A Falco Pilgrimage
by George Richards
This article appeared in the June 2012 issue of the Falco Builders Letter.
We start with this: ZK-SMR
2010 was the first year I had been to Oshkosh. It had been a long time coming but for most homebuilders it is a bit of a religious experience. I enjoyed the meet. I call it a meet rather than an air show since I feel that is what it is really. The air display is okay, but I feel I’ve seen better. It was the final day and the air show had just finished. The place had already begun to empty out the day prior but once the daily show had ended the floodgates opened and every aeroplane on the field was in a departure queue setting the airfield up to be a ghost town.
In front of me I was watching as a woman with two battens controlled taxi flow like some kind of ballet when it hit me. “I need to get more involved with this.” I didn’t really know what I meant. It was like someone was telling me something that hadn’t been thoroughly explained. Slowly over the next half hour it dawned on me what I needed to do. I needed to have my Falco at Oshkosh!
The idea of getting my Falco to Oshkosh was new to me, but I did wonder why I’d never heard of anyone doing it from New Zealand before. I definitely wasn’t keen on flying my Falco across the Pacific so it left one option: shipping. Yes, the exercise would be expensive but given the cost of the ‘hobby’ in the first place I didn’t see it as unreasonable. The idea was starting to seem so obvious, I thought I better spin it by someone else.
I felt a bit silly when I first began to air the idea with others, but most thought it was a reasonably good one. I did face a bit of criticism for not wanting to fly it across the Pacific. For my money it’s not good decision-making, but everyone is welcome to their own thoughts on this. A few guys at work looked at me as if I was mad, but then they were totally money-focussed and pilots are famous for being tight.
Now that this thing had my attention I needed to fill in a few blanks. There were a lot of questions that were filling my limited brain space. Could I fit the Falco in a container? If I could, could I do it reasonably quickly? It would be no point to have to spend a month or even a week for that matter, putting it back together. It was going to be expensive, but just how much? Would I be allowed to do it? What paperwork did I need, and who do I need to tell? When would I go? How much time would I need?
So I needed to make a start, I guess, so I figured I could set a date. 2011 seemed a bit close to get this organised so why not 2012. No good reason why not I guess and I needed something to work toward so tentatively, 2012 was set.
I sent an email to the EAA information center, and within three days I had a reply back with a lot of the legal info I needed. It even involved words like simple and easy and had references to website instructions and links to forms. Most of it was based around aircraft flying into the USA such as Canadian private pilots, but from what I could read, I fit a lot of these categories and with EAA sponsorship it was all going to be within the realm of possibility. I later discovered that I didn’t fit many of these categories at all. The EAA really didn’t understand the problem, but at least it got me going.
With the Falco shipping to the USA, I didn’t want to spend all of my precious leave from work re-building the plane so I need to make the whole process as painless as possible. The tail needed to be removed in order to get it into the container. That would involve removing the rear fuel tank and disconnecting the rudder and elevator control cables which requires a duplicate inspection when I reassemble so I got approval for a local EAA member to do that. As for all the wires and cables I planned on installing connectors at frame 8 to speed the process.
Up front the engine needed to come off. The plan was to remove the four main bolts plus one in the drag link for the nose gear. Then I can retract the mains and the upper drag link without disturbing the gear timing. There were a couple of other feed wires to the alternator and starter that needed to come off including a fuel line and a bunch of electrical items. I figured that if I put circular connectors in the lines for the electrical ancillaries, I could save a bunch of time right there. So that’s what I did. The biggest pain in the bum was the three control cables, namely manifold pressure, prop and mixture along with cabin heat. I may be able to change the cabin heat method or even remove it just for the trip since it will be summer. I mean it was 39°C in Kansas City on the way back this year so I doubt I’ll need heat. The only other item to remove would be the canopy—not a big job—just needs to be handled carefully. Of course in all this will be the need for other sets of hands—especially when it comes to rotating the fuselage to fit it in the container and ditto with the tail.
While planning the shipping I had a bit of a rude shock. In New Zealand we move shipping containers around on the back of trucks with a thing called a swing lift. When you order a container, they deliver it to your site, use the swing lift to put it on the ground then they leave you to fill it. You ring them when you’re done, and they come and pick it up. Its a really simple, logical system. Well it turns out that these things were invented here in 1970. Unfortunately they have only taken off here, Australia, Hong Kong and the UK. Everywhere else requires you to remove your goods directly from the container on the back of the truck. This adds a lot of complexity. Sure you can get a crane or a big forklift to drop the container but it’s not ideal and its expensive. I thought the plan might end there but fortunately some time later I found a Kiwi expat who set up a small company with a swing lift in the USA so after much relief I continued planning.
So shipping was planned for Long Beach since Air New Zealand flies into Los Angeles at least once a day. Next I needed to find a field close by Long Beach to base myself from. There are a lot of choices in the Los Angeles area, but I ended up choosing Chino—for a number of reasons and at this stage I’m not convinced I’ve made the right choice. I’ve had some good offers elsewhere now with some helpful people but I have a good relationship with the Riverside FSDO now so I’m going to stick with Chino. Hopefully it will pan out better than it’s looking right now.
Apart from adding electrical connectors to the Falco to make it a bit more ‘plug and play’ I needed to update the GPS. Truth is that I was going to do this anyway but since the last one was starting to become difficult to get data for, I updated it for a true panel-mount aircraft-GPS. I ended up installing a Garmin G3X system. Now when I get to the USA I can buy USA map data over the internet and load it in via the data card.
With a quick look at the US terminal charts it became fairly clear that I had some learning to do. The layout is quite different from ours, and there are lots of coloured lines and shaded areas that made no sense at all to me. Clearly I would need to get this sorted out before taking on such a mission. So I went back to the internet and ordered some training videos from the people that arguably have made the most impact on pilot training in the USA, John and Martha King. The videos at first appeared a little cheesy, but I quickly fitted into their relaxed style and compared to some learning I’ve done I would say they are very easy to understand, well-paced and enjoyable training systems. Some of the stuff is fairly basic but it’s so enjoyable that it’s fun to have a look back at the basics again.
Six months into the planning, Vicki and I had our 10th wedding anniversary and she had the need to shop so it was a perfect time to hit the USA and do a bit of spade-work. While Vicki shopped, I hit Chino. I briefly met up with Ray Hecker, who was busy flying on a Young Eagles weekend. Wow! There are some great aviation sites to be seen at that airport. I spent most of the day visiting aeroplane museums but did get an idea of where things were and how my whole adventure might play out.
I also had a meeting with the Riverside FAA FSDO reps. Expecting to just waltz into the building, I was a bit surprised at the security required to get into what appears to be a fairly unassuming house. Once in though the guys were great, I had been put off balance a little bit by the security but these guys were very friendly and genuinely keen to help me through the process. So it appears that what will happen is that I will need to show them the Falco in the container, this is just to check for no shipping damage. Then they will return when it is together and ready to fly. They then give me a test area over a lake to “shake down” the machine. According to John who said “we aren’t going to kill you with this” it will just be an hour or so. Then I get a “program letter” which releases me to go flying in the USA to go to Oshkosh, etc. The program letter is reasonably specific on destinations, but that is fine with me since Oshkosh is my main one.
Fuel was my next question. Over here we require fuel cards. It can be done with cash, but you get ripped off as people charge what they want and the stuff is expensive enough. I emailed Duane Root on this, and he quickly came back with the explanation of your system which seems very simple so on I went with the planning.
Bryn Lockie, who owns the hangar next to mine, had just imported a small plane from France which came packed on a crate inside a 20’ container. I figured I need wood so I asked him and he gave it to me. In the process of breaking it down and chatting with him it became apparent I had another hurdle. The wood used for packing is required to be heat-treated and certified. Fortunately his crate had all the required markings so while it was more luck than good planning, I had everything I needed.
While wiring in electrical connectors I figured the trim would be quite time-consuming to disconnect and re-connect and if I could leave the seats and center console in, I could save some time so I altered the system slightly to include a joint in the middle. Pretty simple change but it all counts. So that’s most of the packing and shipping planned.
Next I needed to have a look at the trip from Chino to Oshkosh.
I spent a few days looking over WAC charts of the USA. I wanted to have a general idea of the trip to OSH before I go just to see how I can break it up. I don’t want to spend any more than about 2.5 hours in the plane on any one day and want to be well and truly parked up by mid-day. That will give us the afternoon to look around and the evening to plan the following day or maybe stay an extra day if we really feel like it. That breaks it up into a five- to seven-day trip which is great so then if we allow nine we should be very comfortable and have an enjoyable trip. The trip back will be a bit more fluid. At this stage I’m thinking southerly routing to get to OSH and northerly to get home.
Also for all the planning I’ve been trying out various iPad apps. I’ve settled on Foreflight and so far really like it. Duane suggested FltPln also, which I’ve found terrific so that’s pretty much what I’ll use for all the planning etc.
From a bureaucracy point of view, I had covered the FAA which so far has gone very well. I have also covered customs in that I have obtained a Carnet which allows me to ship my Falco to the USA for under one year and return to New Zealand without paying taxes. Its been a bit of a learning experience for a lot of people there, but it should work.
The largest hurdle from that perspective so far has been TSA approval. In order for me to fly a New Zealand registered aircraft in the USA I require an International Airspace Waiver. From what I understand, this has come about since 9/11. This means that to fly in the USA I need to hold a piece of paper which lists and approves the airfields I will be traveling to, the people on board and how I know who they are. It also requires me to be on a flight plan. All this needs to be approved in advance. It complicates things somewhat as it doesn’t allow for any flexibility in weather planning, and I unfortunately won’t be able to wake up and think “let’s go over here” or offer to take strangers for rides. That will ruin the fun somewhat but being an alien to the USA, I understand I can’t expect too much.
One thing I’ve found along the way is these systems aren’t well understood. People are happy to talk on the phone and all are very helpful but often they give incorrect advice. If you want to email someone, forget it. I can only assume they don’t like putting things in writing.
I must say—and I don’t mean to upset anyone here—that I find this system a little odd. As a pilot, I can apply for and get a US PPL based on my New Zealand ATPL. From there I can hire a plane and go anywhere without really being tracked. But my plane, which surely stands out since it has a foreign registration, must have this airspace waiver. To my way of thinking it is the person who would pose a potential threat not the aircraft. However, as they say, it’s not my train-set.
As I was dismantling my Falco, the Auckland wharfies had a large labour dispute. There were lots of delays in and out of Auckland and anything loaded in Auckland was being left on the ships overseas so I needed to come up with an alternate plan. So I shifted my departure port to Tauranga. That involved transporting the container by truck for about three hours—more money!
Another little thing that came up in the planning was the requirement to operate out of airfields with very high density altitudes. Now to Americans this will seem funny, but we don’t really have any fields higher than about 1500’ so when I saw 7500’ with DA’s approaching or exceeding 10,000’ it gave me pause. I know the Falco performs well but the high DA stuff is so new to me that I really don’t want to operate the aircraft any heavier than I need to. This obviously can mean reduce fuel load, etc but it also bought to attention my own weight. Getting close to 100 kg was starting to get unhealthy so I decided to go on a diet. I told everyone it was for health reasons since going through a fence on takeoff is decidedly unhealthy. I set to and lost 12 kg. I needed to do it anyway. I feel great now, and I bought myself an extra half hour of gas.
April 1 saw the aircraft come apart. All went pretty much to plan. It went in the container just like I measured it, with about 6mm to spare. Tying it down in the container was physically exhausting since there is very little room in there with everything else so I spent the day climbing up and under everything. I slept well that night.
April 12th it left Parakai and on the 15th it was loaded onto the Cap Pasado container ship bound for Long Beach. I now wait for it to arrive in the USA around May 4th and be processed by customs. I will travel up on June 2nd to take delivery at Chino.
Once I get to the United States, we will be posting regularly on the Facebook page for Sequoia Falco, the Falco website and also on my website at www.falco.co.nz.
Un-Building my Falco
The Visit to Oshkosh
George's Blog on this trip
May 4, 2012 First leg of the journey complete.
The Falco is now in Long Beach. Nothing happening right now. Next bit is me going up to assemble it in June.
Only yesterday all hope was lost. The Falco, I was told, was on its way back.
Meantime, we had set up a Facebook page for support and specifically as an attack of the shipping company here in New Zealand.
Yesterday morning they requested a meeting. I was a bit of an emotional wreck and decided it wouldn't be productive if I went so Vicki went in.
It started as an explanation of costs but then Vicki presented our side along with all the mistakes the shipper had made. The manager, who had just got involved was shocked. I suspect the agent will be invited for a cup of tea with the manager at best.
Anyhow, the upshot of all this is the company will honour their contract.
So now dates have changed. We are busy moving flights (forward as it turns out) and trying to see if the FAA can accommodate again ( they had been cancelled).
It also transpires that the unions are indeed responsible for the inefficiencies and for the lack of Sidelifters. Apparently companies have tried to set up in the past only to be bought to their knees. It appears the one I had spoken with is one struggling on but I suspect avoids the wharf.
Anyway, avoiding political discussion. It appears things, while slightly wobbly, are again heading in the right direction.
The power of social media and mass support seems to have helped. So thanks to everyone who has supported me thus far.
May 31, Arrived at Chino
At the end of day one
The Falco all back together and Vicki is headed back to New Zealand.
Engine is now running. Now we wait till July.
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