Saturday, December 18, 2010

Calmer Half

This man is my rock. Sometimes this means he's as stubborn as a rock, immovable object to my unstoppable force. Always, this means he's my shelter against the storm, against the world. When I'm about ready to metaphorically tear my hair out and set the plane on fire after yet another setback, he calmly reminds me that he loves me, and that it's all okay. And then, it is.

When others wonder how he can let me go to be thousands of miles away for months, he calmly reminds them that he does not own his wife. (It's true! He didn't pay my father a bride price for me! [Though he did offer.]) Whether I'm having a good day or a bad one, when we're apart, I can count on at least one phone call a day, regularly and faithfully. He has mastered the art of holding so tightly I shall never feel unsupported, yet so loosely that I shall never feel like my wings have been clipped, or that I cannot fly.

Sometimes he frustrates me, because he does not try to limit me. I tried to tease him by threatening to cut my hair short, and he was fine with it. In fact, he appeared mildly baffled that I expected him to object. "It's your hair, love." Sometimes he is so laid back I almost wonder if I am walking all over him - and then I hit a point he cares about, and I am reassured that he has a spine like a mountain and a will as inexorable.

He never yells, and rarely curses. (Except at "bloody idiots" on the road, for which I tease him.) When I am moved to yell at him, he doesn't yell back - he listens. Sometimes he changes, and sometimes he points out that I have no right or reason to talk to him like that. I have no choice, then, but to listen back. Which is why our arguments usually are short, and end in thoughtful conversation, or sincere apologies.

It's not a smooth road by any means. When we walk down the street, I want to put my good shoulder toward him so it won't hurt when he tugs my arm or bumps into me, but he wants me to walk on the side that leaves his gun hand free. He doesn't put the toilet seat down. I steal covers and grumble at him if he moves in the night. He always wants and expects to drive. I use all the hot water when I shower. He gets cranky and refuses to take help when he's tired. I get petty and snarl when I have low blood sugar.

But all those things are immaterial, and easily dismissed by the steadfast love in his eyes as he smiles and says, "Calm down, love. It's all right; no one's shooting at you."

Friday, December 17, 2010


When I was younger, I moved a lot. Sometimes by my own choice, sometimes not. One particularly crazy year included a lot of couch-surfing, and I started using the word "home" to mean "wherever I am currently plugging in my computer." It was in jest: that's not what home is.

Home is where the heart is, and for the last months I've been split between the north and the south, between the home for years where my plane is, my friends are, the mountains and sky are etched in memories and heart... and my husband, who is out of state, and the small number of friends near him.

I left my plane in the competent and wise hands of my IA, and left state quietly, dozing and limping through fourteen hours of flights and layovers, only to hobble slowly enough up a terminal that a nice security officer wanted to know if I was going to be all right. I was, I assured him - and when I came around the corner, I was more than fine.

Calmer Half was waiting for me, standing patiently there, and I was home.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Modifications vs. stock

Once upon a time in a land far, far away called Alaska, the agency who thinks they are in charge of flying held a "supercub seminar." Their bright idea was to have a social gathering right before the pilots switched from skis back to wheels or floats, and as the winter hibernators were coming back up from sunnier climes, or starting to drive to the airport again and check in their plane in anticipation of the coming summer flying. They would gather some locals who were well-respected to talk about various safety and sanity-inducing aspects of flying, refresh those who didn't fly all winter on awareness of weather and airspace, and let everyone know what the latest regulation and rule changes were. Free coffee and cookies, Saturday morning, some elementary school.

A few local organizations and businesses decided this was an awesome chance to remind pilots about their goods for sale, or their organization, and set up booths and displays along with the tables full of friendly agency's pamphlets and paperwork. (In the case of Atlee Dodge, an entire brand-newly welded extended baggage extra-wide reinforced lightweight fuselage sat in a hallway for pilots drool and start asking their wives about next Christmas.) The idea took hold, and people came.

Our local friendly agency agents are, for the most part, a practical sort who recognize that innovation is better than stagnation, and people who want to modify their aircraft are usually doing it because they want a better plane for their purpose. While there are certainly pilots who put big tires on aircraft that rarely leave asphalt (akin to the lifted pickups around town that have never been offroad), tundra tires make landing on gravel and soft surfaces safer (in many cases, replace safer with possible at all). They sign off on replacing stiff, fracture-prone metal hydraulic lines with flexible hoses familiar to every car and dune buggy, replacing solid copper wiring wrapped in varnished silk with modern wiring, old 25-hour-life landing lights with thousands-of-hours life LED landing lights, installing inertial reel harnesses where there were no seat belts before... our airplanes are practical working vehicles, and we make them better, stronger, and safer. But outside, in the blasted aviation ruins of the Lower 48, the agency is not so friendly and resents the changes and challenges of innovation to their domineering static statism.

Worst of all are the agents of Mordor, also called Oklahoma City. I don't know why the unfriendly agency chose to base there and not the pit of DC, but I know from whence the squamous and rugose shadows with their lashing tentacles of strangling red tape come. And I could tell that this one that stepped upon the stage had a fresh whiff of that foul place man should not mention about him. His suit stood as a shout against the creeping informality of the friendly agents' polar fleece vests and polo shirts over jeans, in polar opposition to the battered carhartts, beards, and baseball caps eying him with distrust and disfavor. He glared at us with the self-righteous disdain and fury of a Brady Campaigner at Knob Creek (an apt simile, as most of the people in the room were armed), and imperiously clicked his powerpoint remote to batter us all with the overwhelming power of fine print.

Taking a deep breath, he stared us all down and said to the Alaskan pilots, "There is no reason any airplane should be anything other than stock!"

A humming silence met his remark, as pilots stopped chatting about the wife and kids, and turned to stare at him. Half-awake pilots woke up, looked at him, and looked at each other to confirm they heard correctly. Next to me, a gentleman who stopped logging hours years ago, as he figured there was no point past 40,000 hours in the bush, snorted and leaned back to watch the fireworks. I took another drink of bad coffee, trying to wake up and wondering what he was going to come up with for a speech after that lead-in.

He was serious. He continued haranguing us with powerpoint slide after slide, stating that we were deviants and degenerates tampering with designs created by our betters, and should not presume to try to improve upon what the unfriendly agency had decreed the airplane should be, coming off the production line. I looked at his superiors from our friendly agency, and saw the highest one there leaning back, arms folded, letting the unfriendly agent from Mordor dig his own grave.

Finally, with the spit-flecked fervor of PETA members assaulting a little old lady in a fur coat, he clicked to his penultimate example of everything that is bad and wrong with Alaskan aviation. "This! This! Can anyone even tell me what kind of airplane this is?"

I didn't recognize it. It had nice big tundra tires, long high wings, kinda like a...but nah, the fuselage wasn't right... the room was silent as he glared at us, looking enraged at our temerity and satisfied that he had browbeaten us into submission.

Then a voice spoke, from the audience. "Well, actually, that's my plane." Heads whipped around to the source, and the unfriendly agent's jaw dropped open, eyes bulging in disbelief.

"Really? What'd you do?" Someone asked, and the owner stood up, coffee cup in one hand, other one tucked into a pocket in a defensive slouch.

"Well, I was going into..." And he named a rather treacherous area well-known down on the peninsula. "And I ground-looped her. The only wings available were off a... so I flew her out, but really she performs better with them, so I left those on, and I got an Atlee Dodge landing gear and bigger tires to help with the potholes on this strip, and..." And he was off, standing up straight with pride as he told the story of how much work, effort, and thought he'd put into his baby. Questions flew fast and furious, opinions and debates sprung up about the effects of various modifications upon other modifications, the usefulness and relative merit of variations given the wildly different terrains these pilots operated on, and the room was alive, awake, and trading information.

I looked up at the stage, where the head of the friendly agency had a hand on the unfriendly agent, and was quietly leading him back to their chairs on the side, talking too quietly to be heard over the debate on 31" vs. 26" vs. 8:50 tires, powerflow exhausts, and so on.

What is the moral of this fairy tale?

For me, it's "Don't post identifying information about your airplane or yourself on the internet when doing modifications, for the agents of Mordor desire to crush and drown all beneath their sea of writhing red tape."

I hope there are better agents, even perhaps some last holdouts of sanity, in the blasted wastelands of the Lower 48, but the news we get here is not encouraging. I hear all the other FSDOs have been corrupted within, forsaking field approvals and one-time STCs for the ichorous hisses of "suspected unapproved parts are our highest priority!"

Monday, December 6, 2010

Wings & ankles

Over two years ago, I started pulling parts out of twelve totes and two bundles, and sorting them out into what I roughly knew went where on a wing.

This isn't the beginning - the ribs here are mostly cleaned of corrosion, repaired, and some are already primed. But it's close enough.

Turns out that the shop with the wings has great customer service on everything except their deadlines, and came in under budget while making my wings look as beautiful on the outside as they are inside.

I still need to put the gas tanks back in and get them on, but the end is in sight.

On the other hand, yesterday I only made it successfully down five out of six stairs to the laundry, and my left ankle was stressed past specs. Unlike the plane, I won't have to put a lot of effort and research into figuring out how to repair it - rest, ice, compression, and elevation are pretty straightforward, if annoying and providing very few external indications of healing progress.

I hope I can get back to the plane soon - I'd far rather be twisted in some uncomfortable position while scrapes on my arms weep blood and itch around splinters, muttering words my father wouldn't approve of me saying while trying to hold a flashlight, a mirror, and use a tool than be tucked on this comfy couch with tea, sandwiches, internet, and comfy blankets.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Progress Post - Odds and Brakes

One of my biggest frustrations lately has been the parking brake - the housing for the old cable was a solid metal tube that fractured and splintered at a bend. It's a very simple system - the locking handle connects to the cable, which loops around a cable that attaches to both brakes. Thus, pulling on the handle simply engages both brakes fully. After removing the petrified friction tape and housing, I got the old cable out, and got a new one with a Bowden cable instead of a solid tube. (The old style hasn't been available for decades, and this is better anyway.)

The handle locks by engaging a sort of set screw in the handle. Which I lost when installing. After cleaning, and cleaning, and muttering unkind words, I found that the replacement set screw is not sold singly - I had to buy the whole parking brake assembly. So I did, uninstalled the old new one, and installed the new new one. See the brass thing in the center of the tube the handle goes in? Yeah, you don't want to know how much that little bit of brass cost me in time, money, and aggravation.

Along the way, dealing with the brakes and dealing with firewall cover patch, I finally got to the point that it was just easier to remove the floor to continue work.

These are the old MicroVG's, on top of the repaint kit to replace the entire plane's VG's. The pink stuff on the bottom is dope that came off when I popped them off with a putty knife - they're bonded on well! I may fly the airplane without VG's first, to get a good feel for her original handling characteristics.

While working around the tail feathers, I noted that the last person put flat drain grommets on the tail instead of seaplane scoops, and didn't put a cloth patch on top. That's perfectly fine from an airworthiness standpoint. From a practical one, all but two had since been knocked off by dirt, rocks, weeds, sand, or something. So, I put seaplane grommets on to promote pulling moisture out of the area, and covered them with dollar patches to keep them there. My IA, believing that overkill is always better than barely enough, took the time to point out that I should really put some on the bottom of the rudder to pull moisture out of that as well.

When I bought the plane, the end of one of the placards in the cockpit was held on with duct tape as it had curled away from the instrument panel. As I worked around the cockpit, I bumped into it several times after removing the ossified duct tape, and it finished coming off. Here, it's being properly glued down.

Going over my inspection covers, roughly half of them had been painted without primer, and the paint was peeling off in large flakes or almost entirely gone (Like my fairings). The human eye can see thousands of shades of yellow - matching would be time-consuming and likely fruitless. The only easy-to-get yellow in the shop is a rather awful shade (at least, to my eyes), so I went with the other color on the airplane - flat black.

For another small but good step, the nicely repainted steps are now being wrapped with no-slip tread. Wet paint is slick, and I am sometimes clumsy - this should help prevent bruises and leaking blood. The tape is to keep the tread on securely until the glue cures tightly to the peg.

While none of the projects above move directly toward getting the engine run or wings on, they're things that were very good to get done. I'm not spinning my wheels, no matter what it feel like, and the punch list of things left to do on the plane is growing smaller and smaller.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Patching the Firewall & Custom Tools

As noted in the prior post, the new lower fuel valve needed a new lower fuel fitting. Unfortunately, the spot picked to drill a hole in the firewall proved to be a little too off, and a little too awkward to make the right bend in the fuel line. Solution: move the hole in the firewall.

This left two holes in the firewall to cover instead of one.

So, I made a rather thick steel plate to fit over both, with the holes pre-drilled, and set about installing it.

The first hole went rather well, if time-consuming. The second hole took hours to drill, and I got it done by drilling two pilot holes in succession. The third hole took even longer, and I finally broke down and went to my IA, saying "I think it might not be me - it might be the drill bit."

He looked at it with a jeweler's loupe, and said "This bit isn't dull... it's rounded!"

Now I know a lot more about drills, bits, and how to sharpen them. The third hole then took a couple minutes to finish. The fourth hole, however, was in an awkward position between the valve from the tank, the fitting already clamped down in the center to hold it tights, and various cables, wiring, and structure in the way. (Not that the others were a breeze.)
Enter the "aircraft drill bits" - perfect for reaching those awkward spots!

With the holes drilled, it was time to put one person on the engine side of the firewall with a screwdriver to hold the screws in place, and one person on the inside to tighten the locking nuts. Unfortunately, the alternator is so close to the firewall that even my stubbiest screwdriver was still too long by several inches.

Enter custom "nubby" screwdrivers, made by my IA from broken vacuum pump flanges.

As the shaft usually breaks first (broken yellow piece, top left), the rest can be put in the lathe, and the flanges trimmed off (see the various amounts of trimming between the three screwdrivers). Then the small hole in the center is enlarged, and a screwdriver bit pressed into the handle.

Best of all - the handle fits perfectly into that racheting wrench at the bottom, making it easy to turn in spaces so tight a hand can't hold and grip it easily!