Random Stuff


Some of you may have noticed a stark silence of sorts here the last couple weeks.  Fear not, I am alive and well.  However, just under three weeks ago, I found myself laid off along with the majority of my coworkers.  So, not surprisingly, the majority of my energy since then has been going into looking for work, and in turn, I haven’t touched the project at all.  Still have that nice stack of stiffeners sitting on the bench, waiting to be prepped and primed.  Maybe I’ll get out there and do that tomorrow…

Posted in Random Stuff

Thoughts about aircraft building and self-discovery

First, a quick update.  Still haven’t worked on the project since last time.  Still looking for a job, although I have a pretty good prospect working right now.  However, the point of this post isn’t to cover direct progress on the project; instead, I’m going to go off the normal path here and talk about some intangibles.

This whole thing started as I was replying to a discussion on the VAF forums.  A man was relating how he’d just ordered his tail kit, and it was clear he was excited about getting started on his project.  The discussion eventually turned into dispensation of advice from other builders.  Even though my building experience is miniscule at this point, I still joined in and provided some of the things that I’d dealt with working on my tail kit.

In particular, the soon-to-be builder mentioned how he wanted to try and focus on the current small part of the project, instead of thinking in terms of the project as a whole.  It’s a valid point; if all you think about every night is how much more you have to do until you have a flying aircraft, you’ll probably have some motivation issues.  I’ve personally never felt that, but I know others have.  In any case, I started typing up my reply to that effect, but as I continued to write about other obstacles I’d run into along the way, I found myself outlining some things I’d learned about myself along the way.  These were all things that I’d internalized and worked with, but something about writing them out gave me a new understanding.

The core of this involves the learning curve that is inevitable in a project like this.  I knew going in that I’d be learning a lot of new skills, but I only thought in terms of skills with my hands.  In the EAA Sportair workshop, I learned how to squeeze and buck solid rivets, how to maintain proper edge distance, how to smooth and deburr edges to promote proper fit and prevent cracks, and so on.  I’ve practiced and much improved those and other skills since I started building.  So that learning curve isn’t news to anyone…but what was unexpected, and what I only began to really understand as I wrote that reply on VAF, was that I’ve also learned things that aren’t at all confined to airplane building.

One of those things, which I’ve alluded to briefly in these writings, is my tendency to set goals that are, at best, not based in reality at all.  I’d try to convince myself that they weren’t hard goals, but just targets to shoot for, but then I’d find myself bummed out at the end of the night when I hadn’t achieved my goals.  I might go out to the garage all full of steam-tonight, surely I could get the vertical stab skinned!  By the end of the night, maybe something had gone wrong, or I’d just taken more time than I thought, and it was clear that I wasn’t going to be riveting the skin on.  So I’d end up going back into the house feeling a bit defeated, even though the goal I’d set was based on nothing more concrete than “I think I can do this”.

But the thing here is that this realization has an impact outside the garage.  In the rest of my life, I have a tendency to go into situations with some predetermined idea of how things are going to proceed and how they’ll end up.  Then, quite frequently, things don’t proceed as I expect, and I end up with feelings of disappointment and sometimes resentment.  The thing is, what I’m really resenting is usually that other people didn’t act the way I wanted them to act.  Thinking rationally, that’s a pretty stupid expectation to work off of.  People are people, independent beings who are quite obviously not going to act according to my wishes.  It’s no wonder things don’t go as I expect when everything is based off such an irrational expectation.

I can even think about how my mental process goes when I play chess, and it’s the exact same thing.  I’m not a horrible player by any means, but my hangup is yet another expression of what I’ve been talking about.  I formulate a plan: I do this, my opponent will respond as such, so then I’ll do this, and he’ll do this, etc.  It all looks so very good, except that my opponents have a bad habit of not doing what I expect them to do.  It’s almost like they’re trying to win the game too!

I suppose what this all boils down to is that this sort of outcome-based thinking is the common thread that needs to be avoided or at least controlled.  I still go out to the garage thinking “I’d like to finish XYZ tonight,”  but the subtle difference is not getting hung up on the outcome.  Achieving the goal is great, but not if it comes at the expense of cutting corners or cheating.  The key is to take pride in all the small, individual accomplishments.  Maybe I didn’t get that stab skinned, but I did get the skeleton together.  Maybe it took longer because I had to rethink some small task, or I set a couple of questionable rivets that were better off replaced.  The bottom line is that it’s all these small tasks that add up to finished components, so getting the small tasks right is more important than getting some arbitrary number of them right in an evening.

So that’s what I mean when I talk about self-discovery.  I’ve heard more than one builder comment that this is a project that will change your life.  Usually it’s couched in terms of meeting lots of new people, making new friends, and so forth.  For me, I think it’s giving me an avenue to confront and address these things about myself.  It’s not that I didn’t know about these tendencies before, but something about working on the RV has put them in a new light.  I haven’t conquered them by any means, and I may never do so, but I’m taking more steps all the time towards understanding and living with them.

Who would have thought that sheet metal work would lead to this kind of thing?

Posted in Random Stuff

Wings: ordered

Yup, today I filled out and faxed in the order form for my wing kit.  Previously, I’d decided to wait until I had the majority of the funds for the kit available, but now I just don’t think I can wait that long; doing so would probably mean I wouldn’t be building wings until at least April.  I’ve already had enough downtime and I don’t want to do that again.  I’m just going to have to control my spending so I can be prepared to pay the balance of the kit off at the beginning of March.  I know I can do this if I maintain my discipline.

A few random details: after reading some hot debates on VAF between capacitive and float-type fuel level senders, I elected to go with the capacitive variety.  The lack of moving parts and increased accuracy appeals to me.  I also substituted the “deluxe” fuel caps for the standard ones included in the kit; the consensus seems to be that the standard caps are known to have sealing issues and sometimes admit water into the fuel tanks.  It’s a pretty cheap upgrade.

Also, in the course of seeing if there was anything else I should consider before ordering the wings, I discovered that I’m approaching a new build stage where I’ll really have to start thinking ahead.  There are lots of things that need to be figured out before I button the wings up.  Nav/position/landing lights will need to be wired up, and I should probably run conduit with pull strings in place in case I add stuff down the road.  Apparently using a nonstandard pitot tube (which I’ll almost certainly do since I want an AoA indicator) also requires some attention here.  Depending on which autopilot I want to use, I may need to install the roll servo in one wing.  So on and so forth..I’m sure this will really get fun once I get into the fuselage…

Posted in Random Stuff

Wings will be here TOMORROW!

It’s been a little strange not working on anything actively the last few weeks, but I won’t have that problem for much longer.  This morning I called Van’s to inquire about the order status, and found out the wings shipped last Wednesday.  Anne also gave me a tracking number, with which I found that my wings were last seen in Memphis early this morning, with an estimated delivery date of…TOMORROW!  Sure enough, I got a call from Con-Way Freight just a bit ago, and we set up a delivery window for tomorrow afternoon.  They’re also going to have the driver give me a call about 30 minutes in advance so I can just run home to help unload, and then back to work.  This way I don’t have to either take the whole day off or work from home.

It’s probably a good thing the delivery window is in the late afternoon, because I have a feeling my productivity at work is going to plummet with the knowledge that those crates are in the garage, waiting to be inventoried.

Meanwhile, i did finally get the horizontal/elevator assembly stored, after it resided on sawhorses in the garage for several weeks.  It’s now hanging in my bedroom. (because, well, where else would you hang airplane parts but in the bedroom?)  I still have to get the vertical/rudder assembly stored, but I have an idea for that…which I suppose I should implement tonight, since tomorrow Big Things will be afoot…

Posted in Random Stuff

Big things are afoot

(Fair warning: this post will be kind of long and winding and only peripherally related to the RV build)

Anyone who’s been following this blog (not that there are many of you) has likely noticed that there’s been very little getting done as of late. First it was busy times at work, but even after that wore off, I found myself not getting out to the garage much. Even without long hours, work seemed to be burning me out mentally and emotionally, to the point that I rarely wanted to do anything but zone out when I made it home.

Sort of simultaneously, about six months ago my mind started really wandering with regards to where I was going with my life. It began when I found out by chance that a man who did Waco air tours in Marathon, FL had his relief pilot run said Waco out of gas and land it in the water. The tour operator subsequently decided to pursue a different business. Suddenly my mind lit up with dreams of running air tours in the Keys; it would certainly be a giant step downward in terms of income, but the mere idea of getting out of an office and into something aviation-related really stoked my imagination. I was willing to accept living in a shack on the beach if necessary.

That, in turn, led to a lot of discussions with Josie about similar business opportunities. Air tours could happen anywhere; just some good tourist town with lots of nice scenery. We discussed doing fixed-wing vs helicopter tours. We discussed seeing if her helicopter instructor might want to expand into a new area and let us run the operation. We discussed finding a big chunk of land, putting a grass strip on it, and trying to turn it into a destination for fly-in vacationers, whether with cabins, spots for tent camping, whatever. Still the same basic idea; a big sacrifice in terms of income, but a potentially huge payoff in personal fulfillment.

Still later, I began thinking of ways to move into an aviation-related industry, while still making use of my current software experience. My first idea was to try and learn embedded software; this could afford me the opportunity to go work with Garmin or Dynon or another similar place. Not a flying job, but still a job with other pilots, people I could really identify with. I had a conversation with the president of Dynon; they weren’t hiring, but he was interested in seeing my resume. It seemed like the kind of connection that could pay off in the future. I bought books and materials to start learning about embedded systems. This was a better financial prospect than the air tour stuff; I’d essentially be starting over with entry-level work and probably take a significant pay cut. Still, it was an attractive out, but one that would take time to develop.

Finally, it occurred to me to go search for Web-based aviation companies. Places where I could apply the exact skill set I already had, but in a good aviation environment. The first thing I found, amazingly enough, was SpaceX. I browsed their openings on a whim, and was surprised to find a front-end developer opening. Working for a space program? YES PLEASE. I never heard back after applying, but the idea was motivating. I went on to apply for positions with EAA and AOPA; they seemed to be lower-level positions that would probably entail a pay cut, but I concluded that I was willing to accept a 20% decrease in standard of living if it meant I could go to work every day and work on things that motivated me. Where else to check out? Suddenly, I had an epiphany – FlightAware. Definitely a web-based company; with some research I found out FlightAware was founded by pilots, and most of the current employees were pilots. And they were currently hiring people just like me.

So I applied. A few days later, I was having a phone interview with one of their senior developers. A few weeks later, I was being flown out to Houston for an in-person interview. I knew it was the right place as soon as I walked in the office door and heard someone, somewhere, telling a story about flying an instrument approach. The waiting area contained nothing but flying magazines. I met the CTO, a pilot who showed me the videos of his RC plane builds. I met the director of software; he asked some technical questions and gave me a few tests before we sat back and chatted about flying into Oshkosh, airplane ownership, and so on. I left with a huge smile on my face. A company made by pilots for pilots, with a great culture to match. Twenty minutes after leaving the office, I got a text from the CTO to expect a formal job offer. Two days ago, I received and promptly accepted said offer.

I simply can’t stress enough how unreal this all seems. Six months ago I was willing to accept a shack on the beach to have a fulfilling job. One month ago I was willing to take a 20% pay cut. Now, here I am with a competitive offer at a pilot’s company. It seems like a match made in heaven.

All this is to say that things are going to remain slow for a while; I want to get a few components to a good stopping point before moving out to Texas, but for the most part work is going to be stopped until a while after the move. It’ll probably be February of next year before I’m able to get back to work. But I believe I can look forward to getting my motivation back for sure.

Texas, here I come.

Posted in Random Stuff

Landing gear fitting, pt 1

So I was going to have a nice productive day yesterday, but then a coworker went and invited me and some others on a BBQ run to Lockhart in his father’s Cessna 421…how could I turn that down? Especially since he flew out of Houston Executive, which is about five minutes from my front door. So yeah, that trip combined with other commitments to render yesterday mostly useless. Same thing today, some stuff going on, but I was able to get some actual work done. I need to start getting out here on the weeknights after work, even if it’s just for an hour or so. This weekly-work thing isn’t going to translate into much productivity…

Anyway, when we left off last time, I’d decided to do a modified version of Matt Dralle’s plywood method for aligning the gear legs, but using planks at each end of my aluminum angles for alignment. I tried my idea of clamping the planks in place to counter the tendency of the angles to bend outward, figuring that with everything clamped up tightly, I wouldn’t have a lot of freedom of movement of the gear legs…but I was dead wrong there. I was still able to twist a leg by several degrees before I met resistance. And my idea of sighting down the angles to identify straightness – well, I tried that a bit too, and just found myself unsatisfied with the whole thing. I felt there was a significant margin of error all around, and so I scrapped the idea. Instead, on our way home from our Saturday evening event, we swung by Home Depot and I picked up a sheet of plywood. (which I strapped to the roof of Josie’s SUV, which I in turn drove home at speeds no faster than 45 MPH)

This morning, I set about cutting the sheet. The one good result of the failed plank method was that I had a great preset measuring stick for cutting the plywood. Of course, I took great pains to make my cut as square as possible, setting up a straight guide for the circular saw, and measuring everything about 40 times. In the end, I was stressing over about a 1/32” variance, which I then calculated would result in a 0.04° error alignment, and I’m pretty sure the entire alignment process will have far less precision than that. So I quit stressing and made the cut.

The resulting piece fits nicely:

IMG 6992

I did have to make a bit of a relief cut to make room for the nuts where I attached the angles:

IMG 6995

I also came up with what I thought was a brilliant idea – to align the gear legs relative to the fuselage, I figured I could just make reference marks on either side of the plywood, and align them with set marks on the gear legs. Hypothetically, if the legs were misaligned to the fuselage, these marks wouldn’t be able to line up with both legs at the same time. Here’s a look at the marks:

IMG 6996

Fun thing to keep in mind: None of this is going to be used to align the legs for drilling right now, this is just to get a rough alignment so I can trim the gear crossmembers. With that in mind, and the plywood in place, I got the legs nice and parallel, and then aligned them carefully using those reference marks. But when I went to marks the cut lines on the crossmembers, one of the marks was suspiciously further aft than the other. I’d always intended to double-check the alignment using plumb bobs before final-drilling, but it seemed that I needed to go ahead and do it now.

So I hung one plumb bob from the tailspring out back, and then one from each gear leg. And when I measured the distances (boy, was I glad I had two tape measures, rather than having to go back and forth comparing with just one), there was almost a full inch of difference! Well, so much for my genius idea with the reference marks.

Here’s a look at the club bob setup on a gear leg:

IMG 6999

And the tape measures meeting at the tail plumb bob:

IMG 7000

So after a few rounds of tweaking, I was finally happy enough with the alignment to mark my cut lines for the outboard brackets:

IMG 7003

Of course, now I have a new problem: Cutting to that point will violate minimum edge distance to that rivet hole above the line in the photo. The other side isn’t quite as bad as this one, but still close. I’m pretty sure this is an OK compromise to make – I’d expect this to be a low-stress area – but I’m going to ask the usual suspects at VAF for a second look. I’m pretty sure this is an issue specific to the Grove legs, which I understand to have larger brackets than the factory legs. I suppose worst case, I could add a second rivet in between those two to shore up the area a bit – but I do honestly feel that it’d be unnecessary.

We’ll see what I find out. Now the real question is, will I actually get back out and work some more tomorrow night?

Posted in Random Stuff | Hours Logged: 2.5