Big Muddy Air Race

The air race was about 2 hours away.  We fueled up at the Maury County Regional Airport (MRC) where the fuel is significantly less expensive than at home.

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We saw the old Danville Railroad Bridge.  The vertical lift span was floated down the river on barges and is apparently still in operation in Bridgeport, Alabama.  There is a ferry service to carry the relatively small number of people who wish to cross the river there.

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Pilot/co-pilot briefing before the big race.

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This is the race course along with the actual GPS course we flew (in yellow).  I am pleased to confirm that we did not cut any corners.  The first few turns happened pretty quick while I was still figuring out my workflow (how to keep track of what radio frequency to use, what waypoint and what we should be looking for on the ground, etc).

courseWe were the only competitors in the Sportsman class, so naturally we placed 1st with a respectable average speed of 135mph.

Posing in front of the fastest airplane in the race.  It averaged 258 mph with a normally-aspirated 180hp engine and a fixed-pitch propeller.  I later learned that it holds the record for the fastest coast-to-coast flight for airplanes under 2205lbs (8 hours, 5 minutes).

P1030970We also really liked the Q200 which went 205mph on a 100hp engine.

P1030981After ~6 hours of flying over a couple days a lots of excitement, we were pretty tired when we finally got home.

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Flight to Austin, Texas

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Nathan and I visited my sister and her family in Austin, Texas.  The round trip flight was 1,506 miles and took 12.6 hours flight time (119 mph average).  We used 50 gallons of fuel (30 mpg).

Nothing but trees under the wing.

Looking south over the Bankhead National Forest.

We departed Huntsville Executive late in the day so Nathan didn’t have to miss any school.  This meant we arrived in Vicksburg at 5:05 pm.  We quickly got fuel and departed, hoping to make it to Natchitoches, Louisiana for the night.  We weren’t quick enough and it decided to turn around and stay in Vicksburg.

Vicksburg-Tallulah KTVR

The guy who fueled the plane said he wished we made up our mind earlier since the headlights in the courtesy car weren’t working.  The airport manager let us borrow his “baby”, a Chevrolet pick-up truck.  He seemed doubtful that I would know how to drive a stick, but I think I passed the test backing out of his driveway.  We appreciated the generosity and Nathan loved getting to ride in a truck.

We drove back across the Mississippi river and stayed at the Candlewood for the night where Nathan got to swim in the indoor pool.  Unfortunately, it was not possible to use my points to make the reservation from the front desk, and I’m pretty sure they charged more than if I had booked over the phone/internet, but we were happy to have somewhere to stay.

The temperature dipped below freezing during the night and the dew that condensed on the airplane frosted, so we cranked the engine and waited in the sun for the oil to reach temperature and the frost to melt.  Both happened at about the same time.

Angelina County (Lufkin) KLFK

The FBO here is really nice and even has a cafe.  We were in a hurry to make it to Austin, so we just grabbed cookies from the snack machine.  One of the cookies eventually got shared with Nathan’s cousin.

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In front of the FBO

 

Austin Executive KEDC

Austin Executive has a huge canopy you can pull use in inclement weather.  They can tow your airplane to a tie down or hangar when you leave and have it waiting for you when you get back.  P1030237We told the line-man we’d rather just taxi to a tie-down.P1030236 Austin Executive has expanded significantly in the last 8 years or so.  The runway is new and the FBO is newer.P1030234

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Much of east Texas looked just like this. The air was smooth and peaceful with a hint of a tailwind.

We had a great time visiting with my sister and her family.  I chose a slightly more northerly route for the return trip so we could see new sights and fly through an extra state (Arkansas).  Nathan took hundreds of pictures over the course of a couple hours.  Here I’m fine-tuning the mixture to squeeze out the last bit of power.P1030324This is my favorite picture picture he took.  He’s a pretty serious guy when we’re in the airplane, but when we get out he always has stories to tell.P1030623Shreveport, Louisiana was the largest city we saw on the trip.  Shreveport Approach let us fly through their airspace, but asked that we stay above 2,500 feet (we were cruising at 3,500).

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Shreveport, Louisiana

Minden KMNE

The FBO here was very simple.  The only person staffing the FBO drove a fuel truck over and fueled us up.  I removed the cowl and added oil while Nathan sang and danced on the ramp.  We were parked in front of two large hangars without front doors.  The open hangars reflected Nathan’s singing back at us at almost full volume.

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Bayou Bartholemew

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Where the Arkansas (foreground) and Mississippi rivers (background) join

Not long after departing, we picked up a fantastic 20mph tailwind.  I revised our planned fuel stop a couple of times.  One of the options we passed up was in Oxford, Mississippi.  I snapped this picture as we flew by and only later realized it is the University of Mississippi “Ole Miss” campus.P1030684

Northwest Alabama Regional (Muscle Shoals) KMSL

We could have made it back to our home airport, but decided to make a final fuel stop in Muscle Shoals about 30 minutes from home.  It turned out to be a good thing since Nathan was feeling slightly airsick from some of the turbulence we found in eastern Mississippi.  The time we spent walking around on the ramp cured him.

We had a brief scare when the FBO informed us the FAA wanted to talk to us.  My mind raced through all the possible mistakes I could have made, but couldn’t think of any specific one.  After a brief wait they said the FAA was looking for a different airplane and we were okay to leave.  What a relief!

Here we are returning to the familiarity of Huntsville, Alabama.  Nathan even recognized the Saturn V rocket in the distance.

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Flight Testing

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First Flight

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Moving to the airport

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Cockpit mostly complete

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Transition Training

I did 3 hours of transition training at Sonex in Oshkosh.  This was the amount required by my insurance company and seemed like about the right amount of time for me to feel comfortable with the airplane.

Joe Norris, the instructor, started out explaining how the sight picture differs from other airplanes I have flown and gave some pointers on reference points on the windshield to help maintain level flight during turns.

The takeoff procedure was to basically unload the tailwheel and let the plane fly off the ground.  Interestingly, the plane sort of “pops” off the ground and wants to climb, so it takes some forward pressure to build up to 80mph, the climbout speed we were using.  I’m curious if a different trim setting would give less of a “pop”.

On my first takeoffs, I tried to lift the tail off the ground to almost a level flight attitude before liftoff.  This caused an uncomfortable amount of “porpoising” and Joe emphasized just unloading the tailwheel and flying off in more of a 3-point attitude.  I’m not sure if the “porpoising” was pilot-induced or a function of the titanium gear legs, but the 3-point takeoff works great.

The landings were performed by bringing the airplane into the three point attitude right off the ground and letting it settle onto the runway.  It didn’t require full elevator deflection like I’m used to, and I had a tendency to pull back too much for the first few landings (after landing, we still used full up elevator to pin the tail on the ground).  I zig-zagged across the runway on a couple landings–perhaps due to not flying tailwheel for a year or so, or perhaps due to the different forces with the direct-link tailwheel.

Taxiing wasn’t difficult and the hand brake came pretty natural except I kept having to dodge the flap handle to get to the brake one (on one landing approach I even pulled the brake handle a couple of times before I noticed my mistake).  The handles were bent a little more than the plans call for, so I might not have the problem at all in my airplane.

Throttle, electrical, and fuel

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Firewall nutplates

 

I installed nutplates for the voltage regulator, coils, and MGL RDAC.  The voltage regulator would be difficult to replace if it was secured with normal nuts since direct access to the nuts is blocked by the fuel tank.

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ELT Shelf

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