Random musings with an aviation flavor, natch.

Sunday, May 11, 2008


My trip to Paris and Angers to visit niece Brenna was tres amazing! CDG airport (see the slim, tall ATC tower here) and the TGV and the Metro were all WELL-organized transport. But, it was tres mal to NOT see ANY GA-type airplanes the WHOLE time I was there! 8-(

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Wednesday, April 09, 2008

LIGA April 08 Clinic!

Wow! I just got to be part of the April volunteer weekend down in El Fuerte (and environs, some went to El Carrizo, some to San Blas), Sinoloa, Mexico, with LIGA, The Flying Doctors of Mercy.
AMAZING volunteers.
I am in awe.
Got in 5.1 hours of flight time in trusty N7598S (AKA CF98S - compassion flight) with Robin and Tony. We flew Amal, a Med Student, down to help.
Also got in about 9 hours of support work in the clinic pharmacy! I backed up the local (orig. American), Spanish-fluent psychotherapist who subbed on patient services for the pharamacist, who's plane had mechanical problems and had to turn around. I also provided meds for the docs, and did lots of PDR research all day long as I sorted and shelved and labeled donated meds.
Our La Choza Hotel was lovely and the service was great.
I will be going back!


Monday, February 18, 2008

Scientists vs. Engineers in the cockpit

I'm a science and engineering librarian for my day job, and have worked with both disciplines for years. The similarities and differences fascinate me.

Mostly I've flown with lots of engineers - when I got back into aviation, it was thanks to engineers at the company where I worked, and my primary instructor the second time round was an engineer (electrical), and most of the folks in my current flying club are enginers.

I've had the fun to fly with a physicist now, and he is good! Equally precise in checklists and data and such as the engineers, but seems a bit less inclined to keep adjusting settings!

Of course, this is an enormous generalization based on only one guy and one experience, but it does seem to hold with physicists' traits vs. engineers' traits I've observed at work, too!


Second flight to SBP today!
We both got about 2/10ths actual, and R got to log the approach into SBP as instrument, as she was in the clouds for much of the final approach!
I got the actual busting out of there. It was clear, though hazy, for the final 3rd of the journey home (starting about CMA).
What a great way to spend President's Day, admiring part of our country from aloft!

New task learned! Battery fluid testing

So I learned another new task at our flying club's maintenance day this month! How to test the fluid level in the C182's battery.

I volunteered to do this routinely, as I am small enough to fit all folded up in the baggage compartment area and thus reach the battery in the tail behind baggage easier than the guys who have to dangle lots of legs out the baggage door!

We test in 2 ways:
  1. With a flashlight and an angled mirror, to see in each battery post/well, and see that the fluid goes up the sides a bit, and has that nice look of viscosity and surface tension (hard to put in words, but easy enough to see!), and also
  2. Using the floating ball (well, tube) type hydrometer - looks like a turkey baster with a measured off tube inside - have to squeeze the air out with the bulb, and carefully let the fluid up

Key is not to get this acidic fluid on yourself or the carpet!

It was pretty fun!

Cake for flight club maintenance day!

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Here's me at Big B

L35! (aka Big Bear airport)

Whew! It was INTENSE flying to Big Bear today, Santa Ana's created QUITE a bit of turbulence, especially high over ONT, but it was only ever MODERATE, not severe. Still, it was a lot of work, but, as CFI Bill G. (who was checking me out for BB) said, "worth it"! Gorgeous setting! See the WX station w/ ski slope background shot.

Interesting, the C182 really does not perform that great at 9,500 Ft MSL - throttle whammed to the firewall and only 20" Hg Manifold Pressure! In some ways it is easier to fly the C172 there.

Where but SoCal can you have breakfast at home in 60 deg. F., lunch up in snow country at 30 deg F, and dinner back home where it is now 70 deg?!

Monday, December 03, 2007

SMOKING RIVETS!: New stuff learned at maintenance day!

Maintenance day at our flying club is also a learning experience, usually a good/fun one! 'Twas this past weekend. some things I learned:
  • "Smoking rivets" - nope, not one of Batman's sidekick's phrases (!), but a condition where rivets are too loose, and they wiggle and rub in their slots a bit (e.g. under the wing), and create aluminum powder/dust that leaves a smoke-like trail. Not good - should replace bolts that are doing this.
  • How to take apart the taxi and landing light units on a 1970s Cessna 182 Skylane, and put new gaskets in.
  • That the backseat of a C182 mid 70s era is bolted in with 7/16th size bolts! (And it is a bear to undo 'em, and you have to jiggle/wiggle the rug under the seat and line up or create holes for the bolts).

Monday, October 22, 2007


My buddy Robin and I actually had a training flight in the retractable gear plane yesterday, because while the wind was gusting 30-40 mph at Van Nuys and higher up in Ventura County, it wasn't bad at Hawthorne and Torrance airports.

But it looked better from the ground - aloft at about 1,750 ft. or so the about 1,000' thick layer of brown smoke and particulates existed. It was almost but not quite instrument conditions.

We could not see any of the fires from that spot at about 4,500 aloft, but again, this flat basin area is pretty protected with the sea breezes pushing back at the Santa Anas.

The myriad microclimates in SoCal are endlessly fascinating! Unfortunately they are sometimes dangerous, too.

This is NOT from yesterday, but from July's fire north of SBA (from inside Bruce's Cirrus backseat).


Saturday, September 15, 2007

Welcome to the World of Spark Plugs!

Wow. It has been an intense owner-assisted maintenance day at our flying club for me. I learned how to do more of the steps of spark plug maintenance from nice but harried mechanics, we were short people everywhere today.

The only plug cleaning I've done til today is revving up the airplane at runup and running it lean and hot for a minute to remove plug fouling from flooding the engine!

This aviation blogger Andy has a relevant post on airplane spark plugs here: http://www.theandyzone.com/flight/2006_03_01_archive.html

Anyway, here at a broad level (I may write up the detailed steps for myself at some point, though of course I am not a mechanic), are some of the things we do w/ the Skylane:

Remove all 6 plugs; need 2 wrenches, one to hold the small bolt, one to turn the large; also need a plug socket wrench to totally remove them (even though I CAN do w/ my fingers), cuz this special wrench will "catch" the plug. Once you drop a plug IT IS GARBAGE - the ceramic could well've shattered inside.

Put the 6 plugs in the labelled metal "basket" for each. (We CAN replace plug 2 top w/ plug 2 bottom, and vice versa, but canNOT move cleaned plugs to a NEW slot, hence the keeping them straight).

Take the basket into the hangar, and, first, clean them all w/ the vibrator.

Not sure if Andy's "cleaning machine" that sounded like a grinder is the same as the Champion thing we use with the two vibrating rods, but it could be. (Interestingly, a Cessna Pilots org. board has some people recommending AGAINST these machines, saying they could be too rough on the plugs. Hmm. I am WAY TOO MUCH a newbie to have an opinion yet!)

Ah, per SkyGeek (http://www.skygeek.com/sppltoeq.html), the thing IS simply called a vibrator cleaner. So, run them all through that to get the worst crud off.

THEN, go to the "Spark Plug Cleaner and Tester" (must say I like Champion's easy descriptive names for tools!!), and....
Put each plug into the cleaning socket, push the red button to squirt special grade silica sand at the plug, whilst carefully twiddling the plug in a small circle, then keep twiddling while pushing the black button to blow air at the plug.
(If you are me today you find out the sand is low, so you have to find someone to help you find the sand, and it turns out its in a little Champion sealed bag, NOT in a huge canvas tote as you expected.)

Then, do NOT move to the TEST side of the Cleaner and Tester yet!! VERY important! I did NOT realize this at first...was not shown that step. The guys assume I've worked in a garage or hangar I think, which is nice, but WAY WRONG! Today was like BEING IN A FOREIGN LAND for me - MANY of the words I did not understand, AND thus could not look for the "X" which "should be right there next to Y." Riiight.

NEXT, you MUST use "the air gun with the red and black levers." Riiight. Turns out to be a nozzle/trigger thing that goes on an air hose; the mechanic found it, then used it. Anyway, we must use this to BETTER BLOW OFF the sand from the cleaner on each plug BEFORE testing it.

BUT, you still canNOT get to the TESTING side of the cleaner/tester yet!

Now, you must "Gap the Plugs." My husband explained this briefly to me last month (when I done the graphite painting and reinstalling of already cleaned plugs) from his youth of working on cars with uncles, but I did not really get it totally, til today...now I kind of get it.

What you are doing is testing the teeny air gap the spark has to jump between the "tongue" on each side of these RHB38E plugs and the core of same. You want uniformity as much as possible. We would like our plugs to be sparking on both sides.

To TEST, and tweak, the gaps, you first measure 'em with a "gap gauge" (Skygeek has these too, on the same page as above: http://www.skygeek.com/sppltoeq.html; we have the little retractable kind. Our Skylane wants gaps between 0.016 and 0.017; luckily the gap gauge has a wire of 0.015 width and one of 0.019 width on one of the sides, so you want the 19 NOT to fit, and the 15 to fit loosely, with a bit of feel on each side, not too loose.
BUT OF COURSE FIRST THE GAP GAUGE IS NOWHERE TO BE FOUND! And I canNOT help LOOK FOR IT, cuz I have NO IDEA what it looks like!! (You might have gathered this was all super frustrating to me!! Being so uninformed. But at least now I AM more informed!).

So, me and the next guy w/ his plane's plugs (he's not used the Cleaner/Tester much, but HAS gapped plugs alot, so we help each other out) FINALLY find the gap gauge in the tool carrier where other spark plug stuff is. Duh!

THEN, we have to find the "Gap Setting Tool" (again, see the Skygeek page) to clamp onto one of the benches and to CAREFULLY use to screw down the awl-like point to push in any tongues that are far enough out to let a 0.019 wire fit in the gap. This PETRIFIES me for some reason I still don't quite understand - I am SUPER AFRAID of screwing this up! I get guidance from a bunch of different mechanics and seasoned pilots, finally one guy (thanks MB!!!) shows me how to put the 0.015 wire into the gap after the plug is seated in the setting tool, and then CAREFULLY screw down the awl/rod just a bit, and then test moving the 0.015 in and out. This is still hard for me, and I think I totally wrecked a plug that was already only sparking on one side...but then I DROPPED this plug anyway, so it was TOAST.

But finally I ALSO FIX another plug that was sparking only on one side and it now sparks on TWO in the Tester, hallelujah!!!

So I ended up going back and forth between the bench w/ the setting tool and the tester side of the cleaner/tester a number of times. THEN there was no replacement plug for the one I dropped, so we had to have our parts guy go buy some more. THEN another one would not spark AT ALL for me, so I had to use one of the extra new ones, and so on.

This took me AT LEAST TWO HOURS, I swear, and even caused a few tears, not to mention sweat and grime (no blood at least!)

But now that I come to type it up, I feel a bit of sneaking pride I LEARNED ALL OF THIS today at the hangar!!

HOPEFULLY R. and I will actually get to fly the plane tomorrow (when I will be ACUTELY aware of the sparkplugs!!!)