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Homebuilder's Workshop: The $100+ Hamburger

By Ed Wischmeyer

It turns out that in this electronic age, it’s really easy to do things differently from the old days of steam gauges. With the cost of avionics data updates these days, you can spend $100 for your hamburger without leaving the ground, and you can work on your plane for hours without any tools.

One project that I’ve been working on (a bunch) is getting the checklist for the RV-9A just as I’d like it. I’ve got buddies who also fly my RV-9A, and they were not satisfied with the “idiot-syncrasies” of my personal checklist. And that’s reasonable, as my checklist has memory crutches dating back 30 years to when I used to fly and instruct in planes that included three different kinds of turbochargers, all with different characteristics, some planes with retractable gear, some not. I needed memory crutches that would work with a wide variety of airplanes, and I still use them. Unencumbered with such history, they wanted an RV-9A checklist. Solution? Two checklists, one for me, one for them… Meets both needs.

And to be fair, I’ve learned things from my buddies that are making me a better pilot and my checklist better. Nobody gets embarrassed when you learn something in a class, but when your buddies point something out to you, well, we’re all human. At least, most of us are.

So what’s different about my checklist, now up to Rev 5? First of all, it’s my checklist for flying my RV-9A. I have information for three airports at the top, but since I use most all of those frequencies regularly, those are just reminders, and are not labeled because of space limitations. Similarly, I can tell runway numbers from frequencies, and I mostly know the runways at the various airports, so runway numbers aren’t labeled either. Bad form for a general-purpose checklist, obviously, but perfectly okay for my personal use. Also at the top are V-speeds and light signals, just in case. 

The rest of the checklist is pretty standard, but it has a few things not on other checklists, like, switching to tower frequency at the start of run-up so that you can build situational awareness before getting into the air. And with the fairly elegant and definitely complex Garmin G3X/GTN650 system in the airplane, there are things that have to be checked there too, lest you surprise yourself in flight. The most important of those is to check that the G3X displays are using navigation signals from the GTN GPS system so that when you enter a destination into the GTN, that’s where you’ll actually go.

But the other project is the avionics settings and wiring sheet. The G3X has five serial ports, and the GTN has four, and if you’re ever out in the boonies and the radio shop needs to know what wires are connected to what, good luck. And there are data protocol settings for all those RS-232 ports, and for the ARINC 429 ports, and lots of other settings that are in Garmin-ese, an obscure dialect of Klingon spoken in Olathe.

The trick is to be able to have all the avionics on without running down the battery, and the RV-9A has a connector across the battery to connect a Genius G7200 battery charger/power supply/everything without having to take off the cowl or clip on any wires. The Genius is really slick and pretty much a necessity if you have to fuss with avionics settings on the ground.

So now all of those settings and connections are in one big ole PDF document, with one copy to be laminated and to live in the plane. I’ve also stored that document on my iPhone and iPad so that I’ll always have that information handy, just in case. What else? Serial numbers of avionics, engine, and accessories, just in case somebody decides these goodies would do better in their airplane than in mine. But if the avionics get stolen and the thieves cut the wires, getting the RV-9A back in the air would be immensely costly and time consuming. And I’ve also recorded the ICAO code for the transponder and the kind of battery installed.

But I do actually fly the RV-9A, now that the surgery recovery is progressing, and normalcy (by pilot standards anyway) is on the very near horizon. The other day, I went out and played with approach speeds, flying a steady airspeed with full flaps all the way to the flare and then counting how many seconds it took for the airplane to touch down. At 70 knots, it was five seconds; 65 knots, four seconds but with a good sink rate; and 60 knots, three seconds with quite a sink rate. With that big wing close to the ground and full flaps, there was plenty of lift to arrest the sink rate but with that high sink rate, the secret to success is timing, just like in comedy. Nevertheless, I think that for an approach speed below 65 knots, a little power is probably a good idea. No flaps, 70 knots gave at least six seconds in the flare, but I don’t think that I held it off as long as I could have.

Part of the point of this exercise is trying to figure out crosswind strategies. It’s nice to be able to fly an approach faster and handle more crosswind, but if you slow the plane down a lot for a nose-up, main wheels first landing, you’ll diminish your ability to handle the crosswind as you slow.

When I started flying the RV-9A, I was also surprised to discover (or maybe re-discover) that with a castoring nosewheel, compared to the steerable nosewheel on my old Cessna, there is a much greater need to actively steer the plane after touchdown. There have been a few landings where I touched down exactly on the centerline and then, because of a shove from a gust or a vengeful curse from a student pilot long forgotten, suddenly found myself a few feet off center. As one friend pointed out (on a national electronic bulletin board, thanks…), the trick at that point is to keep the airplane straight and to not try excessively hard to get it back on centerline.

So now it’s dinnertime, and being subject to my own bachelor cooking, I’m having a $100 hamburger – in the kitchen. No checklist required.


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