One Week Wonder - Chapter Nine - The Day of the FAA

Arriving on the Sunday morning, nobody felt 'not tired', but everybody felt 'totally exhilarated'.  The One Week Wonder sat out front, like a toddler about to go out in it's push chair for the first time, full of anticipation, ready for an adventure - but looking so innocent and unprepared.

 

It was 99% ready, and with just 50% left to go!  But that 50% was going to be a challenge... Then, they came with a black plastic bag and a remote control unit for the countdown clock.  It was the time thieves.  They had been sent by the EAA management to reset the clock.  First, they covered up the one day remaining... then realizing that did not put the right pressure on the team, they reset the countdown to just seven hours.  At 15:00, the clock would show 00:00:00 and it would all be over.  Just seven hours - and there were no doors, no seats, not all the rivets had been pulled - it was a long shot... but where there is the Spirit Of Building Aircraft, there is a way.  And the 'force was strong' in the team.  I am sure that Yoda was sitting somewhere, giggling about the stealing of Time.  Perhaps, just perhaps, some magical bubble would engulf the One Week Wonder stand and make it all happen... or, perhaps everyone would make that extra effort... if only the weather would hold.

 

One team worked on the doors, another under the fuselage, another on the fuel system, another on the wing roots, another on the registration letters and a data plate, for those are a requirement too!  The FAA Man was coming, and so the team must be ready...

 

There were still rivets to be pulled - and some eager 'builders' to pull them... there were more youngsters, and also some Thunderbird 5 crew chiefs - with their '5' badge deliberately sewn on 'inverted'.

Airshow performer extraordinaire Melissa Pemberton came back, and hung with the team for as long as she could, chatting at length with Patricia from Ghana.  Melissa travels to Ghana to fly with Patricia, and flew the Rotax powered camera ship that filmed Patricia flying the Rotax 912iS powered CH701 (the first Zenith worldwide to fly with the Rotax 912iS, which Patricia installed).   They talked about flying, engines and inspiration to children.  Melissa wanted to pull a rivet, sign the builders log and share some stories with the crowd that had now grown to the size of a small town.  And so she did, for this was a day of making wishes come true.

 

Then a storm came through - everything got wet, drenched, people were out holding down wings on aircraft all around, crowds took shelter in the One Wonder Tent, where just hours before it was a delivery room for the new baby now sitting out in the rain.  Nonetheless, the front moved past and the sun revived the spirits, and work continued.

 

Necessary tasks were done in broad daylight, with full participation of the crowd.  Fuel test, weight and balance, engine checks, and tidying up those last little niggles.

 

With a big crowd on hand, it was time to spread that Spirit Of Building Aircraft wide, and well.  So, advantage was taken of being able to describe every step - all in the midst of the crowd.

 

A narrative was established:  'Rob is doing the final checks on the Rotax 912iS Sport.  This is based on the 25 year old, proven and reliable concept of the Rotax 912 aircraft engine series, but updated to an ultra modern, light and powerful engine.  With dual ECU, that is Engine Control Units, dual injectors, dual ignition, dual electrical generators, dual rectifier/regulators, dual Manifold Temperature Sensors, dual Manifold Pressure Sensors, dual fuel pumps - in fact dual just about everything, and it uses the CANBus Aerospace protocols, just the same as the airliners' was 'shouted' out over the mobile boom box and into the crowd.  Nuggets of information and inspiration, seeds that could land on the ears of anybody passing by, and some would grow.

 

It was time for the fuel flow test, and the crowds grew even bigger - waiting to hear the engine start for the first time.  Never before has a two seat aircraft had so many observers as it 'pissed' fuel into a calibrated vessel, whilst being timed.  The One Week Wonder passed its urological test with flying colors - the final fluid system was complete, sealed, and fully functional.  Now, it was almost time for the final items of the build to be fitted, but not until after the preliminary engine test.

 

The crowd was pushed back ready for the 'first engine test' - nobody wanted to move, they just wanted to be near the airframe, to feel it's energy, to be a part of the event that had taken Oshkosh 2014 from 'an aviation event' to 'a life experience extraordinaire'.  The engine would be run for a very short time, at low revs.  Part of priming the fuel system, and frankly, just to see if it all worked. 

 

Rob warned that it 'might take a few turns before it started' since the fuel system is run at 45psi, with a maximum of 120litres per hour over the fuel rail (about 32USgal), but whilst simply consuming a mere 12 to 13litres (about 3 US gallons) per hour in cruise flight.   Exactly the same configuration as any modern motor car engine - a fuel rail run over a series of injectors that sip the fuel for maximum efficiency and reduced emissions. 

 

One lady, not the youngest in the crowd, but standing at the front, eyes pinned on the machine before her, started muttering about 'aircraft engines are always hard to start the first time'.  Then, as the start procedure was undertaken, everybody was thrilled when the engine didn't even miss a beat, as it fired up and ran as smoothly as sewing machine that had just been oiled.  'Tickity, Tickity, Tickity'.   The lady in the front row shouted 'Yay, first time and SOOOOOO SMOOOTH, I want one'.  The seeds of inspiration, the change in perception about aviation and building aircraft being 'complicated' were being dispelled - dissolved like soluble aspirin- and it also could be seen to clear the head of many who had never seen an engine fired up for the first time!

 

The only difficult part of aviation is convincing people that it is not difficult!  But that was being achieved.

 

The Spirit Of Building Aircraft was getting stronger, infecting more and more, and the emotions were running higher than cruise level for the SR71 Blackbird!

 

As the team started to drain the fuel ready for weight and balance, and fix the final components, the scales were brought out to weigh the aircraft.  Weight and Balance calculations are essential for safe flight.  If the centre of gravity is too far forwards, then the plane will tend to dive and drop the nose heavily on landing. If too rearwards, the plane is likely to tail strike, and could become very dangerous in flight.  It must be 'just right', regardless of the size of the aircraft.  As the team 'weighed in', Patricia and a young lady from the crowd demonstrated what centre of gravity meant, by using a simple plank of wood and small fulcrum made from a scrap of wood.  The opportunity to educate the crowd was greater than anticipated, and they soaked up the knowledge like sponges dried in the desert and then dropped in the sea.  Everybody was waiting for the numbers to be called on the CofG, to know whether any extra work was to be needed (moving the battery or adding a weight in an appropriate place).   There was no need for fret, since the CH750 is a very 'tolerant aircraft' and the C of G was bang where it needed to be!

 

At this point, there was a magic moment.  One of many, but one that was missed by the majority. 

 

Let me share it with you.

 

Patricia and Melissa were standing back in the corner, watching the final checks, when, a young lady, about 11 years old, could be seen to crane her neck to get a better look from 'behind the masses'.   When invited forwards, her mother and father explained that 'Emma has been coming here every day this week to see how the One Week Wonder Project is coming on.   We are building another aircraft at home, as a family, but she likes this one.'  This youngster had been taking in all the details of the engine run, the aircraft build, the facts and figures.  Although young, she was ready to learn, to be encouraged, to be inspired - and that is something that we must NEVER overlook, nor underestimate.  Furthermore, it transpired that Melissa had sent autographed photographs of her aerobatic plane to the young lady, after she had written to her.  Emma was clearly overwhelmed to see her 'air show heroine' standing next to her 'airplane love'.  They crossed the bunting line and stood with the plane for photographs, the emotion in Emma's face enough to stop a Sherman Tank in its tracks.   Watching the scene from inside the tent, Marc from Rotax came forwards, and looked at the ensemble, he bent down and told Emma that 'Rotax will support you in building a Rotax powered Zenith aircraft', and a makeshift voucher towards the purchase of an engine was produced, e-mails exchanged and the world invested in an aviatrix of the future.  Emma's mother could be seen to be as emotional as her daughter, and the proud father was clearly caught off guard.   It was not about the One Week Wonder... it was about people, young, old, boys and girls, men and women.  About touching lives, inspiring and making the world a better place through the motivation and inspiration that only the Spirit Of Building Aircraft appears to have.

 

Back to the coal face, the team were pushing to get those last jobs completed... eyes were scanning for anything that The FAA Man would not like.

 

The clock was ticking down, and there was less than two hours to go.. the team had not quite finished when 'The FAA Man' came along.  He looked serious, he walked serious, he talked serious, and his name was Bobby Thomas.  Bobby has an interesting link to this whole concept having been involved in the last 'Build a plane at Oshkosh' event in 1976, when Chris Heintz built a plane in 8 days (when Oshkosh was a bit longer... so actually in 7 and a bit days...).  All the same, he was not being 'lenient' nor 'compassionate' in any way, whatsoever.  Remember, he was, is and always will be 'The FAA Man'.  And that is a good thing, really, it is.

 

Bobby set his eagle eye over EVERYTHING.  He had to.  This was something that needed inspection to the top notch - and all in the public eye as well...  The FAA Man asked for some little things to be done here and there, and they were completed as he walked around.  He didn't smile, but he did have a determined face on.  He wanted to do a thorough job, and he wanted the team to win, but only by the rules.

 

Finally, he asked for a full engine test.  The crowds were pushed back, the clock was ticking down to just minutes to go... But Bobby was not happy.  He wanted the crowds further back, and an immovable barrier in front of the aircraft in case it jumped the chocks.   The crowds were not co-operating, they wanted to be close to the machine when its heart started to beat.  Safety prevented such things, and the delays were putting completion in time in jeopardy.

 

With nothing left but 'orders', the cry was given out 'BY ORDER OF THE FAA YOU MUST MOVE BACK, MOVE BACK AND STAY BACK BY ORDER OF THE FAA'.  Moses couldn't have parted the red sea any quicker.  Those words 'BY ORDER OF THE FAA' were enough to make the crowd move like a model of fluid dynamics!  Charlie drove his car in front of the One Week Wonder aircraft as 'an immovable barrier', and the start-up was called for.  No aircraft has ever started so smoothly, nor sweetly, than the One Week Wonder, and the crowd responded with a cheer.

 

Bobby smiled, a little bit, almost unperceivable, but he smiled.  There was less than five minutes to the 00:00:00 moment, and the end of the challenge.

 

Charlie, Bobby and Caleb moved to the back of the tent, and, as if planned, but definitely not, as the crowd counted down the last few seconds, 10...9....8....7...6...5...4...3...2...1.... the Charlie ran forward shouting, 'He signed off'. The crowd responded with 'ONE WEEK WONDEEEEEER'. 

 

The One Week Wonder had completed by the deadline of 15:00 on the Sunday...

 

But that was not the end of the story... 

Continuation: See Chapter 10

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