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SOME REFLECTIONS ON 3 MONTHS OF THE EZ LIFE
On the sixth of July of this year, my Long-EZ N316DB flew.
Thus ended some 7 years of anticipation, occasionally very intensely focused work, and an
inordinate outlay of cash. And thus began a probable lifetime of very enjoyable flying,
occasionally very intensely focused work, and monumental expenditures.
The pressure was on. I had to complete my 40 hours of test flying (all within a 25-nm circle with an airplane of range about 50 times that) within 15 days in order to make my departure deadline for The Big Trip.
The Big Trip was what had kept me motivated for the previous seven months or so. Back in December of 1987, Sid Stiber (Shelter Island, NY) and Mike and Sally Melvill and I had discussed a tour of the east coast after Oshkosh '88. 1 had never been to New England, or many of the areas we planned to tour, and so it was the perfect motivation. Plans were set.
And so the Runabout (as I call my Long) and I departed Mojave on 22 July bound for Kansas City. I left early for Oshkosh in order to attend my 10th high school reunion. climbed directly to 17,500 ft and averaged about 165 ktas into (of course) about 15 kt of headwind. As I crossed Colorado, it became apparent that I was going to have to slow down in order to make the trip nonstop. By the time Great Bend, Kansas arrived, I ran the left tank dry, and had about 6 in the right. Playing the fuel flow against the time-to-go (thank you, Alcor and Northstar), I was able to arrive at Johnson County Industrial airport with about 20 min fuel left (2 gal). Total flight time was 7 hours, 50 minutes. The distance was 1,180 run, and I used 50 gallons of fuel. I was, to say the least, extremely pleased. This was the first time that the Runabout had been away from its test area, and it had gone more than halfway across the country nonstop! I was amazed to find that I was not particularly fatigued, and I felt that after a pit stop I could have gone for several more hours.
After several more days of flying around the Kansas City area, I continued to Oshkosh. There the final details of our trip cast were cemented. Mike & Sally decided that they would not be able to go after all, so Bruce and Bonnie Tifft, Sid, Dick Kreidel, and I left Wittman Field on Tuesday, 2 August for Montreal (aka the Great White North). Four-and-a-half hours later, the flight of four made a tower-requested low approach at the international airport in Montreal, and landed at St. Hubert's. Kay Kreidel joined us that evening (via airlines) in Montreal. I must say, the people that we met in Montreal went out of their way to make our visit enjoyable. It was, however, still over 450 degrees Fahrenheit outside. Sadly, this was our last experience with air conditioning for two more weeks.
After a quick trip to Burlington, VT to clear customs, we proceeded to Rockland (Owl's Head), Maine. Dick Kreidel hadn't eaten (whole) lobster before, and videotapes of the spectacle are available from Squadron 1. On to Wiscasset (Bath), ME, then to Boston (or is it Bastun?), then the Runabout and I made a ceremonial pilgrimage to Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket islands. The group rejoined at East Hampton airport, where Sid bases his Long. The next day we were joined by Peter Magnuson and his USAF Thunderbird Fighting Falcon Long-EZ. Peter and Dick and I enjoyed flying formation and 1 v 1 v 1 combat maneuvers over the coast of Long Island. Then a trip to Mattituck, to visit where Dick's engine was assembled. The next day, it was on to Linden, NJ (New York City) via Central Park, the Hudson River, and the Statue of Liberty (at 500' agl, no less!). Several days were then spent being poached in and around Central Park.
Well, so far so good. The return to Kansas City went well (nonstop from Linden to Columbia, MO). It looked like a trivial trip back to Mojave. And then...
Dick and I were descending together into Farmington, NM (our
planned fuel stop) when, as if by magic, the Runabout was no longer hitting on all four.
We informed the tower of my problem and were cleared to land. We were about six miles out,
I guess, and about 4000 ft agl. The engine was still making power (some), but the
CHT on the #4 cylinder was way lower than the rest. Nothing in the usual litany of
procedures produced any good results, so I pressed on to a high overhead approach to the
west. Still high, a lot of slipping, but the airspeed was high on final (about 90 kt).
Better to be high than low, but this is silly. The engine won't idle below 1500 rpm or so
(on the idle stop). Touch down, no problem, some crosswind but don't notice it, roll out,
plenty of brake. Made it. Taxi back, park, shutdown.
Wow, bad day. I got out and went back to look at the engine area. No oil, but the prop is really beat up. Wow. Now what? Must have broken a valve, and the pieces went out the exhaust pipe and through the propeller.
But the worst came next. I looked down at the right main gear and imagine my surprise to find the wheel and wheel pant sitting about 90 degrees from where they should be. Much worse news than the engine problem!
So the trip ended with the airplane in a hangar at Farmington, and me riding home in the back of Dick's Long-EZ.
I was all set to get a trailer and take the Runabout apart and
haul it home. I envisioned having to take the engine off, flip it over, and put a
new strut in. Also, who knew what kind of engine work lay ahead?
Fortunately, I know more rational people. Dick Rutan, who had once trailered his Long home, said that no matter how much work he had to do away from home, he would never trailer his again. Burt said the same thing. Mike was convinced it could be fixed there. So it was.
Mike and I flew to Farmington in his long-EZ the next weekend with three critical parts. First, a replacement propeller. Second, a new cylinder and all its attendant parts. And the really important one,The Splint. (click photos to enlarge)
Mike had made The Splint from some 1/4 inch 4130 steel strap, sort of roughly formed over his right main gear strut. The plan was to remove the axle, bend the strut back straightish, and install the splint to sandwich both sides of the gear strut. The axle then would be mounted outboard of the steel piece with longer bolts.
It worked. We had thought ahead and brought two industrial-strength heat guns, and these were mandatory in order to reheat the gear strut to bend it straight, for although the fibers were failed locally, the resin had re-hardened to a startling degree.
I should digress and describe the failure more thoroughly, Apparently, I had used more braking than I thought during the landing (due to both landing fast and the high idle speed). Also, the other tire was low, which required more right brake. And I had the shimmy damper adjusted too tight, requiring even more brake. Finally, since the Runabout is a bit on the hefty side, I have the big brakes. More heat. The failure was in an arc, the same size and shape as the brake disc, and the mode of failure was resin burnout from direct heating of the brake disc.
The Splint worked admirably. The cylinder change went without difficulty (the piston hadn't broken, and there was no metal in the screens). In fact, the entire time on-site was less than 24 hours. The next afternoon, the Runabout completed her trip east, a cross-country of well over 6,000 nm. She had 89.5 hours on the Hobbs (in less than 60 days).
After returning to Mojave, we repaired the gear strut. A particle board fixture was made for the inboard side of the gear strut, and bondoed in place. A body grinder was used to grind away about 2/3 of the S-glass strut at the bottom, tapering to nothing about 12 inches up the strut. Some dry S-glass roving (see your neighborhood Defiant builder) was wet out on a piece of visqueen and then put in place and mummy-wrapped with peel ply to hold it. The next day, the axle holes and brake cutout were transferred from the inside of the strut to the outside. Then, the inside of the strut was ground away, and more S-glass was put in place, essentially replacing the lower part of the gear strut with new material. The next day, the per-plans torsional wraps were put on, the brake line and relief tube bonded back into place, some bodywork, and Presto! a 3-day gear repair.
The next magical trick was to install a 1/8 thick aluminum plate between the axle and gear strut. This fan-shaped plate extends upward to just above the brake disc, and is intended to protect the strut from the direct radiant heat of the brake disc. The usual Fiberfrax and aluminum tape were reinstalled. The aluminum plate may seem like overkill, but I don't ever want that to happen again.
The prop was sent back to Great American for repair ... $120 later, it was fixed.
Anything else? Oh yes, I replaced the other three exhaust valves with new Superior model 17540 units. I had so many people tell me how dumb I was not to put NEW exhaust valves in my engine instead of the unknown-history USED valves I ended up using, that you might think I'd have listened. But no. Instead of spending the several hundred dollars up front, I spent them later, plus about 700 more for a new cylinder, a couple of hundred for hangar rent away from home, a hundred more for the prop, and a lot of anxiety dollars for the landing duress and gear malady. But the lessons you learn, huh?