Flying Season Is Over Or The Importance Of A Proper Preflight

Cold weather has finally descended on the valley and since flying open cockpit in 39 degree temperatures doesn’t appeal to me, flying season is over.  Now, I could fly in the afternoon when temperatures are in the low 60’s and winds are come.  Yes, I could do that.  Except that I have no wing for my aircraft.

Why do I have no wing for my aircraft?  I sent it back to the manufacturer for inspection and repair.  Repair?  Why does it need to be repaired?  Because when I landed the last time I flew, the parachute drifted down and the lines got tangled in the prop while the engine was running.  What?!  Why didn’t I turn the engine off??  I tried, but the switch fell inside the panel.  Why did it do that?  Because I didn’t perform a proper preflight inspection.

I was cold, I was in a hurry, and I didn’t properly preflight the powered parachute.  A proper preflight would normally involve checking everything for tightness… including panel switches.  You see, during warm up, the engine is running at a fairly low RPM.  This causes the whole machine to vibrate.  The switches I use are attached to the panel via a hex nut behind the panel and a nut you have to turn by your fingers on the front of the panel.  The switches stayed secure for many flights.  But some time during this last flight the engine kill switch lost the nut off the front of the switch so when I went to flip the switch down to kill the engine, the switch fell into the panel.

If I’d had my wits about me I would have throttled back up to keep the wing in the air, and then reach down and turn the fuel off.  Then just drive down the runway until the engine quit on its own.  Well, lesson learned.  Two damaged propeller blades and at least one broken line on the parachute.  I’ve already replaced the two propeller blades and sent the wing back to ASAP for inspection and repair.  Might as well do a complete inspection on the machine while I’m at it.  Replace the cheap plastic fuel fittings with all metal ones.  Replace the fuel line too while I’m at it.

Happy Holidays!

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4 Minus 1 Equals 3

Last week when I was talking to the owner of Jay Bird Engines, the maker of my P3 Lite’s engine, they mentioned that they don’t really have data on 4 bladed props matched up with their engines.  All the engines they shipped out for Six Chuter P3 Lites were matched up with three bladed props.  So I called Ultra Props, the maker of my propeller and ordered a three blade hub.   My blades would fit into it as the hubs are universally machined for any number of blades and blade angles.  It arrived today and I installed three of the blades from my four bladed hub into the three blade hub. I used the 12 degree spacers as this is what Jay Bird indicated I should use.  It’s now mounted on the engine and waiting for a test run and flight this weekend if the weather holds.

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Thanksgiving Day Multimedia Extravaganza

Had a great Thanksgiving today.  It started with a drive out to New Jerusalem airport to do some flying.  I’ve been worried about high engine cylinder head temperatures so I bought a new digital CHT gauge.  I installed it out at the airport and did a test engine run.  I put the digital gauge on the rear cylinder thinking that this would be the hotter cylinder… not so!  You see, on my engine, a Kawasaki A440, there is a cooling fan on the engine.  It is oriented facing forward.  I had always assumed that the airflow would be through the front of the engine and out the rear.  But I forgot one thing… my engine is mounted facing backwards.  So the cooling air coming through the engine flows against the relative wind created as I fly.  I’ll have to check with J-Bird, the manufacturer of my engine to see if that is how all their other engines are set up.  This could explain my elevated cylinder head temps.

Now, all that being said, oddly enough, my temps were solidly in the low to normal range today!  So I’m going to go back the the next smaller high jet on my carburetor and see if the temps stay down.  Not sure why they suddenly dropped today.  My wife may be onto something when she quipped, “Maybe it’s finally done breaking in.”  Could be.

Here’s a short video of today’s flight.

After an epic Thanksgiving dinner with my kids and a nap, I retired to the garage to adjust the fan belt tension.  Yes, the aforementioned cooling fan has a belt that needs to be tightened after the first 3 hours of operation.  Some folks never tighten their belts but I decided to go by the book.  Probably because this engine has burnt it’s rings twice.  Tightening the belt involves removing one half of the belt pulley, removing a shim, and then reassembling the two pulley halves.  That is much easier said than done.  Here is a video describing the belt tightening ordeal.

After tightening the belt I did a quick engine run to make sure the belt was still tight and all checked out.  All ready for the next flight!

Good News!

In my previous blog entry I wrote about my engine woes.  I sent the photos to Rolando Santiago at Six Chuter who took a look and informed me the piston was toast.  He and Doug Maas consulted with J-Bird Engines (the engine manufacturer).  J-Bird asked for the engine to be sent to them so they could take a look.  To their credit, the guys as Six Chuter paid the cost to ship the engine back!  Once the engine arrived, the guys at J-Bird knew exactly what happened.

You see, there are exactly two belts on this engine.  Both of them are fan belts… more or less.  One belt is on the rear of the engine and connects the crankshaft to the propeller.  It reduces the RPM of the propeller because the prop isn’t designed to turn at 6500 RPM.  The other fan belt turns an actual cooling fan at the front of the engine.  Now there are sections in the engine manual that describe tightening these belts.  I dutifully checked the belt tension on the prop, but missed the huge page in the manual saying how important it is to adjust the tension on the fan belt!

When J-Bird dug into the engine the first thing they noticed was how loose the fanbelt was on the cooling fan.  And yep, the front piston was in the worst shape.  Problem found.  The engine was overheating due to poor cooling.  Totally my fault.  But here is where the AMAZING customer service part of the story comes in.  I was told the engine would be rebuilt at NO COST to me whatsoever.

Now, gentle reader, I don’t know how much you know about aircraft companies but Six Chuter is an anomaly in aviation.  Most aircraft companies would have said “Uh, user error, you need to pay the cost to fix your engine.”  Six Chuter did not do this because they believe in their products.  They stand behind their products and the components that go into their products.  Six Chuter is run by people of integrity and truly believe they are held accountable to God for everything they do on this earth and it shows.  I cannot say enough about this company.

So back to the engine.  They are going to rebuilt it from the crankshaft up and it should hopefully be shipped back to me next week.  I’ll post more updates on the re-install and next steps on the engine when I get it back.

Bad News

Friday I was testing needle placement and prop spacer blocks on my P3.  I did a warm up and then a simulated takeoff and throttle back to cruise to see how my throttle response would be.  Everything went well until I throttled down to cool off.   It ran for about a minute then RPM started to slowly drop until the engine died.

Hmmm….

I let the engine cool down and then tried to start it again.  It would not start even after several attempts.  I scrubbed the morning’s flight and headed home.   The next day I called factory support and he walked me through several steps to try to get the engine started.  Nothing worked.  Even spraying starter fluid directly into the carburetor would not get the engine to start.   We verified that the spark plugs and ignition system was working, we verified fuel flow, all to no avail.

Their engine guy asked me to check one more thing.  He had me pull the muffler and exhaust manifold and check the pistons.  It was not a pretty picture.

I’ve sent the pictures to their engine guy and their chief and we’ll just have to wait and see what they come back with.  I really don’t want to tear into this engine, I’m not a mechanic.  So rather than going to the High Sierra Fly-in I may be going up to their facility to see if they can help me out.