That Was Quick!

Just under a month ago I signed off by saying:

And last week it arrived! The power of the mind in action…although this has shown that you have to be specific in what you wish for. This is the L4 Cub which is now all mine!

It’s a 1:48 scale plastic model kit, and it came all the way from Poland. I have to say that I did NOT cheat and order it myself – it came as a huge and welcome surprise. It was a thank you present from new pilot Ian for the 12 days of training we did to get him up to speed on air ambulance operations after many years flying straight and level over the North Sea on oil and gas support flights. Thank you Ian for my Cub kit, although I should have been more specific and ordered a full size flying L4 with military history and D-Day invasion markings, fitted with an 8.33 radio and Mode S transponder, and with a current and valid LAA Permit to Fly….

…but I didn’t say all that, so the universe delivered me an L4 plastic kit. I’m not complaining, ‘cos it’s great! Thank you once again Ian (and the universe)…

The weather has been awesome for flying for the last few weeks, excellent Cub or Eindecker weather, although as I write this it is raining outside. Yesterday there were some cool cloud formations around as signs that the weather was about to break:

Despite the good weather there have not been many air ambulance jobs to do. The frequency of routine ambulance transfers has dropped off and so has the number of emergency calls. Normally at this time of the year the motorbikes would be out in full force and riders would be falling off regularly. Also horses and mountains. People fall off them all the time too. Since everybody is staying at home we have been quiet at work. Here’s one job we DID respond to, we just didn’t get very far:

That yellow track line is NOT us drawing rude things in the sky, we got stood down from the job. In this case we weren’t needed because the casualty only had a few bruises after being cut out from the wreckage, so we did a graceful 180 degree turn using the autopilot to head back to base for “tea and medals” – the views were pretty good, even if we didn’t reach the patient.

Here’s Loch Lomond taken by paramedic John on another job:

…and a random hill in Perthshire quickly taken by phone:

Days off should be spent flying the RV and the Eindecker, but the current advice is essential journeys only, so the renewal of the RV’s annual will just have to wait – the inspector is stuck at home over on the west coast anyway.

A lot of free time at home on days off means that stuff gets done. The greenhouse is all fixed up and producing salady stuff, the hedge has had its annual haircut, and I have spent some time at the garage door contemplating the mess and wondering if there is enough room to build an aeroplane…?

Other aircraft projects don’t need as much room. I have to get the Eindecker model finished so that I can get on with the L4 Cub…

And we’ve also been making use of our copious free time to get on with learning Swedish, although the Duolingo app seems to have an unhealthy obsession with turtles. Sentences such as “The turtle has a yellow hat” are surely designed to teach grammatical rules rather than being an indication of real life in Sweden? Having said that, all the dogs we have met over there are slightly crazy…and we think we may have found the reason:

Can’t wait until this is all over and I can get back to tinkering on and flying the aircraft. At the moment it looks like this inside, with various panels removed for the annual inspection. We’ll all just have to be patient…

Right now we should be approaching Hook of Holland ferry terminal after the “Great Cross European Driving Adventure 2020 – Scotland to Sweden” – but that had to be cancelled. Maybe later in the year?

In the meantime, there is a lot of Skydemon fantasy flying to be done…onwards and upwards!

Panic Buying

Pandemic. Panic buying at the shops. Here’s our local Tesco store in Perthshire. Now panic buying bog rolls I can understand (a little), but who on earth panic buys Easter Eggs? Carnage…

After much deliberation and soul-searching, we decided to do some panic buying of our own. As it was only for the essentials, we headed to Hobby Craft where Brenda stocked up on a little wool:

…and I wandered off unsupervised to the model kit aisle:

As a result of this I now have four Eindeckers in my life…two replicas (one flying, one not mine but in our hangar), one balsa kit (incomplete), and one (unstarted) plastic kit.

As you know, the (not ours but in our hangar) Eindecker is in Sweden, at Siljan Air Park. Sweden has slightly more relaxed rules about “lockdown” (hate that word) during the pandemic. Life there continues more or less as normal, but with some restrictions. Flightradar24 shows a few light aircraft making use of the wide open airspace. Our neighbour sent this photo of the house with another neighbour Alexander putting his Rallye away after a quick local flight. The Rallye is a temporary resident until his own hangar is completed:

As we had to cancel the “Great April/May Cross European Driving Adventure” we decided to put the free time to some use and dust off the Swedish lessons. We have quite a mountain to get through – you can decide which is my favourite book:

Yep, “Här kommer helikoptern” (Here comes the helicopter) is a cracking read, and the illustrations are very accurate. Here we see Halvan putting the number 2 engine switch straight to “Flight” – unfortunately he has forgotten to switch on the Full Authority Digital Engine Control (FADEC) switches, as the First Limit Indicator (FLI) on the top screen is a yellow circle with no needles displayed…and the engine would not start:

But hey, it’s a kid’s book, and not real life. I’m so lucky that Air War Pacific on the iPad is not real life either…

Fortunately we are not grounded at work, and still get out and about all over Scotland:

Some of the views are amazing. Here’s an unnamed Scottish mountain still with snow on the top:

And here’s Glenforsa airstrip on the Isle of Mull. Normally at this time of year the Glenforsa Hotel would be opening up and airborne visitors would be planning to arrive from all over the UK and further afield. But sadly, due to the restrictions there are only sheep on the airfield:

And the fly in programme for the summer seems in doubt:

We were over on the West Coast doing some training for a new pilot. Some of our landing sites (Glenforsa, Fort William, Lochgilphead, Barra) can be a little more tricky in the dark, so we mandate an initial training visit by daytime.

On the way back from Glenforsa, we popped in to Clyde Heliport for fuel, passing an eerily quiet Glasgow Airport on the way.

These 8 British Airways Airbus were spotted parked up on the disused cross runway. A couple of days later there were two more:

Returning to base it was very quiet on the radio with only one other aircraft on the Scottish Information frequency. We had to call a couple of times before we got an answer, maybe the controller was having a nap?

A few posts back I mentioned troubleshooting for a slight leak from the RV fuel tank…it seems that most it was coming from the fuel drains themselves. I bought new fuel drain valves from Andair and am waiting to put them in.

Sadly there is no access to the hangar for the foreseeable future due to the restrictions so I can’t. The aircraft permit has now expired and it needs an inspection. I did say that the sealant for the fuel tanks and for the drains needs about 20 degrees for it to work properly, so delaying as the weather warms up is actually a good thing in that respect, but it’s one of those “Be careful what you wish for” things…

I think I’m going to wish for a Piper Cub. J3 or L4. Either is fine.

Destination Gibraltar!

As Storm Jorge “batters” the UK (also known in Scotland as “get your bigger coat on”), and with the aircraft having its annual inspection, there’s not much flying going on. During a session of distraction on the iPad I came across a trip report where two members of the Ulster Flying Club at Newtownards flew an RV7 down through France, Spain and Portugal, ending up at Tangier in Morocco. On the way back they landed at Gibraltar…

Photo shamelessly borrowed from their excellent trip report, which can be found at https://ulsterflyingclub.com/2017/the-trip-of-a-lifetime/

I’m off to do some Skydemon dream planning…

Eindecker Build Progress Report

Quick visit to Sweden to check the house is still there and do some work on the Eindecker build.

YES! I’m finally building an aircraft. It’s an Eindecker, just like the one in Scotland. But this one is a little bit smaller.

There IS an Eindecker replica at the airfield in Sweden, it belongs to the Siljan Flying Circus and has not flown yet:

The Nieuport replica behind the Eindecker HAS flown, as part of the Flying Circus display several years ago. It’s parked up in the hangar at the moment…note the ingenious use of wooden block under one of the wheels to tilt the whole aircraft and get the wings to fit over the tail of the Eindecker, which has had its rudder removed. Both aircraft sit under the wing of Toffe’s Luscombe, which shows the dayglo markings required for flying in the “Mountainous Area” – there are other stipulations such as survival equipment but the main one is high visibility markings on the aircraft to aid Search and Rescue. Luckily the airpark is outside the mountainous area so we didn’t have to carry all the stuff on our long trip to Sweden a few years back.

One reason for the Nieuport being out of action is that the tail skid is broken. It should be an easy fix though as both aircraft have tailskids featuring an ice hockey stick as the main component!

The Eindecker I am building is much much smaller – and it is taking a long time. I got a balsa wood kit for my birthday a few years ago, and do a little work on it each time we visit:

With an average of 10 days a year spent on the kit so far, it will take just as long to complete as a full size kit!

Cold Weather Leatherwork

It’s that time of the year. It’s cold outside and effin freezing in the hangar, especially when sitting still or lying on the cold concrete looking up trying to locate the source of a really slow but persistant fuel drip from a fuel tank. I have the fuel tank sealant ready for action but it needs a temperature of 20 degrees to work properly so we might wait a bit…

In the meantime the Eindecker needs a bit of work. Readers will remember when I took the old radio out and fixed the battery charging problem (a wire had come loose at the back of the ignition switch).

To do those tasks I had to take the instrument panel off. The only problem is that the mounting screws are underneath the leather trim around the cockpit, so that had to come off too. Here it is in its “unfurled” condition, with the foam padding (pipe insulation) on the starboard wing:

Workplace preparation is essential for the smooth completion of any maintenance task, it says here. So the replacement laces were laid out within easy reach ready to be installed:

Sadly I couldn’t find any “Eindecker cockpit coaming securing lace (200cm)” at Light Aero Spares or on ebay, so I grabbed several packets of the longest bootlaces I could find in Tesco and ended up tying them together as I went along.

Starting at the back left corner it was easier than I remembered:

Working round the front I noticed a problem with the throttle cable, and made a mental note to come back to that afterwards. Note the leather throttle handle, the unit itself was 3D printed by the previous owner during a refurbishment:

And finally, the completed job, looking good again:

The throttle cable mounting had come loose, which meant that the last bit of throttle movement was flexing the throttle cable rather than transmitting the movement to the butterfly in the carburettor, and with the throttle fully forward the engine would not have been producing full power. All secure and fixed now, ready for the weather to improve, the evenings to lengthen and the winds to die down a bit. Evening patrol season is coming!

New Year, New Gear?

It’s a pain moving the RV around the hangar and out on to the apron. It’s a lot heavier than the Sting, which was easy to manoeuvre by just one person.

There are several electric tugs available (at quite a cost, obviously)…one of the guys at the aero club even uses a modified mobility scooter to pull his RV6A out.

I wonder how long work would take to notice that I had stolen the Helilift?

Water, Water, Everywhere

Damp December. But not TOO damp – time for a little jaunt around the local area to continue to break in the new cylinder:

At the holding point. All the pilots in this shot of Scotland spoke with Irish accents:

Airborne and accelerating hard…I love the way the cruise prop on IB gets more and more efficient as the speed rises. By the time we passed Wolfhill we were steaming along at 160 knots:

I can see my house from up here!

The fields looked sodden and the River Tay looked rather full…

Low cloud and mist:

Dunkeld with mist patches:

A cloudy cap on the top of Birnam hill:

Lots of moisture around, and the weak winter sun shining through a high layer of thin cloud, heralding the approach of a front from the west…

A couple of days later, the frontal system has passed through, adding more moisture to the ground. Time for another flight:

A little bit more water around, the rivers had broken their banks in places

The confluence of the Isla and the Ericht rivers:

Wet fields:

Anyway, I digress. The purpose of this whole exercise was to break in the new cylinder and piston rings, and that meant running the engine at high power, fuel economy be damned. Here we are straight and level at 2600rpm, which is about 96% of the maximum 2700. The yellow arc of the airspeed indicator is the “caution range” – this means gentle control movements and smooth air only. Most of the high speed run was done with the autopilot in for gentle control movements…

…and the winds were light so the air was smooth. 173kts groundspeed from 168kt airspeed is a 5 knot wind at altitude:

You can see from the Skydemon trace which bits were flown on the autopilot, and which were hand flown. It was a miracle that we found our way back to the airfield with all that wandering all over the countryside:

But find it we did, and it was time to try landing. There was an 8 knot crosswind at 90 degrees to the runway, blowing from the south. Now 8 knots of wind is usually not much to fret about, but coming from the south it was blowing nicely over the hangars and other assorted airfield buildings which produce turbulence. Great.

The first landing was witnessed by my new boss, who was watching from the helicopter base. As I bounced down the runway he was heard to mutter “You’d better go and start up Helimed 76″…just as I put the power on to go around and try again.

The second attempt was thwarted by a slow student in a Cessna 152, who landed long and used the whole length of the runway to stop, before backtracking and ambling back down the runway to the turnoff. The go around wasn’t spectacular, as it was easy to see the situation developing and I went around from 500ft back into the circuit for the final landing.

It was a bit bouncy but not as kangaroo-like as the last one. I remembered the advice given to me by Justin Paines, ex-RAF test pilot for the F35 Lightning programme and until recently, owner of a nice RV6…he always raised the flaps on touchdown, especially on a bumpy grass runway like his home base Compton Abbas. This has the effect of removing lift and ensuring the aircraft sits on the deck without any tendency to get airborne again. I did remember this advice, but far too late. Maybe I’ll try it next time…

As pilot we judge ourselves on our performance, and tend to dwell on crap landings. I texted Brenda to say I was down safely but did rubbish landings. Her reply?

She’s a keeper! Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to both my readers!

No Pressure!

Cowlings back on again, for the first time in months:

Since the end of July, we had a bit of tinkering to attend to:

Sump oil leak, cylinder head cover oil leak, carburettor sent off for refurbishment, dead number 1 cylinder (new piston rings and cleaned up valves), dead battery and dodgy starter motor.

Finally everything was back together and ground runs completed. No excuse to put it off any longer. Time to fly.

A general wazz around just to the north of the airfield, keeping close in case we needed to get back in a hurry. Note the trace showing a simulated circuit pattern just over the A984 symbol…this was to check the engine response in a balked landing when full power is needed in a hurry.

All was satisfactory so it was back to the airfield for circuit practise. This was to exercise the engine through the whole range of power settings and had the added benefit of landing practise for me.

With hardly any wind the duty runway was the east west one. This goes right past the clubhouse windows. And everybody is watching (and grading) the landings. No pressure, then…especially as fellow helicopter pilot Chris (who also flies an RV3 and is building an RV14, see http://www.vansrv14.uk/) had just landed and was undoubtedly watching with the rest of the vultures.

Several landings later and the aircraft was still in one piece and capable of being taxied off the runway, so the landings can’t have been TOO bad. The RV grin is back!

As usual the landing debrief from the gallery was brutal. They take no prisoners. Not to worry, the aircraft flies again! Plus it was time for me to join the grading team and watch some landings for a bit…no pressure!

Spoke Too Soon…

What an idiot. Why did I have to go and say:

If all goes well, it’s back into the air. Can’t wait…

All didn’t go well. We ran the engine to set up the idle mixture on the carburettor and there was a lot of vibration. Cylinder head temperature (CHT) on number one cylinder was way down, almost as if it wasn’t firing.

Well, no “almost as if” about it. It wasn’t firing. We swapped sparkplugs around and checked ignition leads to try and isolate the fault, but it stubbornly remained.

Inspector Sandy started to suspect a stuck valve, which would be allowing the fuel/air mixture to leak away, so next step was a compression check to check how well each cylinder held its pressure…

With an input pressure of 80 psi, cylinders 2,3 and 4 were losing between 5 and 7 psi – those are pretty good compressions.

Cylinder 1 was losing 64 psi – that’s a pretty BAD compression. Obviously.

Cover off and inspection of the valve rockers revealed movement, so no stuck valve. We began to suspect worn piston rings. For this, the cylinder would have to come off. Time to get the tools out again…

A sorry looking engine. To get to this stage involved removing the inlet tube, exhaust gas temperature (EGT) probe, cylinder heat temperature (CHT) probe, exhaust, fuel prime pipe, oil return line, front baffle, lower baffle, spark plugs and ignition leads, cylinder and piston head. We found the problem.

Worn piston rings confirmed. The gaps were way oversize and had also migrated round so that all three were lined up, providing an easy wide pathway for the fuel/air mixture to just hiss away on the compression stroke, leaving nothing to ignite when the spark plugs fired…(two plugs per cylinder, it’s an aviation thing…)

New piston rings aren’t cheap…ask me how I know. While they were on order Sandy took the time to clean up the piston, cylinder and valves as they were a bit manky. All normal for an 1800 hour engine, but why not?

The piston crown before:

The same piston and one of the valves after cleanup:

We had a little trouble with the valve collets, they are the little semi-circular pieces by the spring:

So I took them over to Bob in the next hangar. We had struggled over a whole lunchtime to get them out, but Bob had them out in 10 seconds, plus another 10 seconds to put them back in a few days later…It’s amazing what the correct tool can do!

Sandy fabricated a valve ring compressor tool for getting the cylinder back on:

…and after about 10 minutes of huffing and puffing and maybe the odd swear word, we got the cylinder over the piston rings and onto the engine. Cylinder bolts tightened up to the correct torque, all I need to do now is reverse the process and get all those bits back on, then several ground runs (…including the one to set the idle mixture which we were half way through when this problem surfaced…) and a specific flight profile to get the piston rings bedded in. We’ll be flying again by Tuesday.

I’m not committing to WHICH Tuesday though. I’ve learnt my lesson.