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Tuesday
Jul262016

Homebuilder's Workshop: Serious Cross-Country

By Ed Wischmeyer

One of my definitions of “rich” is not having to take the airlines. So, trying to be rich, I reserved a cottage in Arizona for the month of May to help determine if I wanted to retire there. I then loaded the RV-9A to the gills and set off on a planned three-day trip from Savannah. Six days later, I arrived, thanks to embedded severe thunderstorms, low IFR, and high winds. Not to be deterred, I decided to fly myself home rather than trade the RV-9A in on something faster, like a unicycle. I set off on the three-day trip and got home, you guessed it, six days later.

The RV-9A was adequate for this trip, but barely big enough. I had a cardboard box in the right seat that held the oxygen bottle (O2 significantly increases my tolerance for turbulence), snacks, and everything heavy that I wanted to keep out of the baggage compartment to keep the c.g. under control. Part of the problem was that with a bar across the fuselage, shoulder height, right behind the seat backs, it’s extremely clumsy to access the baggage compartment in flight, so the right seat got converted to in-flight-accessible storage space.

On this flight, I really missed having a constant speed prop. On takeoff, because the engine had a cruise prop, I rarely saw as much as 70 percent power, and the same in climb. That means that I was only getting 110 HP from my 160 HP engine. Because there is little prop drag, the plane rolls seemingly forever on landing unless you really slow it down, which you don’t want to do in gusts, but even then it rolls halfway to forever. And in updrafts and downdrafts, you’re forever adjusting the throttle.

The sunscreen was indispensable for the flight, and I never missed being able to look out of the top of the canopy, except for checking rudder movement before takeoff. The Oregon Aero seat cushions were fabulous. The Dynon D2 standby indicator occasionally gave false indications of roll, but Dynon replaced it with a new unit while I was in Arizona. Sadly, the new unit did the same on the way home. To their credit, Dynon is giving me a full refund. Apparently, my installation had just the right kind of vibration so that, in turbulence, the unit would get the leans.

As I suspected might happen, this flight chased a lot of skeletons out of the closet, and I think that many of those skeletons were because of the interruptions to my flying due to surgeries. I got used to the RV-9A’s ride in turbulence, and used to the bumps. I got used to the G3X touch system, even though there are still things that I don’t understand. I came to appreciate the new style of X-C flying where the autopilot does all the work and you have time to fuss with uplinked weather, flight planning, and alternatives, especially when much of the flight is at low altitudes under clouds (but always with really great visibilities and always having an out).

An RV-14 (a slightly bigger two seater) or an RV-10 (four seater) each would be about 10 percent faster, but with direct operating costs and insurance costs, maybe 20 percent and 50 percent higher.  An RV-14 would be big enough for two and lots of baggage, and an RV-10 would be big enough for two, lots of baggage, and a dog. Sort of like the ideal size for a yacht is a foot longer than whatever you’ve got now…

I tended to stop at places with cheap gas, but sometimes cheap gas meant expensive hotels and hotel rides. KTRI (Henderson County, east Texas) was so good on the way out that I made a point of stopping there on the way back, and other good stops were Dixie Aviation in Tuscaloosa, and the sole FBOs at Carlsbad, N. Mex., Deming, N. Mex, Pecos, Tex., College Station, Tex., and Meridian, Miss., where they had free hot dogs. However, the Navy-centric tower at Meridian made up for it with a condescending attitude towards small planes and going zero for five in getting my N# correct. Bozos. 

The favorite phrase heard on the radio was referring to the ADS-B display as the “fish finder.” Going past Phoenix, the fish finder showed a target climbing rapidly towards me that ATC had not called out, and I could not tell which way to maneuver to avoid it. It turns out that it was a helicopter that eventually passed behind me.

Seeing traffic on the fish finder is one thing, but knowing what to do about it is another. Back in 1956, the Andrea Doria sank after colliding with the MS Stockholm off Nantucket, MS, in heavy fog. Each ship saw the other on radar, and they were in communication before the accident. It was a radar-assisted collision…

Although the purpose of the trip was to help decide if I wanted to retire in Arizona, Savannah, split time between the two, or somewhere else that God has in mind, the real benefit was a big boost in my psychological recovery from the latest surgery. That boost came on the last day, when I almost made it to Savannah, almost made it to my alternate, and then went to my second alternate, sat out a fast-moving thunderstorm, and then made it home after starting the day in Texas.

In several senses, I’m back.

One of the more intriguing airplanes seen on the web was a twin-engine RV-8A, built by Bobbi Boucher, an IA in Virginia. The engines and main landing gear appear to be off a Twin Comanche, with the rest looking like pretty stock RV-8A external dimensions. It looks just like what every red-blooded pilot would lust after. 


Armchair engineering suggests that the stock RV-8A vertical tail would not be enough to keep the plane straight at low speeds in case of an engine failure, and having two propellers (propellers are destabilizing) suggests that the plane’s yaw handling might well be different, not counting the additional inertia in roll and yaw. Lastly, the engines are relatively close to the fuselage, and this suggests that there could be excess interference drag in that area, and maybe not all that much extra speed.  (80 percent more horsepower calculates to about 26 percent more speed, but with the drag of the two wing-mounted engines, probably not a whole lot more speed).

An exciting project, but sadly, the plane became airborne on a high-speed taxi test and wound up on its back, an unfortunate end to a noble project. Ms. Boucher is now out of ICU, and there is a GoFundMe page to help with her medical expenses

 

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