A (somewhat) new hobby…

 

 

For those of you that have been around me for any length of time, you know that I am hooked on helicopters. I love airplanes for sure, but I crave my helicopter flight time and the incredible sense of freedom and enjoyment that comes from flying helicopters. I love the rush of hovering, confined area landings, pinnacles, helicopter camping, pretty much anything to do with helicopter flying.

So it should come as no surprise that I tried (yes only tried) my hand at RC helicopters. I went through a good number of “Ready to Fly” helicopters ranging from palm sized to the Axe CP series helicopters. I think I still have five or six controllers laying around from all of the wrecks that I had and all of the helicopters that I purchased and tried to fly. Once thing that I found out is that just because you can fly a full sized ship, does not mean that you can fly an RC helicopter. So I gave up on the idea.

Then a fellow helicopter pilot and friend introduced me to one of his friends Ray. Ray knew how to fly the RC helicopters like no one else I had seen. We took the day and flew our helicopters (by invitation) to a remote RC helicopter field and spent the day watching all of the folks fly their helicopters. Ray was a master. Nitro and electric he made them hum. I found out that Ray is actually sponsored for his flying, and I can see why.

So Ray and I started up a conversation about me learning to fly RC helicopters. It started with what my eventual goals would be. In my mind, this was a no brainer, I would eventually like to be flying a 1/4 scale turbine powered MD500 like these shown below:

 

screen 2013-01-11 at 1.42.08 PM

 

The problem is that these machines can run upwards to $15,000 to $20,000 by the time you have them all built up and a real turbine jet engine installed. The engine alone is the cost of a small used car! The controller that I wanted – the cost of another small used car and then all of the other cool features that you may need (ok, want) all add up to a lot of investment. Since I had trouble keeping a $150 RC helicopter flying, I KNEW that I needed help long before attempting to tackle a project like this one.

So Ray suggested that I start with an electric helicopter, but not one of the small, ready-to-fly (RTF) helicopters, but one that we actually put together ourselves, with our electronics and controllers, our batteries, our wiring, basically built to our exact specifications. Changes could be easily made by fabricating parts on Ray’s 3D printer and then testing them out until it was just the way we liked it. Once Ray told me that he would help me become a real RC helicopter pilot without wrecking my investment in the process, I was hooked and ready to move forward.

The next step was to decide what my “learning” ship would consist of. I was thinking the Align 700 or 800, but Ray steered me toward the Goblin 770. It was an amazing looking ship and better yet, it was flybarless and pretty much all new technology. In addition, we could customize it any way that we wanted for what I was trying to accomplish.

 

screen 2013-01-11 at 1.50.53 PM

 

 

So the Goblin 770 is on back order along with many of the parts I will need to put it all together. In the mean time, Ray suggested that I pick up a flight simulator and start playing around with that in my spare time until everything came arrived.

The controller I choose was the Futaba T-18MZ, a controller that would allow me to learn, but yet give me the awesome capabilities I would want to have with my 1/4 scale turbine when the time came.

screen 2013-01-11 at 1.55.10 PM

 

So with all that in mind, Bob, Darryl and I along with a friend’s son flew up to Ontario on Saturday and attended the Academy of Model Aeronautics convention. WOW…a lot of very cool stuff there for sure, and easy way to spend a lot of money on a hobby that looks like it can cost as much as the real thing. In fact, you could get your helicopter private pilot’t certificate for much less than the cost of a nice turbine 1.4 scale. But there is no doubt that the cost of ownership for the RC is far less than the real thing.

Time will tell if it is anywhere near as fun. Stay tuned as I keep you up to date on my project and my learning!

Five Helicopters, One Pie Shop

Things have a way of working out. The other day I was flying with Sammy and his son Hondo out to the Julian Pie Factory located, interestingly enough, not in Julian but in Santa Ysabel. You can read more about the Julian Pie Company HERE.

Anyway, when we landed at the pie factory and started talking to this nice couple from Alaska. We were explaining to them that we had gotten permission some years ago to land, and that we had had up to five helicopters here before.

Hondo (Radar)

About the time we were talking about that, Hondo (better known as Radar thanks to his ability to hear and then spot any helicopter long before anyone else does) calls out an R44 inbound. Sure enough, before long we have two birds in the parking lot.

And there were two…

After the pilot of the R44 climbed out, he told us that there were at least two more ships inbound for the pie factory. About that time I had been talking to Bob and Darryl (N18PD). They were just getting ready to leave Big Bear (L35) so we convinced them to head down to PIE (my waypoint name in my GPS for Santa Ysabel).

As Hondo and I chatted with the pilot from the R44, we hear the unmistakable sound of an Eurocopter EC-145. Big, heavy and fast. The EC-145 is a twin-engine helicopter. Very nice, very beautiful and very powerful. This particular helicopter belonged to the LUNA boat parked in the San Diego bay.

And then there were three…

 

As luck would have it, yet another helicopter was soon on the horizon. This one owned and operated by Corporate Helicopters in San Diego. These are the same folks that are currently doing the maintenance work on my MD500. If you ever get a chance to visit Corporate located at KMYF, I highly recommend it. You will not find a nicer group of people! Be sure to tell Ivor that I sent you!

So in comes Ivor flying his AS350 AStar.

 

And then there were four…

 

With no idea when Bob and Darryl might show up, we all headed into the restaurant to get something to eat. Of course, just about the time our food arrives, we hear the unmistakable sounds of an Enstrom FX-280 approaching from the North. OK, so we really didn’t hear it coming, but we knew when they would be arriving since they had texted us when they landed in Hemet for fuel! So while everyone ate, Hondo and I headed out to be the welcoming committee for Bob and Darryl. The landing area was getting full for sure now!

 

Now there were five!

 

All five ships…

 

Once we were all done with lunch, Ivor suggested a small side trip to a private airstrip where we could all land and get some good photos. So off we went!

 

Four of the Five

 

The R44 had somewhere else to be so he did not come along, but the rest of us sat down on the strip and spent about an hour talking and looking over all of the helicopters. It was a nice time with some great people and some awesome flying machines!

 

 

 

Another great day of flying! Another great day of memories!

Another great helicopter camping trip….

Darryl and the boys

The weekend after Christmas afforded another great opportunity to load up the helicopters and head for the Arizona desert to get in some tent camping, helicopter style. In this case it was a new experience for me as my best friend Darryl and his son Josh would be joining Tommy, Riley and me in a second helicopter.  Our good friend Bob was allowing Darryl to borrow his helicopter so we could make this a two-ship, and hence a five person camping trip.

 

Leaving Deer Valley

My part of the trip started out at Deer Valley Airport (KDVT) located northwest of Phoenix Sky Harbour Airport. Tommy, Riley and I hoped aboard N756TB, my Mooney Bravo and pointed our noses westbound. We left just ahead of this little weather system that had been brooding to our North for a few hours. It was time to be on our way.

 

Riley’s first trip in the Mooney

Since this was Riley’s first trip in the Mooney, he got to ride shotgun on our way to Palomar Airport, our home base. (KCRQ) It was an amazing ride, some clouds and a beautiful sunset over the Salton Sea made for a great trip back to California.

The Salton Sea from 12,500′

The next morning, we packed up the boys and headed to our favorite waterhole in Escondido – Starbucks. After eating a wonderful and nutritiously balanced meal, we headed for the airport. For the trip out, I would carry all of the camping supplied in the back seat of the 500 (since the Enstrom does not have a back seat and its baggage compartment had the auxiliary fuel tank installed). I would take Riley as it was his first helicopter trip and Darryl would take Tommy and Josh in 18PD.

 

Josh, Tommy & Riley

 

On the way out to our camping spot, we landed in a ravine  just before arriving at Blythe airport to let the boys stretch  their legs and get some fresh air. Long helicopter trips for people new to that style of travel and movement can be a bit much sometimes. The nice thing about the helicopters is you can pretty much land them anywhere, airport and runway not needed!

 

Our second ship – N18PD

 

 

A beautiful sunset

 

Once we landed at our campsite and got everything set up, it was time to watch a beautiful sunset and get our campfire going. Darryl and I had already visited the new campsite, verified that there was no one around for many, many miles and set up a fire ring and collected a bunch of old, dead wood for use as fuel!

 

Enjoying the fire

 

We had a very enjoyable evening of camping. The boys hiked about, got some shooting lessons from the master himself (Darryl), stuck themselves with cacti pretty good (drawing blood in several cases) and generally had a fantastic time. We brought all of our food, water, etc in with us and sat down for a nice meal made from Mountain House dehydrated camping food. It did not take long for our MSR multi-fule stove fueled by 100LL to boil the necessary water for the food. Anyone interested in camping should check out Mountain House, the food is absolutely amazing and the cost in very good.

 

Breakfast time…

 

After spending the night in 35 degree weather, we were up and about looking for something warm to drink. In actuality it was not bad at all since we had REI and Northface 20 degree sleeping bags. About the only thing the bags did not save us from was the ongoing snoring of Darryl which kept everyone (but him) awake through the night! The boys have all suggested a different tent on the other side of the landing zone for Darryl for our next trip!

 

A short stop on the way home

 

Heading back from the camp site to Carlsbad, we once again made a quick stop for some fresh air. The boys took the opportunity to scout around a bit and find some old cow bones which promptly went into their pockets.

 

Catching up on their sleep

 

Ah…on our way back to Deer Valley after a good weekend of camping. Tommy and Riley are both sleeping, the vibration and drone of the Mooney has that effect on some people, just ask my sister!

 

Joey in the Mooney

 

 

MD500 Restoration – Much Needed Update!

As I sit here writing this update I find it hard to believe that the last update I wrote about was done in September 2010! A lot has happened between September and now, both on my MD500 project and with me personally. I took and passed my ATP check rides for both single and multiengine airplanes. My single engine ATP check ride was completed in a Piper Meridian turboprop and my multiengine ATP check ride was completed in a Cessna Citation 525 CJ jet. I took and passed the multiengine ATP check ride in the Citation to single pilot standards!

RJS_CIT525

Of course there was also time spent with friends and family…this beautiful girl happens to be one of my nieces. We spent some time having fun on the ground and in the air!


I also took and passed my ATP written for helicopters and I am currently working towards taking the ATP check ride in my R44.

I took some time and flew up to Canadian Helicopters to complete my factory initial checkout in the Eurocopter EC120B. That was quit a bit of fun since I had never flown a Eurocopter. In June I am flying back up there in my 500 to attend their Mountain Training Course. I had heard amazing things about the course and I am looking forward to going!

EC120

I have also been flying (a lot) over the last few months. Almost 300 hours in the last 6 months, with over 200 of that in my R44. That’s not a lot for a career pilot, but for a part 91 guy, that’s quite a bit! I have been enjoying every minute of it including a recent trip to Torrance to fly with Simon up at Advanced Flight.

For anyone able to get to Torrance that wants to really work towards mastering the R44, Advanced Flight is the place to go! Besides having somewhere around 7,000 hours in the R44, being a Robinson test pilot and a generally all around great instructor, Simon’s R44 is equipped with an amazing four camera system. This camera system allows you to review every lesson from the comfort of your armchair where the pucker factor is far lower than when your at 500′ AGL, your airspeed is reading 40 knots and falling, the VSI is pegged at its limit of 2,000′ per minute and Simon is telling you to wait to push the nose over! I have a new appreciation for the versatility and capability of the Robinson R44.


Moving on to the 500, to say that a lot has been done between September 2010 and February 2011 would be an understatement. A huge amount of work has been completed and I will touch on the major updates with pictures below, but as of this writing, the ship is in Texas getting its paint job. Once that has been completed it will be shipped back to Mesa Arizona to have its final assembly completed. We are shooting for flight testing near the end of March!

Over the course of the restoration, decisions had to be made about upgrades, enhancements and repairs – some needed, some wanted. One of the big areas that I went back and forth on was the replacement of four of the bottom skins. The reason to keep the old skins was simple – cost. The bottom skins are riveted in place. To remove all of those thousands of rivets and then fit, drill and re-rivet them back on the ship would take an incredible amount of time and effort and hence, money.


BELLY SKIN REPLACEMENT

The issue I was facing was that the bottom skins currently on the ship looked like swiss cheese. Over the years, holes had been drilled, covered, repaired, redrilled and re-repaired over and over again. Some of those repairs looked they were completed by a 5 year old with a pair of tin snips! By replacing the skins, not only did I take care of all of those unsightly repairs, but the skins were thicker. This, like the new thicker floor, added additional structural stability and rigidity the original 500 lacked.

Bottom Skin Replacement

Bottom Skin Replacement

Bottom Skin Replacement

Bottom Skin Replacement

Bottom Skin Replacement

Bottom Skin Replacement




Fuel Cell Area

Once the belly skins were completed, the next step was to complete the repairs in the fuel cell area and reinstall the fuel cell liners so we could close up the rear floor area. The amount of attention paid by PHI to the fuel cell area was no less than any other area of the ship. Improvements on sealing of the area and repairs of the liners would be completed and (hopefully) will cut down on the smell of Jet-A coming from the back seat. As some may remember, PHI actually found leaks in my fuel cells requiring the replacement of one and the repair of the other.

Sealing the fuel containment area with proseal was one of the first things that was done before replacing the fuel cell liners.

Fuel Cell Area

Fuel Cell Area

Fuel Cell Area

Fuel Cell Area

Fuel Cell Area




Rear Cargo Floor Installation

OK, so once the bottom skins were on and the fuel cell area and fuel cell liners completed, it was time to reinstall the new rear cargo floor. Once again, this was a question about spending a little bit more money and ending up with a stronger ship or simply repaint the floor that was already in the ship. In order to make the enhancements to the fuel cell area, it was necessary to remove the rear cargo area floor (that covers the fuel cells). In the process of doing so, I opted to install the slightly thicker floor. Again, more structural stability!

Here is the old floor:

Old Floor

Here is the new floor:

New Cargo Area Floor

Rear Cargo Floor

Cargo Floor

Cargo Floor



AFS Barrier Filter Installation

One of the things that this ship never had done to it was the replacement of the swirl tubes with a barrier filter kit. The new filter kit from Donaldson was expensive but something almost everyone does to their ship. It helps keep dust, etc out of the engine as well as does not take any bleed air to run, hence giving you about another 20 degrees C to work with on your engine.

Swirl Tubes

The basic idea behind the swirl tube is that air and contaminants enter the swirl tube. As it’s name implies, the tubes have swirls in them, basically corkscrewing the air and contaminants around the tube on the way to the engine intake. Centrifugal effect forces the contaminants to the outside of the tubes where they are ejected overboard before the air reaches the engine.  You can add bleed air from the engine to enhance the operation, but taking bleed air from the engine increases TOT and the closer you are to blue dot, the less power you have for other things, like hovering, etc.

The AFS kit replaces all of the swirl tube with an actual filter and makes the air cleaner and uses less power to accomplish the filtration process.

AFS Kit Install

AFS Kit Install




Compressor Inspection Panel

One of the (many) things that PHI is very good at is identifying enhancements, improvements, or STCs that will make the ship easier to work on and maintain. One of the biggies was the installation of the STCed Compressor Inspection Panel. Absent this panel, the engine must be removed to do any compressor inspections. The amount of labor and included down time for an inspection is drastically cut with the addition of this very handy inspection panel!

Compressor Inspection Panel

Compressor Inspection Panel



Nose Installation

The biggest visual difference between the older E model 500s and the newer 500s is the nose. The older E model had “church” windows. That is, the bottom set of windows was made up of  four different windows on each side.

Church WIndows

Newer 500 windows:

New Windows

Since all the glass was going to be replaced anyway, I decided to have the old church style windows removed and redo the nose in the newer 500 configuration.

Nose Installation

Nose Installation

Nose Installation

Nose Installation



Window Installation

Once the nose was completed, it was time to install the windows. We purchased all new windows from Tech Tools Plastics. I decided on a light tint all the way around with comfort windows for the rear doors.

Window Install

Window Installation

Window Installation






WSPK (Wire Strike Protection Kit) Installation

One of the most interesting (for me) kits added to the 500 is the WSPK. The WSPK is a $30,000 (plus installation) insurance policy that you hope you never, ever need to cash in on! As it’s name implies, the wire strike protection kit is designed to save you in the event you run into a set of wires. However in order to do that, it has to be installed in such a way as to be able to guide the wire and then cut them without chopping your head off in the process, or worse, rip the cutters off without actually getting cut!

Because of these requirements, there is a lot of structural stuff that goes on with the installation of the kit. This includes a big plate on the bottom of the helicopter to adsorb the shock and impact of a cable hitting it at 130 mph. In addition there is a runner that goes up the center of the front windows so that if the cable hits in the front windshield area it does not chop the cabin in half (quickly removing your head in the process) but forces the cable up and into the upper jaw. Then there is more structure added to support the top jaw. Its all very interesting!

WSPK

WSPK

WSPK

WSPK

WSPK

WSPK




Meaker Hinge Installation

Yet another “Nice” to have but not “necessary” addition to the 500 was the installation of a full set of Meaker door hinges. Anyone that has worked around or flown the 500 without the Meaker hinges knows what a total pain in the butt removing the doors on a 500 can be. Since I do not have air conditioning in the 500, I figured I had better be able to get the doors on and off without taking the interior apart and beating everything up in the process each and every time.  So Meaker hinges were the answer.

Meaker Hinges

Meaker Hinges




Interior Paint

Once all of the internal sheet metal and assorted work had been completed, it was time to send the ship over to the MD factory to have the interior painted. I choose Thunderstorm Grey for the interior color using a high gloss white in any of the areas where there would be mechanical components and a high contrast paint for the control areas.

Interior Paint

Interior Paint

Interior Paint

Interior Paint

Interior Paint

Interior Paint

Interior Paint

Interior Paint

Interior Paint


Traffic (TCAS) Upper Antenna Mount

One of the things I really like about my Meridian is active traffic as opposed to TIS. I choose the Garmin GTS800 active traffic (TCAS) system. On of the issues was where to mount the top antenna. So PHI had to design and install an antenna mount for the upper directional antenna on top of the WSPK!

TCAS Antenna Mount

TCAS Antenna Mount

TCAS Antenna Mount

TCAS Antenna Mount

TCAS Antenna Mount


Ready to Ship to External Paint Shop

WOW! A lot has transpired in the last 6 month to the 500. Everything that can be repaired has been repaired. Everything that can be upgraded has been upgraded. All the bells and whistles that PHI could come up with and my budget could handle have been completed (other than avionics which we will get to later). All that is left is to get the ship packaged and ready to ship (by truck) to Texas for it’s external paint job!

Ready to Ship

Ready to Ship

Ready to Ship

Ready to Ship

Ready to Ship

Ready to Ship


Shipping to Paint Shop

So in order to protect the 500 on its trip to Texas we had the ship “shrink wrapped” with heave duty plastic and then loaded onto the back of a transport for its shipment to the paint shop. It was an interesting process.

Wraping

Wraping

Wraping

Wraping

Wraping

Wraping

Wraping

Shipping

Shipping

Shipping


So what is next..?

Well hopefully around the end of this month (February) the ship will return from the paint shop in Texas looking like the picture below! Then we can put it all back together and start the test flight process!

Final Paint Scheme

Richard J. Sears

Hi – I am the author – Richard Sears. I have been a pilot and flight instructor for almost 24 years!

If you live in the San Diego area and would like to arrange a free airplane or helicopter flight for your child (age 8 to 18) through the EAA Young Eagles program please email me at richard@sears.net

If you are a Scout Master, I can work with your troop on the Aviation Merit Badge and provide all ground training and flights necessary to meet the latest requirements of the Aviation Merit Badge. I am a registered Merit Badge Counselor with the BSA San Diego – Imperial Council.

All my flight time is donated, there is no cost to the parents or the troop.

Parents are always welcome to ride along and get hooked!

MD500 Restoration – Anatomy of a Repair

As the project with my MD500 continues, I am continually amazed at the complex nature of some seemingly very simple repairs and everything that has to go into the repair process for each repair.  This includes design of the repair, documentation of the repair itself and the exact procedures to be used for the repair, justification for the repair, margin of safety evaluations for the repair, references to design documents, structure catalogs and more. All of this has to be documented (in this case a full 15 pages of documentation, pictures, figures, evaluations, metal and alloy material statements) and then forwarded to the FAA DAR (Designated Airworthiness Representative) for approval BEFORE the repair can be done.

I glance at something and think to myself – that looks like a 5 minute repair job. A little bondo, a little paint and hey, we are back in business. As part of this process with my 500, the folks at PHI are teaching me a great deal about the process a repair has to go through from start to finish. I thought I would take this opportunity to share with you the process for just a single, simple repair.

Lets start with what I assumed would be a simple repair. In the MD500, there is a cooling fan and a shroud and ducting that sits behind the back passenger area. This shroud and ducting has a tendency in the 500 to rub on what is commonly referred to as the Station 124 Canted Beam. This beam is part of the main structure of the helicopter and hence is pretty important to the overall airworthiness of the aircraft.

Take a look at the pictures below. This is the “damage” caused by a little rubbing of a cooling duct over years and thousands of hours of service.

Station 124 Canted Beam Damage

Station 124 Canted Beam Damage

Station 124 Canted Beam Damage

Station 124 Canted Beam Damage

Now I don’t know about the rest of you, but a little scratch .008″ deep just does not set my alarm bells ringing…heck the neighbor’s cat did worse than that to my BWM the other day when it decided to run across its hood first thing in the morning! Thankfully, I am not the one that decides which repairs are important and which repairs can be corrected with a little 80 grit and some white rustoleum! This canted beam is integral to the structural integrity of the 500 and it required repair.

As I said earlier, PHI went to work putting together the necessary documentation showing how they intended to make the repair, proved via engineering calculations that the tensile strength of the repair would be the same or better than the total replacement of the canted beam and received FAA DAR authorization to complete the repair.

(Click on the sheet for a larger view)

Station 124 Canted Frame Illustration

Repair Report for Station 124

In the above document pages, you can see where PHI is using the MD documentation to show the exact location of the repair to be completed and just a small part of the planning information that went into the repair showing all of the documents they used for the engineering justification. Further we see an exact CAD drawing of what the repair will look like when it has been completed.

Figure 4 Showing Repair

As you can see from just a few pages of the 15 page repair report, there is a lot of information and engineering that has to go into a repair like this. In the end, failure to get it right can cause serious consequences for the crew and passengers aboard the 500 should the repair fail in flight.

Below are the pictures of the repair as it progressed from one stage to the other. I hope anyone reading this can appreciate the nature of the repair along with my fascination at the high quality workmanship that went into this repair. This is indicative of all the work that has gone into my 500 to date!

Station 124 Canted Beam before repair work starts

Station 124 Canted Beam before repair work starts

This is the canted beam before they started any repair work on it. You can see both wear marks noted by blue tape here to identify the exact area of damage.


Station 124 Canted Beam after prepping for repair

Station 124 Canted Beam after prepping for repair

This is the canted beam after it had been prepped for its repair. It had to be cleaned, cured and then epoxy primer and adhesive was applied prior to installation of the repair pieces.

Doublers in Place

Doublers in Place

Here you can see that the doublers and shims needed for the repair have been put into place and they have started to install the rivets and Hi-Lok pins that will hold the entire repair in place.

View of work from other side

View of work from other side

Here is a view of the repair work from the other side of the picture above. You can see the bottom row of rivets/Hi-Lok pins are already in place and the epoxy adhesive is also visible.

And now you can see the extent of the completed repair:

Completed Repair

Completed Repair

Completed Repair

Completed Repair

Completed Repair

Completed Repair

Completed Repair

Completed Repair

Now I don’t know about the rest of you, but I feel much better with this style of repair over my “80 grit and some white rustoleum” repair. And if you happen to see a grey BWM with a white streak across the hood driving around Mesa one day, you will know that’s me!

Richard J. Sears

Hi – I am the author – Richard Sears. I have been a pilot and flight instructor for over 20 years!

If you live in the San Diego area and would like to arrange a free airplane or helicopter flight for your child (age 8 to 18) through the EAA Young Eagles program please email me at richard@sears.net

If you are a Scout Master, I can work with your troop on the Aviation Merit Badge and provide all ground training and flights necessary to meet the latest requirements of the Aviation Merit Badge. I am a registered Merit Badge Counselor with the BSA San Diego – Imperial Council.

All my flight time is donated, there is no cost to the parents or the troop.

Parents are always welcome to ride along and get hooked!