November 10, 2013

Nitro Versus Electric

Wow, it's been a while since I have been at the keyboard. Much has happened, and there is much to talk about.

So remember when I said that I was sure I was destined to be stuck in the world of "foamies" due to budget constraints? And, remember how I said that joining a flying club was an awesome thing because of all the great guys you meet who help you out along the way? Well, these two realities converged for me late in August when I was approached by one of the club members with an offer I couldn't refuse. He said he had an older plane that he had hanging in his garage that he never flew, but had been a tried and true "friend" for many years, and would I be interested in it if he gave it to me? It is a Sig "Somethin Extra" 40 class nitro plane...stable as a rock, but sporty too! There was only one didn't have an engine. Well not a month later, another member came to me and said he had watched me flying, had a box of stuff he was clearing out and wondered if I would like it. In the box was an engine, a starter, and some other miscellaneous parts!

I called the first guy to tell him I had an engine, and the next thing I knew the "Gang" convened in his garage to install the engine and get the bird ready!

No, it wasn't a warbird, and no, it wasn't electric, but I figured the price was right. One thing I began to notice right away was that there was a whole new world of accessories that were required for these gas planes! There was an ignitor, starter, battery for the starter, fuel, a fueling pump and system (hoses running the excess fuel back into the container), and once we realized there was all this stuff, then a "flight box" to store it in and bring it all to the flight line!

This was the perfect bird for me to make the transition on. It is so forgiving, and yet has a lot of spunk and ability to fly a variety of maneuvers. At first I was petrified. But soon I came to appreciate what many had told me from the beginning...that gas/nitro planes are more stable in flight. They are less "twitchy" than the foamies, and due to their weight and size, they are much less sensitive to the wind issue. I found landings were quite an easy transition (largely due to the incredible flight characteristics of the plane) and the length of flight time, combined with the sense of infinite availability of high throttle, climbing rate, and again, stability in high winds, was just a pure joy.

As with the foamies and my first flying experiences, every outing was an incredible learning curve. First, there was the issue of the pre-flight checklist, a much more extensive process. The on-board battery that controls the surfaces had to be properly charged, and since it was a NiCad, that was a new set of charging rates and settings on my charger. Then there was the portable watt meter for the flight box to verify that I had enough battery left as I began to experiment with how many flights I could get out of the battery. As with my LiPos, you don't want to exceed 80% of the capacity, so I would watch the amount of volts that it took to recharge after a series of flights.

Next there was learning the adjustment of the carburetor needle. This was something I had seen many of the gas pilots doing all the time, but didn't appreciate at the time. It is just like the adjustment of an auto want the proper ratio of air and fuel, and this can change with temperature and weather conditions. I learned there was a low end, and a high end adjustment, and found out the hard way that it is best to leave the low end pretty much at the recommended setting, and then focus on just the high end. The process is one of turning the needle clockwise one click at a time to lean the mixture while at high throttle, until the optimal power is achieved ( a technique of learning to discern by hearing). Then richen the mixture (counter-clockwise) by about 3 clicks (1/4 turn)  to account for the engine's response when fully warmed and running at altitude. A final check to verify the proper adjustment is to hold the plane in a vertical attitude at full throttle, and verify that the engine will not begin to cut out. Finally, check your low end setting by going from idle to full throttle and back to verify the transition is smooth.  A rough transition is when you know you have some adjusting of the low end needle to do.

Fueling is another new experience! Certainly not as simple as plugging in a battery and going! This plane had a series of tubes that allowed for access under the fuselage, but that meant that the line to the carburetor would have to be pinched off while the fuel was pumped to the tank, So a set of hemostats did the job, and once the fuel came out the line going the muffler (are you still with me?) then I knew there was a full tank, and I could re-attach the line to the muffler and undo the hemostats. At least twice I have forgotten to reattach the line to the muffler, which meant that I was able to take off only to have the plane die, and I would have to come in "dead stick" before I realized my error!

With the plane fueled, and the battery charged, my radio on, and the on-board power on, I was ready to start up! The ignitor is attached to the tip of the piston to what is called a "glow plug" and serves the same purpose as a spark plug. The starter, which is powered by a 12 volt battery, is a rubber cone that is placed over the spinner of the prop, and when turned on, turns the prop until the engine catches. At this point the ignitor can be removed (gingerly, as the spinning prop is like being around a loaded handgun for the first time! I later had a close brush with the prop, forgetting it was even there, and the results were devastatingly quick and lethal!). And now you are finally ready to take the plane to the taxi area and approach the runway! As I said, nothing like plugging in a battery, testing the control surfaces, and taking off!

So what has all this meant? Well, I have to say, after about 7 hours (42 flights plus or minus) I am a total convert! The flying experience is so much richer! I love the sense of unlimited vertical, the almost complete neutralizing of the wind issues (I was flying in 10-15 mile and hour winds the other day, and successfully at that) and yes, all the little complications that make getting the plane ready a pain, are actually strangely challenging! One of the reasons it has been a while since I wrote last is that the Ultra Coat on the tail section was coming off due to all the fuel over the years. My friends suggested it would be a good opportunity to learn that art of covering. That will have to be a topic for another time, but I confess that the "builder" in me does get a charge out of seeing something come together and work!

Yup, it's official. I'll still take my Thunderbolt out before work in the mornings, and yes, it is spoiling to just throw in a battery and go. But I look forward so much more now to getting to the field with a full bottle of fuel, and getting in a solid hour on the Extra. I am officially hooked on nitro! Someday I hope to get a 40 class warbird, but right now I have all I can handle to get my skills honed, and I am so blessed that a few guys decided to give me the various pieces and parts that got me to this level of the hobby!

No comments: