Testing SkyEcho

Another new toy for the aircraft, although this one isn’t a toy and could save our lives. You can just spot it in the bottom left corner of the windscreen:

A closer look:

It’s a SkyEcho electronic conspicuity unit, with a built in GPS which feeds a transmitter to send out our aircraft’s location, and a receiver to take in information from other sources. At the moment the transmitter is inhibited, as the RV has a Mode-S transponder which already sends out our position to ATC, but the UK is working towards allowing electronic conspicuity devices and transponders to both transmit from the same aircraft. This will enable other people to see us, rather than us just seeing them.

The SkyEcho feeds the Skydemon programme on the iPad…sitting on the ground at Perth we were able to see airliners over Oban just about to head out over the Atlantic:

And the smaller traffic display in the corner of the map also showed nearby targets. This one is a Cessna approaching the airfield 1500ft above us:

Seeing how it works in the air was a thinly veiled excuse to go flying. Airborne from Perth and heading west, past the “Rewind” festival at Scone Palace:

Heading south into Fife and back we could see all the airliners going into Edinburgh on the screen, but nothing came close for a screenshot until we were passing RAF Leuchars. Delta Airlines (probably a Boeing 777) passed on our left with about a mile clearance. Luckily it was 29,700 feet above us at the time:

It was quiet but eventually we got a target at our level. The display shows a Robin DR500 G-GMIB on a converging course and 1000ft below us. It’s depicted in green but if it’s an imminent threat it probably turns red. We didn’t try to check that theory!

So we now have a pretty useful traffic awareness tool for when we’re flying around. I’ve also paid for the “FLARM rights” which means it will pick up and decode the glider beacons as well. It doesn’t show ALL the traffic though…most military stuff won’t show up and also some microlights and light aircraft with no transponder or an older type. In that respect it’s just like the Flightradar24 website – not all aircraft appear on the screen.

The thing to remember is that this is an AID, not a cure all. There is no substitute for actually looking out with the good old “Mark 1 Eyeball” – but it is another layer of safety. Plus it’s pretty cool.

Talking of Flightradar24, the trace of the flight showed a quite healthy speed, one that the RV6 could only achieve in real life if you took the wings off and dropped it from a helicopter at 10,000ft. (Do not try this at home, do not occupy the aircraft during this exercise.)

The traces are not always accurate. Remember that the next time there is an incident and the news people are analysing Flightradar:

379 knots groundspeed would make for a good touring aircraft though…if only.

Eindecker Weight Loss

Time to fix the Eindecker electricals and remove the “dead weight” radio. But first a blast around in the RV for half an hour…I had done my required one hour with an instructor the day before and needed to get rid of the stink of Cessna.

Wing overs, steep turns, a practise forced landing and a general wazz about, followed by a crosswind landing in blustery conditions. The aircraft explored the width of the runway while I tried to get it slowed down. Not to worry, we just practise on narrower and narrower runways until I get it right!

The upper winds were quite brisk, leading to an impressive ground speed readout on the GPS at one point:

With the RV back in the hangar, it was time for tools out and investigate behind the Eindecker panel. This is a little convoluted as it requires the removal of the cockpit rim edge leather to get to the screws underneath. This takes most of the time as the lacing has to be undone, then the leather peeled back, then the pipe insulation foam removed and finally the edging strip. After that it’s about 10 screws to undo and the panel slides out:

The cause of the alternator charging problem was quickly apparent: there was a loose connection on the rear end of the ignition switch. Reconnected again and crimped slightly to make sure it doesn’t fall off again, all it needs is a ground run to confirm it is working.

With the panel off it was an easy matter to undo the four mounting screws and slide the radio out, manoeuvring it to disconnect the aerial and connector at the back:

Then to the locker to languish on the shelf…it actually doesn’t weigh very much (416g) so there’s not going to be a massive boost in performance after all. One burger and chips from the soon-to-reopen airfield café will cancel that out…

The one improvement is that I can now connect the aircraft aerial to the handheld radio using the cable that is now free:

The aircraft aerial with its tuned length and ground plane plate (all hidden in the rear fuselage) should be much more efficient that the “rubber duck” style aerial on the handheld:

And just in case you’re wondering, the term “handheld” does not apply when we are floating around at 500ft over Perthshire on patrol daydreaming of Snoopy and the Red Baron; when flying the radio is clipped into a mount on the left side of the cockpit with the press to talk button within easy reach of the throttle hand.

The handheld also comes along in the RV as a backup emergency radio, but its main function is primary radio in the Eindecker.

Radio in an Eindecker. What would Snoopy think…?

Snoopy is not amused

p.s Cessnas are great, really!

Feel the POWER

As mentioned previously, the Eindecker is powered by a converted Briggs and Stratton V-twin engine producing 40 horsepower. Being a four stroke it actually sounds the part, rather than some microlight engines which produce a noise like a demented chainsaw.

Judge for yourself:

Videos courtesy of Rich and Colm at work…

High and Fast, Low and Slow…

After weeks of sitting here in Scotland looking out at the gloom and wondering when summer was going to start…it is finally here. We woke to clear skies, light winds and warm sunshine. Time to fly!

First off, into the RV for a time to climb test. Here we are above the clouds to the west of Perth on the way up to 8500ft:

The proof:

We made our way over to Fort William and turned around Ben Nevis. From 8000ft even the big hills look like little bumps:

Then to Braemar before descending back towards Perth. Planning the top of descent is essential to avoid shock cooling the engine. I read somewhere that the maximum cooling rate for the cylinder head temperature is 50 degrees a minute, with 25 being better. So a long gentle descent with power only slightly reduced from the cruise setting. Get the descent point wrong and you can end up blasting into the airfield circuit at 160 knots! Luckily the RV wing is just as good at slow speeds and a few hard turns will bleed off the excess speed if required. Just like a Space Shuttle.

Here we are in the descent to the north of Perth:

Then it was land, put the aircraft away in the hangar, clean the bugs off the wings and get the other aircraft out…

A warm evening with the airfield closed and permission to operate “out of hours” is just perfect for a bit of lightweight open cockpit low level flying. And we have just the aircraft for that sort of thing:

It has been a while since the Eindecker flew, but the faithful Briggs and Stratton V-twin started first time and the throaty roar of all (count ’em!) 40 horsepower soon had us on patrol at 500ft.

Normally I have to take the Eindecker up to 2000ft to do an overhead rejoin on return to the airfield and up there I feel a little exposed. Less than 115 kilos of engine, aluminium tubing and lightweight fabric between me and the ground. It felt a lot safer at 500 feet – even though the outcome would still be the same if I fell out. Lower just feels better.

Lower also makes for good photography. Brenda took this from below as I patrolled over Wolfhill towards the (power) lines at Strelitz before returning to the field for a pleasant landing on the grass.

Unfortunately there was an electrical problem as the battery was not being charged by the alternator, so I have a little investigation to do…last time it was a loose connector behind the panel so that’s where we’ll start. I’ll also use the opportunity to take out the old 25MHz radio which is now just dead weight.

Such a nice photo that as a reward I took Brenda for breakfast the next day in the RV. To Cumbernauld. Several times the winner of the Carbuncle Award for the most dismal town in Scotland…and who says romance is dead?

It was actually pretty nice in the sunshine. The cafe in the main building does a mean bacon roll. We’ll be going back…


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…

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?