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Saturday, June 23, 2018

Piper Emergency Landing Stops our First Trip

Nancy and I had been waiting for some decent weekend weather to go somewhere in the plane. We finally had a clear Saturday. We planned to take our folding bikes to Ocean City, New Jersey to ride the boardwalk and get some lunch by the beach.

We didn't even make it to the runway.

As we were taxiing up to the ramp, we heard a call come in that a Piper Arrow in the pattern was declaring an emergency. After trying everything, the nose gear still wouldn't go down and lock. He stated his intention to land on the runway without it. He offered to let us take off first, but the airport then came on the radio and warned us that the airport would be closed, possibly for the rest of the day, after the plane was down and disabled on the runway. Therefore, we wouldn't be able to come home, even if we got out.

We parked the plane at the top of the ramp and walked up to the runway. Since I always have cameras with me, we decided to video the landing.  The pilot did a great job. We got lots of still photos and a good video of the landing which even ended up on the evening news in Philadelphia that night.

Here are pictures and video of the event.

Just about to touch down. No nose gear.

Mains down, holding the nose gear off nicely.

The nose drops and the prop is destroyed.

Skidded to a stop.
Quick exit

Fire truck raced out in seconds

There was plenty of emergency equipment on hand


No one injured

Here is the video of the landing. Turn the sound up. The noise of the prop hitting is awful.


We were pretty bummed out that our day was canceled. 

Nancy with the plane in the background

Unhappy grounded pilot. Look at that sky!

As a consolation prize, it was fun to see our video on the evening news and to hear Nancy on TV saying " What a great landing!"

We'll try again on the next sunny weekend.

Oshkosh awaits!


Finally Back in the Air

The upgrade process was much longer than I expected. This has been followed by a marathon of bad weather. It seems that every weekend has been nothing but rain. It is now only one month until our annual pilgrimage to Oshkosh and I want to get some flight time in to check out and fine tune the new systems and to knock the rust off my flying skills. 

We recently had a couple of nice weekdays on which I could sneak out and get some flight time in. I thought I'd post a couple of pictures since it has been a while since I made a post.

It's always a little nervous getting back into the air after an absence, especially when you've rebuilt or modified just about every system in the plane.


The weather was murky, but flyable, so we pushed her out on the ramp.


Airborne again at last.


Nancy takes a shot of the plane on downwind

Taxi back to the hangar
There was only time for a few patterns, but everything works.


With our new ADSB Out capability, Flightaware captures every flight. The details of the flight are available immediately. Kind of cool.


Another nice night and its time to take Nancy up for a sunset sightseeing flight. 

Ready to go

Nancy's first flight this year
Beautiful reflection on the wing

A few shots as we taxi up to the airport. It is still and the sky is turning orange.

View of the new panel and the sky

The upgraded panel

Here's a quick video of our takeoff.


Here are some pictures from the flight. It was beautiful and still, with some haze that was turning pink in the sunset. 

Winglet view

View out the back on the pilot side

View of the screens

Into the sunset

Flying with my girl

Sunset farm fields over Lancaster

Looking for our neighborhood

We circled the neighborhood and waved to everyone in their back yards. As usual, we immediately got texts saying hello and that they saw us go over. This is always fun. Even on return from long trips, the phone will ding as we fly over our little town as everyone recognizes the sound of our plane when we fly over. The Velocity sounds different than other planes.


The sun gets lower as we head back to the airport

Here's a video of our landing.


Back on the ground. The sun sets as we taxi back to the hangar.


I'm a happy pilot after getting back in the air with my favorite co-pilot.


The bad news - the plane is covered with gooey bugs. I mean hundreds of them.

Bug massacre on the leading edge.

Nancy helps me debug the plane.

Once again, Flightaware has recorded our meandering sightseeing flight. This will be great to document long trips.

 We had a great time and look forward to some decent weather to actually go somewhere.

More to come.


Thursday, March 22, 2018

Major Upgrades to the Plane

For several years, I have promised myself that I would get an IFR rating. I renewed this promise everytime I had to cancel a trip due to weather or found myself going hundreds of miles out of my way to get  around weather. There were several factors holding me back, the first of which was money. The avionics upgrade would be just under $20,000. The training would be several thousand dollars.

The second factor was time. I am a lawyer and have very little spare time. I would have to use most of it for probably half a year to make this happen. Just as unpleasant, the plane would be down, that is disassembled and flyable, for months. I have never really gone that long without flying since I completed it in 2010.

The third was the wild card. There is an old saying - "If it ain't broke, don't fix it". This seems to especially apply to airplanes. Whenever you change something or upgrade something, you get a new problem somewhere else.

At Christmas time, Nancy and I made the decision to forego a fancy vacation this year and to buy the avionics. After much research and deliberation, I narrowed the choice down to the Avidyne IFD 440 and the Garmin GTN 650. Both, not coincidentally,  were identically priced. Both had pluses and minuses. The Avidyne seemed to have a more intuitive user interface and had a terrific ability to display a slaved copy of the nav unit to an Ipad. The Garmin had better customer support, more ongoing software updates and a broader base of training.

On the other hand the  choice between transponders was easy. The Garmin transponder was much more capable than the Avidyne unit. It had WiFi and would broadcast ADSB data and an AHRS to mutliple Ipads. Overall, the combination offered by Garmin was more appealing to me.

I ended getting the Garmin GTN 650 touch screen nav/com and 345R transponder. I was replacing a very slim SL30 nav/com with a much larger  650 so I no longer had room for a transponder in my radio stack. This ended up not being an issue, since the remote transponder can be controlled through the 650.

I shopped between multiple avionics shops for installation prices. They wanted over $7,000 just to install and program the units. Having built the entire plane, I was not willing to accept this and, with some trepidation, decided to do it myself.

I hedged my bets by purchasing a custom wiring harness from Approach Systems. Owner Tim Hass has gotten rave reviews from many pilot friends for his pricing and customer service. I ended up buying the radios and wiring harness from him for about the same price as the radios alone from the avionics shops.

While the plane was down, I decided to make some other upgrades. I am adding new upgraded rudder pedals, elevator fairings, door trim, soundproofing, an upgraded compass, air seals to improve heater performance and reduce noise and more.

I will post some pictures of the first part of the process here and continue to update the progress until I am back in the air in late April.


Here is my panel before the changes. It is very capable, and has been good enough for me to fly all over the country as well as to Canada and the Bahamas, but it has no certified GPS and no ADSB Out.


The back of the panel is a lot less user friendly looking. There is very little space and a LOT of wiring.


Here is the new GTN 650 nav/com I'm installing. I'm holding it next to the GTX 327 transponder and SL30 nav/com that it will be replacing in the stack. I will be keeping the SL40 com on the bottom as a backup radio. This will leave about a 1/2 " space on the bottom that I'll have to find a way to fill.


The panel with the radios removed. I hate taking this apart.


I removed the custom radio rack from the plane, pulled the radios and brought it back home to my workshop to reconfigure it for the new radios.


Here it is after reconstruction with the new radios in place. I think it looks pretty good. That's about $18K in radios sitting there. 


I made a spacer plate out of fiberglass and match painted it. 


Here is the new radio stack installed. It looks great, but there is a big space under the bottom radio.


Close up view with the spacer installed under the bottom radio. It looks perfect.


Having this many gadgets means having lots of antennas. The new GTN 650 would add a big new GPS antenna. This wouldn't fit on my antenna rack on the canard. This already held GPS antennas for the Grand Rapids EFIS, the Avmap moving map and the Radenna Skyradar ADSB in system as well as the ADSB antennas and processor underneath.

Time to fabricate a new antenna mounting rack.


I decided to make the new rack out of fiberglass. Here are some pictures of the construction process. 

Cardboard form covered with duct tape

Single 4 ply layup of glass for the structure

Glass laid up and held in place for cure

After cure, ready to remove temporary forms

Cured rack ready for finish and trim

Trimmed up and taking shape

Using templates for mounting holes

Marked up and ready to drill

New antenna installed and others ready to mount

Nice undermount for Skyradar


Next up is the transponder. I have to find a place to mount this so that it will be perfectly level and aligned exactly with the direction of flight. I try everywhere before settling on the spot in the back behind the vanity panel and under the floor of the baggage compartment. I will have to remove the interior and the seats to get it there and move the ELT currently mounted in that spot.

First step, fabricate feet and hardpoints from angle and bar stock

Completed feet

Feet and hardpoints mounted on transponder rack

Access to the new location cleared

Spacers fabricated to level the mount

Transponder and ELT in their new locations

Next, a new compass. I had always hated my leaky, inaccurate wet compass. I finally bit the bullet and bought a dry vertical card flush mount compass. It is more accurate, more intuitive to interpret, lighted and only quadruple the price of the old one.

Crappy old compass

Nice new compass - much better

While I'm back there, I replace the ELT battery and the battery in the remote switch on the panel. Now I'm good until late 2022.


There's still lots more to come. I will be adding the items below.

Elevator fairings

Upgraded door trim


Rudder pedals and new fuel flow sensor (far right and left)

More improvements coming soon.