Friday, July 31, 2009

Memories of Warmth

It's July in Southcentral Alaska, and that means weeks of gray overcast clinging to the mountains and creating a lower cap on the sky, a ceiling of 1000 to 1500 feet up, ragged undersides that spill down in light curtains of rain, seeming gauzy curtains up in the mountain passes hiding the way through, splattering down too heavily to be ignored, but too lightly to be a soaking rain. It's the time of year where it's normal to park your car and come out two hours later to a wet parking lot, still dry beneath the shadow of the vehicle, and never noticed it rain - but turn on lights and wipers on the way home. Student pilots circle the runways, waiting for the ceiling to rise enough for touch and gos, looking longingly at the weather charts in hopes of making cross-countries, while their CFIs look at the same charts with a more experienced worry of fuel and sustained higher ceilings to make it back, even if detouring around downdrafts and virga.

It's the sort of season that makes a student pilot learn why the older pilots state so firmly that you must never go through a pass unless you're willing to wait for when it clears up - and that if you want to learn to scud run, you better do it on a clear sunny day first, because the world looks completely different at 700 feet instead of 4000, and you can get lost in a hurry that way.

The fireweed is blooming at the top of the stalk, and the wind off the mountains smells of snow, bringing a chill in the rain-soaked humid air that aches the damaged joints and bones. This weekend is the last one for dipnetting and catching salmon to fill the winter freezer - the days of abundance are drawing to a close. The scent of snow haunted me all the way to Willow, with the first speckles of golden leaves in the aspens, as I went with my fittings to get an eighth of an inch planed off, cutting the weight of the spars and the height as I brought them to the lower limit of acceptable width, to where they'll fit the original fittings.

Casting my mind back to April, when there was still snow on the ground here, I remember a warmth that baked the bones, that fell without reserve with abundant sunshine across a broad flat land - driving with lights on at four in the afternoon, I remember San Antonio. There was humidity aplenty, there, too, but it was more a stifling blanket against the skin instead of a creeping tide of pain - and could be banished with a blast of the prop, the wind coming through the cockpit of an L5 as we leapt into the sun-baked sky. Whereas here the horizon is now bounded by the curtains of low clouds and rain draped onto the mountains dimly seem in glimpses through them, there the humidity seemed to erase the sky, the horizon, and everything in the distance - a world so endlessly flat made small by lack of definitions in the distance. I could barely see the downtown skyscrapers from Cannon Field.

Looking back now, the near-impossible heat that had me hovering on the edge of heatstroke doesn't seem so bad - but as wiser people warned, that was April. Still, as rose-colored glasses are want to do, I miss Texas. (But not Houston, with its smog.) I miss warmth, and light - and though I know the crisp, clear days of September are ahead with the full blaze of aspen and birch in bright and browned golds, the purple-red of highbush cranberries and dying fireweed below and the bright clear white of fresh snow on the mountains gleaming in sunlight as it comes closer and closer to the sea, for now it's soggy, gloomy, damp, and making me contemplate the wisdom of birds who migrate south.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Is it just me...

Or does the stake in GM and the cash for clunkers program reveal Obama as what he really has the personality and talent to do?

Used car Salesman!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Your fear is worse than what you're afraid of

I do not have health insurance. Aside from a few scattered patches of time in my very early childhood and two jobs during my adult life, I've never had health insurance.

And it didn't matter. Because we saved money, ate healthily, brushed our teeth, and paid cash to the dentist, fitting in when he had an opening - and for an business that spends months and years chasing insurance payments and hours per claim fighting for its money, they're willing to give a nice hefty discount for folding green stuff up front, on the counter. For the few times I was bad enough to need a doctor, we went to the family doc, paid cash, and got treated so we could go back to running around the woods, hunting, fishing, biking without helmets, swimming in irrigation ponds, and doing normal kids things.

When I fell down, I picked myself up and kept running. When I got sick, I stayed home from school. Or I went to school anyway. When I got a splinter, I picked it out with my own pocketknife, and cut the eye off a fishhook so I could push it out much the same way. When I broke a toe, I wrapped it and kept on going. Sure, I have a few scars that aren't banded with neat lines of stitches, but they healed all the same. I didn't stop living life for fear of injury.

I never had air conditioning. I still don't like it - people keep their houses and businesses so cold that walking in is a shock to the system, and walking out is worse. Air conditioning is a way of conditioning yourself to be a prisoner in your own home, tied to your tv for entertainment.

Now that I'm an adult, I do as my parents did - I save money so when I get sick, I can take care of myself. When I got crushed between two cars by an idiot who didn't look where they were going last summer, I had enough saved to get through the next months of no or part-time work, and pay for medicines and medical bills. No, I "can't afford" the ER or the MRI's in cash up front - by the way, for those of you who never had to do more than a copay so it's a huge scary unknown, the ER usually runs about $1000/hr. But you know what? As long as you are willing to pay, and to make a good faith effort towards paying, medical billers are pretty darn friendly and easy to work with. They're also pretty used to dealing with slightly spacey (medicated) people.

The idiot who crushed me between my front bumper and her rear bumper got a $75 fine. Her insurance company has yet to pay. But life goes on - I've already paid off the ambulance bill, one small amount per month at a time. Even if her insurance company never pays, I'll still be fine, and still able to pay the whole thing off in a few years. Sure, I haven't eaten out much since then, and I've only bought one vest and one pack of new socks for myself since the accident, but boo hoo.

Don't be so easily motivated for the sake of "the uninsured." Don't be so scared of being uninsured, either. For damn sure don't let your senators get away with mandating that I have to be on a government-rationed health care plan, because you know what? When I go to the doctor, I put a lot of effort into making sure I get my money's worth of doctor, and that I follow the instructions well enough that I don't have to go back! I defy you to tell me that's true of most people who only have to put a $20 copay or none at all into their medical care!

So, speaking as one of the uninsured who is perfectly freakin' happy with her amount of health care, please call, email, and write letters to your senators and representatives and tell them to stop with the train wreck of abominations and absurdities they're trying to con(gress) us into.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Nothing but the good things

The spars for a F-19 Taylorcraft are 1/16th of an inch taller than the spars for a BL12-65 or BC12D. Fortunately, I found this out when puzzling with my IA on why my spar attach brackets didn't fit right, instead of when I had a finished wing not fitting on the airplane!

Called Eyak Air, and Joe said I could fix that with a jack plane, or he could do it in five minutes, no problem, if I brought the spars up - even on a Saturday, when three-quarters of Alaska is gone fishing. Road trip again!

On other notes, the FAA, in a rare moment of common sense intended to help keep vintage aircraft safely maintained, restored and flying, released Advisory Circular 23-27,Parts and Materials Substitution for Vintage Aircraft, dated May 18, 2009. The AC, created by the FAA’s Small Airplane Directorate in Kansas City, Missouri, was a joint effort by the FAA in consultation with industry representatives including EAA and EAA’s Vintage Aircraft Association. EAA Press Release here.

Why is parts substitution so important? Well, when your airplane outlasts the company that produced it, finding "approved parts" created by and for it becomes not only hard, but dangerous. Theoretically, I should only replace parts in my airplane, according to the FAA prior to the AC, with the exact same parts that broke. Do you have any idea where to still find silk-wrapped solid copper wiring? Can you imagine being fool enough to put that fire hazard in a wood-winged aircraft when today's modern wiring will work better, cleaner, cooler, cheaper, with far less chance of fire if something goes wrong? Hell, back when this plane was built, the anti-drag wires were the same wire as Harley Davidson spokes, and the carburetor was a tractor engine carb, slightly modified to take sudden (for a tractor) altitude changes! They didn't have the concept of airplane-specific parts!

So, good things!

Friday, July 17, 2009

Progress, Regress.

Word from Atlee Dodge - there is no material in state with which to make my aileron cove. Tried making it with the next-harder aluminum, and it cracked. (need SO, also called T0 or full soft; T3 is too hard.) The material's on the next barge up - should be here so I can cut my own holes out after they bend it in two weeks.

Came home, took at look at the "straight enough" bolts. Shook my head, went to make dinner, napped, called my fiance and told him I loved him, came back - still so crooked I couldn't stand it any more than hiking up a mountain with a rock in my shoe. Took out all the bolts, tried again to straighten the struts and put all the bolts back in.

Decided to put the jury strut in while I was attaching all the other hardware. Remembered that this was annoying the first time - and that I had to modify the tabs on the jury strut attach bracket when a hole was mis-drilled. When did I remember this? Right about when the jury strut didn't line up with the holes.

So, I fetched the other jury strut, and pegged it in place with a bolt. Hmm. This one, too, has its holes drilled too high on the front strut. And... also too low on the rear strut attach. Which means neither jury strut attach fitting actually fits my spars.

Time to take plenty of pictures, make very careful measurements on where the holes should be to line up with the spars (far easier to modify metal tabs than wood - you don't want to put extra or wider holes into the wood you can't mend.) And head back to Atlee Dodge for more metalwork, as this calls for a precision in drilling I could do, but a precision in welding I currently can't.

I'll just... go and have a cup of tea with soymilk, prime the other side of the hand-cut shims I started yesterday, unload the dishes, look at webcomics, and remind myself that it's like physical therapy - no matter how bleak, hopeless, painful, aggravating, and annoying it seems, if I just keep at it, a little every day, I will be able to walk, to run, to climb mountains, and to fly. We're a broken-winged chick and a broken-winged bird together, and if I can heal myself, I can heal her.

In better news, the spacers, given a day for the varnish to dry, look just fine. And for a rough job, my shims will do just fine.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

On (Not) Bolting Ahead

Tonight's progress was all regress. Or, checking other work done, only to find that several bolts in the compression struts had been screwed in at an angle. This is NOT GOOD.

So, taking bolts out, determining the cause is that the compression struts weren't lined up accurately enough (if a small bit of metal obscures one side of the hole, it'll drive the bolt skewed.) Adjusting struts. Putting bolts back in, swearing when they want to follow the new skewed path they've carved threads to follow, taking them out, adding a little percussive persuasion as I put them back in, repeat until straight.

Note to men: I realize some of you love screwdriver-type handles on 1/4" sockets. On the other hand, some of us haven't been building our forearm muscles since we first hit puberty, and think they suck dead rat. Through a straw.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Compression Strut Dance

Compression struts are funny things - six to a wing, of which four are the same length, one is slightly shorter, and one is a good deal shorter. On the front, they take AN4-12A bolts; on the rear, AN4-11A. The first order of business is lining them up and picking out the shorter ones - they go on the butt attach and the spar attach brackets, respectively. The second is to find the barrel nuts that hold the anti-drag and drag wires, and tape the suckers so they don't fall out while you're getting the struts in place.

There are 20 barrel nuts to each wing, because the fuselage-most and wingtip-most struts only have wires attaching on their insides. Forget this and you'll come up short. While you're at this step, find the shims - those funny half-moon shaped pieces of metal. Keep an eye on the shims, or you'll be searching for them most when you really want to be doing tightening. While you're at it, make sure you have enough hardware.

Third, make sure all your ribs are positioned correctly on the wing. If you pulled your built-up ribs off an old wing, you'll note some have parts cut away. This is not accidental, or damage - this is because some ribs lie under the compression struts. (This is where shims come in handy.) Make sure your ribs are on in the correct order, or at least, the ones that are under struts are in the correct order. (Check the others while you're at it to make sure your cable guides are fine, and you haven't put any noseribs or aileron cutout ribs built to go over doubler plates on other areas, and have enough for your other wing!)

Fourth, lay out your hardware. Butt attach brackets, spar attach brackets, jury strut attach bracket, aileron control horn, hinge brackets, the works. Make sure they all fit on. Because, if they don't, now is the time to figure out what needs to be fixed. Besides, the compression struts go over one butt attach (This is also where shims come in handy), and over the spar attach brackets, so you might as well have everything ready to go on.

Do you have all required AN4-11 & 4-12 hardware, washers & nuts? AN3-11A bolts, washers, & nuts (you did note that not all holes are the same, right?) Did you miss those two AN5 holes? Because few things are as time-consuming and aggravating as stopping to go on part runs multiple times a day. (Don't ask how I know)

Now, before you have bolts in the way, take the time to run a straight line up your spars from the middle of the holes for the compression struts, and mark on top where the midpoint of the holes are. This'll come in handy when trammeling the wings later.

Ok, now you're ready to put the compression struts in place! Put them on carefully, use hand power to get them close and a retractable pen with the ballpoint not sticking out to wiggle them into final correct position on the holes. This goes faster if you stick a couple bolts in as you go to hold the strut in place. Remember your shims!

How much do you tighten your nuts? Only until they contact the wood and a quarter-turn, NO MORE. Otherwise you risk crushing the grain and getting set back in time and money while getting new spars.

Next up is trammelling your wings.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Spar update: part All is Well

A note for interested readers: Eyak Air did not actually mess up the spars - I bought a set of Taylorcraft spars made for another customer who had failed to put a deposit on or pick up and pay for his order for over a year. They're excellent and beautiful spars - for an F-19 Taylorcraft, a heavier 1970's plane. My fault for not double-checking before I hauled them home!

When I contacted Joe at Eyak Air, he immediately agreed to remove the second doubler plate and make them correct for a lighter 1940's Taylorcraft. So Peter of Bayou Renaissance Man graciously drove them up while I was at work, and assisted in removing nails, planing off the second doubler plates, and varnishing.

Progress is moving swiftly forward in fits and starts broken by "Where did I put that blasted part?" and "Darn it, I need one more 3/8" socket..." Which is to say, taking breaks for a mead tasting (13 meads to choose from) at Celestal Meads' meadery yesterday (and fireworks, once it got dark enough twilight at 12:30 for the city to put out its display), and exploring the Girdwood Forest Fair in all its hippie glory today.