Monday, February 25, 2008

Now the fun begins...

My mama always said, "the proof is in the pud'en." What she meant by this is the outcome of what we do define us. I have written for weeks about the quality of Tejas's work, but at the end of the day it is the last bit of detail that will ultimately determine the outcome of the entire project. It is what people see that makes a top-notch paint job stand heads and shoulders above the rest.

The Devil's in the Details
The guy in this photo is Chris Wells. He is the Senior Design Engineer and Master Painter that is charged with applying our complex design to 252Q. Pay particular attention to how he is focusing in on what he's doing. He is taking his time to get the tape in just the right location. Also check out the design book laying on the wing to his left. The pages are worn and clearly have been examined many times. This careful attention to detail is what separates a true professional form everyone else.

NOTE: This was not a staged photo. It's the real deal...

The Final Countdown
At the time of this writing we are 57 days into the project and about 2 weeks from delivery. The Sherwin Williams Acry Glo Titanium has been applied and now they are laying the stripes out by hand (we have a total of 5 colors plus clear coat).

Tejas does not use stencils or decals like many shops do either. They believe the only way to get the stripes perfect with a clearly defined edge is to lay them out by hand. They have to account for rivets, walkway, fuel caps, access panels, vortex generators, etc., which is virtually impossible to get right on a computer since every airplane is slightly different. Suffice of to say, it is no easy task to take a 2-dimensional design and apply it to a 3-dimensional flying machine.

You may have noticed on the above photos of the tail that the Titanium is not applied over the entire surface like the wings. The reason for this is that the elevator and rudder have to be precisely balanced. This is where Tejas's Mooney experience comes into play. They have to apply three different colors to the tail on the top/bottom left/right sides. They have to paint each color individually, stack them one beside the other and then apply exactly the same amount of paint on both sides to get the controls to balance!

I'm sure they are loving me & Scheme Designers right now ;)

Friday, February 22, 2008

Changing An Aircraft N-Number

If you regularly read this blog you may have noticed that N252Q is also referred to as N5236G. When I bought 252Q she was named N5236G. We are changing the N-Number as part of the Exterior Restoration Project. Changing an aircraft registration number is not difficult, but there are several steps that have to be completed. Some of my frequent blog readers are considering a number change, so I thought I would write a bit about the process.

There are many reasons why owners want to change their registration number. Most of the time it is simply to change it to something that means something to them like a personalized license plate on their car. Personally I didn't have a problem with 5236G, but when I speak with others over the radio they often transposed the numbers. 5236G is simply too many numbers that does not flow easily when being regurgitated back over the airways. It is irritating to me and the controllers to constantly repeat ourselves, so one of the first decisions I made when deciding to upgrade 36G was to change the N-number to something easier to say and read back.

How to Find a Number
The FAA has a nice search site that will let you search a range of numbers with the same ending letters. This is easy to use. You type in the first box the letter(s) you would like the number to end with, then a starting number range in the second and an ending number range in the third. For example, I entered JK as the letters, the starting number of 100 and ending number of 199 and got the following numbers that are available:
110JK 113JK 116JK 119JK 120JK 122JK 128JK 132JK 134JK 135JK
136JK 138JK 139JK 141JK 142JK 143JK 144JK 146JK 151JK 152JK
154JK 155JK 156JK 157JK 158JK 160JK 161JK 163JK 164JK 166JK
168JK 169JK 175JK 176JK 178JK 181JK 183JK 184JK 189JK 194JK
195JK 196JK 197JK 198JK 199JK

Many people like their numbers ending in the same letters and this search site makes it quick and simple to find one. However, since my Mooney is the coveted 252, I thought it would be nice to use 252 as the base numbers and then add one or worse case two letters at the end. In other words, I wanted to keep the numbers and change the ending letters. I was not able to find an automated way to do this on the FAA website, so I had to do it by trial and error...

I'm sure there is an easier way, but what I did was go to the main FAA N-Number inquiry site and started searching for 252a, 252b, 252c, 252d, etc. until I found a few that were available. This is a tedious process, but only took a few minutes to blast through the alphabet. All you have to do is search for the first number, click the back button on your browser, change to the next letter and submit the query again...

There were only four 252 N-Numbers available:
252H - 252Q - 252W - 252Y

We decided to use N252Q because Quebec is unique, clear and easy to say.
By the way, as of this writing the other numbers are available. If you are a 252 driver thinking of changing your N-Number you may want to reserve one of these. When the numbers are used they are typically gone forever.

Reserving Your New N-Number
After finding an N-Number, the next thing to do is reserve it by using the FAA N-Number Registration Site. Currently the cost to do this is $10.00 per year, but there are talks of increasing the fee to help the FAA raise funds from other sources besides the Federal Government. AOPA has many articles on the subject of user fees...

NOTE: The FAA will send a reminder via postal mail every year about a month before the reservation expires. You will have to pay this fee every year until it is transferred to an actual airplane. If you miss the annual renewal they will release the number back into circulation.

When you reserve your new number on the site above it is important to register it using the name and address that appears on your aircraft registration. It can slow the transfer process down considerably if it isn't clear to the Registry Office who owns what. If they are in different names (e.g. personal name on one company name on the other), you will have to prove ownership of both the airplane and the new N-Number before the Feds will process the paperwork. If the names and addresses are the same a simple letter is all it takes to get the transfer process started.

How to transfer your number to your airplane?
It is very simple to find a number and to reserve it online. However, the FAA will only accept transfer requests in writing that are signed by the registered owner (or officer if a company). The FAA site is clear that you need to send the request to them in writing, but they aren't clear on where to send the letter or what to say. Here's what you need to do.

The correspondence address for all Registry inquiries is:

ATTN: Aircraft Registration
Federal Aviation Administration
PO BOX 25504
Oklahoma City OK 73125

The Aircraft Registration Office phone number is not that easy to find on the website. Here's the number if you have questions about the process or want to check the status of your paperwork:

(866) 704-4715

I was not able to find a canned letter on the FAA website and they were not clear on what you need to say. I did a bit of research and found out that they will accept just about anything as long as it is legible and includes the Make, Model, Serial Number, current N-Number, what you want to do (e.g. transfer a N-Number) and it is signed in ink.

Here's a copy of the letter I wrote. Feel free to use it as a guideline:
No, we're not done yet!
Sending the above letter will get the process started, but we're not done yet. The letter is only the first step in the transfer process.

NOTE: At this point you are NOT authorized to change your N-Number or remove your old one. Doing so is a Federal Crime!

You may have noticed in the letter above that I requested FAA Form 8050-64, Assignment of Special Registration Numbers. Form 8050-64 is the form that the registration office sends back to you that authorizes the Number change process to begin.

Nope, we're not ready yet!
After receiving form 8050-64 you are now authorized to move froward with the N-Number change. You may remove the old number and paint the new one on the airplane. At this point, however, the plane is grounded. You have 5-days after removing the old N-Number to change your Airworthiness Certificate to one that reflects the new number.

NOTE: The Airworthiness Certificate is often an overlooked piece of paper in the back of the plane, but it is actually one of the most important documents in an aircraft. Getting a certificate replaced if lost is a monumental task. Trust me, You do not want to loose this certificate! A plane is grounded until it is replace and it could take months!

The FAA realizes the Airworthiness Certificate is a critical piece of paper, so they require that you visit a local FAA Field Office (FISDO) to exchange it for a new one. You will need to bring a copy of the form 8050-64 with you. The field office will keep your old certificate and you will get a brand new certificate with the new N-Number.

We're almost done!
There is one last step in the process. You now need to change your aircraft registration to reflect the new N-Number. To do this you simply sign and date the Form 8050-64 and mail it back to the Registry Office within 5-days after painting the new number on the plane. The aircraft may be flown after the Airworthiness Certificate is swapped, but you must also have a copy of form 8050-64 in the aircraft along with the original registration. The Feds will send the new registration paperwork to the address where the aircraft is registered.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Why Vortex Generators?

N252Q's project has gotten quite a bit of attention while she's been at Tejas. Folks from Mooney Corp. have taken some pictures of her, some of my blogging friends have visited her and she's even created quite a buzz on the field & in the shop. Of course, I suspected that she would get some attention. 252Q is being transformed into one of the best, if not the best, 252's in the world after all.

However, I was not expecting this... 252Q's Makeover has caught the eye of Flying Magazine. Not because of her fabulous paint scheme or Technically Advanced Avionics, but the Vortex generators we recently installed. It turns out that Flying Mag has been looking for a good example of a Mooney that has had Vortex generators retrofitted for quite some time. They want to test fly one and write about their experience. If all goes as planned, 252Q's maiden voyage may actually be by the editor of Flying Magazine! How cool is that?

After speaking with the folks prepping for the article, I was surprised to hear that not many Mooney owners have installed VG's. I thought it would be good write a bit about the benefits of vortex generators and walk you thought the process I went through when I decided to install them on 252Q.

What is a Vortex Generator?
NOTE: Portions of the following description and photos were taken from the Micro Aerodynamics website:

Vortex generators are small metal blades placed in a spanwise line aft of the leading edge of the wing and oftentimes the horizontal and vertical stabilizers. They are designed to control airflow over the surface of the airfoil by creating vortices (spinning air) that energize the boundary layer (area between the airfoil surface and moving air). This results in improved performance and control authority at low airspeeds and high angles of attack.

When several of these small "wings" are applied to an airfoil in a very specific pattern and location they create tiny vortices in the airstream that are spun downward toward the surface of the airfoil. These vortex energize the normally stagnant boundary layer of air on the wing's surface. An energized (active) boundary layer is more resistant to flow separation than a stagnant boundary layer. The result is that airflow "sticks" to the wing better, permitting flight at lower airspeeds with improved control authority.

Why do people install Vortex Generators?
There are two camps of people that install VG's. One camp is the bush pilot or someone that needs to greatly improve performance so they can get in and out of short fields (STOL). The second group are the ones that want to enhance safety by enhancing the aircraft handling characteristics.

In more specific terms, the key reasons someone would install VG's are to:
  • Decrease Lift Off Speed,
    ** You can get out of a much shorter runway at max gross weight if you can takeoff sooner.
  • Lower Stall Speeds,
    ** You can slow down and fit in behind a 152 on a long slow final without having to go around.
  • Improve Controllability at all airspeeds,
    ** A VG equipped airplane will handle the same, or better, at slow speeds as they do in cruse.
  • Improve Handling Characteristics,
    ** It takes less control input to counteract P-Factor and crosswinds.
  • And, VG's Improve Safety,
    ** You can still control roll and direction even if the airplane is in a stall.
Why don't more Mooney's fly with VG's?
My guesstimate is that some of the reluctance to install VG's stem from being nostalgic and thinking that if Al Mooney didn't install them then I don't need them! They did everything they could to improve performance afterall! That was certainly true when our beloved Mooney's were built, but lots of things have changed since then. I also suspect that owners have heard that VG's may slow them down or they are reluctant to invest in something that others haven't.

Here are some additional facts that may make naysayers reconsider...

1) It is a proven fact that aircraft with VG's are safer and have fewer accidents. In fact, it is rare that you would ever get into a corporate jet, airliner or modern high-performance airplane that doesn't have VG's as standard equipment.

2) I sincerely believe the VG's will provide the best dollar per dollar benefit of anything I've done to 252Q thus far. There are not many mods you can do to an airframe that has virtually zero impact on performance while systematically enhancing safety. They improve low speed handling characteristics, reduce stall speed, shorten takeoff distance, improve climb performance and materially improve wing efficiency in cruise.

3) VG's greatly improve landing safety margins. The #1 cause of accidents in the M20 are takeoffs and landings. It is all too common to read about Mooney pilots that land too fast and overrun the end of the runway or they takeoff on a short field a bit too heavy and run off the end of the runway! In fact, I did a quick analysis of the NTSB Aircraft Accident/Incident database. What I found was that there have been 2509 Accidents/Incidents reported on M20 Aircraft and 692 of them were due to a landing incident of some-sort. In other words, 27.6% of the NTSB M20 incidents were landing related! If you read them you will find that the vast majority are not from gear up, but form landing too fast, trying to force the plane onto the ground and ultimately overrunning the runway. VG's permit you land slower without sacrificing control!

4) NASA spent millions researching and developing VG's. If they can build an international space station, I think they may know a thing or two about aerodynamics ;)

5) They are dirt cheap! Installed I paid a whopping $1400!

Need I say more...?

I sincerely hope that I've got you thinking about installing VG's on your Mooney, or any airplane that doesn't have them. Do your own research and I bet you will be as convinced as I am. I also bet that when Flying Mag does their research they will come up with similar findings.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

What Makes a Good Aircraft Paint Job?

A couple months back I wrote about picking the right paint shop and referenced the Aviation Consumer article on the subject. What I found interesting about the article was that even a top Aviation product research company can get a suboptimal paint job. These guys are trained to look for things that others may not notice and were even writing a comprehensive article on the subject. Clearly anyone painting a plane, including someone that is "in the know" like Aviation Consumer, can pick the wrong shop. I'm waiting on the next round of photos form Tejas, so I thought I'd write a bit more on what to look for in a quality Aircraft paint job.

The Aviation Consumer Experience
Back in September Aviation Consumer had their Mooney M20K 231 (N40CC) painted and wrote a bit about their experience in the article. A 231 airframe is nearly identical to the 252, which made this article even more reliant to 252Q's Extreme Makeover. They are both M20K's. The only noticeable difference between the two is the cowling air intake and the windows are squared off on the 231.

Aviation Consumer had their plane painted by National Flight Services in Lakeland Florida. I'm sure National is a fine shop, but in my opinion the quality of the work they did for Aviation Consumer's Mooney is questionable.

Video Background
The video below does a good job of detailing key things to look for after an aircraft has been painted. If you are thinking of painting a plane or are buying one that has been painted it is worth watching. Aviation Consumer asked Craig Barnett, CEO of Scheme Designers, to review their paint job. If you recall, Scheme Designers is who I selected to design 252Q's paint scheme. Craig is well known in the industry and is the go-to guy on the subject of painting aircraft.

Going into the video production, I doubt they were aware of some of the things that Craig found. However, what I like about Aviation Consumer is they are unbiased and tell it like it is. The video is an honest assessment of the quality of the paint job without being over critical of the shop that did the work. Some of the findings, however, concern me. For example, the right horizontal elevator has way too much paint on it. No way it was properly balanced. This could cause an in-flight catastrophe or at the very least cause abnormal wear on the bushings and other important things that hold the tail of the plane. And some of the findings were downright unacceptable. For example, they painted the N-number the wrong direction on the Right side of the plane!

The following photos and comments are directly from the Aviation Consumer article...
"Barnett squawked drips on the elevator,
top, and Wyatt touched up a bare spot,
lower photo."

"Oops...Craig Barnett points out N-number
shadows on the wrong side of the
numerals. The shop agreed to fix it.

I've certainly seen worse paint jobs, but considering this one was being done for a company that has the voice of the press, it make me wonder what they would do for the average owner. The shop also did "all of the right things" including striping, Alodine, etc. However, in the end it comes down to the skills of the people laying out the stripes and applying the paint. They have paint blow-by around some of the stripes they didn't clean up, they applied too much paint in many areas, they painted the N-Number in the wrong direction and they even have rivet heads that are bubbling up...

NOTE: in the video they referenced that the shop is going to ask the paint manufacturer what happened around the rivets. I can tell you what happened... 1) they didn't have the surface properly cleaned before they painted it. 2) they didn't have the paint thinned properly and applied it way to thick. This also adds unnecessary weight to the plane...

What I found ironic was that Aviation Consumer didn't pick a shop from their own list of top shops. National didn't appear in their top 20 shops or the expanded list...

In the article here's what they said about why they picked National over other shops:
"Why National Flight Services? Proximity, mainly. We have always advised that in buying major upgrades such as engines, avionics and paint, it’s better have the work done as close to home as practical. It’s true that these services are priced and provided on a national market basis, but they’re dispersed well enough that finding one within easy driving range—200 miles or less—is practical."
I agree that it is certainly nice to work with a local shop when you can; however, anyone can install an engine. Not many are qualified to paint a plane properly. I would not recommend limiting a search for a paint shop to a confined 200 miles radius. When you pick a shop, you need to pick one based on the quality of their work -- period! As I have said previously, an inadequate paint job can introduce corrosion and other serious issues that are virtually impossible to find until the damage is done. Painting an airplane is a major ordeal and expense. It's worth traveling a bit to get it done right.

Painting an aircraft requires a level of skill that takes years to master. There are very few shops that spend the money to employ qualified people. In fact, many hire painters form the automotive industry because they are cheaper and easier to find. Painting a car is nowhere near as complex as painting an airplane. How many people paint the under body of a car...? Of course, skilled people come with a high salary that you ultimately pay for. It costs a shop a lot of money to hire people with appropriate skills and they have to continue to pay them even if business is slow. Paint shops are not in business to do work for free. That said, however, my research reveled that the cost difference between a top shop like Tejas and a mediocre shop like National is very close. Do your homework before turning over your airplane to someone that isn't properly equipped to do the job right!

Friday, February 01, 2008

Primer has been applied!

252Q's exterior referb project is coming along quite well. The Zinc Chromate primer has been applied to all surfaces and the temp was brought up in the paint room to keep humidity down and to let the parts cure it overnight. We are getting very close to applying the base coat, which will be Sherwin Williams Acry Glo Titanium Metallic Urethane.

It is remarkable how talented the Tejas team is. I could not be more impressed with the quality of the work they produce. These guys are good, very good...

Pay particular attention to the photo below. Take note of how the primer covers all ends and pieces parts. This is a textbook perfect example of how to apply primer. Not many do it right.

When we owners design a scheme and get our planes painted, we often forget the reason why we paint planes in the first place. Sure it is nice that it makes them look new, but we actually paint planes to protect the aluminum surfaces. Aluminum is a very strong, light and malleable metal, but it is highly susceptible to corrosion if it isn't prepped properly. I cannot stress enough how important it is spend the money and paint a plane the right way. Metal airplanes can literally last forever, but corrosion can turn a perfectly good flying machine into scrap metal in a matter of months. Aircraft bone yards are full of planes that were taken by corrosion.

If you are buying a plane that has been painted, it is important to carefully read the logbook entry. It should spell out everything they did including removing the parts, applying Alodine, Zinch Chromate, etc. They should also specifically document that the flight controls were balanced. If they don't list these items out, then it is very likely it was not done or done improperly. Balancing flight controls is required by the FAR's. Doing the job right is required by how big your wallet is. It goes without saying that replacing flight controls or parts due to corrosion is costly and labor intensive project. A few buck spent up front can not only increase the value of a plane, it can literally make it immortal.