; I found out later one of the reasons it accelerated so smoothly is that it has a continuously-varable transmission. What with all the hurrying, I never got a photo of the outside of it. I just have these three instrument panel shots. I managed to figure out from screenshots that this is a Nissan Maxima. Very nice car.





Mooney was prototyping a plane that they're going to be selling. A small two-seater. Here's a couple of shots inside.

Note the single-level engine control in the center console. All glass-panel; I think that's a Garmin 500? And with an iPad mount already built-in. And USB power jacks in the center console:

As usual, there were tours of the Mooney factory. Here's the final assembly area:

And the wing assembly jigs:

The oval holes in the wings are fuel tank inspection/service hatches. These mooneys will have fuel tanks that fill more of the wing than mine. My tanks only have three service hatches per side.



I dropped of the rental car just as the storms hit. So I ended up chilling in the FBO for several hours. I actually used their pilot nap room to make up for having such a short night. I left mid-afternoon; too late to make it halfway home but early enough to get fuel in Meridian Mississippi again.





So I grabbed a hotel there for the night.

The saga of leaving Meridian the next morning will be the next post.


Trip to Austin, Part 1

2017 February 10 08:40

Ok, so we're up to May 2015. After the long annual, I had another trip scheduled. This one was a weird double-trip that happened because a work event ended up being the the week that I had a (previously scheduled) Mooney event in Texas the following weekend. So what I ended up doing was combining the travel for the trips. I few myself to Austin, Texas in my plane, then the next morning, grabbed a United flight to Oregon via LAX. I did the work event in Oregon, then flew back to Austin. The Mooney event was in Kerrville, which is near San Antonio. My plan had been to fly my plane from Austin to Kerrville, but when I got to Austin from Oregon, the weather was crappy enough that I just rented a car instead. I drove the car to Kerrville, went to part of the event, and then drove back to Austin early early the next (Sunday) morning. The trip back is another story.

The trip down was exciting. The whole lower midwest, including a lot of Texas, was being hit by thunderstorms that day. Here's the view on my iPad dodging the storms on the way down.

I stopped for fuel in Meridian, Mississippi. It's an army pilot training base, so my Mooney was parked among a bunch of army training airplanes.

I staying in Meridian for a while, waiting for the storms to pass. I left there with enough time to get to Austin just before dark.



The next morning, flying out of Austin, United had a fantastic system for getting boarding groups lined up. This is so much better than most other airlines where people sort of hover around the boarding gate until their group is called. It was noticably faster.

Leaving Austin in someone else's plane.

Coming into LAX, we could see the big canals that are used in lots of movies.

And lots of big interchages.

At work in Oregon, this is the villiage just down the street from the resort where our meetings were. Here's my "Prisoner" throwback selfie.

The weather for most of the trip was pretty temperate (if stormy), but one morning during the trip we got snow. This is the view out of my room in the evening.

All for now. The next entry will continue with being back in Austin.


Another long annual (part 2)

2016 December 19 08:42

Spinner bulkhead re-attached with new hardare.

Getting inspection panels re-installed without dropping them inside the plane is sometimes tricky, especially when they're on vertical walls. Here's the trick my mechanic taught me about that. Form a handle with tape:

which allows you to hold it in place until you get the first couple of screws attached:

All buttoned up, ready to fly.

Getting ready to fly the plane home after the annual; charging all the things.

Heading home, loading the plane.


Another long annual (part 1)

2016 December 19 08:41

April/May 2015 was the first annual for my airplane since the propellor was replace and engine overhauled in 2013-14. This was the first semi-normal annual. Still plenty of work done, but not major systems were replaced.

Taking apart the spinner to annual the propeller.

The pressure plate was a bit rusty and wasn't holding pressure on the front spinner bulkhead.

We painted the pressure plate so it at least wasn't corroding.

Prop dome with the spinner bulkhead removed.

Electric fuel pump, fuel selector and fuel system sump at the bottom of the photo.

While parts came in and we worked on stuff for the annual, I was driving my father-in-law's truck around.



When we had a break, I took a couple of days and drove to HQ and spend a couple of days in the office. Here's the office recharging setup.

I spent a good bit of time during this trip testing chargers in the truck for use in the airplane.



Back to the annual, all the belly panels off.



It was my first time taking the panels off. Over a couple hundred screws; I stripped three and had to extract them by cutting a slot with a dremel tool.

We did some work on the landing gear. Here's the plane on jacks, gear retracted, looking vaguely Airwolf-like.


2015 Texas Trip: USS Texas and Battle Memorial

2016 August 03 08:51

On our other big sight-seeing day in Houston, we went downtown and the USS Texas memorial ship, and the memorial to the Battle of San Jacinto.

Battleship selfie. You know, like you do.

My wife, on one of the anti-aircraft turrets, taking aim at plagerism and comma-splices.

A lot of the gear on the battleship still kind of works, which is cool. This turret doesn't shoot, obviously, but the articulation works.

Bridge, which we couldn't go into but could photograph.

The engine spaces were amazing, but it was difficult to get photos, because everything's massive but you can't tell because there's nothing for scale. I did snag one photo of the engineering main instrument panel:

The battle site is an interesting walk-around, but not a lot to photograph, other than plaques and a lot of grass. The memorial itself is amazing and huge. Here it is looking like one of the final stars in Super Mario 64:

Everything really is bigger in Texas. Driving back to the house, we have to wait for a crossing oil tanker.

(I think we were actually waiting for the ferry, but I liked the photo.)

Flying back home, gratuitus instrument panel photos:







One nice thing about this trip was that it was the major long-distance trip that my wife and I have attempted to take in our airplane where everything went flawlessly. Two legs out, two legs back, the airplane was completely consistent and dependable.


2015 Texas Trip: NASA

2016 August 03 08:28

Continuing a series of posts that I last worked on, in....er.... February, one of the places we visited in Houson (visiting my brother and sister in law) was the NASA Center in Houston. As a space nut, this was a pretty awesome trip.

The guest rooms we stayed in were very well-equipped:

While we were out on the town for a day, I charged all my stuff.

A few highway photos while we were driving into town.

Houston is VERY big on flyover-overpass exchanges. Here's a good example.

A bit of skyline.

Another overpass set; at least three layers!

A lot of the stuff on display at NASA in Houston is so big that it doesn't particularly lend itself to photography without serious wide-angle gear, and I just had my phone. I attempted to take a few shots to commemorate the occasion.

Here's one of the shuttle carrier 747's with an engineering mock-up shuttle on top of it, parked outside the museum:



Another highlight of Houston NASA is that they have a complete Saturn-5 laid out in a horizontal display building. This is looking down the first stage from the second stage. The first stage is sitting on its ground carrier vehicle; look at the enormous tires!

An (I'm guessing) engineering test Command Module (the brown bit) with its escape tower on the right.

As of this trip, I have now seen all of the Saturn-5 rockets on public display in the US. There's one at Saturn Apollo Center at Kennedy Space Center in Florida, there's this one at NASA in Houston, and there are two at Huntsville, Alabama, one inside like the other two are, and one stacked vertically outside (which is REALLY impressive to see). I've read there's one more Saturn 5 first stage outside somewhere in Louisiana; maybe I'll go fly over it someday.

Outside the Saturn 5 display building, they have some rocket engines, and this. It's a "Little Joe" test vehicle that NASA used to test the escape system for the Apollo Command Module. You can see it here, sitting with a command module mounted on top of it.



Another flyover interchange.


Plane is fine

2016 August 01 16:49

While I'm catching up on the status of things....

The plane is fine. In the annual this spring, we dug into the hydraulic system. The hoses were original, and pretty stiff. The flap up/down control was super-stuff. It turns out I was wrong about the diagnosis of that; it was the cable, not the pump. That's fixed. The retraction speed is fixed. We don't really know what the problem is with the pump that had been in there, but I bought another one and that one worked fine. I still have the bad pump to try to figure out what was up.

The brakes still act slightly funny; it will be interesting to find out if it's better or worse when it's cold. We'd decided that the old problem with the mag checks might have been a weak plug, so we put a massive back in the bottom of #2. However, a couple of flights later, I had another bad mag check, so bought and installed a brand new fine-wire plug there, and it's been fine ever since.

I need to take it down to Knoxville tomorrow to get its IFR sign-off. After that, I can start flying it more, potentially.


Hydaulic System

2016 March 20 22:26

A schematic map of the brake system in my airplane. Figured out from looking at the hydraulic lines in the airplane.



2015 Texas Trip: prep and travel

2016 February 20 23:28

Then at the end of March 2015, I flew my wife and I to Texas in our plane. It was pretty awesome. First we had some prep. As part of that, I made a tool to try to not make too much of a mess of the plane when removing the oil filter, which I needed to do to change the oil. (I *really* wanted to have summer oil in the plane before flying it to Texas in April.)

Bandsaw out.

Saw some 4-inch PVC pieces to shape.

Primed, painted, and ready to glue together.

Here's the finished piece, sitting below the oil filter. This is a catch pan to sit under the filter as you unscrew it from the back of the engine that catches most of the oil that drains out of the filter itself as you disconnect it. That keeps that oil from running down the front of the firewall and out on the nose landing gear tire and making a mess. (In the later oil change, I discovered that leaving it to drain for a couple of hours to let the filter mostly drain also helps a lot.)

It was supposed to be chilly the morning that we left, so I took advantage of the engine heater we'd recently installed. Here I've plugged the source end of the extension cord into a light timer.

The other end plugs into the heater plug inside the cowl; here you see the end of the extension cord going into the oil door.

I got the Stratus mounted and power cables run to it, so that I could use it all the way down and back. A nice addition for long-distance flights.

Flying down, I took the Stratus out of its mount on the windshield because it seemed to be overheating. I was very amused to see that it still picked up ADS-B ground stations and GPS signals just fine, sitting here on the throttle and having no view of the ground and almost none of the sky.

We flew the whole flight down IFR. We took two legs to fly it. Flying into KIAH at the end of this flight was my first time flying into a class B. It was fun and interesting. The controllers were very nice to me. Taxiing was fine, except for my blowing my taxi instructions slightly and getting yelled at by the ground controller.

The FBO was clearly used to bigger planes, but they were very nice and accomodating. They parked our plane along their flight line, with cones to make it more visible.

There's a plane taking off (indicated by the arrow) on the runway right behind our plane. Neat!


What a half-year

2015 October 03 23:49

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Phew. Just typing that made me tired.

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

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


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.