Homebuilder's Workshop - February 2010

Snow Job

By Ed Wischmeyer

Iowa is gorgeous during the summer and not bad during spring and fall. Right now, however, it’s winter, and we’re all celebrating the latest meteorological extravagance – not only did we have two days in a row above freezing, the night between those two days was also above freezing. But no more, now we’re back to highs in the low teens and lows in the high sub-zeroes.

Today was light snow, but drifting like mad in the winds, gusting to 45 knots. But drifting snow can show amazing aerodynamic effects.

For example, did you ever see a photograph of the leading edge of the Concorde wing, with the gentle curls and swoops in it? I regularly see that same contour in the snowdrift that forms from the front flowerbed onto the front porch.

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Homebuilders Workshop - January 2010

A Christmas Carol

By Ed Wischmeyer

Early December finds me back in Prescott, AZ, my old stomping grounds, in the beautiful high desert country. The airlines brought me here, traveling the day after the great national blizzard clobbered the Midwest. By luck and the grace of God I made it here, barely catching two flights, each at least an hour earlier than the ones I was booked on, but that’s another story.

My host, John Ackerman, is building a beautiful RV-10, and I enjoy his craftsmanship and thought processes when I visit, not to mention his hospitality. Sometimes I get to help on the -10, but no surprise, the jobs I do are more for the company and the enjoyment rather than any display of skill on my part.

Today, we put louvers in the cowling. John had already marked and drilled the rivet holes, but since rivets were going into the cowling, the relatively compressible honeycomb had had to be hogged out and replaced with umpty layers of glass so that the rivets would have something to do other than squash honeycomb. That was already done.

But, the louvers are .032 aluminum, and wouldn’t it be nice to have them flush with the rest of the cowling? Or course it would. The technique that worked here was a router set with the bit sticking out, you guessed it, .032 inches. This let John hog out a space where the edge of the louvers will attach, with the edges of the router platform sliding on the untouched portions of the cowl. After all that is hogged out to the correct depth and width, then the center hole can be cut so that the engine cooling air can escape. Neat!

I got to help, and it was useful help. I was the human sandbag, holding the cowling in place, a necessary chore, while John ran the router. I got to run one of the power tools, too. The shop vac.

John’s other trick was in countersinking the fiberglass for the flush rivets holding the louver assembly in place. Instead of using a microcountersink, which would not fit into the hogged out area, he put the countersink cutter into an electric screwdriver. The cutter was new and had a tendency to bite in to the cowling, and you had to eyeball the depth, but it sure worked slick. And it was amazing to see the cutter work at such slow RPMs.

In terms of judging the depth of the countersink, I was thinking that a quick coat of spray paint before countersinking would make the countersink that much easier to see. It did make me want to have a project again.

There are other goings on in Prescott. Embry-Riddle is reducing the size of the faculty here, sadly, and some of those let go were really first rate, the kind that students would remember all their lives. No point in spreading false rumors as to why, but this is the second reduction of the faculty and staff on this campus. One story I did like was about one man who saw the handwriting on the wall and started looking for someplace else to go. He found that place, and accepted the job, two days before Embry-Riddle offered him a nice severance package.

Other goings on at the airport have to do with security, which is seemingly used to harass tenants, but then there are the new hangars. Some company came in to build a bunch of hangars, and you know they will be expensive to rent. The plans were all approved, the contractor started construction, and nobody noticed till much too late that the hangars as constructed were rotated 180 degrees from the way the plans specified, and that the big hangars would obscure the tower’s view of that ramp area. Solution? Move the tower, and guess which taxpayers get to foot this bill.

* * * * * * * * *

It seems that light airplanes are becoming ever more of an endangered species, and I think that there are several reasons.

One is, of course, loss of habitat, as small airports are seen as big chunks of contiguous real estate, attractive to developers, and as cities look at tax revenues from that big parcel of land and don’t consider the services that houses and businesses on that parcel would require. Ironically, the economic collapse may help protect airports from developers, although it certainly won’t help the economic viability of the airports.

A second reason is, I think, the freeway system. For example, my stunningly gorgeous (and for sale - hint) 1959 Cessna 175 Bumblebee will make a trip in roughly half the time of driving. But, on a shorter trip, there’s the overhead of driving to the airport, getting the plane out, etc., and then analogous overhead at the other end. For example, when I went to Texas a few months ago, it was two day’s drive versus one very long day’s flight. Since I needed mini-van cargo capacity, the point was moot for this trip, but I think that to compete with a car, a light plane needs to cruise at least at 150 knots. And cars are lots more IFR than many light planes.

To compete with the airlines, up that required speed to 200 knots. Compete with the airlines? Depends. Big city to big city, the airlines will always win. Cedar Rapids to Prescott, I could fly an RV in less time than I could fly to Phoenix and I’d be at the correct destination when I was done, at least, if the headwinds behaved, the turbulence, was mild, and there was no serious weather. My idea of being rich these days is to not have to fly on the airlines any more. I’m not holding my breath…

Other threats are the environmentalists who see light planes as noisy pollutants, some civic groups who think that white pilots flying into the local 70 year old airport are racists because the airport is in a non-white neighborhood (I am not making this up), and others who want to build up their position by tearing others’ down. And there are city governments hungry for revenue who think that pilots are rich and provide only expensive services, thereby making the premise of “pilots are rich” come true. They make sure that the less well off can no longer afford to fly there.

Certainly the primo public relations that general aviation has done has been the EAA Young Eagles program. There’s more to be done to preserve general aviation, and always will be, of course, for the uneducated, especially the uneducated press, are always a threat to those who would accomplish.

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