|Flying a light sport aircraft
with economical HKS 4-stroke power shares no resemblance to challenges
facing pilots of the old 2-stroke powered counterparts...
by Gerald J. Olenik, Pres. Green Sky Adventures, Inc.
July 31, 2005
...Just got back from Oshkosh Sunday night. Total flying time, round trip, was 37 hours on the Kitfox with HKS-700e. The prop for this trip was the Ivo In-flight adjustable, and, of course, I have our HACman Mixture control. For the mission, I wouldn't want to give up either of these. With 21 gal of fuel, tools, literature, parts, clothes, and camping gear, and considering I have a fat Kitfox, at 569 lb. empty and high density altitudes, I needed all the help I could get. The weight break down was as follows:
With the delay at Madison, I almost decided to give it up for the day and spend an evening with my brother, in Gainesville, Ga., at USA Slide Company, but that would make it absolutely impossible to reach Oshkosh the following day. So I continued the trip as planned, though slightly behind schedule. This leg, to Smithville, Tn.(0A3) was only 211 statute miles, and involved the only high terrain for the whole trip. Nothing extreme, the smokies pretty much peter out in an area between Atlanta, Knoxville, and Chattanooga. I had been flying low because of the headwind, but selected 3500 feet as terrain began to rise. Another 500 feet was actually required to clear mountains over a short stretch or there was an option of flying around. Visibility was good, with a few clouds at 5000, so the shortest distance between points remained the chosen route. Arriving at Smithville, there was still another couple hours of daylight remaining, but when I asked Chuck Armstrong (Upper Cumberland Aviation) if the town was a good place for an overnight, he assured me it was, offered a ride, and hangar. What a place! What about my concern for a "crack of dawn" departure? He showed me how to unlock and open the hangar, and a discreet key location for the office, and also volunteered to come in early the following day to give me a ride back from the room if that was early enough. Next, I got a tour of their hospital clean shop.
As it turned out, the local motels had no vacancies, so I was chauffeured past Micky D's for some stomach packing, and back to the air-conditioned airport office, where I was offered the couch, shower, VCR with a good selection movies, and was brought up to speed on how to work their coffee maker. It turned out to be a nice experience. To kill some time, I stretched out all the sectionals on the floor, and drew accurate course lines. Since GPS, came around, although I generally follow along on the sectionals while navigating, they seldom have course lines. The day concluded with a viewing of the movie, Apollo 13. In the morning, by the end of coffee time and after 567GC was loaded back up, the fog/haze had burned off sufficiently for a VFR blast off. Next stop? Kankakee Ill.
Cross country flying is often described as hours of boredom mixed with moments of terror. During the boring time, I've wondered if the airports at the edge of natural folds on the sectional get more business than those in the middle. Minutes after leaving 02A, I was busied, getting out the St Louis Sectional. Smithville was last stop on the Atlanta. This leg to Kankakee (3KK) was the longest for the trip, 574 statute miles. During this portion of the trip, I got a new appreciation for the distance capability made possible by the efficiency of that HKS 4 stroke. I've worked the impressive numbers, but it really sank in when within a few hours after putting away the Atlanta sectional and getting out the St Louis, I was putting away the St Louis and getting out the Chicago. This toy airplane had transported me diagonally across the entire St Louis sectional non stop. Not exactly a "Gosset" moment, but I though it was pretty cool. The weather was hazy VFR, hotter n blazes, but luckily, there was a tailwind component to the wind bumping average ground speed to over 100 mph.
Early on, my flight planning was coinciding nicely with what the GPS was saying. There would be no fuel issue covering the miles with a good remaining reserve. Not too long after that comparison of flight plan and GPS data, the ole Garmin 90 was saying "LOW BATTERY" This was unexpected! Those fancy NiMH batteries normally last a lot more hours. My extra batteries were not accessible in flight. Rather than making an unscheduled landing just to get the GPS going, it was time to practice some dead reckoning, pilotage, and to get intimate with the compass. It actually took about twenty miles to pinpoint a location on the sectional. "Let's see, I know I'm in indiana, now to identify landmarks" Those coarse lines drawn on the sectional were very handy. Without the GPS ground speed and time remaining info were sorely missed.
At my previous fuel stop, I had set the self serve pump for 10 gals. When it shut off, there were a couple inches remaining at the very top of the main tank. This was probably only ounces within full, but occasionally, air gets trapped below the filler, and if the tank gets burped a couple times, air can be replaced by fuel. So perhaps there was a little consern about just how full it was at take off My fuel management procedure is to run off the main tank till the cork n wire rests, without bouncing on the cap. That leaves three gallons remaining. ...Then open one wing tank to refill the main and observe how long it takes before the float bottoms again. At that point, that's how much remaining endurance there is in the second wing tank plus a 3 gallon reserve.
As I approached 3KK, the cork had almost quit floating with both wing tanks empty. As it worked out, there was no one home at 3KK and the pump is not self serve. But, on the ground, I was able to visually confirm remaining fuel quantity from the 3 gal mark on the translucent main tank. It was only a few miles to Greater Kankakee (KIKK) and there is a runway that was pretty much into the wind, so KIKK it was and their fuel pump confirmed I had 3.3 gallons remaining on arrival. The wind was kicking up, maybe gusts to 20 out of the west northwest, and it was hotter n blazes, ...just shy of 100 degrees F. So the wind helped on the heat index and takeoff.
Departure from KIKK was reminiscent of flying an overloaded C150. My previous notion that the Ivo In-flight adjustable prop didn't really do much for climb was proven wrong. Best climb rate resulted from both max rpm and leaning the mixture with the HACman.
This leg required a diversion around Chicago Class B airspace. I picked De Kalb Taylor, DKB, as a waypoint. It took 4500 feet to get to a comfortable temperature, even with one door open. ...later, 5500 for direction of flight to Oshkosh. From DKB, it was only about 150 statute miles to Oshkosh, so remaining fuel would not be a problem. I had mixed feelings about whether to fly the standard VFR arrival procedure, or the Oshkosh Ultralight arrival. I have done both, on a number of occasions, and the Ul arrival is particularly handy if the UL area is your desired final location on the airport.
If it was part of the procedure in the past, I'm ashamed to admit it, but this year, the notam for UL arrival had a required stop, short of Oshkosh and a telephone call to UL Operations area announcing intentions. ...Basically, a special landing clearance. Anyway, as Dodge Co. (KUNU), the "stop short" point approached, Oshkosh ATIS was within range. I was paying particular attention as to which runways were in use relative to the wind. Wind was 290 at 13 with gust to 19. and Fisk arrival was directing traffic to both 27 and 36. I guess 290 at 19 didn't sound too bad for the 8000 ft RW 36, or 6000 ft RW 27. In reality, the UL runway wasn't too far off wind either, but it involved
The Fisk arrival was as typical as it can be. Shortly after landing
on 27, my "special handing" began. The Oshkosh ground crew does an amazing
job of getting arrivals off the runway and to their final resting place.
For smooth flow of traffic, you park where you are told, depending on type
of aircraft, camping, no camping, etc. Upon vacating the active,
I had only to taxi a few hundred feet to the first flagman, to whom I relayed
my Ultralight Area parking preference. My present location and the
UL area were about as far apart as one could get and still be on
Whitman field. I finally shut down the HKS next to the UL runway and deplaned
following a little over 60 minutes of taxiing. If you have ever taxied
a Kitfox, you know how blind it is, so it is slow going, especially around
areas congested with aircraft with values exceeding my home by several
times. There was a single place ex military fighter behind me for what
seemed to be 20 minutes. I heard, but couldn't see him. I'm sure we were
both happy when our paths diverged.
I still don't know if I made the right decision, choosing the main runway. Nothing was smashed, and no one was embarrassed so I guess it was Ok.
After six days assisting at Hpower's HKS exhibit, I had decided the weather window for a return trip would be closing soon. On Saturday morning, I chose to depart from the main runway as opposed to the UL because it was the simplest way to go. The departure procedure off 36 for southbound traffic requires an altitude restriction and a right turnout to 150 degrees to join the west shore of Lake Wenibago, then south till clear of Oshkosh airspace. Once clear, I set up a course for Dodge county as a waypoint and began fuel calculations to determine what might be the best stop. It was really good to be back in the air after six days around all the airplanes and not doing any flying. I knew that as the next two days unwound, the fresh joy of flight and adventure would be replaced by hours of boredom.
Before there was a chance for boredom, I thought I felt a little engine roughness. It came and went. I thought, hmm, maybe some water in the fuel. I had sumpted the tanks and drained the gaskalator prior to takeoff but that's not a guarantee. Hopes that this was my imagination were soon dashed, as the engine went rough, and stayed that way. How rough? Let's just say there was no mistaking something wasn't right. Back to this Ivo In-flight prop, I'm not sure this was of any benefit, but it made me feel better. ...I flattened the prop pitch a little to unload the engine. I normally set the prop in cruise to where rpm remains slightly under 5800 at wide open throttle. (5800 is maximum continuous rpm)Then throttle is reduced to desired cruise power. Along with the engine roughness, there was a loss of about 300 rpm, and one EGT was spiking about 100 degrees. Flattening the prop unloaded the engine and restored rpm. I reduced engine load further by reducing power. In this configuration, it took about 5200 for level flight. Oil pressure, temp, and cht were all unchanged and well within operating limits. Going to low pitch on the prop nor reduced power setting had any effect on the high egt. It is difficult to quantify the roughness. I cautiously cycled the throttle, and the engine was good for at least 6000 rpm. That seemed a good indicator that percentage of power loss was minimal, but I felt better with the reduced setting of minimum to maintain level flight.
...So, what in the world could be going on?
In preparing for the trip, I had gathered up quite an array of tools and parts. I even had a complete ignition system from an old engine just in case someone may have needed it at Oshkosh. Missing from all this, were two important items. A sparkplug socket, and replacement sparkplugs. Dodge County is a nice place to stop, but they don't do to much mechanical work. I was very lucky that the nice folks cooking Bratts outside the main hangar allowed me to dig through a modest selection of tools to see what I could find. Luckily, a 5/8 deep thin wall socket was quickly located. My test sequence could continue.
All but 100% convinced the center plug had failed, the logical sequence of fault finding was to exchange the center and top sparkplugs. The fault did not follow the plug to the top hole, but stayed with the center plug which narrowed possibilities to
|Those calculations were correct. My contingency plan involved a tent. There was enough daylight remaining, to put up the tent on the edge of the tarmac and get a couple ropes on the plane.|
Back in the air, I was now, easily a couple of hours behind schedule. My hope was to make it back to Smithville, Tn. and do the overnight thing there. Dekalb Taylor was once again chosen as a navigational waypoint to get around Chicago. From there the on course was direct Smithville, with a plan to pick a convenient fuel stop along the way. That turned out to be Sullivan Co. Indiana, (KSIV). Though it looked pretty lonely from the air, my hopes, that the one car parked by the office meant this would not be a wasted stop, were fulfilled. The gentleman in charge was at the fuel pump before I shut down the engine. This was a quick in and out. I thought about digging up a telephone contact for Upper Cumberland Aviation at smithville, to let them know I'd be in maybe just a tad late, but it was already almost 4:30 pm and every minute was going to count if I wanted to make it in before sunset. So, seventeen gallons of fuel, a can of Diet Coke, and it was off for Smithville, a 234 mile leg. Calculations were saying arrival would be safely before dark, but most likely after the airport facilities were closed.
Those calculations were correct. My contingency plan involved a tent. There was enough daylight remaining, to put up the tent on the edge of the tarmac and get a couple ropes on the plane. Though a little lonely, this wasn't so bad. I sat there in my lawn chair, watched the setting sun through smoky mountain haze, finished off a bag of potato chips and washed them down with a couple warm rum and cokes. This could have been breakfast, lunch, or supper. In fact it was all three, but I prefer to call it supper because of the rum. When it comes to food, my cross country flying method of operation is the same as camping at Oshkosh. If it doesn't go in, it can't come out. This way, flying long legs is possible , and at Oshkosh, there is limited need of facilities. I call this the "economics of fasting". ...Probably why I used to spend so much time flying around with 5 empty seats in my Cessna 185.
Sunday, July 21, 2005
By morning there was fog, instead of haze. But, after a leisurely break down of camp, and fueling the plane, it was back to thick haze. Not so bad to prevent VFR departure, but it wasn't exactly a pretty day. Because this leg involved some higher terrain, and because of the haze, I elected to go for altitude. The 9500 msl cruise altitude was just barely at the top of the haze layer. I'm sure 11.5 would have been clear, but 7GC is not transponder equipped. Besides, the climb rate loaded this heavy was pretty wimpy. Low ceiling and visibilities east of Atlanta caused me to plan for a Madison Ga. stop and 2 alternates. Fuel would be no factor. Patchy fog below intermittently became solid. About 70 miles out of Madison, I started to pick up ATIS reports from areas around my destination. They were definitely not encouraging from a visibility standpoint. I had just flown over an area where the fog appeared to have risen and broken up into scattered clouds. It seemed that would be a good place to locate a new alternate stop and do some ground based flight planning. It turned out to be KJZP, Pickens County, near Jasper Ga., another friendly quick fuel stop and an ice cold Coke. But most importantly a computer and weather information. The good news was if I was willing to climb back up where I came from, the sky and visibility would open up nicely in the next 100 miles or so, and the Kitfox was now full of fuel for perhaps a non stop final leg back home. The bad news was scattered convective activity developing along the remaining route. But it was mostly to the south west, and east of the road home, as though a pathway was opened just for this occasion.
So this wasn't exactly one of those beautiful days to go flying, but there were a number of reasons on which I rationalized a decision to once again commit aviation. It was NOT "get homeitis"
With some time to kill, this was a good opportunity to play with the
HACman mixture control a little, or pretend it wasn't available. There
had been some reports of HKS owners having a tough time getting their desired
performance at high density altitude and my biased contention is: they
need the Green Sky Adventures, Inc. HACman mixture control. Turning the
control in slowly, power loss was quickly observed, follow by roughness
as still richer setting was dialed in. There was no point in proceeding
further as it seemed mixture could easily reach a point of being uncombustilbly
rich. I must confess, this particular engine was running with the 135 main
jets which are stock for the low carburetor mounting, but not for the top
carb version. I have continued to run the richer jets because cool Florida
winter weather often results in density altitude significantly below sea
level. So, in the winter the 135 s work fine, and since there is mixture
control on board, it's no problem running them the rest of the year.
Ok, back to the mission, just as the computer had shown, clouds were starting to spread out a little, and on the horizon, broken lines of convective build ups were coming into view. The lines had numerous wide gaps, but considering the Kitfox ground speed, and my familiarity of late afternoon summer weather in North Central Florida it was beginning to look like the remaining miles would be less than leisurely. Prompted by the local spacing of clouds and improved visibility down low, I decided it would be better to get below the clouds while the opportunity was present. Dublin, KDBN was coming into view through the Kitfox windshield, confirmed by GPS. Still a little over 200 miles from home, this was too early for fuel, because I wanted to arrive with plenty of reserve. Waycross Georgia, KAYS seemed like a better bet, just another hundred miles ahead. Shortly after passing Dublin, the GPS gave a low battery message again and promptly went to sleep. My previous encounter with that problem had prepared me, but the extra batteries, though now accessible in flight were all used up. This was peculiar, but true. For some reason the GPS was just sucking the life out of batteries.
Back to closely following the sectional I picked out a route that was close to roads and more or less direct to an alternate stop, Alma, Georgia, KAMG. I really wanted to get the GPS working because there is very little by which to navigate in South Georgia, particularly around the Okeephenokee Swamp. On the ground, at Alma, there was self serve fuel, open hangars and office, but not a sole in sight, and no batteries. Just on a hunch, I reinstalled a previous set of AAs, and fortunately the GPS came to life showing near full charge. Conclusion? The contacts have become slightly corroded over the past ten years, and the batteries were not really dead, just poor contact. So that worked out all right.
With plenty of fuel, good navigation, an ice cold Diet Coke and hopefully a weather window, my next landing would be at home. However, with the long time trust in this GPS shaken, after passing Waycross, I picked an indirect route a little more to the eastern side of the swamp where an occasional road could be identified. If I could get to Rt 301, it would be an adequate visual guide for the remainder of this trip. The scattered clouds had gone to broken then overcast. Visibility was good. There was more ceiling than needed because I elected to fly particularly low trying to reduce headwind effect. In the distance, it was pretty obvious isolated thunderstorms had organized along the coast. Before reaching Rt 301, there was intermittent mist and light rain and occasional lightening strikes to the east. The GPS was still showing near full charge, and working normally. This portion of Rt 301 was actually further east than my direct route, so I went back to navigating direct which temporarily happened to be toward brighter spots in the sky.
As the flight progressed, concern for weather to the southwest was also a consideration. It was now about 5 pm local time, and I was hoping the weather obstacles would be loosing strength in a reasonable amount of time. For now, though I was pretty much flying toward the little end of a funnel. The weather to the east that had pushed me west was now mostly a solid line stretching to the South Southwest. Showers to the west were broad, but perhaps a little more isolated. The clear space between the two had lightening flashing from the sky. It appeared I could take the long scenic ride way out to the gulf, then turn South, to get around the western weather. But that wasn't a slam dunk, plus there was no guarantee the line to the east wouldn't push right across the state.
Shortly after entering Florida, I had flown over an airport community
with a good looking grass runway near I 10. Maybe it was a bad move not
to call it quits at that point, but that was opportunity lost. My ace in
the hole contingency now was in a clearer area to the west and south of
Lake City and another airport community, Cannon Creek. That was it! ...My
final decision! Changing coarse to the northwest, gave me a blistering
ground speed of almost 100 mph. It should only take a few minutes to make
Cannon Creek at that rate. I've been in there a few times. It is situated
with a mostly North South paved runway, and a huge East West grass strip.
Better yet, it's right next to I 75, so if the GPS gave up, navigation
wouldn't be much of a problem.
There's another grass strip slightly east of Cannon Creek. From the east, it's pretty easy to confuse the two. Sure enough, I ended up looking down the runway of a that farm strip. Just prior to that sighting, the wind had done a 180 and ground speed was now down to about 55 mph.. How nice, I had managed a downwind, base, and was now on final without ever turning. The strip ahead was long and wide with wind straight down it's heading. Getting down low, I could see it was fenced, with a herd of Angus on the proper side. Tall but sparse grass was the basic landscape theme. In Florida, the only people who are permitted to operate from private airports are the airport residents, and their invited guests. Well this looked pretty inviting to me. In a few seconds, I was on the ground taxiing slowly toward the mid point of the runway where there are some buildings and signs of habitants.. It was obvious the runway is used as pasture rotation for the cattle. On closer inspection, the buildings appeared to be some farm out buildings with no signs of life.
That was not the concern, however. My fear was that the big black vacuum cleaner that was sucking in all the air was headed my way. There was no time wasted getting tailed into where I thought the wind would be and tying down. It felt good to be on the ground and get a leg stretch, but those big raindrops were starting to fall. You know the sound, just before the bottom drops out of a cloud. So, back in the fox, I waited for the worse, figuring I could stay fairly dry and even manipulate the controls if the wind became really nasty.
Did I mention cattle? Bovines are certainly a curious species. But it's a childish curiosity that must drive them to explore what they can by eating it. From my farming daze, there are recollections of cows eating tractor's spark plug wires, hoses, seats, even metal if they could break it loose for a good chew. One of the nicest bunch of angus was slowly approaching with that nostalgic demeanor which surely identified there hunger for Kitfox. It was certainly my good fortune as they approached that I was closer and quicker to the gate.
With the cows and Fox properly secured, weather, once again, became the primary concern. It didn't seem the threat had changed in either direction. It wasn't getting closer or moving away. Throwing out any thoughts of conservation of cell phone power, I phoned my wife to let her know I was safe and uncertain of a projected time of arrival. Then, the fine folks manning Gainesville, Fl. FSS. let me know I was in a good place to wait. There was little movement of the line of weather between me and home. T storms would most likely expend their energy and dissipate as the day cooled off, (hopefully before dark) Tired, thirsty, and hungry, I arranged myself in the Kitfox, parallel to the wings, with my feet stretched out the door, resting on the struts. Actually, this was very comfortable, but for the fear I would doze off into a Rip VanWinkle slumber. Weather to the west was really looking better but a second call to Flight Service convinced me waiting it out was better than attempting an end run. Besides, the cows were still gathered next to the gate, and out of respect for my hosts, I really was hoping to return that gate to it's previous position before departure.
Once again the pendulum had swung to boredom, forcing a wait on weather,
and the cows. As the cows became increasingly bored with my presence, they
gradually wandered off, one by one, till the entire herd had dissipated.
This coincided nicely with dissipation of the weather. After closing the
gate and pulling the tie downs, the Kitfox was quickly airborne for a final
leg of this great trip.
What a site, it was to once again see Lake Santa Fe and Melrose Bay rising out of the pines, filling up the windshield and knowing Melrose Landing, family, and friends were just minutes away. As usual, my arrival was filled with mixed emotions of joy and happiness. Glad to be home, but knowing tomorrow would restore the passion for another adventure.
The HKS difference
The range provided by the economical HKS made it possible to fly long legs with lots of fuel reserve. That takes an enormous metal load away, making flight planning and execution tremendously less stressful. On long trips, it is rare to have only one kind of weather to deal with (unless it's bad weather). Advancing into potentially deteriorating weather without sufficient fuel for retreat is a foolish bet. Inherent reliability of the 4 stroke is yet one more stress reducer for this pilot.