15 – Cargo net

One of the things we discovered on our first cross country is that baggage storage isn’t as easy as in the Cessna. And once the bags are stowed, they can easily come forward since the baggage shelf is elevated above the floor.

When I was coming home from Sebastian, I picked up a cargo net from Walmart which was kind of okay except there was no easy way to attach it.

I asked members of the VOBA (Velocity Owners & Builders Assoc) how they attached their cargo restraints and was tipped off on these.

Anchor Point Tie Downs

I like the idea. When not in use,  the only thing visible are the round plates. But four won’t be enough. I really need six.  I hate the idea of buying 8 just to throw 2 away.  So I went directly to the manufacture and bought 6.

Then it was a simple matter of embedding 6 drilled and tapped hardpoints and covering with the requisite 2 layers of BID.

Once it cured, I installed the mounting plates.

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Then, rather than use the hooks to attach the net, I looped it through the rings.

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Now if we ever hit turbulence, I won’t have to worry about Ann’s luggage coming up front.

13.99 – Switch panel update

I have two primary switch panels.  The first is what I call the “Overhead Switch Panel” (OSP) which is located overhead (duh) between the front seats.

The second is the “Left Lower Switch Panel” (LLSP) which is located below the pilot side EFIS.


My philosophy for the switch placement in the OSP was that these switches were for startup.  Once the engine was running and the airplane was ready to move, these switches would not be touched.  Part of the reason for that was these switches would be a bit hard to read in flight because they are so close to your head.  Furthermore, the switches would be switched up left to right during startup and then down right to left during shutdown.

The LLSP would be for things that I would need to activate or deactivate in flight. AutoPilot, Pitot Heat, etc.

I later added colored covers to the switches to identify function and purpose. Red was always up, yellow was lighting, black was fuel pump, blue is pitot/static, white is autopilot and green is the starter.

When I added the EFIS 1 backup battery, the easiest place to locate that was on the LLSP.  So even though it should be on the OSP, it ended up down on the LLSP.

Here’s what I learned after flying for a year.

I have impulse couplings on both mags which means instead of starting on the left mag, I start on both mags. So the to keep with the left-to-right start sequence, the mag switches were out of order. Next is that my hot start procedure (which works EVERY TIME), is to switch the boost pump on low while cranking the engine. So I need both hands on the OSP during engine start and then once the engine catches, I need to be on the throttle immediately.

Since I was going to be painting the interior, now was a good time to clean up the switch locations. So here’s what I did.


Moved the EFIS 1 switch to the leftmost position on the OSP. That gets turned on during preflight.

The navigation lights are now on whenever the master switch is on.  Since the Velocity doesn’t have a rotating beacon, I use the nav lights as an indicator that the power is on.

Next is the Master switch.

Now it’s time to prime the engine. Fuel Pump is on the LLSP to allow for the hot start.  But the engine isn’t even running yet so it’s okay to jump down to the LLSP for this one.

Next is both mags on and then hit the starter.

Once the engine is running and stable, the Alternator comes on (primary alternator is all the way up now) followed by the Avionics.

I usually turn on the landing light on when I’m ready to move. Since the landing lights flash once I hit 90KIAS they need to be warmed up by the time I’m ready to take off.

Strobes come on when I take the runway.  It’s the rightmost switch so it’s easy to find without looking.

I grouped the LLSP so that fuel pump, autopilot and pitot/static switches are together.

The really nice thing about this change was how easy it was.  Without the VPX, it would have been a pain!  But with the VPX, just make a couple of changes in the config and it’s done.



15 – Interior Repainting

Way back when…

I decided that instead of covering the pillars and fresh air plenum, that I would paint them.  Since Ann was in charge of picking colors for the inside, I gave her some different options on paint and she picked one. I then obtained the pull handles for the A-Pillars and proceeded to install the handles and paint the interior parts.

Since paint manufactures sometimes stop producing a particular color of paint, I bought a supply in case I needed to repaint.  The results were great.  It was a textured paint which hid flaws nicely and dings or scrapes didn’t show very much.

Interior painting.

Then we got the seats covered.  And given that the sample material was kind of small, Ann missed the color match by just a bit.  Then after she spoke with Justin about the interior, she broke the news to me:  The interior color would have to be changed.  And the color they selected wasn’t available in a textured finish.

So it was time to get to work.

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One of the vents for the rear seats couldn’t be removed.  I was going to tape it off but I noticed that it wasn’t closing. so I created an access panel (more work) and removed it.  I contacted Aveo Engineering and explained that while I had purchased these vents over 6 years ago that they had only been in use for about 1 years. They sent me a replacement at no charge!

Then it was sanding, filling, sanding, filling, etc. It was much harder this time since a) the plenum was already installed and not on a bench and b) the plane was not upside down so the overhead parts weren’t on the floor.

But after much work, it was done.

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One thing I’m not happy about are the A-Pillar pull handles.  I painted them because I couldn’t find any at the junkyard in the right color. I’ll keep looking.

While all this was going on, I also made some changes to the switch panels.

13.99 – ADS-B in antenna

For ADS-B in, I’m going somewhat old-school.  While I could have gone with an installed ADS-B receiver and displayed the output on the Grand Rapids EFIS, I don’t like that approach.  I like having weather on a device other than my PFD.  And displaying it on the co-pilot EFIS would have it too far away for my taste.

Currently, I use an iPad with Foreflight for charts, approach plates, weather and traffic.  A Stratus II provides ADS-B weather and traffic. And I like it that way.

But I’ve been unhappy with the reception performance of the Stratus internal antenna. They sell an external antenna, but it’s $70 and probably would only be marginally better.

I exchanged some email with Jim Weir of RST Engineering (his manual is what I’ve used when building antennas). He gave me the spec’s for building an external antenna for the Stratus II.  Basically, it’s two 3″ legs. The real shocker was the connector that is used to connect to the Stratus.  It’s an unusual, tiny-ass connector and the best price that I could find was $17! (normally, coax connectors are around $1-4)

Once it came in, I donned the magnifying headset and terminated the RG-174 cable to the unbelievably expensive Hirose connector. Then I decided to run a little test.  Before installing the foil antenna and connecting the coax to it, I separated the shield from the center conductor and used duct tape to attach it to the side of the fuselage just aft of the instrument panel.


I went up and checked the reception status and this is what I saw using the internal antenna:


Receiving from four towers and one was showing a 51% error rate.  This is actually pretty good compared to what I normally see. Then I connected my new, test antenna. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a screenshot, but it was showing 5 towers and all had 0% error rate!

So now I’m debating whether to go to the trouble of building the the foil antenna and just sticking this one behind the panel.

12.99 – Oil temperature and heat challenges

I’ve been having an ongoing issue with oil temperature from day one. But unlike most builders, my problem is the oil temps are too low.  Around 150 is about as high as it gets during flight.  For a long time I didn’t notice it because I was only keyed in on if it got too hot.  So it didn’t register that it was running too cold. The Continental operations manual says between 160 and 180 is normal in cruise oil temp.

Another problem is my idea of using a servo to control the damper to block the outside air from the nose oil cooler and recirculate cabin air through the oil cooler failed miserably. The problem is that the NACA duct for the nose oil cooler is useless.  Because the surface of the fuselage at the nose is angled in, the oncoming air goes directly into the oil cooler.  The NACA duct does not reduce the pressure or speed of the air.  As a result, the servo can not overcome the force of the air and remains retracted. So on our recent trip from Chicago, the “heater” was putting out about 40F air into the cabin.

I could try a stronger servo, but because of how the damper attaches to the pivot, I’m worried that it will break the damper off the pivot.

These two problems are somewhat related.

I thought that maybe the vernatherm (thermostat which controls whether oil goes to the cooler) for the nose oil cooler was stuck and was always allowing oil to go through the oil cooler. To test this I blocked the air inlet for the nose oil cooler. That helped some. But it only went up about 10 degrees. But it also allowed the damper to move which permitted cabin air to run through the nose oil cooler.

So I decided that the easy fix was to build a winterizing kit. This would be an easily installed (or removed) cover for the nose oil cooler. Since the nose oil cooler is only for cabin heat and the engine mounted oil cooler is more than capable of keeping the oil cool, closing off the nose NACA duct isn’t a problem.

Here’s the Mark 1, Johnston Velocity Winterizing Kit.

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If needed, I can close off the holes in the baffle to further reduce outside air.

Installed (I’ve started prepping it for paint so there’s some filler on it).

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When I did a test flight with the Mark 1 JVWK, this was temperature of the air coming out of the heat duct.


That takes care of the cabin heat issue.

For the low oil temps, I should replace the vernatherm that controls the oil to the nose oil cooler, but I can’t see a part number on it and replacing it requires removing the oil filter, oil filter adapter plate and maybe disconnecting the oil lines. At some point, I’ll get the part number and swap that out, but for now I’ll start with the engine oil cooler vernatherm.

I picked up a new vernatherm (used, actually) and tested it.  This is done by putting it in oil on the cooktop, heating it while verifying that it opens at correct temperature. The vernatherm in the engine is stamped “77C” which converts to 170F.  It tested correctly.

Getting to it is not the easiest thing in the world.  It’s located almost directly above the engine mount.  But an hour later, the replacement was in and I was doing an engine run-up leak check. Inspection of the area showed no leaks. So I replaced the cowling and cranked up the engine for a test flight.

This graph is from a flight about on month ago.  The OAT was 60F, altitude of the flight was 4,500′ and the engine was running at 25″ MAP and 2,500RPM.


Max oil temp was around 150 at the beginning of the flight and it drops down to 140 in cruise.

This flight is after the new vernatherm was installed. The only difference was this flight was at 3,500′ instead of 4,500′.


Max temp in cruise was 171.  Yay!  RIght in the middle of the allowable range. I’ll test the old vernatherm soon and see how it behaves.

5.6 Improving door fit

During the last trip, I had a lot of time (10 hours) to determine that there were leaks around the doors. I didn’t think these leaks would make a huge difference but since painting the plane is around the corner, I makes sense to do it now.

I identified two places around each door where I could detect some air movement. It was the same locations on both doors.  The first was on the forward edge about six inches up from the bottom. The second location was at the very top of the rear edge.

When I looked at those locations, it was pretty obvious what was going on.

Here’s the forward opening on the pilot side door.


The flange isn’t straight (this is where the two fuselage halves are joined).  Since the weatherstripping is following the flange, that is creating a gap between the weatherstripping and the door.

Top rear of the door opening.


Same issue as the forward edge but over a larger area.

There are two possible fixes:

1) Increase the thickness of the door at these points.

2) Increase the thickness of the flange on the fuselage side.

Now method 1 is just plain wrong. In addition to that, it would make the door heavier.  Although not by much… But still heavier.

So I pulled the weatherstripping off in the affected areas and mixed up some epoxy with cab-o-sil and micro. Applied it, sanded it so I had the proper dimension and reapplied the weatherstripping.

Here’s the forward edge of the co-pilot door.


There was one other thing that I had to address.

The outside of the upper, forward edge of the door was sitting proud of the fuselage. Not much. Maybe a strong 16th of an inch.  If the leading edge was below the fuselage, I would probably leave it be. But with it sticking out into the airflow, I thought that in addition to drag, it was probably generating some noise as well.


Scott recommended using polyester resin for this type of fill. The advantage is that you can paint directly over it.


I masked the area with tape, mixed up the resin, added some micro and cabo to thicken it, and then applied it. I did one more fill to get just right and then some glazing putty (polyester as well) to finish up.

Now the doors are perfectly fair with the fuselage. During this time, I was also making some changes to the nose oil cooler/heating and made a quick flight to test those changes.

The difference was surprising!  Before there was always a lot of wind noise and some whistling.  I assumed it was from the openings for the main landing gear.  Once I installed the vanity panel, that seemed to help a little. But on this flight, it was significantly quieter!  (And faster. Everything you do makes the plane faster. Soon I’ll be indicating 300knots… in the climb!)

99 – First Trip

The Southeast Triangle


Up to now, I’ve only made a small handful of short trips.  Three down to Sebastian to fix a fuel leak, move the hydraulic dump valve and to talk with Scott Swing about painting the plane and Justin about interior. The only other trip was to head up to Smyrna, TN so that my old A&P/IA could show me any tricks on doing the inspection on the Continental IO550. All of these have been only about two hours away and Ann has only been on one of those trips (to talk with Justin about the interior).

Since Ann had a business trip that was going to have her away on her birthday and I didn’t have anything planned, we decided to do our first long trip. Panama City, FL to Dallas, TX (couple days of business meetings) to Chicago, IL (fun for the weekend) to Nashville, TN (one business meeting) and then back to Panama City.

I spent some time making sure everything on the plane was ready and on Monday we got up early to be at the airport and in the air by about 8:00 so we would be in Dallas by noon.  That right there is significant.  If we were still in the Cessna, it would have been a tad bit different.

In the Cessna, we would be looking at about 4:45 in the air. That means two stops.  Not for fuel but to accommodate Ann’s “two hour rule”. She didn’t like worrying about not drinking too much liquids and having to deal with unplanned stops. So she created the “two hour rule”. Occasionally, she allow an exception if it’s only 10 or 15 minutes more, but otherwise, it’s a hard rule. And it’s a good one. Life is much easier when you’re not thirsty most of the day and you get to wander around small airports.

Another (new) thing we experienced is the significantly smaller baggage volume available in the Velocity as opposed to the Cessna. The Cessna 182 is like a flying Ford Explorer.  There’s TONS of space inside.  Between the baggage compartment and the back seat, you can fit massive amounts of stuff in that plane.  And with the 182, the general rule is: If you can fit it in, the plane can carry it. Meaning it’s almost impossible to overload a 182 unless you’re carrying lead.

The Velocity is more like a Porshe 911.  Yeah, it’s got 4 seats and baggage compartment, but there’s no comparison to an SUV.  It was made more challenging in that Ann had about three days of business during this eight day trip. So we were jamming stuff in the baggage area, back seats, floor, etc. It was pretty messy looking.

For this first day of the trip, we would only be making one stop. I chose Vicksburg, MS because they have cheap fuel and it’s about halfway. We took off around 7:45 and climbed up to 6,000′. Where we encountered a 15-20 knot headwind that would be with all the way to Dallas. After stopping in Vicksburg, I added 20 gallons of fuel and wandered around while Ann took some phone calls. Then it was back up for a short 1:40 hop into McKinney National Airport.

And what a nice airport it is. Big honkin’ airport with one of those big fancy FBO’s where they pull your rental car right up to the plane after you park. Which I discovered is a little different when you’re rockin’ a Velocity.  The line guys get a little confused when they are marshalling you into a parking spot. So I ended up stopping a bit short and we pulled it in the rest of the way. After unloading the plane, Ann went to take care of the rental car paperwork while I stayed with the plane for about 20 minutes answering questions.  ATP has a flight training operation there so it seemed like every student walking by wanted to look and ask questions.

After a couple of days in Dallas (actually Plano), we were off to Chicago to spend the weekend with a very good friend, hang out in the hot tub, and partake in great food and some adult beverages. Ann of course went shopping… I did too, but my shopping was at Berland’s House of Tools.  In Panama City, if you want high quality or specialty tools, online is the only option. :-(

There was a front moving through on the day of the trip. Clear skies but howling winds. Fortunately, they were blowing out of the south which would give us a 40 knot tailwind and be straight down the runway at every airport.

So we blasted off of McKinney at 8am.  Got vectored around Dallas for a while and we were then at 5,000′ making about 240 knots over the ground for our first stop in Lebanon, MO. Approach and landing was… interesting.  Once below about 4,000′ it got bumpy.  So I used a modified Millin Approach.  Andy Millin has a fixed gear Velocity and if he needs to get down fast, he slows down, deploys the speedbrake, pulls the power to idle and holds about 90 knots and gets a 3,000 foot per minute descent. I don’t have a speedbrake, but I do have landing gear that’s pretty draggy. So I was able to go from smooth air to landing pretty quick and limit the time in the bouncy stuff.

That was a timed stop as Ann had a one hour call that she had to take so we planned our departure to arrive at the appointed time. After the call and taking on 20 gallons of fuel, we were off to Chicago.  After takeoff I trimmed for Vy and got above the bumps in about 2 minutes.

About 100 miles out, I got the usual (and expected) “we have an amendment to your routing, advise when ready to copy.”  Like always, it was just a minor detour (you can see it on the map) so no big deal.  As we began our descent, Chicago approach asked if I could “maintain that speed”. I responded affirmative.  He then told me he had a Piper also heading to Dupage and that if I could keep up the speed, he could get me in before the Piper and not have to slow down. Okay. Usually I’m the slower one so it’s nice to not be that plane for a change. Then it got a bit more unusual (at least to a long time Cessna driver). Typically, Chicago approach is busy and they don’t have a lot of time for idle chitchat. But the controller then asked what speed I was indicating. I responded “187 indicated and 205 true.” He then asked what my fuel burn was. I replied “12.6 gallons per hour”.  He came back with “You can’t beat that.”  Nope. You certainly can’t.

After landing, I dropped Ann off at the Taj Mahal (what the locals call the main terminal at Dupage) so she could get the rental car and then I taxied over to the east side of the field to Travel Express.  Back when I first got the Cessna, I rented it out at Dupage with Cougar Aviation. Travel Express was one of the other outfits on the field. They were much bigger and did charters using turbo prop and jets.  One of the instructors I used while getting my instrument rating is a check pilot there and he was kind enough to help me arrange to have the Velocity put in their big hangar.  That was a huge relief since it’s not exactly water tight yet, it’s freakin’ cold up there now and I haven’t even thought about dealing with pre-heat.

After a nice long weekend, we made the drive down to the airport from Barrington, loaded up the plane and were airborne just after 7am for the 2 hour flight. Ann had a meeting near Nashville at 11am so the plan was to get there with enough time to get the rental car, and drive to the location. I had called Lynn, my old A&P/IA and since he was going to be around that morning, I would taxi over to where he was on the east side of the field and we would go to lunch.

The original plan was to spend the night in Smyrna since Ann didn’t think she would be ready to leave until 3pm. I haven’t flown the Velocity at night yet so I didn’t want to deal with that issue just yet. but she called after Lynn and I got back from lunch and said if she got back by around 2pm, would be be able to get home tonight.  In the Velocity?  Heck yeah!  It’s a damn time machine!

So we lifted off from Smyrna, TN at 2:30pm and we were driving out of the airport at 4:30pm.

Total distance traveled: 2,000 nm
Total time enroute:  9.8 hours
Which works out to 204 MPH for the trip!

Now two of the three legs had tailwinds.  And one of those were epic tailwinds.

But still, not bad. Not bad at all.

I’m glad we did this trip when we did and before paint and interior. Because we discovered a couple things.

1) That my nose oil cooler NACA diverter doesn’t work… at all. The Chicago-Nashville trip was COLD!

2) We have to come up with some in flight storage solutions.

Experimental is the name of the game.

9.99 Fuel Imbalance

One of the things that I’ve noticed on the cross-country flights I’ve made is that the right tank has been running lower than the left tank. Sometimes as much as 10 gallons.

Now in the Cessna, that type of behavior is almost always the result of a misaligned fuel vent for the tank.  But the Velocity doesn’t have fuel vents for each tank.  It has one vent for the entire fuel system.   The other thing that causes it is a bad seal or gasket on the fuel cap.  Since the top of the wing is in a low pressure area, any leaks at the fuel cap will cause the tank to depressurize slightly and draw fuel from the other tank.  The final possible cause of fuel imbalance is if the airplane flies with one wing low.

So I checked the level of the plane in flight.  Perfectly level.

Next, I taped over the fuel cap on the left tank. No change.

Then I started looking more closely at the symptom.  On the ground, the tanks are pretty equal. During the initial climb, they’re equal.  It’s not until I get to level cruise that they start to diverge.  So I graphed out the fuel tank levels with the airspeed. Sure enough, the faster I go, the greater the imbalance.  This is a huge finger pointing at a bad seal around the fuel cap. But I checked that by taping over the cap!

At this point I’m questioning my sanity.

So I started looking at the data again (this is where full flight and engine data monitoring comes in real handy).

Here’s the graph of a flight down to Sebastian and back.


Notice the fuel levels are within a couple gallons of each other on the ground but as the airspeed increases, the levels diverge (the spikes where they level out is where I was slipping the plane to see if I could balance them out).

But then I noticed something. The left tank level is a relatively smooth line while the right tank level varies about 2 gallons (the sample rate is one second). So now I’m wondering why the left tank varies .1-.2 gallons per second while the right tank is changing 10 times as much.

I called the owner of the company that makes the fuel probes and controller module (who is also one of the owners of Grand Rapids). He said that the controller module averages the readings over about 5 seconds and transmits them engine monitor.  So there’s really no way that the readings should be changing that quickly. He sent me a replacement controller… Which meant that I had to calibrate it. :-(

After installing and calibrating, I made a test flight.  Fuel levels were never more than 2 gallons apart.  And the graph line looks just like the left tank.


So I never had a fuel imbalance problem.  I had an instrumentation problem.

Oh well.

13.1.6 Transponder woes

One of the things that I’ve been chasing for about six months is an ADS-B anomaly.

A bit of background for the non-avionics types (skip ahead if you already know this:-) )

ATC (Air Traffic Control) knows where we are by using radar.  But just having dots on a screen isn’t that helpful. Two dots could be side by side but one could be 2 miles above the other. So we have transponders.  These are receivers/transmitters that when “interrogated” by the ATC radar, they respond with a four-digit identifier that that ATC tells us to use and the altitude of the aircraft. That way the radar scope will provide a more three dimensional picture of where the aircraft are and who they are.  It’s been this way for years.

Lately, there’s a new, improved method. Automatic dependent surveillance – broadcast or ADS-B. With this system, the aircraft continuously broadcasts its’ N-Number, altitude, position, speed.  And that’s just half of it.  What I just described is “ADS-B out”. There’s also an “ADS-B in”.  With that, I can see other aircraft, their position, N-Number, altitude and speed on the screen of my iPad or whatever ADS-B compliant device I happen to be using. It’s pretty cool to see that there’s a Delta 717 flying over me at 34,000′ and I look up and I can see the contrails exactly where it says it should be.

Oh yeah, you can also receive weather data such as the current conditions at your destination and weather radar.  This means that I would be able to cancel my $600 a year XM weather subscription.

The ADS-B out part is not mandatory until 2020.  The long time frame is because it cost a lot of money to retrofit existing certified production aircraft. However, when I was building the avionics package, it was a no-brainer that I was going to be ADS-B out compliant.

The Grand Rapids HXr EFIS system supports ADS-B out as does the Garmin GTN625 GPS.  For the transponder there were only two remote control transponders compatible with the Grand Rapids system.  The Trig TT22 and the Sandia STX 165R.  The Sandia was less money, but it was an older “mode-C” transponder (not important for this discussion) while the Trig was the newer “mode-S”. Grand Rapids seemed to prefer the Trig over the Sandia.  And Trig is based in Scotland… So my decision was made.  Puttin’ in a Trig. 😉

Fast forward to present time.

Everything is working fine.  With one minor exception. When I requested an ADS-B performance report (it tells you if all the ADS-B data you’re transmitting is valid and accurate), it showed this one ridiculously small error.  Basically, it was saying that for 3 to 5 seconds on any flight, I was not transmitting the GPS altitude.  What’s really weird is that it showed this error on a 20 minute flight or 2 hour flight. I checked the flight data logs and it showed the correct GPS altitude for every second of the flights.

Here’s a report from a 2 hour flight.


Any parameters out of compliance are colored red.  In this case, four seconds of missing altitude data.

I checked everything I could think of and kept coming up empty for a solution.

Then I contacted Trig.  I figured that since the data seemed to be present and it was the transponder that sent it, that seemed the logical culprit.  Because they’re based in Scotland, there’s a time difference that I had to work around.  But their responses were very prompt. After just a couple of exchanges, I was told that the software on my transponder was version 2.4 and that they were currently at version 2.7 and that before chasing anything else it would be prudent to get my unit up to date.

I asked how to do the update and was told it would have to be done by an authorized Trig dealer.  The cost would be whatever the dealer decided to charge. Or I could ship it to their US distributor and they would do the update for free. :-)

So in July I pulled the transponder and shipped it to Mid-Continent Instrument and Avionics in Kansas (they’re the Trig distributor for the US). It took one day to do the update and then it was on it’s way back to me.  Did I mention there was no charge for the update?

I installed the updated transponder and took Ann up for her second flight in the Velocity. After I got back home I requested a report on the ADS-B data.  There were a bunch of errors now! I sent an email to Trig and got a response back within an hour that explained I needed to change one of the configuration parameters on the GPS (that’s where the position data comes from).  I made the change and did a quick flight. Because it was a weekday and my home field is in a very active MOA, I checked in with Tyndall Approach to get a squawk code so they could keep the F-22’s from running over me.  After I entered the code, approach advised that they were receiving no replies and they only had a “faint primary return”.  “Primary return” is what shows up on their screen when the only thing they receive is a return from the radar.  No identifier or altitude.  And the reason it was “faint” is because the airplane isn’t metal. So the return from the radar was mostly going through the plane and bouncing off any metal inside.  I power cycled the transponder and tried a couple other things but nothing.

Now the only thing I did between the first and second flight with the new transponder was to change something on the GPS.  It didn’t seem likely that would cause the transponder to stop transmitting.  But because my profession involves troubleshooting, and what I teach is: “ALWAYS suspect the last thing that was done.”. So I changed the GPS configuration back and flew again.

Same thing.

Change the GPS back to the correct configuration and flew again (I know, I know.  But you never know, right?).

So then I figured that it’s got to be the antenna lead. I disconnected the antenna lead at both ends and looped it (center conductor to the shield) and checked the continuity (I had to check it this way because I’m alone and the ends are pretty far apart).  Showed good.  Then I had a thought (always dangerous).  I realized that I got an ADS-B report after the first flight that showed some valid data. Granted some of the data had errors, but there was data.  Which means the transponder was transmitting. That means the antenna was functional. Just to be on the safe side, I requested another ADS-B report. I guess just to see what is looked like. it showed a perfect data capture.  Zero errors.

So I stopped troubleshooting the antenna.

I contact Trig again and after a few exchanges, they had Mid-Continent overnight me a replacement transponder with an unreleased version 2.9 code. It arrived, I installed it and made a test flight. Approach still couldn’t see me.

Back to Trig.  I suggested that maybe we should downgrade back to the last known good configuration.  Once again, Trig had Mid-Continent overnight me another transponder this time with an out of date version of software.  Good old 2.4 code.

Installed it and had to wait for Hurricane Hermine to pass before I could fly. When I did, same problem. So now I’m sitting here with THREE TRANSPONDERS with three different version of code on them and every single one had the same problem.

I’m really frustrated at this point and I’m sure Trig is frustrated and concerned. I would bet that if I asked, Trig would have put an engineer on a plane and flew them to Panama City, FL to help me get this figured out.

But I decided that they had already performed above and beyond the call of duty. I mean, I was sitting here with three transponders and only one was mine!  And they hadn’t asked for so much as a credit card number.  And besides, at this point there was no way that this could be the transponder.

So I called Carl at Monarch Aviation.  He did my transponder certification a few months back.  I was very impressed with his knowledge and willingness to work on experimental aircraft built by rank amateurs.  He said that if I could get over there today at 1pm, he could take look at it.

I run out to the airport and takeoff headed to Defuniak Springs airport. I pull up as Carl is finishing up a transponder check on an trike.  One of those hang gliders with a Rotax engine on the back.  Carl is willing to work on anything!

I had already given him the rundown on the situation. The first thing he wants to do is see if the transponder is transmitting. So I power up the avionics and he fires up his test rig which will send out the interrogation signal the read the reply. “Nothing” he says. Then we disconnect the antenna lead at both ends. I climb underneath where the antenna is and he hands me one of the test leads and has me put in on the center conductor of the antenna wire. “Looks good” he says. “Now on the shield, please.” once again he says “Looks good”.  None of this is any surprise to me (because I already check this, remember?). Then he asks for the test lead I was using. As I’m getting up, he says “There’s your problem.” I get a sinking feeling because I know what he’s found.  I say “center conductor is shorted to the shield, right?”  “Right you are.” is his response.

Normally I would have checked that.  Honestly, I would!  But the antenna was working!  I know this because I’ve got the ADS-B reports which say so.  But I should have checked it.

He then says that it’s going to be shorted at one of the two ends and that no matter which one we pick to re-terminate, it will end up being the other. I tell him that ain’t going to happen. “Why is that?” he asks.  Because the short is on the connector that attaches to the transponder. When he asks how could I know that, I tell him because it’s the only connector that was touched before the problems started.  So he puts on a new TNC connector at the transponder end of the antenna lead.  Then I power up the avionics while he powers up his test unit.

Good signal!!!

There are a some of lessons here:

1) Don’t shortcut troubleshooting procedures because of what you “think” that you know. Whenever you have the slightest suspicion of a cable, troubleshoot it completely. It only takes a second to do a complete check.  If I had done this in the first place, I would have saved a bunch of people a bunch of time.

2) If you are stuck, don’t hesitate calling in a fresh set of eyes. It took Carl all of five minutes to nail this one down.  Partly because he wasn’t influenced by outside information.  Basically, he was unbiased and assumed nothing.

3) If you need a transponder, radio, GPS or audio panel, consider Trig Avionics!  I can not say enough good things about their support. If I ever get back to the homeland of my Great Grandfather, I will be certain to look up Lindsey at Trig support.

The thing that nobody can explain was how ADS-B data was being transmitted out of an antenna that had a lead with a dead short in it.



9.7 Fuel Shutoff Valves

Back January of 2015 about 6 months before first flight, I picked up some gas valves from Home Depot and installed them between the strake tanks and the sump tank. I was a bit uncertain about the setup because… it just didn’t feel right.

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A couple of days after I put these in, I was talking with Scott at the builders center and he mentioned that someone had put in similar valves and that apparently they didn’t agree with avgas and began leaking.  He suggested checking and making sure the valves were compatible with liquid gas as well as gaseous gas.

I tried but couldn’t verify compatibility so I pulled them out.

Fast forward to Sun-n-Fun 2016.  Walking around the B&B Aircraft Supply tent I ran across these.

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They are used in a helicopter, spring loaded in the open position and really small. At $50 each, they aren’t cheap, but they are aviation grade so there’s no question they’ll standup to avgas.

Because the valve is spring loaded, all it takes is the slightest bump and the valve will spring open. So I got some aluminum C channel and make a safety lock to hold them closed.  There’s even a safety wire hole to make sure they stay in place.

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This week, I borrowed some fuel jugs and defueled enough gas to install the valves. Because the downstream end is a bulkhead fitting, it would have been nice to install them in the gear bulkhead, but it is way too thick for that. So I settled with having the B-nut fitting snugly in the hole in the bulkhead.

Here’s the right side fuel line with shutoff valve installed.

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