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.

Beautiful British Columbia

He must have been feeling sorry for me. My Colt is still in the shop, and I am itching to go places. ”The WX Gods are smiling, it is going to be sunny next Tuesday, wana go flying? You buy the coffee, I buy the gas.” What a sweet email. Thanks Sieg, I think I can make it. Someone once told me that we should not appear to be too anxious – I could hardly contain myself. “Meet me at the airport at 1:00; we will go for lunch somewhere.” Oh, so it is lunch we are going for, not for a coffee – oh well, still a great deal. I arrived at the airport at the appointed time, not a minute late! I completely forgot my manners. I was supposed to be fashionably late a few minutes, right? Gota tell ya, I was grinning like a kid who just got a new toy.

I was ready. Headset (check), camera (check), wallet (check), I performed my checklist while Sieg inspected his Skylane. “Wna fly?” No thank you, but I must admit I sure was tempted. It felt sooo god to be sitting in a plane again. After the customary ritual in which we must engage in before each flight, runway 25 looked like a beautiful highway to freedom to me. Last quick check, all gages in green, “let’s go” voice from the left seat. Sieg’s experienced hand slowly advanced the power knob forward to a full engine roar. The Skylane obeyed, and after a swift acceleration, and a gentle pull on the control yoke, we were on our way. Oh, forgot to tell you, we were going to have our lunch at Rowena’s Golf Club.

In my days of flying Katanas, my mentor Michael Peare would often mention that we should go for lunch there one day. I had no idea where the place was. It is a private gravel strip, not shown on the chart, so while Michael tried hard to explain its location, I just did not get it. Soon that will change, I will finally know – we were on our way to Rowena’s. On the way Sieg did some serious low flying, I do not think I was that low in a plane outside of an airport boundaries – ever! Sieg goes to some interesting places and landings on river sandbars are definitely on the menu. He showed me what to look for, just in case I decide to try that. No thanks, I like the runways for now, but, who knows?

I still do not really know where the place is. I was enjoying the pleasures of flight so much, that I forgot to pay attention. We rounded off a corner, behind a low hill, and there it was. What? Is that where we will be landing? Let me explain. Right there, front of my nose, was this narrow gravel road, barely wide enough for our Skylane’s landing gear to fit on without going over its edges. OK, so I was not breathing for a while there, but I had my full confidence in Sieg. A thought popped in my head, what if I accepted Sieg’s offer to fly. I chased that one away even before we were over the threshold of the runway. Sieg skillfully flared off, and soon enough we were on the terra firma. At the end of the runway, there is a wide circle turnaround. We taxied back to the other end, announced on the radio to other pilots that we were off the runway, shut down the engine, and headed for the restaurant. We took a long walk on the pathways around the fairways, and manicured greens. The Rowena’s golf course truly is a magnificent, pilot-friendly, destination.

Sieg ordered a chicken burger, and I decided on a pulled pork sandwich. We had a friendly chat with the server, I must get her name next time I am there. She was delightful to talk to, and quick with conversation-appropriate one-liners. My food was excellent, and judging by the dripping hamburger juice from Sieg’s hands, he must have enjoyed it too. We used the facilities, I paid for the “coffee”, promised to come back soon, and we headed for our plane. Run-up, call on the radio, line-up on the runway, and there we went. Sieg prefers to depart to the east, wind permitting, because unlike the tall trees on the west end of the runway, departure to the east is over the river.

On the way in, I was showing of my iPad, loaded with all the marvelous flight-related apps I have on it. With the reliable Blue Tooth Dual GPS sitting on the dashboard, it was in complete agreement with Sieg’s Garmin 296. Where the two disagreed was not too hard to see. It is like the famous Ketchup commercial, once you see the gorgeous moving map on an iPad, there is no going back. On our return flight I decided to take some pictures for you, so here they are. Isn’t British Columbia beautiful?

Loading Images

I am sure all these hills have names, but I have no idea what they are. Maybe I should brush-up on the local geography a bit. Our arrival at Boundary Bay looked very familiar. After all, I made many flights from here in recent times. One thing immediately became obvious to me. The friendly runway 25 is not a dirt strip. After Rowena’s, I bet Sieg could lad on it crosswise – well, maybe not. As we unloaded, I noticed that my camera bag and my hat were missing. Rats, I left some stuff behind, I told Sieg. “Well, Thursday looks good, you wana go back and fetch it?” I’ll buy the “coffee”, I replied eagerly. When I promised the friendly server that we would be back soon, I was not thinking of this soon. “We will go with Lloyd, he has his back seats in, and we’ll do some filming on the way.” It is settled then, lunch at Rowena’s on Thursday it is.


The Aircraft Interior

When I first laid my eye on the Colt, sitting there at CYPK (Pitt Meadows Airport) under the tinned roof, I had to put my imagination into a maximum overdrive to recognize the beauty in this ugly duckling. It was in a bad need of a wash, and the inside was, well, 1961 vintage. I knew right there and then that I could not live with it as it was sitting there. I almost walked away, but on a second look, I started to see a potential here. Somehow, the old bird was able to charm me into buying it.

Interior Ceiling

Exposed Interior Ceiling

As the first annual under my ownership started to drag, I decided that this might be a good time to have a good look at the interior. Besides the obvious dated decor, I noticed that the original headliner installation would make inspection and service of important control systems cumbersome, and in fact, some of the systems would be impossible to inspect without removing the headliner. I am absolutely convinced that there are many Colts and Tri-Pacers out there, whose owners never bothered to take the headliner out, to make sure that all the hidden components are in a good condition. The zipper access to the trim system is simply not adequate for inspection of the pulleys and cables hidden in the ceiling.

With all the internals exposed, it was time to call upon professionals to suggest a solution. One thing I knew right from the start, the headliner, and in fact all interior furnishings, must be easily removable, so periodical inspections of the hidden control components is unimpeded.

Walter Kaiser

Walter contemplating possibilities

I called on Walter Kaiser, the owner of K.C.F. Ltd., located at CYVR (Vancouver International Airport), to seek some advice. Walter’s company is specializing in aircraft interior restorations, and refurbishing. Walter is a good, old-fashioned, German artisan. He liked the challenge, and took me under his wing personally. He made several great suggestions on how to resolve the inspection and maintenance issues, and give the interior fresh look. We shook hands, and Walter went back to the shop to apply his craft, and make the interior look more contemporary looking.

Dear Sieg – An Open Letter

Recently I forwarded a PowerPoint collage of some beautiful picture of Slovakia to my friend Sieg. Sieg responded with the following question. As I was reading it, memories and emotions started to flood in, and I decided to share my answer to Sieg with all of you.

Thanks Ed,

Very nice indeed! So why did you have to leave? You know I always confuse Slovakia with Slovenia, home of the famous Pipistrel. But now I looked it up, now I know. Wouldn’t be nice to fly in those mountains with your Piper? You could land uphill on many of those pictures.

Thanks again, Sieg

Dear Sieg,

I did not have to leave; I just gave up on the country after the Russian invasion in 1968. That was the catalyst. I wanted to leave ever since I was very young. There were many reasons, but the main one was that I was not allowed to fly. My dad escaped the country in 1949, and that left a black mark on me. I was considered to be a high risk, follow my dad’s example, and leave as well. The close proximity to Austria and West Germany would apparently make it way too easy for me. I was not even able to fly gliders, or skydive. I guess they were affair that I may steer the parachute across the border somehow. I know so many people from there, who left Czechoslovakia that year, but their heart and soul is still there – how sad.

When I first came to Canada, I would have nightmares for at least a year. I would dream that I was back in Czechoslovakia, trapped there, and not being able to come back to Canada. I would wake up drenched in sweat. Canada became my beloved home almost from the day one, and it still is today. Canada gave me what my country of birth denied me – the freedom of flight. I feel like a kid who escaped cruel and abusive parents, and found a foster family, that was kind and loving, and eventually adopting me for their own child. I became Canada’s child as soon as I was able to become its citizen. My attachment to Canada is so strong, that I cannot go through listening to the Canadian Anthem without tears in my eyes. In fact, my eyes are swelling with tears as I write this.

Yes, Canada gave me what Czechoslovakia denied me. I coined the phrase in the head banner of this blog many years ago. It truly reflects how important flying is to me. Without Canada, I would have died without living my dream. Thank you Canada.



I am learning

I must confess. I have “issues.” In my obsession for perfection, I frequently go too far improving, or even completely reworking, something that would be perfectly fine. I know this because all my life, as soon as I was “almost” finished designing or building something, I would find an urge to improve on it, and my Colt is no exception – except.

Some time I have to remind myself that my plane have flown many hours before I bought it, but getting intimate with it taught me that my obsession for perfection, if moderately applied, is a good thing. In one of my previous posts, I mentioned the problem with the trim being too stiff. This “minor annoyance” led to the need for replacement of all empennage components. Proper lubrication schedule would eliminate this problem, so I ask why so many previous owners neglected this simple procedure.

For the most part, I am the kind of a person who reads instruction manuals only “after it smokes”; however, not when it comes to airplanes. Going through all the paperwork, which came with the plane, I did not find a comprehensive maintenance schedule document that would guide the owner in keeping the plane in a good condition. Now, an aircraft mechanic previously owned the plane, so the assumption could be that he knew what he was doing. In all fairness to him, he very likely did his best. As pilots, we employ checklists because regardless of our age, we may forget important procedures in critical phases of flight. Why not then consult an official, factory sanctioned, maintenance checklist during all maintenance work? I think the trim was one of those forgotten tiny little holes that needed some oil to go into during a routine maintenance.

I now have a checklist, and it was not even very hard to get one. A phone call to Univair Aircraft Corporation, and a $2 for an official Piper maintenance inspection document, solved my potential memory-laps problems. Don likes it too, because it guides him through the annual inspection process, and he can be confident that he did not miss a critical maintenance point.

The Domino Effect

In my previous post, I talked about my obsession for need to know how my engine is performing. I addressed this by installing a comprehensive engine monitoring systems. With that task behind me, I redirected my attention to the engine accessories. I searched through the logs, and found quite recent magneto service entries; however, there were no similar entries for the starter or the generator.  This was a bit of a surprise, remember, this is a 1961 vintage aircraft.

There is the saying, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Well, both my starter and the generator were working, but I wanted to make sure that they are still in decent condition. While starter may not be crucial to flight, it sure would be annoying to lose my generator. Since everything was apart anyway, Don removed the two “heavy weights” for me, and I headed for the repair shop. I asked the shop to give me an estimate, but they were reluctant to give one, not knowing what they may find. With the service done, and I mean service, not an overhaul, the cost was so close to what a new set would cost me that I donated the two clunkers to the repair shop in lieu of the labour cost, and replaced them with new units.

New lightweight starter installed

Picture showing the new starter installed on the engine

The starter went in first followed by the alternator. These new units are approved replacements and are much lighter, always a good thing.

Alternator installed

Installed alternator with some of the supplied installation hardware showing

The alternator came well equipped with all the appropriate installation hardware, and an electronic voltage regulator. The total replacement cost came to around $300 more than what I would have to pay for the old serviced equipment.

Electronic voltage regulator

Electronic voltage regulator that came with the alternator

I then directed my attention to the oil filtration. My engine had the original oil screen “filter” setup. Don advised me that it would be a good idea to replace it with a proper oil filter. There are several approved adapters available so I ordered one. It seemed a bit pricey, but when it arrived, I was pleasantly surprised. This was one beautifully made unit, machined from a solid aluminum billet, and worth every nickel.

Oil filter with the adapter

Oil filter adapter with a filter installed

I already mentioned in one of my previous posts that I was not too crazy about the interior styling and color scheme; however, I also did not like the lack of proper access to some of the components requiring regular inspection and service. I will address those issues in one of my next posts.

Firewall Forward

I don’t know about you, but I consider any aircraft that has a prop to be only a marginal glider. OK let’s exclude motor gliders, since they can fly quite nicely with their mill stopped. I often hear that aircraft engines are reliable, and can go almost forever with a proper maintenance regime in place. Ah, here is the catch phrase, “proper maintenance.” Since my Colt is an old boy, and even though the engine looks and sounds great, I need some more reassurance than the nice and steady growl. I simply need to know what is going on up front there. I briefly considered one of those fancy all-in-one engine monitors, but decided to do it with about half the money, and go with a set of discrete gages. I still wanted a high-tech setup, so I opted for Electronics International Inc. These guys are terrific. They respond to your every question in a timely manner, and there is always a live person on the other end of the wire.

As with all electronic installations, there is a lot of wiring to consider, but with the engine instruments, we must add another wrinkle – probes of all sorts. EGT probes, CHT, probes, OAT probes, fuel flow probes – getting the drift? Let’s have a look what is involved.

Exhaust Gas Temperature Probe

Installed EGT probe

To install the EGT probes, Don carefully drilled small holes to the exhaust piping, and installed the probes using supplied clamps. This was a relatively simple task, at least for Don.

Cylinder Head Temperature Probe

Installed CHT Probe

My engine did not have the cavities for the cylinder head temperature probes, so we had to install the type that goes under the spark plug. Here was a good example of how EI works with their customers. I ordered the instruments from Aircraft Spruce, but they arrived with the wrong CHT probe. One quick call to EI, and a couple of days later, I had the correct probes.

Fuel Flow Sensor

Fuel Flow Sensor Installed on the fuel line

Don tells me that the installation of the fuel flow sensor, while somewhat more involved, went smoothly. Frankly, I expected this one to be more of a challenge.

As with the above probes, all the rest of the installations went smoothly. Here is a note of caution. I ordered the V/A gage with the internal shunt. I thought I was smart, because I was going to save on installation time, and $35 for the external shunt.  Wrong. Can you imagine bringing two wires the size of your little finger to the gage? Maybe this could work in some installation, but definitely not behind my already tight panel. Once again, EI came to rescue. I now have an instrument with an external shunt which is nicely tucked away far up front on the firewall. Here is the new engine instruments cluster.

Engine Instrument Cluster

Section of the panel showing the engine instruments

In my next post I will discuss new accessories that replaced some of the old equipment.

Safety First

I am a conservative sort of a guy. I have three lovely grandchildren, and I want to enjoy them for many years to come. This statement alone has to be a good enough reason for my decision to upgrade the plane. In fact, one of my dreams is to see one, or all of my grand children, to take a shine to flying. With my Colt upgraded to a “like new” condition, they sure would have a nice plane to enjoy. However, dreams aside let us talk safety.

Aircraft safety today looks nothing like in the times when the designers came up with the design. In all fairness to the designers and builders, safety then meant something else than what we understand it to be today. In addition, they did not have the technology and the knowledge we have today; however, several people out there noticed these deficiencies, and came up with improvements, filed STCs, had them approved by FAA, and made them available to all of us, and at a reasonable cost. I will be referring to those I have incorporated into my upgrades in my future posts.

Here are the three major areas of improvements I am focusing on. Safety issues, aesthetics, comfort, airframe condition, flight performance, avionics upgrade and systems overhaul. I will start with the firewall forward modifications in my next post.