Tri-Q-200 N200LM - The First 150 Hours

Scott "Doc" Horowitz, EAA Chapter 1000 Det 1 (NASA Houston JSC)

Originally published February 1994

Well, here I am at Norm's computer in sunny (NOT!) California on another Tri Q-200 adventure. On 10 March 1992, I was honored to go down in EAA Chapter 1000 history as the first to fly a homebuilt completed in this great chapter. I would like to tell you a little about the Love/Hate relation I have with N200LM (sometimes I love to hate it) and reflect on the first 150 hours we've had together (not including maintenance hours of course).

For those of you not familiar with N200LM let me describe her to you. N200LM started life as a Q-200 which became a Q-200RG (believe it or not!) and ended up as a Tri Q-200. With all these changes it took 2500 hours to build and about 350 hours to rebuild after flight 0 (but that's another story). Power is provided by a Continental O-200 which has been modified by Dick Demars to use C-85 pistons boosting the power to about 115HP. The engine was ported and balanced and runs verrry smooooth. She cruises at 150 mph indicated at 50% power and full out on the deck can do 200 mph with the engine turning 3100RPM. Equipment includes: standard altitude, airspeed, attitude, heading "T" with an Escort II (Nav/Com), Terra Transponder, Apollo 612C Loran, King KX99, and most importantly, a Sony Discman.

I have learned a lot from N200LM and I'd like to share with you some of my experiences. Every flight seems to reveal something new about aeronautics or aviating to me. Shortly after the first flight I found out that I would be PCS'ing to Houston, Texas and thus had only a few months to fly off my forty hours and prepare for the long haul eastward. Flight 1 went very well and was uneventful. The profile included: Takeoff, full power climb to 5,000 AGL, gentle turns, approach to stall, straight-in low approach, and straight-in full stop. The flight lasted 16 minutes and I remained within gliding distance of the field at all times (I love my airplane). The engine ran a little hot for my liking (oil temp 220 degrees) so the cowling exhaust was opened a little for the next flight. Flight 2 was again uneventful with a gradual opening of the flight envelope but flight 3 was a little more exciting. At 175 mph indicated there was a large "snap" sound and the aircraft did a -2G pitchover (I hate my airplane). After I reduced power and leveled off, I radioed [Ray] Narco [Narleski] that I had seen enough today, and I would be performing a controllability check and flying a straight-in full stop. Landing was uneventful and Narco asked me if the aircraft had pitched down. I was curious as to how he knew, and he replied: "When airplanes pitch up unexpectedly it doesn't scare the pilot nearly as much as when they pitch down unexpectedly". Narco is wise beyond his years, I thought. Well, the culprit was an elevator sparrow strainer [feel device on the Tri-Q-200 trailing edge] that had departed the aircraft. I also found that the design of the elevators had all of the shear loads being reacted through the foam between the fiberglass skin and aluminum torque tube! The elevators were overhauled and flight test continued. The rest of flight test was uneventful (I love my airplane) and at times even boring (5 hours of flying like a U-control model on a 25 nm string can be pretty monotonous).

With all restrictions flown off it was time to fly from the cozy nest of Fox Airfield. So I convinced my wife Lisa that it would be a lot of fun to fly off to Vegas for the weekend in our great little airplane. Lisa is very brave, I thought (after all she married me) and so I wanted to make this a very enjoyable flight for her. The weather was clear and fairly calm and we were off on our first adventure in N200LM (I love my airplane, and Lisa). We arrived in at North Las Vegas airport and I was setup for a beautiful greased-on-landing when suddenly there was a loud bang and the aircraft slammed onto the runway and bounced back into the air (do not try to save this in a Q-200, GO AROUND!) So I went around and found out from tower that I had left my right main wheel pant on the runway but it looked like I still had three wheels. Where did that six inch lip at the beginning of the runway come from?? I did have a blown right tire (with a bent rim) and landed 2,000 feet down the runway slightly off to the left of centerline to offset the added drag on the right. The landing was rather noisy after touchdown but there was adequate brake to stay on the runway (I hate my airplane). A call to Norm put the EAA emergency runwayside service network into action and within a few hours Norm and Jack Hakes showed up in Jack's RV-6 with a spare wheel and tire. Local EAAers at North Las Vegas helped me patch things back together and soon N200LM was signed off for one time ferry flight back to Fox for repairs (EAA, what a super bunch of folks!). Lisa had just a few misgivings about all of this and rented a car and drove home (I couldn't blame her). The flight home was uneventful and repairs were quickly accomplished. There was just enough time to get everything done and prepare for the flight to Houston.

Lisa dropped me off at Fox Field for the last time and, with Chester (the cat) crying in the car, watched me zoom off to the East hoping to see me at our first stop in Phoenix. The trip was uneventful for me (I didn't have to listen to the cat), and Lisa was relieved to see me and N200LM in one piece at Deer Valley Airport in Phoenix. The rest of the flight, DVT-ELP-FST-T20 (Clover Field, Texas) went very well, with a code one aircraft [no maintenance faults...a rare state of affairs when one flies McAir products such as the F-4 and F-15] at the destination (I love my airplane). Several months went by and I flew N200LM mostly locally and life was good. Then came hurricane Andrew heading straight for Houston. I told Lisa we needed to get out of town and get N200LM out of the tin hangar at Clover, so reluctantly she climbed in and off we went to San Antonio. During climbout at 400 feet AGL the engine began to wind down, I leveled off, mixture full rich, open carb heat, reduce throttle setting, and the engine roared back to life (I hate my airplane). I suspected carb icing and she purred like a kitten all the way to San Antonio. After Andrew turned North and missed Houston we were off to Houston again me in N200LM and Lisa in my friend's Grumman Tiger!

I tried for weeks to duplicate the loss of power with no success, so I wrote it off as carburetor icing. After several months Lisa regained her confidence (me too) in N200LM and we actually went on several enjoyable weekend trips together. At the first annual I noted two cylinders with low compression (72/80) and so I sent the engine off to Dick Demars to have a look see (I hate my airplane) . The rings had somehow become unseated which was attributed to the use of semi-synthetic oil in the cermachrome cylinders (who would have guessed?!) I finished my annual and N200LM was purring like a kitten (I love my airplane). I broke in the new rings and then flew from Houston to Fort Stockton, CO to see Dick Demars and have him bless my airplane. N200LM flew flawlessly and Dick inspected the engine and found everything to be reasonable with only a slightly degraded compression check (79/80, 80/80, 80/80, 79/80). N200LM was flying so well I continued on to Provo, Utah that night and enjoyed a spectacular flight over the Rocky Mountains. I then flew around the West Coast and returned to Houston with a code one aircraft (I love my airplane). It was on this trip that I realized what a great single seat cross-country airplane I had. Lisa and I enjoyed several more trips around the Houston area including a weekend in New Orleans for our 10th anniversary. Work got busy and flying N200LM became a once every other week affair. My goal was to fly about 100hrs a year so I decided to take N200LM on my next TDY.

I was scheduled to go to NASA-Ames at Moffett Field (San Jose, CA) for six weeks and couldn't bear the thought of leaving N200LM behind so long so I decided to take her with me (I love my airplane). I set off from Houston and flew to El Paso, stopping at NASA Ops in El Paso to spend the night. On the way I lost my tachometer (bad 90 degree drive and cable), and my main radio receiver (thank goodness for my KX-99!). Next day, I blasted off (almost) from El Paso and at 60 kts the engine quit running! I told tower I had an engine failure and proceeded to push it off the runway so a Southwest 737 could land (I hate my airplane). Fuel was pouring out the tank vent and the gascolator was bone dry! What the hey!?! My fuel system is a perfect siphon if the header tank is completely full! So this was the problem I couldn't duplicate. I won't go into all the technical stuff now but even though I was pissed at my airplane I was relieved to finally determine the problem. I burned some fuel out of the header and after regrouping was off to California!

I arrived in the Antelope Valley and wound up desperately picking my way through broken cloud decks. I knew that if I could only find the world famous "Flying Snake Ranch" I could transform the airplane I hated back into the airplane I loved. There it is, the "Flying Snake Ranch", but look at that teeny-tiny runway and I have an 80 mph touchdown speed! But sometimes N200LM surprises even me, and we land and are slowed by mid-field. Bob greets us at the hangar and we push N200LM into homebuilder's heaven. With Bob's help we soon have the engine off (required to perform such major maintenance as cleaning the oil screen, timing mags, and replacing tach cables) and the tach cable removed. A quick trip to Pep Boys Aviation Supply Center and other local airplane parts places and we begin to transform N200LM into the airplane I love. New Tach Cable, rebuild 90 degree tach drive (oh, they put the washers in wrong), new header tank fuel vent, repair broken wire to radio, reweld exhaust system crankcase breather fitting (when did that break?!), new cowling washers.....VOILA!!! The airplane I love. Brave Norm agrees to come along for the Functional Check Flight so off to California City we go. Norm checks out all of the "interesting" flight characteristics of the Tri Q-200 and we land at Cal City and fill-er-up. We head back to Rosamond and obtain another data point: full gross weight landing on a teeny-tiny runway. Over the fence at 95mph and smooth touchdown with the classic Tri Q smooth (NOT!) derotation. Stopped before the restaurant (I love my airplane).

So here I am waiting for the weather to clear, enjoying Bob and Norm's hospitality reminiscing about the time I've had with N200LM. The Q-200 and all derivatives are definitely a point design: go fast on a little gas. N200LM does this very well, but at the expense of a few other "minor" airplane luxuries. Handling qualities in most regimes is Level II at best and Level III in some regimes like the unimportant takeoff and landing. Creature comforts are OK for a single place, but not for two. Systems reliability and maintainability are very lacking even though I went through great pains to improve these areas during construction of N200LM. I've learned a lot, and can't wait to incorporate all this learning into my next airplane (I wonder if I can learn to love to hate another?)

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Revised -- 2 March 1997