A Round Motor Enters our Lives

Some of my friends are bad influences on my retirement account. In the spring of 2018, I decided to get a tailwheel endorsement, so that I could fly airplanes with the third wheel in the back. Tailwheel airplanes are trickier to deal with on the ground, because the center of gravity is behind the main wheels and if you don’t keep the airplane pretty much straight on landing, the tail attempts to get in front of the nose, and that’s bad. AirFacts has a reasonable article on why this is both a good and bad thing. Now that I could fly taildraggers, it seemed reasonable to own a taildragger. Also, I caught the round motor bug somewhere along the way. So the second half of last year was spent semi-seriously looking for a taildragger with a round motor that wouldn’t immediately try to kill me. This limited the choices somewhat. There were some round motor Bellanca examples. Fairchild 24Ws are nice. Cessna 190/195s are a bit bigger, but not unreasonable.

In November, a 1940 Fairchild 24W-41A which still had the Warner 165 engine came up for sale in the Puget Sound area. After some back and forth, Jess and I decided to buy the plane. N28525 was built in 1940 as a Fairchild 24W-40, with a Warner 145, which is a 145 HP engine with greased rocker arms. That means greasing the engine every 10 hours, because the grease slowly escapes onto the plane. In 1945, the plane went back to Fairchild to be converted to a 24W-41A, which is basically a 24W-40, but with a Warner 165. The Warner 165 is 165 HP and, more importantly, lubricates its rocker ams with oil instead of grease. Much less maintenance and mess.

Last weekend was the first of a couple of weekends of transition training in the aircraft. We found a couple of minor issues (the radio needs replacement), but overall it flies really well. I’m looking forward to a summer of trips to nearby locations. For now, the plan is to keep the Bellanca, as it’s much better suited for long flights or IFR conditions.

1940 Fairchild 24W-41A

So that happened…

In the fall of 2015, I made some avionics upgrades to the Bellanca. The Narco Mk12D Nav/Com (and its indicator), Collins AMR350 audio panel, Sigtronics intercom, and 121.5 MHz ELT were removed. In their place, we installed a Garmin GTN650 Nav/Com/GPS, Garmin GI-106A indicator, PS Engineering PMA450 audio panel, Garmin GDL88 ADS-b unit, and AmeriKing 406 MHz ELT. After all the upgrades, the panel looked pretty good.

We flew the plane a couple times after the install, and it worked great. The day after Thanksgiving 2015, I flew down to the avionics shop to have the GDL-88’s software updated to the latest release. That part all went well. On the way home, I was a bit rushed due to some time constraints and then got into a busy pattern (no problem) with helicopters in the pattern. There was a coyote on the runway and I had to go around (again, no problem), but got behind a helicopter in the pattern and somehow didn’t get the gear down before landing (big problem!). The result was ugly.

Later investigation during repair would find that the gear alarm had been disabled during the avionics install, so the backup to the human had failed. No excuse, but irritating when I discovered what had happened. I was left with a choice: take the insurance payout and write the plane off or do most of the repair labor myself (overseen by a friendly IA, of course). I went for the repair option, which took all of 2016. The structural damage was actually pretty minimal. The inner two ribs of both flaps needed to be repaired and the trailing edge replaced, then the flaps were recovered. Minor repairs to the right wing’s 2nd rib were required. The strobe mounting bracket on the belly was removed (due to damage) and replaced with a stringer, then the fabric damage repaired. The nose gear had to be disassembled, inspected, repaired, and reinstalled. The engine went to Western Skyways for a major overhaul and is nice and shiny and clean now. The prop governor was overhauled and the prop replaced. The nav lights and belly strobe were replaced with AeroLED nav/strobe kits and the landing/taxi lights replaced with Whelen Parmetheus Plus lights. I replaced all the seat belts and added BAS inertia reel shoulder harnesses for the front seats. And, because I hadn’t changed enough things, pulled the VAL INS-422 Nav radio and King KY-97A Com radio and installed a Garmin SL-30 Nav/Com and another GI-106A indicator. Also removed the clock and installed a Guardian Aero 553 carbon monoxide detector. And, in proof that AmeriKing really was making crap, the almost new ELT didn’t pass inspection, so I pulled it and installed a Artex ELT 1000 unit.

First flight was January 5, 2017 and lasted about 1.25 hours. The airplane performed almost perfectly. The avionics upgrades all worked perfectly, as did the lights, gear, flaps, and such. Despite the flap rebuild and re-rigging both the flaps and ailerons, the airplane flew straight and level. Only two real problems during the flight: the need to turn up the prop governor to get some more RPMs at full power and a flaky left magneto. The mag has been pulled, sent to Western Skyways, repaired, and returned. Now time for propeller adjustments and a spring of hard flying to finish the engine break-in.

Bellanca-Champion West Coast Fly-In

I finally made it to Columbia, CA (O22) for the Bellanca-Champion West Coast Fly-In this weekend. The West Coast Fly-In is widely regarded as the largest gathering of Bellanca airplanes anywhere in the world, and this year the triple tails had a good showing with close to 20 planes showing up. Three of those were Cruisemaster 260s (picture below). There was even a T-250 Aries, which I had never seen in person before.
Cruisemaster 260s
The Columbia Airport has a campground on site and the Fly-In is held at the campground. Jess and I decided to stay in town, however, as the hotels had air conditioning and it was hot the whole weekend. It’s about a 1 mile walk to the campground from the town if you know the secret path, which we didn’t know the first time. Live and learn. Good food was eaten, airplane stories were told, and Jess got to see her first flour bombing and spot landing contests.

New Home for the Bellanca

The Bellanca has been living in a rental hangar at Auburn Airport (S50) since last summer.  Auburn Airport’s a great little airport, and everyone has been very friendly.  However, the rental hangar has left a lot to be desired.  There’s not much light (two CFL bulbs for the whole hangar), not much power (I share a 15A breaker with two other hangars), and too much water (the concrete wasn’t properly sealed and leaches water into the hangar when it rains).  When a condo T hangar came up for sale, I decided it was time to move.  I only moved one hangar row, but now I own my own (very nice) T hangar.

11188277_10206530505607368_7029922267986968871_nThe new hangar has 80A 240V service, so power isn’t a concern.  In the old hangar, I couldn’t reliably run the air compressor, but it runs great again.  It also has 2 400W metal-halide lamps plus two sets of fluorescent tubes, so there’s no problem with light.  There’s also rough-ins for water and sewer, so I’ll be able to add a bathroom and/or utility sink in the future.  Rather than large sliding metal doors, the hangar has a Hydroswing door, so opening / closing the door is a whole lot less work.  Finally, and most importantly, there’s a proper vapor barrier under the concrete, which should help reduce my moisture problems.  If not, I’ll have to insulate the side walls and add a small heater, which should help significantly.

Now to move all my gear from the old hangar to the new hangar.  Which isn’t so easy :).

New Years Flight

Jess and I were planning on flying to The Hub at Tacoma Narrows for the Pacific Northwest Flying web board’s West Side Fly-In.  Sadly, we were a bit late getting going, but the weather was beautiful so we went flying anyway.  We’re in a streak of multiple very cold days with almost no wind, and there was definitely some haze in the air from all the fires.  But the air was still and cold, and you really can’t beat a -2000′ density altitude at takeoff.

We flew up the west side of Seattle, just outside SeaTac and Boeing airspace, then cut across Seattle to the east just north of the Space Needle then across Lake Union, along the canal, and over Lake Washington.  We did a stop-n-go at Paine Field up north, then Renton (sadly landing to the north, so no over water approach) and then back to Auburn.  All told, 1.7 hours and three landings.  Not a bad way to start the new year.  Jess took this great picture of downtown on our way to Lake Union.FOTD80A

Post-move maintenance

As I mentioned in my previous post, the Bellanca didn’t want to idle very well at sea level. This isn’t particularly surprising, since it was last adjusted during an annual at Sandia Airpark, at an elevation of 6550′. I was supposed to do a fuel pressure adjustment (high and low) yesterday, but the mechanic forgot a tool and we had to delay. The mechanic’s going to calibrate his fuel pressure gauge this week, and we’ll be able to do the run-up / calibration next weekend.

The download of the data from the flight showed some oddities in the behavior of the #5 cylinder. Either it was showing much higher exhaust gas temps than the other cylinders or was running much cooler cylinder head temps. When we took the cowl off, we also noticed some fuel stains around the intake manifold pipe for that cylinder. Hopefully, it’s just a slightly loose connection at the fuel injector, but I have some concerns that the exhaust valve is wearing out, which would be an unfortunate unexpected expense. Pretty easy to check, so I’ll know more next week.

Finally totaled the fuel for the trip from Albuquerque to Seattle. The fuel flow totalizer in the EDM-900 thinks I burned 153.5 gallons and the fuel receipts show I burned 154.4 gallons, so the computer was off by less than 1%, so I’m happy with the calibration at this point.

A New Home

I moved to Seattle, WA in March for a new job and relocated the Bellanca from New Mexico over Memorial Day weekend. We tried to take the direct route, but ran into some really bad weather over the four corners area and had to return to Albuquerque. On a second attempt at leaving New Mexico, we flew to Flagstaff, Las Vegas (Henderson), Reno (Stead), Hillsboro, and Seattle. In end, GPS says we flew 1,876.35 miles at an average speed of 132.06 MPH. From just north of Crater Lake until the Seattle area we were in the clouds as frequently as not, which was fun. We were able to make visual approaches into both Hillsboro and Everett, which was nice. Overall, the plane flew really well, although it didn’t want to idle very slowly at sea level, so some fuel calibration will be needed.

I’m still deciding where to base the Bellanca, but for now it’s going to live in a shared hangar at Paine Field in Everett, WA. Paine is the home of the Boeing wide-body factory, hence the variety of 747, 777, and 787 planes in the background.


Survived another year

Well, the Bellanca survived another annual inspection. The transponder will probably need calibration before it passes inspection in two years, but it passed. No unexpected issues came up, which was a nice change. Taxing with the new alternator is great (charging the battery at idle? Weird!) and it works as well as the generator in flight. The new regulator is much better at holding constant voltage, which is not surprising.

No major squawks after the return to service flight, and the gyros work much better after the regulator was adjusted a bit higher after we found out how far off the suction gauge was pre-overhaul. The paperwork’s done, the bill’s paid, now time to fly!

2014 Annual

N8861R goes in to AirTec for it’s annual inspection tomorrow. There are no major issues I’m aware of, so it should be a fairly standard inspection and hopefully not take too long.

As with every other year, I made a couple upgrades to the airplane already:

  • Replaced the old, failing 35 amp generator and mechanical regulator with a Plane Power 70 amp alternator and solid-state regulator. In addition to more power in cruise flight (so more head room for avionics upgrades), the alternator can actually put out more power at idle than the generator could in cruise. So no more low voltage / discharge alarms on the EDM-900 during taxi! Oh, and a gain of 8 pounds of useful load helps, too.
  • Replaced the engine control cables. The old throttle and prop cables were original and starting to look real bad. The mixture cable was in good shape, but had been replaced about a decade ago, but was not the right length (it looks like someone used a pre-made size, not the factory length).
  • Returned the engine control cable mounting brackets to their (supposedly) original locations, which makes some of the tighter parts of the cowling fit a little bit better.
  • Fixed (hopefully) the fluctuations in MAP pressure by installing a snubber in the manifold pressure line.
  • Overhauled the suction gauge, which was of suspect accuracy

It’s also the year for pitot/static and transponder checks, which always makes me a bit nervous (altimeters and blind encoders aren’t cheap, and finding leaks in pitot or static lines sucks). The altimeter and blind encoder passed bench tests, so that’s one hurdle down.