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Seatbelts, Wheelpants, and Racing

Somebody sent me an email asking about my shoulder harness attach point. I promised them I’d take a picture and post it to the web so here it is… about 2 months late! If you enlarge the picture and see that my bolts are way too short, don’t freak out. This was a loose installation for illustration purposes only.

The wheelpant installation has FINALLY begun. This was supposed to be one of those winter projects… I purchased a set of these wheelpants from Sam James. They’re sized to fit the smaller, 11x4x5 tires I’m now running. As with most all wheelpants available for experimental aircraft, these came without any holes or mounting brackets.

The fitting process is slow, but do-able. It’s pretty easy to replace fiberglass if you wind up cutting too much off, but I’d like to avoid that if I can. Once the big hole was cut, I expanded it about 1/4″ at a time. No sense in creating extra work for myself if it isn’t necessary.

As you can see, the pant is starting to fit pretty well in this picture. At this point I still haven’t drilled any holes to fix the position of the pant relative to the centerline of the aircraft. I’ll spend a fair bit of time making sure everything is pointed and tilted in the right direction. When you put this much surface area on a small aircraft such as the Midget Mustang, it’s critical that it’s aligned properly. If not, it’s easy to actually create drag instead of minimizing it!

I’m going to race in my first Sport Air Racing League race next weekend in Taylor, TX. This is an air racing league designed for sport flyers. It’s inexpensive to join and participate and seems like a fun thing to do. I quickly became disenchanted with normal airport fly-ins and open houses last year. It seems like the general public has no respect for other people’s property. I could see where it was only going to be a matter of time before my airplane was damaged due to inconsiderate adults or parents not supervising their children.
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I’m not an overly social person, but I really enjoy hanging out with other pilots. I fly to lunch or breakfast with friends all the time, but I was still looking for something else to do with the airplane now that it’s flying. I helped as a timer at a SARL race a few years ago and it looked like fun. I decided to give it a whirl this year as a participant.
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My Midget Mustang fits into the Sprint class. This is for aircraft equipped with engines of 240 c.i. or less. Mine’s got an O-200. The only problem with this class is that I’m thrown in with some pretty fast glass airplanes. This weekend, I’ll be racing for 3rd place now that there’s a Vari-EZ and a Glasair I in the mix. The Glassair is about 30mph faster than I am and the EZ is about 20mph faster than me. The next fastest behind me is a Zenith CH601. I should be able to beat him with one notch of flaps deployed for the entire race.
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The good news is that since this is my first race, it’ll be nice to NOT be battling neck and neck for a hotly contested position. I’ll be able to take a deep breath and focus on learning the ropes and flying a safe race. In the category of safety, I should also mention that the race has a staggered start where the aircraft are launched in 30 second intervals from fastest to slowest. Unless someone really misses a turn or their handicap speed is way off, there should be almost no passing on the course. I think this is a good idea given that most of us are just weekend warriors, not Reno racers.
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I won’t have the wheelpants installed in time for this weekend’s race so it’ll be nice to establish a baseline for speed and then be able to track increases (hopefully) as I make additional improvements to my airframe throughout the season. One of the things I’m pretty sure I’ll have to do at some point is have my Catto prop re-pitched. I’m able to turn about 3000rpm without the wheelpants at 8000+ density altitude. It’ll be interesting to see what kind of rpm’s I get at sea level.
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I’ve got more pictures to share, but I forgot to download them to my computer before leaving town last Friday. I’ll have to provide more updates later in the week. I’m also planning a fairly significant cross-country flight in conjunction with my trip down to Taylor, TX (T74). I’ll try to post something later in the week on that.


All’s Good

I’ve received several emails lately wondering how everything is going. I don’t have any pictures to post, but I decided I could do an update, anyway.
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I didn’t spend very much time out at the airport at all during the entire month of February. I caught a cold near the first of February and didn’t feel much like flying for the first 3 weeks of the month. I’ve never had a head cold hang on so long.
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I have flown the airplane a few hours since fixing my oil leak. I’m happy to say that there are no more leaks. I’m also happy to say that the shims I installed to correct the camber issue seem to be working out very well. Thanks Tom!
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I was really going through Midget Mustang withdrawal last week so I tried to sneak in a little flight. The weather was supposed to be awful so I wasn’t planning on being able to fly that day, but it was still pretty nice even after lunch so I headed out to the airport.
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The winds were 50 degrees off the runway centerline at 9 knots. I figured it would be good crosswind practice so I taxied to the runway. I hadn’t planned on doing anything but touch and go’s for an hour or so.
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Well, by the time I made it around the pattern the first time, the wind had increased substantially. I wrestled my little plane to the ground and was happy to add power to put some distance between me and the ground!
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As I climbed out, I glanced down at the windsock and noticed that it was sticking straight out with hardly a wrinkle in the fabric. Ruh, roh! I tuned in the AWOS just in time to hear that the winds were now 80 degrees to the runway at 19 knots gusting to 29 knots. More ruh, roh.
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I had 2-1/2 hours worth of fuel onboard, but I also had at least 3 glasses of soda onboard and safely stored in my 2-glass bladder so loitering airborne for a few hours wasn’t a pleasant option.
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I came around for a landing. Fought it the whole way to the high speed turn-off. I could smell my tires as I taxied to my hangar. I had to sit in the airplane and wait for the wind to calm down because every time I started to get out, the wind started to blow the airplane across the ramp. I was pretty relieved once I was able to safely tuck the plane back in my hangar.
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Looking back on the situation, I’m really glad it happened, but I’m not anxious to do it again! I’m glad it happened because it was a real confidence-building exercise for me. I now know that the plane and I are capable of 80 degree crosswinds at 19 gusting to 29. As I start to travel around the country with my plane this summer, this will be comforting information to have.
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On a mostly-unrelated note, I recently sold my Honda CR-V and purchased a used VW Passat. Things are still a little shaky at work and I want to put myself in as good a financial position as possible in case things go south in a hurry. Selling the CR-V let me get rid of a big monthly car payment. I paid cash for the Passat. The other side benefit of the Passat is that it’s getting about 32 mpg, which is about 25% better than the CR-V.
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I’m hoping for some serious airplane time over the next 3 weeks. I’m really hoping to participate in a Sport Air Racing League race on April 1. It’s down in Taylor, TX so it’ll be a long cross country. I still need to move my oil cooler, install the spin-on filter and install wheel pants. It’ll be tight to get everything accomplished by the 1st.


Fuel Vent & Odds ‘n Ends

My oil filler tube has an extra tube welded in place for an air/oil separator return line. I’m not initially going to install an air/oil separator so I need to plug the hole somehow. I visited the aviation aisle at the local Ace this morning and bought this rubber plug.

I’ve installed the plug in the tube. It fits very nice and doesn’t look too bad, either. I’m thankful that the guy at Ace Hardware suggested it because I may have never found it on my own.

Looking back on yesterday’s post, I see that I didn’t describe the issues I discovered with my fuel system. A couple of years ago, just after the gas tank was finished, I checked the tank’s capacity. I remember that it held just shy of 15 gallons. I purchased 15.5 gallons of fuel with the intention of first determining how much unusable fuel I had and then determining the total capacity of the installed tank. Much to my dismay, the tank started peeing fuel out the vent line after only about 12 gallons. The fuel is a tube that’s snaked up to the high point of the tank so this shouldn’t be happening. Big time bummer.

This is a shot of the inside of my tank just as we were about to glue the phenolic block in place to hold the fuel cap filler neck. You can see the line that snakes from the front of the tank (lower left in this picture) to near where the filler neck will be glued in place. Unfortunately, I wasn’t thinking ahead and didn’t confirm the vent line was still open after we had applied to the sealer to the tank. I didn’t realize the sealer had blocked the vent line until after the bottom lid had been glued in place–forever sealing the tank from outside access. In an attempt to try and open the vent line, I ran a bunch of different semi-stiff things through the vent line. I think somewhere in this process, I must have put a hole in the line at the 12 gallon mark. My vent was no longer at the high point in the tank and I didn’t discover this until I started putting fuel in the tank yesterday. Bummer.

It dawned on me that the need to drain all the fuel out of the system today was also an opportunity to verify proper functioning of my fuel flow instrument. I hope I never see 13.8 gallons per hour in my O-200! As it turns out, I think I’ll need to adjust my instrument’s “K-factor” because I think the actual flow rate was closer to 17-18 gallons per hour based on how quickly the 5 gallon can overflowed and spilled gas all over my hangar floor! I was watching the “fuel used” display and figured I had another 5 minutes before I needed to switch out the gas can. Woops. I won’t tweak the K factor until I’m actually flying the plane. I will plan to land with more than an hour’s worth of fuel for each of my test flights. I’m not gonna mess around with a minimum fuel situation in the first hours of testing my airplane. That’d be stupid.

To relocate my actual fuel vent location back to my intended fuel vent location, I decided to install an AN fitting through a new hole in the tank near the filler neck.

Knowing how perfect the inside of the tank is sealed, it was a bummer to have to drill a new hole that I wouldn’t be able to dress out to the extent the rest of the tank was finished. I couldn’t really think of a practical alternative so I drilled away. I used my Dremel tool with the pencil attachment to make the hole slightly oblong so that the AN fitting would sit perpendicular to the forward edge of the tank. I installed the AN nut on the fitting just to give the epoxy something else to grab hold of.

I whipped up a small batch of West Systems epoxy and added a healthy amount of flox to make a paste consistency mixture. I then used a tongue depressor to fully encapsulate the AN fitting. I also buttered up the fitting before inserting it in the hole. I’m sure I wound up with a drip or two inside the tank, but I’ll take care of that tomorrow after this has had a chance to cure overnight. I’m satisfied that this shouldn’t leak. If nothing else, it’s not under pressure and it won’t be covered in fuel except for the few moments that the tanks are absolutely full.

Luckily, I had enough left over aluminum tubing to fabricate a completely fresh vent line to attach to the new vent location. The bottom end of the vent line attaches to a 90 degree bulkhead fitting in the wing root. From there you can see it comes up the side of the fuselage and then goes to the highest point I could reach and then makes a 180 degree turn back to the corner of the tank and around the tank to the new vent fitting. The goal is to provide a vent, but make it difficult for the fuel to actually flow overboard in a full tank situation.

Another example of miscellaneous progress in the finishing stages. I’m test-fitting the strip of LED lights near the front of the canopy. Believe it or not, those tiny 9 lights provide plenty of instrument lighting for night operations. I didn’t put a meter to it, but I’d guess those 9 lights are pulling a combined total of less than 100 milliamps. I need to get some double-sided tape tomorrow to finish the installation. I’m planning to have similar strips, but in white lights under the right cockpit longeron and in the baggage compartment for loading/unloading at night. I started the wiring for these other lights this evening and am hoping to have more progress to share tomorrow evening.

Another one of those nagging projects that distracts from the airplane project. Last fall, I managed to nearly pull my small hangar door off the hinges when I opened the big door with the little door open. One of the casualties in the disaster was my mechanical combination door lock was pulled out of the door. The screws holding the lock mechanism are metric and needed to be approximately 3 inches long. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find 3 inch long socket screws (with the allen head) in metric size. I could, however, find phillips screws 3 inches long in metric size, but the heads were too big around to fit in the door lock. I ended up chucking the phillips screw in my air drill and spinning the screw head against a coarse file, my benchtop belt sander and my scotchbrite wheel.

Argh, Argh, Arghhh. It’s amazing what you can accomplish with a hangar full of airplane fabrication tools! With the screw head turned town to a reasonable diameter, I was able to (finally) properly attach my door handle to the door. The next step will be replacing the door altogether. It was sprung pretty badly in last year’s door pulling event. What makes the door replacement a little more difficult is that it will need to be cut down to a smaller height. I’ve never cut a steel, exterior door down, so I’m not exactly sure what tool I’ll use to do the deed and I’m not sure how it’ll turn out. I got an estimate from a local pre-hung door manufacturer and they wanted ~$500 for the door. I can buy one at Home Depot for less than $100 so I’m going to give it a shot.
Well, I guess that pretty well wraps it up for the day. I’m going to the airport again tomorrow, but I don’t know how much work I’ll get done. Every vehicle I own needs an oil change so today might be an oil change kinda day. I was going to do my Honda today, but it was too windy to pull the airplane outside so that I could do the oil change in the hangar. It was really blowing today. I’m still somewhat north of 200 pounds and I was almost blown off my feet walking to the porta-potty today. Springtime in Colorado!
If everything goes well, I’m hoping to go on a motorcycle ride tomorrow afternoon. That’ll cut my workday down by a few hours, but I’m really looking forward to taking a ride. I had a new rear tire installed last Saturday and it bugs me to see those little hairs sticking out of the tire. Gotta go wear those down a bit!


Brakes, Primer, Fuel Vent

I’m backdating this post because I haven’t posted anything for a few days, but I’ve been making progress!

Mom made the big move on Friday from the hospital to the rehab center. She’ll stay at the rehab center until she’s capable of living on her own again at her own house. I was going to transport her from the hospital to the rehab place in my Miata, but they thought this van with the wheelchair lift would be more appropriate.

Friday before going to the hospital to help Mom with the big move, I had an appointment with the paintless dent repair guy to work on my Miata. The guy did a fantastic job. I’m very picky and he even put up with all my finicky ways. If anyone needs PDR in the northern Colorado area, be sure to call Wes at Dent-Away in Fort Collins. Very reasonable pricing and he’s a hard-working honest guy.

I’ll show you where I used these in the pics that will follow, but I wanted to point out an example of where the aviation aisle at the local Ace Hardware came in handy again today. These are stainless picture frame hangers. I trimmed one tab off the left bracket in this picture. For about 25 cents apiece, it wasn’t worth trying to fabricate these little babies out of stainless.

My parking brake system uses a simple pulley system of picture hanging wire that pulls up on a couple of tabs on my master cylinders to set the parking brake. The original installation used a bolt with a drilled head and had the wire threaded through the drilled head. The wire broke due to stress and the idea that it wasn’t pulling in the right direction. I looped the wire around the ring terminal and then crimped the wire in place with my regular electrical crimping tool.

I then covered the ring terminal connector and the end of the wire with heat shrink tubing. I think this made for a pretty nice connection.

Here’s a close-up of where the connector is joined to the Ace Hardware tab and then to the parking brake lever on the master cylinder. I used nylon lock nuts and left them slightly loose so they would pivot freely as the rudder pedals swing back and forth.

Here’s a wider angle shot of my parking brake pulley and wire system. It’s really lightweight and simple. As per usual, the original builder’s execution of the plan left a little to be desired, but it was a good plan so I just re-did his work and am very happy with the results. A friend came buy just before lunch on Saturday. We went to lunch and then came back to the hangar and he helped me bleed the brakes. This system holds very little brake fluid. I think the quart of 5606 brake fluid will last me a lifetime! No leaks in the system and firm pedals. We’re happy!

I added a little sound deadening material and heat shield to the back of the firewall. A friend gave this to me. Apparently it was leftover from an interior job on a Gulfstream jet. It’s got a peel-and-stick backing and man, does this stuff ever stick!

I wasn’t completely happy with my primer line installation. The only stress loop I installed was between the firewall and the engine mount. It dawned on me later, that where I really needed a stress loop was between the engine mount and the engine. After all, the engine mount shouldn’t be moving separately from the firewall! This is the new, smaller loop between the firewall and the engine mount.

The new, smaller loop picture above allowed me to add a loop between the engine mount and the “T” fitting attached to the engine case. If there’s going to be movement, it’ll be between the engine and the engine mount.

I’ve now moved on to Saturday’s work. The next item on the to-do list was the fabrication and installation of a fuel vent tube. The original installation had 90 degree AN fitting drilled into the fuel cap and poking out in the wind. Effective, but not a very elegant solution. I included a vent line glued to the high point in my new fiberglass fuel tank so all I needed to do was run a vent line from the fuel tank to below the wing to provide a little positive pressure. I installed a 90 degree bulkhead AN fitting through the lower portion of the fuselage just forward of the main spar. It exited at the wing root and will be hidden by my wing root fairing. This vent line attaches to the 90 degree fitting and then pokes out the bottom of the wing.

Here’s the tube coming out the bottom of the wing. I sure am going to miss that big AN fitting sticking out of the fuel cap sticking out of the top of my fuselage. It actually made for a pretty good gunsight for dogfighting!

You’ve seen this basic picture before, but I’ll point out a couple of things for the final installation. First, I mounted the Facet pump on a little bit of rubber to try to isolate the pump noise and vibration. The noise and vibration won’t hurt anything, but I just like to tone it down a bit. Secondly, I bought some Allen head screws for the installation of the solenoid on the solenoid bracket. This way, if I ever have to remove the two screws holding the solenoid in place, I’ll be able to do so with a small 90 degree Allen wrench without having to remove the fuel pump above the solenoid. The solenoid mounting bracket is a pre-fab purchased from Aircraft Spruce. I could have fabricated my own, but this little guy is pretty neat and reasonably priced.


Aircraft Spruce Order Arrives

No pictures today, but I’m happy to say that when I arrived back in town from flying a 3-day trip, I found a good-sized Aircraft Spruce order waiting for me. Woo, hoo!

I’ve now got plenty of things to keep me busy for a few days of hangar work. Unfortunately, I’ve got 4 days until I have to go fly another trip and 2 of those 4 days are filled with recurrent ground school down in Denver. Bummer. This working for a living is really getting in the way of progress!

The ACS order contained my carb heat cable, parking brake cable and mixture cable. I also ordered a bunch of those firewall eyeball-style pass-through fittings. Boy, those things sure are expensive. At $30-something apiece, I’ve got $250+ invested in pass-throughs. I guess if I ever have an engine fire I’ll appreciate spending a few extra bucks.

I also received a bunch of different fittings to allow me to plumb my primer system and my manifold pressure line to the manifold pressure transducer. It should be fun trying to solder that 1/8″ copper tubing. Everybody says it isn’t too difficult, but I ordered extras of everything assuming I’ll screw up at least a little bit.

I’m going out to the airport tomorrow (Monday) for most of the day. I won’t be out there much at all on Tuesday and Wednesday because of ground school. I should be able to get in a pretty full day on Thursday before going back to work on Friday. I have a similar schedule next week, with the 2 days of recurrent ground school replaced by 2 days of Proficiency Training in the simulator. I go out of town again on Friday of that week.

The great news is that I worked my 1 week vacation in April such that I am completely off work between April 5th and April 22nd. I’m hoping to make some serious progress and maybe even get the engine started during that period. I think I’m getting close.

I should have pictures tomorrow! I’ve been up since 2:30am Colorado time this morning so even though it’s only 9:30pm, I’m headed to bed. Talk to you all tomorrow.