Monday, January 30, 2006


Yellowbird Stubs Her Toe

A few days ago, as you may recall, I headed over to Bedford to meet with Captain Wilko. I arrived with one of my Silky Smooth* landings and taxied over to the terminal to meet him. We hooked up and I let him fly the Yellowbird for a while. We headed over to Gardner, where I performed a credible crosswind landing with extra Silky Smoothness and then headed back to Bedford for the day's third Silky Smooth arrival. We taxied back to the terminal where the Captain departed, and then I prepared to return home.

The Bedford flight lineI gave her a quick look over, checked the oil, and noted that the nosewheel fairing was getting dirty, but saw nothing amiss. I started up and was cleared to taxi for departure on Runway 29. As I turned onto Taxiway Echo from Juliet, I noticed that the steering was feeling a little wobbly, like the onset of a nosewheel shimmy. I danced the rudder pedals back and forth a little, feeling for any looseness while I mentally recalled the last time I had the shimmy damper filled. As I passed the Echo/Golf intersection, the nosewheel began to shimmy noticeably. I pulled back on the yoke to take some weight off the nosewheel, but the shimmy only increased. I reduced power and let her slow to a stop.

Flat I gave her a little power again, but she didn't move. I gave her some more, but she still wouldn't budge. I called ground and told them of my predicament and they cleared me to shut down and take a look outside. I shut down the engine, secured the airplane and stepped outside for a look. The strut was fine, but the nosewheel tire was completely flat. The entire episode, from the first notice of sloppiness in the steering to the worst of the shimmy, was less than thirty seconds.

Computer enhanced, but still doomed(Here's a computer enhanced close-up of the tire, only a few minutes before failure, cropped from Yellowbird's Captain Wilko portrait. Does it look a little low to you?)

Alone on Taxiway EchoI called ground again and told them that I wasn't going anywhere. They handed me off to the UNICOM frequency, and I called the FBO for a tow. While I waited, I hooked up the towbar and tried to move her to one side of the taxiway, but it was an obviously futile effort. A couple of planes behind me did 180's and headed off for clearer taxiways. One was a bizjet that nearly blew my door off as he left.

After about 15 minutes, the tow arrived with a compressed air tank. They inflated the tire and hooked up the towbar, but the tire was audibly leaking and by the time we had turned her around it was completely flat. They aired it up again, but we got no further than fifty feet before it was flat again. We had to repeat the process at least half a dozen times before we got her clear of the taxiway. They left us on an empty area of the east ramp and headed back to the hangar. Ten minutes later, the mechanic was back with the tools and the tire was removed. Yellowbird sat alone with her nosewheel fork on a wood block while I rode back to the hangar with the mechanic and the defunct tire.

At first glance, there were no obvious defects or punctures in the tire, other than the obvious damage done to the sidewalls by the wheel rims during the time spent rolling on the flat. The mechanic split the rim and removed the tire and tube. When the tube was inflated, a hole appeared in the sidewall, but it appeared to be in an area that had been noticeably distressed by the wheel rim. The only other apparent flaw in the tube was near one of the seams, but with the hole in the sidewall, he couldn't put enough pressure in the tube to see if that had been a source of the original leak.

Both the tire and tube were dead. Fortunately, they had the same size and brand in stock. Unfortunately, their price was nearly twice what I paid for the original tire only a year and a half ago. And the labor was nearly four times as much. Ahh, the joys of aircraft ownership...

My Next ProjectAnd to add injury to injury, at one point during the long routine of reinflating the tire and towing, the industrial strength towbar must have been dropped on the wheel fairing, resulting in a crack of several inches and a small hole punched almost completely through the fiberglass fairing. I didn't make an issue out of it, partially because I needed to get home, and also because the nosewheel fairing is on my list of future cosmetic fixes. It really needs to be completely stripped, dings filled, and repainted. A little bit of fiberglass repair won't add too much to that effort. I only wish I had been there when he put the tire back on (I was in the office presenting my credit card at the time) so that I could have had him leave the fairing off and stow it in the back. Now I'll have to pull the nosewheel again to get the fairing off. And the Bachelor Kitchen will see another project..

*Captain Wilko can attest to the Silky Smoothness of my landings. If he doesn't he won't get any more Yellowbird rides.

Saturday, January 28, 2006


Captain Wilko

One of the pleasures of flying is sharing the fellowship of other aviators. Opportunities abound for doing so, and range old-fashioned traditional flyins to the new fangled medium of the Internet. I've been an occasional poster on the message boards of since my PPL training days, and have met quite a few interesting characters. It's a fun (and addictive) way of keeping in touch with other airplane geeks. Only a few of those relationships have been face to face, but a few years ago, we managed to put together a New England area flyin. Turnout was light due to schedule conflicts, but we had a good lunch and a few hours of enjoyable hangar flying. One of the more colorful characters in attendance was a newly minted pilot named Mark, who goes by the online moniker of Captain Wilko.

The ink was still wet on his temporary airman's certificate when we met, but he has been progressing in his further training at an aggressive rate. A few months ago he decided to make a career change and enrolled in one of the professional flight academies. This month, he ships off for good, to spend the next few months learning the intricacies of instrument, multiengine, and commercial flying. An attempt was made to organize a farewell flyin, but schedules again kept the crowds away. Yellowbird and I did make it out to Bedford to give Mark our blessings, as well as one last hour of non-commercial flight.

Capt. WilkoI don't often have the opportunity to take other pilots aloft, but Mark and Yellowbird hit it off immediately, and he showed us some of his familiar neighborhood before heading back. He's easily the tallest person to have flown in the Yellowbird, but her large cabin provided more than enough room.

He'll be tracking his training progress in his own blog, called Flying Adventures. He writes as well as he flies, so drop by and cheer him along!

Update: As of mid-March, Mark has completed both his multiengine and instrument ratings. He now moves on to the more challenging aspects of commercial flying: namely, chatting it up with the flight attendants, and illuminating the "fasten seatbelts" sign. Keep up the good work Captain!

Sunday, January 08, 2006


Bachelor Kitchen Recipe

Winter weather brings a number of flying opportunities and challenges. On the plus side, the cold dense air enhances airplane performance, and the lower humidity can provide for spectacular visibility. However the short daylight hours mean that there is less time available to enjoy those views, and for the newly minted instrument pilot, the threat of icing limits airborne adventure to comfortably VFR days.

As I considered the weather forecast for the two long holiday weekends at the close of 2005, I realized that flying opportunities were not going to be abundant and that I was going to need to find another way to satisfy my aeronautical longings. Fortunately, airplane ownership is never wanting for projects in need of a few weekends to spend. And some of them can be done indoors, out of the weather. I had long been unhappy with the looks of the insides of Yellowbird's engine compartment. Thirty years had left the unpainted aluminum in shabby condition, and I had been considering cleaning and hopefully repainting the insides of the engine cowlings. For this I would need some time, which I was going to have, and a relatively clean place to work. Having a bachelor kitchen was for once, an advantage.

  • One Nose of Yellowbird
  • Assorted Scotch-Brite® pads
  • One reversible electric drill
  • One Dremel Moto-Tool®
  • Several sheets of wet/dry sandpaper
  • One Alodine Touch-n-Prep applicator
  • A few pinches of zinc chromate primer
  • Several dashes of gloss acrylic lacquer

Baked on MessHere we have 30 years of baked-on mess. This includes old oil, paint overspray from the last time the cowl was painted in 1991, and varying degrees of surface corrosion. The corrosion is the real villain, as if left unchecked, it can compromise the structural integrity of the cowling.

There's aluminum in them thar kitchen1. Scrub Yellowbird nose vigorously with Scotch-Brite® pads until desired finish is achieved.
I used a couple of 5" disks mounted in an electric drill for most of the work, a few hobby sized wheels in the Dremel for the corners, and some hand pads to even things out. This was the messiest part of the project, and it warranted a thorough cleaning of the kitchen afterwards. I celebrated by cooking up a large batch of spaghetti.

Golden Brown Alodine2. Apply Alodine Touch-n-Prep until golden brown.
I really should have picked up a quart of the stuff and applied it with a sponge, but I had the Touch-n-Prep applicator left over from a touch up project from 2004, so this was a good excuse to use it up. I didn't get a very even coat, but it covered the whole area.

Prime condition3. Apply sufficient primer to cover all surfaces evenly.
Here we are, after a couple of coats. It took a third coat to satisfy my eye. I left it to sit with a space heater close by to speed the curing process, then rubbed it down with more Scotch-Brite® pads to prepare for painting.

Engine Room White4. Apply finish coats until an even color is achieved.
Two and a half coats later, it's starting to look like proper engine room. Again, I let it sit with the space heater to cure the paint between coats, and a few quick swipes with the sandpaper took care of any rough spots. One more coat, and I was happy.

I wasn't originally planning on repainting the outside, but the inside now looked so nice that it put the old paint to shame. The cowl may have been repainted in the early 1990's (the logbook entry is a little vague on what was repainted) and I touched up some spots where corrosion was setting in around the cowl fasteners in mid 2004. The result was a patchwork of mismatched paint, on top of the usual dings and scratches. I had the New Year's weekend to look forward to, and with an empty social calendar, I decided to extend the scope of my project.

My Aeropoxy AmigoYellowbird - my Bondo Buddy. Or more precisely, my Aeropoxy Amigo. The first step was to fill the many small scrapes and dents, particularly in the fiberglass nosebowl. I used Aeropoxy two-part filler, which is supposed to be flexible enough to handle some vibration. We'll see how well it likes being so close to the prop.

More PrimerI sanded down the entire cowl with 400 grit paper to remove any remaining wax and give the old paint enough tooth to hold the new. More primer went on the outside. I masked off the trim stripes since I had no readily available paint to match Cessna's fashionable 1974 palette.

Two more coats to goAfter sanding the primed cowl with more 400 and 600 grit, I started putting on the final coats. Each coat was sanded smooth with 600 grit before the next coat was applied. I put about four coats on in total, and then started the polishing process. I went from 600 up to 2000 grit, wet, and then rubbed it down with 2400 and 3200 grit polishing cloth to get a nice hard gloss. I finished up with a coat of Meguiar's automotive wax. It's not quite a sports car finish, but it's much better than before.

All FinishedThe Southco fasteners have been reinstalled with fresh retainers and wear washers, and we're ready to put her back together. Shortly, the Bachelor Kitchen will be back in service cooking microwave frozen dinners as intended.

Good enough for now...In good light, you can just see that the new color doesn't quite match the old on the lower cowl. White can be a very tough color to match. For what it's worth, neither upper nor lower cowl matched the forward fuselage, which didn't match the rest of the airplane. At least the upper cowl is now only one shade of white, instead of several as before.

...but we'll have to address the lower cowl soonNow the problem is that the upper cowl puts the lower to shame. I'll need more than a couple of weekends to put this in shape. Not only will I have to do some serious fiberglass repair, but I'll have to match and repaint the trim colors as well as the base coat. And then, I may not be able to live with the rest of the airplane looking as it does. I may need a bigger kitchen. And I'll have to figure out how to get her up the stairs without pulling the wings off...