Planning for a plane

Well, every blog needs a first post and here it is. It's Christmas Day 2014, presents are all opened and being played with. My presents to myself this year are all geared towards the planned undertaking of the biggest project of my life. For a long time, since my teen years, I've dreamed of building my own airplane. Now that I'm well down the road to getting my private pilot license (first solo 5 days ago), I'm starting to plan to fulfill that dream.

Workshop

A few months ago, I started to prepare my garage to be a year round workshop. My garage is detached and a bit small for a two car garage (21' x 22'), but it will have to do. This fall I (with help from my sons) insulated and drywalled the garage and added some lighting. I'm still going to have to do something to heat the garage - it still gets down to -5C when it's cold out (we've been as low as -20C outside so far this winter). It will probably just be a better space heater.

Tools

I have a fairly well equipped shop for basic woodwork - miter saw, table saw, router, plenty of good cordless tools. In preparation for the metal work involved in building an airplane, I've added a few more tools over the past month - taking full advantage of the black friday and boxing day specials.

  • Mastercraft Drill Press (info)
  • Mastercraft 9" Bandsaw (info)
  • Powerfist Combination 2" belt sander/6" grinder (info)
  • 5" Bench Vise (info)
  • 100 piece Mastercraft Air Tools Kit (info)

My plan is to build a couple of EAA 1000 standardized work tables (info), modified to be on casters. I'll also build a 24" x 24" work table using the same design on which I'll permanently mount the drill press, bandsaw, sander/grinder and vise. This is similar to the table that you can see in Ed and Colleen's RV-10 build videos (see it at 0:11 in this video).

The Plane

Choosing an aircraft has been a very difficult process. My initial mission profile led me in the direction of a 4 seater with decent speed (150KT or better), medium range (450NM), and a payload of 800 lbs or so. My construction material preference was all metal, both because of comfort in construction method as well as the ability to keep the plane tied down rather than hangared. This profile limited my choices a lot. It came down to 3 planes that fit the profile - Zenair CH 640, Bede BD-4C and Van's RV-10. Although it was the ideal choice, I eliminated the RV-10 because of long build time and high cost (easily $150K). After finding some builder reports on the CH 640, I concluded that it wasn't going to reasonably fit 4 fullgrown (3 of them somewhat overgrown) adults for more than a short flight. I was also put off by the fact that there aren't many people building this airplane. This left the BD-4C, which still fit my criteria. I soon found that there isn't much of a builder community for this either. The fact that the wings are bonded intimidated me as did the many questions about the company and its checkered past. With no choices left, I elected to re-examine my mission. My idea was a cross Canada trip with my 3 children. The problem with that mission is that it probably never would have happened, my kids are 14, 17 and 19 and by the time I've completed the build, they're a lot less likely to be travelling with me. So the new mission was one passenger, therefore a two seater.

The selection of the RV-14A was pretty simple. I like the RV reputation, there is a massive build community and from all accounts the company is terrific to deal with. The choice between the RV-9A and the -14A was simple enough too. With the current combined weight of me and my most likely passenger being about 510 lbs, the full fuel payload of 460 lbs was not enough. The -14A gives us about 510 lbs. I also liked the more advanced build for the -14A. The fact that the -14A isn't fully available yet and that there is only 1 unit flying was a negative, but I quickly found that there are a lot of -14A builders out there, some of them completely ready for the finishing kit when it gets released. I know I'm at least 18 months away from needing that kit.

The Plan

I'm planning to attend, along with my 17 year old son, a building basics course put on by Axsys Air in early February. I've been told that I'll get to see a number of RVs there, including a -14A that is being built on site. If the weather cooperates, I'll also be able to go up for a flight in one. I expect that I'll make my final decision about the plane that weekend and order the empennage and a tool kit (probably these) when I get home. That should get me building in March.

Solo!!

After 7 months of scheduling flights around weather, injuries, runway conditions and bagpipes, the big day finally arrived today. I went up for a pre solo check ride with the higher rated instructor, Marshall. We did 5 circuits, 2 of them overshoots - 1 of those because of an actual problem (plane off radio cut us off a bit on landing and wasn't clearing the runway very quickly). Different instructor meant changing a few of the things I did - not a lot. On the last landing he had me drop him off on the taxiway at the end of the runway and I returned to do one circuit. It was a bit surreal, but I was so busy with procedure that it wasn't all that different than with an instructor. Of course, on final, the thought that this landing is all mine did cross my mind. It was a decent landing, probably better than the ones I did with Marshall.

Weather was good, no noticeable wind, skies mostly clear. A lot of traffic today, must have been because it was such a nice day for flying 0.8h dual and 0.4h solo in C-FZRO.

  • Time this flight: 0.8h dual, 0.4h solo
  • Time to date: 23.2 dual, 0.4 solo
  • Cost this flight: $247.38
  • Cost to date: $6,011.56

Back in the air

Weather and runway ice scrubbed my flights over the last two weekends. Scheduled flight for today since it was snowing yesterday. Nice afternoon, no wind, clear skies. I was using 16, there was one takeoff on 34 while I was in the circuit and the Air Canada flight from Canada was about to be cleared for a landing on 34 when I came off - so wind was really light. Sun was low and bright which didn't cause too much trouble. Got passed by a Canadian Forces Harvard II (CT-156) trainer while doing run up - he was at Skywings and taxied out after me. I was at the hold line as he took off - beautiful plane. As for my flight, I did 6 circuits, mostly uneventful. I bounced one landing but recovered ok. That one was after a bad circuit - I was distracted looking for a plane that was reporting crossing 16 midfield to join downwind in front of me. Not sure what that pilot was thinking, I spotted him a good 2 miles north of the runway turning final from crosswind, not even remotely close to what he called in. In any case, it threw me and I blew my altitude by 150' in both directions. I turned final 150' low and it made the approach a mess. It was a textbook opposite of the perfect landings come from perfect circuits idea. My other landings were pretty good, Mark had me land late on the full stop so I could taxi off the south end of 16. This required a different aim point - the intersection rather than the threshold. I adjusted well to that and had probably my best landing. It was a busy day at the airport, a lot of traffic to watch for, but nothing that got in my way too much.

Next Saturday at 9am, I am scheduled to go up with Marshall, one of the higher rated instructors. He'll evaluate me for the purpose of soloing and providing I don't scare him too much, I expect to be soloing after a couple of circuits. As for today, 1.1h in C-GMWH.

  • Time this flight: 1.1h
  • Time to date: 22.4h
  • Cost this flight: $244.86
  • Cost to date: $5,764.18

Snuck in some circuits

I managed to sneak in some circuits this morning before the snow shut it down. A little bit of wind 11 knots from 300 degrees, which was almost straight down runway 29. A little gusty and a little choppy 100-300' AGL. I did 4 circuits which all went quite well, my landings were decent. I didn't feel too much pressure from the shorter runway or from the wind. Except for about 10 seconds that Mark took control so I could look around for a landing site in case of engine failure, I was in control for the whole 0.8h - the landings were all mine. The snow was starting wet the windshield pretty well so we cut it short by a lap or two. About 10% ice on the runway and taxiways, but that didn't affect things too much. Mark says I'm definitely ready to solo any time. Now that I have my medical, it's just a matter of getting the chief instructor to issue my student permit and to get one of the higher rated instructors to take me on a pre-solo check ride, Mark can't authorize me to go solo. 0.8h in C-GMWH, first time in this plane which was laid out quite a bit differently than the other 172s.

I did find out earlier this week that my medical is only good until July 1, 2015. It is tied to the date of my medical exam. I'll have to start booking appointments in April.

  • Time this flight: 0.8h
  • Time to date: 21.3h
  • Cost this flight: $178.08
  • Cost to date: $5,519.32

Finally!

Received my category 3 Medical certificate today. Only good for a year, but from now, not from when I applied in June. Now I can get my Student permit which will allow me to solo soon.

Emergencies anyone?

After missing a weekend flight for weather, I got back up for some more circuits. It was a good day, wind wasn't much, at least when I flew. Did about 6 circuits (it is so easy to lose count). On takeoff on one of them, Mark told me he was going to do something later on downwind, but didn't say what. I knew. Just after downwind radio call, he reached over and pulled the throttle off. Simulated engine out landing. That particular circuit had me out further than I should have been on downwind, about 1.5 NM instead of 1. It, along with me not remembering my engine out procedure and losing a bit too much altitude right away was enough to make the runway unattainable by a small amount so we did a go around. Second time around went much better, it was a bit strange approaching from an angle and turning to runway heading almost at the threshold. It was a good landing. Most of my landings were decent, I did bounce one a bit so Mark demonstrated a bounce recovery. 1.1h in C-GTQL.

  • Time this flight: 1.1h
  • Time to date: 20.5h
  • Cost this flight: $244.86
  • Cost to date: $5,341.24

That was fun

Went in for my weekly flight this morning only to find that they had no planes available when I got there. I took the opportunity to write my PSTAR exam, which I need for my student permit. This is a 50 question multiple choice test with all of the questions taken from a published list of about 200 questions. I'd done practice exams many times, so this wasn't too challenging. Passing mark is 90%, you have 90 minutes to write it. I finished in 15 minutes and scored 96% - the 2 questions I missed were ones I knew I probably missed.

After the exam, we had a plane, but not a lot of time. We went up for a short set of circuits. ATIS winds were light and variable, but this didn't match reality well. We took off from 16, with a definite crosswind from the southeast, probably about 10 kt at about 40 degrees left. Takeoff went well, I had to crab heavily to get a proper ground track. We did the first circuit  and it was clear that the winds were shifting and crossing a lot. I was a little late (1/4 mile maybe) downwind turning base with the wind pushing us along. This made for a fairly long base and final. Managed to track centerline on final very well, despite the heavy crosswind (up to about 15kt now). Although I was tracking well and could have landed it, Mark elected to get me to overshoot and join the R.H circuit for 11. After I joined that circuit, I turned base and found it to be really choppy - getting thrown around a lot. Turned final and found the crosswind to be a lot better, but a lot of gusting. I made continuous adjustments for the wind, tracked a good center line and a decent descent path. Touchdown was very clean, discovered that I'd missed my downwind checks - carb heat wasn't on - mostly because I joined downwind very near the end of it. Takeoff was smooth and my second circuit went quite well. The effect of the wind on my ground track was massive, illusions due to wind. This landing was a full stop as we were out of time. Again base leg was choppy and final was bumpy with the gusty wind adjustments. Had to approach at 70 kts (instead of 65) to account for the gusts. Landing was really smooth again - these were my 2 best landings to date. This flight was one of the most fun ones I've had and we both thought that I'd done very well. First time that I really felt that I could do this on my own. That'll be coming soon enough, hopefully about 3 weeks. 0.7h in C-GWVR.

  • Time this flight: 0.7h
  • Time to date: 19.4h
  • Cost this flight: $155.82
  • Cost to date: $5,096.38

Back to some basics

Winds today were splitting the 2 runways which meant a crosswind component of >7 KTs. We elected to skip the circuits today and went out to the practice area to work on some things that we hadn't done in quite a while. We did some climbs and descents as well as a couple of power off stalls. Then we worked on steep turns, which meant some serious re-learning. My first 2 attempts turned into the beginnings of a spiral dive as I neglected to maintain altitude and was gaining airspeed. This made for a great opportunity to work on spiral dive recovery, which is easy enough - pull the throttle, level the wings, pause and then return the nose to the horizon. We did a handful more 45 degree (steep) turns until I was doing them better - without losing altitude.  We then navigated back to the airport where I promptly forgot how to setup the descent on base, changing the contents of the flight confused me a bit. After I got the approach establish, albeit a little high,  Mark took the landing while I kept my hands on the controls to the feel of the crosswind landing. 1.0h in C-GHYI.

  • Time this flight: 1.0h
  • Time to date: 18.7h
  • Cost this flight: $192.60 (had a coupon today)
  • Cost to date: $4,940.56

Round, round we go

More circuits today at a very busy airport. Radio calls getting stepped on all over the place and a couple of times I couldn't break into the chatter to announce final until I was almost down. A little bit of chop 200-400' AGL on approach with a little bit of right to left crosswind, but only at that altitude. Did a couple of overshoots, once because I turned final too late and the other just because my instructor wanted to - interrupting a great approach. Landings were okay, still need some work to be sure. On the last approach I started to sink a bit from a downdraft, caught it and corrected perfectly, then I flared a little high, ballooned and corrected but then stalled it down pretty hard. First flight in C-GHYI for 1.1 h.

  • Time this flight: 1.1 h
  • Time to date: 17.7h
  • Cost this flight: $244.86
  • Cost to date: $4,747.96

Getting better all the time

Great day for flying could see forever - clear view of the Rockies to the west. Flew it all today, except about 90 seconds that Mark took over just after a takeoff because he wanted to talk about the last landing. Did 6 circuits (I think, it is really hard to keep track of) in decent conditions, air was a little bumpy in the 200-700' range. Circuits went well, control was good for the most part. My approaches went well, I had one that was pretty much perfect. Landings are coming along well too. I did all of the landings, Mark was hands off for all but a few seconds total. Bounced the first one a bit - landed a little flat. My second to last landing was really smooth. Definitely getting the feel for it now. Mark tells me I'll be ready to solo after a couple more flights without a doubt. Still waiting for medical of course. Internist appointment went very well this week, so that part is covered. Just waiting for the stress test on the 31st now. 1.1h in C-GTQL.

  • Time this flight: 1.1h
  • Time to date: 16.6h
  • Cost this flight: $244.86
  • Cost to date: $4,503.10