Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Technology and Aviation Leadership in Wichita, KS?

Today, at the invitation of Sedgwick County Commissioner Gwen Welshimer, I briefly presented my viewpoint of the difficulties of starting an aviation business in Wichita, KS, Air Capital of the World:

 -- Difficulty raising capital or debt financing
 -- Lack of vision on the part of government for supporting entrepreneurial aviation and technology business in a meaningful way.

My comments followed a presentation by Commissioner Welshimer, in which she made a case in which Sedgwick County should take its rightful position as incubator for aviation technology.

She's absolutely correct.

You can see her presentation, and my response to the Commission, in this eVideo

Two of the three local TV stations interviewed me; fantastic interviews; and they each took great video of the Belite flying out at our base airport.  You can see the videos and their stories here:

Channel 12 - KWCH Story on Personal Planes and Belite

Channel 10 - KAKE Story:  Could Innovation keep Wichita the Air Capital?

Wichita is in danger of losing its status as Air Capital of the World. 

Motor Oil mixed with Grinding Abrasive, Challis, Cabin Creek Airstrip, a Cessna 172, a Fuel Leak, and a Friend

Motor Oil mixed with Grinding Abrasive, Challis, Cabin Creek Airstrip, a Cessna 172, a Fuel Leak, and a Friend

by James Wiebe

I had developed a habit of flying into Idaho, nearly every summer, to go camping in the Wilderness. 

This trip would follow in the annual tradition.  I was flying with Mike Andrews, my pastor friend from Colorado, and we were headed to Cabin Creek airstrip, near Big Creek, home of world class cutthroat trout and world class cabin.  Cabin Creek is a gnarly little airstrip, and curls up the side of the hill like a well used jeep track, hidden in a mountain valley.  It curves, it climbs, and it ends abruptly.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Challis, Idaho is a very important little town to me.  It's where I learned the ins and outs of mountain flying, way back in 1996, at a mountain flying school.  It's close to the backcountry, where wilderness, rivers, wildlife, and airstrips intertwine, but no roads:  there are no roads in the wilderness.

Challis has a diner or two, a couple of motels, a great airport, 2 or 3 FBOs, a backcountry air taxi service (or two), an outdoor store and some houses.  Maybe a gas station. 

Challis is an excellent spot to spend a last night, before hopping into the wilderness.

The weather was perfect:  blue skies, reasonable winds.
The airplane was packed with all our camping equipment.   Backpacks, flyrods, water bottles, food.
The airplane itself:  my old friend, a 'Superhawk' Cessna 172:  180hp in a light airframe:  great performance, great useful load.  A superb backcountry bird.
The friendship:  Mike and I are tight.
The destination:  as good as it gets:  fishing, camping, wilderness, isolation, friendship, a fire under a sky as black as coal; stories between friends. 

Mike and I were nearly ready to depart.  I walked into the FBO, and requested a quart of oil before we departed.

I unscrewed the lid of the oil container.  I found it odd that the lid snap ring was already loose.  I was too stupid to make this stop me from what I did next.

I started to pour the quart of oil into the engine.  Oil came out; also a white milky substance in the oil.  I watched the white milky substance run down the funnel and into the engine.  I stopped pouring the oil into the engine.  I walked back to the FBO, and told them what I had just seen entering my engine from the oil bottle they had just sold me.

The FBO Man immediately knew that he had committed a great sin.  He had sold me a bottle of motor oil, except that he had given me a used bottle of grinding oil, filled with grit from an abrasive wheel.  He confessed his sin to me.



The weather was no longer perfect:  blue skies, reasonable winds and an airplane with an engine filled with grit.
The airplane was packed with all our camping equipment.   Backpacks, flyrods, water bottles, food, and engine oil contamined with grit.
The airplane itself:  my old friend, a 'Superhawk' Cessna 172:  180hp in a light airframe:  great performance, great useful load.  A superb backcountry bird, especially when the engine does not have grinding grit in it.
The friendship:  Mike and I are tight.  That is not affected by grit in the engine oil.
The destination:  as good as it gets:  fishing, camping, wilderness, isolation, friendship, a fire under a sky as black as coal; stories between friends, and all of it hopelessly unattainable, due to the damn grit in the engine. 
The FBO Man said:  "I will thorougly flush your engine and refill it with oil; I will fly you and your friend into the wilderness, I will make this right."

FBO Man began his repairs.

Mike getting in the Superhawk; cowling removed and engine flush under way.

Later in the day, he flew us into the backcountry.  We landed at Cabin Creek airstrip later that afternoon. 

Looking uphill at Cabin Creek; watching a departing aircraft; the black strips are rubber water diversion drain strips.

FBO Man dropped us off, and Mike and I started the hike from the airstrip down to the river.

We ended up at an ideal camping spot, not more than 20 yards from Big Creek.  Our tent was pitched under some trees.

Over the next few days, Mike and I entered into an easy routine of fishing up or down the river, using a mostly grasshopper imitations and other high floating dry flies.  Fishing was easy; cutthroats kept coming to the fly. 

Big Creek is an extraordinary river.  Upstream, it falls over boulders and descends so that pools and bends are hard to find. 

Downstream, it gathers itself in a sharp run that might fish well.  Inbetween, it wanders through a series of cuts and bends that kiss the opposite bank.  Tall grasses flop over the edge of the river.  Cutthroats hide under the tall grass edges. 

A beautiful hole is in the mid-valley.  Far deeper than most of the river, it's occupied by some trout that love depths and disappearing.

Cabin Creek (of which the airstrip is named after) flows into Big Creek.  Cabin Creek is a tiny trickle of water, and surprisingly, it holds big trout as well.

Now it's night time.
The sky is coal black.
Mike and I settle into our sleeping bags.
Mike asks questions about my spiritual condition.  He helps me focus on my faith in Christ.

The weather has been perfect:  blue skies, reasonable winds.
The airplane will once again be packed with all our camping equipment.   Backpacks, flyrods, water bottles, food.  Except we've eaten the food; not much is left.
The airplane itself:  my old friend, a 'Superhawk' Cessna 172:  180hp in a light airframe:  great performance, great useful load.  A superb backcountry bird.
The friendship:  Mike and I are tight.  
The destination was as good as it gets:  fishing, camping, wilderness, isolation, friendship, a fire under a sky as black as coal; stories between friends. 
It's time to go home.

FBO Man has flown my Cessna Skyhawk into the airstrip, and it is waiting for us.  (I will not pen the logistics of how all that happened, or how we communicated with the outside world.  It's not worth it, and besides, this story is a little more mysterious if you don't know all the details, such as how I had a satellite phone and used it as necessary.)

I start the engine, and taxi it from the low end of the airstrip up to the high end, so we can turn around and takeoff downhill, into the valley.  It's impossible to take off uphill, just look at the first picture in this blog.  Uphill takeoffs are impossible!

At the top end of the airstrip, I turn the engine off.  In hindsight, I don't know why.  I guess I wasn't ready to take off.  I got out of the airplane, and looked at the engine compartment.  While inspecting the nose wheel, I notice that it has a drip of liquid running down it continuously.  If I had taken off, the gas would have run out the front of the airplane, and the engine would have soon quit.

Gasoline is running down the nose wheel.!! This was the second breakdown of the trip.  This time, I was in the wilderness.

FBO Man flew back into the airstrip, in his Cessna 206.  He brought tools and parts with him.  He proceeded to disassemble the gascolator on the airplane and replace a gasket.  The fuel leak had absolutely nothing to do with the oil flush and replacement he'd done with the airplane earlier in the week.

So he billed me for this wilderness gascolator gasket repair:

Flying into the wilderness:  $280 roundtrip from Challis in his Cessna 206  (a bargain).
His time:  2 hours;  $120 total. 
One 'O' Ring gasket:  $1.

Total bill:  about $400.

Mike and I headed home.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Powerfin Propeller: Recommended! (But choose length and adjust pitch wisely)

I've been doing some testing on a Powerfin propeller on our Superlite.  I've come to the conclusion that if properly selected, Powerfin's composite propeller provides a superior alternative to the wooden propellers which we've been using on our aircraft.  (Albeit at a higher cost.  Most good things cost more.)

Last year, I flew quite a bit with a 3 blade Powerfin propeller.  I was not happy with the performance.  In hindsight, the issue was our selection of a short 3 blade prop -- we should have tried a two blade.

And so, I had switched to inexpensive 2 blade wood propellers.  They were a good, economical solution providing reasonable performance.  Their downside is maintenance (their leading edge will erode, especially in heavy grass fields) and inability to adjust pitch.

Recently, I was contacted by Powerfin to consider the usage of their propeller with our aircraft.  We received a brand new "B" series propeller, and we bolted it onto our Hirth 50HP engine.

I wanted to know the answers to these questions:

a)  Would this propeller provide any increase in efficiency over our most ideal wooden propeller?

b)  Would this propeller allow for easier power tuning for Part 103 users?

c)  Would it look cool?

The answer to all 3 questions is yes.  Here's more of the story about efficiency and prop re-pitching:

I've done power consumption testing on the Hirth, and reported on the results in this blog a couple of months ago.  The gas consumption was 3.4 gallons per hour.  The U.S. distributor of Hirth engines suggested I might be able to improve on this fuel consumption figure; I was a little skeptical.  But the Powerfin propeller appears to have proven him correct.

To test the configuration, we selected a prop length of 65 inches, in the "B" series ground adjustable propeller from Powerfin.  This is the longest propeller I've ever thrown on our aircraft.  I thought the extra length would help with efficiency.   I then selected an initial propeller pitch using an online tool I've found which helps interpolate diameter, pitch, RPM, atmospheric conditions, and engine power.  You can find this propeller tool here.  In order to really make it work, you have to convert diameter and pitch to an angle setting for the propeller pitch.  I use this tool to perform that calculation, just put in circumference and pitch into the calculator, and it delivers an angular setting.  (For a 65 inch prop, the circumference is 204.2 inches -- you know how to do that, right?!)  [diameter * 3.142 = circumference]. 

After selecting an angle of 7 degrees, we used a prop protractor to set the propeller 'bite' or pitch, bolted all the bolts to the recommended torque values, and it was time to runup and test power.

As it turned, a quick runup and takeoff showed me that this pitch angle (7 degrees) was too much of a bite, and the engine would not rev up to full power.  In fact, not even close.  However, it was sufficient to get off the ground and allowed me to enjoy flying a grossly underpowered utralight aircraft, but not for very long.  (I landed.)

So the pitch was reset to 6 degrees, and I took another test flight.  This time, the engine was still not able to develop full power, but that's OK -- it climbed great, and was already exceeding the FAR Part 103 cruise speed limit by a wide margin.  (Cruising at 61 knots, 6 knots too fast, this is about 70mph.  If I cut the pitch angle back to about 5.5 degrees, the engine would develop higher RPM and full power, and the Belite Superlite would go EVEN FASTER (probably around 75mph cruise), but that's not my objective.  (However, it may be your objective, if you are building a Belite as an experimental N-Numbered homebuilt aircraft.)

I want to be able to cruise at exactly 55 knots -- which is 62mph, which is the FAR Part 103 cruise speed limit.  So I'll soon reset the pitch to about 6 1/2 degrees.  This should be just the right amount of power.  In other words, the adjustable pitch prop is an excellent way to fine tune a big horsepower engine to be FAR Part 103 legal.

I continued my testing of the Powerfin prop.  I started with a full tank of gas, and I cruised for an hour at exactly 62 mph, with a few takeoffs and landings mixed in.  I then landed and checked fuel consumption with a measured dip stick (I'd also been tracking fuel consumption in flight using our fairly amazing Belite fuel gauge):

Belite Fuel Gauge -- works great -- please buy one.
At the end of the flight, I'd used 3.15 gallons, and I had 1.85 gallons remaining.  Therefore, total time to fuel exhaustion is about 1 hour and 35 minutes -- a substantial improvement over the wooden prop I'd been using.

When using the Hirth 50HP engine and the Powerfin prop, this calculates to a range of a Belite Superlite, in FAR Part 103 legal mode, of 98 miles.

And I do like the way the Powerfin looks!

Here's some things to keep in mind:

a) The larger diameter is definitely a good thing.  However, proper technique calls for 3 point landings and careful takeoffs to avoid grass rash on the prop.  If you want a little shorter prop, I wouldn't go with anything less than a 60 inch diameter on a Belite.

b) As I mentioned earlier, good things come at a price.  These composite props aren't cheap -- but they are worth it if you want the most adjustable option combined with the most efficiency.

c) Also, they are little heavier than wooden props.

d)  I will be adding this prop to our price list.

-- James

Sunday, October 3, 2010

I spotted 14 deer while loitering in the air

Short post:

I'm not a deer hunter.  I've occasionally mused on the idea; ... maybe some day.

This evening, I spotted a group of 14 deer while flying in the neighborhood of home field.  About half of them had antlers, and one was a very nice buck.  No, I won't tell you exactly where I saw them.

I made several circuits around their field, recounting and noting the number of bucks. 

Awesome.  Awesome!