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!