OK, the day is finally here! The first big day where all the hard work, effort and attention to details over the years pays off....ENGINE START!!
I spent the last few days leading up to this going over and over the systems one by one, double and triple checking nuts and bolts, and doing final assembly on the engine compartment. Now, it's done...and time to see if my work cuts the mustard. My parents, Doug Bryan (Long-EZ flyer), Scott Charlton (Berkut#24 and future hangar-mate) and his wife Cookie, and my wonderful wife Sandy were all there and manning the extinguishers, cameras, and watches. A perfect day...for sure..but would the first start be as perfect?
Since I had not bled the brakes just yet, I simply rolled her out, chalked the plane up against the brick wall of the garage and climbed in. Mentally prepared myself for the objectives of this 1st run, went through the check list - Right tank selected, throttle closed, mixture rich, master on, ignition and mag on, boost pump 5 seconds...."CLEAR!"...and I pressed the button. What I got was a little less than what I wanted - "...rRrRugh....(silence)...." Crap! The battery can't turn it over? That's not supposed to happen...it just spun it like crazy last night during pre-oiling and line bleeding with the spark plugs removed. A mystery that didnít want to solve right away, so I got out the bigger first battery and used some jumper cables to provide some boost.
Try #2 did the trick! The engine stumbled, shook, coughed, gagged, sputtered and smoked as it cleaned out the preservative oils then settled into a forced idle at 1000 RPM. I could tell that some of the plugs were still fouled and it was still a little rough...but it WAS RUNNING! Ground crew was checking for leaks, loose items, and generally anything abnormal looking...but nothing to report. I ran it for 3-minutes at 1000 RPM and shut it down for a close inspection. Test run #1 - Complete and Passed!
The next run started at 1000 RPM for 3-minutes then up to 1800 RPM for 1-minute. This time I'm watching the engine monitor like a hawk for any abnormal temperatures - all in the green and exactly where I wanted them. Up to 1800 now and all is good..and getting better. At this power setting, the engine is starting to clear the cylinders of all the oil residue and un-foul the spark plugs. About 30-seconds into the run-up, like turning a switch on...everything smoothed out!! The plugs were clean now and she was purring like a kitten...a LOUD kitten...but a kitten none the less. After a short cool down run at 1000 RPM, I tried pulling back to idle...the engine stumbled...so I brought it back up to 1000 and shut it down. A simple turn of the idle adjust screw fixed that right up. Run #3 was the same configuration, but this time tested some of the systems - I confirmed idle settings, magneto and ignition isolation and RPM drop, and I ran it from the left tank. So far so good...everything is working great with the exception of the battery not having enough juice. I had to resort to a battery charger/booster for the engine starts but ran un-assisted from there. More on that item in below...
Run #4 was planned to be the most aggressive - all electrical systems tests and a full power static run. I ran all the typical pre-flight run-up checks at 1800 RPM and then flipped on the primary alternator. Voltage was right on...but the amp meter went off the scale - 65+amps! That's not right. I shut down the alt, and tried again...same thing. So I tried the second alt...same thing...voltage is the same and right where it should be. Humm....since voltage was good, I dismissed the amp meter readings as bogus and tested the radios and intercom for electrical noise - I'm happy to say I have none to report! (whew! I was sweating that one) Then, it was time for the big one - the 100% power static run!! Wow! This got really loud! The 3-blade Catto prop was perfectly dialed in and gave me 2400 RPM static. This should equate to great take-off performance and about 2900 RPM at max cruise...perfect! I shut the engine down normally and called it a day. After we pulled her back into the garage, Dad and I had a celebration beer and talked about what testing is needed tomorrow. I learned a lot about my engine during these tests...and after a little noodle time, I'm sure I'll figure out the few minor squawks.
Later that night, I took the 17ah battery out of the plane and temporarily installed the larger 28ah Panasonic battery that I originally put in the nose by mistake - I knew it would come in handy someday! Since the little battery didn't seem to hold up to the multi-start flogging...I figured I might get a few better starts out of the big one. I also re-seated the wires of the fuel pressure sensor at the DPU and checked continuity. Double checked for leaks and loose items, and put her to bed for the night.
It was colder the next day...a front had just moved through, the air was crisp and it just "felt" like THE day. We rolled her out again and attempted a start...this time, the big battery spun the engine with ease, and she started on the 3-4th blade. It idled just as smoothly at 800 as 1000 RPM as I warmed up the engine and oil for a few minutes....a welcome change from the oil fouled spark plugs of the previous day. I ran it up to 1800 RPM and did all the pre-flight checks as normal....then I grabbed the Fluke voltmeter and turned on the primary alternator. Oh my gosh!! It works!! I mean everything works - good voltage, realistic amp draw, fuel pressure reading...everything. I even tried the secondary systems too...all worked great!! This was a 100% functional run...NO squawks at all. Needless to day - I'm a happy camper!! I'll run some comparison tests later to determine of the 17ah battery is bad or just needs more juice to begin with.
By this time I finished the testing and flipping of switches, I had drawn a small crowd of curious neighbors. So...naturally...I obliged them with a short, but VERY LOUD, 100% power run-up! This time it was different - I actually let myself "feel" the power....and it was good!!! This bird has sprit...and it was telling me it wanted to fly. As I backed the throttle down to idle for cool-down, I could only dream about what lies ahead and I know it only gets better from here! Testing was over...at least for now, and with a 100% functioning run - there was no need for additional runs so I spent several minutes answering questions from my audience. I also noticed that the Berkut made it's first kill - a true raptor she is! ;-p
Side story: While I was talking with the crowd, the cops showed up. Not a big surprise, and actually I expected it. As he was walking up the driveway, I approached him and said jokingly "Hey, there's a guy down the street with a Harley making all kinds of noise!" He smiled and responded "I think not, but is that a Rutan design?" "Why yes, it is. Come on up, and let me show you around." Ha! I spent the next 15mins telling him the story and how it's different from a Long-EZ. I should have had Sandy take a picture...I think the neighbors were stunned he didn't even give me a warning.
For those of you keeping up with the numerology - the date was March 28th...add them up - 3+2+8=13 Ya gotta love it!
UPDATE 4-16-04: Just wanted to throw in here that I did order and install a second 17ah Panasonic battery. I wired a relay in line with this aux battery and a switch up in the cockpit. This way, I can isolate the battery when not in use, or switch it on for extra cranking power or additional reserve power of the alternators are off-line. It also gives me an alternate source of power...that would now be (4) sources of power on this plane and a total of 34ah of stored energy. A bit over-kill one might think, but since it's needed to start the plane...that justifies the added weight - it also gives me a second battery bus to run a second electronic ignition sometime in the future. Note, I put the new battery in the in-between the MG-30 (main gear bulkheads) with a floxed in battery tray. Worked out great, it's secure, out of the way, and actually helps my forward CG issue too. So, the hard start problem is all fixed and I have an even more reliable aircraft for it all. Nice, huh.
NOTE: I've since eliminated the need for a 2nd battery by switching to a B&C starter instead of the Flyweight Sky-Tec. (It also solved ALL my starting issues too.) Now I have only one Odyssey PC-680 battery mounted between the MG-30s, and saved 17.5 lbs. More details on this mod in the Post-Flight Squawks and Mods Section.