Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Small packages

One of the awesome things about owning an aircraft is the continuous flow of packages from Aircraft Spruce.  It's like Christmas all the time.  Here is my latest package...

I ordered some ridiculously over priced cleaner, prep and sealant conditioner for the deice boots. The boots are in good condition but are getting a bit dry and chalky on the rubber, this stuff keeps them moist and shiny so they should last. I also bought a couple new engine log books since the other ones are both full, and I made my oil change entries as the first owner approved maintenance items in the books.  I'm now at 1340.0 since the factory rebuild.  I also ordered a pair of safety wire pliers and some safety wire.  I'm determined to learn to change the oil myself, so I better start learning how to do the safety wiring.

The checklist off to the left is a custom one I made.  I also have a commercial Checkmate checklist, but in truth I don't like those checklists much.  There are too many items and the print is very small and not customized to my airplane, for example there is nothing about the PFD/MFD on there.  Worst of all, the order of items on the Checkmate checklist is so haphazard they have you jumping all over the cockpit if you follow the items in order.  I tend to work through my memory items in flows, then verify with the checklist.  I don't read off the checklist and do each item one by one... too slow.  I keep the checklist out and handy when on the ground and use it to quickly verify each flow. I put it away in the air to concentrate on flying and I rely on my memory flows.... I only use checklists and/or the POH in the air for "Events".   For most of my flows, I do a reverse 7, meaning I start at the bottom of the center console, check the fuel switches, and move up to the cowl flaps, trim, up to the right side of the panel to the gear switch and then across to the left past the throttle quadrant, flap switch, circuit breakers, and electrical.  I worked up this checklist to match my flows, printed it up at Kinkos on construction paper, cut it in the middle, stuck the two sides together and laminated it.  Here is the checklist as a word doc in case anyone is interested:

B55 Colemill Checklist

Saturday, March 27, 2010

1st oil change

I've hit 25 hours on the Tach and the new cylinders should be well broken in now, so it's time to change the oil.  I've been hunting around for cheap oil since I need a fair bit.  Buying it in quarts locally is expensive since I need 10 qts per engine and by the quart it's usually priced from seven to nine bucks a quart.  You can find it online for less than $5 a quart, but by the time you factor in shipping it's back to eighty or ninety bucks for a 12 quart case.  Long story short, I found out that I can buy it directly from the distributer in Richmond, an industrial area not far from my house.  I bought 3 cases of AeroShell 100W SAE 50 for $53 a case from Golden Gate Petroleum ( not bad!

I had only a vague idea of how to do the job, but it's expensive enough to hire someone to do it for two engines that I realize an easy way to cut my expenses is to learn to do it myself.  You open a plug, drain the oil, and refill,  how hard could it be right?  I contacted Paul aka Pi, a fellow pilot I've known for a few years who is an A&P/IA and an overall real cool guy, who I knew would be willing to help me.  He is based out at Byron and works a day job as an avionics tech for United, but also works as a shade tree mechanic a bit on the side... basically a great guy to know.  I asked him to teach me how to change the oil and make sure I can do it safely.  This morning I flew down to Byron to meet up with Pi.  I taxied up and Pi checked out the plane, it's quite a contrast next to his Champ that he bought for $8,500!  Actually his Champ is pretty awesome, if I had more free time I'd buy one as a fun plane to tool around in.

I learned how to change the oil, but I also figured out that there are parts of the job I need way more practice with before I'll feel comfortable doing it unguided.  My engines don't have quick drains, so you have to cut the safety wire off a big plug and then unscrew it.  That part is easy, as is getting the oil screen out... the hard part is putting it back on and getting it properly safety wired.  The access panel for the drain plug is small, so it was hard for me to see what Pi was doing.  It even took him awhile to do it right.  We pulled the filters out and ran them through some mineral spirits to get the gunk out.  Both engines had some ferrous metal particles in there, not a whole lot, but you could see it grab on to the magnet.  I'm really unsure of how much is enough to be concerned about, but Pi said to just keep flying it and monitor the trend.  I ordered some safety wire and pair of wire pliers from Spruce, we'll try this again in 25 hours.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Hangar view

A few people have asked me how the hangar is working out.  While I mostly really dig it, my main gripe is that it's a 25 minute drive... I'd prefer 5 minutes but the chances of convincing my wife to move into the Concord flight path are slim.  Ever see "The Castle"?  One of the best movies of all time!  Anyway I'm really happy with the hangar for the most part.  One factor in my decision in favor of choosing CCR over OAK was power... here you can see why:

I've got my transceiver plugged in and tuned to tower or ground, I've got my video camera plugged in and charging as well as my Garmin handheld.  I've moved an old office desk in there to store my crap, it looks woefully out of place, but I wasn't using it.  I'm also charging the Robotow which is pretty much a required item for my Baron... the plane is much heavier than any plane I've flown before and the only other option would be a gas powered tug.  The hangar is also equipped with power outlets out the wazzooo... I think I counted 8 separate power pods like the one above with 4 outlets on each, plus additional ones up high for the overhead lights.  The ridiculous amount of power makes me think it must have been used as a marijuanna plantation at some point.  This is California after all... I've also found the overhead lights to be key for nighttime arrivals. 

The other mostly awesome, sort of sucky thing about my hangar is the location... I'm basically in the runup area for runway 32.  Here you see why it's awesome and sucky at the same time...

That's Jerry running up in his friends Cessna 414, but then this dumbass... ahem... inconsiderate... Skywagon driver in N12AS comes along and pretty much blasts me with his prop wash.  In truth most of the blast is to the right and it looks worse than it is, but nevertheless I wouldn't want to have an engine opened up right then.  It's something I'll have to weigh... I love sitting there watching planes land and takeoff, and 32 is used less than runway 19... but with the barn doors open it also means I am a wee bit exposed...

Sunday, March 21, 2010

First family flight in Betty

Today we took the first family flight in "Betty".  I named the plane Betty after my late grandmother and in honor of my grandpa who flew a B-24 over The Hump during WW2, and whom I largely credit with sparking my initial interest in aviation by taking me for my first ride in a Cessna when I was 10 years old.  Anyway we now call the plane Betty,  and today we headed out to the airport to take her for a spin.  I wanted to keep the flight short and easy, and do something fun where we could land and walk somewhere cool... what better destination than Half Moon Bay?  We also invited our former nanny and her SO since she had shown an interest in going flying and it would also give me a chance to test out all six seats.

We took off out of CCR and headed right out over the bay.  Having two engines is nice for the warm fuzzy feelings when flying out over that cold bay where there are no good engine out landing options, especially now that I'll be regularly loading up about the most precious cargo imaginable.  We buzzed Alcatraz, flew through the uprights of the golden gate bridge and then headed down the VFR Ocean Beach corridor to KHAF... the kids did great.  After a nice lunch at the pub and walk on the beach, we headed back.  Two minutes into the return flight both kids were conked out...

Little Junius wasn't too keen on the headset, but I throttled it back and dialed back the rpm and it's actually pretty quiet in the cabin.  This sucker is slippery though, even dialed back to 18 inches and 2200 rpm we were doing nearly a 160 kts.

I've also been very pleasantly surprised with how much room there is in that back row. We fit six with no issue... loading is not as easy as the 58 with the huge doors and club seating, but with the big baggage door you can actually climb right through it to load up the back seats. Dina shot this quick video from the flight with all six of us, granted that two are small kids, but the normal sized adults had plenty of room too. The first part shows how if you get the large baggage door it's actually plenty big enough to climb right through. Forgive the watermark, I'm still evaluating this software...

Overall a good first flight for the family in Betty. For now I plan on keeping our trips under two hours, but the good news is that's a big range to cover in a plane that does 200 kts.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Cleaning up and tuning the Alcor

Today I got to do the fun chore of the first plane cleaning.  It's getting warmer now so I thought I'd start by degreasing the belly from the heater exhaust.  Here is a shot showing the soot running from the heater exhaust all the way down to the tail.

Since it's starting to get warm and I probably won't be using the heater much, I figured now was a good time to clean it up.  I bought some stuff called Simple Green from Aircraft Spruce and the gunk came right off.

I had also asked a few people much more knowledgeable than myself about my fuel burn spread between the two engines and my friend Jerry suggested that I simply need to adjust the gauge. I have Alcor exhaust gas temperature gauges and they have a specific tuning procedure which requires a very small flat head screw driver. Jerry volunteered to help me with it and so today we took her for a spin to get the adjustment done. Here we are level at 7500 feet with the autopilot doing the work while Jerry does the adjustment.

I'm pleased to say my burn spread at the same EGT's is now only about half a gallon an hour... I can live with that!  Then we flew to KTCY for cheap(er) gas and Jerry gave me some of his tips for handling the Baron.  All and all a fun quick little flight and I learned a lot.  Thanks Jerry!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

One burns more

After about 20 hrs in the plane one thing I'm noticing is that my left engine burns more oil than the right and it also burns more gas at the same or very similar EGTs. The fuel flow usually shows anywhere from 1 to 1.9 GPH more. At the annual this engine had a few cylinders with compressions in the mid 60's which was found to be ring leakage. The engine was burning a fair bit of oil at first, a qt every 3 hours or so but that seems to be trending in the right direction as on my last 4 hour flight it looks like I burned less than 1 qt. Rings seating better due to more use? Who knows... The other engine (right side) has good compressions on all cylinders, 3 of which are brand new nickel ECIs, burns very little oil and uses less gas. No I don't have an engine analyzer and yes, I know I need one... I'm still running ROP for now until I get the JPI. I do have a digital fuel flow meter, it's got an ancient Hoskins but it seems to be working perfectly. I haven't measured the fillups precisely yet though to ensure the measurements jive with the fuel truck.

Here is a video I snapped scanning across the panel. Here I'm running WOT at about 2450 RPM, as the camera pans to the right you see the EGT gauges, notice the left engine is running a bit hotter than the right, then I pan down to the fuel flow and notice the left engine is burning 2 gph more than the right. Then the camera comes up and you can see the standard fuel flow gauges split by 2 gph as well.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Mission get granny

Since my first son was born I haven't been up to the snow, which kills me because I love the mountains and used to live to go snowboarding.  With that in mind we finally decided to get on and find a nice big fat Tahoe pad for a long weekend. The plan was to bring the kids up to Tahoe for the weekend, bring my mother in law "grandma bee", and also my sister and her family.   Grandma Bee was going to drive the 7+ hour trip from LA to our house, stay the night and then we would drive the 4+ hours together to Northstar... hey wait a minute, that's entirely too much driving and I own an Baron now for crissakes.  I checked my work schedule... meeting at 1pm, 285 nautical miles each way...  doable!

I woke up at 5am, worked until 8, then headed to the airport... after drive, coffee, preflight and airport chit chat, I was wheels up just before 9.  There was an airmet today for turbulence, but on the way down I just got a bit of light chop.  Weather was scattered/clear on both ends with a long stretch of overcast in the middle.  The Garmin showed light rain at the surface, but on the way down I climbed to 12.5 and was well clear of the tops.  Cool thing was the wind, the higher I climbed the more the wind pushed me along.  Here I am doing 232 kts over the ground...

I ended up putting the wheels down at 10:15, loaded up and then got robbed blind by McGuire aviation on the fillup... $5.29 a gallon!  I didn't need to fill up but I thought I'd avoid the ramp fee.  I liked it better when it was MillionAire, but at least the office girls are cute!  Here we are on the way back heading back out over the overcast, only now the 42 kt tailwind was a 54 kt headwind.  Ouch, I looked down during my climb and was getting 80 kts over the ground!

So my 1.5 hour return trip took a bit over 2 hours... unfortunately the airmet turned out to be accurate on the way back. I went lower to try to dodge the headwind, but then it got bumpy. Not too bad though, and Bee handled it like a champ. I'm loving blue tooth on the Lightspeed Zulu headset too, you can actually make calls in the plane. At altitude it doesn't work so well unless you slow way down and fly low. I pushed my meeting back an hour and it's all good, got a full work day in and logged another 4.1.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Can't get enough

Today I went out to the hangar and met up with Jerry and Rick.  Jerry gave the plane the once over and gave me a bunch of tips for treating the new leather and also the boots, as well as some tips for leaning and adding oil.  The left engine has been burning a fair bit of oil, about a qt every 3 hours or so.  The right engine is much better and only burns about half a qt every 6 or 7 hours.  The left engine has a few cylinders with lower compression, which was found to be ring leakage, not valve leakage.  Not a safety issue but unless I want to buy a few more cylinders sounds like I'm going to be pouring oil into the thing, unless of course the rings seat themselves better due to better use.  These planes don't like to sit, they need to be flown.  That sounds good to me, time permitting!

Then Rick showed up and we took a little demo flight over to TCY for cheap gas.  I think Rick was impressed and I realized as I talked him through it just how much I've learned in the last few days.  The G600 and the 430W came really quick to me, but there are a ton of options.  It really does go deep, so I'm looking forward to digging in even more.  I think it's a giant step forward in terms of situational awareness and safety, but it can be daunting to learn and in some senses it's really an information overload.  The TIS traffic is a godsend and works really well.  It's pretty amazing seeing traffic in 3D on the PFD and with trend vectors and altitudes displayed on the MFD.  I brought my little HD video camera in hopes of snagging some video, but the battery was dead.  Doh!  I'll grab some soon.  I'm heading to Tahoe this weekend so I'll have to tuck the plane away for a bit... I'm cringing though because all I can think about is getting back out there to fly it some more.  I've logged 16.2 hours in the last three days, and my insurance mandated fly off time is complete!

Friday, March 5, 2010

Getting to know the plane and Az

Today Todd picked me up from the Holiday Inn and we went to the shop in Prescott that replaced my magneto, Granite Mountain Aviation.  I needed to pay the bill for the mag and while I was at it I also wanted them to look at a few other niggling items.  The armrest on the copilot door wasn't secured properly when they did the interior job, it really needed to be anchored better.  Also the door handle has a little cotter pin mechanism that somehow lost its little through bolt, so it could fall out and cause the interior door handle to come off.  That happened to Todd and I the night before, and for a sec I thought we might be stuck in the plane... eventually we found the pin, but it's not a good feeling and a safety issue really, so I wanted to make sure it was fixed.  Also when we went to test the windshield alcohol, it didn't work.  Turns out that was an RTFM issue (read the f-ing manual), the windshield alchy doesn't work unless the prop alchy is also turned on.  Finally, I wanted them to check & clean the oil screen on the engine with the new cylinders to see how they were breaking in.  A few hours later everything was good to go, the armrest was secured, the door handle fixed and the oil filter screen showed nothing much of anything.  I'd also really like to check it on the other engine, but it was noon at this point... time to go fly.

We spent the afternoon continuing with training and flying all over Az.  The highlight was definitely Sedona, the runway runs up at a good slope and is up on a mesa surrounded by the most beautiful red rock/mountain formations.  We landed upslope, taxied around and took off downslope, turned around and headed up the canyons towards Flagstaff.  As we headed up the canyon Todd said, "whoooaa"... I was questioning whether he was going to pull another surprise engine failure on me when he said, "my airplane" (meaning give me the controls) and he banked it around into a 60 deg turn and said look down there... I looked and there was a spectacular waterfall pouring off the red rocks from the snow melt on the mesa.  Awesome... I looked further down the cliffs and there were at least 3 more just like it.  Awesome!

We flew up to Flagstaff and landed there (7000 ft).  I've been to Arizona a few times before but I'd forgotten how beautiful it is and also how mountainous.  It actually gets a lot of snow and Prescott is really a mountain town.  We headed back to KPRC and Todd showed me how glideslope capture and approach mode work on the Century IV, and we let the autopilot fly us down the localizer to 200 ft.  We landed and Todd wrote up my logbook entries.  I made a mental note to come back soon for my sea plane rating, and then blasted off solo on my way home to California.  The flight home took about 3.5 hours with a stop for gas in Lake Havasu.  I caught some favorable winds, here is the G600 showing a ground speed of 213 kts.  It actually got up to 234 at one point.

For most of the flight home I was enjoying the view and running 22 inches at 2450 RPM at 8500 ft, burning 26 GPH and getting 190 kts TAS.  Crank the RPM and you can do 200+ kts on 30 GPH.  I'd love to get an engine analyzer and run it lean of peak.  I'm thinking I could get 185 kts on 22 GPH or less... but anyway I'm finally back in California and the plane is snug in her hangar at CCR.  At least I'm finally flying now and I've actually knocked off all the hours I needed for insurance in order to take passengers.  Can't wait for the next flight!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Meet the plane

I was scheduled to fly back from a business trip to California, but I checked around for the cheapest ticket I could find to take me somewhere near Todd and the plane in Az instead.  After speaking with Todd about good options, we settled on Albuquerque.  I flew in there via a morning commuter Jet service, hopped a shuttle to the Cutter FBO and waited for Todd to arrive enroute from Phoenix.  The FBO was packed full of military families waiting for some soldiers who were flying in from Iraq.  They arrived in what I believe was a Beech C-12 Huron and unloaded to lots of tears.  Apparently ABQ has a big military footprint, I saw lots of F16's flying around and a few big military choppers.  Todd sent me a text message saying he found a way to get a fuel discount and a waived landing fee and that if I see a lady standing around with a box of blood to grab it.  Turns out Todd does life flights and so our first training flight of the day would be to transport a big box of human blood from ABQ to DVT.  

When Todd arrived and I went out to see my airplane at long last, I was like Holy Crikey... hard to describe how I felt really... stoked and a little shell shocked maybe.  The plane is a real beaut, and it's really hard to do it justice in photographs... but like an idiot I left my camera at home anyway.  IPhone photos don't even come close...  here we are loading the plane.

We hopped in and Todd talked me through the basics.  We talked to clearance delivery and got a release, contacted ground and got an intersection departure clearance off of one of the absolutely ginormous runways at ABQ.  Todd ran down his version of the twin engine piston pilots pre-takeoff mantra... if an engine quits before rotation, throttle back and brake.  If it quits after rotation but before the gear is up, put it down and land straight ahead no matter what's in front of us, and if it quits after gear up at blue line, then maintain blue line, identify, verify and feather.  Got it, let's go!  

The plane performed really well with just the two of us on takeoff from the mile high airport... all that power is really freaking nice.  We bounced around in light (for NM) turbulence on our way to St Johns Az.  I made my first B55 landing on the short runway since the cross wind was about 19 kts and 90 degrees to the longer runway.  It's definitely a different site picture for me and I'm still adjusting to landing... Todd told me I'm landing it like it's a Cessna 182, hmmmm.  We fueled up for 3.60 a gal at a great FBO that has 3 free crew cars.  Note to self... stop here again!  Next we're on our way to Deer Valley and the busiest GA airport in the country as the sun set.  Deer Valley Az has two large flight training centers that train for China Air and a Korean Airline.  It's a bit scary listening to the radio chatter... a lot of inexperienced pilots who barely speak English buzzing all over the place.  It must be a stressful place to be a controller.  

We dropped off the blood, fueled up with the life flight discount of .60 / gal and headed to Fullerton to pickup one of Todd's friends.  We head out in the dark letting the auto pilot follow the magenta course line on the GPS, watching the synthetic vision guide us through the mountains.  Some scattered clouds were at our altitude and with the limited lighting you could barely make them out, their edges blending with the mountains in the distance...  without the technology in the cockpit one could easily feel like you were about to fly into a mountain, but with the giant PFD and MFD GPS display, it's virtually impossible to get lost or disoriented.  It really is amazing.  I even figured out how to pipe in some music via the XM radio hookup.  

Todd taught me how to operate the de-ice equip and the radar, though I'll need a bunch more instruction to make use of the radar.  Then we threaded the needle of various crazy airspace that makes up the LA basin and eventually landed on the 3000 ft runway at Fullerton.  Ordinarily 3000 ft is plenty long enough for me, but for a new twin pilot in a smoking fast fire breathing Baron it's really the bare minimum.  I used pretty much all of it to land.  We picked up Todd's buddy, opened an IFR flight plan and blasted out of there IFR for the return flight.  

It was a long day for me since I was up late the night before, spent 6 hours on a commercial flight and then about 8 hours in my new (to me) airplane, but it was awesome.  Todd dropped me off at a Holiday Inn in Prescott, and we'll continue tomorrow.  Todd Underwood is a really fantastic instructor and a hell of a resource for any pilot.  The guy has flown everything under the sun, has every fixed wing rating there is except for MultiEngine Sea plane which he is working on now.  He's really a mellow and unassuming guy with no ego or attitude at all.  He charged me a pittance compared to what he is worth.  I really admire him and can't thank him enough.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Outta there

Today Todd picked up my plane in Indy and flew it to Prescott Az.  He was supposed to take it outta there yesterday but his flight was delayed and got in at 2am, so he parked it in a hotel and left this morning instead.  On the flight back, the left magneto on the right engine failed... the one that was just overhauled.  Lovely.  Todd's shop in Prescott is checking it out and will either fix or replace with a new mag tomorrow morning.  We'll see if Jay gives me any kind of warranty on that work, if applicable.  I sure hope so.  On the bright side he said that other than that, the plane flies beautifully and is extremely nice.  He said he picked up a fair bit of ice over St Louis and the boots work well.

After the plane is fixed in the morning Todd will fly it to Albuquerque and pick me up at ABQ.  My business trip is done and we'll go from there.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

On it's way

Maintenance flight went very well, Darryl reported it flies like a dream, although he had one minor squawk on the century 4 autopilot, right turns are standard rate, left turns are half standard rate... sounds like an adjustment issue. After that he went to N71 and waited 30 mins while Advantage installed the newly recovered armrests and wrote up the logbook entry.  Once that was done he headed out to Indianapolis where he has just arrived. Darryl reports he got a lot of ice and the boots worked well.  200 kts ground speed, 190 true.  Todd is now enroute to Indy and will fly it out of there tonight, I'll meet up with him on Thursday in Albuquerque and we'll take it from there.  I just realized I forgot my headset and my video cam... I'll try to find a place local where I can pick one up.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Bit the bullet

As much as I wanted to come get it myself, I bit the bullet and hired a pro. With my work schedule I'm on the road right now and working... there is a 2 day weather window that looks great, but I figured by the time I got finished working, got out there and got ready to go, the next set of ice storms would be settled in and I'd be assed out for another 3 weeks. I decided to bite the bullet, pull out the big guns and coordinate an extract operation to get the plane the hell out of there and closer to me, ideally south away from those eastern seaboard icy clouds. Since it takes a fairly long time to get to to Lebanon PA, I needed a guy who lived in the area, familiar with the crap weather patterns out there, and who could get it out as soon as a weather window hit. 

So I found a local highly experienced pilot named Darryl to do the maintenance flight and to ferry it out of there to a more major hub where my instructor Todd and I can fetch it and take it south.  What a coordination exercise this has turned out to be.  Darryl got to Deck yesterday to do the Mx flight, but it turned out that the Advantage guys had taken out the armrests!  Why?  Here is the note from Advantage:

Thank you so much again for the gift card. We went to Outback a few times with it, and it was amazing. I love that place and really appreciate the gift. Also, I don't think I had mentioned, but we often have issues with painting rubber/flexible armrests (because the paint cracks when it flexes). We used a new vinyl paint on your armrests that was supposed to resist the cracking, but when we went to install the middle seats at Deck airport, there was already evidence (from the flight over) that the paint on the armrests wasn't going to last. We then pulled them, brought them to our shop, and covered them with ultraleather (to ensure that you won't have any issues with them).

Great, I'm glad they fixed the armrests but now Darryle has to fly back to N71, get those installed before taking it anywhere.   On top of that when he got to the field the battery was dead... apparently someone had left the master on.  He didn't have time to wait for a charge so he'll have to do the maintenance, the flight to N71 and the ferry flight tomorrow... phew. If I ever buy another airplane, I will buy one from my local field!!