License to learn

The other day, I was contemplating on doing some work in the hangar, with my friend Daniel helping. After a brunch with Wei, my old friend from Seattle, it was time for some serious work. Daniel and I decided to hit Starbucks first, before rolling out the proverbial selves, and attack the mess in the hangar – read we were procrastinating. It was pouring buckets all morning. When we got back from Starbucks, we noticed some clearing happening over the airport, and more of the blue stuff forcing its way in from the west. Forget the hangar work; it is flying time. With the Colt out of the hangar, and the preflight done, we were ready to go flying. OK, circuits only, since the thick cloud cover extended well to the east.

A small jet, Eclipse I think, was practicing landings on the active runway. A twin departed for an IFR flight. It was quite blustery; the cheerfully bobbing windsock supported this quite vividly. Only the jet was braving the winds. The weather was officially VFR, the Colt was out of the hangar and ready, so I had no excuse. The ATIS wind information was not exactly an invitation for flying. Winds from southwest, a bit of a crosswind at 12 knots, gusting to 20 knots, scattered clouds all over, not another soul in the sky, and the Eclipse finally gave up – perfect flying conditions eh? We spent about half an hour doing circuits. The gusts were for real all right, but Daniel was grinning so all was good. I noticed more clearing to the east, so I decided to go and have a closer look. The tower cleared us for a Nickel departure, and we were on our way.

Flying at 2000 over Langley control zone, we heard the tower telling someone about the unidentified aircraft overhead. I called the tower, introduced ourselves and told them that we will turn some more of our lights on for them to be able to see us better. The tower acknowledged, and suddenly we had a name. I intended to go further east, but the cloud cover did not look good over the Mission Bridge, so I decided to turn back. While having fun dogging puffy clouds, trying to stay clear of them, and heading due west, I looked to my right and felt an uncomfortable tension in my gut. We were at 2000 feet, and to my right, and below, was Pitt Meadows Airport. Yeah, we busted the control zone. While I was dodging the clouds, the wind from the southwest did its thing, and pushed us in. I called the tower and apologized, which seemed to have helped the situation, but will they report me to the Czar, a nagging question that stayed with me for the rest of the flight.

I elected to descend to 1100 and head for the Alex Fraser Bridge. The Boundary Bay ATIS broadcast the winds at 15 knots, still from southwest, but now gusting 24. The tower cleared us to left base as number one to runway 12, no other aircraft around. I trimmed my approach for extra speed margin, appropriate for the gusts, and after some very real jolts on the final, made a quite nice lending. Right wheel touched first, left immediately thereafter, and with full aft stick we slowed down, exited “delta”, crossed 07, with the blessing from the tower of course, and in a few minutes, we were back at the hangar.

I am glad we went. I learned some more about my little plane. I will say again, Mr. Piper had this one right; it is a sweet plane to fly. I am a low time pilot, but the plane pitched in to make me look good, and especially in the gusting conditions. I also like the short wing. I learned that coming in with some power makes for smoother landings, and once down the plane stays put. It will be a nice plane for shorter fields, no floating tendencies. Once I get a few more hours in it, it will be one sweet plane to fly almost anywhere – unless you are on a hurry. Oh yes, Daniel is going to get his own license, a further testament to the plane’s fine behavior, even in the hands of a rookie aviator flying in less than perfect flying weather.

The discomfort about busting the Pitt Meadows control zone dissipated somewhat only after I phoned the tower to apologize once more. They were very good about it, but I will be much more vigilant about this sort of stuff from now on. Someone once told me that the Pilot License is only a license to learn, right on, I just learned something. Wind can get you into a trouble more than one way. I wrote 1.1 into my logbook, and with a satisfying feeling of a good day’s fun, I went home to look after my granddaughter. Violet’s parents were out for her dad’s, my son’s, birthday dinner. We built Lego castles all evening.

All is well again

It is mid morning October 8th; we are heading out for another test flight. Today we have two objectives in mind. We are going to make sure that the deficiencies from the previous flight are no longer there, and I needed my type check ride done to be legal for solo.

This time all went well. We still have to reroute the wiring for the fuel instruments, but everything else worked as expected. Once again, we were amazed how nonchalantly the plane behaves in a stall. It just descends at around 500 feet per minute, nose high, straight down, no tendency to drop its wing. Michael decided to get the plane really angry with him, and pulled it into a 45 degree aggravated stall turn – nothing. The plane just leveled itself off, and entered into the customary, and leisurely, stall descent. At this point Michael pronounced the plane to be very boring, and an old man’s plane. I am not sure if he had me in mind or not, but I guess since I will be 68 in a few days, I kinda qualify.

On the check ride, and under Michael’s watchful eye, I performed the prescribed manoeuvres, including a forced landing approach. On the approach, I discovered why Mr. Piper decided to omit the flaps from the Colt. They are simply not required. This plane is smart enough to know that when you pull the power, you want to go down. I must have done OK, because Michael signed me off, and I am now legal to fly anywhere I want. Charged up, and being legal for solo once again, I went up in the afternoon for some airport work, and again the next day.

Not being use to fly high wing planes any more, I am having a bit of a problem on
approach. Since I do not see the runway in a turn, due to the wing being in the wrong place, sometime I turn wide and overshoot. Compared to the Katana with its bubble canopy, and to which I am more accustomed to, sitting in the Colt feels like having an oversized baseball cap on. In addition, the Colt is definitely not a floater. I fly my landing approaches with some power, and at about 60 knots. This seems to work for me now, but I may be a bit too fast. I will work on the speed as I get a better feel for the plane. After some circuit work, my landings are getting definitely better, also the overshoot of the runway is rare now; however, I think I should recover the wing with Plexiglas – or not.

The Test Flight

The big day for the test flight of my “new 2012 model” Colt finally arrived. The test flight was a short one. We had a few gremlins to deal with, a couple of potential show stoppers, but we went anyway. Original plan was to have me checked out – again – insurance you know, but when we discovered that we had some issues, we stayed over the airport looking for what else may be going on.

Actually, the flight started with what looked like problem with COMs. I attempted to request a taxi clearance, but could not hear myself. Michael, my check-ride instructor, had the same problem in the right seat. As it turned out, a reversed wiring in the overhead console caused the problem. When I keyed the mike switch Michael heard me, and when he keyed his, I heard him. This was a simple problem, we just switched our headset positions in the jacks in the overhead console and all was fine.

As we were proceeding to runway 25, we had an oncoming aircraft in our path. We gave him a blink with taxi lights, letting him know that he can go ahead. That is the time when we noticed that as soon as we switched the lights on, the fuel tank indicators went to zero fuel. We tried other lights, and noticed that the strobes would also affect the fuel gages by lowering their reading a bit. By the way, the fuel gages may not be reading correctly and may need some adjustment. They are showing less fuel than there actually is. I am not sure if there is a way to adjust this on the gage. I will have to check on this, but if not, I can always cheat. Since resistive floats/probes in the tanks feed the gages, I can always add external adjustable resistor pots in series or parallel for the fine-tuning.

On the run-up, we noticed that the magneto check would not result in a change in rpm. We then turn the switch to off position, but the engine was happy to go on. The engine was running just fine, and the engine running parameters were all OK; however, to be on the safe side we decided to stay over the field instead of going for the check-ride. We leaned out a bit; the barometric pressure was 30.28 inches, which was easy procedure with the engine analyzer. The fuel flow works like a charm as well, 5.5 g/hr fuel flow at about 1700 rpm. With all the engine gages in green, we requested departure clearance. On the roll out, we noticed that the airspeed indicator went to 60 mph and stayed there. From there on our GPS became our reference speed indicator, giving us at least the ground speed reading.

With the tower’s blessing we climbed to 1900 over the field looking for other potential anomalies. It seemed that we got them all on the ground. Since we installed the vortex generators on the plane, we were interested to see the stall performance. With the airspeed indicator not working, we would not be able to tell the exact speed, but we would be able to feel the effect. The plane was always gentle in the stall, but with the vortex generators, it will simply go nose high, and then it would just settle in about 500 feet per minute descent – no drama. It sits there just coming down slower than a parachute. I actually checked this, because I was interested to compare the data. Depending on a canopy size, and the weight of the skydiver, parachutes are descending at the rate of 600 to 900 feet per minute. There was no tendency of a wing drop either. One could hold the yoke to his chest, and come down like in an elevator.

Another noticeable behavior, and this is to be credited to the previous owner who did the tweaking when he installed the new lifetime struts, was how well the plane behaves when trimmed out. We trimmed it out to a slow flight, 70 knots GPS indicated, to see a fuel flow of 3.7 gal/hr. I could just leave the controls alone, and the plane would fly like on an autopilot. When it was time to get back, we did the navy style, wide, 180-degree, turn approach. We trimmed the aircraft to what felt like the right approach speed, and took our hands off the controls. The plane stayed in the gentle turn until we had to level off to enter the final. Once lined up with the runway, we guessed the speed since we did not have the airspeed indicator working, and very likely we came in a bit faster than would be needed, but to a perfectly uneventful landing.

Overall, it was a good flight. One should expect some stuff not working right after all those changes we made. The unexpected would be the switch and the airspeed instrument. I took the plane back to the shop. Sham switched the COM plugs to their correct positions, the switch is working fine now as well, but the airspeed indicator is a toast. It seems that it sprang an air leak somewhere. It is an old instrument, I suspect the original equipment, and we had it in and out so many times, that we may have helped it a bit. The fuel level indicators will likely need shielded wires, or some wire re-routing, but that is not a big deal.

The Colt really is a sweet plane to fly. I thing Mr Piper had it right. It really could have made a nice trainer. Too bad, it never made it as such in larger numbers. In the mean time, and as a temporary fix, we installed another airspeed indicator, so we have a flying aircraft until the new instrument shows up. This will likely take a few weeks, since the supplier has to do the custom markings first.