Chapter Nothing - Trailering the Airplane
I had one goal when starting this project: finish and fly it before moving! I wanted to fly it to its next destination. I definitely did NOT want to trailer it.
Well, thanks to me getting a lot busier at work post-9-11, and my slow pace before that, that just didn't happen. We don't always get what we want.
At first, I was told that I could have it moved. Sure, just put it in a big crate; it's 8 feet wide, so it'll fit, barely. Cost a lot to have it built, and more to have it shipped, but since it was the USAF's idea to move me, the USAF was paying. Well, I would pay for the crate, but they'd pay the freight. They even said so.
Until they changed their mind, that is. With a week and a half to go until the big move. Thanks, guys!
With that little time to engineer a solution, I had a problem! A HUGE problem! How to get the airplane on a trailer for a cross-country ride with just the time I could spare while moving, in a week and a half?
The trip would not be an easy one. Cross-country, from Little Rock, Arkansas, to Anacortes, Washington, there to get on a ferry to Haines, Alaska. Then another 1000 miles or so through British Columbia, Yukon, and Alaska again, to Anchorage on the AlCan highway in June, early in the road-reconstruction season. Max allowable width is 8' 6", so the airplane would have to have one wheel elevated, and this arrangement would have to be robust enough to survive the trip.
XCOR Aerospace to the rescue! Very fortunately for me, I know Dan Delong, chief engineer at XCOR. I'd even unpacked XCOR's EZ-Rocket off their trailer for Oshkosh 2001. They weren't using the trailer just then, but borrowing it wasn't practical...it was too long a drive just to pick up a trailer.
Again fortunately, Dan hit on the solution. The mounting fittings could be removed from XCOR's trailer and shipped to me UPS, where I'd install them on a similar trailer. Easy! Simple! Let's do it!
Okay, it wasn't easy or simple on my end, and I'm sure the XCOR guys didn't exactly enjoy tearing down their trailer either, but it WAS the easiest solution, and absolutely the only one that would have worked in the time available.
This is a good point to talk about some other things I learned about trailering the airplane. I assumed, maybe because I read about it in the plans, but I ASSUMED that mounting one wheel in the air would get the overall width down to 8 feet.
Here is an actual scan of everything the Long-EZ plans have to say about transporting a Long-EZ:
Oh, okay. So I just hang one wheel in the air, and my airplane will be only 8 feet wide. Sure. Yep.
WRONG. Dead, dead wrong. Now, Burt is a great guy, and he designs a great airplane, but he is not perfect. Like, for example, here. Because the actual dimension is 8' 4", and that makes all the difference in the world. I couldn't have boxed this airplane into a crate after all.
Fortunately, the road width limitation (without a wide load permit) is actually 8' 6" in every state in the union but one, so I had TWO WHOLE INCHES to spare. Lucky me. Unfortunately, the one exception is Arizona, for which the limitation is only 8'. Yup, officer, I did drive through Arizona without a wide load permit. But in my defense, I did drive it REALLY FAST.
With a 16' two-axle automotive flatbed and XCOR 's parts in hand, I went to work. These were actually the parts off XCOR's second-generation design, used for Oshkosh 2002 (I'd never seen them before).
The heart of the design is a big welded-steel part called the "teeter-totter". At each end of the teeter-totter is a steel clamp to hold the wheels down; one end is hinged to the floor. The entire fuselage can then be tilted up at the required angle (32 degrees) so that everything will fit in a parking space.
Another key part of the design is molded fiberglass cradles for the wings and canard. Those babies weren't going anywhere!
Here is the teeter-totter, and the cradles with the wings installed:
For obvious reasons, I had to develop my own way to retain the prop, since this is not a part the EZ-Rocket carries....
Not everything fit perfectly. Since my trailer wasn't the same as XCOR's, and in particular mine carried a spare tire, the wing cradles didn't line up exactly the same. I had to move them on the trailer, twice, and even so, there was insufficient clearance between the nose and the left winglet. Some rubbing occurred there; I had to fix it after the trip.
There was another, more serious problem: the clamps were designed to hold the EZ-Rocket's big, 6-inch wheels with tires. I used the smaller 5-inch wheels with Lamb tires. The steel clamps wouldn't clamp down hard enough to hold the smaller tires; I had to build a wooden-block "shoe". The first such design was dangerous and almost disastrous; it got us to Texas. The second design, shown below, worked from then on:
But eventually, everything came together:
Hooray! That styrofoam block holding the nose up was secured with duct tape before I started driving, but not well enough. Crunch. Didn't even get a mile on my road-test drive before the nose landed hard on the wood of the sawhorse, damaging the skin, the foam underneath, and delaminating the two. More repair work after arrival.
On the road test, I also tried throwing a tarp over the whole trailer. I do not recommend this, ever. The wind ripped at every strange shape and corner, and the tarp billowed at every large flat area. Bad. Much worse than leaving it open. Skip the tarp. XCOR built an elaborate windbreak at the front of their trailer to cut down on the drag and bugs, but I could not afford the time to duplicate that. Now I know why they didn't go with something simpler.
On to Texas:
As I mentioned, my "shoe" was less than satisfactory for this leg. In fact, the airplane threw the left shoe entirely outside of Dallas; the left-hand wheel slipped inside of the big steel retaining strap. Now, I was not a complete fool, and also used a cargo strap to hold that wheel down, exactly in case something like this happened. Unfortunately, unbeknownst to me, the jouncing and the sharp brake disc had sliced through that strap.
I repeat, because, though it pains me to admit my mistakes, and this one was a doozy, I'm chattering here so that people can learn from my mistakes.
So I repeat: the left wheel threw its shoe, had already sliced its strap, and NOTHING but gravity was holding it in place. And at that angle, very little gravity is at work. Had the wind been strong from the left, or had I hit a pothole just then...well, the whole works would probably have tilted right over. Smash. Expensive. Maybe just the right spar and the wing underneath it would have damaged each other; or maybe the whole fuselage, with engine, would have continued right over and made an expensive mess in the road. We don't know, because it didn't happen. But it could have, and I was certainly a fool.
Fortunately, I saw this in my side-view mirror when it happened, and pulled over right away. I made temporary repairs, added a cargo strap to the left spar (so it COUDLN'T be cut without my knowledge), and limped to a hotel with a Home Depot nearby, where I engineered Shoe Mk 2. Which, I'm proud to say, lasted all the way to Mojave and probably would have lasted the trip.
In Texas, everyone stared, pointed, and asked, "Is that a piece of the Space Shuttle?" This was just a few months after the Columbia accident, so I thought this was in rather bad taste, but I didn't say so. Interesting. Unidentifiable flying machine, Texans assume "Space Shuttle". In other states, they had other thoughts.
On to New Mexico:
In New Mexico, everyone asked, "Is that a UFO?" I'm not sure they were kidding, either...Roswell wasn't so far south of our path. Interesting, what people will assume.
As I mentioned, we drove through quickly. This really hurt our range, however, and I-10 has a long stretch without gas. We planned around it. Also, it was an incredibly hot day, reducing performance further. I'd realized by this point that, thanks to the weight I was hauling, and the drag of the shape (expecially the vertical stabs, side-on to the airstream), I was getting only 10 MPG. The tow vehicle was not large; it only had an 18-gallon tank! I'll let you do the math and figure out our range between stops. It wasn't good.
In California the question was, "Is that a glider?" To which the witty answer was, "I hope not!"
Except for the one Californian who for some reason felt the need to run up to it, squint, and shout, "Is that legal?" Right next to the nice police officer refueling at the next pump. Thanks, lady. Fortunately, everything WAS legal.
At this point, it was time to visit and thank the friends at XCOR . So the airplane went home, in a sense:
So Thunderduck met the EZ-Rocket and made friends, and with the help of Mike Laughlin, we re-engineered the trailer a little bit to make it more durable. The nose was mounted lower, on a box instead of the sawhorse. Shoe Mk 3 was very similar to Mk 2, but built a little better. And, Mike welded a tube inboard of the left side of the teeter-totter, so that the wheel absolutely, positively, could not slip out. In fact, he persuaded me to abandon the last-ditch throw-over stay I'd attacked to the left spar. In fact, after this, my biggest "problem" was that the RIGHT wheel would occasionally migrate UPHILL a little! In this configuration, we were ready to tackle the AlCan. So we did.
Oh, and Mike moved some of the heavy stuff to the back of the trailer. Before that, it was at the front, and the SUV rode even lower in the back....
Nobody commented on the airplane. Who can see an airplane in all that rain and fog?
Now, the fun begins. As my reward for navigating through Seattle, I had to get this 39' long beast loaded onto this ferry:
Doesn't that look like fun? It wasn't. But we did it. And on the bright side, we covered a lot of ground, and for three days, I didn't have to drive any of it.
The ferry dropped us off in Haines, Alaska:
And almost immediately entered Canada:
Customs, I thought, would be awkward. Not so; the Canadian customs guy had a friend with a Vari-eze! Small world.
The Yukon has some of the most gorgeous scenery anywhere. By this time, though, we were missing the highways we'd left behind in the lower 48.
And back into Alaska:
If we thought the roads were bumpy in the Yukon and B.C., that was nothing. In Alaska, there were potholes the size of cars. In fact, some may have had cars in them; we drove over their roofs. There were paved sections, and broken-pavement sections, and gravel sections, and dirt sections, and mud sections with big eroded channels through them. And, of course, the sections under construction. Some areas, the airplane got more distance bouncing up and down than moving forward. And I spent more time checking it in the rear and side mirrors than looking out the windshield. But everything held. Amazingly, airplane, trailer, and fittings survived the AlCan. And so did I.
This is what we looked like on our triumphant arrival into the Anchorage bowl:
Please note that the black trailer has turned gray from dust and dirt. To a large extent, the white airplane has also turned gray. Note particularly the vertical stabs: the front one got off easy, just collecting dirt. The back one, however, collected a nasty combination of dirt, oil, bugs, and road tar; cleaning it proved almost impossible.
I won't even show what I looked like after this ride, but it took me three weeks to stop shaking, and to drive over a pothole without checking the rearview mirror in abject terror.
More things I learned in Alaska: hangar space in the Anchorage area is both very expensive and very hard to come by. Fortunately, I lucked out. Also, you can't get EZ-Poxy shipped up here, thanks to draconian new rules on "hazardous materials". Fortunately, there's a local shop that sells West, and almost everything else I have left to do is finishing work. Guess I'll learn to use West....
So, we survived the AlCan, trailering a Long-EZ. Would I do it again? HELL no! This airplane must fly before I leave here, presumably in summer 2006....