This is a blog containing the build history of an experimental home built airplane. The RV-7A is a two place, piston powered, low wing, tractor configuration, tricycle gear, aluminum and composite aircraft. The original purpose of this blog was to document the construction of my experimental category aircraft in order to satisfy the build log requirement for the FAA. Now it's just for the amusement of friends and family as I document some of our aviation experiences. For more information on the RV series of aircraft see www.vansaircraft.com.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

48 States part 4

Day 10, 24 July 2017

The morning of the 24th offered low overcast.  From our hotel room I could clearly see tendrils of low clouds dangling as they whisked by overhead.  I guessed the cloud bottoms to be less than 1000'. We had quite a distance to cover this morning so we skipped breakfast.  The weather looked a little worse to the south than to the north so I was hopeful that by the time we got to the airport we would be good to go.  Online, there was no precipitation indicated anywhere along our route, but some of the airports were reporting IFR (Instrument Flight Rules) or MVFR (Marginial Visual Flight Rules).  Further north and west the weather was being reported solid VFR.  I felt that if we could just make it as far as Chicago we would be good all the way to Oshkosh.

KBKL to JYM 1.2 hours, departing 9:07 EDT

The weather was a little better at the airport so we loaded the plane and prepared to depart. The winds were light and favored runway 06, opposite the direction we had landed two days before. Turning left cross wind out over the lake we then turned left again making a down wind exit from Burke Lakefront traffic pattern to the west. The low clouds kept us from climbing any higher than about 1500'.  We mostly paralleled the Lake Erie shoreline, passing this amusement park.

At one point we had to turn inland briefly to avoid some restricted airspace rather than fly further off shore which would have been the more direct route.  We skirted the Toledo class C airspace to the north and then over flew a lot of green farm land in southern Michigan before arriving at Hillsdale. Although we were flying low, the visibility was fair and we did not have to divert for clouds or rain.

Hillsdale, Michigan

JYM to 05C 1.3 hours, departing 10:30 EDT

We didn't stop for long at Hillsdale, just long enough to snap a picture.  There didn't appear to be anyone around anyway.  From Hillsdale, we continued west on a course that would take us around the southern tip of Lake Michigan.  The weather did not seem to be improving, but we plodded on, lowering to about 1000' AGL to stay clear of the clouds above.  There were a few light rain showers on this leg but, we continued on without trying to dodge them.

Our path was going to take us right through the middle of the South Bend class C airspace, so rather then divert around I contacted South Bend Approach and they allowed me to pass almost directly overhead the airport and continue on my west-south-westerly course.  The weather did improve after we cleared the South Bend area.  By the time we arrived at Griffith Indiana, the overcast had mostly dissipated although we began to notice some turbulence.  I suspect that the turbulence in this case was the mechanical variety that is caused by wind blowing over surface features rather than the convective type, which is caused by differential heating of the earth's surface, since the winds were gusty and it was still fairly early in the day. 

I will remember Griffith, Indiana as being the place where I made my worst landing of the trip (somewhere has to be the worst, right?).  As I made my final approach and was in the flare, the gusting wind suddenly reversed and we plopped down pretty hard.  Easily the hardest landing this plane has ever experienced.  The spring steel landing gear weren't having it though, and they launched us right back into the air and so I attempted to reestablish the flare.  We were back in the air alright, but only because the landing gear threw us up there.  We didn't have the energy to actually fly, so we were headed right back down to the pavement in short order.  This is the classic setup for Pilot Induced Oscillation.  This occurs in part because the pilot applies control inputs that are out of phase (and inappropriate) with the aircraft's current state due to the very rapid onset of this condition. If the wrong control inputs are applied, the bounces can get even larger.  I bounced a second time before I was fully aware that this was, or would lead to, a PIO situation.  

It was only then that I realized that what I was doing was not helping me to land.  My first inclination had been to continue the flare and try to remove energy by maintaining a nose high attitude.  I had expected this to result in the bounces subsiding, but I think they were actually getting larger.  Since what I was doing wasn't working, my next plan was to apply power to either reestablish a nominal flare or initiate a go around.

The tiniest amount of power was all that was necessary to cancel the PIO and reflare the landing. It was a scary couple of seconds, but we easily made the turn off and parked in front of the FBO.  Exhale.

After that embarrassing exhibition, the advertised intro flight in the FBO's lobby didn't seem like such a bad idea.

Griffith, Indiana

05C to C81 .6 hours, departing 11:00 CDT

After a quick pit stop we continued northward over the very industrialized area at the southern tip of Lake Michigan, passing just west of Gary Indiana.  On the horizon we could see the Chicago Sky line.

Our plan was to fly the shoreline route which keeps us well below the Chicago class B airspace.

As we approached the city, I maintained an altitude of about 1500' and stayed about a quarter mile offshore. In the photo below, the Willis tower (at right), formerly known as the Sears tower, was the world's tallest from 1973 to 1998.  

We flew right over the top of the former Meigs Field airport that used to sit on a man made peninsula that was constructed for that purpose in 1922.  The airport was (in)famously destroyed at the order of  then Mayor Richard M. Daley in the middle of a Sunday night, 30 March 2003, stranding 16 aircraft. The hubris of that man apparently knew no bounds.  Adding insult to injury, FAA airport improvement funds were used to destroy this aviation jewel.  A legal battle ensued and Chicago was ultimately forced to repay $1 million dollars of the misappropriated FAA funds and an additional $33,000 dollar fine. I think Daley himself should have been forced to repair the damage he caused with a small shovel.

We also flew over Navy Pier, where I took two pictures.  One with good composition turned out blurry and this one which doesn't show much.

After following the shoreline for some time we turned inland between Highland Park and Waukegan and went direct to Campbell airport, all the while staying below the Chicago class B airspace floor at 3600'.  Here we are on final to Campbell at Grays Lake, IL.  Recent rains were evident.

The weather was definitely improving though.  I chose this location for refueling because of its proximity to Oshkosh, less than 1 hour flight time away.  I wanted to have plenty of fuel on board in case we had an extended hold.

The gas pump at Campbell was operated remotely.  To get gas here you must call a number and ask the attendant to turn on the pump.  When you finish, you call the number again and tell the attendant how much gas you pumped and then provide your credit card details.  It all works, but it took me a while to figure out the system.

Grays Lake, Illinois

C81 to KOSH 1.0 hours, departing 12:15 CDT

Four and one half years of building and one year of flight testing and flying had all come down to this last short leg.  Every builder dreams of the day that he or she might fly the plane they built into Oshkosh, Airventure air show.  It really is the big leagues of experimental flying.  By paid attendance it's also in the big leagues of all other flying as well, drawing twice as many aviation enthusiast as other big shows such as the Paris airshow or Farnborough in England.  

Carol and I used our time on the flight up to Oshkosh to brief the arrival NOTAM.  Although the NOTAM is lengthy, the pertinent information is easily digestible:  Fly to the town of Ripon at 135Kts and 2300', then follow the railroad tracks northeast to the FISK reporting point where the air traffic controller will call your aircraft by type and color.  Acknowledge with a wing rock and you are almost there.  The controller will have given you one of two approaches to follow culminating in a landing on runways at either end of Whitman field (KOSH).  On final for your given runway, the tower controller will assign one of several colored dots on the runway for your landing point.  Land on it or near it and you have arrived.

Seems simple enough, I thought.  Well, the first unexpected issue I had was that the town of Ripon did not show up on the G3X map at the zoom level I was using.  About then I was wishing that I had a paper sectional with me.  I knew that Ripon was south west of Oshkosh so I just started flying in that direction.  In the mean time I started a -- well, I don't want to say frantic search, but let's say concerned search for Ripon on my G3X.  Zooming in and out wishing the the display would update about 5x faster.  Eventually I discovered that the G3X would display the name Ripon if I was zoomed way, way in.  At that zoom level the map is really only useful for knowing which town you are currently flying over.  By chance, I happened to fly close enough to the town for its name to appear on my screen.  I did have a backup method for identifying Ripon and that was to spot the adjacent lake around which we might have to circle should a hold be necessary.  And there was one other way to spot Ripon, that is where all of the other planes were going.

I was relieved to have positively identified Ripon and once we were over it, I turned us northeast to follow the railroad tracks toward FISK.  Now, FISK is not an intersection of airways or an IFR identifier.  It is actually just a highway intersection of Fisk avenue and county road FF.  It is also listed as a VFR reporting point on the sectional, but I don't know how anyone unfamiliar with the area could identify the reporting point from the air.

By now we were sequenced into the flow following the railroad tracks.  I was too close to Whitman field to worry about the exact location of the FISK reporting point any longer.  I could see ahead of me where the planes were peeling off for a runway 27 arrival or going straight for a 36 arrival.

We were assigned runway 36 left and we were making a nominal approach when on short final the controller instructed me to go around.  I didn't see anything worrisome ahead of me.  There was another aircraft on my runway, but it was far down and didn't seem to be a factor.  At any rate, I quickly powered back up and flew a climbing right turn back to a right base and received an atta boy from the controller.  Then he squeezed me right back into the flow and we landed as instructed, on the purple dot.

I didn't think much about the fact that I was finally flying into Oshkosh, or that this was such a really big deal at the time.  It finally hit me though,  while we were taxiing to the homebuilt parking area. There were thousands of people lining the taxiway watching the arrivals.  Thank goodness I didn't screw up the landing.

We were then directed on to the grass and marshaled to a parking location.  As soon as we shut down the welcome-wagon came by and gave us our info packet and instructions for getting fuel and getting registered at the airshow.  The first order of business was to get the aircraft tied down.  I brought my own stakes along and this would be their first (and only) use.  Next time I think I'll just rent the stakes here and save 7 pounds of baggage.

Oshkosh, Wisconsin

Having tied down and registered, our next order of business was to pick up our rental car. I wasn't particularly looking forward to this next part because I thought that we would have to drag our luggage halfway across Oshkosh.  However, we found out that there was a tram (red line) that would take us to the north end of the field where we could then ask someone how to get to Basler (FBO) where our car was waiting. This sounded promising.  We got on the red tram which looked like a direct shot to where we needed to go.  As soon as we sat down the driver announced that he would be departing from the normal route, but would end up at the north terminus of the red line anyway. Rather than walk, Carol and I decided to go on the scenic tour with the tram.  As it turned out, this was not such a good idea as the tram broke down when we were about as far away from our destination as possible, and we ended up walking the greatly increased distance, dragging our luggage behind.  

When we arrived at the Red line terminus we were informed that a shuttle bus from Basler would stop here and in a short time a shuttle appeared.  Great! things were looking up.  At Basler our vehicle was waiting as promised, and in just a few minutes we were driving it outside the airport back around to the Airventure entrance.  

Since it was beginning to get late in the afternoon, I was hoping that some may have already left for the day and that we would be able to park in the "blue" lot which is closest to the Airventure main entrance.  As we approached the blue lot we were able to catch a glimpse of the lot with plenty of empty spaces.  I was about to begin my 'we're going to park in front' celebratory dance when we were directed to turn left towards the "orange" lot -- far, far, away.  I tried pointing at the half empty lot I wanted, but in return I got the squinty-eyed glare of a traffic director that's seen it all. He re-pointed with extreme emphasis.  Turn left or else!  Alright already, I didn't want to get in a fight on my first day.  Unfortunately, this would not be our last run in with irrational traffic control at the show.

We had been on the ground at Oshkosh for over 3 hours now and I hadn't really seen any of it.  I felt like a kid at Disneyland whose dad can't find a parking space.

It all worked out and after a long hike in from the Orange lot I felt like we finally arrived.  We spent the balance of the afternoon looking at airplanes in the main square and at the forums.  You never know what you might see.  A B-1B bomber for example.

And the only two flying B-29s:

The remainder of our three days was pretty much like this:  Walk around and see some incredible aviation on the ground and in the air.  Eat.  Walk around some more.  Talk to vendors, buy stuff. Go to a forum or a vendor seminar.  Walk around and look at airplanes.  Talk to people from all over the world who you don't know, but with whom you share the common bond of aviation.  It's awesome!

Monday night we attended the RV beer social.  The beer social is advertised on vansairforce.net which is a web site that hosts news and information about the Vans RV aircraft and it's an online forum that many RV owners and want-to-be owners frequent daily.  It was great to be able to put a face to the names that I've read so often.  The New Glarus Spotted Cow ale was excellent.

Tuesday night we attended the Vans banquet.  A nice dinner for RV owners and another opportunity to meet and discuss our favorite airplane.

On Wednesday I attended a Mike Busch forum on lean of peak operation.  That info will pay big dividends in fuel savings going forward.  And, being our last full day, we did most of our shopping.  We were doing pretty good not buying too much because of our baggage weight issue.  Then, our consumer defenses collapsed completely when we were convinced that our David Clark headsets where just too uncomfortable to fly another mile with.  We flew the remainder of our trip with our newly acquired Bose A20 headsets.  They are amazing and now I wonder what took me so long to switch.  Because of the baggage weight and space issues, we shipped the old headsets and most of the other stuff we bought, home via Fed Ex.

One final observation about flying in to Oshkosh.  It is awesome and I can't wait to do it again, but there is a problem with having your plane there.  It greatly increases the amount of walking that you  will have to do at the show.  How's that?  Well, your plane serves as your personal storage locker for the duration of your stay.  Anytime you are anywhere near it, let's say 1/2 mile, you will find a reason to divert to the plane to pick something up or to drop something off.  I'm pretty sure we increased our steps this year by 50%.

Day 13, 27 July 2017

KOSH to KLXL 2.0 hours, departing 10:58 CDT

It was Thursday morning and we had planned to depart about 10 am.  We dropped the car at Basler and caught the shuttle back to the show.  Then we drug our baggage out to the plane.  We still had some time to kill so I went shopping for an Oshkosh 2017 hat as my Oshkosh 2016 hat was looking a bit worn.  We went to 4 different EAA gift shops including their "merchandise warehouse", but I could not find the "one."  And so it goes with hat fishing, sometimes they're just not biting.

To leave Oshkosh, you are required to receive a departure briefing.  Then you pull you plane out into the aisle and wait for a marshaler before starting up.  Then one just follows the other planes out to the departure runway.  I needed some help to pull our plane out because it had sunk a bit into the grass during our 3 night stay.  Taxiing out did not take too long even though we were directed to runway 36 which was the furthest away from homebuilt parking.

Taking off from runway 36 we retraced our path from Monday's go around 3 days before.  We made a climbing right turn 180 degrees and then depart to the south until we were clear of the Oshkosh class D airspace.  After which we continued climbing, but turned to the north west towards Minnesota.

The weather was clear and reasonably smooth.  The verdant fields and blue lakes passed quietly beneath.  The alternator held most of my attention with its intermittent behavior.  By now I had resigned myself to living with it for the remainder of this trip if only it would cooperate by not getting any worse.  As it was it was only charging about 20% of the time.  But it was enough.

Minneapolis passed to the south of us and soon we were descending into Little Falls, Minnesota.

Little Falls, Minnesota

KLXL to KBWP .8 hours, departing 13:15 CDT

We set down in Wahpeton, North Dakota about lunch time.  We couldn't find anything on the outside of the terminal building indicating the name of the city or the airport.  Consequently all we really have to prove that we were actually there is this photo of a plaque congratulating the politicians involved in the airport's construction.

Wahpeton, North Dakota
We were hoping to get a courtesy car into town, but like many of the airports we stopped at, the place was deserted.  The terminal building was open and they had a nice little lounge area and restrooms. There was a vending machine so I bought a soda and we ate some snacks that we carried with us.  I refueled the plane and we set out once again over checkered farm land in the direction of South Dakota.

KBWP to KCUT 2.3 hours, departing 14:28 CDT

This was going to be another fairly long leg.  Once I was at cruise altitude, the autopilot was doing the driving and my piloting workload dropped to near zero.  I'm basically just looking out the window seeing and avoiding.  Of course I'm also doing the regular instrument scan, but that too seems to be on autopilot as I flip back and forth between the map page and the engine instrument page on the G3X  MFD (Multi Function Display).

One way that I found to entertain myself on a long leg like this one, where there is very little traffic is to listen to pod casts.  On this trip I listened to two episodes of Airplane Geeks, numerous editions Skeptoid, and some Big Picture Science.

I think the photo above is Lake Oahe on the Missouri river.  The weather got progressively hazy as we worked our way west.  In front of us the NexRad was showing precipitation extending north and south centered over Rapid City which would be very near our destination.

But it looked like we were about to get weather lucky again as our course bisected the line of storms cells in a relatively clear area.  Next on the list is Mt. Rushmore.  As we approached from the east our course passed within just a few miles of the monument so I didn't think we would have any trouble spotting it, and we didn't.  There were two other aircraft that arrived at about the same time as we did and fortunately they were going in the same direction as us, making it easy to sequence our pass.  The only minor issue is that since we were turning left, the right wing blocks the view.  So it is necessary to stop the turn periodically to get a better view.  The sun broke through just as we arrived.

From Mt. Rushmore to Custer, South Dakota is just 11 miles.  We had to be careful here because we had dropped down to get a better view of Rushmore and there is a lot of granite sticking up out of the ground in this area.  The Custer ASOS was reporting some gusty winds that did rock us around a bit as we touched down.

Custer, South Dakota
While I refueled, a helicopter pilot came over to look at the plane.  Just like the helicopter pilot I talked with in West Virginia, this one wanted to build an RV as well.  He asked a lot of questions about how fast I could go and how much fuel I burn.  I guess the answers I gave must have seemed pretty attractive compared to a helicopter.  Luckily, he didn't ask me how well I hover.

We continued our streak of meeting the nicest people when the airport manager stepped out of the office to ask if we needed to tie down.  Yes, we are planning to spend the night, I answered.  He said he didn't have a courtesy car, but that he could drive us into town.  As it turned out, our hotel was willing to come and pick us up so we didn't avail ourselves of his generosity that evening.

When we arrived at our hotel, it was still fairly early at about 4:30 pm MDT.  I think this was our earliest arrival at a hotel on the entire trip. It was a pretty easy day as flying went with two fairly long legs and a low stress departure from Oshkosh.

There was a miniature golf course across the street which seemed like it might be fun (above).  The other alternative was margaritas on the deck of the adjacent restaurant.  We decided on the latter, naturally.  We enjoyed the natural beauty that surrounds Custer from the deck for a while, but it was starting to get cold so that was that.

We returned to the restaurant latter that evening and enjoyed a very nice dinner.

Day 14, 28 July 2017

The next morning we attempted to get a cab ride to the airport and we were surprised to learn that Custer does not have cab service.  The hotel had generously provided transportation yesterday could we prevail on them them to drive us back?  The answer was perhaps, but not until they are finished with the continental breakfast service. That was going to be at least another hour.  So Carolina called the airport and talked to the airport manager who had offered to drive us into town the day before.

In ten minutes he was in the hotel parking lot helping me load our luggage into his car. 

KCUT to W43 .6 hours, departing 8:28 MDT

During the preflight at Custer, I discovered that I was getting low on oil.  They didn't sell oil at Custer, but I figured we would be able to find some somewhere along the way.  We departed for Hulett, Wyoming into a scattered layer but the forecast was for better weather further west.

Below, climbing out of Custer, SD.

This leg was fairly short so I didn't bother to get above the clouds, we just kind of worked our way between them.  By the time we got to Hulett the clouds were about gone.

Hulett, Wyoming

When we shut down at Hulett there was a loud alarm bell going off.  I thought it might be a burglar alarm at first, but it was coming from the area of the gas pumps.  We went inside the terminal building, but we didn't find anyone around.  There was a number written down to call for access to their courtesy car, so I called it.  I think the number went to a someone working for the city of  Hulett.  From there I was given another number to to call for someone that worked closer to the airport.  So I called that number and explained that I was at the airport.  Before I could finish, he asked if the alarm was going off.  Yes, that is why I am calling.  So then I found out that it "always does that after it rains and that I should not worry about it."  OK, So then I asked if he knew where I could get some oil,  Going west, the closest would be Gillette, Wyoming.

When I got off the phone I let Carol know that we would be diverting to Gillette and in a few minutes we were airborne once again.

W43 to KGCC .4 hours, departing 9:21 MDT

On the way over to Gillette we passed by Devil's Tower.

It's a weird thing just kind of sticking up out of nowhere.  It is readily visible for a considerable distance.  I've seen it from 30,000' while flying commercially.

It was a quick hop over to Gillette and we were able to get the oil I wanted and while I was there, I had the plane topped off.  It only needed about 10 gallons since we hadn't gotten too far from our last fill up at Custer.

KGCC to 32S 2.8 hours, departing 10:22 MDT

This would be a long leg for us.  Made even longer by a persistent 10Kt head wind.  I established an 8,500' cruise and then went to Lean Of Peak (LOP) mixture.  Since Oshkosh this has become my standard procedure.  Doing the "big pull" as Mike Busch calls it, brings the mixture back all at once, avoiding the air/fuel regime that would put maximum stress on the engine.  Before the pull, the throttle is already wide open and the engine is making whatever power it will at the altitude we're at. When I do the pull the mixture comes back nearly to the point of engine roughness.  Then I push forward slightly until I reach the target power level, which is 50% to 55% and the much lower fuel consumption is my reward.  On this leg, I think I was at 7.6GPH  and 55% power.  The true airspeed dropped a few knots to 157Kts.

After establishing the LOP cruise, I zoomed the map out to see how far I could go, on the 36 usable gallons I still had in the tanks.  I think this is an amazing picture.  The outer ring is fuel exhaustion, the inner, with reserve.  I could have come close to making it home with reserve, but I still had 3 states to visit.

There was plenty of time to crank up some more pod casts.  The topography below turned mountainous just after we left Gillette.  Passing over Sheridan MT, we dodged some of the higher peaks as we made a diagonal path northward through the Rockies.

Our alternator had not be charging as much on this leg and the inevitable result was a slowly declining battery voltage.  I was beginning to squirm when the level dropped below 11V.  This really couldn't have happened at a worse time in this trip.  Over the Rockies!  I was starting to seriously look at diversion options when the autopilot kicked off due to low voltage.  Well, the autopilot makes an audible tone when this occurs and now Carol has been alerted as well.

Helena, MT was about 40 miles off our right wing and looked like our best bet for mechanical assistance.  If we couldn't get help there we could continue north to Great Falls.  I made the turn and the alternator started charging again.  It was like the airplane was saying "Hey, what are you doing?"

The alternator charged steadily for a few minutes while we flew towards Helena, so I turned back on course for Stevensville, Montana.

Although the alternator was now charging, I flew the rest of this leg and the next one by hand to give the battery every electron possible.

Along our route, there was a fire TFR that extended up to 12,000'.  We climbed to 12,500 and continued on, eyes glued to the voltage gauge.   The TFR extended almost all the way to the town of Stevensville which meant that we would arrive over the airport about 9,000' too high.  I took this as an opportunity to practice my emergency spiraling descent.  We circled down from 12,500' all the way to touch down, power off (idle).  I don't know how many circles we made, but it is surprising how long it takes to descend that many feet at best glide speed.

Stevensville, Montana
We hopped out and checked out an FBO, but did not find anyone around.  We were hoping for a courtesy car to go and get some lunch.  We saw someone enter a hangar not too far away, so we headed over there.  When we got there we knocked on the door and went in.  There were several people inside standing around.  I asked if there might be a courtesy car available on the field and that we would like to drive into town to get some lunch.  As it turns out one of the gentlemen in the group I was addressing was the airport manager.  We were in luck, there was a car available.  We got the combination to a lock box containing the key and instructions on how to get to town.

We got lost on the way into town.  I guess I zigged when I should have zagged.  Either way, we were wasting a lot of time and seeing a lot of countryside, but we were not seeing the town of Stevensville.  After the appropriate amount of time had elapsed, I sought assistance.  We stopped at a large church with a car parked in front and its front doors open.  We walked in through the foyer and not seeing anyone, we continued on down a long hallway.  Dead end.  Let's go the other way.  Near the other end of  the hallway we could hear voices.  When we appeared in the doorway of the room they occupied, I think we startled them.

It was a woman and three children.  I announced that we were "lost" and then I thought about where I was and that it might not be the best choice of words for someone in a hurry.  So I quickly followed up that we were trying to get to Stevensville.  I needn't have been concerned, the woman cheerfully gave me the directions I needed and we were in town a few minutes later.

We stopped at a restaurant advertising pizza on their sign facing the main street.  After perusing the menu and not finding pizza, I queried the waitress, but she didn't think they offered pizza.  In fact, she was pretty sure they didn't.  Oh, well.  I had a really good pasta lunch instead.

32S to S68 .9 hours, departing 15:29 MDT

We didn't waste much time getting back to the airport after lunch, stopping only to put gas in the courtesy car.  Here we are taxiing out at Stevensville.  The mountains that rim this valley are in the 8 and 9 thousand foot range.  So the climb out was by necessity, fairly steep.  I followed the valley northward towards Missoula until we were high enough to resume our course to the west.  

There are fire TFRs on this side of the valley as well.

We head out over some rough country on this leg.  Fortunately it is only 92 miles to our Idaho destination.

As we fly along we gradually see the peaks of the mountains falling away.  I am still hand flying, hoping that the battery will charge.  And it did charge off and on with the voltage level creeping back up to about 11.5V.  We snuck up on the the airport at Orofino because it is located in a narrow valley beneath the Dworshak Reservoir.

My first attempt at landing Orofino failed because I couldn't get down fast enough.  I decided to go around and pulled up over the dam in a climbing right turn.  Then I flew away from the airport far enough so that I could get down into the canyon further to the east this time, giving myself more room for a straight in approach.   Although it took two tries it was well worth it.  This is a beautiful little airport.

It was hot in Idaho. We initially thought this would be just a quick pit stop, but I was beginning to think that the alternator issue was related to temperature. Inside the little terminal building we found no people, but the A.C. was going strong and it was refreshingly cool.  There was a bathroom, kitchen and a very nicely appointed living room area with couches and a TV.  Along the back wall a computer and desk.  The refrigerator was nicely stocked with water and sodas and on the kitchen table sat a basket full of candy and other snacks.  I was thinking that it wouldn't be so bad to live here.

Since it was so very comfortable, I decided to try letting the alternator cool down a bit before we continued.  I took the top cowl off and went back inside.

Orofino, Idaho
Altogether we spent about an hour and a half in Orofino.  Of all of the unattended terminals we visited, I think this was about the nicest.  I put the top cowl back on, but I wasn't convinced that the alternator had gotten much cooler since it was so very hot outside.  Never-the-less it was time to move on to our final stop for the day.  Pullman, Washington here we come.

S68 to KPUW .4 hours, departing 17:00 PDT

The flight to Pullman was short.  The airport lies behind some hills that completely block any view of it when approaching from the southeast.  There was a lot of dirt kicked up into the air by some heavy equipment in the direction of the airport that we could see from ten or fifteen miles out.  At first I thought it was a fire, but when we got very close, we could see that it was construction going on at the airport itself.  

We landed runway 24 and parked near the FBO.  We unloaded our baggage for the last time.  Carol had already made hotel reservations while we were in Orofino, so all we had to do was call them to come pick us up.

Pullman, Washington
I spoke briefly to the attendant at the FBO about having our plane fueled and that we would be departing about 9:00 am the next morning.  Then we found it cooler to wait outside for our ride where we could catch the occasional breeze.  The FBO's air conditioner was apparently no match for the unusually high temperature that day.

At the hotel, I spotted a display case of beers from a local brew pub called Paradise Creek.  I  am always excited to try new beers, so after cleaning up a bit we were able the get the hotel to chauffeur us to dinner.  The brew pub is located in an old post office.  It had the look of public building from the 30's, a broad staircase leading to massive front double doors and flanked on either side by two Greek style columns. 

The food was very good and the beers I tried were -- very OK.  When we returned to the hotel we sat out on their patio for a while enjoying the warm evening breeze.  When we arrived at the patio there was already a couple out there with the same idea.  We chatted with them for a while until it came out that one of them was a private pilot. Well, that revelation propelled the conversation to a much more interesting level, much to my delight.  I'm not certain that the wives were equally enthusiastic.  

Day 15, 29 July 2017

We arrived at the airport the next morning a little earlier than was our norm for this trip.  Mostly because we were eager to get home, but also because we wanted to fly before it got too hot.  We were looking forward to being home and sleeping in our own bed and we have two dogs that were staying in a kennel that were waiting for us.

The first indication that there might be trouble were the cones across the ramp blocking access to the taxi ways.  It seems that the airport was closed due to the construction until 10:30 am.  It wasn't even 9:00 am yet so we had some time to kill.

I went to work cleaning bugs off the plane and Carol caught up on her US map sticker.  The individual states had to be cut out from a larger backing.  She had little scissors that she brought along and periodically she would cut out a few states as we completed them.  Yes, we're flying with scissors. Take that TSA!

Well, that killed about twenty minutes.  With the baggage loaded and the plane having been fueled prior to our arrival,  we were ready to go.  I guess I need to get in the habit of reading the NOTAMs.

Or, maybe I shouldn't -- the contrarian in me says this:  Say it takes 1 minute to lookup a NOTAM and then a few more minutes to decode it.  After all, you have to figure out what time it is in  the land of Zulu.  So for every flight you add 4 minutes to your the prep time.  On this day, we were delayed about 1 hour, 45 minutes.  In order for this to pay off  in saved time, we would need to avoid a delay like this every 26 flights. In all my flying up to that point I had never encountered a delay due to being trapped at a closed airport. I realize the Duddley Do-gooders will point out that the NOTAMs could convey safety information and further, that the FAA requires that pilots collect all information pertinent to a flight prior to departing.  Realistically, reading the NOTAMs for your destination is more likely to be of help than for your departing airport.

We waited out the rest of the delay in the FBO's lobby.  I had a nice conversation with a gentleman who I believe was the owner.  He lamented all his lost business since the airport had been under construction.  I felt for him, considering the airport would be closed all day today, save 1 hour.

I told the FBO guy about our 48 state trip and how we were almost home.  He seemed to be very interested and asked a lot of questions.  Then he gave me a pad a paper and wanted me write out a short description of our trip.  I had time, so why not.  He said something about the FBO's Facebook page or web page or something.  I never bothered to find out if the text ever made it to the internet.

When it was finally time to depart, he followed us out to the plane and took some pictures.  Then he wished us well and we departed to the southwest.  

KPUW to KLKV 2.2 hours, departing 10:44 PDT

Our destination on this leg is Lakeview, Oregon.  I knew that eastern Washington and Oregon are largely desert so I had imagined the topography of the high desert in the southwest.  What we saw was quite different.  It was quite mountainous along our entire route.  There were broad dry valleys with some dry lake beds, but most of what we were flying over was some pretty rough country.  Not a lot of green down there.

About twenty minutes into this leg the alternator stopped charging and I seriously thought that we were going to have to divert somewhere.  We inched along, choosing new diversion options as we went.  The G3X has information on various airports via an AOPA database.

The database allows one to check if there will be an FBO or restaurant on the field and it provides phone numbers in many cases.  Our route was pretty desolate so we didn't have a lot of options to begin with, much less options that include FBOs with mechanical assistance.

If we were to lose electrical power all together, we would also lose the G3X map, compass, and radios.  We carried a handheld radio, but this far out in the sticks, well who knows?  It's a very small radio.  A complicating factor was poor visibility due to smoke from various fires going on to our south and west.  I planned for losing the GX3 map at any moment.  I would follow certain roads that I could see from the map would lead to an airport.  The poor visibility was not helping those backup plans at all.

Every so often the alternator would kick on for a while and we just kind of maintained a level of 10.5V to 11V for the entire leg.  It was tiring mental work coming up with plan after plan as we plodded along. Ultimately, we arrived at Lake County airport which is located on the northern end of Goose Lake.  The Lake itself straddles the Oregon-California border and without all of the smoke it probably would be a nice area to visit.  I would definitely consider it in a different season.

Lakeview, Oregon

I topped of the tanks and Carol went to work on the sticker for our our 48th state.

And there is is.  We've completed our objective of visiting all 48 conterminous states.  We have only one thing left to do.  Somehow make it back home.

KLKV to KGOO 1.5 hours, departing 13:25 PDT

I'd like to wrap this up and just say that we flew home without any further drama.  But, of course, the reality of flying is that something is happening all the time.  When we departed Lakeview, we discovered that there was a wasp flying around the cockpit that temporarily left us directionally challenged for a time.  After some struggle in the cockpit, Carol was able to subdue the little creature before any serious problems arose. 

Then, on climb out from Lakeview, we entered a thick layer of forest fire smoke that extended from about 6000' to 11,500'.  We were climbing and climbing and there didn't seem to ever be an end to it.  I could barely see the ground, but the sky did seem bluer straight overhead, so we continued on expecting to break out above the layer at any time.

We had set a course for Redding, California because of the very poor condition of our battery charging system.  I thought that if I was about to get stuck that would be the largest city in the area and have the best chance of a speedy repair.  I also wanted to get out over the valley where there were many more options available for an emergency landing.

Once we broke out above the smoke layer, I turned my attention back to the battery voltage.  It was still hovering around 11.0V. That was actually a little better than the last time I looked at it.  So we turned south and passed by Mt. Lassen and then followed the edge of the valley south toward Oroville.

Before long, I felt confident that we could make it direct to Grass Valley on the remaining battery power if the alternator would fail completely.  By now a lot of the smoke had cleared out and it was relatively good visibility.

I knew this territory well enough at this point that I really didn't need the G3X map any longer.  But for the sake of this picture, I set the course direct to Nevada County airport to conclude this final leg.

We approached KGOO from the northwest, counterpoise the direction that we left two weeks prior.

We made a left down wind entry and landed runway 25 without  much ado.  We taxied past the gas pump and terminal building on our way to our hangar.  The airport was dead quiet. I don't think anyone heard us arrive.  It kind of struck me at that moment that our airport was just as deserted as many of the others we had just visited.   

We pulled up in front of our hangar and shut down.  We were happy to have achieved our ambitious goals, and above all, we were happy to be home. 

Grass Valley, California

And so, this adventure is concluded.  Our little airplane has touched the ground in 48 states and has given Carolina and I the gift of time that we may achieve such wide ranging travels.  The things that we saw and the people that we met are etched forever in rich and happy memories.  And to those who extended good will and assistance to us along the way we will be eternally grateful.

Flight Statistics:
  • According to skyvector our route length was 6583 nautical miles, or 7570 statute miles.
  • We used about 518 gallons of 100LL.
  • Our tach time was 54 hours.  The actual time was 55.9 hours.
  • The statute gas mileage was 14.61 MPG.

Alternator addendum:

Throughout this trip report I've been using the word alternator as a short hand notation for electrical charging system.  Although I knew the real reason for the failure as I wrote this, I wanted to convey as faithfully as possible what I was thinking at the time.

The next day I returned to our hangar to begin in earnest the diagnosis and repair of the electrical charging system.  I also needed to change the oil.  With the cowl off once a again, I had another good look at the electrical connections to the alternator.  I rechecked the electrical resistance of each wire going to the alternator and of the ground connection through the engine case.  I also checked the connection at the VPX Sport.  Finding nothing once again, I went to the fountain of all RV knowledge, true and less true, vansairforce.net.  A quick search turned up an interesting thread regarding connector failures with the Plane Power alternator.  That certainly fit the symptoms, and the tests I ran in the field had not replaced that connector.  That must be it, I thought.

I ordered a new connector and waited.  When the new connector arrived I spliced it into the harness and I potted the rear of the connector as a preventative measure.  That was another thing I learned from the vansairforce research. Thanks to Mr. Dan Horton for another very informative article.  I put the cowl back on and went flying.

Success!  Nope, just kidding.  Like before, the alternator charged for a while and then went intermittent.

Well, I was beginning to wonder if this was just going to become a chronic condition of the plane.  I imagined myself trying to explain this to a prospective buyer years in the future. "Oh, it just does that."  Well, obviously, that was not going to fly, pun intended.  Reluctantly, I pulled the cowl off once again.

I had no reasonable ideas left.  Time to move on to the unreasonable.  I decided that I would completely replace each wire in the charging system.  I started with the B+ cable.  This was a 6# stranded cable that conveys the power from the alternator to the plane's master power relay.  I chose to start there because it was the most easily removed.  After I separated it from the plane, I was about to throw it into a junk pile of aircraft wire odds and ends (where it would never be seen again), but for some reason I decided to dissect the ring terminal ends.  I removed the shrink tube from the ends and had a good look.  The alternator end looked somehow different...

With the shrink tube now removed I pulled hard on the ring terminal and it moved, a little.  I can't express how happy I was to see this.  Finally, there was a cause to go with the effect.  Order was about to be restored to the universe.  I stepped on one end of the cable, and then with pliers I was then able to pull the ring terminal right off.  There was a fine powder of what looked like burnt copper that came out from under the crimp as well as some smaller broken pieces of copper wire.  I've never been happier to see a damaged part in my life.

I replace the cable and cowl and then went flying.  It was fixed and it stayed fixed, thank goodness.

So why wasn't this problem identified earlier?  After all on this trip alone, at least three different people pulled on the cable and deemed it to be OK.  In addition, the electrical resistance of the cable was measured twice and both times it failed to indicate any problem whatsoever.

I think the shrink tube helped to conceal the problem and given the installed location of the cable, it would have been difficult to pull on the cable hard enough to have shown any indication of looseness. 

The ultimate cause of this problem was my failure to properly crimp the connection in the first place. A secondary cause was my selection of a fairly stiff  6# stranded wire.  I've noticed that in automotive applications, the wire strands used for this particular connection are much finer, leading to a more flexible cable that is better able to withstand the engine vibration.

At the end of the day, I wasted money on a new alternator that I did not need.  I thought a lot of bad thoughts about Plane Power Alternators that they did not deserve.  And I wasted precious vacation time trying to diagnose an electrical problem in the field, all without success.

The truth is that I enjoyed every minute of our trip.  Perhaps I would have answered differently at various times, had I been asked.  But now in the coolness of my home office, having had some trouble on our 48 state adventure seems more like an unforgettable life experience than a significant hardship.  When these kinds of issues pop up they add texture to our memories and ultimately help us to retain the details of the experience as a whole.  In hindsight, it's all OK. 

1 comment:

  1. Followed your link on VAF; just finished reading. Thanks for sharing.

    Alternator wire (and battery, and starter cables): Welding cable works great, and has much finer strands than even aircraft wire. Only downside is the insulation is quite a bit thicker, to handle the abuse of dragging it around on the ground (which has a bit of durability upside, too, I suppose...)