Monday, December 27, 2010

Skimming clouds

Had a nice flight yesterday where I logged nearly an hour in IMC.  I really need to get a better video system setup as I'd love to capture some good quality videos of some of my flights, ideally with an audio overlay from the GMA340.  So far I've always subscribed to the mantra that the best camera is the one you have with you, and that always seems to be my EVO phone.  It's not great but does the job. Here is a video of skimming the clouds. Unfortunately it was -2 deg celsius and when the moisture started running up the windshield I turned the camera off so I could operate ice controls if needed so it's woefully short. It would be great to get some sort of mount going.

It was a great flight and good fun to line up with all the 737's going into Burbank.  On the way back it cleared a bit but the last 30 mins or so were night in the clouds, which was fun.  My flightaware track shows an average of 186 kts, not bad!  Here's a shot of the sunset over Gorman.  You could see just a ton of snow in the Siera's too.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Engine decisions

Yesterday, I had a quick mission to load up with cheap gas and then go see the IA at one of the shops I've used at Livermore, MaintenanceXpress.  I tested out the heater again on the way over, and of course it worked just fine.  Also I haven't seen a recurrence of the fuel gauge problem, but Chris thinks it sounds like a fuel sender issue.  For now it's not a safety of flight thing but might be worth overhauling the fuel sender at annual which is coming up in Feb.  On another note, I spent a fair bit of time discussing firewall forward options with Chris.  The metal I found in my oil screen was small and most of the advice I've gotten is to just continue to fly and monitor it, which I have been doing.  Nevertheless, I'm prepping myself for a firewall forward job and looking at various options.  Continental just raised their prices 3%, which puts a factory remanufactured engine just shy of 30k, and of course I have two.  Damn these things are ridiculously overpriced!  Airplane engines are basically big lawn-mower engines for crissakes! 

I could probably save a significant chunk of change going with a shop overhaul, but the issue I have is that it's a bit unclear whether I have the more modern "VAR" crankshaft (Vacuum Arc Remelt), or the older style "Airmelt" crank.  If I have an airmelt crank, Continental won't penalize me for it and will take the engine on exchange for full credit.  A shop doing the overhaul would need to replace the crank and charge me for it.  Replacing the crank would probably eat away any money I would save by going to a shop vs. the factory.  Here is the note I got from TCM.

Hello Adam.
We were able to pull up and check your crankshaft serial numbers.  Engine s/n 215733 was manufactured with a VAR crankshaft.  However, engine s/n 215734 was manufactured with an airmelt (non-VAR) crankshaft. 
There was not a way to verify this with the engine serial numbers alone, so I don't understand the statement made by your local shop.  Factory-Rebuilt IO-520-E engines with serial numbers of 215782 and higher were originally manufactured with VAR crankshafts.  Engines with lower serial numbers must be inspected.  (Confirming the crankshaft serial number is one of the ways to inspect this.  The serial number is imprinted on the flange of some crankshafts.)       
In any case, if you're going to purchase TCM factory engines it doesn't matter.  We will not penalize you for returning engine cores with airmelt crankshafts.
In regard to the core exchange, we'll send the new engines and ask that you return the old engine cores within 90 days.
TCM will not accept your engine cores until the Factory-Rebuilt or New engines have been shipped from our facility.  In any event, having both engines together during the installation is very beneficial to the mechanic(s).  There are quite a few things that must be transferred to the new engine (baffles, probes, exhaust, brackets, fittings, STC items, etc.).  In most cases, when a core is returned before the factory engine is installed, parts are left on it that should've been kept.  And once a core has been processed at the factory, the parts are irretrievable.  I should also mention that all TCM factory engines are packed and shipped in a special crate.  This crate must be returned, or there is a charge of $200 each.

So I'm still not 100% if what he is telling me about the VAR/Airmelt crank is correct, but if it is I could do one factory overhaul and one shop overahaul, or I could just do two factory overhauls.  That plus prop overhauls, various R&R, shipping fees, hoses, baffles, mount etc. and I'm probably looking at north of 80k to do both firewall forward jobs with factory engines.   Maybe 10-15k less if I can get away with shop overhauls.  I just put three new cylinders on the right engine last year so that will also factor into my decision.  I can save some dough to keep those and just overhaul them rather than get new jugs.  Either way that's tough to swallow when we're probably 3-5 years away from viable diesel technology and the future of leaded aviation fuel is unknown.  Decisions, decisions.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Pilot's guide to California

Years ago I lifted a list of flying destinations in California from the AOPA forums and since then I've been continually adding my own notes and updates. There sure are a ton of great spots right in my backyard.

Alturas KAAT: Very friendly small-town FBO with a courtesy car. Town is about a 20-minute walk east, with a few dining options. Rental cars are also available for hiking in the Warner Mtns (gorgeous), and there's a Best Western if you wish to stay the night. Highly recommend a rental car as there's not much to do in town, but the hiking is great.

Crescent City KCEC: beautiful flight, especially if you fly over to the coast first and then follow it north. No restaurants on-field, but there are some in town. Hertz rental cars onsite. Check out hiking in Jedediah Smith State Park or drive down to Redwoods SP (awesome.) Definitely worth a couple of nights.

Arcata KACV: great college town. Samoa Beach is gorgeous. If your significant other is with you, go to the coffee shop on the southwest corner of town that also has private outdoor redwood hot tubs (really nice and clean, not skeezy like you might think.) Rental cars available at the airport, and there are plenty of hotels in town, and one at the airport. Go beachcombing on Samoa Beach, drive up to Trinidad beach, or hike the redwoods in Arcata Redwoods City Park.

Eureka KEKA: airport is about 4 miles from Eureka, which is a cute seaside town with plenty of shopping and eating options. I believe the airport restaurant is now closed, though. Not sure about rental cars.

F70 French Valley: Very cool little airport near Temecula and Murrieta.  There is a good FBO with reasonable fuel prices and an on-airport cafe with decent breakfast options.  As of 2024 Murrieta Hot Springs is not open which is supposed to be a nice resort but I haven't been yet.  

O19 Kneeland: There's nothing here but a strip, 2 parking spots, and a heli fire base. Take a picnic and enjoy the gorgeous views on a summer day.

Trinity Center O86: Right on the shores of gorgeous Trinity Lake. Restaurant within 1/4 mile of the field. There's hardly anything in 'town', but the views are great and it's a prime picnic location. No rental cars.

Redding KRDD: Lunch or dinner at Peter Chu's Skyroom is good, with a nice view of the runway. Rental cars available. This is the closest airport to Mt. Shasta that has rental cars (Dunsmuir and Weed do not.)

Redding Benton: The Airpark Cafe is now open again, and it's tasty. If you like dogs, it's the only airport I know of in CA with a dog park adjacent to the tiedowns.

Weaverville O54: Fly in for breakfast at Noelle's Garden Cafe. French toast is to die for. Town is about a 25--30 minute walk south of the airport, and it's got some interesting relics from the Gold Rush days. A few hotels are also available. Watch out for the one-way runway (land north, takeoff south, basically no matter what the wind's doing.) The slope is quite steep. My all-time worst landing occurred here.

Red Bluff KRBL: On-airport cafe is pretty good. Fuel is usually quite cheap. If you break down, DMK Aviation on-field is awesome...I get all my annuals and major maintenance done by Dave Hall. Red Bluff itself is a small, cute little town, but I don't believe rental cars are available -- and town is about 3 miles from the airport.

Garberville O16: Town is a 30-minute walk from the airport, which is located in a really pretty area. Don't fly really really low over the surrounding areas... most of America's pot is grown here, and the farmers don't like what they fear may be low-level DEA surveillance planes.

Quincy CA 2O1: Airport is in a gorgeous valley. Town is about a 5-minute walk away. Good pizza. No rental cars.

Nervino O02: A long long walk from town, so I bring a picnic and just hang out in the comfy pilot's lounge. Not much here, but the flight across the Sierras is pretty.

Truckee KTRK: Eat at the on-field restaurant or rent a car and dine in Truckee, or drive south a few miles to Lake Tahoe. Northstar Ski Resort offers a free airport shuttle.

Blue Canyon KBLU: Not much here, but it's a good place for a picnic. On hot summer days, watch the density altitude. Good way to scare students: Try to depart in a fully-loaded 152 at noon in August. If that doesn't teach them about density altitude, nothing will.

Chester, CA O05: Town is about a mile walk from the airport. Lots of restaurants. Pretty lake. The FBO sometimes has bicycles available for local use.

H47 Hyampom: Nothing here except an airstrip and a beautiful river. Take a picnic and sit by the river and laze away a summer afternoon.

F62 Hayfork: Town is about a 10-minute walk away, with some greasy spoon options.

D63 Dinsmore: The approach and departure will really get your attention. There's nothing here besides the road and the airstrip, but bring a picnic and sit by the river.

T42 Ruth: A pretty little valley. Take a picnic, lay down a blanket, and enjoy the California sunshine. Nothing much here but the strip itself.

Shelter Cove: The most gorgeous airport in CA, in my opinion. A number of restaurants, although their hours can vary. Plenty of hotel/ B&B options. I usually bring a picnic and walk 3/4 mile north of the north end of the strip, along Dolphin Way, to the lovely black sand beach. Definitely worth an overnight, though the lack of IFR approaches makes it tough to plan a trip in advance.

Little River KLLR: Mendocino is a gorgeous coastal town. Unfortunately the airport is 6 miles from town and the only way to get there is a pricey cab or Enterprise or Hertz. Still ,if you have a full day it is worth the trip, and it's most definitely worth it if you have a full weekend to spend. The airport now has a GPS approach so it should be easier to get into.

Willows KWLW: My all-time favorite airport greasy spoon (Nancy's) is open 24 hours. There's cheap avgas, plus a Wal-Mart across the street if you need to do your shopping! Not much in the town itself, though.

Chico Ranchaero O23: The fun college town of Chico is a 25-minute walk east of the airport. Ignore the "Prior Permission Required" NOTAM, it's something to do with the county/ tax problems. The airport is open and they'd love to have you. Cheap gas, too. Great pilot lounge. Make sure you're current on your short-field technique, especially on those 100 dF summer days.

Chico KCIC: Rental cars are available here, Foodie cafe is fantastic and a short walk from the parking area. Try the steak sando or the donut ice cream shake. (Update 2021 - I'm told Foodie Cafe moved into town, sad face).

Haigh O37: Not much here to speak of. Bring a picnic, as it's a loonnnggg walk to town.

Corning 0O4: Town is about a 30-minute walk from the airport. Plenty of burger joints.

Covelo O09: Truly in the middle of nowhere, but if you walk about 20 minutes east you'll find a few greasy spoons. A very pretty valley, although I understand it's practically the meth capital of California.

Oroville OVE: There's a golf course next to the airport if you happen to have your clubs. Stay away from the golf course restaurant (it's terrible.) But fuel is usually cheap. Don't bother with the town of Oroville; it's about the most depressing town I've ever seen in California.

Willits O28: A cute little pilot's shack and some nice views. Bring a picnic (town is 5 miles away, downhill...that's not a walk you really want to do.)

Ukiah KUKI: Ever wanted to eat a wild boar burger, or an elk burger, or a venison burger? Across the street from the tiedowns is the cafe that'll serve 'em all to you. Walk 20 minutes north into town and you'll find some decent restaurants and shops. The 2nd week in October, they do the Harvest Fest. Taylor and I have been to the Festival twice now.

Boonville D83: A very pretty airport. Town is a 10-minute walk away. Stock up on wine and Boonville beer. Don't taxi on what looks like the taxiway -- it's the county road. If you wish to stay overnight, there are some decent hotels.

Lampson (Clear Lake, 1O2): A really pretty lake. Airport had an on-field restaurant which is closed but slated to open again soon (as of 5/2015). A good maintenance shop on the field is Tom's aircraft.  They are real nice folks and have a courtesy car they might let you use.  There are a couple decent spots to eat in town.

Yuba Co. KMYV: Good on-field restaurant. Friendly FBO with a courtesy car. Downtown MYV is worth a brief stop.

Nevada County KGOO: You'll need a car to get into town (rental car), but if your sig. other is into antiquing, this is the place to go. Watch for Chuck Yeager in the pattern (I literally mean that. Last time I was there I missed him by 5 minutes.)

Georgetown E36: Final approach from the north can be a bit hair-raising, but bring a picnic and sit in the campground and enjoy the quiet. Overnight camping is popular here.

Colusa O08: A good cheap gas stop. Not a lot else here.

O52 Sutter County: Plenty of Mexican restaurants within a 20-minute walk. Or you could bring a picnic and sit by the river.

Auburn KAUN: Good food at the Wings Cafe. There's also food at the golf course restaurant a few minutes' walk away.

Ocean Ridge: A gorgeous airport, but definitely one of the toughest strips I've ever flown into. Trees at both ends, and the runway slopes sharply down and then sharply up again. Bring a picnic and enjoy the views. Don't take anything larger than a 182 in there, assuming you'd like to get it out again.

Angwin 2O3: A tricky strip to get into, but worth a visit. Bring a picnic and enjoy the views. Don't forget to do a full 360 turn on the ground before departure to the north, as that's the only way to visually clear the approach path. Lots of student training in the area.=

Watts-Woodland O41: There's a golf course restaurant at the north end of the field, Yolo Fliers Golf Club and the do welcome fly in guests.  Men need a collared shirt to dine inside.  Lunch 11:00 to 2:00 every day but Monday and breakfast and lunch Saturday and Sunday.  Thanks to Bruce Watts for the update!

Davis EDU: Good if you're flying into the U. of Davis. Aside from that, there's not much here but sometimes great deal on fuel.  

Sacramento KSAC: SAC Jet Center is very welcoming, and the Red Baron restaurant is decent with nice control tower style views out huge glass windows.  Rental cars available, of course. If you need avionics work, Airborne electronics is a family owned shop with a stellar reputation, but they don't seem to want any more work.  You'd have to beg them to take you as a client and then, maybe...  Executive Autopilots is also on the field and do top-notch work too but their prices are pure insanity in my opinion.

Mather KMHR: The FBOs are rather unfrlendly to piston GA -- check the fuel prices -- but if you have to be in east Sacramento, MCC is a good choice. NorCal TRACON is right off the western end of Rwy 21 (I think it's 21, something to that effect.)

McClellan KMCC: A sprawling former Air Force base. There's an air museum at the north end that I haven't yet been to, and they consistently have the cheapest gas in the area at the self serve pump on the west side.  Very friendly FBO too with no ramp fees. 

O61 Cameron Park: A cute little residential airpark with a hill right where final approach should be. Limited transient parking, but there are plenty of restaurants across the street.

O20 Kingdon: If there's anything here beyond cow pies and cow odor, I haven't yet found it.

L53 Lodi Airpark: Great place to practice your short-field landings (strip is 1800' long, and gets incredibly narrow at the west end.)  There is a cafe here now and the food is pretty good, with some nice healthy options as well.

Cloverdale O60: Bring a picnic, sit by the Russian River, and enjoy the view. Watch for skydivers, though.

Santa Rosa KSTS: Stop by the on-field aviation museum and get lunch at the on-field restaurant. Some nice shiny corporate FBOs with rental cars are available. Probably the best airport for access to the Wine Country of Healdsburg, assuming you need a rental car.

Yolo County KDWA: Ever wanted to sky-dive? Here's your chance. Not much else on-field, though.

Rio Linda L36: Good place for a quiet picnic. The waterski place appears to be closed, though.

Lincoln KLHM: Good pilot's lounge and great picnic area. Kracon Painting (on-field) is really top-notch.

Placerville KPVF: Call Lightning Taxi for a ride into the restored old Gold Rush town.

Westover County (O70) and Calaveras (KCPU): Not much goin' on, but they always have cheap avgas. From Westover Co. you can walk into town (10 minutes) for food. CPU is a long way from town, so I bring picnics.

Napa KAPC: Fly in for steak at Jonesy's Steakhouse. Great for a post-Bay-Tour meal.

Sonoma Valley 0Q3: Fly in and walk a mile south to the winery. Check out the old biplanes (and watch out for them, they operate NORDO) and see the immaculate flyable P-40 (if the hangar is open)

Sonoma Skypark: A nice sleepy little airport in the heart of wine country. Bit of a long walk to downtown Sonoma , may want to call a cab.

Novato KDVO: Well-known for consistently being the windiest airport in the Bay Area. Great for crosswind training. There's a Days Inn not far away.

Oakland KOAK: For every night's tiedown, you get a free graffiti letter spraypainted on your bird. (Just kidding...I operated out of OAK for years and always found it to be a welcoming GA field. Only trouble is those nitwits at the TSA and their badging program.)

Petaluma O69: Awesome burgers and fries at the Two-Niner Diner. Definitely in my Top 5 list of best small GA airports in the country.

San Francisco KSFO: Who feels like spending $100 on the landing fee and paying Signature's fuel prices? Not me.

Hayward KHWD: Besides California Airways, naturally the finest flight school in the world, we do have rental cars, two FBOs, an Indian restaurant, and a La Quinta hotel within 100 yards of the airport fence. Probably one of the best GA airports if you're going to San Francisco. (Don't forget the flowers in your hair.)

Columbia O22: Walk into the restored Gold Rush town, about 15 minutes from the tiedowns.

Half Moon Bay KHAF: Park at the south end of the strip and walk to a number of restaurants, or eat at the Three-Zero Cafe. Great coastal views and walking or biking or scooting distance to watch the big waves at Mavericks.

Concord KCCR: My home Drome.  Rental cars available, plus there's a Hotel with a restaurant right on-field.  You can also walk across the street to Habit Burger or Trader Joes.  Ping me if you're planning a visit.  

KVCB Nut Tree.  Vacaville used to be the home of Icon Aircraft but I'm told they moved to Mexico.  It's a great little airport that used to have a little train that ran around the perimeter that kids would ride on.  Sadly the train is gone and the airport is now fenced in, but you can still park on the south end and walk to Fentons Creamery which is in the nearby mall.  It's a great spot for touch and goes, just make sure you don't bust Travis Airspace which is adjacent. 

KLVK Livermore: An on-field golf course, plus a restaurant, and the Bay Area's best aerobatic training.  New FBO, rental cars and burgeoning local wine region.

KTCY Tracy: When Bay Area pilots want cheap gas, this is where they go. Not a lot else at the airport, although the picnic tables are nice.

KPAO Palo Alto: I've only landed here about 500 times (counting student pattern work), but sadly have never gotten out of the airplane. Good place to go in order to watch Silicon Valley types try to fit their PC-12s, TBM-700s, and CJ1s into a 2600' strip. Y'all watch that Vref speed, hear?

San Jose KSJC: Unless you're picking up or dropping off an airline passenger, or have your own appointment with our friends at the TSA, I can't see any reason to fly in here. Unless you like paying a $50 ramp fee to the SJ Jet Center for the privilege of parking your piston single on their ramp for 10 minutes (really.)

San Carlos KSQL: Eat lunch at the on-field greasy spoon and check out the Hiller Air Museum. Definitely worth a stop.

Reid-Hillview KRHV: The Pilot Shoppe is definitely worth a stop. There's a mall across the street. Not that I'm into malls.

Byron C83: Cheap gas, strong crosswinds (great for training), and parachute activity makes this a busy place on weekends. Not a lot else around, though.

Stockton KSCK: There's a restaurant here, but it's closed on weekends. Top Gun Aviation is a favorite among local Mooney owners needing maintenance.

Castle KMER: Walk to the air museum, which has an SR-71, B-36, FB-111, F-4, B-17, B-50, F-80, F-84, F-100, F-101, F-105...get the idea?

Pine Mtn Lake E45: Ever since the Corsair Cafe closed, I haven't been back to PML. It is a pretty strip, though. There's no 'town' per se, so bring a picnic if you require food.

Oakdale O27: Not a lot here besides a gas pump and a small FBO.

Mariposa KMPI: There's a greasy spoon about a 1/4 mile from the airport. Cheap gas, too. The FBO is new as of Oct 2010 and is really trying hard. Rental cars available.

Modesto KMOD: Often has cheap gas. Sky Trek Aviation is popular amongst the Beech set (piston and turbine) for maintenance.

O15 Turlock: Avoid this airport like the plague. Ramp pavement is full of huge rocks, and the airport 'manager' refuses to sell fuel to non-based pilots.

Merced KMCE: One of the least inspiring airport diner meals I've ever had, but hey, it's an airport. What's not to like?

3O1 Gustine: Even cheaper gas than Tracy, usually. Aside from that, it's a ghost town.

E16 South County: Has a small air museum that's worth a visit.

Hollister KCVH: There's an on-airport cafe that's a bit of a biker spot, and usually some entertaining people watching with some decent fish tacos.

South Lake Tahoe KTVL: Good restaurant with great runway views right in the terminal, with a very friendly FBO to greet you. Currently the only way into town is via rental car, cab, or a very very long bike ride, as there are no courtesy cars available. But if you're in the mood for some gambling, KTVL and KRNO are really your best bets around this area. Watch the density altitude, and don't even think about trying to depart to the south in a heavily-loaded piston aircraft.

Watsonville KWVI: Lovely views as you descend towards the Pacific.  There's a new restaurant on the field called Ella's and it's quite good. I had the tri-tip sandwich and the pizza and pasta also looked really good.

Salinas KSNS: A pretty decent restaurant is on-field.

King City KKIC: Sean Tucker's school is here, so if you're up for some lessons, this is where you want to be. Town is about a mile away, with some decent Mexican food.

Marina KOAR: There's supposedly a restaurant within a mile's walk, but we couldn't find it. Lots of parachute activity on weekends. Aside from that, it's like stepping back into the Twilight's completely dead.

Monterey KMRY: Rent a car and check out the Monterey Bay Aquarium, then drive to Carmel and see how the hoity-toity live...

Los Banos KLSN: Ryan's Place (across the street) has huge portions of tasty diner food. There's also a movie theater. Why not fly in for dinner and a movie?

Fresno Chandler KFCH, Woodlake O42, Visalia KVIS, Porterville KPTV, and Delano KDLO all have good on-field restaurants. From KFCH you can walk into downtown Fresno if the urge strikes you (though I can't imagine why it would.)  Tailspin Tommy's is the newest little cafe right at the south end of the field and they make a decent omelette (559-268-2880).

Tulare KTLR: Mexican food right across the highway.

Madera KMAE: Not much here, but the pilot's lounge is stocked with magazines and there's a nice patch of grass outside that's perfect for a picnic.

Firebaugh F34: Why fly to Baja? Firebaugh itself feels like you're on the other side of the border. Darn cheap tacos, I must say.

E79 Sierra Sky Park: A pleasant little residential airpark. Bring a picnic -- it's miles from anywhere.

Harris Ranch 3O8: Legendary burgers and steaks. Although between you and me, I think it's over-rated.

Paso Robles KPRB: The new FBO (same guys who run the SBP Jet Center) is trying hard. While there's no restaurant on-field anymore, they do have a courtesy car. Wine tasting is just a few minutes' drive away. Also check out the Estrella Warbird museum on-field.

Hanford KHJO: Town is a solid 40-minute walk away. There are some OK food options in town, though.

San Luis Obispo KSBP: One of my all-time favorites. Eat at the on-field restaurant or rent a car and explore the college town of San Luis, plus Morro Bay. Hearst Castle is 40 miles north. Or drive 10 south to Avila Beach, or 15 south to Oceano's Dunes and rent a dune buggy/ ATV. The San Luis Jet Center has the, er, most easy-on-the-eyes front desk staff you'll find anywhere.

Woodlake O42: The Runway Cafe serves tasty grub.

Oceano L52: Fly in, eat, then make yourself sick in a dune buggy. Or just hang out on the beach (one block from the airport.)

Porterville KPTV: Good food at the on-airport cafe.

Delano KDLO: The restaurant now appears closed. Aside from fuel pumps, there's not much here.

L05 Kern Valley: Good on-airport restaurant. Interesting approach into the airport.

L17 Taft: Read the charted arrival and departure procedures carefully. I saw a guy in a Bonanza ignore those procedures. He wound up in a tree. Town is about a mile away, and there's a 50s diner that probably hasn't changed since, well, 1950. Neither has the town, come to think of it.

Santa Maria KSMX has a small aviation museum and a good on-field Mexican restaurant (Pepper Garcia's).

Santa Ynez KIZA is one of the prettiest GA airports I've seen. Town is a 10-minute walk away. There's even a casino in walking distance.

Lompoc KLPC: Town is about a 15-minute walk away, with plenty of food options.

Santa Barbara KSBA: One of the more expensive places to land a piston single, that's for sure. But the town itself is delightful. (You'll need a cab or a rental car to get there.) Or you can walk to the S end of the airport, by the beach, and there are dining options there.

Oxnard KOXR: Good FBOs. Rental cars available. Only a few minutes' drive from some lovely SoCal beaches. The town of Ventura is also worth a visit.

Van Nuys KVNY: More FBOs than I can count, plus a delightful aviation-themed hotel on the east end of the field. And it's just cool to hear the controller say "Cleared to land One Six Right" after you've seen the movie.

Burbank KBUR: It ain't cheap, but if you have business in the Valley or downtown LA, this is a great option.

Fullerton KFUL: The FBO here is wonderful. By far the most convenient airport to much of east LA/ Orange County, and it's vastly cheaper than John Wayne (SNA.)

Santa Monica SMO: Multiple (tasty) on-field restaurants. Don't bring your un-hushkitted G-II, as the residents get twitchy about those noisy small airplanes.

Long Beach KLGB: AirFlite is fantastic, and downtown Long Beach is worth a visit (the Queen Mary, the Soviet sub, et cetera.)

Palm Springs PSP: Try to ignore the fuel prices and ramp fees, and check out the air museum on the east side of the airport. A must-see.

Palm Springs TRM: Thermal self serve is the place to go for cheap gas in the Cochella valley, big airport and nice folks here.

Palm Springs UDD: Bermuda Dunes is my preferred spot to land when visiting Palm Springs.  Much cheaper than PSP and closer to everything than TRM.  Super nice folks run the airport although I hear it's for sale and it would be bummer if it got converted to freeway retail.  So pay a visit!

Cararillo CMA:  The best on airport restaurant in California at the Waypoint cafe.  Also the Commemorative Airforce has some cool planes here... but definitely hit the tri-tip Wednesday at the cafe.

Victorville KVCV: The most accessible 'boneyard' I've seen. Plenty of mothballed, timed-out heavy jets awaiting cleanup and return-to-service in, oh, Paraguay. (I kid you not...last time I was there, one of the locals showed me a 747-100 that had apparently exceeded some sort of outrageously high hour limit on something structural, and was sitting at VCV waiting for the guys from Inner Mongolistan Airlines to show up and fly it home.) No food on field, but you can usually talk the FBO into lending you a car for a run to the golf course restaurant.

Lancaster KWJF: It was snowing when I last landed here. We didn't stay long.

L35 Big Bear: A great weekend destination. Rental cars and restaurants on-airport. Just watch your density altitude. Four people in a Cherokee 140 on a hot summer day...(or on a cold winter's day, come to think of it)...well, all I can suggest is, make sure your insurance is paid up.

KSNA Orange County: Plenty of big-jet FBOs with big-jet amenities. And big-jet prices.

KSEE Gillespie: Currently my favorite San Diego airport. Better weather, fewer delays, and friendlier tower controllers than MYF. The flying club at the S end of the field (the guys with the Mooney parked out by the roadside) are really great.

San Diego Montgomery KMYF: The FBO is efficient, but the controllers always seem confused and grumpy, and God help you if it's IMC on a Sunday evening and you're trying to leave. Having said that, it's the most convenient airport to San Diego (I can't stomach the prices at KSAN.)

San Diego Brown KSDM: Not the most clued-in Customs officials in the world, but the line staff are friendly. When you roll out on final ,though, make sure you're lined up for a runway at Brown and not for a runway in Tijuana. (I've heard it's happened before.)

Calexico:  Rosa's Plane Food.  Great little authentic Mexican restaurant right on the airfield.  It's a bit greasy spoon, a bit authentic Mexico just north of the border.  This is the best and fastest spot to clear customs on your way back from Mexico, and while you're there grab some lunch at Rosa's, you might need to brush up on your Spanish to order!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Janitrol gone cold

I flew over four hours tonight and had to go a bit high to avoid turbulence since there was a strong southerly wind flow and the expected resulting turbulence below 10,000 ft.  The only problem was, it was about 15 degrees F up there and my heater was NOT cutting it.  It used to always kick out plenty of hot toasty air but last night I could barely tell if it was working.  I clicked it off and it did seem to get a bit colder, but there is definitely something wrong with it that needs to be looked at or I'm going to have more frozen fingers during this unusually cold winter! The other item on my squawk list is that the left fuel gauge seems to have become unreliable.  A few times it dropped off to zero during the flight and then popped back up to full.  Looks like I have a trip to the maintenance shop coming up.

With all that wind, I was sure glad to have excess power available.  As I headed back north against the wind I had 55-60 kts on the nose, with moderate turbulence which was no fun at all.  At one point I had WOT and 2500 rpm, nose high and 130 kts indicated and only a 300 fpm climb. In a lesser plane I would have been sinking at 1000 fpm.  Once I finally got leveled out over 10,000 the turbulence died down but here I am doing only 117 kts over the ground!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Oil change #3 - Analysis

Today I received the results of the Blackstone analysis from my third oil change.  I love how they say I'm "borderline inactive".  True I only averaged 5 hours per month as life's been pretty hectic lately... Now I have something to show my wife, "See! I'm not flying enough!!" :)

Left Engine:

ADAM: Thanks for the note on the ferrous metal in the screen. That's always cautionary, and it's something to monitor. Wear metals were a little on the high side for only 20 hours on the oil, but iron was the only metal that really increased. Universal averages show typical wear levels after about 40 hours on the oil. This engine averaged about 5 hours per month, which is borderline inactive in our book, so that might explain these metals. Silicon was on the high side again, but if the air filtration system is okay, it's likely just a harmless sealant. Check back in another 20 hours.

Right Engine:

ADAM: This right hand IO-520-E looks a lot like its twin, which is what we'd expect for two engines in the same aircraft operated by the same person. You found ferrous metal in this screen as well, so we have to treat this as a cautionary report, though the fact that both engine look so much alike is a good sign. Wear actually looks a little better this time, so hopefully we'll see even more improvements in the next sample. No fuel or moisture was found and silicon is heading in the right direction. Stay vigilant and check back in another 20 hours.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Bad Elf

I've been using the IPad + Foreflight as my EFB and have found it has really come in handy for IFR.  I bought my IPad the day it came out, and was bummed out when I found that a month later they came out with the 3G version that included a built in GPS.  I debated upgrading to the 3G to get the GPS, but I really didn't need 3G capability since my Sprint phone works as a WiFi hotspot and seemed hard to justify buying a whole other IPad just to add the GPS.  Needless to say, I was excited when I read about two newly approved GPS devices for the IPad on the Foreflight blog:

I bought the Bad Elf unit from Amazon ($99) and had a chance to test it out in flight. It worked well but I was disappointed to see it never showed more than 10M accuracy.  It's supposed to be a WAAS GPS so I was hoping for 5 meters, but whatever... it's very accurate when comparing to the Garmin.  The Bad Elf locked on quickly and works well, I flew for 4.5 hours with the IPad on at full brightness and I have 34% battery left, so it doesn't drain much more battery either. The Bad Elf snaps into IPad pin connector, so I rotated the pad so it stuck out the top and then it didn't really get in the way, but you want to be careful not to bang it or I suppose you could bust the pins. Here is a quick video I shot with my phone. My conclusion is that if you have a WIFI only IPad this is a good solution for adding GPS to Foreflight. If you have the 3G I don't think you're going to get much more out of it if your GPS is already reliable, although future versions of Foreflight might make a difference.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Chipped lifter

Here is a shot of the chipped lifter which we removed from my left engine.  It shows the corrosion on the lifter too, which is the slight pitting that you see on the face of the metal.

It's interesting since it is likely indicative of the what the rest of the lifters look like.  They really should be perfectly smooth.  If indeed the small amount of metal I found in the screen came from the Cam, it's likely that these rough spots caused by corrosive pitting are wearing away or "eating" at the Cam lobes.  If all this sounds like Greek, which it did to me before I owned an airplane, maybe this image will help.

The Cam is the pipe on the top which has these oblong lobes on it.  As the engine turns the Cam spins with it and is timed so that the lobes move these lifters or "tappets" which are connected to rods which open and close the fuel intake and exhaust valves in time with the engine.  Apparently the level of pitting on my lifters isn't all that bad for a 1400 hr engine since Continental doesn't recommend replacing them unless more than 10% of the face has pitting.  Hard to tell but the worst area in the bottom right region looks like 10% or less to me and this was one of the worst lifters in the engine.  The rest were the same or better.  We replaced it due to the chip in it and I left the rest alone.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Oil change #3

I now have about 75 hours on the plane and Sunday I did the 3rd "owner assisted" oil change.  I ran into my friend Oleg at the airport, who is also in the NRI flying club, and took him for a quick flight to "warm up the oil".  We shot an approach and I showed him how the plane pretty much flies itself right down to the numbers.  

After that I started taking the cowl oil drain access panel off.  I've got most of the oil change stuff down for the most part, except I'm not comfortable doing the safety wiring just yet.  My friend and A&P Paul came out to help, and I wanted to do a really thorough cleaning of the screens to check for metal.  I picked up some Mineral Spirits from Home Depot and we pulled out the oil screens and I soaked and brushed them thoroughly.  Unfortunately we found small amounts of ferrous metal in both engines.  The left engine had maybe half of a pencil eraser worth of dark mud like bits, and maybe one or two small flakes a millimeter or so long.  The right engine had about twice that amount with more flakes.  We took this photo of the gunk from the right engine with a macro lens, which makes it look huge but by reference that's the tip of a ballpoint pen on the left.

If you balled it up it would be about the size of the tip of the ball point pen.  Paul isn't too worried and thinks I should just keep flying it, but we will continue to change the oil every 20 hours or so and keep an eye on it.  I'm also again sending the samples off to Blackstone so we'll see what they say.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Back in business

The rat fiasco put a big dent in this months flying.  I had planned to fly about 10 hours this month but now we're more than half way through and I've only flown about an hour.  The weather is finally getting interesting, we're spoiled in California with great weather all summer long except for summer advection fog.  Nearly all my IMC time lately has been bits of 2-5 minutes at a time ascending and descending through the marine layer.  The plane climbs at 2000 fpm, so it's hard to even log a lot those transitions.  Today we had some rain and I finally got out for a few hours this morning to test out the plane and make sure everything is still working hunky dory.  No squawks, plane flew perfectly.  Here is a quick video:

The plane is running great and flying down low like this it's a lot of fun hauling along pretty much in the yellow arc even with the throttle pulled back.  Did I mention that these Colemill Baron's haul ass? :)  Here is 22 inches at 2400 rpm at 4500 ft:

Saturday, October 16, 2010

LED beacon, another rat bites the dust

The other night I took my friend Dennis from OAK to Nut Tree to pick up his Cessna 180.  As I departed Nut Tree he snapped this little video from his phone.

Damn that's bright!  I've noticed it flashing before on night flights, but never really realized just how bright these LED lights really are.

I've been on a business trip this week and so it's been five days since I've been to the hangar to check the last rat trap I left.  Fortunately there were no rats in the trap left in the plane so the barrier is working.  I did find a dead one underneath the plane though.  It ate the poison pack I left and then went directly underneath the plane and died.  Lovely fun getting rid of that, but at least now I know the plane is clean and they can't get in again.   Last week I also sprayed spider killer all over the hangar and today I found about 8 dead black widows.  Better off dead, for sure!  It would be great to have a nice clean hangar though with a sparkling clean floor... I'm keeping my eyes open.  Also my friend Rick offered to help me spray it down with a pressure washer and then treat the floor with cement finish... that might do the trick too.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Get that rat

Got one of em!

I came to the hangar this morning and found one in the trap I set and had left in the plane. Then pi came by and we pulled all the panels in the plane. It looks like the rat(s) went up through the left gear well and on up through the spar carry through and on inside. No damage we could find other than some chewed up insulation. Glad I caught this quick. Here are my new preventative measures...

Saturday, October 9, 2010

There's a rat in the kitchen now what you gonna do

Today I went to the hangar to load up the family for a nice 3 day weekend down to San Diego, the kids were fired up for Legoland! When Dina opened up the baggage door to put in some bags she saw little rat droppings all over the inside on my plane. Doh! The plane was closed up, the door was closed and also the storm window. The droppings were in the baggage area, the middle row and also in the front. Even a few on the seats. My last flight was a night flight, so it could have been there then and I mightn't have noticed. Checking for rat dropping is not normally part of my preflight! Anyway I decided to err on the side of caution and scrubbed the trip. The kids were so disappointed! I just don't like the idea of a rat's nest in my plane, and who knows if they have chewed on some wiring or done other damage...

I pulled the inspection panel in the tail cone and the tail looked clean from what I could see. I pulled the rug from the baggage compartment and opened that inspection panel too... no nests or rats that I could see. I pulled the rug from the middle row and pulled the inspection panel under the emergency gear extension handle, nothing. I pulled out the co-pilot seat and couldn't see anything up in the rudder pedal area either. I called my super IA Pi and he is coming tomorrow morning and going to help me do a more thorough inspection and make sure they're not hidden away somewhere wreaking havoc.  

I also put a rat trap in the plane, put rat poison around the hangar, and bought two of those electric sonic rat-be-gone devices.  I then found out from researching online that setting out poison is the wrong thing to do.. they eat the poison and then die in the plane.  So I'll pull that up tomorrow and ditch it.  I'm also looking into a new hangar, after two black widows and now the rats...  I'm also going to try the $10 CSOBeech suggestion here: Considering I just spend $40 on the rat traps, poison and sonic devices, I'll do my research first next time.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

fuel gauge

Today I was out flying the plane and I looked down and my left fuel gauge showed empty.  Gulp, I know I had at about 40 gallons in there... looked out at the wing, fuel cap is secured... hmmm.  Then it bounced back up to half.  A few minutes later it showed empty again.  Fifteen minutes later it seemed to go back to reading correctly and stayed there.  Strange, must be a problem with the fuel sender.  It made me think about getting a good engine analyzer though with a fuel flow computer.  I've pretty much ruled out the JPI 760.  It's just too old school for my high tech plane.  Looks like 80's technology, and to make matter worse the only sensible slot in my panel would put it way over on the copilot side. A 760 in the stack makes no sense. Another option would be to put in the JPI 851, which is basically two JPI 730's side by side.

Looks good to me, I could pull out my Collins radio and my ancient Hoskins fuel totalizer, and maybe even get rid of my #2 transponer.  I could then put these side by side in the radio stack...  but don't I want RPM and MAP on there too? For that you need the 851 and they retail at $8700. Now I'm back into AuRACLE 2120 territory, a couple more AMU's and get a device certified for primary. hmmmm... I'd just wish they'd hurry up and release that thing so I can get some pireps...

Tuesday, September 21, 2010


Today I went to the hangar to wash the plane.  It's kind of dirty since I've only washed it once since I bought it.  I fired up the engines to taxi to the wash rack, and then thought well I've fired them up, might as well take a flight.  So I headed over to TCY and shot an approach, then was messing around over by Byron and heard a familiar voice on the radio that said "9AW final for runway 5, Byron"... hmmm, that sounds like my friend Pi.  "9AW say type"... "9AW is a yellow Maule"..."Izzat you Paul?"... "Yep, whachu doing?"... "Nothing, want to take a spin in the Baron?"... "Sure come on over".  So we took a spin and Paul was video equipped and shot this little video, and gave me a good tease about my gas guzzler...

Long story short, I didn't get much of a wash in... basically just a bug wipe.  Oh well...

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Hangar mate

Oh my, today I found an unwanted squatter had moved into my hangar... here she is:

That's a huge freaking black widow.  It's not a good photo because I didn't want to get too close, but it was gnarly.  I ended up kicking the wall as hard as I could with my foot to squash it and almost brought the hangar down I kicked so hard.  Then I thought for a sec I had missed it and perhaps it got onto my leg and so I danced around like a total spaz kicking my legs furiously.  It turns out I actually got the sucker, left a huge squish mark on the hangar wall.  I'm making damn sure I shut the storm window and doors on the airplane from now on.  If this sucker showed up in the cockpit after airborn that would be ugly...

I've also been thinking about some minor panel upgrades.  I really want an engine analyzer, the engines are running great and strong now, but I figure if I'm going to take them over TBO I need to know what's happening in there.  I'm currently debating an AuRACLE 2120 but it's expensive so I might just go for a JPI 760 and take the old style instrument.  The AuRACLE would be awesome but it has a few things going against it... firstly, it's a 60-70 hour install that requires some major panel work.  It would be great to have all digital though.  The JPI is an easier install and I could drop it into the slot where my current EGT gauge is... I've got a quote for 30 hours to install.  Total cost for the JPI would be 7-8k or so and total cost for the AuRACLE would be near 20.  Hmmm... while I'm at it I would pull out the old Hoskins fuel computer since it would be redundant and my left digits seem to have gone out anyway.  I'll probably pull out my ancient Collins radio and replace with an SL-30.  Here is my current stack:

I'll probably keep the radar, it seems to work okay though I haven't needed it and don't see myself really needing it. Out here on the west coast T-Storms are uncommon and when the do popup over the mountains they tend to be either very visible in summer, or else part of nasty, gusty winter storms. The nexrad on the g600 is probably good for most of my flying, but I could see how the radar could come in handy on a trip east and/or could be a desirable item should I ever want to sell the place, to step up of course :)

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Bose X vs Zulu

I now have 4 nice headsets. 2 Zulu's, 1 Bose X and the QT Halo. By "nice" I mean a good quality headset with ANR or equivalent.  I have also have a David Clark H20-10 which is nice, but not ANR and it's basically on 5th headset duty.  Behind that I have a few cheapo sets including the crappy kids ones I bought and also my first ever headset, an old Flightcom.  My wife hates the David Clark and the kids love the Zulu's, so for family trips I needed one more good headset.  I bought a Bose X from a guy who upgraded to the new Bose A20 and paid $425 for it, shipped.  This weekend I had a chance to do a direct comparison on the Zulu to the Bose, and I must say for my head the Zulu wins hands down.  The primary reason is that the ear cups are smaller on the Bose, and so the Bose squeezes a little bit of my big ears.  My whole ear fits in the Zulu cup.  If you have small ears, it's a bit more of a wash I'd say... they have about equal noise cancellation.  So in order of preference I'd say Zulu, QT Halo, Bose X.  Value for money goes to the Halo.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

California adventures

This afternoon I basically flew all over California with my friend Alejandro.  Here is a little video he made, what a beautiful state California is!

B55 California Adventures from Alejandro Galioto on Vimeo.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Boogie time

It took me 30 minutes of flying & fiddling before I finally figured out why the XM radio wasn't working. The squelch was set too low on the copilot side. If it's too low, the XM cuts out even if there is no one in the seat and no headset plugged in. Duh.

I did get to play around with my new flight bag gizmo, it's called a boogie board and it's basically a toy I bought for my kids but then figured out I can use it in the plane. Here it is:

It's basically a digital writing board.  Here you can see I used it to write down my IFR clearance.  Press that top button and it erases itself.  Way cool!  No more post it notes scattered around the cockpit.  Any pressure on the screen will write on it.  Here I'm using a ball point pen with the point retracted, it's very readable in sunlight, though I haven't tried it at night yet.

Not bad for $40 from Amazon!

Saturday, August 14, 2010

XM weirdness

I suddenly have a weird problem with my XM radio.  I thought it was no longer working, so I refreshed the radio signal, then I went out to mess around with it and it still wasn't working.  Although the Wx displays fine and the AUX page on my G600 says signal strength is excellent, I can't hear the music audio. Then I turned up the volume by adjusting it on the G600 to max volume, and I could hear it but at max volume it was still very low. Even weirder, it would play even during transmissions. It used to be that whenever I or ATC spoke it would cut out. It also used to be loud. Either I have some fault going on or am I a total dolt and missing some obvious setting... I'm going to try to figure it out tomorrow on my flight down to LA and back.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Back from the shop

It turns out the MP split problem was a loose clamp on the induction hose.  Chris had changed out all the clamps but one, and as it happens that one had a small leak which caused the problem I noticed.  It took about an hour to change out the clamp because it was way up there and he had to reach up through the cowl flap to get it out.  Chris didn't charge me for the labor though so that was cool, and the engines are now running great again... smooth as butter.  Now I just need to get out more and fly her!  Even a quick flight over to Livermore for the maintenance is just such a treat, did I mention I love this plane?  She is so smooth and powerful it's ridiculous.  It was just me on board, but I blasted off out of LVK showing over 2000 fpm.  Wow!

Friday, July 30, 2010

Back to the shop

I've been super slammed trying to close on a new house as well as at work and had a wild business trip to Vegas.  Now that's all sorted it's time to get the plane fixed. I emailed Chris at maintenance express and he thinks there is an induction leak or blockage somewhere, a loose clamp(s) on the rubber induction tube connection boots, a loose MP hose where it attaches to the rear, curved induction tube or induction tube not bolted to its cylinder flange tightly or else some congealed oil got into the intake manifold. The last option is the one I think most likely... as it heats up it goes liquid and the engine runs just fine.  Cold and it's blocked air through the induction tube causing lower manifold pressure.  I'm going to fly it over there on Monday and get it fixed.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Manifold pressure split

Tonight I took a short flight to test out the manifold pressure split I was seeing after maintenance, and sure enough it is still there after first startup.  Here is a shot.

After a short 20 minute flight I landed and ran it up again, and it was normal again.  Hmmm, confounding!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Got her back

Today I finally picked up the plane from Maintenance Express.  Jerry flew me over in his A55 which was a big help (Thanks again Jerry!).  His plane is even faster and more powerful than mine as it has the Colemill President II conversion which uses IO550 engines instead of the 520's that mine has.

The maintenance work looks good, the main gear forks now correctly sit "over center", meaning the up lock tension is correct.  I compared visually to Jerry's very well maintained plane and they look the same now.  Also the new flight custom III tires look great.  When I hopped in the plane I was a bit puzzled because my headset mic wouldn't work on my Zulu and I couldn't contact ground control at LVK.  I have no idea what's up with that, but luckily I brought my QT Halo along and after monkeying with the audio panel for a bit, I tried the Halo and it worked fine.  I think the Zulu mic may have gone Tango Uniform... I tested my other Zulu when I got back to my hangar and it works fine... unless there is a mic mute control on the headset somewhere that I don't know about, I'll suppose I'll be sending it in to Lightspeed for repair... grrr.

When I did the run up the plane felt a bit different, it seemed to run a bit rougher than normal and at 1700 RPM there was a wide split in manifold pressure with the left engine having about 3 or 4 inches less pressure.  Also the left prop seemed to feather slower than the right one in my feather test.  I was a bit concerned at first, and I would have gone back to the shop to have them look at it, but they were closed and Chris had departed to Oshkosh in an F33A a few hours earlier.  My ride Jerry had also just departed.  I spent some time trouble shooting it and ran the engines up to full power on the ground.  At full power both engines seemed normal, and the manifold pressure, oil temp and pressure and fuel flows all looked normal.  I decided to depart and had an uneventful flight home.

Back at CCR I did another runup before shutting down and the MP split was back to normal and I didn't notice any of the roughness.  Strange!  I did notice that the left engine was low on oil on the preflight, they must have lost some during the lifter inspection and not replaced it.  I'll mention that to Chris as I feel he should have left me with full oil for the flight back.  Since the shop was closed when I picked up the plane, it would have been very inconvenient for me to hunt down oil at that point, and Chris knew I was picking up the plane after hours.  In any event, I'm wondering if the low oil caused the left prop to feather a bit differently.  I'm stabbing in the dark a bit as at this point I have no idea.  I've got oil in my hangar and will top off the engine and we'll see if it happens again next flight.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Tomorrow tomorrow

The plane is still not done!  Apparently one of the bolts on the nose gear assembly is stuck.  It can't be unscrewed and Chris doesn't know why.  He thinks it might be bent or else some rust is causing it to stick.  I told him to order a new bolt as I don't want a bent or rusted bolt up there and he is going to take the whole nose assembly off and knock the bolt free.   The new bolt costs $43 plus whatever overnight shipping costs.  Unbelievable, these planes are truly worth way, way less than the sum of their parts.  Chris is heading to Oshkosh on Wednesday, so I'm praying he get's this last item resolved tomorrow.  I'm also a wee bit nervous about the first flight after this maintenance, the landing gear especially.  I'll want them to swing the gear at least a dozen times or so on the jacks to make sure it's all good.  In the end though I'll feel much better about my gear forks now properly aligning over center, and also having all new bushings and brand new Goodyear flight custom III tires.  I'll also be stoked if the next oil change produces no more metal as I'll then know for sure it came from the chipped lifter.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Stuck in Mx

Well a 2 day exercise to do a cam & lifter inspection and replace my tires has spun out into two weeks.  Welcome to aviation...  to be fair I dropped the plane off last Tuesday night and they didn't start working on it until Wednesday.  First the lifter took 3 days to arrive via UPS and then today I got the message that the uplock tension wire arrived too late to install today, so they're not going to finish until Monday.  Grrrr.  Two weekends without my plane!  Frustrating.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Replaced a lifter

I've been going back and forth with Chris at Maintenance Express about the lifter issue.  Chris called TCM and they said that if the lifter has less than 10% of the face spalled, leave it be, otherwise replace it.  Chris described mine as being way less than 10%... in fact he said he wouldn't even call it "spalling".  It's basically about 10-20 pin sized holes or "pits", with the exception of the one that is chipped.  We decided to replace the chipped lifter only.  Hopefully that's where the metal came from and my next change will be clean, but given that there is the beginning of some pitting on the cam lobes, it looks like I'm not too far off from a major overhaul.

My plan is to baby the engine along and hope for the best.  I knew when I bought the plane that it had sat for a few years getting very little use, hence the very low time airframe and my incredibly "good deal".  Flying 6 hours in two years was okay for the airframe since it is corrosion proofed and was resting in a hangar, but was not so great for the engine.  This type of spalling is caused by metal corrosion due to moisture in the engine.  The best thing for an engine is to run regularly... at least once a week or so according to all the engine gurus I have spoken with about this issue.  If it's going to sit for a month or so it really should be filled with special "pickling" oil to stave off the corrosion.  Also when I eventually get the motor overhauled, I'm going to consider some kind of dehumidifier for the hangar... what the heck, electric is included!  There is a reason why all the airlines park their out of service airplanes down in Phoenix and not in Florida.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Cam & Lifter Inspection

On Tuesday night I took the plane over to Livermore to see Chris at Maintenance Express for the Cam & Lifter inspection on the left engine and also for 3 new tires and some minor landing gear squawks I got from the ABS service clinic.  Today Chris called me and let me know that he had the engine opened up and found very slight spalling on the lifters and also on the Cam lobes.  He also found one of the lifters had a slight chip in it, which is most likely the metal I found in the oil.  I was going to replace the lifters if I found this, but apparently Continental doesn't recommend replacement of the lifters as you're not supposed to mix new and used parts in the engine that way, since apparently the parts wear together.  If I had known that at first I wouldn't have even done this inspection!  So basically I just need to keep watching the oil to see if it starts to get worse and fly it until overhaul time.  Chris also found a problem with one of the valve guides on the #4 cylinder which is leading to oil blow-by.  That explains my oil consumption issue on this engine as well.  Rather than replace this cylinder, considering the CAM/Lifter issue, I'm just going to keep flying the sucker until overhaul time, hopefully in a at least a year or so.

Tires are going on next, and then I get to pay the bill!  Chris and the shop at Maintenance Express have been great to work with.  One thing I really like about them is they are responsive on email, which is key for me since I'm always at my desk but quite busy and the phone can be difficult to grab me on.  I'm hoping to have the plane back Friday.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

QT Thumbs Up

It was severe clear yesterday and little wind, perfect flying weather for a weekend jaunt with zero turbulence even over the hills.  We headed down to LA for the weekend, and I filed IFR and of course they route you out of the way of all the bay area inbound traffic.  I didn't mind because it was so smooth and beautiful at sunset, and I wanted time to test out the QT Halo.  Overall it works surprisingly well.  I tried both the little rubber insert and the foam one.  The foam one seems to block more noise.  The only issue I had was that after about an hour I felt like my ear canal needed a good itch.  That might be because it was baking on the ground at about 90 degrees and so I started out sweaty. Overall the headset seems to be a good value for the money, though as of right now I think I still prefer the Zulu.  Both kids kept the Zulu's on for the whole flight though, woohoo!  Dina is going to try out the Halo on the flight back and if she likes it I'll buy another one... if not I'll get another Zulu.

In other news I finally found a new house and I'll now be only 10 minutes from the airport... yeeehaw!  That sounds great to me especially after the drive to the airport yesterday... we got stuck in the holiday weekend rush driving around in the madness, fetching the kids and getting to the airport took almost as long as the flight itself.  Also I'm really loving IFR in this plane.  The G600 coupled to the auto pilot with GPSS makes it so freakin nice.  I just love this plane!  Next week she goes in for new tires and to get a few squawks from the ABS clinic sorted out.  I decided to take it to Maintenance Express in Livermore, which is the shop where the ABS clinic was held.  They're expensive at $95 an hour, but they seem really cool and knowledgeable, and more importantly they seem to work quickly and efficiently.  I've learned the hard way it's tough to judge the relative cost of a shop based on their hourly rate.  If they take twice as long to do things then their hourly rate doesn't mean much.  Here is my squawk list:

Tighten RT flap actuator bolt
Service airframe hinges
Left engine lifter/ cam inspection
Rig landing gear this includes all of the landing gear rigging
adjustment listed on the squawk sheet
Service Shimmy dampener with 5606
Hydraulic Fluid
replace nose gear steering yoke bushing
replace nose gear idler arm bushing
Replace aft nose gear attachment bearing
Replace all three tires, service wheel bearings, and balance wheelassembly
Nose Tire FCIII
2 Main Tires, Goodyear FC III

We'll see how it goes.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Musical headsets

One problem I've been having with the family flights is that the kids both refuse to keep their headsets on.  On our last flight to LA I figured out why... it's because I'm a cheap bastard.  I bought them these special "kids" headsets from Softcom:

While they are small and do fit on a kid's head, and they're cheap at about $100, they must be uncomfortable or sound crappy, because neither kid will keep them on for more than 10 minutes.  On our last flight, my wife took off her Lightspeed Zulu and stuck it on my youngest one's head and low and behold, it not only fit with a bit of adjustment, but he kept it on.  We then discovered my older son will also wear the Zulu.  So much for the cheapo kids headset.  If you're considering buying a set for a kid do yourself a favor and forgo these crappy "kids headset" designs...

The problem now was, do I buy two more Zulu's?  They work great and are an awesome headset, but they're $800 bucks a pop.  I've heard good things about the QT Halo headset, which is a smaller "in ear" set that's much cheaper at $350.  There is no way my kids will wear this, but if they will wear the Zulu's I just need to see if it works for me or for Dina... so I ordered one online and today it came in the mail.  Here is what it looks like:

Pretty small and flimsy in comparison to the Zulu, but on the other hand it's very small and light and requires no batteries.  It comes in a small leather case and the impression opening it up is nothing like the professionally produced and machined thing you'd expect if you're used to a Zulu or a Bose... it almost looks like it's put together by hand by some hobbyist!  If you showed it to a non pilot they would never believe it costs nearly $400.  I have a business trip to KCMA on Thursday so I'll test it out though, people swear by them.  It even gives me a bit more headroom!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Oil analysis results

On my last oil change I sent samples off to Blackstone Labs for oil analysis.  I figured it was a good idea since I had found those tiny bits of metal in the left engine, and I've heard good things about using oil analysis to monitor the health of an engine.  Today I received the results in a nice pdf document which showed the various levels of metal compared to other engines of my type near my location and universally across all of Blackstone's samples.  The results were very good on both engines.  I'll spare posting the levels of each mineral, but I did find the comments from the tech to be useful:

Left Engine:  ADAM: The only reading far enough out of line to notice in this sample was the silicon, and we doubt it is from an engine problem. When silicon is abrasive dirt getting past air filtration we typically find excessive wear. In this case, wear looks good. There are other possibilities for silicon like sealers and lubes (like Dow-4), both of which are harmless. Universal averages show typical wear levels for this type of engine after about 40 hours on the oil. This oil was run 25 hours and wear metals read around averages. No fuel or moisture found. Not a bad first report.

Right Engine:  ADAM: Thanks for the note about the ECI nickel cylinders installed. The high iron and silicon are likely from lingering wear in and we'll look for both to improve next time. All other metals read around universal averages with are base on an oil run of 40 hours for the IO-520-E. The oil was in good physical shape containing no harmful contaminants (fuel, moisture), and the viscosity read on target for W100. Insolubles, oxidized solids due to heat, use, and blow-by, read low at 0.3%, showing good oil filtration and no combustion problems. All in all, not a bad report at 1,361 hours.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

ABS Service Clinic

Today I attended the American Bonanza Society service clinic at Livermore.  Basically the service clinic is a maintenance inspection performed by a group of very highly experienced mechanics who also have an extraordinary amount of type specific knowledge in Bonanzas and Barons.  I was a bit apprehensive as I've heard of folks walking away multi page squawk sheets and worse, severe doubts about their airplanes.  Luckily I was pleasantly surprised, and even a bit elated that my plane received a reasonably clean bill of health.  There was also a representative from Continental there who inspected my engines, ran compression tests on them and borescoped the cylinders.  The results surprised me in that both engines are, according to him, the picture of good health... especially considering their age.  I mentioned the fact that I had found a few pieces of ferrous metal in the last oil change and showed him the photos on my iphone.  He wasn't very concerned about the small amount shown in the photos and agreed that it was most likely slight spalling of one of the lifters.  He suggested waiting until the next oil change and if a similar or more amount is found again, to perform the lifter inspection.  Here were the compressions:

Right Engine:

3: 74/80
5: 74/80
2: 70/80
4: 74/80
6: 74/80

No abnormal wear, no rust and cylinders looks good.

Left (critical) Engine:

1: 66/80
3: 70/80
5: 72/80
2: 70/80
4: 72/80
6: 74/80

I was actually surprised to see such good compressions on the left engine considering this one has been consuming significantly more oil than the right engine.  Apparently my oil consumption on this engine at 1 qt every 4 hours or so is not abnormal for an engine with 1350 hours on it.

The other squawks:

Right flap actuactor bushing at attach bolt needs tightening
Lube: door hinges, elevator attach bolts, rudder trim attach bolt, left wing bolts
Lifter inspection:  if I decide to do this after next oil change, expect 4-6 hrs labor
Nose gear downlock tension too low at 48lbs, should be 55
Main gear down lock tension needs to be over center, not enough tension on down lock wire
Slight chaffing on the righthand outboard landing gear door
Right hand uploack block roller clearance to high at 40 thousands of an inch... should be 20
Strut not hitting upstop on right/left bolt... needs adjusting
Nose gear shimmy damper needs fluid
Nose gear stearing yoke bushing should be replaced
Steering idler arm bushing should be replaced in the retaining collar
Aft retract rod attach bolt needs tightening, potentially replace LS4 bearing on steering rod

Lube to use: LPS2
Boots: Ap303

Sunday, June 13, 2010


Even in the hangar I've noticed that the plane accumulates a thin layer of dirt/dust on the upper wing skins after sitting for awhile, so today I bought a bucket and some soap at target and gave the plane a bath.  Concord airport has a nice wash rack, with two hoses and various spray heads available.  When I got underneath the plane I noticed that the exhaust stains under the left engine were significantly "greasier" than the ones on the right engine.  The left engine is the one that's burning more oil, so I believe this supports my thought that a few cylinders are leaking at the rings and sucking oil up through the case and into the combustion chamber, where it is burned and pushed out the exhaust stacks.

Next weekend I'm doing the ABS service clinic at Livermore airport, so I'm arming my various questions for the Beech maintenance gurus.  It will also be interesting to see what else they find.  Mike Dechnik is a fellow Baron owner and is the guy who helped ferry my airplane to Advantage Interiors.  He reports that after the ABS clinic he came away with three pages of notes/squawks.  Should be interesting!

In other news my buddy Rick gave me an extra cabinet that he had, and I spent some time rearranging and organizing all my hangar stuff.  My current house is tiny so it's been nice to get a bunch of my flying crap out of the house.

I had planned to go flying too but time is precious these days and I ran out of it.  I'm working hard on finding a new house closer to the airport so I can make more quick jaunts.  I tallied up my hours for 2010 now that we're at the half way mark and discovered I've flown 54.9 hrs.  That's well below my goal of logging 150 hrs this year so I've got some work to do!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Shop time

Today I flew the plane up to Pacific aircraft at Modesto for some shop time.  Finding a good shop to maintain your 33 year old airplane is a bit of a black art.  On the one hand you need to find someone you trust as to some extent you put your life in their hands... on the other hand you want to find a shop that will focus on what's important for safety without throwing money away by replacing serviceable (and expensive) items, or gouging you by padding hours and charging you for ridiculous items.  My friend Jerry recommended Pacific, and so today I flew down there to meet with Dick and his crew.

I had a few squawks I wanted to have looked at including the headset jack that I screwed up, as well as my backup giro/boot pressure pumps which are generating too much pressure and needed to be adjusted.  I also wanted to get another opinion on the filaform corrosion on the left elevator, as I'm hopeful that I can strip and repaint it rather than having it reskinned for 6 AMU's (aviation monetary unit.  1 AMU == $1000).  While I was there I went ahead and got an oil change because I'm about due and I wanted them to take a look at my oil screens.  The good news was the right engine looks great, no metal in the screen and not burning up oil.  The bad news is once again we found a bit of metal in the left engine.

I put it on a piece of lined paper and took a shot of it to give perspective as to the size.  I took it with my camera phone which sucks at macro shots, but you can probably tell it's about 3-4 thin shaves of metal.  I also bought 2 blackstone oil analysis kits and sent those off so that should be interesting.  Pacific thinks it looks like spalling on one or more of the lifters, and recommends taking all the rocker covers off and inspecting them.  The lifters are replaceable so if that's the issue I could repair it and keep flying the sucker.  I'll keep flying it either way, it's nowhere near the amount of metal flagged as problematic by renowned mechanics like Mike Bush but nevertheless I don't like the idea of an engine making any metal at all.  My guess is lifter spalling or a problem with one of the valve guides, though if it's a cam problem or cam lobes I'll probably need to do a firewall forward job there.  Overhauling the engine would be an expensive endeavor though, and I'd rather put that off a few years if at all possible.

All in all I got the pressure pumps adjusted, refilled my alcohol reservoir for the props and windshield deice (yes I know it's summer, I've heard it's better to keep it full), fixed the headset jack as well as changed the oil and captured the samples for analysis, as well as got Dicks opinion on the elevator corrosion.  On the evelvator, Dick thinks I can strip and repaint so I'm going to give that a try to save some dough.  I'll be needing new tires soon so I'll probably try to coordinate it with that job.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Updated the Garmin - Finally!

First an update on the headset jack issue.  I still haven't fished out the errant nuts, but I did manage to locate a replacement nut for the headphone jack. I found a replacement jack at and bought a replacement jack just to get the nut off of it.  Since it's aviation I figured I might as well go ahead and spend $3 plus shipping on a $.05 part. Now I just need to try to figure out how to find the dropped nuts without ripping the whole sidewall off, or else wait until the next annual. I'm still puzzled as to how they possibly installed a nut on the backside of those screws though...

On a brighter note, I finally managed to update the G600.  I've been struggling with the database updates, the G600 refused to accept them, giving me a "GDU Update Failed" message.  Nothing would load, the charts, the nav data, nothing.  Turns out that when I setup my profile on I didn't correctly enter in my "systemID".  The systemID can be found by going to the Aux menu on the G600, pressing the DBASE softkey and scrolling to the bottom.  I called Garmin and asked them to delete the profile and they did that so I could reenter it with the correct systemID.  They also kindly updated my databases to the latest versions since they had expired in the time it took me to figure all this out.

I've been wanting to try the family trip IFR, but balked at the last minute this weekend on our trip to LA because I didn't want to go IFR with out of date navdata.  Actually I was glad I did, because 10 minutes into the trip Juni pooped and we diverted to Gustine to change diapers... maybe I just need to upgrade to a Cessna 421 with a potty. :)  Some great clouds on the way back, OAK and HWD were IFR and I thought I'd need a popup clearance but there was an easy hole for getting back into CCR.  Another weekend adventure in the Baron.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

need a nut

I tried to fix a squawk tonight and might have really botched it.  Check the image below...

Basically the headset jack is loose because it's missing a nut that goes over the phone jack (left side) and holds it set.  I was trying to figure out if it's mounted from behind or the front, and so I unscrewed that black plate that connects and fastens it to the sidewall, and as I unscrewed it I heard a little plunk of of metal falling and hitting metal.  I suspect a backing nut fell out of the back as I unscrewed it and fell somewhere down into the fuselage.  Doh!  I heard it happen twice since I unscrewed it from both sides... yes I'm an idiot.  I have no idea how in the world one could possibly put a little nut on the screws back there even if I ever find it in the fuselage...

Now I also need to find a replacement nut which I now know goes on the outside... like the one on the mic jack right side.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010


I finally got my N number unblocked by  The previous owner had blocked it for who knows what reason, and it was actually incredibly difficult to get it unblocked because it was blocked at the FAA level.  Privacy is overrated and I paid my taxes, so why not let people track my flights?  Here is the flight from this weekend...  only 160 kts but not bad considering a 32 kt headwind!