Posts tagged ‘Science’

Ants have Moxie

Give these little guys some credit, they don’t know what it means for the odds to be stacked against them. They also understand you can get a lot done when you ask your friends do a little help.

Making a spherical ice "cube" for a unique cocktail presentation

Swanky scotch and whiskey bars spend a fare amount of time (and money) on atmosphere and presentation – how else can they charge $20 for a $4 drink ?!

The glass is only part of the presentation and it’s easy to replicate at home. The ice is another story.

The first task is to create clear ice. There are a number of methods described on the internet and the one that proved successful was directional freezing, detailed by Camper English. I just had to call him out for having such a cool name.

IMG_4674_tuned IMG_4686_tuned IMG_4684_tuned

Using an inexpensive cooler, fill it with nothing more than tap water (or filtered water if your tap water is funky). Put it in the freezer with the top removed or open. Wait about 48 hours. In this time it will freeze down about 4". Remove the cooler from the freezer and let it sit on the counter for about 10 minutes then invert it in your sink and slowly, the block will fall out. It will still have an unfrozen portion. Knock this off to leave you with a block of clear ice. If you want chunks, break off pieces as needed.

To get a sphere of ice, you want to start with a more manageable piece. I tried carefully breaking the block but it was very unreliable and wasteful.

I took six 1-liter bottles and cut off the top and bottom. I drop these into the cooler filled with water before it goes into the freezer. After 48 hours, I remove the cooler as before and let it sit. Then, I break the block apart to free the cylinders. Each piece is about 4" tall as before.

Note: the one pictured has a small amount of front on it because I had tossed it back in the freezer for later use. If you do this, let it sit out for about 10 minutes to temper, otherwise even the temperature of your hand will shock the ice and crack it.

From "cylinder to sphere" you have two options, you can shape it by hand or using a press. Both methods take advantage of thermodynamics.

Hand Method: There are two manual options – melting and chiseling. Here is the chisel method. I tried my hand at the melt method. Using a large stone or thick metal surface, slide the ice cylinder across its face/top. The surface – being at room temperature – melts the ice. It’s a lot like sanding a smooth curve onto the corner of a piece of wood. Turn the cylinder and melt the edges. Keep shifting the ice to round it more and more until you have a sphere.

Press Method: Shell out big bucks, find someone else to shell out big bucks, or try to score a crazy deal on eBay to get an Ice Ball Maker (aka Ice Press). Open the press and insert the cylinder of ice and rest the top back on the ice. The small amount of pressure is now what is doing the work – it’s the mass of aluminum. It starts at room temperature and has a high thermal mass. It melts the ice and its temperature drops. If the chunk of ice is not too big, the excess will melt away as the metal comes in contact with ice. The technique works for shapes other than a sphere. Below is an example video … from Macallan, of course.


I think it’s time for a Gin. Hendricks, perhaps ?

Bernoulli is awesome !

science is wicked  cool
science is wicked cool

I needed a couple long bean bags for when I have to crawl inside the airplane. During the long panel upgrade project last winter, I made due with an old set of sheets. I decided I’d make real ones today.

I pulled out some old upholstery cloth, some Velcro, my trusty Singer 301 and got to work.

The “bags” were easy enough. Filling them with packing peanuts was another story. What I needed to do was “vacuum the peanuts INTO the bags. But how?

Then I remember how we could vacuum spilled mercury using a water spigot and a special “Y” tube. The water created a vacuum. When I thought about it it dawned on me I could use a similar apparatus and Bernoulli’s principle.

I placed a tube into the sewn bags and then stuck the end of my leaf blower in the tube and to one side. When I turned on the leaf blower, the bag filled with air but more important was there was a vacuum at the opening of the tube. It sucked he packing peanuts right in !

Propeller design – science and experience

The following testing was performed in July, 2012. I just realized I never archived it in my blog so this is old news …

Performance tests of Aymar Demuth vs Catto Prop

Test Platform is my 150hp slow build RV-8. It’s not the cleanest or lightest RV-8 but it’s mine.

Tests using a modified version of the methodology described by Bob Axsom. I chose an 8,000′ reference altitude.

FYI: It turns out that simply substituting 8000 for 6000 from Bob’s method actually results in a normalized test altitude of 8300 ft.

Use the following test method:

  • Set altimeter to 29.92 climb to 6,000ft
  • Check outside air temperature if it is above 3C, subtract 3 and descend 100 feet X the remainder. If it is below 3C, subtract 3 and climb 100 feet X the remainder.
  • Set the throttle wide open, Prop max (if constant speed), mixture for best speed/power ~100 ROP.
  • Fly 360, trim for hands off level flight set the autopilot for the 360 ground track if you have one otherwise fly a GPS ground track (not heading) of 360. Set the altitude hold if you have one at the altitude determined earlier that will provide 6000 ft density altitude.
  • When the speed stabilizes make a GPS ground speed recording every 20 sec. until you have five in a row that are within one knot of each other.
  • Turn to 120 and repeat
  • Turn to 240 and repeat
  • Go home, average the five consistent recorded speeds on each leg.
  • Enter the Average GPS speeds and GPS ground track angles into the three leg worksheet option (saves about 1 gallon of fuel per test and is accurate) of the NTPS spreadsheet.
  • Then do it again (I actually do both test runs on the same flight) average the two results to give you confidence in the test validity)

When I first put my clean piece of paper on my knee board I write the date and what what I am testing at the top. When I get the ATIS I record the altimeter setting and the information identifier there as well just for reference because depending on what altitude I need to fly the test at, I need to have a method to tell Approach the altitude I will be flying at in an altitude reference that they understand (since my altimeter will be set to 29.92 and not the current altimeter reading).

On my 360 leg I have a reasonably level piece of land to fly over, east of Springdale and Rogers. If the speed stabilizes before rogers it is best – it is much easier to meet the 5 consecutive 20 second interval reading consistency requirement. If not the list of recordings can get quite long before 5 consecutive 20 second interval readings are within 1 kt of each other. When I turn to 120 I will initially have a relatively consistent surface but if I don’t get my 5 early I will be flying over mountains and the readings will get less stable. When I turn to 240 there is no efficient way to avoid flying over mountains. When I complete the 240 leg I boundary line my data sheet for test one, turn to 360 and repeat the process. That is the best test method I have been able to come up with to date.

Your observation of difference based on where you are flying is correct but thermals are only part of the inconsistency problem. Changing wind velocity, updrafts and down drafts also affect the GPS ground speed which the NTPS spreadsheet calls for. You are smart enough to understand that so I will not waste any time on explanation. A way to minimize the effect is by doing your testing early in the morning or (less favored) late evening on days when the wind is calm. I have mods to complete and races to go to so I just have to go when I can and try to get good data – its is not perfect.

Because the conditions are not static, even though you fly your tests back to back they will not be exactly the same on two consecutive runs but if you control every thing else correctly they should be within 2 knots of each other. I used to just make one run for time and money economy but now I just bite the bullet and make two.

It is important to establish you airplanes density altitude baseline for testing so that the test results are relevant to one another – once you select 8000 do every single test at 8,000 ft density altitude or the results are not directly comparable.

After I enter my leg speed average numbers into the NTPS spreadsheet and I get my speed and wind numbers I print the sheet or sheets for multiple runs and I staple them to the in flight raw data collection sheet. I write on every sheet the date, what was being tested and I sign them before filing for later reference.

– Bob Axom


All tests were WOT and leaned aprox 100 ROP.

The propellers being tested are the original 2-blade Aymar Demuth 68-71 all wood propeller with epoxy pain finish and the Catto 70-72 composite wood core 2-blade with nickel leading edges.

After 6 runs with the Aymar Demuth propeller and 6 runs with the Catto propeller the average was 157.8 kts vs 161.4 kts. If I throw out the high and low from both groups, the numbers do not change much with 157.6 kts vs 161.4 kts.

The Catto was manufactured as a direct swap for the AD. This resulted in a significant gap at the backer plate as the AD propeller was much rounder than the Catto. Filling this gap may contribute to slightly better performance of the Catto but that was not part of the test.

A few interesting details …

  • Craig had not previously built a 2-blade propeller for a RV-8 with only a 150hp Lycoming. Based on conversations, he predicted a 2750 rpm at WOT and a 4kts speed increase. The WOT max RPM during all tests was 2750. Averaging across all tests, there is approximately 3.75 kts speed increase.
  • The weight is 11 lbs vs 12.5 lbs
  • Static is 2300 rpm vs 2025 rpm
  • WOT is 2725 rpm vs 2750 rpm
  • CHTs are slightly lower with the Catto – likely attributed to the more refined airfoil approaching the hub.
  • Climb is about the same.
  • Fuel burn at cruise RPM is about the same.
  • Craig estimated the 3.75 kts equate to about 12hp more going to thrust.
  • I don’t know propeller aerodynamics but I do know I’m going faster with the same engine.

While a little extra speed is nice, the primary reason for the propeller testing was the nickel leading edges. However, if you can get an Aymar Demuth propeller that matches your engine, its a very good performer for the price.

Addendum: During a regional cross country, the flight is between 9000ft and 11,000 ft DA because there was little to no wind advantage at a lower altitude. My flight was calculated at 142kts and average fuel burn over the 470nm 3.6 hr flight was exactly 7gph. (Fuel burn is around 10-11 gph for the climb and 3-5 gph for decent). Of course, when all the numbers are crunched, the performance increase equated to just 6 minutes.

When is wire not just wire ? When it’s a thermocouple

For the things I do, wire is wire. The only thing I’ve ever had to pay attention to is how much voltage and how much current. The airplane panel project made me rethink that simpleton view.

The airplane engine has lots of sensors – a real lot of sensors when you think it is still a carbureted engine and not fancy computer controlled air-fuel mixing injecting stuff. There are two pressure sensors – one for oil and one for fuel. There are nine temperature sensors – oil and then four each for cylinder heads and exhaust pipes. The oil temperature has two wires – you ground one and measure the other. If the wires are too long, just cut them shorter. If they are too short, splice on more wire.

Those eight other sensors don’t work that way. They are thermocouples. The wire itself is the sensor. What ?! The wire isn’t just wire ?!

A thermocouple consists of two dissimilar conductors in contact, which produce a voltage when heated. The size of the voltage is dependent on the difference of temperature of the junction to other parts of the circuit. Thermocouples are a widely used type of temperature sensor

I didn’t comprehend what this really meant. Two of the cylinder temperature sensors were a little short – like 6″ short. I grabbed some wire and extended them. Nope. Not so fast. When I didn’t engine tests, those two cylinders reported not data.

Turns out you must extend a thermocouple with thermocouple wire and you must use wire that is the same as the original and pay attention as to not switch one with the other.

Well, I ordered the special thermocouple wire. Special crimps. And special gooey heat shrink tubing (insures an insulated junction that is void of air and will stay that way.

All the sensors agree now.

Flight testing for performance using a GPS

For a number of reasons which will become evident over the next several weeks, I have started to do performance testing on the airplane.

My initial plan was to fly a performance test flight then make a change and then fly the performance test flight again and compare. It turns out there are just too many variables for that simple method.

Fortunately, there are non-profesional racers in the world who do this type of stuff all the time. They have been invaluable. The above image and description is based on their years of experience.

What is important to note is that the procedure strives to eliminate some variables, adjust for others, and mitigate still others.

The actual application of the procedure is a bit less precise than the description of the procedure. Here is an example:

I ran the above procedure three consecutive times in a single flight and yet the NTPS spreadsheet (National Test Pilots School) calculations yielded 157.8kts, 158.9kts and 160.1kts respectively. My hypothesis is that ground terrain was one factor I had not considered. The combination of trees, reflective poly covered tomato fields, and muddy inlets results in varrying amounts of thermal activity. The last of those three tests was performed completely over water and thereby significantly reducing the variability.

I plan to fly the test procedure over a couple more days in hopes to see the results stabilize. Once I have a trusted baseline, I can make the first change to the airplane.

It may all sound a bit boring but I'm actually finding the process to be enjoyable.

Don't expect to see me out on the race circuit as a result of this work. The airplane is an economy flier, not a speed daemon. 🙂