Friday, December 26, 2008

Sunday, December 14, 2008

It's for Measuring! Honest!

As I said, you'll find a packet of cigarette papers in the tool box of most machinists.

(The blue-green Crayolas are used when flatting one surface against another. There's also some Crayola-brand CHALK in there for the same purpose. The Crayola items were purchased from American Science & Surplus Co.)

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Propeller 01 The Blank & Other Preparations

A good propeller begins with a good blank. The one shown here is not especially good. It lacks sufficient squeeze-out at the glue line. But it's good enough to serve as a training aid.

The blank shown here is made of pine weighing about 32 pounds per cubic foot. Which is pretty heavy for pine. The blank is a full six feet long, four inches more than required. Reducing the blank to sixty-eight inches will of course reduce its weight, as will carving the blank to the usual propeller shape. As shown the blank weighs twenty-two and a half pounds.

I've taken the trouble to mention the weight -- and the fact it will weigh less as the work progresses -- because I can't lift it, thanks to the cancer (mentioned in earlier posts). And since I can't lift it you may see me doing some rather silly things with the blank. That doesn't mean you should do the same :-)


The blank began as four pieces of shelving. To make-up the required three-inch thickness I had to stack the four pieces atop one another. Since this blank is specifically for training you may elect to use a different number of laminations, so long as you adhere to the basic rule: More laminations is better than fewer laminations.

In the same vein, I've used pine. You may elect to use a different specie of wood such as hemlock, cedar or what-have-you. But I think it would be wise to stick with softwoods, at least for this particular prop. 'Real' props are often carved from hardwoods but as you are about to see, a good deal of what you must learn has nothing to do with the type of wood you are using; in theory you could learn with a styrofoam blank.

I've used Weldwood 'Plastic Resin' glue on this practice blank and intend to use it on the real blank as well. 'Real' propellers generally use Resorcinol but it has become difficult to find. Some prop-makers are using epoxy and I've even heard of urethane being used, but the choice of adhesive is really up to you, since all commonly-available adhesives are stronger than the wood you'll be using.

In any case, given the amount of adhesive you'll be using, it's cost is insignificant compared to the cost of the airplane as a whole. Which is one of the reasons you want a good squeeze-out. A good, sloppy squeeze-out is the best insurance against a glue-starved lamination. If you'll examine the photos you will see that I did not get a good squeeze-out with this blank, which is why it would normally be rejected.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Valve Job - Replacing Guides

The cast aluminum heads on a Volkswagen engine are fitted with four valve guides made of phosphor-bronze. The stems of your valves are installed in the guides. As the valves open and close, the small amount of clearance between the valve stem and the valve guide provides a direct path to the atmosphere. This isn't an especially good idea, so the valve guide is usually fitted with a seal. In the HVX mods I discuss the seal and show how to install them.

As the valves open and close they cause the valve guides to wear. The more they wear, the bigger the gap to the atmosphere and the more the valve will fail to run true. Due to the high temperatures present around the exhaust valve, the problem of a worn valve guide is more evident with your exhaust valves.

We periodically check the valve guides for wear. When the wear approaches the allowable limit, we replace the valve guide(s). The guides for the exhaust valves typically wears about three times faster than the guides for the intake valves. That means we will replace the exhaust valves about three times before we have to replace the guides for the intake valves. The exception to this rule is when you use the shorter valve guides from a water-cooled VW engine for your intake valves. (This modification is done to improve the in-flow at high rpm and does not apply to flying Volkswagen engines.)

To replace the valve guides we use a core drill, a suitable punch or drift, and simply drive them out. To install the new guides we heat the heads to 450 degrees on the Fahrenheit scale, chill the guides in dry ice or propane, and simply drive the new guide into the head. The first picture shows the step-drill and piloted driver used to replace (and install) VW valve guides. The picture on the right shows the stepped core-drill used to drill-out the valve guide before it is driven out of the head. When the valve guide is opened up in this manner it loses most of its grip on the head and can be easily driven out with a suitable punch or drift. The core drill is home-made. It starts out as a 7/16" drill bit. A half-inch (0.500") of the tip is ground down to a diameter of 0.3125"

The picture on the right shows the stepped drift used to drive the valve guide out of the head after it has been opened up by the core drill. The tip of the drift is turned to 0.308" for a distance of 1.125". The shank of the drift is 0.450" for a distance of 3.0". The drift started out as a standard 6" pneumatic drift but any bar of 1/2" steel can be made to serve.

-Robert S. Hoover
-30 Nov 2008

Saturday, November 8, 2008

How to Fix a Broken Back

Sorry, no pictures.

When Multiple Myeloma attacks the bones of your skeleton it does so one cell at a time. The resulting structure closely resembles a honeycomb, for want of a better comparison. When enough of the bone cells have been attacked the bone will no longer be able to bear its accustomed load.

When that happens, the bone BREAKS.

A sneeze can shatter your ribs. Bending down to tie your shoe can break your arm.

LIFTING A VW ENGINE can shatter your spine.

A Volkswagen engine weighs about 185 lbs. I am accustomed to picking them up and moving them around the shop with no problem. After I was diagnosed with MM I couldn't even pick ME up... and couldn't walk around my shop... unless I was braced with two canes.

I had crushed the third lumbar vertebrae in my spine. (Where's that? Put on a pair of skivvies, the waist band will fall right across the 3rd lumbar vertebrae.)

Being thicker, the top & bottom of the vertebrae was okay but the column between them was honeycombed and my normal activities -- probably lifting something -- crushed the vertebrae. Oddly enough, except for the initial fracture, this was not especially painful since it did not involve the spinal cord. So long as I assumed a posture that had me leaning forward, I was free of pain... until I had to bend or turn, in which case the pain could be so bad that there's simply no way to describe it. In time, this forward-leaning posture would have become my NORMAL posture, and the resultant pain would make my life a living hell.

To correct this abnormal posture I had to lay on my stomach and allow my spine to be stretched out to its original, pre-fracture dimension. This was quite painful but the pain was overcome with drugs.

The table on which I laid slide back & forth on a rail. There was an X-ray machine situated above the table and a fluorescent screen below the table, allowing the radiologist to 'see' my spine. The area above the fracture had been numbed with local anesthetics and I had been given additional pain-killers and tranquilizers.

The radiologist then inserted a large diameter needle (ie, 11mm or about 7/16") into the vertebra's crushed space, into which he pumped a fast-curing glue that served to straighten my spine and return it to is original dimension, or nearly so.

I was sent home after the procedure, higher than a kite from the pain-killers but literally feeling no pain. That was on Thursday the 30th of October. Today is the 8th of November and I'm feeling quite well.

The procedure is called 'vetebroplasty.' The procedure was developed in France in 1984 and is familiar to a number of Navy subscribers on this Newsgroup who have been using it to repair odds & ends of uncle Sam's sea-going machinery since the late 1970's, substituting JB WELD and a grease gun, instead of the more expensive medical equipment.

So... howz it working? It's a bit too soon to say for sure, but it seems to be a success, although I have to be careful whenever my wife is around, letting out a suitable moan or sigh and putting a hand to my back whenever she draws near. 'Cause if she thinks I'm getting better, she's got a list of 'honey-do's' as long as my arm... Ooops! Here she comes. I'll have to slip into Moaning Mode.

-Robert S. Hoover

Monday, November 3, 2008

I Need Your Help, Please!

Dear Friends... and you other folks too...

I get a lot of mail asking for help, mostly about engines but often about really important stuff, like how to file for immigration, or how to lay their hands on a copy of a local newspaper.


In most cases I'm both willing and able to provide the information they've asked for but I CAN'T.... because they haven't given me a return address. OR... they've posted their request to some blog entry I made years before and I've no way of telling which one they are talking about.

My e-mail address is Send your request to that address and I will receive it. But be sure to include your own e-mail address.

Alexander in Russia is still waiting to hear from me... because I don't know his e-mail address. Alexander isn't alone. I've posted aboout 300 entries to my blog and a lot of them have generated feed-back. But without a return address I can't answer them.

So please help me out, if you can.

-Bob Hoover

Friday, October 24, 2008

Oh My Aching Back!

I've got a broken back!

As a result of the cancer, my third spinal vertebrae has suffered a compression fracture. This was discovered by last weeks MRI ( Magnetic Resonance Imaging ). The fracture explains the pain I've been experiencing, as well as the steady increase in that pain. A month ago I could work standing up for about 20 minutes before the pain became too much to take. That has been steadily decreasing until it's reached the point where it takes barely five minutes for the pain to rise to the point where I can't stand it and have to sit down. Sitting down causes the pain to stop increasing but the pain is still there and it takes a lot of pain-killers... or a lot of time... before I can move about.

Imagine not being able to take a pee... or to fill a glass of water at the sink... or even to walk from the bedroom to the kitchen.

So they did the MRI and there it was: the third lumbar vertebrae was so badly honey-combed by the tumor that it had been crushed: a compression fracture.

There is a surgical procedure that is supposed to offer some relief. How much depends on who you talk to. So far I've found only one person who has had the procedure done; a woman a little older than me who suffers from osteoporosis. She says the pain is less but has not been totally eliminated. To her the advantage is that the pain does not become steadily worse when she tries to do housework or ride in a car.

If you talk to the people selling it, the surgery is the best thing since beer in cans.

I guess I'll just have to wait and see. Personally, I don't see how the pain could be much worse. It has gotten to the point where I'm pretty much trapped; unable to move about. If I can't move, I can't get the exercise I need to keep my remaining muscles in shape. If I just sit here like a bump on a log my body will slowly deteriorate to the point where I can't move, not because of the pain but because I simply lack the ability to do so.

The surgery is an out-patient procedure that takes only a few hours. The earliest they can get me in is about two weeks from now; maybe a little less. I'll try to keep you posted.

-24 October 2008

Sunday, October 19, 2008

MRI, Clearancing the Camshaft and Me

The x-ray mentioned in my last blog entry revealed nothing amiss. The pain is still there as is a monstrous swelling the size of a grapefruit that is its apparent source. But the swelling is all soft tissue; it offered nothing for the x-rays to 'see.' So I pulled up my pants and went home, accompanied by my lump and the pain. The next step was to schedule me for an MRI scan, which underwent on Friday.

MRI stands for Magnetic Resonance Imaging and takes advantage of two fundamental laws of physics. The first is the fact that every atom has a unique resonant frequency. The second is that fact that if you disrupt the local magnetic field, each atom will generate a small but distinct signal. The MRI machine provides a powerful magnet to disrupt the local magnetic field and a sensitive receiver to pick-up the signal given off by those disturbed atoms. (Yeah, I know... but I'm not talking to you, I'm talking to folks who don't have EE after their names.) That signal is fed to a computer and the computer puts the signals together to form an image. Of course, that image is only for a single slice of the target. To come up with a picture that makes sense you'll have to run the thing down the length of whatever you are trying to make an image of, then have the computer put all those 'slices' together.

The big advantage of MRI over basic x-rays is that everything generates a 'signal' of some sort. The signal from good tissue will be slightly different than the signal from bad tissue. That means you can now 'see' soft tissue, whereas the x-ray would blast right through them and not 'see' a thing.

I'm a ham radio operator (KA6HZF) and have a strong interest in stuff like MRI machines, which were invented only a few years ago, relatively speaking (they're about three years older than the Personal Computer, for example). Imagine a sewer pipe about as large as your shoulders. Rig a pair of runners on each side of the interior of the sewer pipe. The runners support a narrow table, allowing it to be rolled into the sewer pipe. You lay upon the table and get shoved into the sewer pipe, your shoulders touching the sides, your nose scant inches from the plastic surface. If you are even moderately claustrophobic, this is not the place to be.

An enormous coil is built around the sewer pipe and an equally enormous magnet spins around the outside of the sewer pipe. The magnet will cause anything within its field to give off a faint but distinct signal which will be picked up by the coil and fed to a computer. The computer performs a bit of mathematical magic on the signal and aligns that slice with the previous slice so that when you are done the slices will form a coherent image. The nice thing here is that the image will show soft tissue as well as bones and the odd bits of shrapnel.

This past Friday I reported to the Keeper of the Keys and she sent back to where Bill, ex-Air Force but a pretty good guy in spite of it, laid me down on a narrow bed and shoved me into the sewer pipe. Hit the big red button and the MRI machine commenced to hum and groan... okay, the groans were mine but the machine did hum a bit.

It took less than an hour for the MRI machine to slice me into electronic ribbons which were recorded by the local computer and stored. These would be processed by a more powerful computer which would combine them into an image. The image would be sent to the physicians and they would try to figure out what was causing the bulge on my hip.

So whats all this got to do with camshafts, fer crysakes!

Well... nothing, really. Except the camshaft in the picture is going to be installed in an engine fitted with a crankshaft having a throw of 41mm (stock is only 34.5mm). That means the connecting rods are sticking out 6.5mm farther than on a stock engine. And that means they are going to hit the camshaft.

Six and a half millimeters is 0.2559" - a full quarter of an inch. In the stock engine the connecting rods miss hitting the camshaft by about an eighth of an inch. In the big-bore stroker the connecting rods are about an eighth of an inch too long. So we have to grind away about an eighth of an inch to give them clearance. In fact, that's what this operation is called: Clearancing. It applies to the crankcase as well as the cam shaft.

The tricky bit is knowing where to grind away, and how much to grind away. In the case of the cam shaft, if you'll click on the image it will give you a blown-up view, allowing you to see where I've ground away metal from cam shaft. You can also get some idea of how much metal I've removed. If this is the first time you've clearanced an engine, odds are you'll go a bit too far. What you need is a gauge, something to tell you when you've gone far enough. (Remember, the camshaft must be strong enough to withstand the torque needed to open the valves. If you grind away too much metal... or leave a sharp edge that will allow a crack to get started, the camshaft will break.) Fortunately, you already have a gauge. It is the assembled crankshaft. That is, the crankshaft with all four rods installed. With the camshaft properly meshed with the crank (ie, with the dots properly aligned), rotate the crankshaft and observe the position of the rods as they swing past the camshaft. You want about sixty thou of clearance. Any more and you'll just weaken the camshaft whereas any less and you're liable to have a collision when the engine heats up.

-Bob Hoover

Monday, October 13, 2008

California Living

Mondays are always interesting. That's when we get to do all the things we should have done on Friday but forgot, and over the weekend when we were just too damn lazy, such as the Worm Roundup.

I'm a native Californian. I've never seen anything unusual in being able to pick vine-ripe tomatoes for the Christmas dinner salad. Or going skiing in the morning and surfing in the afternoon. Or visa-versa, depending on the tides and the weather.

But if you fail in your duties as a Worm Rounder-Upper there won't be any ripe tomatoes for your Christmas dinner, nor those BLT's you like to build. But Monday is also the day when the physicians treating my cancer decreed that I would have Mr. Roentgen's Mysterious Rays blasted through my right hip, into a photographic plate about 12 x 18. In fact, X-rays are about the last ditch when it comes to photographic plates, what with regular cameras and film being replaced by memory chips, disks and tapes. (I've got a hunch we'll soon see the last of film in x-rays, as a layer of fluorescing material is bonded to an ultra-high density array of photo-sensitive sensors. The resulting image would probably be a couple of gigabytes at a minimum and a terabyte isn't beyond reason. The advantages of a digitalized x-ray are almost too numerous to mention. This method is already in use in various scanning devices,(*) in which the digitalized data from a MOVING x-ray -- or other short wave-length emitter -- are fed into a computer which then generates a 3D image of the target area. (*) CAT Scan, PET Scan, SAT Scan and so forth.) But so far, no one has applied that technology to the Plain Vanilla x-ray machine, where you pump a few million volts between the cathode and the anode of a specially configured vacuum tube and direct the resulting X-rays toward the target, behind which you've placed a sheet of photographic film. To get to the film the x-rays gotta pass THROUGH the target, be it toes or telephones and the resulting image depicts the ease or difficulty of that passage.

The cancer is in my lower back and the pelvic girdal. Recent episodes of pain indicate that it may have gotten to my right hip as well, hence the need for Mr. Roentgen and his Rays. Which kept me from my duly appointed rounds in the garden and allow certain visitors to reach an unruly size, as shown in the photo. We don't use insecticides. But a lot of folks do. The catapillars quickly become immune to the stuff. But the birds that would normally eat the catapillars don't. The insecticides build up in the catapillars until they become toxic to birds. No more birds.

So I pick them off. Doesn't take long because we only have about half a dozen tomato plants, more than enough for our needs. A lot of folks from exotic places like Detroit or Buffalo give you funny looks when you mention growing tomatoes all the year 'round. But the worms believe it -- big wormy smile on their little wormy faces. Mebbe I could rig up some kinda portable X-ray emitter, couple of passes and all them caterpillars would be gonners. But until then I am the Official Worm Rounder-Upper. One of the burdens of living in California.


Wednesday, October 8, 2008


Some time last spring one of my brake cylinders failed. I jacked up the bus, pulled the drums and gave her a brake job with new cylinders and shoes on all four. Bleeding brakes, you start with the wheel farthest from the master cylinder, which is the right-rear, then the left-rear, then right-front and finally the left-front. Working alone, bleeding your brakes can be a bit of a chore and my ass was dragging by the time I got to the left-front. Turns out, I didn't do a very good job of it and ended up with a bubble of air in the front braking circuit.

It wasn't a major problem. The bus would still stop okay and I kept putting off fixing it. then I got sick. Then I got sicker and in June, 2008 I was diagnosed as having Multiple Myeloma, an incurable form of cancer. Incurable but treatable. I underwent radiation therapy then began a regime of chemotherapy.

Our house is about 300 feet from the road. Each week we haul our trash down to the road-side using the VW bus. Until the bus decided it didn't want to start. It took only a couple of minutes to isolate the problem to the starter, most likely in the solenoid. The repair is straight-forward: jack up the bus, remove the starter, repair or replace the starter and reassemble.

Unfortunately, thanks to the cancer I had lost nearly fifty pounds. I could barely lift a Volkswagen starter and any thought of doing the repair was ludicrous. It would have to wait until I was stronger. But that meant my wife would have to haul the trash in her cute little Mercury 'Tracer,' often having to make two trips.

Then I got a message.

CWO4 Darrell Daniels owns a couple of Volkswagens and lives about 20 freeway minutes from my house. Could he lend me a hand?

Boy! Could he!

Today -- Wednesday the 8th of October 2008, Darrell and his son Nick drove up to my place about noon. I had just about enough steam left in me to point my cane at the bus but that's all it took. Darrell jacked it up, braced it with jack-stands and had the starter out in less than half an hour.

Did I mention the temperature was ninety-six? I didn't, huh. Well, maybe that's good. Because the temperature was nearly a hundred! (I didn't mention that to Darrell either.)

I had a spare starter but it was in pretty sad shape. Since the problem appeared to be in the solenoid Darrell whipped out a VOM and checked them, comparing the bad starter to the replacement. The solenoid on the replacement checked out okay but the one he'd just removed from the bus was toast. He suggested re-using the old starter after swapping solenoids, so that's what we did.

To re-install the starter you have to get the nut onto the upper-right engine-mount bolt, which is concealed behind the blower housing. This is best done by someone with an extra elbow. With Darrell underneath the bus, Nick dove into the engine compartment, found the invisible bolt and ran-up the nut entirely by touch.

Nice Job! Of course, it wouldn't start. Having sat there for a couple of months, the bus' battery was down to eleven volts, dropping to about 6V when you tried to start it.

Jumper cables.


The whole job had taken Darrell and Nick just over an hour.

Was there anything else they could help me with?

Well.... there is this little brake problem...

With Nick to pump and Darrell to wrench, they chased the bubbles out of the front braking circuit. Step on the pedal, it feels like it's embedded in concrete.

So I'm back in the Trash Delivery business :-) My wife will probably have to help me load -- I'm still as weak as a kitten -- but the old bus is ready to roll, thanks to Chief Warrant Officer Daniels and his son Nick.

Monday, September 29, 2008

This Must Be Monday

A little squall-line sneaks in from the sea and scurried toward the foothills, rumbling as the clouds jostle one another. I've gotten five hours of sleep, interrupted by nightmares from Vietnam. The horrors are forty-three years old yet replay themselves with the clarity of a Technicolor movie. It's worse when it rains.

If you weren't there it does no good to talk about it. Seek help and you'll be given tranquilizers in doses large enough to stun a horse. I imagine our Iraqi vets are going through the same bullshit and that makes me angry. You'd think that after forty years they could come up with something better than 750 milligrams of Thorazine and a pat on the head.

There are thirteen pills in my cup this morning which means it must be Monday. Some of the steroids I only take once a week and Today's the Day. Alas, the steroids trigger dreams of their own. These Cancer Nightmares compete for howling room with my Vietnam nightmares. Sometimes they join hands and dance around the Maypole of my memories as I struggle to awaken. Once awake, I try to read. Or write. Or do chores of somekind. I've become expert at Silent Floor Scrubbing, an act of contrition for my long-suffering wife who I've screamed awake too many times.

Thirteen pills and the rumble of thunder. Thirteen pills in the cup marked: morning. There are other cups; mid-morning means 10 a.m. Then noon, mid-afternoon, evening, late evening and Bed Time. Other drugs must be injected, a task I carry out with aplomb to the delight of the grandchildren who cover their mouths with their hands and jiggle with excitement, jostling each other: 'Did you see it? Did you see it go in?' Coming out, the needle gets bent an the syringe goes into the stick-box which is actually a no-stick-box, to be traded in for a new batch of pre-loaded syringes.

Other drugs are administered wholesale. A liter bag of juice plumbed into a vein to dribble its way into my body and begin its Tumor Hunt. But not today. Today there were thirteen pills in the cup. When I go down for the I.V. there will be only eight pills in the morning cup and not a steroid amongst them.

The steroids give me hot flashes which turns a T-shirt into a dish rag in a matter of minutes. GatorAde replaces the sweat, along with orange juice and water. Lots of clear, cold water until you begin to feel like Bob Nolan and the Sons of the Pioneers, singing for their supper about cool, clear water. (The Riders of the Purple Sage couldn't hold a candle to them. Perhaps they'd do better with GatorAde.)

Giving myself injections, counting out my pills, consuming glass after glass of fluids of the proper sort and at the correct time, I'm very much a part of my treatment. Should I begin to suffer from Old Timer's Disease someone else would have to count the pills and watch the clock and stick the needle in my belly. It is Monday, the 29th day of September, 2008. I know my name and where I am and who is President which means my faculties, while annoyed, appear unimpaired and the thirteen pills go down the hatch, sluiced along by eight ounces of cool, clear water and another glass full of orange juice. I take my vitals. All are within bounds save my dissolved oxygen, which is a bit low. I bring it up by Power Breathing, as if I were about to free-dive to the bottom of LaJolla Cove and snag an ab, if any are still there for the snagging.

After breakfast I'll mount my faithful steed and cycle off to Nowhere Land, listening to Joni Mitchell or perhaps Gnarls Barkley. Probably the latter since we are both crazy.

Thirteen pills in the cup. This must be Monday.


Saturday, September 27, 2008

Cancer Report 02

The photo on the left shows me collecting some herbs for an omlet. (Click on the image to enlarge it.) The dark area on my lower back is the result of the radiation therapy; daily sessions from the middle of July until the first week in August. Frankly, I'm surprised the irradiation mark(s) would persist as long as they have.

Several of you have asked that I issue periodic posts about my condition. I've mixed feelings about doing so. In the purely informational sense a detailed message would name my medications, their dosage and frequency. If you've got Multiple Myeloma I'm willing to share that information privately but I see no reason to do so publicly.

As for a general message, I'm afraid it would mostly be about pain and how I'm dealing with it. We've developed a pain management procedure that allows me to sleep. During my waking hours I'm willing to trade pain for mental awareness, although I've been provided with the means of knocking the pain down, should I care to use it.

If I stand up for any length of time the Pain takes over, so you try to keep ahead of it, keeping track of the time and taking a pain-killer before the pain arrives. These pain-killers are not very effective unless you take them early then go sit down. You can do this perhaps four times during the course of the day, giving me about an hour to work on... whatever it is I'm working at the moment, which is mostly engines. (But right now I have to replace the starter on my VW bus, which is going to take some careful planning.)

Between awakening and bed-time, I take medication six times. I'm presently taking sixteen medications, some as often as three times a day, some only once. The dosage ranges from half a tablet to four tablets. All tolled, I'm taking about sixty pills per day.

I have a standing appointment at a local lab which draws from one to six blood samples for testing. The results of the tests are used to adjust the medications either by dosage or periodity. Most recently, a new medication was added; a few weeks ago a medication was deleted. In another case, the dosage of a medication was adjusted.

There are five physicians involved in my treatment, particularly in the side-effects that come from such a salad of medications. To prevent conflicts only one of the physicians can prescribe for me. They coordinate their efforts electronically, using email, text messages, FAX and so on, a convenience that was not available until a few years ago but which has already revolutionized medical care. especially for the treatment of cancer. My records, especially those of any recent tests, are available to the whole group and any member of the group may order tests -- which I can veto in some cases. That's because I am an active player in the group's activity, mostly with regard to describing any effects induced by the medication. My 'veto powers' usually reflect a conflict with the schedule or logistics but also applies to how my body deals with a new medication.

Yesterday (Friday) I weighed 184 pounds, a slight gain over the past two weeks. I don't know what I weighed in June when I was diagnosed with MM but last Christmas (2007) I weighed about 230 pounds and made a New Year's Resolution to shed some of the lard -- and had, by June. The fact my weight has remained fairly constant over the past two weeks is taken as a good sign.

The cancer -- and it's treatment -- is debilitating but if you simply sit around or loll in bed you will make the situation worse. As soon as you are able you must resume your normal level of activities... or as much of them as you can. One of those Greek fellows said 'Walking is the best medicine' and walking makes up the bulk of my exercise, although it does little for the upper-body. To deal with that I begin the day with a series of isometric exercises. I also have an exercise bike that links the arms and torso to the motion of the legs. I pump away for a given number of minutes each day. Any physical activity is exhausting; some activities lead to cramps and/or muscle spasms. Some exercises result in dizziness and I have to be very careful not to fall down, since one of the drugs I'm taking is a blood thinner, meant to prevent blood clots. It also prevents minor wounds from rapidly healing. Another of the drugs serves to suppress my immune system, a necessary subtrafuge that prevents my body from rejecting some of the medications. But it also means that even a minor wound can become a life-threatening infection. (Most multiple myeloma patients don't die from cancer, they succumb to a mild cold... that turned into pneumonia, or a bruse that spawned a blood clot that resulted in a stroke, or a minor wound that became gangrenous.)

I spend my day trying to work on one of several engines presently in the shop. I have several other projects at various stages of completion, such as Chugger's tail feathers and landing gear. When not working I'm usually at the computer. I have a large file of drawings for a Primary Glider that must be consolidated and uploaded, plus I get a fairly heavy load of email. I have a wide range of interests, from Live Steam to astronomy. Many of those who write are unaware of the cancer business and I see no reason to clue them in unless I need an iron-clad excuse for failing to answer their letter :-)

-Bob Hoover

NOTE: The picture on the right, above, was taken today 7 January 2009. It was a nice warm day and I thought it would be kind of fun to provide a comparison to the picture at the start of this article, which was taken about five months ago. My weight is 173, up two pounds from about a week ago when the doctor(s) said I was getting too skinny. This sounds a bit strange but with regard to my weight there's nothing organically wrong with me, I just don't have much of an appetite; some of the drugs I'm taking make you sick to your stomach (or worse) and you just don't feel like eating. But if you force yourself, your weight will begin to increase -- as mine has done.

-Bob Hoover

Wednesday, September 17, 2008


The wire-braced truss is probably the original method used to fabricate a ladder-like truss. The only jig required is a pair of saw-horses, the only tools a carpenter's framing square and a level. The method is also extremely versatile in that the compression members, shown here as a strengthened rib, may be completely independent of the ribs. The Volksplane uses a heavy dowel-rod, for example, while the Fly Baby uses a steel tube. The turn-buckles may be located on either end of the tensioning cable.

Following World War II new turn-buckles, cable eyes and Nicopress sleeves were available as surplus, often priced at their metal value. This allowed homebuilders to utilize this type of wing structure which would otherwise have been too expensive.

By comparison, the Pitts-type of truss makes use of rods as the tension elements with re-enforced ribs as the compression members. The rods, typically of .156" to about .185" in diameter were threaded. The fixed end was fitted with a T-nut or other fitting that prevented the wire from turning. The other end of the wire was fitted with a coupling nut, secured with an elastic stop-nut. Tightening the coupling nut provided the required tension. The assembly was then locked in place by the elastic stop-nut. The
key factor in this method was the use of filler blocks that presented a perpendicular face to the tensioning wire. For lightly loaded wings, mild steel rods and cut threads (vs rolled) provided more than enough strength.

I've called the third type of truss the Ison Truss because I first saw it on a set of drawings from Wayne. In this truss a wooden spar serves as both the tension and compression member. The key to success with this truss is to ensure adequate gluing area between the spars, the ribs and the diagonal tension/compression member. This is accomplished through the use of plywood gussets having a generous surface area.

This truss is specifically designed for use with a C-type built-up spar, in which the plywood gussets are glued directly to the spar caps. To increase the load-carrying capacity you need only increase the area of the glued surface between the spar and the diagonal strut. Indeed, the advantages of this method are almost too numerous to mention but first among them would be low cost, followed by ease of fabrication and light weight.

This method is popular among ultralights and may be found on Leonard Milholland's 'Eagle' series of VW-powered airplanes. When fitted with a D-cell leading edge of adequate depth, the wing proves remarkably rigid making it suitable for use in a Primary Glider.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Big Red, your basic flasher

A basic chore associated with airplanes is making something flash. Sometimes you want them to flash fast, other times you want it to go slow. What's getting flashed may demand a couple of amps whereas other circuits may need only a fraction of an ampere. This can lead to the use of half a dozen different flashers, resulting in a heavy and complicated circuit.

The circuit shown here is a basic One-Size Fits All.

The basic idea is to use an integrated circuit (ie, the Ne-555 chip) to toggle the circuit at a given rate. The output of the flasher is then fed to a small RELAY capable of handling about an amp. If you need to flash a higher amperage you simply wire the existing relay to one having a higher rating.

This isn't a new circuit. If you dig around you can probably find a circuit-board mask for it in one of the archives. The advantage of this circuit is that it's very inexpensive and may be sized to handle anything from a 1A nav light to a 10A strobe by simply selecting a suitable relay.

NOTE (17 SEPT 2008)
One of the comments suggests replacing the fixed resistors R1 & R2 with variable resistors. In fact, that is what I did when bread-boarding this circuit. Once I'd found a setting that gave the approximate flash rate & duration needed for an automotive turn signal, I lifted one leg of the variable pots and measured their resistance. This was matched to the nearest standard value FIXED resistor. The purpose was to make the module easy to fabricate by guys who weren't born with a soldering iron in their hand. Fabricated from all fixed or sealed components, the finished circuit could then be potted with epoxy or similar sealant, rendering it weather-proof. The relay of course may be mounted almost anywhere. -- rsh

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Chugger's Spar

Chugger's spars are built-up C-sections. The shear web is 1/8” aviation grade birch plywood with the face-grain oriented vertically. The par caps or booms are made of hemlock or Douglas Fir. The drawing shows the profile of the spars. Please note that the 144” dimension shown in the drawing is not correct. I know some of you have been following Chugger's progress and that my recent medical problems have left you in the lurch. This posting should provide enough information for you to fabricate your shear webs and spar caps, which must be scarfed.

Scarfing is a standard woodworking procedure used in all wooden aircraft. Solid members, such as the spar caps are scarfed at about 15:1 whereas plywood uses 12:1. You'll note that this is a much flatter angle than is used by boat builders. Mark Langford's web site offers what has to be the best explanation of scarfing you'll find on the internet. Please go there... and see what he has to say before continuing here.

It will take two 48" x 48" sheets of plywood to provide the material needed for the two front and two rear spars. We must also provide for aileron spars, gussets and various doublers, meaning we'll be using a lot more 1/8" plywood. But these two sheets are all we'll need for the spars.

The drawing of the spar (below) is not complete. I've posted it to give you some idea of our goal. I am still working on the best method of transferring the load into the lift-strut and wing root fittings. I would like to use the bay adjacent to the wing root for the fuel tank but this too is still under development.

Your basic guide to aviation woodworking is AC-43.13, the manual showing acceptable methods for the repair of aircraft structures. You can buy a printed copy or download the manual from the FAA's library (see

Wood and fabric is covered by the first three chapters.

The Department of Agriculture, which 'owns' the U.S.Forest Service, got out of the aviation wood inspection business in the 1950's when someone noticed that, since airplanes were now built of metal rather than wood, at our present rate of usage the government had about a three hundred year supply of aviation-certified wood on hand, stacked in warehouses all over the country.

Nowadays, if you buy 'aviation-certified' wood, what you're getting is a promise from the seller that the wood appears to meet those government specs from days of yore. (And when it doesn't? Well... tough darts, Charlie. Maybe they replace it. Or maybe not.)

Another interesting slice of reality for the newbies is to read AC-43.13 (or any of several other references) and see that Sitka Spruce has no magical aeronautical properties. Indeed, there are several commonly available woods that are superior. The reason for the Spruce Myth is buried within the historical context of aviation... and of sailing ships. At the turn of the century and for forty years thereafter, masts, booms and spars were a common item at any lumberyard, not only near sea ports but at any city having water-borne transportation. When those pioneers of aviation needed wood they simply visited the nearest lumber yard. If it didn't happen to have something suitable in stock it was never more than a few days away, thanks to Railway Express.

You can find all of the wood you need to build an airplane inside the wood at your nearest lumber yard or box store. To get at it you will have to re-saw the wood that is there but this isn't as great a disadvantage as it might appear. Using Chugger as an example, the most critically needed pieces are the four main spar caps, about fourteen feet long, three-quarters of an inch thick by an inch and an eighth in height. While the three-quarter inch dimension remains fixed, all other pieces used in the airplane are shorter or shallower than the spar caps. If our Donor Timber was a two by ten joist, for example, ripping it into 3/4 x 1-1/2 laths gives us ten chances to find the perfect stick. And if we don't find it, we can cut out any imperfection and splice around it.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Giving Credit Where Due

It doth often trouble me to Think
That in this Business we are all to Learne
and none to Teach...
-Robert Cushman, 1619

The Chugger Project is an on-going series of experiments using
inexpensive, commonly available materials to build a simple
single-place airplane. As the work progresses, drawings and photos
are placed in the Files archive of the 'chuggers' Group on Yahoo.
Text and periodic progress reports are posted to my blog.

It's important to note that the primary purpose of these experiments
has to do with materials and methods. For the structure I've simply
scaled up (or down) from proven designs. In doing so, I've tried to
give credit where due, although that isn't as easy as you might think.
Bernard Pietenpol used parallel wing struts on his Aircamper ...but
so did Claude Ryan on the NYP. The scaling is necessary because the
inexpensive, commonly available materials I'm using do not enjoy the
same ratio of strength-to-weight as for aviation-grade materials.

Pete Bowers' Fly Baby has a beautiful empennage. By adapting Pete's
empennage for the 'chugger' project, I'm paying homage to a past
master but in doing so I'm taking advantage of an invaluable
training-aid. Pete's tail-feathers incorporate no less than nine
built-up spars of box- and C-section designs, as well as curved
laminations. For the novice builder, the empennage is their Trade
School. Fabricating the tail-feathers provides a No-Fault opportunity
to acquire the skills they will need to build the wings and fuselage.

Clearly, the Fly Baby's empennage is more complex than the relatively
simple structures found on a Volksplane or Jo-Del but when scaled for
the Chugger , none of the components are especially large, reducing
these training materials to table-top dimensions. If fabricated from
locally available materials such as door skins and Box Store lumber,
the cost of this training exercise is only a few dollars. In fact, if
the goal of the novice is merely to learn how to build a wooden
airplane, there is no reason to build the entire tail, making the cost
even less.

While the parts-count of the Fly Baby tail makes the structure fairly
complex the required skill-level is delightfully low. Most of the
parts are duplicates, allowing you to take advantage of stack-sawing.
For example, the six shear-webs needed to produce the spars for the
elevators and horizontal stabilizer may be cut-out at one go. The
same holds true with the four shear-webs needed to produce the
stern-post and rudder spar. The diagonals in the horizontal
stabilizer are identical, left to right, so they too may be cut-out as
a stack. The only singleton is the shear-web for the diagonal brace
in the vertical stabilizer. That means all thirteen shear-webs can be
produced from only four patterns.

Once the shear-webs have been stack-sawn, Pete recommended attaching
the spar-caps and filler-blocks to them. In effect, the shear-webs
become your patterns. Since you're dealing with straight edges here
you need only apply a bit of glue (to both surfaces, please), tack a
piece of scrap to your bench-top to act as a back-stop, press the
pieces firmly against the bench (don't forget the waxed paper) and
tack them together with a pneumatic pin-nailer. Thanks to the use of
the pin-nailer the work took only a couple of hours Then comes
fitting the filler blocks, which takes longer – a couple of months
longer in my case, thanks to some health problems that had me lolling
around various doctor's offices instead of working in the shop.

In October 2007 I received a comment from Mr. Corrie Bergeron who is
building a Fly Baby. Corrie pointed out that there were other,
equally accurate methods of fabricating the empennage spars and
diagonals than the one advocated by Mr. Bowers. Rather than make the
shear-webs first – and use them as patterns – Corrie fabricated the
guts of the spars first – and used the guts as the pattern for the
shear-webs. Since I'd already tackled the project using Pete's method
I attached Corrie's comments to the appropriate article in my blog

Once back on my feet I was anxious to finish the tail surfaces, hoping
to carry the job right through to covering. But before doing so I
recalled the words of Robert Cushman and thought it only fair to give
Corrie's method a try, allowing readers of the blog to draw their own
conclusions. Accordingly, I made up a simple jig for the spars of the
elevators and horizontal stabilizer.

This may verge on heresy but I found Corrie's method offers several
advantages for a novice builder – or for any builder without a shop
full of tools. Pete's method of stack-sawing is dead-simple and
superbly accurate... if you happen to have a band-saw and a big belt
sander. But for the boxed spars, after attaching the spar-caps and
filler blocks in the recommended manner you're faced with the chore of
figuring out where not to varnish on the other shear-web. Corrie's
method offers greater latitude for the novice builder.

I've not posted any photos of the two methods as yet; I'm trying to
learn how to embed video in the blog. When I do, it may appear that
I'm changing horses in mid-stream when in fact I'm merely showing that
even an old dog is capable of learning a new trick – and of giving
credit where due.


PS – Robert Cushman was one of the Pilgrims

NOTE: This article was originally uploaded to the Fly Baby Group about two weeks before I was diagnosed with cancer.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

How ya' doing?

How ya' doing?” tumbles out of my in-box a dozen times a day. Surprisingly, most of the queries are from people I've never met. When they provide a valid e-mail address I tell them I'm doing fine and thank them for asking but most aren't meant to be a medical report; most are a simple show of solidarity from one airman to another. And as I've said to them, it is warmly appreciated.

As for the purely medical aspects of 'How ya' doing?' I've completed the radiation therapy phase and have started on chemotherapy. The pain is pretty much under control, my weight-loss appears to be flattening out and I'm getting more sleep. Overall, I think you can say I'm one lucky fellow.

Some say we make our own luck. I've got good evidence that much of it is a shared commodity, transferred from one individual to another by something as simple as asking: 'How ya' doing?'

Just fine, thanks. But a lot of that is because of you.


Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Cancer Report 01

You keep filling my in-box asking how I'm doing. Your interest is warmly appreciated but I'm afraid my answers -- doing fine, thanks. Doing okay... leave a lot to be desired. So let me use this Report to try and answer the essence of your question.

On Tuesday, the 5th of August 2008, I completed the radiation therapy. The x-rays have supposedly chopped up the tumor, killing most of it. In doing so, the PAIN has been reduced to a magnitude that is relatively easy to manage. And it's really all about controlling the pain.

After being destroyed by the x-rays the tumor doesn't just vanish. Apparently it is blasted into a soupy residue that your body must now eliminate. I'm told this will take about four weeks and will be the most debilitating phase of my treatment, in that I will be extremely weak. There is already some evidence of this. Even with two canes to ensure my stability, walking about forty feet left me too exhausted to return until I'd taken a rest break.

To facilitate the removal of the tumor residue I must force myself to drink about twice the normal amount of fluids. Doing so also serves to dilute any pain-killers you may have taken so that you are forced to keep track of what you've taken and when. Failure to do so gives the pain an opportunity to sneak up on you. If it gets you at the wrong time, you may find yourself immobilized, separated from your pills.

Chemotherapy is the hand-maiden of radiation therapy. Where the x-rays attacked the tumor in a macro fashion, chemotherapy goes after the cancerous cells in a micro-manner, seeking out each individual cell, which it either destroys of prevents from binding to a healthy cell and reproducing. The chemicals used to attack the tumor are toxic and there are a number of side-effects, such as nausea, hair loss and so forth. The chemotherapy began about two weeks ago and will continue for several months at a minimum.

Multiple myeloma destroys bone. Once destroyed, it can not be replaced except through surgery, which is successful in only a few particular cases. The damaged bone is quite fragile. There is the possibility that performing some accustomed chore such as dressing or bathing can over-stress the weakened bone causing it to fracture. There are chemicals that can bind to the damaged bone and provide some re-enforcement and I will begin taking those chemicals as soon as blood tests say the bone is ready to accept them.

So the messages ask: "How are you doing?" And I respond: "Fine; thanks for asking." But as you can see, there's a bit more to it than that. Such as the rash, a nasty side-effect of the chemo. Or the edema in my lower legs, an artifact of the tumor residues. And a dozen other little things that taken on the whole make it impossible to offer a comprehensive answer as to my condition.

Which is why I'd rather look at it from a slightly different perspective.

I'm a pretty lucky guy. I came within an ace of dying from an unsuspected tumor, recognized -- and properly treated by a superbly skilled physician who just happened to be in the ER when I was brought in. I'm doubly lucky in finding myself surrounded by people -- many whom I've never met -- who have provided support and encouragement that has served to level the often difficult path I have been forced to follow.


Saturday, July 19, 2008

The Orphaned Engine

Most Experts Aren’t. That's something the late Smokey Yunick said back when I was a seaman deuce. Every month my mail delivers one or two messages saying it's still true. The messages usually come from some superbly experienced fellow who has literally spent his life working on cars or trucks. He is the Local Guru when it comes to engines for homebuilts and he's taking the time to let me know that the automotive engineers I like to cite in my articles aren't quite as bright as I seem to think they are, offering an experience-based example to prove his point.

Unfortunately, the offered example invariably deals with cars or trucks, things in which the fellow has a life-time of experience, whereas automotive in the sense used here, does not, although it could include them. To an engineer, automotive means something that can move under its own power. Like an oil tanker, the Space Shuttle, or a gold dredger.

My usual reaction is to hit the delete key. I get more mail than I want, most from people with real problem, some of whom I can help. But it's always sad to hear smart people say dumb things. And on the whole, these are smart people, even though a life-time of experience hasn't tipped him off that we're taking about two different meanings for automotive.

We all start out pretty dumb. As we age we gather information and gain experience and, assuming a fair share of native wit, we end up a bit smarter than when we began. Mebbe all this guy needs is a nudge in the right direction. So you say hello and the odds are the fellow is having the same problems as everyone else except he was a bit too proud to say so.

With this type of Expert you'll often discover his life-time of experience has been with just one type of engine or perhaps one type of car and he has been trying to transfer that experience to a Corvair or a Volkswagen and isn't having much luck. I mean, who ever heard of a head torqued to only eighteen foot-pounds! That has to be wrong... right?

If the fellow hasn't figured out the meaning of automotive there's a good chance he won't have any idea in the blue-eyed world about Class of Service but a good understanding here is the real key to a successful conversion so you give it a shot.

A car or light truck uses a variable speed, high-rpm, low-torque engine whose nominal output approximates 25% of its peak output. Nominal output is defined as the amount of power the engine was designed to deliver for approximately 98% of its service life. The only time it’s expected to produce more… that wayward 2%… is when accelerating or climbing a hill. Once on the flats -- once you've reached a Stable State of cruise -- the figures are a good match. For hilly regions vehicle manufacturers offer different ratios for the rear-ends. Economy takes a hit but over-all, the figures match up. Respect an engine's Class of Service and you'll be rewarded with 2,000 to 5,000 hours between overhauls.

You can always demand more output from either type of engine but doing so will reduce it's service life. With a converted VW, for example, your Mean Time Before Failure will typically fall from about 2,000 hours in vehicular service to about 200 hours when powering a plane.

By comparison, an aircraft engine is a single-speed, low-rpm, high-torque engine whose nominal output approximates 75% of its peak output. Peak output may be defined further as maximum sustainable output, and as Peak-sub I, meaning an instantaneous value or dyno blip, something you might use to impress the newbies.

Since our goal is to produce thrust throuigh the rotation of a propeller, our primary interest is in the amount of torque that appears in the crank, and in the propeller's efficiency at a given rpm. The measurement of thrust is quite simple and articles describing different types of homebuilt thrust stands have appeared in the literature and on the internet. You will note that horsepower, which serves no useful function at this stage, has not been mentioned.

It usually takes an exchange of half a dozen messages or thereabouts to arrive at this point, if in fact we arrive at all. In the overwhelming majority of cases the Local Expert simply vanishes. Which is doubly unfortunate because the best is yet to come.

When we convert an auto engine for use in an airplane we are trying to convert it from one Class of Service to another to make it more suitable, usually in the area of mechanical reliability. By comparison, the typical flying Volkswagen starts out as a marginally suitable auto engine that is then made even less suitable for aircraft use by turning it into a hot-rod enigine. Why? Usually because the person doing the conversion has little understanding of an aircraft powerplant. Indeed, most such experts are merely the local Guru grown old, selling dune buggy engines to the kiddies. And after all, it does fly the plane, right?

So why even bother.

Well.... because we should. A properly built engine is more efficient. It produces the required torque at a lower rpm and wear increases exponentially with rpm. That means a properly built engine uses less fuel to deliver the same thrust and last longer, too.

But a properly built engine is also a lot less expensive to build and nowdays that's becoming a critical factor.

See that chart down there? The one title BORE VS STROKE? (It's embedded in the article in the blog; you guys on r.a.h. will have to go dig it out and print yourself a copy.) The chart shows the bore & stroke combinations for most common conversions and for everything using 88mm jugs or larger, or a 78 mm or longer crank, is going to have to machine the crankcase & heads to match. What they'll end up with is a dune-buggy combination -- a high-rpm engine that produces most of its torque up high. Itty-bitty toothpick of a prop. Not very efficient at all. Lots of machining to do. Lots of tricky bits to go wrong during assembly... which is why some folks don't even offer the thing assembled.

But it's all a bit of a joke because no matter HOW BIG the engine, it's MAXIMUM SUSTAINABLE OUTPUT is going to be between 35hp and 45hp.

Yeah, I know -- everybody is selling 80hp and up. Which is a dyno blip, not a steady output. Lotsa cubes is going to get you out of the weeds quicker but once you get the puppy cleaned up you're flying behind your basic 40hp engine, depending on the local atmosphere.

The limitation has to do with the heads, not the displacement. The cylinder heads only provide enough fin-area to manage the waste-heat from about 40hp. Unless its nice and cold or you are nice & high. But the dune crowd only knows how to build big-bore strokers.

Now go take anohter look at that chart. Limit your jugs to the stock 85.5mm.s and your cranshaft to a 78mm. At those sizes there's NO MACHINING REQUIRED. Your displacement is 1791cc, your maximum SUSTAINABLE output is about 45hp and your peak torque is going to come in at about 2800rpm.

Did I mention that no machining is required?

You've altered your cam timing but you're running a stock cam or a Schneider 'chugger,' the one used in the orchard-blower engine. You're running SINGLE PORT HEADS... because you're now an airplane engine, not a hot-rod. Your Volumetric Efficiency is pushing 70% and you're about a $1000 dollars ahead of the game because you haven't had to buy all that machining and you're using a higher percentage of stock, off the shelf parts. You're also running a longer, more efficient prop -- hopefully one you've carved yourself.

The thing starts on the first flip because it has an efficient ignition system, one that automatically adjusts itself to the load and a 20A. electrical system. But no starter, please. As it is, it weighs about twenty pounds less than any engine offered by anyone else.

But of course, it's not a dune-buggy engine. And the Instant Experts will stand in line to damn it with faint praise for that fact alone even while it flys circles around them and is still going strong when they're doing their second valve job of the year.

In my opinion, this is the perfect engine for an aerodynamically clean single-seater, like Bruce Kings little beauty. Had fate dealt me a different hand, that's what it would be going into. It would also be a good match for a KR-1, the early Jodel, Druine, the Teenie Two and similar designs.

Kill the parent, you got orphans. And that applies to engines, too.


Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Cancer's End-game

Multiple Myeloma destroys bone; it literally eats it away, usually starting with the lower spine. But the cancer itself is a disease of the blood, similar to leukemia. Since we start out with a lot of bone, the cancer may chew away on us for years before it's symptoms become obvious. After all, everyone complains of a sore back now & then.

Being a disease of the blood, myeloma is highly mobile. Soon after the cancerous cells appear, they begin to spread, attacking the bone at new sites, which explains the multiple part of its name. Once established and able to spread, there is no cure. On average, you've got about three years to get your house in order.

Although there is no cure, radiation and a number of drugs have proven effective in slowing myeloma's spread. If the bone damage has not been too severe such treatment may buy you some time. Unfortunately, once attacked by myeloma our skeletons can not mend themselves. Some drugs are able to strengthen the remaining bony structure but rarely to the extent needed for pain-free mobility.

As you know, this all pretty new to me; there may be factors I've completely overlooked. But it wouild appear that working out a careful strategy of treatment offers a strong probability we can stabilize the affliction sufficiently to buy the time needed to finish a favorite project or to wrap up our affairs.


I'm receiving radiation therapy at the local Cyberknife clinic, a neat little facility just minutes from our home where a computer-guided x-ray machine is used to kill the existing tumors a slice at a time. Doing so isolates the lesions and reduces the pain and no matter how you slice it, this story is really about the pain.

The location of the tumor(s) having been identified by prior x-ray and MRI scans, three dots of radio-opaque ink are tattooed on your belly allowing the system to realign itself with an accuracy of better than half a millimeter. The initial programming has defined the tumors as targets, determining the optimum amount of energy to deliver on each of three axies so as to limit the amount of damage to the healthy tissue. Hit the big red button and the system delivers its lethal barrage at the rate of several thousand hits per second, each precisely on target using feed-back from a separate x-ray camera to keep track of its progress.

The sessions, which are painless, take about fifteen minutes. They have scheduled one per day for the next couple of weeks with the option for a bit of sniper work toward the end.

At the same time, the physicians have been working out a chemical attack to compliment the radiation barrage. X-rays and other forms of imaging provides some of the feed-back needed to guide the chemical attack but the most useful information is derived from a series of vampire strikes to monitor the chemistry of my bloodstream. These procedures are slower than the dramatic strikes from the Cyberknifes linear accelerator but infinitely more subtle, capable (in theory) of tracking down a single cancerous cell.


Thursday, July 10, 2008

Doing Your Vitals

'Way back when, a lot of teachers were also nurses. Mrs. Doyle was one such lady who returned to teaching Third Grade and serving as the School Nurse during WWII, when we simply didn't have enough pople to go around. But there was a war going on and rather than just talk nursing, Mrs. Doyle taught it, starting with basic health. She gained our respect by producing an antique sphygmomanometer from an equally antique Black Leather Bag and commenced to give the whole class a tune-up. Indeed, she was not satisfied until the whole damn class had learned how to determine Blood Pressure. But that's just the tip of the iceberg. When you say vitals the implication is that you are recording:

Blood Pressure
Pulse Rate
Respiration Rate
Body Temperature
Weight... and so forth.

That last ...and so forth... looks unscientific as hell but it makes sense to a kid. Along one wall each student had a list showing our body weight, height, color of hair & eyes and several other data elements, some not specific to human vital signs but all of profound interest to a gaggle of eight year olds.

Even more interesting is the fact we collected the data ourselves. And if you think that's a Big Deal, it's not. In fact everyone should be able to not only define their vitals but should have no trouble collecting such data and recording it in a tabular fashion.

Because that's what you do when you get sick.

Ecept nowadays, most folks don't. In the modern world you simply plug yourself into your computer and let it collect your vitals automatically. That guarantees less chance of making an error when you collect the data but it also ensures more uniform reporting. It also guarantees the data will be communicated to whoever needs it.

Which is why you could have knocked me over with a feather when a local 'health care worker' shows up to 'record' my vital signs.

Mebbe when digging the Panama Canal but definitely not in the 21st Century. By the time the 'health care worker' has driven to your home, imposed themselves on you, recorded your vitals -- correctly, I hope -- you are looking at a significant cost in time and gasoline.


Saturday, July 5, 2008


Yes, I've got it.

No, you can't have it. You have to grow your own. You don't catch cancer. It's not a head-cold or a case of clap. I've been working on mine for more than five years now. It's called Multiple Myeloma and it has lead me a merry chase, partly because the first symptoms appeared as a kind of transition variety and all those fancy, infallible scanners and CATZ and PETZ and sooper-dooper hi-teck never-wrong space-age machines were DEAD WRONG. Indeed, I was I was healthy as hell according to them... and they were right. Unfortunately I was in the process of developing multiple myeloma so that while I was healthy then, within a matter of weeks I was now not... even though I had just completed a series of expensive, time-consuming tests that said I was.

One of the trickier bits about Multiple Myeloma is that it likes to attack people who are about forty years of age or older. Need I mention that includes a lot of pilots?

If you just found out you've got it, you're one of about 15,000 others in the 40 - to - 65 age-group who joined that years club. After getting the good news an awful lot of these guys make it as far as the parking lot before blowing out their brains. I mean, after all... they've just lost their ticket, everyone is moving to larger airframes rather than smaller ones and career-wise our boy is on the lower cusp, for whom a lab report ...perhaps accompanied by a friendly tranquilzer... has just guaranteed the world as he knew it has ended.

Okay, stats vary and I don't want it to appear worse than it is but I've had the misforturne to see this scenario played-out twice, up-close and personal. My own situation aside, I'd rather it didn't happen again so howzabout following me through on this one?

The Biggie is that some forms of multiple myeloma are TREATABLE. Okay, so there's no ATR in your wallet when you get done but at least you are still there.

Treatable means you can't have my plane... go build your own. But we -- and I'm talking the aviation community, your family and what all -- we've still got you. That puts us miles ahead of the game. So don't get all teary-eyed on me. You've still got the Big C! (and so do I). It's awful. It F**king Hurts! It's NOT FAIR!!

So suck it up and let's get on with our lives.


Like I said, some forms of multiple myeloma are treatable and I'm a living example of someone who ha
s just started through the process. I've done the wet hanky bit, hid in the corner for a major bout of boo-hoo's, then then did the Oh So Sorry me but my God that sonofabitch hurts!

Weak as a cat, too. (But I'm working on that.)

Kinda confused. Chemotheropy guarantees you're going to kinda dingy now & then but but trust me, I passes.

What you need, right now and for a good while to come is your friends. And you can go ahead and count me in, if I'm not already on the list. Because with multiple myeloma the emphasis is NOT about grabbing your friends by the handles and dumping them in a hole in the ground, it is about getting BETTER; about HEALING. And I'm not standing here blowing smoke. Hell, I'm still making rigs for Chugger's wing ! (and no tranks in the pill compartment this morning).

(And I've still got three damn engines to finish :-)


So what about you guys who don't have 'chugger' waiting in the wings? Then you're going to have to get one...
or something damn near identical.


Plus you've got to learn how to SLEEP.

Deep, rich rewarding SLEEP. Because based on my limited (but growning experience as a cancer victim) sleep appears to be the catylyst for cure -- or at least for healing. The only problem is that everything is all so new (!) and there is so much to learn. To make matters worse you usually look like the dog's dinner and feel even worse.

Tough Darts.

About half the time, multiple myeloma is trying to kill you on purpose and the rest of the time it does a fair amount of damage through pure chance, all the while you are rattling like a goard from all the pills you've stuffed yourself with. Most of the pills are an effort to control the pain, others are there to help control the side-effects of the chemicals that are suposed to help you GET WELL and a very critical aspect of that effort is the need to maintain accurate records. The records are needed to maintain the proper balance between pain management and chemotherapy. Need I mention that if you aren't a good clerk at the outset you'll soon become one!

So what works? What's the Secret Weapon?

I haven't the foggiest notion.

But I do know that Jesus never owned a Cadilliac and Mohammad had never actually seen a real oil well although it's fair to assume both enjoyed a wealth of real friends, the kind you can't buy.

So let's start with that


29 June -- Home from the hospital, I pretty much lived in this chair for three days & nights because it simply hurt too much to lay down. We finally got that worked out .

You can't deal with the tumor until you've figured out some way to deal with the pain.

Friday, May 16, 2008


The chemicals shown on the left are all you needed to assemble an early Volkswagen engine (ie, 1100 & 1200). The valves were so small that relatively weak springs were enough to close them. Since the springs put only a modest load on the cam & followers, a special break-in lubricant was not needed.

Except for its color -- German 'permatex' was black -- the standard American stuff worked fine for sealing. If the crankcase parting-line was badly corroded we'd spin a few strands out of a hank of silk embroidery thread and embed the strands in the thin layer of Permatex we had painted onto the parting-line of the left-hand half of the crankcase.

Permatex was also applied under every washer on any stud or stay that had oil on the the other side. Or on this side, which is the case for the four lower head-stay nuts in each of the heads. Oddly enough, although this has been a standard VW assembly procedure since about 1937 a surprising number of today's experts ignore this vital step. And wonder why their engines leak :-)

Ditto for the Loctite, which the German mechanics I learned from adopted as soon as it became available. Prior to then they used gasket shellac, but only after carefully cleaning the threads of all debris & oil, another of those 'unimportant' steps usually ignored by the modern-day expert.

Shortly after the introduction of the 1300 a wide range of thread-lockers and thread restorers became available, and not a minute to soon. The explosive increase in VW sales in the early '60's caused many engines to be damaged by unqualified mechanics. Having no experience with air-cooled engines it was common for American mechanics to assume the VW's torque values were incorrect and apply the Model T Torque Rule, which was as tight as they could get it... plus one turn. I'm sorry to say that's still the case with many VW 'mechanics.'

When the 77mm barrels of the stone-reliable 1300 engine were bored out to create the 1500 engine we began to see an increased frequency of case-shuffling and accelerated cam wear. Volkswagen was aware of the problem and began work on an aluminum-cased 1700 engine but it would not appear on the scene until 1968. In the meantime VW issued a number of SB's and SN's (ie, Service Notes and Service Bulletins) telling us to dope the cam & lifters of newly assembled engines with molybdenum disulfide grease, and to '...locally treat' various gaskets to prevent them from leaking.

To be honest, none of it did much good when they over-bored the 83mm jugs to create the leaky, trouble-prone 1600 engine. Then came the untimely death of Heinz Nordhoff and the engineers -- real car people -- lost control of the company, to be replaced by accountants more interested in short-term gains than long-term quality.

Nowadays it takes a bit more than a can of Permatex to assemble a reliable, durable leak free engine from VW components, especially so if you're building a big-bore stroker suitable for powering a light airplane.

Not according to the experts, of course... those wunnerful folks will look you right in the eye and swear all Volkswagens leak. Or at least, all the ones they've ever built :-)

At the time Volkswagen of Germany stopped making air-cooled engines there were a lot of Service Notes and Bulletins that hadn't been incorporated into the Factory Workshop Manual and in so far as I know, they never were.

Do you like barbecue? Most folks do. Of course, there's half a dozen different styles of 'barbecue' and a different sauce or rub for each, with variations based on the type of meat. The picture above shows the ingredients for one style of barbequed pork. To have it come out right you not only need to know which ingredients to use but how much of each, and -- believe it or not -- the sequence in which they are mixed and the method the sauce is applied.

All of which are considered unimportant details by someone who doesn't know how to cook.

A VW engine converted for flight is an airplane engine. It's not a dune buggy engine nor a hot-rod engine nor something to take to the drag-strip. The sad thing is, a lot of people don't know that.