Monday, 24 October 2011
A few weeks ago a friend and I installed a kit full of micro vortex generators (VG’s) on the wings and tail section of my airplane, a 1975 Piper Cherokee Warrior PA28-151, N639MR. As I described in some detail before, the VG’s modify the flow of the air over the surfaces of the wings, making the air “stick” better, resulting in smoother air flow and better air flow where it’s needed – over the control surfaces at the trailing edge of each wing.
Well, I’ve now flown the plane several times since installing the VG’s and the results are in: It’s truly amazing the difference they make.
In a nutshell, here are the results of the modification. I’ll start out with takeoff, talk about in-flight changes, and then finish up with benefits at landing time.
- From the beginning, the plane gets off the ground sooner. A lot sooner, in fact. And it doesn’t need as much airspeed to initially get into the air. That translates into shorter ground roll and a much sorter takeoff. I’ll have to measure it to see exactly what the distances are.
- The plane climbs faster. In situations where I used to get 500 feet per minute I often now get 600-700. In those situations where I used to get 700-750 feet per minute, it’s not unusual to get 800-1000. And if I want to convert some airspeed to altitude, pulling back and riding it up is fast and fun.
- The airplane is faster in cruise flight. Truly faster. You’d think that adding nearly 200 metal tabs to the flying surfaces of the wings and tail would create drag and reduce top speed, but nope. Apparently the improved airflow over the wing is a great tradeoff – Add a little bit of drag as a result of adding the VG’s, but reduce overall drag over the wings and tail thanks to improved laminar airflow. Net result is higher airspeeds at the same engine RPM.
- Related to that, I can now fly at a cruise speed around 120 mph at a lower RPM than before, which translates into burning slightly less fuel going cross-country. It used to be a real chore to get the plane up to 120 mph in cruise and maintain it there at 2500rpm. But now it’s often flying well over 120mph even at 2400 rpm. That 100rpm difference makes a real dent in fuel consumption, believe it or not. And if I want to fly at around 115 miles an hour, the difference in RPM required is even greater. So, I can get there faster on the same fuel as before, or take my time and burn even less.
- In flight, one of the critical tests you put an airplane through when you are becoming familiar with the way it flies is aerodynamic (wing) stalls. Needless to say, I have been stalling this plane more times in the past few weeks than is typical as I get to know the new flight characteristics. Again, the difference is substantial: It’s almost impossible to get it to drop it’s nose and stall, one wing or two. In power-on stalls, much of anything beyond a buffet is very difficult to make happen. It just keep on flying and buffeting along at 44 miles an hour or even slower -- which is a lot slower than it used to stall before the VG's. In a power-off stall configuration I’ve flown it in a slight headwind down to 40mph indicated airspeed, and all it really wants to do is drop the nose a little then and keep flying. I literally flew it power-off at 45mph in a buffet for half a minute, no stall. Of course, eventually it will drop, but it sure hangs in there, and loses very little altitude. Compared to before the VG’s, stall speed is at least 5 mph lower, probably more like 7-8 mph less.
- The control surfaces respond quickly, sharply and with authority in flight. I thought the plane rolled left and right pretty quickly before the VG modification, but it’s much cleaner and more responsive now. Similarly, although not as important or pronounced at cruise speeds, pitch changes happen quickly and yaw is solid with good authority thoughout.
- Steep turns (45-degree bank or more) are so much more fun now. The plane carves and holds it’s altitude in steep turns, and is so easy to control you just have to wonder if you jumped in the wrong plane by mistake… Nope, this is my plane. Okay, cool. :)
- As a final note regarding in-cruise flight, the plane generally feels much smoother and more solid moving through the air. It's hard to explain, but it's noticeable when you fly.
- The rest of the major differences are seen when preparing for landing and during the landing itself. This phase of flight is so different than pre-VG’s that some people will tell you that you'll have to learn to land all over again, and they’re right. At lower the speeds flown in preparation for landing, the control surfaces respond much more sharply and with more authority than before the VG’s. Not only that, the plane simply won’t descend as quickly anymore. It just wants to fly. So, careful reduction of speed to under 80 mph is needed to make sure you’re descending soon and fast enough in the landing pattern.
- Landing pattern turns are clean and sharp. The sluggish, slightly-mushy sort of feeling is associated with rudder at the slower speeds in turns and when slipping on approach is gone.
- In the landing flare, one simply must pay attention and fly the airplane slower than used to be the case, since the plane just floats along over the runway like nobody’s business if you’re too fast. Cherokees – especially the tapered wing models like the warrior – are kind of famous for floating, but now the effect is even more pronounced. In fact, I’m flying almost 10 miles per hour slower over the numbers at the approach end of the runway than before I installed the VG's, and the plane settles to the runway at a substantially lower speed than before - and quite a bit below the lower end of the white arc. Makes for some smooth, short, nose-high landings – which is great.
- One of the chief complaints some people have about Cherokees at landing time, when the plane is slow, is that the rudder (which controls yaw, or the direction the nose is pointing) and the stabilator (which controls pitch, or how high or low the nose is pointing) lose their effectiveness. With the tail section VG’s installed and the improved flow of the air over these surfaces at landing time, rudder and stabilator authority is much improved in a very noticeable way.
So, is it worth the time and money? I spent almost $1500 on the kit and a couple evenings installing them (under the supervision and with the approval of my IA). And the plane flies great – faster, more responsive to control inputs and more efficient, plus a longer glide and the capability of going to and departing from noticeably shorter fields. The Warrior isn’t intended to be a back-woods airplane, but shorter-field capability is definitely welcome and valuable.
So, yes – It’s definitely worth it and I’d do it again in a heartbeat.
Other items addressed lately by the aircraft shop include a new landing light – a Whelan LED model that will never burn out (which beats the heck out of 30-hour or so per halogen bulb) and a newly-rebuilt attitude indicator (the gyro had seen it’s better days, and was in desperate need of repair before I start my instrument training). Needless to say, I won’t be dumping any more money into the plane for a while (at least not voluntarily), since it’s emptied my wallet this summer, to be sure!
Wednesday, 19 October 2011
What if I told you that you could now have Google voice working with an iPhone’s native phone and messaging apps -- much like you can with Android -- and that you don’t have to jailbreak or install the Google Voice iOS app to do it? Yep. Read on!
Last week I ordered an iPhone 4S from Sprint. That’s my carrier since I left AT&T well over a year ago, and I’ve been a Android user on Sprint since I made the move. But before that I was an avid iPhone owner, happy with the phone and reluctant to drop it. But AT&T woes finally forced my move. Now, for the record I like Android. One of the great benefits of an Android phone for me over the past year has been the fact that the Google Voice service can be built right in, native to the phone. For those not familiar, Google Voice (lots of info is available here) is a service that gives you “one phone number for life.” You give that one phone number to people, and that numbers is used to ring all your phones – cell phones, home phones, work phones, whatever – in whatever manner and schedule you choose. If you switch providers and get a new cell number or home or work number, no worries. Just update your Google Voice account with your new or additional numbers, and you main GV number that you give out to everyone will ring the new ones, presto zappo bango. Google Voice also provides text messaging services and voice mail, accessible on a mobile phone via mobile web or a smartphone apps, as well as through a web browser on your laptop or desktop computer.
For quite some time an iPhone app has been available that one can install on the phone, which allows you to place calls, send text messages and get voicemail from your Google Voice account. But you have to do all of those things in the Google Voice app. So, it’s a little clunky – think of it as an extra, non-default phone dialer and text messaging app that sits alongside and kind of duplicates the purpose of your iPhone’s native dialing and messaging apps. In other words, to use Google Voice on the iPhone with the app, you have to use your iPhone differently.
But – thanks to Sprint and the fact that they now have the iPhone 4/4S in their inventory – we no longer need to use the Google Voice iPhone app and can get practically full functionality, using the apps that are native to the iPhone.
Earlier this year, Sprint and Google announced they were joining forces (loosely) and providing the ability to integrate your Sprint wireless account with Google Voice in a manner that would allow you either to use your existing GV number as your mobile number, or alternatively to use your existing Sprint phone number as your Google Voice number. When you set the service up that way, Google Voice becomes your voice mail system and you get all the messaging and calling benefits of Google Voice, too. And, it works with all Sprint-branded mobile phones, not just Android – which is a real differentiator vs. the other wireless carriers.
The beauty of it all: You can set up Google Voice integrated with your Sprint account to both send and receive phone calls and text messages from the native iPhone app interfaces, without the need to jailbreak your phone to install third party apps/hacks, and without the need to install the Google Voice iOS app. People you call or send a text message to will see your Google Voice number in caller ID or as the message sender. Voice mail access works a little differently, but we’ll cover that in a bit.
For discussion purposes to try simplify things, I’m going to refer to this integrated-Google-Voice-Sprint-Account customer experience as “Sprint Integration” for the remainder of this post.
It’s also probably worth pointing out that there are a couple of practical limitations (which are in no way related to the iPhone) that some people run into when setting up their Sprint Integration.
- First of all, if you have a Sprint calling plan that is business-liable (as opposed to a personal phone account), the integration is not supported or enabled. Some individual Sprint customers own their own phones and pay their own bills, but because they got an employer’s corporate discount or similar situation their account is actually flagged as a business account. That should be pretty simple to fix in most cases with a call to Sprint customer service. But just know that actual business accounts are not eligible.
- In addition, if you’ve set up phone call or SMS blocking or filtering through Sprint, you won’t be able to integrate your line with Google Voice until you disable those features in your Sprint account -- but note that Google Voice can usually enable you to do effectively the same thing.
So, how do I make this work?
It’s actually pretty simple. I won’t go into every single detail here, but I will cover the basics. I’m going to assume you can set up a Google Voice account, and if you need more information use the links above to learn everything you need to know.
Okay. First of all, there are a few things you need to make this work:
- An iPhone 4 or 4S provided by Sprint (no, this process can’t and won’t work with an AT&T or Verizon iPhone).
- A Sprint plan that is not a corporate/business plan. Family plans are fine, as long as they are not a business-liable plan.
- No call or text blocking/filtering configured in your Sprint account.
- A Google Voice account (they’re free) that has a phone number already assigned (in other words, not just the GMail-based “Google Voice Lite” thing – upgrade if necessary).
- About 15 to 30 minutes of free time.
To start, once you have logged into your Google Voice account, you’ll need to go to the Settings menu (by clicking the gear icon on the GV screen, over in the upper right area). Then navigate to the “Phones” section of the Google Voice settings. Here you’ll see any forwarding phones you’ve already set up in Google Voice.
A side note: If you already have another Sprint phone line set up in Google Voice with Sprint integration enabled, you cannot set up a second Sprint-integrated line on the same GV account. That’s not really documented anywhere, so I found this out the hard way since my Android phone was already fully integrated before I got my iPhone. So, when I added the iPhone to my Google Voice account I wasn’t even given the option to enable the Sprint integration. What this means is that if you already have one Sprint phone integrated, you’ll either need to disable the Sprint integration on that line or use a different Google Voice account to set up your new Sprint number on. I had troubles deactivating the Sprint integration on my Android phone, so had to search down help from both Sprint and Google so it could be manually deprovisioned. Hopefully you won’t run into that problem - but let me know if you do and I will try to point you in the right direction…
If the Sprint number you want to integrate has not already been added to your configured phones in Google Voice, you’ll need to do that now: At the bottom of the list of configured calling devices (phones, GMail chat, etc.) is a link you can click to “Add another phone.” Follow the simple instructions, enter the codes it promts you to use, and in a minute or three you’ll have your Sprint mobile phone number set up and working in Google Voice is basic mode. You’re not completely done yet, but you’re close. For now, make a call from another phone to your Google Voice number and validate that your newly-added phone rings, just to verify everything is working properly. Remember: Test often, and at each step. It’s a good habit to get into when it comes to “mashing up” multiple computer/technology systems.
Next, take a look at the entry for your iPhone in the GV Phones list (in Settings). You should find a Sprint logo on the screen, next to the nickname you gave your iPhone phone, as well as a link that says “Check eligibility for Sprint integration.” Click on that link.
You’ll need to choose between the two available options: Do you 1) want your Sprint mobile number to become your new Google Voice number, or do you 2) want to replace your Sprint mobile number with your GV number? If everyone has and knows your Sprint phone number, then you can choose option one, so you don’t have to distribute a new phone number to everyone. But, if you’ve already given your Google Voice number out to people who need to reach you, you’ll choose option two like I did. The net effect of that choice in the end will be that when you place calls and send messages from your Sprint phone, the recipient of the call or text message will see your Google Voice number in Caller ID and on the text message. And that’s really the point.
So -- Make the choice appropriate for your situation, then wait patiently for several seconds while the Google Voice communicates in the background with Sprint. Before you know it both companies’ systems will be provisioned to handle your calls all mash-up-cyborg-app style. If successful, you will see a message that tells you:
Your Sprint number, (000) 000-0000 is now integrated with Google Voice.
Calls and text sent from this phone will display your Google Voice number.
Your Sprint voicemail has been replaced with Google voicemail.
International calls from this phone will be placed through Google Voice.
Now you’ll probably want to set up a voice mail greeting in Google Voice if you don’t already have one (or just use the generic default if you prefer (yuck)).
Your next step should be to place a phone call to a number that’s not attached to a Google Voice account (like a friend’s cell phone) and verify that the caller ID shows the correct number.
Next, make sure “Receive text messages on this phone” is checked in the Google Voice setting for your line, and then send a text message to a non-GV phone to make sure it’s sent using the correct number.
Note: It’s actually important to use non-Google-Voice phones for these test calls and text messages, since GV can recognize when one GV enabled phone is communicating with another GV number, and will sometimes try to be “helpful” and modify the normal process of displaying Caller ID data.
If the proper phone number is displayed on calls and text messages sent from the iPhone native Phone and Messages apps, and if your iPhone rings when someone calls your Google Voice number, you’re all set!
What about voice mail?
The only thing that won’t work natively in the iPhone apps in this configuration is visual voice mail. Since the iPhone’s visual voice mail app doesn’t recognize Google Voice from the voice message perspective, you have a couple choices here:
- Configure Google Voice in your browser to email you link to any voice mails (on the Voicemail & Text tab in Settings), and/or
- Check the box in the list for your integrated phone (on the Phones tab in Settings) to enable Google Voice send you a text message when a new voice mail is received
This integration works – as I started to explain earlier – with any “Sprint branded” phone. That doesn’t mean phones that have a Sprint logo painted on them, but rather refers to phones provided under contract by Sprint that operate on the Sprint CDMA network (not Nextel, nor the other carriers that piggyback on Sprint’s network). And, just to be clear one last time, Sprint is the only current service option for native integration of Google voice on an iPhone as described here. So, if you have AT&T or Verizon, sorry pal… No native app integration for you, at least not yet. You’ll just have to use the Google Voice iOS app, which you can download free from the Apple App Store.
And honestly -- If you’re thinking about getting an iPhone 4 or 4S and are leaning toward Verizon or AT&T – stop and consider this:
- Sprint’s mobile service costs less than both Verizon’s and AT&T’s
- Sprint’s plan actually allows unlimited data usage, while Verizon’s is capped – as is AT&T’s
- When Sprint customers roam, it’s free of charge – and it’s on Verizon’s network (!)
- Dropped calls? Not in my experience, which is a far cry from what I dealt with on AT&T…
- Did I mention Sprint’s service costs less?
So – lower cost, you get to use the other guy’s network for free when needed, and no data caps. Sure, download speeds *might* be marginally slower here and there (and even that’s a debatable point), but there’s one more benefit you should know about: Sprint lets you sign up, get the phone and service, and try it our for 14 days. If you don’t like it, cancel your service and return the phone in good and complete condition where you bought it, and you’ll walk away with a refund for the price of the device and any early termination fee you paid. You will pay for the service you used and probably for the activation fee as well (unless you cancel service within the first 3 days), but nothing more.
If I sound like a Sprint commercial, trust me - I’m not. I’m just a customer that likes my wireless provider – and for what it’s worth, I’m a pretty darn picky customer.
Got questions about the Sprint iPhone integration with Google Voice? Post them in the comments and where it makes sense, I’ll update this post with details I may have missed. And be sure to share your iPhone integration success stories as well!
Thursday, 13 October 2011
Siri is coming to the iPhone 4S on Friday, and already people are starting to discover the Apple virtual assistant has a but of a sense of humor.
To chronicle and record for humorous posterity all the unusual, funny, shocking or otherwise interesting crap Siri comes up with, I have created Darn Your Siri - http://www.darnyousiri.com - where anyone can post their funny Siri screenshots there, too - just go to the submission page. That name seemed a little less inappropriate than something like "shit Siri says" but I see that's also a site someone fired up. Of course they did! :)
To take a screen grab of any iPhone screen, hold down the home/round button while at the same time clicking teh power/sleep/wake button on top. The resulting screen grab JPG file is saved in your photo gallery on the iPhone.
I'll be seeing what all Siri has to say soon, when my phone arrives from Sprint on Friday.
Saturday, 08 October 2011
Google has released a Chrome Browser add-on called Chrome Remote Desktop Beta that allows two computers running Chrome to be connected to so person can control the other person's computer. For those of us who occasionally need to connect from, say, your place in Portland Oregon to a computer in Boulder Colorado to troubleshoot a certain family member's computer issues, this is a simple and workable method. Of course, many of the tech-support requests are actually efforts to get you to visit your mom, so keep that in mind. But I still think you might find this new capability helpful. It allows any computer running Chrome - regardless of the operating system - to connect to any other computer running Chrome. So your Windows computer can control a Mac or Linux machine or vice-versa.
You can set it up and get started in just a few minutes. First, you need to have the Chrome browser on both ends of the connection, your computer and the one you want to connect to. Next, download and install the Google-created extension. One you complete that step, you'll find a Chrome Remote Desktop Beta icon in your browser window. When you run it the first time, it will propt you to grant some extra permissions, which are required for it to work.
The next step is to share your computer, or alternatively to connect to another shared computer. Both options are available to the user. If you choose to connect to a shared remote computer, you'll be prompted to enter a numeric code that is generated when the person on the other end of the line starts the sharing process. The "sharer" just provides the one-time code generated by the app to the person who needs to remotely connect. Access codes are good for just that one session, which helps ensure security.
This is the initial release. Google's description of the browser app:
Looks like Apple already sold out of its pre-order inventory of iPhone 4S phones on the first day you could pre-order one, and looking at Sprint's web site right now, they've sold all of their 16GB pre-order models (but 32GB and 64GB options can still be ordered).
Meanwhile, AT&T says they've been rushed and sold 200,000 units in the first 12 hours of availability (which is what you'd expect, since many people are coming off a two-year-old iPhone 3GS purchase now). Verizon' selling a lot, too: Their 16GB white and black 4S models are showing delivery dates of October 21st, while the larger models still show the original release date of the 14th.
So, it's looking very much like the 16GB model is the hot item right now.
Are you going to order one? I'm still on the fence, but judging from the Sprint pre-order situation (I made the below screenshot on Friday night just before midnight), it might be a good time to make a decision soon. Or wait a couple weeks after launch, sure… At any rate, I'd probably order a 32GB, maybe 64GB, to accommodate my data requirements.
Friday, 07 October 2011
Can I cancel my current Sprint account/plan and get a new iPhone 4S?
There's this new iPhone coming out - the iPhone 4S. Maybe you heard about it? Pretty nice device, really. I had iPhones exclusively for a few years from the time Apple came out with them - the original model and then the 3G. I never took the 3GS leap.
But a year and a half ago I fired AT&T out of frustration over continued poor service and moved over to Sprint. That meant I had to give up my iPhone, since AT&T was still the exclusive iPhone carrier. It also meant I never picked up an iPhone 4 model, other than the few times I made a call from a friend's phone. Instead I moved to an Android device, the Evo 4G (which I like, by the way).
Now, let me say up front that I'm not sure if I really want to make a change back to the iPhone right now. The Android phone actually works pretty well for me, as far as the OS and phone itself are concerned. Frankly, I rarely use the 4G capability of the Evo, mostly because of the limited and often spotty 4G WiMax service. But when it works, it works pretty well. Since I made the move away from AT&T a year and a half ago, Verizon - and starting next week Sprint - have added the iPhone to their lineups. I miss some of the capabilities and features I used to get with the iPhone, especially when it comes to app integration between the Macbook, iPad and the iPhone for my aviation-related apps, which get a lot of use between the iPad and Mac these days.
So, I decided to check and see what I'd have to shell out, should I decide I wanted to move to a new iPhone 4S on my Sprint account. The problem I foresaw was that I'm about six months away from the end of my current two-year contract. So, when logging into sprint.com the system told me I'd have to pay full price to order a new iPhone 4s today. Of course, it also informed me I could wait 176 days for upgrade eligibility, and then get $150 off the full price. The rather alarming full prices are:
- 16GB iPhone 4S $649.99
- 32GB iPhone 4S $749.99
- 64GB iphone 4S $849.99
- 8GB iPhone 4 original $549.99
So, I can pay full price now or $499 for a 16GB model in 6 months (more for the larger models). I would guess (but am not certain) that at that time I might be able to also sign a new 2-year contract with Sprint and get an additional $200 off, which would theoretically put me at $299 for the 16GB model with a fresh two-year Sprint contract lock-up. Or is the $150-off-list- price deal dependent on a 2-year deal as well? I will have to ask about that. Either way, I'm at least $100 more than the prices announced the other day (which require a contract)
Next I checked with Verizon, thinking maybe I could just cancel my Sprint service and go over there right away to get the subsidized price with a new two-year contract and not have to wait. Their prices were much more reasonable - and less than I'd pay at Sprint even if I waited for six more months and took the deal I already mentioned. Verizon's new account prices are: $99.00 for the original iPhone 4 and $199/$299$/399 for the new 4S models (also the same prices Sprint offer's it's new customers)
I don't really want to cancel my Sprint service: I get (truly) unlimited data and messaging on Sprint - and you don't get that on the other carriers (there tends to be a 2GB limit). I have a family plan, which allows me to share minutes between two lines, free evenings and weekend, free calls to any mobile phone, and more. Plus their service has been great for me, and when I roam it's free and it's on Verizon's network. I basically get the best of both worlds network-wise. Oh, and the monthly price is right, too. I like Sprint.
Out of curiosity, I logged back into my sprint.com account for another look, and decided to see what it would cost to add an additional line to my existing Sprint family plan and get a new iPhone that way. Maybe that would be cheaper? Ahh, what do you know - The site showed I could do just that and get the same two-year-commitment pricing as Verizon offered. Now we were getting somewhere!
But I don't need or want two phones or two numbers. So finally I called Sprint and asked the helpful support rep what would happen if I *added* a new number and additional line of service to my existing family plan account (a third line costs $19.99 a month if I add it and share the pool of minutes I'm already paying for). My real question was this: Could I then immediately cancel my original number/phone/service from the family plan?
"Sure you can do that," he said. I'ld have to pay a $90 early termination fee balance for the existing line (it's prorated from the original $200 fee (which Sprint recently increased to $350)), and they'd move my existing Sprint number to the new iPhone, too if I wanted. The Sprint rep even put me on hold and took the time to verify with management that was okay to do. Oh, and if I want they'll purchase the used Evo 4G through their buy-back program and credit me $87 for it - which would pretty much negate the $90 early termination fee. Alternatively I could sell the Evo 4G to someone else if I wanted. Either way, it's not a bad deal. And the $19.99 a month fee for the third line would go away as soon as I cancelled the original line, too.
So, based on what the Sprint rep told me it's doable - and fairly reasonable. They recover their costs through the balance of the early termination fee, and get a subscriber locked in for an additional two years (and the early-termination fee for the new phone would be $350.00). If I want, I can get an iPhone 4S without having to pay $650-$850 for the privilege. Sometimes all you have to do is ask the right questions.
Not sure yet if I'll actually decide to get an iPhone 4S. I'd have to think carefully about what I'd lose in the process, app-wise.
One big red flag is that I use Google Voice exclusively for calling and text messages, and it's all Frankenstein-style-built-in on Android natively via the Google Voice app. Not so much on iPhone. Update: I picked up a Sprint iPhone and was able to pretty much fully integrate Google Voice without having to use the Google Voice app, full information here.
So that's one important trade-off to consider, along with the change Sprint made on September 9th: They now charge a $350 termination fee (the same as Verizon and AT&T) that's pro-rated depending on the number of months left on a subscriber's contract. But regardless, it's good to know that if one wants to make the move, it appears there's a reasonable way to do it.
Saturday, 01 October 2011
A couple months ago I dropped by Micro Aerodynamics in Anacortes, Washington after putting together a big fireworks show there for Independence Day. Micro Aerodynamics makes kits of micro vortex generators that can be installed on aircraft to improve performance in a variety of areas. Under the supervision of A&P mechanic and IA (plus all-around-good-guy) Danny from Twin Oaks Airpark in Hillsboro, I’m installing the micro vortex generators on my airplane, N639MR, a 1975 Piper Warrior PA28-151.
What the heck are vortex generators (VGs) and why would I want them? Good question.
VGs can reduce stall speeds and improve an aircraft’s aerodynamic performance. They allow the wing to develop more lift and fly at lower airspeeds, as compared to not having VGs installed. In turn, this can reduce takeoff speed and improve the rate of climb. VGs also help to retain effective aileron (toll) control and enhance your rudder (yaw) authority in higher angles of attack.
As air flows over a clean, efficient wing the air "sticks" or adheres to the surface of the wing – a function called “laminar flow.” This clean, laminar flow of air over the properly-shaped wing's surface results in a high pressure zone underneath and a low pressure zone above the wing, which is how lift is produced – The wing moves toward the low pressure zone as the difference is equalized. If the air flowing over the wing surfaces (especially in the low-pressure zone on top of the wing) loses its laminar flow, wing and flight performance can suffer in the form of increased drag, loss of lift and higher fuel consumption.
NASA researchers developed micro VGs to control this flow delamination by producing miniature, controlled spirals of air, called "vortices." The spirals of air laminate well to the surface of the wing and as a result airflow over the wing is more efficient and “sticks” better across the entire surface, including at lower air speeds and higher angles of attack. The result is reduced drag and increased wing efficiency and lift (or you can think of it in terms of less engine power being required to produce the same amount of lift). In a perfect world, the end results for the pilot are shorter take-off distances due to more efficient creation of lift, lower aerodynamic stall speeds, ability to land slower and therefore in a shorter distance, snappier and more responsive control inputs for roll, pitch and yaw at all speeds (including critically slow speeds such as in landing configuration), and in some cases even increased top cruise speeds and smoother ride due to the resulting aerodynamic improvements (in the case of especially inefficient wings).
Anyhow, I dropped about $1450 on the kit, and after discussing with my mechanic and discovering I could install them under his guidance and supervision I adopted a measure-twice-mark-once methodology and a friend joined me in the hangar to begin the process of installing the micro VGs on my airplane.
The Micro Aerodynamics kit, first of all, is incredibly complete and well put-together. It includes literally everything you need, with the exception of a couple items I needed to pick up at the local store (90% or higher concentration rubbing alcohol, and in my case some paint and blue painter’s tape, since I would be painting the VGs myself). The VG kit has all the thread, masking tape, adhesive, of course the nearly -200 aluminum VG pieces, self-adhesive patterns to stick on the wings, abrasive pad, razor knife, a metal measuring tape – even a sharpened pencil all ready to go. I imagine the only reason I had to buy the rubbing alcohol on my own was because it’s not normally easy to ship that in the mail.
Preparation consisted first of a thorough washing of the entire aircraft to remove all the dirt, dust and bug crud, especially from the wings and tail control surfaces. Another good friend helped me with that a few days prior. On the day we started installing the kit, a lint-free cloth and some rubbing alcohol removed any final layers of crud from the areas where the VGs will be applied – The wings, stabilator (horizontal stabilizer on the tail) and the vertical stabilizer (the upward fin portion of the tail).
I shot a few “before” pictures of the airplane a jotted down some recent performance numbers to help my memory. Typical cruise speed is 117 to 120 MPH properly trimmed at about 2500 RPM and typical sustained climb with full tanks and just me in the plane is about 600-700 feet per minute on a standard-ish day. The airplane stalls with full flaps and in landing configuration (power off) at a pretty low speed – around 50 miles per hour or less. Under full power it’s hard to get it to do a full stall at all, but seems like it’s about the same speed in slow flight at altitude (3000 feet). But ultimately the test will be flying the airplane, hands on the controls and butt in the seat, and seeing how it flies.
Installation consists of following a set of provided diagrams and instructions, and carefully measuring parts of the plane, making marks where indicated, stretching black thread between points to define reference lines, and then applying a bunch of patterns made of self-adhesive contact paper. The pattern templates have cut-outs where the VGs will go, as well as notches you line up with the thread lines and the various reference marks you made in the measurements phase.
Placement is important, and the templates make it pretty easy to get it right. In fact, the creator of the Micro VGs told me one customer, who happens to be an airplane mechanic, gave the kit to his 12 and 14 year old buys to install on his airplane (supervised of course, and with great success). Measuring twice and having a helper to provide a second set of eyes will ensure you get everything in the right place. In fact, there are many parts of this project that are much better done with two people.
We completed the full installation in two evenings over about . The first evening was spend measuring, marking with a pencil, stretching thread lines and putting the contact paper templates in place. Then the measurements had to be re-checked carefully, since the adhesive that’s used to stick the small aluminum VG pieces is basically permanent. There’s no moving them once they’re on there.
Day two consisted of finish painting the VGs and allowing them to fully dry (I’d actually recommend doing this the day before you actually install them, though) followed by prepping the surfaces where the VGs would be glued down. Pre consists of using a Scotch Brite pad (supplied in the kit) to break the glossy paint barrier, and then wiping the surface clean using rubbing alcohol.
The adhesive in the kit comes in two parts: A small aerosol can with chemical activator that is sprayed on the surface of the airplane skin where the template cutouts are, as well as a syringe of adhesive material, which is applied one drop at a time to the bottom tab on each of the 196 VGs. Needless to say, it takes a while and is some careful, tedious work to glue nearly 200 little metal tabs.
Probably the easiest to mess up and least-forgiving part of the whole project is the process of getting the right amount of adhesive on the bottom of each VG. It’s easy to get too much on there, and the result is glue squeezing out from underneath. When it cures, it tends to turn from clear to a brownish color, so you don’t want that stuff left over when you’re done – It will just make your wings look cruddy. So, a package of 100 cotton swabs is also included in the kit, along with the razor knife, to allow you to clean the excess adhesive before it becomes a problem that can only be solved with a Dremel tool.
The first few VGs we applied were not pretty – I ‘ll just admit that up front. I had to scrape enough adhesive off that it took paint off the VGs, so I will be spot-painting those in the next day or two so they look proper and nice. But after applying a few, my friend and I got in the swing of things and discovered exactly how much it takes. One thing the kit doesn’t have that I think would be of huge benefit is a few practice VGs and a template and piece of aircraft sheet metal. For someone who’s never done this before, a small amount of practice could be really helpful before defacing the skin of a real airplane. But that’s just an idea, and in the end this is not rocket science.
The adhesive cures quickly, and we adopted the recommended method of applying a little at a time in stages. Activator first, then glue on a group of VGs (maybe 20 or 30 or so). Let the previous set cure and harden while you install the next set. Once cured, you just peel the contact paper templates off from around the VGs, clean up any excess adhesive and tape and crud, and then move onto the next section. Applying all the VGs took us about three hours of solid work as a team. My friend Matt applied the glue to each VG, while I sprayed on the activator and then placed each VG on the plane in the gaps provided by the templates. On the wings the VGs go on top of the wing surface a few inches aft of the leading edge. On the tail, it’s different. The horizontal stabilizer VGs actually go underneath the wing, and on the vertical stabilizer they go just in front of the “rudder” surface, in the middle of the stabilizer structure. You need to be careful to make sure the ones you apply to the vertical surfaces don’t slide out of place due to gravity – a few of mine wanted to, so I had to make sure they stayed in the right spot until they cured, which takes only a couple minutes. Less is more when it comes to adhesive, we found. But too little and you’re also in bad shape, so really it’s all about the art of getting just the right amount on the base of each VG.
The end result is an airplane that looks pretty darn different – Those little tabs really give the old plane teeth. Next up is a final inspection and (hopefully) signoff by the shop, completion of some required FAA paperwork, and then I’ll get to test fly it, which will be fun. Until then, just have to wait!
Update: The plane was checked and given the green light on Sunday and I flew it for an hour or two. Results were great, with a number of pleasant surprises. Will post more info soon.
© Copyright 2013 Greg Hughes
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License
This page was rendered at Tuesday, 05 March 2013 15:04:31 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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