Eclipses, emergencies, and floods…

It’s been a while since I posted, I really expected to have more time to work on the plane this summer, but a lot has happened since the last post.  I had just returned from vacation and the fuselage kit had arrived.  I didn’t get much time to work on the plane because I was prepping for my first really long cross country trip.  Sure, I did day and night cross countries as part of my training, but nothing of this scale.

My friend up in Chicago was planning on flying down to southern Illinois for the solar eclipse.  The airport in Carbondale was almost directly in the center of the eclipse line and had almost 3 minutes of totality.  He suggested I fly up for the day.  My son had the day off work, so I decided to fly up Sunday, watch the eclipse and then head back that afternoon.  The timing was a little tight, but it was something I always wanted to do.

The weather was iffy (both for flying and for viewing) in the week prior, but by Saturday, the weather looked like it would be good enough.  We launched early Sunday with planned stops in Louisiana and Arkansas.  We had to fly out under the Houston Class B airspace, but then climbed up to 5500′ for a nice smooth, cool trip.  We made the first stop in Louisiana and checked the weather.  The clouds looked to stay high enough, but were becoming solid.  Not wanted to get trapped on top (and with some convective activity), we stayed low.  It was bumpy, humid, and slow going.  We had to turn back short of our planned fueling destination because of thunderstorm activity.  We looked to land at a small country strip, but it was too tight to get into in this weather.  But, by circling around, we bought ourselves enough time for the weather to pass.  We made it to Arkansas, borrowed the crew car, and grabbed some lunch to let the weather move further east.  The final flight into Carbondale was uneventful.  I was my longest flight ever (nearly 600nm) and my first time landing on parallel runways AND my first overnight trip all rolled into one.

The eclipse was even more spectacular than I could have realized.  Amazingly enough, this same airport will see another total eclipse just 7 years from now.  The difference between the various partial one’s I’ve seen and this is literally the difference between night and day.  So, when totality ended, it was nearly full daylight again and the 400+ planes that had flow into the airport now wanted to fly away — all at the same time.  Ground traffic was very  busy, but we got out rather quickly and started to retrace our steps south.  Headwinds were pretty bad and we were not making great time.  We stopped briefly at the same airport in Arkansas and flew again to Louisiana.  There was a bit of a line at the pump, so we were late getting off the field.  I was hoping to land by sunset back in Houston and it looked like we would just make it.

Well, that was not how it worked out.

I did a full run-up, lined up, and launched.  At 200′ off the ground, the engine quit making full power — it didn’t stop, but it was clearly not happy.  I was able to climb, but just barely.  I was afraid that the engine would quit altogether, so I dialed up the nearest big field with a tower and called in to declare an emergency.  So, I ended up in Shreveport rather unexpectedly.  The controller was really great and cleared traffic out of my way.  The landing was surprisingly uneventful after all that (though they did roll the big crash truck!).  I would not hesitate to call an emergency in the future.  Even the FAA was really good about it (I was asked to email a statement and I chatted for a few minutes with the investigator — that was it).  So, I called the wife to say that we would be late.  Then I rented a car one-way to drive my son & I back to Houston.  We made it back just before the rental car agency closed at 1am.  I stumbled into bed and made it to work the next day.

That Thursday, I tried getting up to the plane to fix it with the original builder (who suspected a clogged carburetor).  We got to within 40 miles of Shreveport, but persistent fog kept us out.  We could not linger long enough for the fog to clear because there was some weather moving into the Houston area.  So I called up the FBO and had them hangar the plane until further notice.

So that weather turned into Hurricane Harvey.  It was supposed to hit near Corpus Cristi and move inland and die off.  Instead it reversed course, came back to the Gulf and lingered for four days dumping 60 inches of rain.  Our house didn’t flood (barely), but our garage did.  Three of our cars were inundated.  They were total losses.  So, while I was trapped by flood waters in the house, the FBO at my home airport sent THIS picture out.  My hangar is the one right at the edge of the water (it rained another 20″ after this picture was taken).


I wasn’t able to get out to check on anything for a full week (which was spent replacing cars; digging rotten, moldy boxes out of the garage; and otherwise trying to figure out the whole disaster thing).  When I did get out, I punched the door lift and sighed when water came streaming out of the wind boot at the door bottom. But when I looked inside — nothing.  It was 100% dry.  The water came to within 1/2″ of the hangar floor and stopped.  A very close call!

So, there was still a lot of recovery work to do, so building didn’t happen for a while.  I did get up to Shreveport two weeks after the hurricane passed to go get the RV-12.  My buddy was right, it was a clogged carb.  After cleaning it and doing a thorough static run-up, we headed back to Houston in a flight of two (my first!).  Between the flight up to Illinois, the flight with the emergency landing, the first flight trying to get the plane, and the second successful recovery flight, I logged over 18 hours of RV-12 time in 3 weeks.

So, finally, this weekend, I got a chance to get out to the shop.  First up was completing the inventory.  The fuselage has an astonishingly large number of parts (and it contained a few replacement parts for the messed up fuel tank ribs too!). It seemed to mostly contain an astonishingly large amount of packing paper.  This is about half of it.

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There are 11 sub-kits and a bunch of loose parts.  Amazingly, only one small part appears to be missing.  It’s a little 3″x6″ plate — there was only one, but there were supposed to be two.


I spent most of Saturday pulling bits and pieces out of the crate and sorting the rivets into my bins and the bags into my cabinets.  It was pretty clear that I didn’t have enough room to store all the myriad parts, so I took a clue from some other builders and converted the crate into some shelves.

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The big skins are stored on another wall, but I got most everything into these.  It was pretty cool to see some of the “real” airplane parts like the rudder pedals and my control stick and some of the push rod and torque tube controls.

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It was also nice to see the instrument panel.  Here it is next to the RV-12 for comparison. It is clearly wider and a little bit higher.  It makes an assumption about the placement of the radio stack and a map box.  I will likely get a custom panel cut (dual Dynon Skyviews with a Garmin GPS nav and maybe some 2″ steam gauge backups I think).

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After finally getting everything put away, I felt that I just had to build one part to reestablish momentum.  So I started back in on the ribs that I had mangled trying to seal up.  It was simple work — just fluting, final drilling, and adding a 3/4″ hole, but it felt good to start again.

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So, it’s back to working on the tanks again.  I’m hopeful this time it all goes a bit more smoothly.