Friday, 30 April 2010

April in review

The month that G-JONL fledged!

April started with a waiting game and ended with another waiting game. As March gave way to April I was waiting for the Permit Release Flight Certificate to enable us to start flight testing. A certain amount of bureaucracy followed to ensure that insurance was not only in place but had been shown to be in place.

By the middle of the month JONL had completed her first flight and within a week the entire flight testing programme had been completed. The forms were duly filled in and submitted. Hence the second waiting game commenced - this time for the Permit to Fly.

Meanwhile, the spring has finally sprung in Westmorland Flyer-land so your scribe is keeping himself busy with gardening duties so as not to pine for the open skies too much during what should, hopefully, be the final interregnum.

May should be fun!

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

A couple of queries

I received an e-mail from the LAA this morning with a couple of queries on the flight test reports that were quickly and easily addressed. Everything else is apparently in order and it looks like the application for a Permit to Fly will be sent off to the CAA in the next day or two. Progress is being made!

Monday, 26 April 2010

Flight trials completed

All the flight trials for G-JONL have been completed successfully.

Last Wednesday David and I flew up to Prestwick to check the Mode-S radar transponder and take a run at the Instrument Landing System. It comes as a bit of a surprise to those based further south that we have neither of these facilities at nearby airfields in Cumbria - the nearest ILS/radar equipped airports are Newcastle and Prestwick, both over 60 nautical miles away from Kirkbride.

Wednesday was a cracking VFR flying day, with endless visibility and virtually no cloud. The odd bit of turbulence was encountered along the way but for the most part it was easy, enjoyable flying. Routing over the Solway at Anthorn we then headed west to Wigtown and on to Castle Kennedy, where David made a low approach. The north westerly wind created quite a lot of turbulence and as we got to short final we decided that there was just too much of a cross wind to make a safe landing.

Onwards to Stranraer and then on up the coast to Girvan and Turnberry, where we were able to perform further checks on the VOR navigation system before contacting Prestwick Radar for the next stage of our flight. We wanted to check that the Mode-S transponder was visible to radar, squawking the correct code and providing Mode-C altitude information. Everything worked perfectly, so we requested vectors to the ILS for runway 31.

ATC vectored us through the localiser at about 12 miles range, enabling me to observe the behaviour of the vertical (azimuth) indicator. This was the first time I'd seen the instrument working and it was great to see it behave exactly as expected, with stable indications as we passed through the runway extended centreline.

We were then vectored to close the localiser from the right and I was able to precisely line up with the runway centreline, vertical needle dead centre. At this stage, ATC's job is done and we were instructed to descend with the procedure. As we were only at around 2000ft we had to fly level for a while until we intercepted the glide slope, then we reduced power and started the gentle descent to the runway, keeping the horizontal needle centred all the way down.

There is something very satisfying about flying an ILS approach! The accuracy of the system is amazing and, as we descended with the procedure, I had my eyes in the cockpit, keeping the needles in the centre, whilst David did lookout. He continued to report two whites, two reds (meaning that we were on exactly the correct glide slope) and spot on the runway centreline all the way down to 200ft where we called the go-around and climbed away.

The ILS works then!

Our tests completed, we headed back along the coast to Stranraer and across to Castle Kennedy, where we once again tried an approach to land. No go, unfortunately - the cross wind was just too much and there was a lot of turbulence from the nearby trees, so we went around again and departed for Carlisle airport.

The landing at Carlisle was uneventful and concluded a 2 hours and 50 minutes flight - by far the longest flight that G-JONL has undertaken to date and more than sufficient to meet the endurance flight requirements. Sportcruisers are still an unusual sight at Carlisle, so there was soon a gathering of interested onlookers, one of whom took a picture of the two intrepid travellers. This was also G-JONL's first "land away" - not required as apart of the flight trials but good to have done, nonetheless. After a cup of coffee in the airport café we were on our way back to Kirkbride and the conclusion of a magnificent day's flying.

The following day, David and I completed all the paperwork and that has now been sent to the LAA for checking. This apparently takes about a week and the LAA then issues a request to the CAA to issue the Permit to Fly, which takes around ten working days to pop out of the system. So with a bit of luck, G-JONL should be fully permitted by mid May. Then we shall have fun!

Sunday, 18 April 2010

Party time!

Yesterday was my opportunity to thank the people who have helped me to build G-JONL. Although it was a somewhat blustery day, David, my test pilot, was able to do a few circuits, demonstrating the aeroplane and, at the same time doing a few more tests.

Ten of us watched from the balcony of the LAA strut caravan as David did flap-less and glide approaches. The strong wind, about 20º off runway heading made the flying a bit more challenging but that was no problem for David. A couple of low approach and go-arounds finished off the flying display.

After the flight everyone had a chance to take a look at the finished aeroplane on the ground before retiring to the LAA caravan for some lunch, kindly prepared by my riveter-in-chief, Chris. His daughter, Lizzy (who has herself been a key helper during the build by virtue of having small enough hands to get the nut onto the base of the rudder) made an aeroplane cake that was enjoyed by all. Some champaign was quaffed and everyone had a good time.

Roll of honour
  • Chris - riveter in chief and general assistant whenever another pair of hands was needed
  • Lizzy - owner of small enough hands to get the rudder lower mounting nut attached, a task that is completely impossible for blokes with normal sized hands
  • Jim - official photographer
  • Andrew - helped with mounting the wings
  • Ian - helped with loading and unloading
  • David - Chief Test Pilot extraordinaire
  • Alan - transport manager
  • David - workshop facilities for the initial build work
  • Tom - my LAA inspector
  • Mike - LAA Strut boss and good all round engineer who helped in all sorts of ways during the final build
Many thanks to you all. I couldn't have done it without you.

Thursday, 15 April 2010

Two hours of test flying

On the day when civil aviation was, according to the media, completely shut down, we did a couple of hours of very productive flight testing in two separate flights of one hour's duration. With the initial flight out of the way yesterday, I was able to accompany my test pilot as we explored the flight envelope and gradually gained more experience of our new bird.

Amongst the flight test we completed were
  • Maximum power checks on the ground
  • Taxiing 
  • Take off performance
  • Climb performance
  • Handling in the stall
  • Lateral & directional stability
  • Simulated baulked landing
  • Fast cruise
  • Dive to Vne (the "never exceed" speed)
  • Functional checks on all flying controls
  • Checks of all flight instruments
  • A radio check on both radios with Carlisle Airport, from about 40 miles away at St Bees Head
  • Fuel systems
That's a lot of checks and it was a fairly busy two hours of flying for us both. The result is that we are more or less finished with the local flight testing and now need to fly to Prestwick to test the radar transponder and instrument landing system. This will also be the endurance test (two hours minimum flying).

I'm busy with other things for the next few days but I hope we will be able to do the Prestwick trip on Wednesday next week.

I must say that G-JONL behaved impeccably throughout all our tests today. It feels capable and stable, it is quiet and free of vibration and everything behaves just as it should. All in all a great day's flying. And not a contrail to be seen!

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Fledged at last

I'm delighted to be able to announce that G-JONL slipped the surly bonds at 11:59 this morning and went on to complete an hour of uneventful test flying.

The first test flight was a very short affair, just one circuit, because it was discovered that the trimmers were configured incorrectly (note to self: they operate in the opposite sense to the associated control surface you eejit!). A few minutes with the crimping tool and that problem was fixed.

My intrepid test pilot then went on to complete another 55 minutes of varied flying and, on his return, announced that the aircraft flies beautifully.

There'll be more Blogging on this momentous day a little later but for now here is a picture of the first take off. I shall try to write more when I get back from a celebratory pint at my local!

Monday, 12 April 2010

Conundrum resolved

A series of e-mail exchanges with LAA Engineering has provided a resolution to the conundrum posed in my earlier posting.

The LAA is going to issue a revised PFRC which will include a trip to Prestwick via Castle Kennedy for the purpose of testing the ILS and radar transponder. This flight will also, conveniently, constitute the two hour endurance test.

Because of the awkward terrain hereabouts, including big mountains and large stretches of water, the LAA has also agreed to slightly relax the 25 mile radius rule, provided we remain clear of the mountains.

All in all a good result, swiftly implemented. Hats off to the LAA for taking a speedy, practical approach.

An interesting conundrum

Last night I was going through all the flight test requirements, trying to sort out a programme when I came across an interesting problem.

The PFRC only permits flight within 25nm of Kirkbride airfield. For most flying that is fine but it poses a problem with testing the avionics. The nearest airfields equipped with radar and/or instrument landing systems (ILS) are Newcastle (53nm), Prestwick (60nm), Durham (66nm) and Blackpool (67nm). G-JONL has both Mode-S radar transponder (with altitude encoder) and ILS Localiser/Glide slope installed.

The area around Kirkbride has no radar coverage at all - one of the few places in the UK to have none. To do a meaningful check on the transponder and altitude encoder it will be necessary to get a lot closer to a radar station than I can currently fly.

The ILS poses even more of a problem. A flight trial will necessarily involve flying the approach down to within a height of few hundred feet of the runway threshold. This means that I pretty well have to fly at least 50nm to do the test.

I've asked the LAA what we can do about this interesting conundrum and await the reply with interest!

Sunday, 11 April 2010

The PFRC has arrived

Hurrah! The Permit Flight Release Certificate arrived in yesterday's post, enabling test flying to proceed. I still need to confirm that the insurance has been upgraded to full flight risks cover but hopefully that should be completed early this coming week.

The official maiden flight is set for 17th April, although it is probable that David, my test pilot will do some low level hops along the runway during the week before G-JONL finally slips the surly bonds next weekend.

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Permit update

I've just received an e-mail from the LAA to say that the Permit Flight Release Certificate (PFRC) should be with me before the end of the week.  I'm now arranging to upgrade my insurance to full flight risks cover in readiness for the maiden flight, most likely on 17th April. 

Not long now!

Saturday, 3 April 2010

Whilst we're waiting

Whilst I'm waiting for the paperwork to come through I decided I might as well complete a few minor tweaks.

Given that it now seems reasonably certain that the BRS will be approved, I decided to affix all the warning labels, including the rather verbose warning that's required in the cockpit. Fortunately my label printing machine makes a reasonable job although it's still not as nice as the silk screening used elsewhere in the cockpit. There are also three labels on the fuselage - one on the rocket egress cover and one on either side of the cockpit, close the the place where rescue services would be expected to operate.

Next, I fixed the BRS handle in place and finally attached the side panels for the centre console. These had been left off hitherto because once on there is rather poor access to the electrical wiring, of which there is a fair amount.

The BRS was protected from inadvertent activation in transit by a wire lock through the trigger pin and a ty-wrap around the safety pin, preventing it from being removed. Both of these have been removed, so it is now possible to arm the BRS just be removing the safety pin. Pulling the handle will, of course, fire the rocket. The safety pin label has to be replaced with one that states that it is to be removed in order to arm the rocket. The LAA required a two-stage firing system and this is how that has been achieved.

Finally, I finished a job that I've been meaning to do for some time. I wire locked the eight exhaust springs, so that if a spring should fail the exhaust pipe still remains more or less in place. This is not a mandatory requirement but it seemed to be a sensible precaution.

IMC rating revalidation
Although G-JONL is not IFR capable I, as its pilot am, by virtue of my IMC rating. Every two years this has to be revalidated and today was the day. I drove from Kirkbride to Carlisle Airport and after a short briefing my examiner and I clambered into my old Warrior, G-JLIN, bound for Newcastle and a couple of ILS approaches.

It must be said that with all this building and comparatively little IMC flying, I was rather out of practice. The first attempt was distinctly ragged although we both agreed that it would have worked out and a safe landing could have been made. The second approach was altogether better. We then returned to Carlisle and did an NDB/DME non precision approach to round off the revalidation.

There's a lot of talk of the IMC rating being withdrawn (by Europe - who else?), which I think would be a massive safety issue. As long as I can keep it I will and, who knows, perhaps those of us that are current will get some sort of grandfather rights.