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If You Fly In
By Tony Bingelis (originally published in EAA Sport Aviation, July 1993)
The lure and call of the wild blue yonder is hard to resist when you have a brand new homebuilt in the stable and your mandatory test flight hours have finally been flown off.
It is a once in a lifetime combination of events, and it opens the window of opportunity for you to experience the pleasure and excitement of attending some of the fly-ins you have been reading about for years . . . especially that big daddy of them all - OSHKOSH.
EAAers who fly their homebuilts to numerous fly-ins during the course of a year, including the big ones like Oshkosh and Sun ‘n Fun, eagerly look forward to attending at least one of them. After all, why not?
They know from experience what to expect and they, and their airplanes, are well prepared and equipped for attending these gala annual events.
This may not be so with the newly liberated builder who has been building for years, and who has had limited funds and little or no time for flying. This lack of experience in attending any kind of fly-in can be compensated for, at least in part, by knowing what to expect and by making the necessary preparations before departing.
Attending a few smaller nearby fly-ins is a good way to get started, and to gain a bit of fly-in experience before tackling the "big" events. Finding an interesting fly-in to attend should be no problem.
With the advent of spring, fly-ins start erupting all over the country. These begin in the southern tier of states as early as March (with an occasional fly-in breakfast), and rapidly spreading to the other more northerly states by the time open cockpit weather arrives.
The fly-in calendars in most aviation publications soon become jammed with fly-in dates. So many, in fact, that there is no way you could attend all of them because of the multiple fly-ins scheduled for the same dates.
You will, therefore, learn to become very selective when picking your fly-in excursions. Some are simple, spontaneous EAA get-togethers while others are the result of hard work and the joint efforts of several EAA Chapters.
In contrast to the smaller fly-ins that take place on smaller, uncontrolled airports are the big metropolitan airport airshows. These large extravagant airshow events feature warbirds, military aircraft and paid aerobatic performers with the intention of luring, educating, and entertaining the general public.
It all depends on the type of flying events you prefer . . . the kind where you are a participant or the kind where you are a spectator.
You, like many other homebuilders, will probably find that you enjoy the smaller fly-ins the most. Perhaps it is because you can arrive anytime you want and leave anytime you want.
On the other hand, when a larger fly-in has an airshow scheduled, you will find the airport has to be closed during the airshow . . . often from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.
This makes you a captive as you will not be allowed to depart during that period. If you have a long way to fly, it could cause you to get home at a very late hour.
Most of us have attended fly-ins (to which we probably had to drive) long before we had an airplane. Consequently, we may already be familiar wih a few of the rules aircraft owners, as well as spectators, are expected to abide by.
However, it is not until you have the responsibility of bringing an airplane to a fly-in that you realize there is a lot more to know than meets the eye.
Here are some of the typical fly-in rules and practices you can expect to encounter at most any fly-in. I’ll try to cover as many of these as I can remember.
When you arrive at that big fly-in, you may find you won’t have much choice where you park, as you will probably be directed to a specific open space in the homebuilt or show plane parking area.
Let’s hope you will be parked on a slight rise (just in case it rains) and not over, or near, a fire ant commune. Ant stings (bites?), for the most part, are unexpected but no less painful.
Taxiing among the spectators is a "no-no" without a motor bike escort and/or wing walkers. This crowd control procedure is typical at most larger fly-ins, and must be observed in the interest of safety.
You will, therefore, be expected to shut down your engine, while still in the taxi lane, and then push the airplane into its parking space. There will always be spectators eager to help you. However, if you accept someone’s help don’t assume he knows where he can and cannot push. It is your responsibility to instruct them.
The folks running the fly-in will usually try to have show aircraft of similar types parked together. You should understand, however, that this is not always possible, so don’t be disappointed if you are parked among a variety of "alien" aircraft.
As a long suffering builder you may worry about possible damage to your parked aircraft by inconsiderate spectators. This is a legitimate concern because some folks are unaware of the damage they can inflict. It can happen when they lean over to peek into your cockpit and their camera bangs against your beautiful finish.
This potential threat inspires a few pilots to stake off their airplanes using posts and ropes. Fly-in rules, sometimes, do not permit the use of stakes as someone might get hurt. Instead, the use of surveyor type ribbon or tape is encouraged. This may be strung from the spinner to each wing tip and to the stabilizer as a means to control crowd access to your airplane. You might want to carry some of that ribbon stuff with you (red, yellow or orange seem to be the color choices available).
It is a good idea to lock your controls if you have such a provision. Otherwise, you could use your safety belt to immobilize the control stick. But, that may not keep your ailerons from flapping in a gusty breeze.
You can immobilize your ailerons better by using a rubber bungee with hooks on each end (bicycle shops carry them). Wrap the bungee cord around the control column and hook the ends to some cockpit structure.
Every homebuilt should have specially prepared tiedown points installed during construction. The usual accommodation is a couple of removable tiedown rings which can be screwed into tapped tiedown holes located in each wing.
The third tiedown point is usually located at the tail where either a permanent ring or a removable tiedown ring may be installed.
If you neglected to make provisions for reliable tiedown points, this does not exempt you from tying your airplane down anyway . . . even if you will be forced to wrap ropes around the landing gear legs and the tail or tailwheel . . . a not as good substitute arrangement.
Every airplane attending a fly-in must be tied down when parked overnight and if it is to be left unattended for any length of time.
Should severe weather reports be received, word will be announced over the loudspeakers that all aircraft must be tied down immediately. An airplane that is not tied down can be blown into an adjacent aircraft and inflict a lot of damage to both aircraft.
You should carry your own tiedowns and chocks when you go on a cross country or attend a fly-in.
A set of tiedowns may be purchased at any pet supply store. These are the steel corkscrew variety made especially for staking out dogs to keep them from straying. The corkscrew type tiedowns are O. K. for soft or sandy soil but are almost impossible to screw into the hard caliche type ground common to many western and mountain states.
The most versatile tiedown is the type that must be pounded into the ground.
You can make your own tiedowns from short lengths of 3/8" concrete reinforcement rods. All you need do is to bend a loop in one end to which the tiedown rope can be attached. The other end may even be beveled on a bench grinder to make it easier to drive into the ground.
Unless you are a Karate disciple, I wouldn’t attempt to pound the tiedowns into the ground with your fist. A hammer of some sort is a more refined method.
Carrying a hammer just to drive tiedown stakes into the ground a few times a year would seem to be useless dead weight to be hauling around on every flight, but look at it this way . . .
In the event of a flip-over accident, you could use the hammer as an emergency tool for shattering the canopy to create an egress for what might have to be a very highly motivated departure.
If you didn’t bring tiedowns, for a nominal fee you should be able to get loaner tiedowns when you register your aircraft.
Incidentally, you will probably be offered a partial refund when you return the tiedowns.
Don’t pass up an opportunity to refuel your aircraft as soon as possible after you arrive. If a refueling truck is available, flag it down. Don’t wait until you are ready to leave. Otherwise, you may find yourself waiting until most everyone has left.
In my opinion, you should do the refueling yourself, or monitor it carefully, Sometimes, the fuel service attendant may not be as experienced as you would like him or her to be.
Watch to see that the fuel nozzle isn’t tilted hard against the filler opening as this might damage the tank or filler neck.
If your airplane is powered by a two-cycle engine, or needs auto fuel, you had better find out beforehand if the fuel type you must have is available. Even so, you should carry your own special oil if it is needed. Otherwise, be prepared to fly to the nearest facility known to have the fuel needed for your particular engine.
At Oshkosh and at Sun ‘n Fun help is available for most any kind of mechanical problem that develops short of rebuilding the aircraft.
At the smaller or local fly-ins you will have to depend on whatever help you can get from willing fellow flyers. It is comforting to know that most of them will offer to help any way they can. However, don’t trust to luck. Try to be prepared for unexpected minor mechanical con- tingencies.
In this regard, a small repair kit should be part of your onboard equipment. For example, you never know when you might be plagued by a flat tire, fouled plugs, loose electrical connections, a lost fuel filler cap, etc.
Here’s how you can decide what to include in your repair kit.
As a starter, determine what tools you will need to:
1. Remove the cowling.
2. Remove the wheel pants, wheels, tires and tubes.
3. Remove the spark plugs.
Then, if you haven’t already done so, add a small adjustable wrench, a few small wrenches, channel-lock pliers (8-10 inches), a short-handled cross point screwdriver, a pair of diagonal pliers, some .030" safety wire, a small roll of duct tape and a roll of electrical tape.
These few items are the essential minimum for an emergency tool kit. Supplement the kit with whatever special tools you think you might need.
Remember though, you won’t have to perform a major overhaul, so try to limit your tool kit contents to the items that will fit into something like an overnight leatherette shaving kit.
Carry the repair kit at all times in your baggage compartment and you may never ever have to open it.
When It Rains . . .
No matter how well you think you have sealed your canopy and windshield, water will find its way into the cockpit . . . that includes wash rack water, too.
There are two simple solutions to the problem. Make a fitted canopy/windshield cover you can install when you bed down your airplane for the night at a fly-in. Such a canopy cover works best when it is made of a soft, water resistant material and it is secured snugly so the wind will not blow it off.
Here is an alternate solution to a canopy cover that is very effective and far less expensive. Tape over the windshield/canopy seams, gaps, and other openings, through which water can enter, with electrical tape. Electrical tape adheres well, is pliant and will conform to any shape or curve . . . and it is easy to remove.
Do not use duct tape as it may pull your paint when you try to remove it the next day. Besides that, it will leave a sticky residue.
Masking tape is a bit better but it too can pull paint and when exposed to the sun for long may be difficult to remove.
Sometimes a very heavy dew forms overnight on the canopy and after you have removed the electrical tape seal strips and opened the canopy, some of that condensed water drips onto your upholstery.
You can cope with this annoyance by storing a chamois skin, or a piece of cloth, someplace outside the airplane. For example, you can clip it to one of the tiedown ropes. The chamois is then available for wiping away the heavy condensation before opening the canopy.
For that matter, the whole airplane will probably need to be wiped dry . . . especially if you want it to look extra good for the judges.
Incidentally, try to remove your canopy cover by 0900 hours in consideration of interested spectators and those who want to or need to take photos.
The spectators allowed into the show plane parking areas are, for the most part, EAA members, pilots (and their guests) . . . some of them aspiring builders.
Try to be patient with them. They are very interested in your airplane or they wouldn’t be hanging around examining it. You are a special celebrity in their eyes because you happen to be one of those unique individuals who has built and is flying his own airplane.
Some of them who want to build an airplane very much are looking for encouragement and they are just full of questions.
Standard EAA prop sleeve type signs are usually given to you when you register your aircraft. Fill out the data honestly as builders and pilots love to compare their own aircraft with others.
The engine type and horsepower, empty weight, cruise speed and landing speed are the most scrutinized notations.
Is there anything else worth mentioning?
Yes. At most fly-ins you will have an opportunity to examine many other aircraft - some of them like yours. You will be surprised how many good ideas you can pick up to try for yourself. That alone is a good enough excuse to make as many fly-ins as you can.