Monday, December 1, 2014

ESPIRITU TICO - Famous Curtiss Robin of Costa Rica

Tico - a colloquial term for a native of Costa Rica. Costa Ricans are usually called ticos by themselves and persons of other Spanish-speaking countries, in place of the more formal costarricenses.  The name is short for Hermanitico ('Little Brother'), a friendly and respectful way the people of Costa Rica used in the past (during the Central American war against William Walker) to refer to themselves.  (from Wikipedia)

Such is the name given to one particular Curtiss Robin in 1933 by a small cultural neighborhood community of Costa Rican's of the greater San Francisco area.

The story begins with a fatherless native Costa Rican boy who was brought to San Francisco at a very young age by his mother who sought to provide a better life for her son.  Don Román Macaya Lahmann was born in San Jose in 1903 , in the home formed by Juan Ibáñez and Angela Macaya Lahmann Carazo, his maternal grandparents were Frederick Wendt Lahmann and Paulina Carazo Peralta.

As he matured, the young Macaya became interested in flying and eventually earned his pilot's license and studied aviation. Due to the economic crisis in America, in 1933 decided to return to his native country.  He chose to purchase a Curtiss Robin airplane model C-1, NC911K, with which he planned to bring aviation into Costa Rica.  As he prepared for the long journey, his local neighbors blessed the airplane and prayed over his flight.  They christened his plane with the suggestive name of " The Tico Spirit " , emulating the feat in 1927 did Charles Lindbergh to cross the Atlantic in the famous " Spirit of St. Louis " 

Roman Macaya prepares to leave California in his Challenger powered Curtiss Robin.
Roman began his flight from Oakland, California, and eventually landing in his home country of Costa Rica on October 5, 1933.  The trip was risky at best for the time of year.  Plagued along the way with bad weather, Macaya could not land at the airport in La Sabana.  Instead, he followed towards Limon where he fueled.  Finally reaching the destination airport, he was receivedby more than 30 thousand people as a hero.  They paraded him along the Paseo Colon.  Macaya was invited into the presidential palace, where he was welcomed by Don Ricardo Jiménez Oreamun. 

The Curtiss Robin was the first of many airplanes that  Macaya eventually brought to pioneer a new way of life for his homeland through aviation.  He used them to deliver mail and supplies across the mountains from the east coast to the west and return.  He established airplanes as a viable mode of transportation, which changed commerce and the way of life for the nation.  For this successful venture that resulted in the country's first commercial airline, among other aviation services, Roman Macaya is remembered as a national Hero. 

Macaya brought several Curtiss Kingbird airplanes to Costa Rica for his Airline venture.


FIRST FLIGHT since 1984.

Dan Linn Photo

On November 14, 2014, the St. Louis Robin took to the air once again after 30-years of earthbound storage.  For many, the occasion was the culmination of a lot of hard work and marked a major achievement toward ensuring a bright future and new milestones for this historic airplane.  And no time was wasted to begin making new history, for on the following day, November 15, 2014, history was again made by lifting two notable passengers into realization of their ancestral ties with the record-setting flight this airplane made in 1929. 

We'll discuss more about these passengers soon, but for now, I wanted to take this chance to give a full update on the flights.


So far, we have six takeoffs and landings on the airplane.  Three on Friday 11/14/14, and three on Saturday 11/15/14. These flights totaled 1.6 hours.  Pilot, Kelly Mahon did the honors and was just the right man for the job.  We were all relieved to know that the engine ran well and the airplane performed great.  

Dan Linn photo.


I have to say that last week was a phenominal week.  Between the first start on Nov. 8th, to the first flight on the 14th, our team pulled off some amazing work. After the first engine runs, we had to remove much of the engine components and some of the interior furnishings to give Craig Gunder adequate access for a major weld repair on the forward fuselage frame.  Honestly, I was afraid that this process was going to throw the whole project off schedule by a week.  With Kelly here to fly, we all felt the need to make it happen on schedule.  Lon, Craig, Kelly, Randall and Myself really got a lot done to make it happen.  Randall and I had our day jobs to do, and so we showed up each afternoon after Lon, Craig, and Kelly had already been working all day on the plane.  We (practically) worked in two shifts and were absolutely working on adrenaline.  I had planned a month ago that our first flight goal was Nov. 12th.  That was before realizing how bad the rusted tube was.  So, I am so pleased that we got it done and into the air only 2 days behind schedule.... thanks to an outstanding group of guys and my wife and mother-in-law who fueled us every day.

Terry and Craig going over the repair as Kelly works inside.  Photo by Jared Calvert.

Craig Gunder (Gunder Restoration & Design, Inc.) cutting away the rusted tube.


It was phenominal to share in the excitement of the first flight.  You just cannot imagine what this airplane is like to hear and see coming to life.  It is truly a special machine.  The engine is performing well, but has developed an oil leak.  We had already repaired one oil leak in the sump area before 1st flight and we confirmed it no longer leaks there.  But the new leak started showing up in the nose section around the third flight (11/14/14).  It has gotten slightly worse on every flight.  So far we have not pinpointed exactly where it is coming from. It is possibly coming from the seal between the crankshaft and engine crankcase.  We decided to stop flying until we can find and fix this leak.  Also we had a partial failure of the pilot seat, which Kelly temporarily repaired with some bailing wire.  It is not really a good feeling to fly with this repaired seat and so the airplane is grounded until the seat can be fixed.

On the first flight, our Pilot Kelly Mahon reported that the engine RPM was revving up above 1650 RPM at full throttle but the airplane wasn't climbing very well.  This meant the propeller pitch was too flat.  So we made an adjustment to add 3 degrees (coarser angle). On the second flight with this setting, the RPM was just below to the desired 1600 RPM at takeoff.  So before the 3rd flight, we adjusted back 1 degree (flatter angle).  The 3rd flight proved this to be the optimal setting for the propeller.   It seems the takeoff distance reduced by about 150 feet by the 3rd flight as compared to the first.  We are happy with this setting. 
Also it was pleasing that our intercom system worked flawlessly for communication between the pilot and passenger as did the radio communications between the pilot and ground crew who had a hand-held radio.


Also, on the first day, the outside air temperatures were around 35 F.  As a result, it was hard getting the oil up to the recommended operating temperature. We would like to see 160 F or more but we never got it above 140 F. Therefore the oil pressure was higher than the recommended range (60 to 90 psi).  Kelly decided to fly after about 30 minutes of ground run, even though the pressure was still a little high.  On that flight the pressure settled to about 110 psi at the cruise power setting. We removed one spacer from the oil pressure relief valve and on the 2nd flight the pressure settled to about 100 psi.  So we removed another washer and for the remaining flights the pressure was showing about 95 psi.  This should come down in warmer weather. 

The flights on Saturday were just about the same as the 3rd flight in all respects.  Outside air temp was a bit colder, around 32 F and had dipped to 24F overnight. With blankets over the engine, I left our work-light plugged in all night.  The next morning, we used a hair dryer to warm up the oil tank for a few hours.  With pre-heat all morning we got the oil temperature up to about 49 F by the time of engine start around 1pm.
We found in cold weather, it takes a lot of fuel priming to achieve cold start. One other thing we learned is that the battery and starter we have are GREAT!    It took a lot of cranking but the starter and battery did not miss a beat.  As we learn more, we hope to develop a good start technique so we can minimize the wear and tear on the starter.  I am glad we had them an were not using the hand crank or worse, hand propping.

As for the airplane rigging in general, Kelly was pleased.  We had kept the wing wash-in (twist) settings as they were already set previously by Joe Erale.  With no adjustments, Kelly says it flies level.  He did not do any stalls yet, so we will evaluate this a bit more when we get to the point of testing stalls.  This will tell us more about the stability.  If it has a tendency to drop a wing during stall onset, it may require a small adjustment.  But we are certainly sure it is close to perfect already.   As for the tail (horizontal stabilizer) trim adjustments, we had adjusted them to be level with the hangar floor when the trim lever was in the neutral position.  Kelly says that this is pretty close.  The plane does not like to settle in for a 3-point landing as it is a bit heavy on the nose. Instead, it tends to settle on the main wheels (aka Wheel Landing) unless you apply some propwash across the tail. This takes a bit of pilot finesse. Wheel Landings are ok, but tend to take a little more runway.  This is also how my dad's Robin flies... I think it is pretty typical of all Robins.  I look forward to evaluating these things more when we get some warmer weather.  

Kelly's huge smile says it all...


For now, the seat and oil leak are the priorities.  We have some bad weather coming this weekend so I may not get a chance to troubleshoot the engine oil leak.  But in the mean time, we are getting prepared to build a new seat.  Next week, I plan to go remove the seat from dad's Robin so we can make measurements from it.  We will build a steel frame seat and have it wicker-covered to match the current wicker.  We will include the ability for adjustment.  The simplest way will be a design that is ground-adjustable only.  I am looking at some other seat designs now to find the best.

By the way... all of the paperwork was also completed last week and the airplane is legally returned to service.  Logbook entries are complete.  We filed four FAA form 337s' with the FAA documenting the major repairs and major alterations that were done.  The airplane is deemed airworthiy until this time next year when its next annual inspection will be due.


As I mentioned, two of the flights Saturday were of historical significance as they were with passengers Pat Holoyda (Forest O'Brine's grand-daughter) and Clarine Andresen (Dale Jackson's grand-niece). More on this next time.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

First Engine Start since 1984 - Saturday Nov. 8, 2014

My Grandson Easton - Future Robin Pilot

Having trouble with links... post this into your browser...

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Three steps forward... One step BACK???

The project to bring Curtiss Robin NR59H out of retirement has gone well thus far.  Up until September 21, we were making good forward progress toward our goal of returning her back to the air.  Occasionally, we have had small setbacks, but mostly things are moving along nicely. 

That day, on Sept. 21, we finished mounting the engine up to the airframe.  Afterwards, the three of us, Lon, Randall, and I were under the fuselage sitting on the floor... we were half-way resting, but half-way looking things over to decide what our next steps would need to be.  Randall saw it first... and uttered those ugly words..... Uhhhh Ohhhhh! 

With the owner's schedule looming in, the last thing we need is a major set-back.  Of course... that would be living in fantasy land.  So when we ran across this rusted tube on the airframe, it was almost enough to discourage the whole plan.  Evidently, despite the best of care given by Joe Erale over the past forty-some years were not enough to combat the adverse environment of some years of neglect and outdoor storage on Long Island New York in the 1940's and 1950's.

Here's the ugly truth we (Randall) found...

Of course, this prompted a whole 2nd effort to go over the whole airframe again with a tiny ball-peen hammer to tap on all the tubes.  It is hard to be 100% certain, but we think this is the only tube with major rust.  Something has to be done.

It didn't look any better after cleaning off the paint.  But we decided that this might be a candidate for a patch repair.  We tried that first.   It turned out there was just too much rust in the tube to accept a proper weld bead.  The whole tube must come out!

In the old days, this might have been considered a routine field repair by the old school pilot-mechanics.  Of course, they were probably dealing with an airplane of much less value, so they might have just dove right in and not worried so much about cosmetics.  We, on the other hand, are dealing with an Iconic aircraft of significant historical value.  The pressure is on.

As an engineer, I have never liked schedules.  Now, as the business owner and leader of this project, I was faced with some tough decisions.  So, after some discussions with our team here and with my friend and expert airframe weld repair expert, Craig Gunder, I decided that we need to proceed on with assembly of the wings onto the airframe and then to go ahead with the first engine run before we tackle this tube replacement.  That way, we will have the opportunity to identify whether any other major difficulties may crop up with either the fuel system, engine, or the general assembly of the airframe.

So here we are on October 30.  The wings have been installed.  This Saturday we plan to pre-oil this old Challenger engine and fire it off for the first engine run since 1984.  We will then proceed to weigh, rig, and inspect the airplane as though for final inspection.  Once deemed ready, we'll Bring in expert weld repair GURU, Craig Gunder from Red Lion PA. Craig is the operator of Gunder Restoration and Design and has made quite a name for himself repairing and building frames for vintage airplanes. Quite a lot of parts will need to be removed or partially disassembled.  But we're confident that this can be done and and back together pretty quick.  Perhaps we'll be airborne by Mid November.

Moving closer toward first flight - step-by-step

The team at CAP is steadily moving Curtiss Robin NR59H closer toward its first flight since 1984.  This refurbishment and modification project has included a long list of steps and tasks that we are continuing to knock out each weekend.  We've been so busy, there's been little time to keep this blog up to date.  But here are some photos of some of the recent work.  Several weeks through August, September, and early October 2014 are included here.

With the fuselage lifted, Lon prepares to remove the temporary skid dolly.
Randall bringing the LH axle into position after RH gear is already in place.
Randal says... with the gear installed, this bird looks so much more "Majestic".  I agree.

Challenger engine mated with Horseshoe Engine Mount.

One of the most difficult challenges with the modernization project for this airplane and engine was the goal to convert the magnetos with shielded harness and park plugs.  The folks at Radial Engines Ltd built up a new harness and shrouds for the mags using the cast bronze distributor covers from a later style mag.  They had to do some tricky machine work to get them to fit.  Once we got them here to CAP, we ran into some clearance issues which forced us to do some additional machining on the covers.  Here we have the mags installed and timed to the engine.

Mags installed.... we had some clearance issues with the horseshoe mount.

 We also removed the original hand-crank inertia starter and set out to modify with an electric starter. Fellow antiquer Tim Talen sold us a Bendix-eclipse model F-141core, which we had overhauled bu Aircraft Accessories of Oklahoma.

Completing the Bendix F-141 Electric Starter conversion - thankfully it clears the oil tank.
 What a day... we got the engine installed after a lot of little issues that had to be overcome.  Anytime you modify something, you have to be ready for many issues that you've unknowingly created.  Be prepared to fabricate.

Here's the CAP modification/fabrication/refurb team... Terry, Lon, and Randall.
Burning the midnight oil... installing tail parts.

Randall and Lon adjusting stabilizer and elevator
The Robin on its Roost after another productive weekend... tailfeathers installed.

By this time, many who are watching this project unfold have figured out that the new owner is making plans for some interesting NEW history to be made.  We will write more about this in future postings.  For now, I'll just say we have a wonderful group of people to support this fascinating project.

Ray and Jim readying the wings for installation.

This past weekend, on October 25th, we had an excellent crew of folks on hand to help install the wings on this magnificent old airplane.  I will attempt to name them all here...Texas team members on hand that day were.... Ray Mattix, Guy Matthews, Jim Elsey, Leon Carr, Randall Green, Carolyn Carr, Leann Bowden, Travis Lightfoot, Rachel Lightfoot, Hannah Lightfoot;  And the Costa Rican team on hand for this event were.... Everardo Carmona, Jr, Everardo Carmona, Sr., Alejandro Neito, Carlos Mazzalli, Carlos Macaya,

It takes a Village.

Marine PFC, Travis Lightfoot manning the safety rope while Carlos looks on.
Where did Ray go?

We found Ray!!
Glad to have her back together!!

Thanks to our most excellent "wing hangin' crew".

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Oil Hydraulic Struts... Repairs and Reassembly

Previously I posted about the disassembly of the "Oil Hydraulic Struts" as removed from a Curtiss Robin, NR59H.  Well, A few weeks ago we finally finished with the repairs and re-assembly of these strut assemblies.  Here are some photos of the process...I am happy with the results and believe we have a repair that should last for many years of continued service.

Portion of tube insert for repair. 
A decision was made to cut out the badly pitted portions of the upper tube.  We designed and fabricated a replacement tube to be welded in place of the removed portion. We found an "off-the shelf" material that was perfect for the job.  It is a close-tolerance seamless tube made of 1020 steel chrome plating applied during the raw material fabrication process.  This material is commonly used in the manufacture of hydraulic cylinders.  The chrome plating will hopefully resist the kind of pitting that caused us to tear down the oleos in the first place.

To ensure a proper repair, the design concept  for the repair 'insert' tube was to machine a step-down of the outside diameter and to give it a three-inch insertion length to allow the insert to self align to the existing tube. The insert was expertly machined by our friends at Madden Manufacturing, LLC, China Spring TX.  We were a little worried about causing too much stress in the upper tube and the potential for cracking during the press-fit-up operation.  The shop's owner, Dennis Thom, came up with the right approach for this by effecting a taper of the stepped-down OD from a 0.000 inch fit at the insertion point and gradual taper to 0.0025 interference fit at the last 1.5 -inch of tube to the bottom of its shoulder.  The results were spot-on.

At the shoulder, the repair was finished off by welding the interface joint all around.  Then the weld bead was ground and polished down smooth and flush with the tube OD.  Rosette welds were deemed unnecessary due to the interference fit design which pre-loaded beneficial stress into the assembly.

Tube 'insert' welded in place and polished smooth.
Re-assembly of piston on upper tube with spring-lock clip in place.
The original design of this oleo assembly did not utilize a rubber o-ring seal as would be expected in a similar/more modern oleo.  Instead, a packing material was used. Originally, this packing was most likely a degradable cotton or linen rope material of a round cross-section with graphite flake coating.  We found that the modern materials used in water pump packing applications are far better than that of the old-days.   We managed to find a synthetic graphite impregnated rope material with 1/4" x 1/4" square cross-section. This seemed perfect for the job (short of a re-design for o-rings).  We used 24 inch lengths of this material to seal each oleo. The slight compression of the packing material riding against the smooth chrome OD should be an ideal seal and wear-resistant surface.

Installing 'packing' seal.
Repaired oleo assemblies with removed portions of upper tube that were replaced.
New paint for the re-built oleo struts

New Lester tires being installed

Leann Bowden doing paint touch-ups on the Fischer 28" x 4" wheels

The Majestic Curtiss Robin proudly sits on its repaired landing gear

Monday, August 18, 2014

Modern updates to an Historic Aircraft - Pt. 4

It has been a lot of work, but we have just about completed the installation of the electrical system. Last items yet to be installed are the ELT and placards.  Here are the latest photos.  Finished antenna coax cable hookups and static line installation this weekend.  Power ON success. 

COM and Transponder installed above pilot - power off.

XCOM 760 and STX165 installation.

Wiring and static line routing to clear aileron push-pull tube.

Radio CB panel in headliner access panel.

COM and Transponder - power on.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Modern updates to an Historic Aircraft - Pt. 3

The work continues on the Curtiss Robin with new electrical system and radios installation.  Here are a few more photos.

Plan for Xcom Transceiver and Sandia Transponder installation overhead above pilot.
Radio Control / CB Panel to go on headliner access panel
Radio Control / CB Panel Wiring
Fit-Check - Radio Control / CB Panel on headliner access panel

Preliminary Drawing for Radio Control / CB Panel to go on headliner access panel

Intercom Panel Mock-Up - to go above the RH window between the pilot and passenger doors
Intercom Panel Mock-up

Intercom Panel Test Fit

Box fabricated for power plugs, A and B

Box fabricated for Power Plugs A and B
Box fabricated for Power Plugs A and B

Antenna (Folded Dipole) Installation in Robin Tail

Barnstmr's Random Slideshow

Blog Followers