Bittersweet

Apparently the two best days of aircraft ownership are the day you buy it and the day you sell it. I’m not too sure about that. It was a bittersweet moment when the Sting finally left Perth on its way to its new home. We were sad to see the aircraft go, but the sting (Sting – ha!) was taken away by the money now in the bank account and the peace of mind…insurance, hangarage, maintenance etc for one aircraft is bad enough, but for three? So one had to go.

Looking at the aircraft registration website we had owned the Sting for 3 years and one day. This was the first aircraft I owned which was NOT a single seat fighter replica, so that was a first.

Lots of firsts. First long distance trip. Here we are in Sweden:

First time I attended a factory course for engine maintenance (Rotax 912 ULS):

First time I thought we might have to abandon the aircraft and make other arrangements to get home:

First time across the Channel. That’s actually included in the first long distance trip above but it’s a biggie so it gets its own picture. Here we are on the way back, a lot more relaxed than on the way out (if you can’t remember our top tip for first timers here it is again – just do it! It’s a lot easier than you think it will be):

Lots of firsts, so we were sad to see the aircraft go. It’s heading to a flying club on the South Coast of England where the plan is to go into a group ownership scheme, so it will get lots of flying, and lots of TLC from the club engineer.

I felt like somebody was taking away a beloved family pet as the guys packed up and prepared for the ferry flight south:

The weather wasn’t too good but they set off, got half way and finally made it home the next day. I then had a lot of internet admin to do, emailing other interested parties to say the aircraft was now sold and cancelling adverts on Facebook, UKGA and the excellent AFORS (aircraft for sale):

And a few days later, into the RV6 for Brenda’s first flight, a blast around the Perthshire skies to earn her very own RV grin. The aircraft has gone, long live the aircraft!

Goodbye and thank you Sting…for 3 years we had a blast. We wish you a long and happy life of flying, and with your South Coast location, many more trips to Europe.

Cheers Sigurd Martin!

Back in a Boeing

Perth in Scotland. A snapshot of a normal residential area. Normal people, living normal lives, with normal jobs and normal worries. But as always, scratch the surface and you can find some remarkable stuff.

Take this picture (courtesy of Google or Bing Maps, can’t remember)… somewhere in this picture is a typical suburban house with garage owned by a normal chap. By day he’s an automotive electrical engineer, by night he’s the caped crusader, fighting crime and injustice wherever it is to be found.

No he’s not a comic book action character, but he has achieved something remarkable. You may be thinking this is one of those “…built an aeroplane in his garage…” type things, but he doesn’t even fly real aircraft.

What he has done is take computer flight simulation to a whole new level by building a Boeing 737-800 simulator in his garage. Here’s the flight deck:

…and the view out the windows showing Stand 1A at Edinburgh Airport:

Ryanair parked on the stand next to us. It looks a little distorted from the camera position but when you are in the seat and your eyes are in the right spot it looks totally realistic…

Everything works. It’s just as lifelike as some of the sims I used to get tested in, even though it’s a fixed base unit and has no motion. Your brain soon forgets and fills in the feelings of movement from the visual cues and the instruments. Here’s me, back in the First Officer’s seat of a Boeing, taxiing out to runway 24 at Edinburgh for a flight to Luton. I flew the 757 and 767 back in the day, but the Boeing philosophies transfer from one type to another so I very quickly felt at home:

On the way down to Luton it was going quite nicely so just to liven things up we requested a minor emergency. The right engine promptly burst into flames.

A barely remembered Boeing engine fire drill from almost 20 years ago seemed to work, and the fire went out after about 45 seconds, just as I was getting ready to fire the second fire extinguisher bottle. We then diverted to Manchester, and due to the magic of the internet, the weather was the same as the actual weather at the time…this meant that I had painted myself into a corner with a 25kt crosswind for my first ever 737 landing, with one engine inop and a randomly guessed flap setting. It seemed to go OK but I don’t think Mr O’Leary will be calling me to fly one of his 737s any time soon.

I then swapped seats while the aircraft was repositioned instantly to Pula in Croatia where the weather was a lot nicer:

With all my massive 737 experience I was now promoted to training captain and Euan jumped in the right hand seat. His Dad built and flies an RV6A from Perth and took this pic:

Euan flew the take off, climbed out and leveled at 2500ft over the Adriatic. He then turned downwind and positioned for a landing on the runway we had just departed. A nicely flown approach and landing rounded off his introduction to the 737. Dad Ian said “this could be expensive!” as he contemplated the cost of commercial pilot training.

It then turns out that Euan has never flown with his Dad, maybe never flown at all. He was a natural. Kids these days eh?

A simulator in the garage…I want one.

High Level Testing

Another trip to test out various bits of the new aircraft. Here we are at 6000ft with the autopilot engaged, holding the altitude and maintaining course. The route took us northwest from Perth over the mountains to Fort William, then south to Oban and east back to Perth. There was about 20kt of wind at 6000ft and quite a bit of mountain wave activity. The altitude hold managed to cope, but several times the ALT light flashed as it was nearing the limits of its capability in the up and downdraughts.

The sunshade was deployed to test its capabilities. All satisfactory apart from when I leaned too far to my left to inspect something on the ground and the internal rib of the shade snagged on my headset and I was stuck. Taking the headset off and untangling it fixed the dilemma. Lesson learned.

At one point in an updraught, with the autopilot lowering the nose to try and maintain altitude, we got a nice healthy groundspeed:

The route on Skydemon:

…and as seen on Flightradar24. The autopilot does a good job of flying in a straight line. The slight wiggles are where it got a bit bumpy and I hand flew as the autopilot was struggling a bit in the turbulence.

After landing we taxied to the pumps and filled up to full again. The amount uplifted and the flight time since the tanks were last full calculates at just under 29 litres/hr fuel consumption. About 10 lt/hr more than the Sting, but the autopilot, baggage compartment and extra fuel capacity makes it worth it. And also the extra speed!

Talking of extra fuel capacity, the next test is to fill to full fuel including the tip tanks and depart with 210 litres on a long trip. The plan is to route down the east coast towards Newcastle, then across to Stranraer, over Arran to the Lochgilphead area and back to Perth via Loch Lomond. This is long enough to verify the fuel feed from the auxiliary tanks and the associated low fuel warning lights. Also we are not too far from a diversion airfield should the tip tanks fail to flow. All being well, each tip tank should give about an hour, thus extending range by (ballpark) 280 miles.

I’ve been reading (again) The Flight of the Mew Gull by Alex Henshaw, all about the record breaking Cape Town and back flight in the late 1930’s, and filled with inspiration have been planning some long range flights on Skydemon. Our RV itself has been to Cape Town.

Perth to the Faroe Islands is well within range, as is Perth straight across the North Sea to Stavanger. But both involve a lot of cold water, and we don’t yet have a liferaft. That is on the shopping list, but until then, we’ll be going the long way round to Sweden, remaining within gliding range of dry land at all times.

Talking of Sweden, our trip last summer earned us the highly coveted, world famous and prestigious Scottish Aero Club Longest Distance Flown 2018 award. We’re going to have to go further next year to defend the title!

p.s. updraft or updraught? Answers on a postcard…

The “RV Grin”

Work, a holiday and the good old Scottish weather got in the way for a few weeks, but it was finally time to take the new steed out for a blast. But first a fill up at the pumps. 80 litres of Avgas is a little bit more expensive than 20 litres of Tesco’s finest unleaded “Mogas” 🙁

Once refuelled, we launched off into the distance. First impressions were – what an awesome aircraft. Flat out at low level we were getting 160 knots, as opposed to the Sting’s 120.

Obviously we don’t go flat out all the time, but even at cruise power there’s a significant increase on the Sting – good for going places. There are auxiliary fuel tanks in the wingtips which increase the max fuel load from 140 to 210, offering an extra 2 hours endurance. Useful when going to Sweden…we found that refuel stops take time and cost money, not just for the fuel but also landing fees, ice creams etc.

Notice the suction gauge reading, it’s a gauge problem and not a failure of the vacuum pump, the vacuum driven instruments all sprang into life as soon as the engine started so the pump is definitely working. It could be a faulty gauge or just kink in the air line to the gauge, but it’s something for the tinkering list.

The first flight was spent just tooling around having fun, investigating the performance, looking out the window and taking a few photos. Here’s the former RAF airfield at Stracathro, now all that remains is the perimeter track:

There’s a thing called the “RV Grin” – I used to think it was just a marketing ploy by Vans Aircraft…now I know it’s a real thing:

This was taken before my first ever landing on type. Luckily the landing was fine and without drama, so the RV grin persisted long after the aircraft was put to bed in the hangar…

Big Changes at “SIGURD MARTIN”

We mentioned going to Dublin to view an aircraft which was for sale. Here it is:

G-RVIB over South Africa, photo via Peter Gorman

It’s a VANS RV6, built from a kit produced in Oregon. Both of my loyal readers may remember my trip to Inverness to view an RV-7 last year, and the subsequent purchase of a preview plans set (see April 2018 – for some reason I can’t embed a link here).

Vans are the most popular kit planes out there, with over 10,000 flying worldwide. G-RVIB was completed in 2002 and since then has flown about 1700hrs, including a monster epic trip to Cape Town. As it was for sale, and the price was right, and we could bypass the build process, we decided to go and have a look.

We took the ferry from Scotland and drove to Weston Airfield on the edge of Dublin. There we met the owner and saw the aircraft in the hangar:

First things first. Do I fit.? Do both of us fit? We went to see a lovely Lancair in the summer and while we did fit in it in terms of legroom, width and so on, we couldn’t get the canopy closed. So we had to let that one go.

Luckily there was headroom for both of us with headsets, so we got onto the serious stuff. First a good look at the cockpit and instrument panel:

G-RVIB cockpit

The panel is well equipped, with good avionics (8.33 radio and Mode-S transponder), digital engine monitor, GPS unit feeding info to the autopilot and a tablet running Skydemon. Comfortable side by side seating with loads of legroom. The two red lights on the right are low fuel warnings for the auxiliary tanks installed in the wingtips – these increase capacity from 140 litres to about 210 giving up to 9 hours endurance if flown properly. My bladder would have exploded by then.

Cockpit (photo via Peter Gorman)

Notice the control columns festooned with buttons and switches. This is one half of what the military call HOTAS (Hands On Throttle And Stick) which means every button and switch you may need in flight is at your fingertips. No need to take your hands from the controls. In something meaty like an F/A-18 your fingertips can control talking on the radio, selecting and firing different weapons, operating the radar, changing the cockpit displays,  switching from air-to-air mode to air-to-ground mode and many others. In this case there is a push-to-talk for the radio, elevator trim control, aileron trim control, autopilot disconnect, flap control and bomb release. I made the last one up.

Then it was time to inspect the engine…

Cowlings off…
…a closer look…
…underneath…

And a look under the seats at all the stuff under there:

What on earth does all this stuff DO…?

Once we’d looked at all that we could look at it was time to go for a quick flight…

Putting the cowlings back on…

No photos of the flight, I was too busy having fun. Brenda was watching from the restaurant and said the takeoff seemed really quick. The aircraft has a fixed pitch cruise prop so I wasn’t expecting anything sparkling but even so, the ground roll seemed quite short.

What was interesting was the fact that as we accelerated, the prop was getting more and more efficient, and the speed just kept building up. I didn’t notice the speed at which we broke ground, but the sight picture was all wrong as we whipped over the airfield boundary in a gentle climbing turn to the right…I did glance in to check and saw 120 knots on the ASI, that’s 50 knots faster than the Sting would be going at the same point.

Levelling off under the Dublin TMA we continued to accelerate. Peter says the flat out cruise at low level is about 160 knots. Throttling back a little to save fuel can still give a respectable 140 knots – 20 faster than the Sting so good for going places.

Peter loves fuel efficiency. He has found that throttling right back to about 50% gives an indicated airspeed of 125 while flying at 8000 feet and a true airspeed of 135, while getting 5 nautical miles for every litre of fuel burnt. Great for going long distances, although we might have to buy some NASA nappies.

We floated around Ireland for a bit:

After landing I decided that I REALLY like this aircraft, but didn’t want to jump head first into anything. We agreed to meet the next day at the airfield for more discussion. I took the engineering worksheet folder to the hotel for some light reading and found it to be very well organised and neat, a complete record of work done on the aircraft since the beginning…if the paperwork is meticulous it gives an idea of the mentality of the owner and their attitude towards maintenance.

In this case, Peter is an accountant so it may just be “accountant’s neat” – but the aircraft and paperwork together offered a compelling argument.

So, YES, we agreed to buy the RV6. Excited!

The only problem is the registration. Sigurd Martin is Swedish phonetic alphabet for SM, the registration of the Sting. India Bravo translates as Ivar Bertil.

There is no way I’m changing the blog name to Ivar Bertil. No way. Sigurd Martin will just have to stand for something else. Like…Speed Machine?

The Warmth of Achievement

A trio of February flights in cold, clear, still weather. In fact there was no wind, perfect for the Eindecker but it would have been far too cold for the pilot…

Here’s the Sting using the power of the sun to warm up on the grass. Refuelling is by jerrycan but the aircraft has to be on the grass. Any spillages on the tarmac dissolve the stuff and are frowned upon. Because of this, we usually push the aircraft out of the hangar, then start the engine and taxi onto the grass. It also helps to warm the engine, making starting a lot easier when we actually do go flying.

Making our way down runway 09 to the grass runway 33. Normally at this time of year the grass runway is waterlogged and unusable, but with freezing temperatures after a dry spell it’s now just hard. Perfectly usable.

The Skydemon trace of the trip up to the hills:

The view north from the edge of the hills. There’s another aircraft somewhere in this picture. Click on the picture to view the big version and see if you can spot it…a head-to-head competition between both my readers!

Snow coverage was patchy. Here we are east of Kirriemuir. The industrial complex within the woods in the centre of the picture is what’s known in the trade as a GVS. It stands for gas venting station and this has an avoid area around it up to 2900 feet. On occasions the pipelines need to be vented for maintenance or cleaning and when they do a column of high pressure natural gas comes up into the atmosphere. It doesn’t happen very often but when it does you don’t want to be flying through the plume. Engines and humans don’t run very well when there’s no oxygen to breathe, so it’s best to keep away…

Winter flying is great. The aircraft and engine perform better in the cold air. By the time we got back to Perth the snow was mostly melted, apart from in the shadow of the hangar. The Tiger Moth was just going up for a jaunt – that must have been COLD. Not taking the Eindecker was a good decision.

Clear and dry the next day, with a bit more snow overnight. Time for a trip over Fife…


The trace of the flight: east from Perth around the north of Dundee with more snow on the ground…

The turning point at Monikie Reservoir was really hard to make out. It turns out that frozen water with snow on top looks just like a field from 4000 ft.

Snow on the Sidlaw hills:

Dundee from 4000ft:

Once into Fife there was a distinct line on the ground where the snow finished. No gentle change, one field had snow and the next was clear. This next wing view shows the former Naval Air Station at Crail on the tip of Fife. It was known as HMS Jackdaw, and is acknowledged as the best preserved abandoned military airfield in Scotland. You can still land there, but one of the old runways is now a drag racing strip.


By now we were down to 3500 ft, and with the power settings just right were getting 120 kts indicated air speed:

Once back at Perth it was starting to cloud over. The forecast for the next 48 hours was pretty dire, precluding any thought of aviating. My run of flying every day in February lasted for just two days.

I love putting the aircraft away in the hangar after a winter flight. The engine is still warm as you put the covers on. It’s a different type of warmth. Sure it’s just molecules vibrating at higher frequencies because they have more energy, but it feels totally different from putting your hand on a warm heater. The difference is that the heat is a slowly dissipating memory of when the engine was working, powering the aircraft through the sky, giving the occupants unique memories of their own, having defied gravity one more time. I call it “The warmth of achievement” – I quite like the term.

On the 5th the weather cleared enough for a quick trip round the local area:

And we even managed to get 125 knots, although looking at the Skydemon altitude trace above the speed might have had a little bit of a gravity assist – not defying gravity 100% but just like NASA, using the gravity well of a planet to add energy. Does that make me an astronaut? Space cadet more like.

125 knots is pretty good on 100 horsepower. But as we said after the Sweden trip more speed, more baggage space and an autopilot would be handy.

We have recently returned from Dublin where we looked at, inspected and flew such a machine. Which was for sale.

More news soon! Watch this space…

Making Sure The Tail Doesn’t Fall Off

If the tail falls off an aircraft in flight, it’s usually bad. It would not make for a very happy new year. It happened in the USA, to a Sting like ours. The whole horizontal stabiliser fell off and the aircraft ended up in a Florida field looking like this:

Pretty much wrecked, but the single occupant walked away. It probably would have been fatal if not for the built in parachute rescue system…

( Both crash photos courtesy of http://www.kathrynsreport.com/2018/11/tl-ultralight-sting-sport-n494n.html )

Because of this we had an Airworthiness Information Leaflet mandating an inspection of the horizontal stabiliser mounting pins within 5 flying hours and thereafter every year. Hearsay is that the mounting pins of the Florida crash aircraft were severely corroded.

Senior Engineer Brenda helped to remove the stab once the controls had been disconnected. Here she is peeling off silicone, the maintenance manual says the stab should be reattached in a bed of the stuff. It reduces vibration and helps keep the stab in place, but can be a real pain to remove once the tailplane is off the aircraft:

We also found a good use for our Nando’s card, it was great for gently scraping off the old silicone:

Our pins didn’t look corroded at all, nice and shiny. They passed the inspection and just needed a little polish and regreasing before reassembly:

Once inspected, the world’s coolest copilot helped with the reassembly (Thank you, Rory), and then I did battle with reconnecting the controls. Lots of fiddly washers in the elevator and trim control connections:

The connectors were reassembled “dry” with no grease, for ease of inspection, and then lubricated once inspected. Every critical system needs a duplicate inspection if it is disturbed; I do one as part of the reassembly process and Sandy my inspector does another, we both sign in the aircraft logbook.

Another reason for reassembling “dry” is that washers are very slippery and can ping off into the distance if given half a chance. Check the dark corners of any hangar and you’re bound to find one. Here’s the greased up final product:

Finally came the wire locking of the mounting bolt and reattachment of the fairing. I was having a hell of a time holding the torch while wire locking and eventually ended up taping it to the elevator control rod. If only I had thought of that earlier…

Aircraft inspected and reassembled, paperwork all in order and logbook signed up, it was time to go flying…

…and the engine wouldn’t start. The battery had been sitting in a (very) cold hangar for over a month and just wasn’t up to the job.

There are some awesome videos at “Sting Flight” on YouTube, see https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC0avm_9h4lpS5sIcQaBCQ_A – producer Rich DeHaven says that a battery lasts about 200 hours – ours has made it to 300 or so. It has done well but it’s about time for a change.

Luckily the battery in the Sting is a popular model, also used in quad bikes and snowmobiles, so it doesn’t have the big aviation markup normally associated with aircraft parts. A pleasant surprise to not pay through the nose for bits for the aircraft.

Just waiting for the new battery to arrive…the weather is lovely, and we’re stuck on the ground. Grrrrr.