Monday, December 29, 2014

Death of GA, there goeth KVNY

Van Nuys is the quintessential GA airport. If you've seen the movie 16R you know this. It's simply one of the great and venerable general aviation airports around. With the loss of Pentastar, and then Hoovers, it's now in a sad state. I just did what should have been a typical mission there... sadly, the aforementioned FBO's are no more, and in it's place is the KLAS style fbo... Signature.

For my quick turn of a passenger pickup, I was charged a $62 ramp fee and a $5 handling charge. I don't know what they handled, other than my credit card. So for my pickup and dropoff and all of 20 mins on their ramp, I paid $134. I could have had the $62 fee waived, if I bought 50 gallons of avgas at $7.40 per gallon. Quick mental math of that vs the $4.68 I pay at home told me I was better off paying the ramp fee. I used to pay a $30 ramp fee, waived with 25 gallons at Hoovers. Pentastar was no ramp fee at all... no overnight parking fee with gas. What a change. Then I had the gall to ask what it would cost me to park for the night... $78. W T F. It's clear that KVNY only caters to the Gulfstream guys now, and that's a damn shame... grrr.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Relay schmelay

So it wasn't the $1000 dynamic relay, at least as far as my drooping gear door is concerned.  The worst part of airplane ownership is chasing these types of gremlins with your mechanic.  Grr.   Also I've noticed my inboard ailerons look like they are rigged with a downward deflection, and I seem to have lost 5-7 kts off my top end cruise speed.  I thought some of that might be due to the VG's, but now I want to make sure I get my rigging right before I blame the VGs.  I'm cruising about 178-180 where I used to get between 183-185 on the same fuel flow of 22-23 gph running 30-50 degrees LOP.

This is in level flight, notice the left aileron is dropped down slightly low.

Taken moments after with no attitude change, the right one is also defected low.

And my left gear door still drooping.  I'm not okay with this!  :)

Monday, December 22, 2014

Dynamic relay

My first flight after annual was a trip to Vegas.  Upon return when putting the plane away, I noticed the left gear door was hanging open a little bit.

That doesn't look right... so back to the shop.  It turns out the dynamic relay is bad, or so I'm told.  They replaced the dynamic relay ($1000) and now it looks like I'm missing a washer of some kind, so we're waiting on that.  So meanwhile I'm AOG during Christmas when I actually have some flying missions to complete.  Oh well.  I still do have access to the NRI Flying Club planes so looks like tomorrow's flight will be in a 182.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Test flight

Picked up the plane today. The VGs are installed and I like them! Takeoff feels mostly the same, except it feels like the weight comes off the mains a bit earlier. I climbed to 7500 and ran it WOT at 2400 rpm and it settled in around 178-180 kts, which might be a knot or two lower than I would expect however at that point I didn't have the fuel flow working on my JPI so it's really hard to know. I'll do some more cruise testing this weekend when I go to Vegas. Stall is about 8-10 kts slower now. The warning horn came on at about 78 kts and I kept pulling back back back until the speed bled off to 62-63 indicated on the G500, clean with gear up which is how the test was specified in the install docs. 

At that point the stall came but it was super docile, no more break just a gentle bobble of the nose. I held it there for awhile and slowly lost about 400 ft of altitude, put the nose down and flew right out of it.  I flew back to Livermore and landed, adjusted the stall warning horn so now it goes on at about 70 and I'm all good. I haven't tested VMC yet, wasn't sure about doing that solo. Landings are definitely easier to come in slow and land short now, basically it lands like a 172 now and probably with less distance.

The JPI 790 is a huge improvement over the 760, I really like it. I'm still getting used to the location, not so much for the engine monitor but I'm not used to having the standby altimeter so prominently high and the MP and RPM gauges shifted right... getting used to that and I think i like it, so far. The JPI 790 screen is really nice, the fonts are huge so it's very easy to read, and the clarity is superb. This is a great unit, especially for the price it really is awesome.  

Thursday, November 6, 2014

JPI 790 installed

The 790 didn't fit above the throttle quadrant where my 760 was. Well, that's not entirely true... it fit but it looked hokey and overlapped the MP Gauge. Also it turns out you can't put the 790 in vertical mode, so hanging it lengthwise there wouldn't work either. So here is the spot:

Basically I just moved the altimeter up where the tach was and then shifted the tach and the MP gauge to the right, and then put the 790 next to the autopilot where the altimeter was and it fits there snugly. Actually I'm pretty happy with this because it puts the engine monitor right in my primary field of view just below the G500.   However I do now realize what we did resulted in putting the MP gauge on the left and the tach on the right, even though on my year Baron the RPM lever is on the left and the throttle on the right. Hmmm, worth a few hours labor to redo the hard attach lines for the MP gauge? tough one but I think it will bug me if I don't have them in matching order so I'm going to swap them.

Can't wait to fly with it.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

VG's and 790 install

The inspection portion of the annual is done and fortunately no big surprises.  It's all routine maintenance at this point, since I've pretty much done everything possible to restore this plane.  With annuals however, you never do know when you pull everything apart what you're going to find.  The VG's are installed and look awesome.

Here is the nacelle strake.  They had to cut the fairing a bit to get it just in the right spot, but it looks clean and well done.  Hopefully the reduced surface area won't result in any stress cracks near the attach screws.

I had sent the VG's to Don Copeland to paint them to my scheme, but about 8-10 of them crossed over paint lines and will need touch up.  Also it looks like the JPI 790 won't work in the slot I had planned for it since it's not capable of vertical display.  I decided to move the Altimeter up above the throttle quadrant just right of the Garmin 500, and then move the manifold pressure and tachometer to the slots in the right, then move the 790 down where the altimeter was next to the autopilot head.

It should all work well and I'm actually happy the 790 will be center view just below the G500 right in my primary field of view.

Otherwise all compressions look good, just routine maintenance.  400 hr engines still look clean as a whistle...

Monday, October 27, 2014

Annual time

Dropped off the plane for it's annual inspection, along with a few goodies for upgrades.  Yes I'm hopelessly addicted to improving this plane.  The first upgrade is a new set of MicroAero Vortex Generators.  They are little pieces of metal that get glued to the upper surface of the wing just aft of the deice boots.  They generate a whirling vortex of air on the upper surface of the wing that causes the airflow to stay attached longer at high angles of attack.  The benefit is reduced stall speed and reduce VMC which safely allows you to fly slower, and therefore land shorter.   The B55 is pretty good short field plane already (for a twin), but this will definitely help for fields like Oceano which is only 2300 ft long.  More importantly, it seemed like a good safety feature to lower VMC by 10 kts just in case I ever lose an engine on takeoff.  Hopefully there won't be much of a drag penalty on my high end cruise speeds.

The second item was the new JPI 790 which I ordered awhile back and finally arrived, just in time for my annual.  I have the 760 already and it works well, but I really wanted a more modern unit that will allow me to read all the CHT's at one glance.  Also this unit has a USB memory stick you just stick in there to download all the data, whereas the 760 has a wonky serial cable interface that I had to hack together with a USB->Serial adapter.

So the new unit is more modern, but it's wide for the slot.  It's not clear to me whether or not I can mount it vertically yet, the instructions are classic JPI... sparse.  The unit is so new there is really no information out there about it yet, I'm pretty sure mine will be one of the first installations.  I will try to mount it in a way that doesn't look too kludgy.

Lastly the wing root seals that got installed during my paint job are already starting to come up in a few places, so those need to be reglued.  Then I need an alternator mount which I knew about, since my last alternator lost it's belt due to it vibrating around on it's mount.  Apparently the metal had worn a little oval that caused some shaking in there, so I want that fixed.

Those are the known items, hopefully the rest will be routine and this one won't break the bank too badly!

Friday, October 17, 2014

High Sierra 2014

Last weekend I flew in the Citabria with a buddy up to the High Sierra Fly-In in Nevada.  It was about 60 miles north east of Minden.  This was my first back country fly in and a total blast.  It's really hard to describe but basically it's sort of like Burning Man for taildragger pilot geeks.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Simulator finished

I'm finally finished with my simulator, and I must say it's pretty bad ass...

I gave up on a frustrating battle with touch screen configuration, trying to simulate the G500 and GTNs, and trying to mimic my plane exactly... So the sim is a now six pack arrangement but it's fully functional, including a link to Foreflight on the iPad. I get to pretend I'm a freight dog I guess, but it's still very cool and good practice for both IFR and VFR... the final mile would be a small touch screen for the 530W which would make it fully operational without using the mouse/keyboard at all. I've even got real ATC simulation through PilotEdge. The land maps are actual ground bitmaps taken from Google earth. I'm glad I got a monster video card.

I've also discovered my sim is basically ghetto compared to what a lot of the hard core guys do. There is a huge community of simmers out there that are crazy about geeking out on this stuff. I feel like I've just scratched the surface of what one can do with commodity hardware, x-plane and a little ingenuity.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

JPI 790 Ordered

The JPI 790 is finally available so I ordered it.  Supposedly it's a plug and play replacement for the JPI 760 in my panel.  So for engine monitoring I will go from


To this:

The big advantage as I see it is a LED display instead of the gas plasma so it's easier to read, and also the readout above shows the EGT/CHT for every cylinder whereas with the JPI I have to press the button to cycle through.  Also this one has a USB connection on the front to load data instead of the funky serial cable the 760 uses.  The unit is a plug and play drop in replacement for the 760 and uses the same probes.  $1650 for the head only and a $300 core credit for my 760, so for $1350 out the door seemed like a pretty good deal, in aviation terms.  I do have one issue in that the new unit is 4.1 inches wide and the old one is 3.5, so a little more than 1/2 inch wider and I may need to cut the panel for it to fit.  

Wednesday, August 27, 2014


After seeing photos of my new paint job, fellow Baron owner Curtis Hassell suggested I fly up and meet him in Oregon.  His son had just bought a new camera so perhaps we could do some air to air shots of my plane flying around Mt Shasta?  Twist my arm!  Of course that was an offer I couldn't refuse.  It was very smoky and hazy that day since there were 4 forrest fires raging nearby.  We chatted with some of the air attack guys getting ready to launch at Weed airport.  Due to the smoke we couldn't really see Mt Shasta, but these still came out pretty awesome!

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Wine country by Champ

Today I flew around wine country in the Champ.  We're in one of the worst droughts in decades, and it shows when you fly over the hills and they're all so golden brown from being bone dry.  The only good part of that is I don't need to worry about the grass runways around here being too soft.  Why use a paved runway when there is perfectly good grass right next to it?

Friday, July 25, 2014

VIRB to Truckee

I finally got the prop filter for the new Garmin VIRB action camera and it largely eliminates the prop banding you get with regular cameras.  I flew the Baron up to Tahoe for the weekend so it was a good chance to test it out.  The music doesn't quite work but it still came out pretty cool.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

It's alive!

I finally got my monster PC rig working, mostly.

It turned out to be a royal pain to build the PC from scratch.  The first motherboard (Gigabyte gaming7)  I used was bad and would randomly reboot.  I returned it and got an ASUS Maximum VII which has been flawless.  The biggest headache was getting all the peripherals to work in Windows 8.1, and getting a good WIFI signal from my base station which is on the other side of my house.  I'm still struggling with that a little bit, but a signal booster seems to have fixed it for the most part.

I've got the Saitek yoke working and it's pretty good.  I actually shouldn't have bought the PFC yoke because I feel that the Saitek is just fine for my purposes.  I also got the Saitek X52 gaming stick which I'm using to play WorldOfWarplanes which is pretty amazing.  The resolution is incredible and the NVidia 780ti is having no issues driving the 3 monitor display at over 100 frames per second and 5760x1080 resolution.  So far I'm experimenting with Prepar3D and XPlane and I'm a little torn on which one I prefer. Prepar3D has more planes and is easier to use but I'm having some driver issues where I cannot use the Saitek Multi and Switch panel without some wrangling, and when I get it working then my trim wheel stops working.  X-Plane has better graphics and a better flight model, but limited aircraft and panels.

Here is the final shopping list, I bought evertyhing from Amazon except the VolairSim chassis which I ordered from their website.

VolairSim chassis
ASUS Maximus VII motherboard
Intel I7 4790K 4ghz CPU
3X BENQ 1ms gaming monitor 144hz XL2720Z
Razer DeathAdder gaming mouse
Razer DeathStalker gaming keyboard
Samsung 840 Evo SSD
Seagate 4TG SATA HDD
Corsair Carbide Air 540 Case
Corsair Vengeance 32GB DDR3 1866mghz RAM
EVGA GeForce 780ti GPU
LG 12X SATA BluRay Combo Drive
Windows 8.1 64bit system builders OEM
Saitek Pro Flight Cessna trim wheel
Saitek Pro Flight Rudder Pedals
Saitek Pro Flight Switch Panel
Saitek Pro Flight Multi Panel
2X Saitek Pro Flight Throttle Quadrant
Saitek Pro Flight Yoke
Saitek X52 Flight Control System (For Games)
TrackIR5 Head Tracking

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Un vuelo en Costa Rica

I met up with a fellow pilot and friend of the blog on a recent trip to Costa Rica, and took him up on his offer for an air tour, which was seriously awesome. Many of the roads to the more beautiful spots in Costa Rica tend to be windy, unpaved, pot holed and sometimes cross rivers. We had a nice diesel 4runner that took a real beating and I began to understand why they charge so much for rentals there. What a great country for general aviation though, in 20 minutes you can do the equivalent of 5 hours of driving! What a beautiful country filled with friendly smiling people, at least up until the world cup loss. Pura vida, thanks again Larry!

Friday, June 13, 2014

River run

Fun in the champ and testing out the VIRB camera, which is basically a GoPro clone but I'm hopeful is better suited to aviation.  I already ordered a new lens that does a better job of filtering the prop so you don't see that banding effect, but I think ideal would be a wing mount view.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Some assembly required

I managed to get the sucker assembled.

Overall I'm very impressed with the quality of the VolairSim.  It's extremely adjustable for various configurations and it is predrilled for all the popular sim controls including Saitek. One minor complaint is that the seat attachment flange nuts don't fit into the seat rails like they're supposed to, so I had to run to the hardware store to get nuts that would fit to attach the seat properly. Also some of the fittings aren't machined or welded perfectly so they don't slide together as smoothly as they should. Overall however, it's a solid unit... the seat is comfy and sturdy and I believe the kit represents a tremendous value at under $600.  The Hammacher Schlemer chassis is 7k!  

When I'm done building the computer and rigging it up it should look something like this:

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Volair Sim

I got home knackered from a business trip to Dallas and there was a big box in my driveway. A really big box. My Volair sim chassis finally arrived. I was too tired to set it up completely but I couldn't resist unboxing it and took inventory in my new simpit, a purpose built backyard studio shed.

Here is everything laid out.. the sucker is HEAVY. The shipping box weighed in at 125lbs. My first impression is that it's a high quality build made from heavy gauge steel tubing. The seat is solid and well padded. This is going to be a sick ass gaming & flight sim rig...

Monday, May 26, 2014

Shelter Cove

Took a little flight with the kiddos up to Shelter Cove, one of the most beautiful airports on the planet.   I need to invest in a Garmin VIRB action camera, going to order one soon!

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Huntington Beach

We had a great weekend in Socal.  My boys are fearless when in comes to roller coasters so we knocked back the best that Knotts Berry Farm could throw at us, and had some fun beach and pool time with the family for good measure. How is it possible to do a full work/school day on a Friday  and then take an awesome mini vacation for the weekend on your own terms and schedule, and be back for Sunday dinner?  General Aviation, that's how!  We went to KFUL (Fullerton Airport) which is the spot to hit for Disney too... we parked with AFI and again, had ZERO fees and easy squeezy rental car service, these kind of FBO's are fading from existence so support them if you can!