Progress on the airplane, the door comes together

Today was a good work day, after we decided not to go to Manteo to see Robby and Jenny because of weather. Lots of accomplishment and not much frustration.

Step one when we got back from the airport was to have Spork take the old metal brake and toss it in the scrap metal bin. Once that was done, it was time to start on the new shop cart.

Spork putting together the new shop cart
Spork putting together the new shop cart

Spork had an interesting comment about this cart. His instructions were, “Go put that cart together.” No here is where your tools are. Here is a work space. This is how it is assembled. Nothing. Just get it done. He said that not long ago he’d have had all kinds of questions and not been sure he could assemble it. Now it was just, “Meh, ok. I’m building an airplane, a cart is easy.” Basically he is self-aware of how his skill set and his confidence are both growing. Why do we do crazy projects like build an airplane? This is why.

Shop cart finished assembly
The finished product. One shop cart, ready to work
Trim cable installed with handle
The trim cable, finally finished

Here we see the cable, bent so it runs true. This is a terrible picture of the cable, but it is a good picture of my toes, so I have that going for me. I’ve bent the cable itself so it jogs out to the right, then bends back to line up with the handle. Now that it is in, I could install the whole thing in about an hour. It only took two days. Sigh.

Baggage door frame, with hysol beginning to be sanded
Baggage door frame, with Hysol beginning to be sanded

With the trim cable installed, I moved onto the door. Step one was to file, and then sand the Hysol (the grey stuff between the silver bars). The high spots on the Hysol need to be sanded down or they will poke through the fabric and make ugly bumpy spots. I went all around the airplane filing and sanding down high spots, something I’ll probably do a few more times before covering. There always seems to be one more spot I missed.

Door mocked up and drop guard in place waiting to be drilled
Door mocked up and drop guard in place waiting to be drilled

I got these cheesy little clamps at Harbour Freight for 99 cents. They are my new favorite thing. Just enough force to hold something like this, but not enough to bend it like big clamps do. I drilled out the hinge for the door, both sides. I still need to drill the drip guard but I want to look at it a bit longer before I do. Just to make sure I like where it is.

Bends in the door for strength
Bends in the door for strength

I talked to Miguel about how to put a few brakes in the door for strength. It isn’t like we are going to go that fast in this airplane but it could still flutter in flight and I didn’t want that. Miguel gave me the idea of putting an X pattern with very slight bends, going from corner to corner. He said it would add lots of strength and barely change the panel at all. Once it came time to do some bending he was nowhere close so I closed my eyes and did the bends myself. They came out perfect! Now the door has a slight convex shape, standing a little proud off of the fuselage. I think it will look perfect. It also doesn’t flex anymore so it looks good and it is strong.

baggage door opening to show access and function
Door opening to show access and function

Everything is finished except for drilling the clecoing the drip guard. And making the locking handle. But the door opens and closes and truly makes the baggage area usable. Otherwise you’d have to climb over the seats to gain access.

Seat rails, polished and non-polished
Seat rails, polished and non-polished

When we were in Granstboro the tool I wished for the most was my belt sander. Robby has one, but it isn’t the same as a 3HP Baldor knife makers belt sander.

One thing I really wanted to have done was to put the seat slide rails on the barrel spinner and polish them up. They were a bear to get sliding correctly, always binding and sticking. I spent about 5 minutes with the barrel polisher and a scotch brite belt and went from what you see on the left to what you see on the right. I actually need to work on my barrel polisher. If I had it complete, I could get these things to a mirror finish. But for now I polished both of them and reinstalled them in the seats.

Time spent today, 7 hours.

More trim cable installation, and the door makes some progress

Yesterday, after home school year end testing we were able to sneak in a few hours of work on the airplane. Step one was to get back onto the trim cable installation. While the major pieces were in place, we had not adjusted the handle to run true, which required a bit of bending. I wanted to wait till Miguel was here because he has so much experience using a metal brake that I figured he’d do a better job.

Trim handle, bent and running correctly
Trim handle, bent and running correctly

I decided that even though it added a touch of weight, I wanted the handle to have a rubber coating on it so I used Plastidip to coat just the top of it where your hand would rub. That was of course after using the belt sander to round over the rough cut piece and smooth it out. The Plastidip had gotten really thick but Dustin had some naptha which he thinned it out with. Even thinned it didn’t go on like I’d have preferred but it was good enough for what we were doing.

Spork setup our old metal brake in the shop, which entailed screwing it down to the bench. Nothing too complicated.

Old metal brake setup in the shop
Old metal brake setup in the shop

We had a small piece of 1/4″ aluminum to bend, and a wide piece of .040 aluminum to bend for our baggage door. Once Miguel was able to stop by, we got the handle bent, more with a hammer than with the brake. A test piece of .040 revealed that our super cheap old brake just wasn’t going to bend anything thicker than paper. With that realization, Spork and I took off to Harbour Freight to purchase a larger brake. About 1.5 hours later, we returned with this and a few other goodies like a new battery charger and a new shop cart, which will likely be our covering supply cart.

Shiny new metal brake from Harbour Freight
Shiny new metal brake from Harbour Freight

This brake is floor mounted instead of bench mounted, which is great because we don’t have much bench space. It also has a 36″ throat instead of 30″ like our old one. But best of all, it is an actual brake and works properly, vs the cobbled together thing we were using. It has adjustments in all the needed places and a built in clamping system vs. the gaggle of hand clamps we used on the old one. Setup on the old one took minutes for every single operation vs seconds on this one. Once we had it setup like we wanted out of the box, it took Miguel less time to make this rain guard (top of picture, the metal piece that is bent).

Drip guard in place over the baggage door
Drip guard in place over the baggage door

Than it did to setup for one single bend on the old brake. I’ve already forgotten how I got along without this brake. Now we can make parts for the airplane, which is great if you mess one up. Some blank sheet aluminum and the old part for a template, and a new piece is made in no time. Takes the pressure off when you are working with something and you can quickly remake it vs. having to reorder a part from the factory.

On our next work day, Spork will take the old brake off the bench and toss it in the scrap metal bin. We will then find a place for the new brake to reside semi-permanently. We’ll finish the trim cable install, which only needs a few bends of the cable and cleaning up of the trim handle from Miguel’s apprentice marks, and then we’ll move onto working on this door and drip guard. All the pieces are in place, we just need to do the final fit up, break sharp edges, maybe make a door handle/lock, and drill out the holes for the hinge. Everything will be clecoed in place because it all has to come off for fabric covering.

With the trim handle finished, and the door hopefully finished, we can move onto the firewall.

Time spent this afternoon, 3 hours.

CAP trip to the Udvar-Hazy center in Washington, DC

After a successful event at Cox field in Apex, NC the previous weekend, NC-143, the Johnston County Composite squadron, conducted a field trip to the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy center in Washington, DC. This was a squadron sponsored field trip and open to all members of JNX composite squadron.

Three senior members, Lts. Gwen Nesbitt and Dan Moore, along with Lt. Col. Bill Ryan of Middle East Region each drove a vehicle transporting cadets and baggage on the five hour trip from Johnston County to our overnight stop in Stafford, VA. We had in tow 13 cadets of all ages and ranks. We departed at 2pm on Friday May 11th, returning Saturday May 12th at 8pm making this an easy overnight trip.

Panoramic shot of family room and JNX 143 personnel.
Click for full size image. Panoramic shot of family room and JNX 143 personnel.

The plan was to drive North as close to DC as we could get on Friday afternoon, grab dinner, and then overnight as a group. After a pizza dinner at CiCi’s pizza, we retired to our overnight accommodations.

A first for most of the people on the trip, we stayed at an AirBnB in Stafford, VA as our overnight stop. We found a house that had an entire finished basement with a large family room, a kitchen, two bedrooms and a private bath. The females had their own private bedroom, the senior member men had a bedroom to themselves, and the male cadets all shared the family room. It was an affordable and comfortable arrangement for a trip like this and one we would use again.

As luck would have it, the owner of the house worked for the FAA and came down and gave a short presentation on what Air Traffic Control is and some of the magic that happens behind the scenes. An added bonus on this educational trip.

Cadets listening to an FAA employee
Our host discussing Air Traffic Control (ATC) and the software he writes that makes it work
Preparing to leave Stafford, heading to the Udvar-Hazy center
Preparing to leave Stafford, heading to the Udvar-Hazy center

The next morning, well rested and ready to go, we stopped for breakfast and then headed to the Udvar-Hazy center. The center, only 1 hour away opened at 10am making for a stress free morning. The Udvar-Hazy center has free admission but does charge for parking. However I learned at checkout that because we were a field trip, they did not charge us for parking, a nice bonus.

This is the view when you enter the center.

Entrance to the museum at Udvar Hazy center
Entrance to the museum just inside the front door
The SR-71 and the Space Shuttle in the background
The SR-71 and the Space Shuttle in the background

The SR-71 is the centerpiece of the front section, and the Space Shuttle is the centerpiece in the back. However the entire place is filled with three floors of things to look at and acres of history.

Cadets posing for pictures
Cadets posing for pictures

We stayed together as a group for a short time, then turned the cadets loose to explore on their own in small groups, checking in every few hours at the SR-71. This allowed everyone the freedom to concentrate on the areas they were most interested in.

Before everyone scattered, we walked upon a museum docent talking about the B-29 displayed in front of us, the Enola Gay.

View looking into the lit cockpit of the Enola Gay
View looking into the lit cockpit of the Enola Gay

As the docent was speaking word was passed back through the cadets that this was the airplane that had dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. I overheard one of the cadets say, “A plane like this dropped an atomic bomb?”

I leaned over and said, “No. Not a plane like this. THIS plane dropped the atomic bomb. Not one ‘like it.’You are standing in the Smithsonian. All the planes you see hanging in here are the actual planes that set the world record,  flew for the first time, flew around the world, etc. Everything here is unique.” The cadets got wide eyed for a second, looking around in wonder. It was a great moment of discovery.

After this brief exchange, we turned the cadets loose to explore whatever parts of the facility they wanted to see.

Sections like the commercial aviation section with the Concord and Boeing 707.

The World War II aircraft section with Corsairs, P-40s, P-47s, P-38s, and German aircraft I’d never seen or heard of.

F4U Corsair

The Space Exploration section with rockets, satellites, and even the Space Shuttle Discovery.

The Space Shuttle Discovery
With scorch marks from reentry, still clearly visible

I overheard one cadet remarking “…how the scorch marks on the shuttle were from SPACE! They didn’t clean up the shuttle after its last flight.” Everything on it was authentic and they were quite impressive.

Cadets Sperling and Oetjen behind the Space Shuttle Discovery
Cadets Sperling and Oetjen behind the Space Shuttle Discovery

Or the modern aviation section with aircraft such as the CH-46 below, F-14s, Sabre jets, Mig 21s, etc.

CH-46, the aircraft the author's father flew in Vietnam
CH-46, the aircraft the author’s father flew in Vietnam
Enemies now displayed together. F-86 Sabre Jet and Mig-21
Enemies now displayed together. F-86 Sabre Jet and Mig-21
Udvar Hazy panoramic shot
Click for full size image, panoramic shot of one small part of the center.

While the cadets all enjoyed the entire center, the highlight of the trip for them was the simulators.

Cadets practicing before their ride in the simulator
Cadets practicing before their ride in the simulator

When I first walked in the door, the cadets were abuzz about the simulators they’d seen. I was a bit disappointed that with all the real history hanging in front of them, they wanted to play a video game however once I saw the simulators myself, I could see the appeal. These simulators were basically a jet dogfighting game hooked up to a hydraulic motion simulator. Yawn, I’ve seen that before. But these simulators had a neat trick.

Cadets about to go for a simulator ride
Cadets about to go upside down

These simulators rotated 360 degrees around the long axis. And the rotation was directly linked to the aircraft you were piloting on screen. That meant when your video game jet went upside down, so did you. I don’t know how much money we spent as a group hanging from the straps but I’m sure we more than paid what would have been our admission tickets had this place charged. I say we because your author also went for a ride, spending my share of time upside down. It was quite fun. Whenever they surplus these things out, we need to put in for one for NC wing.

CAP NC143 squadron at Udvar Hazy Center
The tour group from NC-143

From left to right, Cadet Kyle Scott, Lt. Col. Bill Ryan from MER, Cadet David Sperling, Cadet Isabelle Grimm, Lt. Dan Moore, Cadet William Nesbitt, Cadet Lyndsey Oetjen, Cadet Preston Elrod, Cadet Carter Moore, Cadet Scott O’Neal, Cadet Rile Goshorn, Cadet Alex Nesbitt, Cadet Tyler Elrod, Cadet Cole Contos, and Carter Contos. Not pictured, as with most moms, was Lt. Gwen Nesbitt who was behind the camera.

We had an enjoyable trip home, caravanning as a group. It was not at difficult trip to conduct and is one any squadron, especially those anywhere close to I-95, should be able to conduct for minimal costs. For NC-143, the cost was one overnight accommodation and fuel making this a very cost friendly trip to take with cadets. I think we’ll do this again next year.

Trim cable installation

Yesterday we began our real work on the airplane. Not that the first two weeks  at Robby’s weren’t real, the definitely were. I mean the real work, at home, unsupervised.

Spork and I finally have begun our serious work on trying to get something done each day, or at least most days of the week. We started with a half day of work on Sunday, after feeding and rigging the kids new toy.

18' Renken sailboat, just needs trailer work
18′ Renken 1994 sailboat. Perfect for the kids to go on adventures with

A guy offered me an even trade for something I desperately wanted out of my way and off the farm. The kids are super excited.

But back to the other expensive hobby, airplanes. And we began our new works schedule with the trim cable. We originally didn’t think we’d install the trim cable, instead opting for a trim servo on an autopilot, but it turns out the TruTrak autopilot doesn’t use a trim servo, instead controlling the push rod directly. That meant we were back to plan A of installing the factory trim cable and control.

On one of our short work days we’d had prior, we’d installed the trim mount plate on the elevator (which involved taking the fabric off, sigh). We’d also temporarily run the cable from the tail to the cockpit. We started at noon and worked till five pm. 80% of that time we spent trying to figure out one piece of hardware or running to Lowes to pick up tie straps to hold the cable. But more about that later.

Installing the trim control plate
Installing the trim control plate

Spork drilled out the tabs to the correct size, and I installed the four rivets required to hold the plate in place. Luckily I had a good picture of how the plate installed from when we were at Robby’s place back in March.

Trim plate in Just Highlander at Robbys place
Trim plate in Just Highlander at Robby’s place

What I didn’t know, and couldn’t see in this pic, or the pic in the manual, was what was the piece of hardware that attaches to the cable you see at the bottom of the trim lever. Obviously something holds that cable securely but it wasn’t noted in the build manual. I spent an inordinate amount of time trying to find it in the manual on another page maybe, going and getting the build manual CD and trying to look at it on the shop computer. No go, no Open Office on that computer. So I tried on the farm store computer. No Open Office on that one. “Google: How to I view a Microsoft Word document on a Mac?”

Turns out Pages, a Mac product will do what I need. But that isn’t installed, so start the download. Once it finishes, hit install. Nope, don’t have permission. Ugh. Log out, log in as me (after a few password failures) and finally install Pages. Pull up the correct file, scroll to the picture of the installation of the trim system. Figure out how to blow up the picture, and…it…is…blurry. Argh!!!

I can’t find a picture of the hardware required and it is not in the build manual. I’m working on Plan C when I finally break down and text Robby the following picture and a question.

Elevator and trim tab, with cable ready to be mounted
Elevator and trim tab, with cable ready to be mounted

“What hardware do I use to mount the cable to the trim tab?”

5 minutes later I’m on the phone with Robby and he describes the hardware to me. He knew what it was instantly. He also says he’ll send me some pics of his install so I can see what I’m doing. He is super knowledgeable and super helpful, as always. In hindsight, I wish I’d asked him first, but I try to be self sufficient as much as possible. That is the only way to learn.

Robby's trim tab on his airplane
Robby’s trim tab on his airplane
Better view of the special nut that secures the cable
Better view of the special nut that secures the cable

Before his photos had even shown up, Spork, armed with a brief description of what we were looking for, had already produced the missing hardware.

The mystery hardware, found
The mystery hardware, found

With hardware in hand, we made rapid progress on the trim system. We cut the sheath and cable to length, temporarily routed the cable through the fuselage, secured the cable at both ends, and mounted the trim lever itself.

The next step is to take the trim lever off and bend it for clearance as it is in Robby’s install.

Robby's trim system in his SuperSTOL
Robby’s trim system in his SuperSTOL

We’ll also bend the cable itself so it runs true, just like Robby did. None of these steps are in the build manual, something that continues to frustrate. It makes perfect sense to make these modifications, but when it is your first build you don’t know what is acceptable and what is not, you don’t just start bending things to make them fit. Can I bend a control cable like this? Is there a certain degree of bend that is ok, more weakens the metal? No idea. But with good pictures of a proper install, like I have above, now I know exactly what to do and it is easy.

I probably have 6 hours in this install. If I had to do it again at this point, I’d have it done in 20 minutes. Such is the way of airplane building.

Civil Air Patrol facilitates EAAs private event

On Cinco de Mayo, NC-143, the Johnston County Composite Squadron, and NC-301, The Apex Cadet Squadron got together for a party. This wasn’t a celebration of an unlikely victory over the French. It was instead an educational party sponsored by Trader Joes of Cary, and hosted by EAA Chapter 1114 at Cox Airfield just off Hwy 64 in Apex.

Trader Joes and Chapter 1114 had gotten together to discuss expanding on a Build-A-Plane program that Trader Joes already had underway.

Model airplane expo at trader joes sign
Kids could build a model airplane from packing materials in the store

Lt. Dan Moore of JNX squadron is a member of EAA 1114. When he heard there was an event upcoming at the field and that there were concerns about not having enough volunteers, he offered that the Civil Air Patrol could assist. With several former CAP members on the board at EAA 1114, the idea was readily accepted.

Lt. Stange, the wing recruitment officer, was already committed elsewhere so it was up to JNX and Apex squadrons to work together to pull off a first time event. Neither squadron personnel had worked together previously, and leadership from both squadrons had never put on an event like this for CAP. However everyone stepped up and on the day of the event, we had 18 CAP members on hand, both cadets and senior members.

Primary duties for CAP was setup, recruiting, traffic control, vehicle parking, aircraft marshaling, aircraft security, and clean up. We arrived just before 8am and stayed till approximately 2pm.

This event was a private event, held at a private airfield. The intention was to bring in kids who were interested in aviation and conduct an EAA ground school, while also introducing them to different aspects of aviation.

Ground school being taught by EAA volunteer
Ground school being taught by EAA volunteer

For the kids who completed the ground school, they received a certificate for a free airplane ride, courtesy of EAA. They also received free access to Sporty’s Learn to Fly course($199 value, free access to over 300 museums, free Academy of Model Aeronautics membership, free electronic copy of EAA’s award winning Sport Aviation magazine, reimbursement after passing the FAA’s written test ($165 value), and several other significant benefits including access to flight scholarships. These classes were offered to the CAP cadets as well, although most were too busy to attend this time.

Event and safety briefing by CAP and EAA personnel
Event and safety briefing by CAP and EAA personnel

Safety being paramount, the day started with a safety and logistics briefing conducted by both CAP and EAA personnel. This was a chance to both discuss duty assignments and for the squadron personnel to actually meet for the first time.

Discussing layout of the facility and CAP roles
Discussing layout of the facility and CAP roles

Fortunately EAA had already done a tremendous job arranging logistics, including full color maps of the entire facility with all critical areas marked and labeled.

With briefings over, we went to work setting up.

Lt. Morris leads cadets in setting up the food tents
Lt. Morris leads cadets in setting up the food tents

The EAA members were very pleased to have CAP cadets to assist and I received many requests for “a couple of cadets” during the morning. Cadets and senior members were always ready and willing to jump into any role.

Cadets pushing a Husky into position for parking
Cadets pushing a Husky into position for parking

With setup complete, cadets were positioned along the facility for their roles. Most were on traffic duty but several were also on the flight line assisting aircraft owners with parking.

Cadet Oetjen greeting guests on arrival
C/TSgt Oetjen of JNX squadron was the official greeter of the event

CAP filled many roles during the day, including being the official greeter for the event, welcoming the guests and handing out needed materials to get them through the day.

The CAP recruitment booth
The CAP recruitment booth

CAP, as thanks for the role we played, was given the prime spot of the event for recruitment. Lt Beth Hausner, Squadron Commander of Apex cadet squadron manned the booth for the event, assisted by Lt. Carrie Henningsen also of Apex. We definitely had some future CAP cadets and senior members stop by.

CAP personnel waiting on the arrival of the Bandits
CAP personnel waiting on the arrival of the Bandits

The highlight of the day was the arrival of the Bandit Flight Team. The Bandits are a local formation flight team who puts on flyovers and airshows all up and down the East Coast. They are also members of EAA chapter 1114. CAPs job was to marshal the Bandits into the parking spots, and then provide security for the planes while they were on the ground.

1/2 of the Bandits, on arrival
1/2 of the Bandits, on arrival
Bandit 1, the flight lead, after parking
Bandit 1, the flight lead, after parking

The Bandits did several passes over the field and then landed one by one, giving a bit of an airshow in the process.

Cadets setting up for security on the flight line after the Bandits arrival
Cadets setting up for security on the flight line after the Bandits arrival

Once the Bandits were on the ground, the cadets were able to be 1/2 on duty and 1/2 off. This allowed cadets to eat and see the event, including taking the ground school if they chose. Half way through, the teams switched so everyone had an equal opportunity.

Commerical drones were also on display at the event
Commerical drones were also on display at the event
Boddy Cox, with wife Rosalyn, talking to the Bandit Flight Team
Boddy Cox, with wife Rosalyn, talking to the Bandit Flight Team

Cadets were also able to interact with Bobby Cox, a living legend in aviation, and the namesake of Cox Airfield.

The sign over the door to the main hanger at Cox Airfield
The sign over the door to the main hanger
Kid wearing a flight helmet, in front of the Bandits airplane
The reason for the event
CAP personnel with the Bandit Flight Team
CAP personnel with the Bandit Flight Team

Unfortunately, not everyone could be rounded up for the impromptu group picture with the Bandit Flight Team prior to departure. However many thanks to the following personnel for their hard work during this event.

JNX Squadron

Cadets Cole Contos, Jacob Byrum, Jacob McHatton, Carter Moore, William Nesbit, Alex Nesbit, Lyndsey Oetjen, and Kyle Scott
Senior members Dan Moore, David Morris, and Jason Nesbit

Apex Squadron

Jacob Morris, Tucker Murphy, Jaedon Wilkinson, and KR Ross.
Senior members Beth Hausner and Carrie Henningsen

The Bandits departing Cox airfield for one more airshow before leaving
The Bandits departing Cox airfield for one more airshow before leaving
Spork asleep on the way back from JNX after Cox event
C/SMSgt. Carter Moore, asleep on the ride home

Why take a Saturday and drag kids all over the place, volunteering and working for free? Because there is no quiet quite so enjoyable as the quiet of a sleeping car ride home. Giving back to the community. Teaching kids how to be leaders. Those are just perks.

Back together, and some progress on the door and trim cable

Today Spork and I finally were able to get back to the airplane. This is the last week of school and he is trying to get everything done so we can go to work on the airplane. Spork and I are both sick, from two unrelated colds, so I thought that we’d not get anything done today but around lunch time the Mrs. said he was ok to work if he had his work done. Yeah!

Spork and I headed over about 1:30 and went to work on various projects. We started with pulling out all the tail feathers and reinstalling them onto the airframe. Flying wires were put back in place, hardware was (mostly) located and after a while we have everything installed, including the elevators. We didn’t install the rudder because we don’t need to and it interferes with the rear stand.

With the tail feathers installed, we set about figuring out the trim system. It is obvious that listening to Robby vs. reading the instructions is going to an issue at each step. Even the smallest things take a while to figure out when going by the instructions. A simple note to run the trim cable out of the access hole by the elevator bell crank took me 15 minutes of trying to figure out exactly where that is. There isn’t an access hole yet, there isn’t even a picture of where it would be. I had some pics of other SuperSTOLs that I could reference, but they were buried in my picture folder on Amazon so that took a while.

While I was searching and grumbling, Spork started sorting the hardware that I’d ordered in as extra. That took some conversation and some time, but it saves a ton of time later when we can locate everything when we need it.

We got to stopping point on the trim cable so I worked on the baggage door. I’d already started cutting out the piece I needed when I was at Robby’s place so I hunted down my air nibbler and finished cutting out our new door from what was previously the turtle deck. The turtle deck will be lexan instead so this piece of aluminum was extra.

The baggage door, roughed out and clamped in place
The baggage door, roughed out and clamped in place

Once the piece was roughed out, I marked everything and put it on the belt sander to smooth and straighten my lines.

I also located the piece of piano hinge I’d purchased at Sun N Fun for just this project. I marked and cut the piano hinge, then safety wired in the hinge pin. Then I drilled out the hinge and clecoed it in place on the fuselage, leaving it loose for final fit up on the door itself.

With the door roughed out and ready to drill, I left it clamped so I could look at it with fresh eyes before drilling anything else. I may put a small break down the middle of it to give it some stiffness. It is not like this is a speed demon of an airplane but I could see the door having some flutter in flight. When Miguel gets back I can get him to brake it and give it a center rib for stiffness.

Total time 2.5 hours.

This past week we found out that Spork didn’t get selected for Civil Air Patrol encampment staff. Originally we’d thought he’d be on staff and I’d fly up and fly cadets all week. When we learned he didn’t get selected, that meant that our entire week the last week of June can  now dedicated to the airplane build. If I can spend less time figuring out what to do, and more time doing, we should make real progress on the plane this summer.

More camping at Sun N Fun

I’ve never been one for camping. Why fight bugs and sit on the ground when there is a…MOTEL….RIGHT….THERE! I have money, let’s go.

But parking your airplane, hopping out onto fresh cut grass, unloading all your camping gear, and then meeting your neighbors while planes fly overhead is a whole new adventure. One that previously I’d been vaguely aware of, but had no real experience prior to our almost camping at Oshkosh last year. This time we’d be on the field and able to experience real camping at a real airshow!

Our campsite, with Spork hard at work. Sorta.
Our campsite in panorama, with Spork hard at work. Sorta. Click on the pic to see full size.

The day of our arrival at Sun N Fun was the first night airshow. I’d read some articles in different airplane magazines about the night airshows when they were first introduced a few years back. Basically they were (insert radio announcer voice) The Greatest Airplane Show in History!

Uh huh. I’m kinda burned out on airshows themselves. They are neat but after a short while all the flips and loops kinda all look the same. The Blue Angels/Thunderbirds/Snow Birds/Viper Demo Team are really awesome, but after you’ve seen them a few times they end up being really just loud. You get jaded. But this night airshow thing was supposed to be cool. I kinda felt like maybe it was more of the same, but the latest new thing and that was all that was really good about it but we’d see.

Last year at Sun N Fun, we were staying offsite. When the day airshow ended, I asked Spork if he wanted to stay for the night airshow. Immediate answer, “Nope.” No interest. We went back to the Air BnB and read a book instead.

But this time, we were onsite with nowhere else to be so we’d be seeing our first night airshow. As the sun started going down, we’d already had dinner, and I’d already had a celebratory small glass of whiskey.

Virginia Distillery Company whiskey at Sun N Fun 2018
Virginia Distillery Company whiskey at Sun N Fun 2018

As we sat down in our chairs to await the airshow, the nice breeze that had been blowing started mixing with the lack of sunshine to make things a bit cold. As I started to get chilled I realized I had a warm blanket on the bed right behind me and we’d smartly faced the opening of the tent towards airshow center. I suggested we get in the tent and watch the airshow from there. What followed was the best airshow experience I’ve ever had. We couldn’t hear what the announcer was saying. We didn’t have the airplanes buzzing directly overhead, nor right in front of us. We were 90 degrees off of the display. However, I had a full belly, a glass of adult beverage, my now 6 foot tall son beside me, and a warm blanket over me. I was viewing the airshow through the frame of my tent, which blocked out most of the wind but allowed everything else, sight, sound, smell, to penetrate.

Let me see if I can describe what a night airshow is. I’m not sure who has blackmail pictures of the FAA folks who allowed this, but they must be mighty impressive pictures. So we take an airplane, say a Beech 18. 

We place some LED lights on the airplane that flash and chance colors, putting on a nice little light display. Kinda like a flying Christmas tree. That really isn’t a big deal, airplanes already have lights. And LEDs are safe, which is important because this airplane is filled with 100 octane aviation fuel. But wait, there is more.

Then we take sparklers and attach them to the wings, which is flight leave a trail of sparks. Now I don’t mean sparklers like this. 

I mean sparkers, like this. 

So an airplane, already lit up by lights, full of fuel, is now trailing 100 foot plus long ribbons of fire. Oh, and it is doing aerobatics. But that would just be boring. What we need are roman candles, shooting off of the sides of the airplane because trails of fire isn’t enough, lets launch fiery projectiles as well, while we are upside down.

I don’t know what alcohol was involved in the conversation when some airshow pilots thought this up, and I have NO CLUE how they got the FAA to approve it, but snuggled in bed watching this airshow I was in awe.

However, prior to this part of the night airshow, we had another memorable event. Remember that Navy crew that did a bit of drawing the sky?

As the show got started there was still some daylight left. The first airplane starts his show, and as you would expect uses smoke to accentuate the loops and rolls he is doing. We are directly downwind. As the smoke drifts our way, my boy says, out of the blue, “That is a terrible penis!”

I immediately realized what he was referencing, and how appropriate and hilarious the comment was. Not all heroes wear capes. 

The next day, our neighbor Ken, in his beautiful Beech Bonanza, told us he had scored a ride with the AeroShell flight team. He is a Honda dealer and Honda sponsors the flight team. He was kind enough to share some of the video from his ride. This isn’t just some random video, this is the guy parked next to us going out and doing all this stuff.

Don’t let my text in the video fool you. Ken was EXCITED to go do aerobatics. Me, not so much. But I was excited to hear all about it.

Our neighbors on the other side were a group of pilots who flew for the airlines. We plopped down in their area and started talking, making friends. Turns out one of the guys was part of the interview team for their airline.

“Well sir, my boy here is an aspiring airline pilot. Any interview stories, tips, worst interview experiences, etc. you could share?”

Spork talking to Air Wisconsin
We talked to all the airlines that were hiring, getting tips and suggestions for an aspiring pilot

45 minutes later we had a master class in how to interview for the airlines. Aerobatic rides on one side, career tips on the other. Airshows with fire and sparks. None of this is really even part of the regular airshow. You only get it when you camp. Our plan is to go next year and do it again. We had a large time camping at Sun N Fun.

Spork asleep while flying in N54SS
You can tell how excited he is….can’t you?


Camping at Sun N Fun

Once we arrived at our parking spot, as directed by no other than our very own CAP cadets and EAA volunteers, we set about setting up our camp site. When I camped at Fon Du Lac, WI with Daniel last year for Oskosh, he corrected me when I said we were camping. Pointing at the soft bedding, the steaks cooked perfectly, the generator running quietly keeping our portable freezer and food cold, he explained that we were “glamping” instead of camping. I’d never heard of glamping, but I’ve come to understand that I was being mocked. Since Daniel has spent his time in the sandbox with the Army, I deferred to his judgement.

But I was not ashamed! Instead I took glamping as my own and vowed to improve upon it even. Why are we sleeping in sleeping bags when they make blow up mattresses? Don’t we own a tent around here? Is it big enough? Maybe we need a bigger one? A screened in porch maybe?

In the end I decided most of my gear was already glamping worthy. I only needed to replace my old blow up mattress, which couldn’t be patched any longer. Fortunately Amazon sold one designed for grandma to come and stay the weekend. It was 21″ tall and a queen size. It needed sheets and blankets. Any maybe a duvet cover. I’m not sure what a duvet cover is, or what it covers, but we probably needed it.

So I’m setting up all my glamping gear with Spork’s help. I really haven’t said hello to neighbors, looked around, etc. I have the generator out and running, cooling down our food for the week (we’ve been flying all day) and charging my cell phone which had died on the trip down. As I’m bent over setting up a chair or something, I hear the unmistakable sound of radial engines behind me. I pop up, turn around, and am greeted by the sight of a red ball of a sunset, not quite turning the sky pink yet but getting pretty close. Splitting the big red ball is a wing that is attached to a Boeing B17, the airplane that my father flew 52 missions on during WWII. The airplane is coming straight at me and at this point I realize that we are just off the end of the active runway meaning the airplanes are coming over our heads just a few hundred feet off the ground. It looked like this.

B17 at sunset
What reality looked like

It is an epic sight. Of course my phone is plugged in and I cannot get it unplugged and turned on before the plane has roared just overhead and is landing. Fortunately my awesome neighbor Ken later catches a shot to give an idea of what we saw.

B17 on short final to 9R at Lakeland during Sun N Fun 2018
B17 on short final to 9R at Lakeland during Sun N Fun 2018

This was day one, hour one of Sun N Fun. This was going to be awesome.

Sun N Fun 2018

What an adventure Sun N Fun turned out to be. Epic camping, fantastic neighbors, hiding from weather, and a bona fide emergency with fire trucks and everything. It was a tiring and wild ride, and I’m already itching to go back again!

Spork and I had plans to take off on Wednesday to go to Sun N Fun. We’d already cleared our plans with the Mrs, and she said as long as we didn’t miss math class, and Spork did his math work while we were gone, that it was ok to play hooky from everything else.

I was sitting at the church, waiting on Spork to get out of school like it was the last day of school before summer break. Bags were packed, the plane was loaded, flight plan filed, all I needed was for Spork to escape so we could hit the road. I especially wanted to get away because we were threading the needle with our trip down. The air show started about the time I was picking Spork up. It was a 3.5 hour flight down, and the field would open after the airshow at 5pm. It would then close again that evening for the night airshow so we only had a limited window to get to Lakeland and get on the ground.

During the first hour, departures are released only. Just like people have to get off the elevator before you can get on, planes on the ground need to leave before the new planes can start coming in. When the departures are cleared to start leaving, it looks an awful lot like this. Bees flying away from a bee hive

At airshows, the normal rules of traffic separation are waived by the FAA. I’m not talking about the rules for aerobatic airplanes, I mean the rules for regular people like us. Planes are taking off on the runway and the taxiway right beside it. They are side by side, and there are multiple planes on the same runway at the same time. There could be two planes pulling onto the runway, two midfield taking off, and two just a few hundred feet off the departure end, all at the same time. It is incredibly busy.

Since we are an arrival, we are told to hold at Lake Parker, which is the initial point for the special airshow arrival procedure.

Lake Parker hold and arrival procedure
Lake Parker hold and arrival procedure

We are planning on arriving at 5:45 with plans to start landing planes at 6pm, the expected one hour delay while all the bees leave the hive.

At about 5:10 we are talking to Tampa approach and they tell us that Lakeland will be closed till 5:30 instead of the expected 5pm. We are only a few minutes away from Lakeland, and we have already been in the air for about 3.5 hours (headwinds). We are planning on holding for about 15-30 minutes then landing at Sun N Fun. This all works fine, because we have about 5 hours of fuel on board. But if we now have to hold an extra 30 minutes, we are starting to get close to needing fuel as well as a bathroom. Things get busy as we start planning alternates and we pull the power back to really slow (90 knots vs 155). No sense rushing to get there just to hold. Of course we tell Tampa what we are doing.

But no sooner than we settle down on our now snails pace of 90 knots, than departures start coming out of Lakeland. Almost the first one heads straight for us, as I see on the ADS-B screen. Tampa gives us a vector but the best avoidance technique is to speed back up and give a slight turn. So much for going slow. Tampa gives us another vector for more traffic, then a few minutes later gives us a warning that he won’t be able to vector us around all this traffic, there is simply too much. He then says something I’ve never heard from a controller, “Put your head on a swivel, and good luck. Frequency change approved.” I can actually hear the tension in his voice. Gulp.

We head off to the East at 3500 feet, well above the Lake Parker holding altitude of 1200 feet. As we overfly Lake Parker I can see a few airplanes in the hold. I can also see airplanes everywhere departing. It is like standing just over a beehive. I pull the power and we descend into the Lake Parker hold. With a few adjustments we fit right in and settle down for our expected half hour plus hold. As we are making our second lap around Lake Parker, starting to settle in, the controller calls, “T tail over the power plant rock your wings!”

What have I done wrong? I just got here? I give a good rock and he comes back, “T tail, you are number 1 for the arrival. The airport just opened. Proceed Westbound and follow the procedure.” Wait, what?

He then starts machine gunning instructions to the following aircraft while we are suddenly thrust into the visual to Lakeland via the special procedure which involves turning left at a golf course, flying past a cake tower, and overflying a blue building. It sounds cheesy but it actually works very well. I’d already gone on Google Earth to try and pick out these landmarks. Thankfully they are much easier to find in real life than they are on the internet.

As we make our turn Southbound at the golf course, we are supposed to switch over to tower. We switch off a machine gunning controller and onto an eerily quiet tower frequency. We’ve not been able to pick up the ATIS because when we tried earlier all it said was the airport was closed. No weather information was given. We weren’t in the hold long enough to pick it up again and frankly we were staying busy looking out for aircraft. Now we are number one leading a bunch of airplanes into Lakeland and we aren’t talking to anyone.  At least I don’t have a J3 cub going 40 mph in front of me. I power back up and get back to a normal approach speed for our plane.

Finally after checking the frequency I call tower for a radio check. The controller comes back immediately, loud and clear.

As we get to the airport, the controller calls, “T tail approaching Lakeland, turn your downwind now!”

Lakeland Sun N Fun procedure chart
The orange and green dots on the taxiway at Lakeland are our aiming points, not the runway.

Downwind would imply I knew where the wind was coming from. I wasn’t able to get the ATIS. I’m not supposed to answer the controllers, only rock my wings. However I don’t know which way to turn. I key up the mike, “T tail doesn’t have the winds, am I turning left or right?”

“Right turn T tail, start your turn now.”

I pull the plane around into a quick right turn.

“Good turn T tail! Keep going. I want you to aim for the green dot and land on the orange dot.”

I pull around into a quick turn to take us to the green dot. There is no rocking of wings at this point I realize, only quick compliance to demonstrate that you heard and will obey. Each move is made with a touch of gusto to show I’ve heard him.

“Good turn T tail, keep it coming. Ok, now put it down on or after the orange dot. Welcome to Sun N Fun!”

The controller is done with me, and is machine gunning instructions to the airplanes behind me. We are down and safe at Sun N Fun!

As I touch down, I realize this was actually really fun. Not the sedate square patterns I normally fly, but an arching, descending, snappy turning approach to a narrow taxiway with everyone watching and airplanes everywhere. And I got a number of attaboys from the controller to boot. We’ve made it!

But as they say, getting there is only half the fun. More to come in part 2.

I’m a published writer!

Not published on the blog, that’s not exactly an accomplishment since I pay for the hosting, am my own editor, and write all the content. No I was published on Air Facts Journal, which has been in publication since 1938!

Now in all honesty they produce their content these days by having folks like me submit content to go along with their mainstay writers. But a story from my flying days past made the cut and I’m internet famous!

Well, sorta.

Here is my article.