Some customers claim that I have been slow to deliver. And they would be right. Some claim not only have I been slow but ridiculously and unacceptable slow. They are also right. And the ones that are not claiming that I have been slow are most certainly thinking about it.
I am sure at least a few customers think I have been a jerk. They also would be right.
As a matter of principle, I have always responded to every inquiry about delivery terms. Until just recently, when I ignored some texts as I had nothing new to report and I was a bit frustrated. Hence the jerk mode.
So Whisky Tango Foxtrot?
I believe the Merlin is an exceptional aircraft that fits the needs of many pilots, especially being $100k cheaper than 2-seat LSA aircraft. The Merlin needs to be on the market and available. And it was. But then HKS stopped production. As did Rotax with the 582 however, that engine, although perfect for the Merlin, was not so popular in the USA as it is a 2-stroke.
So, in the interest of keeping the Merlin on the market we came up with the V-Twin idear (redneck for idea). Which, in principle, is an excellent idear and someone should have done it years ago. But no one did. So, I stepped out of my comfort and skill zone and, reluctantly, got into the engine business. It should come as no surprise that I greatly underestimated the effort it would take. Yet I was still surprised.
Those following these efforts know that we have accomplished quite a bit:
- The engine is custom-built to our specs.
- Custom radiator, pressure tanks, and molded tubes.
- Custom fuel system with fuel return
- Proprietary circuit boards for avionics, engine, and fuel control.
- Custom wiring harness.
- Custom reduction drive.
- Plus, engine mount, exhaust, cowl, and propeller.
But there were issues, some bigger than others.
- We re-designed the reduction drive with an added bearing.
- We re-worked the radiator and molded hoses for a better fit.
- The cowl needed work to eliminate interference with the injectors and one cooling hose.
- The circuit boards needed revisions.
- The fuel system is a work-in-progress.
- The wiring harness had to be designed, tested, then manufactured, and tested again.
When I had an aircraft factory with 250 employees, including a room full of engineers these issues did not take so long to resolve. Now I am mostly by myself and relying on my friends and associates to help when they are not sorting their own work. Not making excuses, just observations.
With the new association with M-Squared in Alabama the build center was just about to ready to ireally get going. However, the Vtwin was not yet ready for prime time. And we didn’t know why. I could fly the Merlin but the engine starting and idling was rough. Not how it should be. We have been trying to sort this for some time. I have been doing test flights but never comfortable with the engine. Bottom line is just that. If I do not truly trust the engine then I am not shipping aircraft. Of course, the planned cash flow budget got torpedoed. But that is my problem.
To figure out what was going on as quickly as possible we built a test stand in Alabama and another in Dayton, Ohio and solicited outside ATV engine experts for support. Why would the engine run well except at low RPMs? We spent a lot of time unwinding and tracing the wiring harness and it appeared to be correct every time.
It took until this week to figure it out! It was Hall of Famer Paul Mather and his team that found the eureka moment. The fuel injectors were getting only 2.4 volts power. They are designed for 13v which we have measured and confirmed in the system and panel and avionics. But way too low at the injectors. Why?
One 4-pin plug was wired in reverse! Simple fix. Engine runs great.
It just took forever to find this. And we are still not sure if the wiring diagram is wrong or the plugs were wiring incorrectly, or just upside down. Does not matter who gets thrown under the bus, it matters that we found and fixed it.
Now we are running the test engine for a few hours for control. We acquired a pin remover tool and will correct all our harnesses. Then we will install and test on two Merlins, one in Dayton and the other in our M-Squared build center. Then more ground testing, then flight testing with 2 Merlins.
And then we are back in the build business. Deliveries to follow. I choose to live with the stress of late deliveries as it is infinitely better than living with delivering a product that hurt or killed someone. I trust you understand.
I am writing this blog now on a long flight from Florida to Barcelona. While Paul continues the Vtwin work I will work side-by-side with Francesco to build the new TrueLite version. I will fly his original prototype then help manufacture the new wing which I commissioned to fit Part 103. A bit longer, wing tips, and flaps included.
I have stuck my nose into Francesco’s design and made a few requests. The wing is longer, has nice wing tips, and electric flaps. This will add a few kg but still under the Part 103 limits and now will mee the Part 103 stall speed. And, IMHO, look nicer and fly better.
So now I have parked my butt in Francesco’s workshop in some little village in Spain for the next week or so. We will build, install, and fly the new wing. Time to get my hands dirty.
Here was my Thanksgiving turkey dinner as I was flying yesterday over the pond:
Clearly, they don’t celebrate Thanksgiving in Europe, except maybe the Brits who were glad to get rid of the pilgrim traitors. Someday ask me about John Alden.
A T-storm over Charolotte forced a ground stop which meant I missed my flight to London. I was lucky to get a later flight out of New York so my travel which still has not ended is Flight Tampa-Charlotte-New York-London, Barcelona then bus to the train to Girona and Francesco’s van to some small village where he chose to set up shop for unknown reasons.
No clue where my luggage went.
I brought my Garmin Virb to capture more video for you viewing pleasure.
The next stop after Spain will be the Czech Republic. The priority is collecting the missing parts builders have been waiting forever for. I will not leave CZ until I have them!
Second priority is inspecting and controlling the next two containers about ready to ship. The timing is not too bad as Paul now can finish the Merlins he has in the build program and make room for the next batch. Plus, one container with 2 Merlins and a Merlin II is about ready to ship to New Zealand.
After that work will be a hard discussion with TPA for the Merlin Lite production. This aircraft is truly exceptional and will be a big market success IMHO. The long wing is a pretty good motor-glider and provides a means for pilots who have ben denied a medical to get back in the air. And the short wing Merlin Lite is a super Part 103 ultralight. We already have lots of orders. The plan is to increase production very significantly by creating an assembly line in Alabama. We just need to get the parts.
Then I need to get the electric power system sorted. An electric-powered long-wing Merlin Lite (The Electrolite) might be a game-changing aircraft. TPA has some expertise in this technology.
The goal is to get all this work finished before the Christmas break. BTW, this was not an easy blog to write. But that is also my problem.