Sunday, January 24, 2016

Take offs are optional, landings are manditory.

Long time no blog.

Gabe and I hit a wall with this project about four years ago when we realized that there wasn't a drive system we were comfortable flying with that we could also afford.  As a result the Lazair has been hanging behind the garage waiting for the all important collision of means, motive, and opportunity.

Fast forward to a couple of weeks ago when a new coalition formed more or less spontaneously to get this project back in motion.  Jackson Edwards deserves most of the credit for reviving the idea.  He's a battery engineer and a very motivated fellow.  He got us all re-energized and also brought us batteries and another partner to provide motors.

As a result the project is back in high gear.

This weekend saw the start of motor testing.  Unfortuanately our first controller arrived bricked, so we're going to have to try for a first spin on Monday.  I'll provide some details of the motor, battery, and controller specs as soon as I can.  It's all so new to me that I don't even know all the bits we're running yet.

Our plan is to have the plane back in the air by spring.  We'll be doing most of our flying out of Monterey Bay Academy, which is also where the plane will be stored in a hanger where I work at Calfee Design.

This is an exciting time for flight, and I see a real possibility for light electric aircraft to revitalize the general aviation industry and finally make sport flying a reality for the average person.

I hope this blog can provide some inspiration and also guidance to anyone undertaking a similar electric aviation project.  Feel free to reach out to us with questions.

Back to work!

 This VariEZ wants to be electric too...

 Very safe battery.
 Anybody remember the FTDI?

 So like, this big?
 This should hold it.
 Jackson is a battery wizard.
 Just a little crimper.
 Mission control.
Discovering the brick situation.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Nothing flies without fuel, so let's start with some coffee.

Not much of a report this week. We did get a fair amount done, but it was all Soda Blasting, and it was all messy. Soda Blasting involves using a nifty contraption to blast the surface of the aluminum clean without inhaling sand dust. When you're done you can just rinse off the Baking Soda. We should be ready for paint after another weekend blasting session.

Monday, February 20, 2012

A bird is an instrument working according to mathematical law,

which instrument it is within the capacity of man to reproduce with all its movements.

— Leonardo da Vinci, Treatise on the Flight of Birds, 1505.

Round circles in aluminum forms riveted together is like pure distilled "airplane" to me. The little section of wing pictured above is my favorite single visual element of a Lazair.

A great deal of progress was made on Saturday. Gabe and I finished stripping the second wing and fuselage.

Dale's wing stands came in handy again, here's the wing when we got started on Saturday.

This is the original logo on the port wing. Sadly the winglets are in pretty bad shape, and we're repairing and recovering them, so the old covering was cut away.

Here's a closeup of the aileron control rod connection. I've taken some pictures of each assembly as we break the aircraft down, so we can be sure to re-assemble in the same manner. In truth the design is quite simple and we have the factory assembly manual to double check, but it never hurts to be thorough. The wings are filthy from their time in a barn. I'm certain I don't want to know what some of that staining is from.

The covering has been pulled/cut away from the wing now, and to get at the last fiddly bits we have to remove the aileron. Next we'll be pulling the ribs, so the trailing edge rod needs to come off also.

Each rib is held in place with rivets. To remove them you have to punch out the center of the rivet, then drill it out, leaving a nice hole for a new rivet later. (That's the plan anyway)

Once denuded the wing joined it's brother hanging beneath the eaves of Gabe's house. We're going to finish cleaning the wings and make some repairs in the coming weeks, but for now they have a safe place to wait. In the boxes are all the other parts we have removed so far. It's a pretty small package when it's broken down.

Aluminum swallow tails.

About the time we were finished with the second wing, the sun decided to come out. Since all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy, we decided to break out the Alula and play with the seagulls in the breeze. (

The Alula is a hand launched, hand catch flyer. You toss it by one wingtip to get airborne, then try and find some slope lift, or a nice breeze. Flying doesn't need to be complicated.

Playtime over, we headed in to the garage to finish the fuselage stripping.

We needed to remove the last of the control assemblies, the odd "brake" arrangement, and the old nose wheel. We won't be reusing any of the landing gear, as we're fitting a wider tricycle configured gear, with a steerable nose wheel.

Now we just need to clean the fuselage, and it's ready for paint.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Experience is the knowledge that enables you to recognize a mistake when you make it again.

This week was pretty quiet on the Lazair restoration front. Gabe spent a lot of time with Dale trying to come up with the perfect motor/battery/controller combination to fly with. I'm not going to let that cat out of the bag until we're closer to a final solution, but it's going well.

In preparation for a return to flying, I have been looking in to inexpensive practice options. Before I actually take to the skies, I'll be doing a few hours of flight review with a qualified instructor. Until then I need a way to fly that provides real world practice at a low cost.

PC simulation doesn't really do it for me. I don't know if it's the game-like aspect, or the interaction with a PC in general, but it's hard for me to take seriously. Also the lack of consequences for failure is a turn off.

Enter the previously unobtainable world of FPV RC flight. For those not aware, it is now possible for a pretty small cost of entry, to strap a camera to the nose of an RC plane, and go flying without leaving the ground. Sophisticated systems even track head movements and allow pan/tilt camera movement from in-cockpit.

Start with one of these: Turnigy 9ch Transmitter

Then add one of these: Floater-Jet EPO ARF

Mix with a dash of this: Fat Shark FPV System

Add a couple batteries and you're flyin'. I'll also be adding landing gear so I can do full taxi-take-off-fly-land simulation flights.

Gabe will have a second transmitter plugged in as a safety net in case the FPV camera cuts out or anything else odd goes wrong.

Here's a sample vid from Gabe's quad copter with FPV: Larkin Zero Footage

And a really pretty POV flight over a misty field: FPV w/ Head Tracking

My transmitter is in the mail on the way, and I already have the floater jet. I should have some video of my own trainer to post next week.

For the Lazair the next step is to acquire a "Soda Blaster" and finish cleaning and prepping the airframe. Then we'll paint the aluminum parts and start to re-assemble.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

It's better to be down here wishing you were up there, than up there wishing you were down here.

And so goes week 2 of our Lazair project. Gabe and I had planned to look at a trailer/portable hanger this weekend, and do some RC trainer development. (more on that later) Instead we got a call from Dale Kramer on Friday night, and he flew in from Texas on Saturday. He's going to be here for a week or two working on some motor and controller advancements, and he lent us a hand on the plane Saturday evening and Sunday.

Dale really jump-started our progress. We stripped the fuselage and removed the rest of the parts requiring service or upgrade. We're up-sizing the control rods, and adding strength to a few other places, to accommodate the extra weight of the electric drive train, and a couple of plus sized pilots.

This was the fuselage when we wrapped up Saturday night. You can see two cardboard boxes by the garage door slowly filling up with parts. It is almost always more work to fix something right, than it is to build it from scratch.

We also constructed some plywood cradles for the wings, which serve as both a nice storage solution, and a necessary work platform.

The cradles allowed us to start ripping in to the wings, and pulling the ribs. We need to check each rib, and reinforce or repair them as needed. We'll also be making a few modifications to the structure of the wings before we recover them.

As I get a better feel for the assembly and design of the Lazair, my confidence in the aircraft is rapidly increasing.

This really is an incredible little aircraft, and the tear down and build up will give a level of familiarity few pilots have with their machine.

Next we need to open the leading edge of the wing, and check the foam ribs within. We may need to add some extra epoxy or make a few repairs.

We flipped the fuselage over to remove the landing gear. We'll be replacing them with a tricycle configuration, complete with a steerable nose-wheel.

Gabe and Dale finish removing the seat cover.

We'll be taking the floor pan out as well, to allow for access to rudder pedals and to make a few other tweaks.

One more wing to tear down, and we should have a good idea of the steps and materials needed to complete the project. Some of the parts we'll need are going to come from Dale, others we'll fabricate or source on our own. I'll post a list of resources as we go.

Monday, January 23, 2012

You, yes you can develop, build, and fly electric aircraft!

I grew up around aviation, my father was a pilot and most of my life flying was an occasional hobby and full time source of fascination. In college I had the opportunity to acquire my private pilots license, which I nearly completed in 1997, before financial hardship grounded my ambitions. My last flight was 2 1/2 hours of dual instruction as an introduction to flying complex twins at night. That was in 2001.

Fast forward to about a month ago when my buddy Gabe from work approached me as a partner in crime on a electric ultralight project.

Gabe an I work in the EV industry, and are both long time flying geeks. What he presented me with is a chance not only to fly again, but to do so in a way that combines many of my interests and passions in a way I never thought possible.

We picked up our new airframe, (a Series 2 Ultraflight Lazair designed by Dale Kramer and built from 1979 until 1984) from an old friend of Gabe's. The plane has been stored in a barn for several years, and will need a pretty complete restoration.

More info on the Lazair :

We loaded the plane on a trailer and moved it to Gabe's garage where the first stage of restoration will take place. I was pretty emotional picking up the project. Flying means a lot to me, and reminds me of my father. Of course we had to take a few pictures and try sitting in our fuselage.

Next we need to remove things we won't need for our electric aircraft. These 2 stroke Rotax motors will be on the auction block as soon as I have a chance to clean them up a bit.

You never know what you'll find. This mud wasp nest was under a piece of the ruddervator assembly.

Day one of the real restoration and yours truly is trying out various polishing methods for the aluminum structure of the plane. The whole surface has minor corrosion and oxidation that we need to remove, then we'll paint the frame to seal it. We're going to be storing the aircraft in a trailer near the coast, so leaving the aluminum bare is not an option. You can see the wings hanging from the garage ceiling behind me.

This is the end of day 1. We've removed all the bits we won't be needing including the gas motor throttle assembly, and the original gauge box, which we will be replacing. Also we pulled the old "tedlar" covering off the ruddervators, and prepped the surface for new covering.

This is going to be a long process, but seldom have I encountered something so worth doing. I should be updating this blog weekly with our progress. Stay tuned for more details about power train and battery choices, as well as handy tips on avoiding problems we discover along the way. It is my hope that this blog can inspire more would-be aviators to stop dreaming and start flying.