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!

Three State Dash

If you’ve been following my blog at all (and if you care) you’ve read about my engine woes.  I burnt it up when trying adjust my carb settings trying to get rid of an area of throttle movement that caused the engine to bog down.  I sent the engine back to the manufacturer and it was rebuilt.  Then as I was breaking in the new engine it burnt up again.  I sent it back to the manufacturer and they rebuilt it AGAIN.  This time recommending we try a different carburetor and two-stroke oil.  To ensure it was done right I asked that the engine be sent back to Six-Chuter and that they do the break-in.

The engine was sent to Six-Chuter’s engine guru, Rolando Santiago who lives outside of Vancouver Washington rather than at the factory in Wenatchee.  I loaded up the airplane into my trailer and (with my wife who graciously offered to come with me) hit the road.  Bear in mind this was a day and a half after we got home from our anniversary trip to Hawaii.  Also bear in mind that the Pacific NorthWest was about to be hit with a huge wet storm.

The drive up was nice.   We listened to the radio, talked about our Hawaii trip, how amazing it was that we were just there, and now we were here. Our goal was to make it to Cottage Grove, OR the first day.  We did.  Unfortunately we were delayed by 2 hours due to a jacknifed big rig about half a mile ahead of us on the freeway.  The rain had started and apparently this rig was not able to handle the tight turn at his chosen speed.  We were supposed to arrive at Cottage Grove at 6:30pm but didn’t get there until 8:30pm.  Driving in the rain and dark on mountainous roads was not what I had planned.

We finally arrived and the front desk called the restaurant and had them stay open for us.  They were closing but they were very nice to us.  We stayed at the Village Green Resort and Gardens.  The grounds are lovely but we couldn’t see them in the dark and rain.  The rooms are kind of dated but the grounds more than make up for it.  The next morning it was still raining but we could at least get a look at the grounds before breakfast and hitting the road again.

This time it was only a three and a half hour drive to Rolando’s house.  Most of the drive was unremarkable except for the gorgeous scenery. 🙂  All except for the drive through Portland at lunchtime, in the rain. (I need to stop typing “in the rain” because it rained non-stop while we were there.)  Rolando meet us at a gas station near his house and then showed us to his super-secret hidden driveway.  My trusty truck slogged the trailer up into Rolando’s yard and I unhitched the trailer and left it in his capable hands.  He and his son would do the engine install and breakin and then call me when it was done.  My wife and I were free to go explore.

Because of the rain and our fatigue from all the driving the only thing we wanted to explore was our hotel room.  We crashed and took a nap at the Red Lion Inn which was right on the Columbia River.  We had dinner and then crashed again afterwards.  I found our room number amusing and somewhat ironic due to the fact it was a non-smoking room.

 

The next morning we wanted to take a look at Portland and get some coffee.  We pulled up just past the coffee place and a homeless man began lounging on my truck.  >:-(  I asked him in a rather ungracious way to please remove himself from my truck.  He started to walk away then turned around and started screaming at us.  I told Cristy that coffee in Portland was a bust.  We headed for Vancouver WA instead and found a great little coffee place called Pines Coffee House.  I can tell you after comparing both towns I can see what Vancouver insisted on a river with drawbridges between them and Portland.

We had lunch at a great little Thai restaurant called Thai Orchid.  They have a great mix of Thai food and sushi, which, surprised us a little.  However the food was good and was a great place to stay out of the rain.  To help Cristy relax a little I found her a boutique called Not Too Shabby.  Boutiquing helps Cristy decompress after travelling.  Right about the time she was finishing up we got the call that the engine was done.

It was 2:30 in the afternoon and by the time I picked up the trailer and airplane it would be 3:30pm.  I knew we wouldn’t get far but at least we could get south of Portland!  We loaded up and made it as far as Salem.  It was pretty stormy the whole way.  Probably the heaviest rain I had driven in for quote some time and pulling a trailer to boot.  We got to the Red Lion in Salem and hit our room and collapsed on the bed.  We took a quick nap before dinner and a long nap afterwards.

The rain abated somewhat overnight.  When we got on the road at 8:00am it was only drizzling.  It had stopped raining by about Roseburg, OR and by the time we climbed the big grade out of Ashland and pulled into Calfornia the clouds were starting to break up.  It’s amazing how the rain just stopped at the California border.  I guess we’re not paying our rain bill or something.  Before I go on I have to say I had the best gluten-free muffin I have ever tasted in my life at The Stars and Dreams Gluten-free Bakery.  They also sell gluten-free breakfast sandwiches and hamburgers.

There were very few clouds as we drove past Mt. Shasta except for the standing IMG_20171022_134715lenticular clouds at it’s summit.  As we drove down the grade into Redding there wasn’t a cloud in the sky.  We finally pulled into home at about 7:30pm, my first vacation from work, and our 30th anniversary trips finally done.  What we learned is that we really enjoy travelling and if we could drive shorter distances and had a travel trailer with us that we would enjoy travelling even more.

Someday soon…

 

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.