Wow..what a journey it has been. And somehow it ended in a beautiful new plane living in Hangar 11. The following is a pretty long recap of the last few months, and getting to today, where I am finally ready to take a deep breath and share the story. So grab your favorite warm drink, sit back, and enjoy the journey down Velocity Lane!
The Big Decision - April 2022
First off, let me say that pilots have a way of justifying just about anything that gets them up in the air more often. With that pre-amble in mind, I got a new (to me) airplane… and it’s for a really good reason..:)! With my new job, ABL Space Systems, starting in August, Jess and I had some big decision to make. We knew that given the age of the boys we didn’t want to move out of the area, so the question was really around how I was going to commute down to LA. It is going to be a weekly activity, initial having me down in LA most, if not all, of the work week, but eventually reducing down to a couple days a week. In the long run, ABL wants me to build out a Silicon Valley office where we might be able to recruit more Software talent so much of my time will shift back to the bay. So the question was Commercial or Private commute? I really wanted the flexibility to come and go as I needed, and also wanted it to be as efficient as possible. Because of the very unique relatively short trip of 280nm, and the fact that I live 2 minutes from Palo Alto Airport (and there is a small airport a few minutes from the ABL office), it turns out that door-to-door, I probably save 1-2 hours each trip by travelling privately. Although the flight time is a touch longer (1.6 hours instead of 1 hour), the door-to-door heavily weighs in favor of private commute. Of course the cost is never a win, but with some negotiation on the family and ABL side, we were able to make it make sense.
Why the Velocity?
So of course the next logical question is what plane should I get? Having flown so many different planes, in so many different capacities, I know that there is no plane that is the silver bullet. The key to getting the right plane, is to understand what the mission is. Then you can really zero in on the types of plane that can fit the profile. So what was that mission for me? Here are a few bullet points:
- Speedy – Commute from Palo Alto (KPAO) to Hawthorne (KHHR) in under 2 hours.
- IFR capable – allowing for high dispatch reliability
- Comfortable – I would like to fly longer trips, up to 700 miles at a time
- 4-seat – when not used as a communter I wanted to be able to do weekend trips with the family
- Experimental – reduced maintenance cost burden, and more bang for buck
- Late model aircraft – Younger than my youngest son please! I don’t need another 1976 C-414!!
- Unique and Fun – boring planes are….uhhh…boring. Might as well fly in style!
I was bummed the airplane was already earmarked for someone else. It fit almost every part of my mission requirements. 2014, IFR capable, and the faster XL-5 RG model made this the perfect model. Having now decided this was the model, I continued my search for alternate options. On a whim, I decided to call Stephanie, the sales broker, and just put my name in the hat for N7779X in case the deal fell through with the current contract. A week later I got a phone call…the deal had fallen through! The contract was with a low time pilot, and insurance requirements were near impossible for them. Sorry for them, but woo hoo for me! That meant it was time to sprint and get moving on the due diligence necessary for any plane purchase.
Time for Due Diligence! - May 2022
It started with a confirmation that I was going to be insurable. A was able to get a few quotes from some brokers. They were pretty high, but not crazy for a first year (zero time in the model). The only requirement was to get “factory training” before insurance would cover me in flight. That seemed reasonable. Next I got my financing in order, and made sure the purchase contracts made sense. Last, and most importantly, I scheduled a pre-buy inspection. These are CRITICAL in plane purchases. You never know what is under the hood, and ensuring you get an independent third party looking at the nuts and bolts is important to validate the owner’s declarations. Through the grapevine I found an amazing inspector, Mark Zeitlin, of Burnside Aerospace. He specializes in Canard inspections and pre-buys. Based out of Tehachapi, about 1 hour flight away from San Diego, we agreed to do the pre-buy inspection together in Mid May. I flew down commercial and met Mark early on a Wednesday morning, and we proceeded to spend the next 10 hours reviewing every little part of the plane. Over 400 individual checks were completed, and I walked away with a thorough and detailed report of Mark’s finding. With any used plane, you will never walk away flawless, but Mark felt the plane was airworthy, safe, and no there were no major red flags for me to move forward. He did comment that the selling price seemed a bit high, but given the market, not unreasonable. I was extremely happy with the pre-buy process (regardless of the outcome) and would highly recommend folks thinking about purchasing a used aircraft make this a mandatory part of the process.
Welcome Home N7779X!
With the prebuy done, I made just one contingency ask from the sellers. Since I was paying top dollar, I really wanted everything to be in working shape. The Garmin 430W, although working, was on it’s last legs, and so we reduced the price enough for me to replace it with a newer Avidyne IFD 440. With that, the purchase was locked in, and a week later I was the proud owner of a new Velocity XL-5 RG! Tyson (the previous owner) ferried the plane up a couple weeks later, and on May 28th, N7779X came to it’s new forever home where it had a cozy spot in Hangar 11 waiting for it. After I did a long 3 hour flight with Tyson, the boys and Jess came by to look at the newest part of our family. From there, I did what any self-respecting wannabe mechanic does. I started taking things apart and seeing what needed to be fixed, upgraded, and tweaked. Of course, as you peel back the onion, there will be more and more things added to the “to-do” list, but some of the primary items were replacing the Garmin, and doing an oil change. There was also some re-wiring work I wanted to do in the “dog house” area. It seems that when upgrading some GPS antennas, the old ones weren’t removed, so given I couldn’t fly the plane, it was a great time to learn how to do avionics!
Insurance Woes and Factory Training - July 15, 2022
So you remember when I did my diligence on insurance coverage, and the requirement to get Factory Training. Well as part of that I scheduled training, but unfortunately it wasn’t going to be available until July 15th. I originally was planning on having the trainer come out to California so we could train in my plane, but because of insurance issues (my insurance wouldn’t insure the trainer..long story), I ended up flying out to Sebastian, Florida to do the training in one of the factory planes. It was a bit of a pain in the butt, but in the end it was completely worth it. After the training I was so pleased with the experience I wrote about it on the Velocity Owner’s forum. Titled “Shout out to Daniel Keith and the Velocity Factory”:
I finally got through the nightmare which was the insurance gauntlet and am finally qualified (and insured) to fly N7779X!
As I sit at the Orlando Airport waiting for my return flight back, I thought it appropriate to give a shout out to Daniel Keith who was my Factory Instructor. As a 28 year, 3400 hour pilot, CFII, MEII, and someone who also does aircraft transition programs (BPPP, CSIP, and Tailwheel), I have seen quite a few instructors and can say that Daniel meets the mark for someone who understands his trade and is extremely knowledgeable around the specifics of the Velocity line of aircraft. He is disciplined with his syllabus and ensures the fundamentals are dialed before moving on. We spent ample time on the ground reviewing the unique characteristics of the Velocity and what to expect in the air. He was able to describe the systems in detail, and where he didn’t have the answer, was willing to reach out to the factory to help me find the answers. In the air, Daniel is extremely professional and provided excellent demonstrations of each maneuver. His feedback during the airwork paid dividends in the pattern, and after a few hours I finally got all my bad tailwheel habits ( :)…rudder characteristics at slow speeds anyone?) out of the system. This morning we focused on Emergency procedures and wrapped up with some additional patternwork. All in all, a great experience, and one I would recommend for those thinking about initial or re-currency training.
In parallel, I want to also give a big thanks to Scott and Riley (and everyone else I met at the factory (Patrick!)) for being so generous with their time. As a non-builder, it was invaluable to be able to see the systems up close and personal, as well as multiple aircraft in various stages of progress. Scott’s many anecdotal stories provided great nuggets of wisdom, and seeing Patrick so close to completion was an inspiration for the many upgrades and modifications I’d like to do. Most of all, Riley was willing to spend a couple hours with me teaching the basics of composite construction, and gave me some tips on the upcoming door repair work I need to do. I can’t emphasize enough how great it was to see the factory at work, and understand all the folks behind these cool aircraft. If you haven’t been already, I fully encourage you to make the pilgrimage at some point. You may get a cool hat like I did! (Check out the new logo! Riley said it’ll be available more publicly soon)
First Flights! - July 2022
And so almost 4 months after the seed was planted, and almost 2 months after I had a new plane sitting in my hangar it was time for my first flight. No matter how many times I solo a plane for the first time, it still gives me the thrill and joy of my first solo flight 27 years ago. After a thorough preflight, and clean engine run-up. It was time to take flight for a long tour of California, heading down to Paso Robles, then over to Merced, and up the San Joaquin Valley back to the familiar airspace of the San Francisco Bay Area. It went smooth as it could, and the 16 landings I did along the way gave me the beginnings of confidence in what will be a long partnership. Over the next week I built up another 10 hours of flight, and yesterday I broke the 20 hour mark of flight time in N7779X. This is a threshold I wanted to reach before taking the boys to Oshkosh. With the flights I was able to get in VFR and IFR, as well as local and cross country operations. The last thing to do is some night flying to wrap up my personal “checkout” before Oshkosh. I plan to do that this weekend.
Let the MX Begin!
A plane is like a boat. For every hour you fly it, there is some number of hours you need to dedicated to maintenance. Hopefully that ratio will get better and better over time, but early on there will be a lot to do. On my first oil change I sent in the oil for analysis. It came back with high readings of Aluminum and Iron, both indications of possible lack of usage over the past period (not surprising considering they were trying to sell the plane). I have subscribed to a service call SavvyQA, which gives me access to maintenance personnel for advice. In this case, they suggested I fly 10 hours, change the oil, then fly another 40 hours and re-analyze the new oil. Additionally they asked me to borescope the cylinders so they could take a look. See below for some of the pictures of cylinder #1. Other work that I did includes flushing the brake fluid (twice! Air bubbles are not good), and debugging a door issue on the pilots side. Maintenance is going to be ongoing, but hopefully all the major issues are flushed out.
So What's Next?
Now that the plane is in general working condition, and I have gotten my training up to speed. It’s time to take the plane for a big trip. What better trip than out to Oshkosh! It’s the biggest Aviation gathering in the world, and I’ve never been. The boys and I will be heading out next week for a cross country adventure to Oshkosh Wisconson for planes, planes and more planes. It’s also time to get. back to the RV-8. While the Velocity is a great commuter and my newest baby, my heart is still with the RV-8, and I look forward to getting back to the RV-8 undistracted. I know there will always be things to do on the Velocity, but hopefully with regular use, and a little TLC, 79X will give me years of low maintenance joy! Until our next Velocity Adventure….Happy Flying!!!!