Sunday, May 30, 2010

Sunburnt and Smoky

Yesterday, I learned again that being small is an asset in the airplane world - that being able to easily twist inside the baggage door of a 172 helps immensely in getting the back seat back in place.

(In order to remove the seats in a Cessna 172, first undo all the bolts on the back seat and seatbelt anchor, and slide the front seats as far forward as they go. Then turn the back seat 180 degrees and slide it out the pilot door. Remove the seat stops, then slide the seats off the back end of the rails and remove them. To put the seats back in, first put the back seat in, and move it back several inches (or tip it so its legs are facing forward, and is several inches shorter). Then install the front seats, before bolting down the back seat and back seat belt anchor.)

Today, I got a call from Flying Buddy, and headed out to the airport with his planes. His engine had a leaky air intake where the tube ran through the oil pan - bad stuff - so he'd just gotten it repaired, and needed a helping hand to put the bottom of the oil pan back on the engine Again, an extra pair of hands that are quite small was highly useful, and he was willing to pay in flight time. It was a hot day, with puffy cloud streets topping thermals as we baked on the tarmac. I got a very rare thing for Alaska - sunburn on my forearms. Things don't go back together as smoothly as they come apart, and it stretched til six in the afternoon before we knocked off the plane for the day and decided to fly into town to get food. Merrill Transient at the base of the tower does not have tiedown ropes, so bring your own!

We had a good meal at Peggy's, stopped to see my airplane on the way back (she's gotten a lot dustier with a winter of being parked near high-traffic 5th avenue instead of over by the ski strip). Then we flew back toward home base - but it was too nice to turn in so quickly, so we flew on to Eklutna Lake, looking for bears. The smell of burning woods greeted us at the valley's mouth, and got thicker before the smoke dropped away below us. The fire was at the back of the valley, past Bold Airstrip - and at bold Airstrip, two trucks were carefully towing a fuselage away.

We came back out, noting that usually it's not nearly such an exciting day, and practiced a few landings before putting plane to bed chatting and stretching our legs and chasing the dog. Then one of us yawned, and we realized the sun was setting, and it was 11:30. Time to get home and to bed!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Bonding straps and safety wire

Today, we did something that scared me a little - we worked on gascolators, which are essentially fuel filters. To work on a gascolator, one must first shut off the fuel supply and the crossfeed between fuel tanks, then drain the remaining avgas out of the gascolators and the lines this side of the shut-off valve.

Did you ever notice those "NO SMOKING" signs by the gas pumps, and "no cell phones"? It's not because the for-your-own-good busybodies got there first. Fuel fumes, in enough concentration, are explosive - and any ignition source is enough to set them off. The reason the public can usually get away with yakking on their cell phones, getting into and out of their car, and wearing clothes full of static electricity, is that the gasoline pumps are bonded to your car to reduce the chance of explosion ignition via static electricity buildup. (There's a wire in that hose). When fueling the airplane at the pump, we run a separate static line from the pump to the airplane to bond the two, and minimize any chance of explosion.

On the other hand, sometimes we forget. And sometimes we use plastic gas cans, which distribute the charge on the periphery of the can and have no way to be adequately bonded. And every couple years, someone's plane burns to ashes because of this. Well, if the static potential is bad going into the plane, it's just as bad coming out - and liquid moving through air, especially dry cold air, will build a potential. We've lost a few planes up here from draining fuel from the gascolator into a bucket.

The search for the bonding strap from plane to bucket made the younger mechanic annoyed and impatient, while the much older and more experienced mechanic smiled into his work with a pleased expression. I would not have been surprised, as I rolled under the plane on the creeper, to hear "You are beginning to learn, young grasshopper."

Did all go well? Actually, no. Something is wrong with the fuel system on this plane, and instead of dumping roughly a cup of gas before dripping dry, a steady stream of gasoline just kept pouring out. The young mechanic climbed up to the cockpit to check the shutoff valves and recheck the controls - and still, it kept pouring out. Not content with the bonding strap, I touched metal to the plane's aluminum skin, and called out "Still pouring out. Steady stream. Still pouring. Oh, shut off for a moment - back to pouring."

You might scoff at me as overcautious, but I was the person on a creeper, unable to get quickly away if the gasoline detonated. I prefer caution.

After we shut off the fuel drain on the gascolator and noted the fuel system upstream as definitely broken but not subject to easy diagnosis (the more experienced mechanics will check it tomorrow), we moved to the other gascolator on the plane - and this time, the young mechanic did not look hurried or impatient as I secured the bonding strap carefully from sloshing bucket to airplane, and waited a moment for any pent up electrons to migrate before cautiously reaching for the pliers to cut the safety wire holding the nut in place.

I'm only beginning to learn, though. I still can't change the oil in a Cessna 180 without leaving a puddle on the ramp to mark my activity. Sigh. More experience, more practice - and right now, more cleanup. Well, his plane had a dirty belly anyway, and the customer will be just as happy to get a cleaner airplane back than he left at the shop.

Hurry Up and Wait

The aileron cove die did not work out as planned. New die being made - should be *crosses fingers* done next Monday. *sigh*

Today was a good day of work, though - outside in the sun, around 65 degrees, light wind, high scattered clouds, everything went easily, and problems were being solved. Including the inspection panels that were so vexing - it turns out that two tinnerman nut plates were broken! Replaced them, and it all went smoothly from there.

Before taking your plane to the mechanics for an annual:

1. A few (flying) hours before you take the plane in, wash it and vacuum the inside.
Really, if you don't like leaning against, kneeling in, and putting your eyes down in dust and dirt, what makes you think you A&P does? Besides, if it's cleaned, then flown a little, any new leaks are really obvious instead of camouflaged in old leak and grime.

2. Take your junk out of your plane. Really, the old airsickness bags, the survival gear, the winter-weight wing and engine covers (when it's no longer winter), books, etc - the less you leave in the airplane, the less needs to be moved or removed, and the less chance it has of getting lost or damaged, or annoying your mechanic by him having to deal with it.


Thursday, May 20, 2010

Rescuing a Dry Roast French Onion Soup

My wonderful friends who I'm staying with had a roast turn out of the oven dry as a bone. Not willing to toss such an expensive hunk of meat, but unwilling to eat it, it got stuck in the freezer for "Find a way to save this." Well, this weekend one came home with a bag of shriner's sweet onions (It's hard to find Vidalia's in Anchorage, and the money goes to kids who need orthopedic procedures or were burn victims), so I made French Onion Soup.

one dry roast
1 tsp peppercorns
1-2 bay leaves
2 cloves of garlic
2 tsp thyme
1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
5 onions (yellow is better, sweet is best)
1-1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp cane sugar (white or brown will substitute)
1 cup leftover wine (preferably red)

spatula (bamboo is best)
chopping block & knife to cut onions

The night before, put your dry roast in a crockpot, add water to cover, and toss in a teaspoon of peppercorns, two cloves of garlic and a bay leaf or two. This will convert the water to beef broth that is not salty, and break the roast down into flavorful chewy shreds of meat.

The next day, when you have plenty of free time, get out a large saucepan. Chop as many onions as you can fit into the pan and still stir (I used five). Melt 1/2 cup (one stick) of butter in the pan, then over medium-low heat add the onions, stir, and turn on the vent fan to try to keep the entire house from smelling of onion. Add two pinches of salt. Stir enough that everything is coated in butter, and nothing gets too hot. This isn't very often at first, but as time goes on, you'll have to stir more and more frequently.

During one of your breaks in stirring, use your spatula or something to mash the roast into the flavorful shreds. Pull out the bay leaf if you can still find it. Add two teaspoons of thyme into the broth, and a tablespoon of Worcestershire sauce.

The onions will cook down and saute to transparency, but you are not done yet - you want to caramelize the onion.Add a teaspoon of cane sugar. (If you're going to lose patience and skip to the next step before properly caramelizing, you need to add more sugar to make up for it.) Keep stirring. When the onions turn yellow-brown (caramel-colored, even) and smell sweet, add two tablespoons of flour and stir until it's all been well-absorbed by the butter, and stir a little more for the heck of it. Then add 1 cup wine (some say red, some say white. I used the last of a bottle of red left out uncorked and overlooked.) After the alcohol has flashed off (that's not precise - I just waited until I stopped hearing sizzling and had scraped all the browned bits off the bottom of the pan), add to the crockpot of beef broth. Serve right away, or let sit in the crockpot on warm until you're ready - it only gets better as the flavors blend.

This soup actually turned out undersalted, unlike the oversalty canned beef broth - it went from good to great when we added another teaspoon of salt, and a little more Worcestershire. It may depend on how much your roast was peppered and salted - season to taste! And if you're a traditionalist, nuke a piece of toast in the microwave with some cheese, and have that with your soup - if that doesn't satisfy, you're likely also complaining that there's meat in the soup instead of eating and enjoying, and will get chased out of the kitchen.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Squeee! stands for KelTec PMR30!

Photo courtesy of Oleg Volk

Thanks to Oleg Volk (Warning - not all pictures safe for work!), who is a wonderful friend and an awesome photographer, I've gotten to shoot the new Kel-Tec PMR-30 a few times, and it is a gun I liked from the beginning and love more every time I get my hands on it. Officially, the gun is a "$375 double stack semiautomatic pistol that has a 30 round magazine, chambered in .22WMR."

What that doesn't cover is that it's so light that even with my shoulder and neck injuries, I can hold it up, with a fully loaded magazine, and shoot it at full extension. It has no noticeable recoil - and given I've got enough damage I need ibuprofen after 70 shots with a CZ 452, and can't hold up most shotguns unloaded, this is really saying something.

But it gets better - the gun is not yet out in production, and over the last several months, I've noticed that if there's ever a problem - in concept, in clearance, in accessorizing - Kel-Tec will tackle it, and send new parts to try. Soon, if not already, there will be a threaded barrel option that will allow easy, quiet, lightweight firing for a nice time at the range with a gun that won't hurt anything - not even my ears!

There's only been one stumbling block - racking the slide. I understand that the myth of small women being unable to rack slides is just a myth, and Kathy Jackson has a great tutorial on how, while Breda has a fun video showing how easy it is. It's easy for a healthy person of any size, given proper form - but with the damaged shoulder, proper form means I go from having to get someone else to do it, to "I can do that for myself!" and wincing from the pain. Yes, I'm stupidly stubborn about being independent sometimes, and I thank God my husband loves me and puts up with it.

That, too, is no longer a problem - the designer of the PMR30 has now redesigned the hammer! For those of us who lack the arm (or shoulder) strength to rack the slide against heavy hammer spring, you can do it in two moves. First places it on half-cock, the second cocks it the rest of the way - and for a bonus, the magazines got re-designed for easier loading!

I can't wait to shoot it again - and when it comes on the market this summer, I don't think my Calmer Half will have any trouble figuring out what might be a birthday present - parts for the plane, ammo, or the only handgun that makes me squee.

For everything there is a tool

Progress on getting the twin out is not quite as fast as I'd hoped, but getting better. Saturday I spent three hours getting inspection panels back in on the outside of the plane, and tackling the tailcone. What's so hard about screwing a cone on the back end of an airplane? Well, there's an upper half with a strobe, a lower half with a capacitor, and a mess of wires that are supposed to connect to plane or to each half, and not all of them are long enough to be connected easily before the cone halves are mated... but once mated, there's no way to get more than three fingertips inside to blindly try to connect them.

Monday we tested the lights, took the tailcone back off, and my IA soldered a new, longer ground wire on so that won't be a problem again. Then it was back to trying to bolt two flexible pieces of fragility together. Today, I put in floor panels - the interior of the airplane is starting to look like it's nearly done! Tomorrow will be an upper body strength day - that is, lying on the creeper putting panels back in under the wing.

Notes to self:

Seat all screws in their holes before tightening any.

Screws, bolts, and similar hardware fall under the category of things that are easier to replace when they're starting to look bad than to try to deal with reusing. Stripped heads or threads == chuck it and put in a new one.

The airplane is over 50 years old. Parts and pieces change over time, so when you find two inspection panels with Tinnerman nuts, meaning they take #8 machine screws, stuck on a floorboard in an airplane that otherwise has only taken two very consistent sizes of AN bolts for all floor panels and other inspection panels - it doesn't have to make sense, it just has to be put back.

ALWAYS PAY MORE ATTENTION TO DETAIL WHEN YOU TAKE A PIECE APART THAN YOU THINK YOU NEED TO. After all, airplanes are mechanical jigsaw puzzles with a history of workarounds, modifications, and improvisations, and once you take it apart, you never have all the pictures you need to put it back together easily.

Sharpie notes on the underside of panels by prior mechanics are awesome. God bless whoever left the clues for which floor panels went where.

If I'm having a hard time accomplishing something, ask for help - chances are, there's a tool for that. Like a scribe! Corollary: if the Snap-On truck has pulled up to the shop next door, for budget's sake, tuck your head down, grit your teeth, focus on your work and Don't Look Outside. That way lies many toys tools your budget and useful load do not need.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Spring is here!

Only four inches of snow left in a berm in the front yard. Went to work with leaves the size of parka squirrel ears on the trees, came out at 7:15 to bright sunshine, puffy clouds, and 1-1/2 inch long leaves everywhere. The land is green all over, grass growing almost fast enough to hear, trees exploding into leaf with blooms to come.

Inside the shop, where we trade green growing things for oil and metal, avgas exhaust and regrowth, renewal of flying machines and people's hopes and dreams, I've turned the corner and started screwing inspection panels back on the Piper Navajo, as things inside have already been looked at.

Yesterday I tore the seat right out of one of my two pairs of jeans, by trying to shift over and catching the edge of a countersunk screw sticking out of a seat rail. ("Hey, you got a piece of tape on your butt." "Yeah, yeah. That's cause I caught a screw, and didn't want you seeing the color of my underwear." "Blood red now, huh?" "Yeah, yeah...") Today, I conquered the inspection panel that slid underneath the rail, and did not further injure myself or my clothes. Yay! Though I did learn, regretfully, that the antenna wire I'd been told to pull out must have had the fastener added to the end after the wire was run from ceiling to floor through the main spar. Yeah, that could have gone better - but with a flashlight, mechanical fingers, and some inarticulate noises, I managed to reroute it out the bottom of the airplane to cut the end and fish the wire out. Yay for tools to solve frustrating problems!

Also, when my old roomie from Fairbanks came home from work, she took my freshly washed jeans and disappeared off to her craft room. About the time her awesome husband and I were comparing notes on Chocolate Bourbon Pecan Pie and Brigid's Guinness Shepherd's Pie, she re-emerged with patched jeans. The patch is shaped like a butterfly in profile, with extra thread sewn in to look like a little body and antennae. She rocks so much! I love my friends!

And tomorrow I bet I'll hear, in the exact same tone, "Hey, you got a butterfly on your butt."

This weekend, the planes should be far enough along to clear space for my wing - the exhaust for the Aztec came back from Atlee Dodge today. Yay!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Tangental notes from the airfield

By the time you feel sunburn, it's already too late. Drink more water than you think you need, and use sunscreen.

Flying down the Alcan is easier than flying up, and faster. The pattern of storm fronts sweeps down from the north, so if you go down just behind a front, you'll usually get several days of beautiful weather. If you're coming up, expect at least one weather delay while a front passes over.

Heading to the west of the rockies, two good places to cross and deal with customs are Billings and Cut Bank.

No matter how averse to fruit or veggies men may claim to be, splitting a banana lengthwise, stuffing dark chocolate chunks inside, wrapping it in aluminum foil and tossing on the grill creates a treat that won't have any left over.

You always sound more inane on video than you think you will.

Before working on the underbelly of a plane, make sure all hair is well-controlled, and clothing unable to drag on the ground through oil or under the wheels of a creeper. Wear glasses so paint flecks, metal chips, and oil do not fall into your eyes.

Start backing out all the screws on inspection plates with a screwdriver. Sure, the cordless screwdriver can handle some of them, but if you just do it right the first time for all of them, it saves time, effort and stripped screws in the end.

If you can't control the outside temperature, or the room temperature, control the temperature of your sleeping bag or your bed. The warmer you are, the less stiff you'll be when you wake up.

Alaska is a very small town spread across a land mass one-third the size of the lower 48. I will always meet more people whom I know or know of than I think I will.

Nitrous oxide and full-length leading edge slats make a fantastic STOL machine... but skill will still beat modified gear hands-down.

These are all just opinions, but trust me on the water and sunscreen.

Friday, May 7, 2010

gathering parts

My credit card is now smoking gently, as I've bought trailing edge, PK #4 1/4" screws to hold the trailing edge on, leading edge material (even thick leading edge for where people tend to lean on the wing while putting gas in the tanks, as a dent-preventative measure), and the materials to cover the wings.

Also gotten almost everything moved from storage to the hangar, which is an interesting exercise in logistics in an econocar so tiny I can't even get my bicycle in without a bungee cord to keep the trunk lid semi-closed!

While I've been buying and moving things, I've also been spending time as unskilled labor on the last plane in the hangar that needs to be worked on before there is room for my wings. I can unscrew inspection plates - pretty straightforward, right? Except not really - they may have a cross-hatch pattern on top, but the screws are apex #2 heads, not phillips heads. Also, on this twin, the compass is out in the left wingtip - so working my way around, I had to stop and find a screwdriver without a magnetic head for the inspection covers nearby. After being under the wing and holding up the powered screwdriver at head height to take out the many, many screws there, my upper body is reminding me that I don't start with as much upper body strength as the average guy, and I certainly don't use those muscles often like mechanics do. Long hot showers and stretching carefully keep me from being curled in a fetal position!

But it's all wonderful, because I shall shortly take off to the Valdez May Day Fly-In!

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The work begins again

With a few days until space would be available to work on my plane, I went down to the Alaska Airmen's Association and volunteered for the organization of the annual trade show. I've been volunteering time as office staff off and on for five years now, but this was the first year I actually worked the show itself as a volunteer (the prior couple years running, I worked as a vendor).

This introvert is thoroughly peopled-out. But it was a great show, good times, good to see the thousands upon thousands of pilots, current, former, and future. It was also nice to see the public come - those who took time away from the annual bike blessing or the beer festival downtown to trek out to the FedEx Hangar. It's hard to foist the untrue illusion that airplane owners are rich guys with million-dollar airplanes upon the public when they're surrounded by a sea of guys in well-worn carhartts and work boots!

It was also disconcerting at how many people remembered me and knew I'd left my job - but good, I guess, that they all had good memories of me helping them, and the solutions we'd found for their equipment needs were all working very well, months to years later. You see, sales is not about selling things to people - it's about helping people accomplish what they truly want by providing goods, information, and service. It's gratifying to see that my old boss still thinks well of me, and so do my old customers!

The aileron cove's compound curves are still proving annoying to fabricate, but today I should be able to start on rechecking the trammeling and possibly nailing the ribs. And the front yard is almost snow-free!