After completing my RV-6, I was curious as to what the absolute ceiling
would be. After speaking with Bruce Carter from the Aero Club of Canada, we also
determined that I had an opportunity to set a couple of National Records at the same time.
My aircraft has a fuel injected 180hp engine
with a constant speed propeller. I normally cruise between 7500' and 10500' during
cross-country flights. I have crossed over the Rockies at 12500' and circled Mount Robson
in British Columbia at summit altitude. These altitudes are accessible within just a few
minutes as the climb rate at gross weight is about 1800fpm. When flying solo the climb
rate is close to 2400fpm. Some weeks before Christmas 1998, a friend of mine and I
pestered Toronto Centre to let us climb to 18000'. They didn't quite know how to handle
the request but finally gave me a pseudo IFR clearance of "cleared to the Waterloo
airport climbing to and maintaining FL180". The climb was achieved easily and we were
still seeing 400fpm when we leveled off at 18,000'.
Awarded "Outstanding Workmanship" at Oshkosh 98!
With that little experiment behind me I started the process of getting permission to fly
above FL180 which is IFR only. I don't hold an IFR rating at this time. It took several
levels of Transport Canada bureaucracy until I reached the right person. Along the way I
got suggestions like "pack my woolies and head for the North". According to the
CAR's, VFR flight is allowed in Class A airspace only with special permission from the
"Minister". I finally received my waiver in the middle of January with the
comment of "good luck" from Transport Canada. I had some other requirements to
fill before I could attempt the flight. I needed some way of recording altitude, and my
first thoughts were a barograph from a soaring club. I was put in contact with Fred
Hunkeler who is a glider owner and pilot. He kindly offered to lend me his data logger
which is a digital recorder with a built in GPS receiver and a
very sensitive pressure transducer. I had to fabricate a connection to the aircraft static
system. The data logger has a small static port on the case. I had determined in the past
that my cabin pressure is about
200' higher than ambient air pressure. With the data logger plumbed and wired to the
electrical system, I was almost ready to go. One last detail was the O2 masks. I normally
use nasal canulas, which are more
comfortable than masks. However, since they are not to be used above 18,000', a mask must
be used. I had several old masks which were certified to 30,000'. I discovered the old
carbon microphone wouldn't work, so I removed it and cut a small slit in the side to slip
my headset boom mic in. It works great.
February 15, 1999 was forecast as a beautiful sunny day under the influence of a high
pressure system. Early Monday morning I made my first call to Toronto ACC to coordinate
the flight. We agreed on a northwest heading out of Waterloo. I called Flow Control for a
flow number and then filed a CVFR flight plan with London FSS. I arranged with Waterloo
ATC to mark the altimeter setting for take off and landing. The data logger is calibrated
to standard atmosphere so station pressure is required to calculate absolute altitude. The
airplane was stripped of all extra weight and 120lbs of fuel were on board, good for two
hours. As I was fitting the O2 mask in the cold cockpit I ran into a small problem. The
mask was stiff and I wasn't happy with the fit. I couldn't get it tight enough to avoid
having my sunglasses fog up from the leakage around my nose. I pulled the strap really
tight, pinched it over some hair on the back of my head and clamped it with a wedge lock.
That fix worked very well as I had crease marks on my face for six hours afterwards.
The flight started off runway 32 at Waterloo with an initial clearance of a straight climb
out to the northwest to 9000'. I paused for 15 seconds on the runway so the data logger
would start the clock
for the first part of the flight, which was a "time to climb" to 3000m. I passed
through the 3000m mark at 00:06:16. After that I backed off the propeller to 2500rpm. I
have an Insight Graphic Engine Monitor installed and was able to keep the engine leaned
just to the rich side of peak. Toronto Centre modified my clearance as I went and finally
cleared me to FL230. I had to back off on the climb rate from 12000' to 18000' due to high
oil temperatures. After 18000' the engine performance was low enough that the oil temps
stayed in the green and I increased the prop to 2700rpm. Along the way the various
controller's inquired about the airplane and questioned me as to what I was trying to
achieve. As I approached FL230 I was cleared to FL270 or what ever I could get. The climb
rate diminished to around 100fpm at 24500'. The view was fantastic! I could see Lake
Huron, Erie and Ontario with a slight movement of my head.
As I approached 26,000' the controls got quite mushy. Indicated
airspeed was down to 55kts., and pulling on the stick just increased the angle of attack.
Lowering the nose for a little bit of speed resulted in a 300-400 drop in altitude. The
engine was still turning 2700rpm but the manifold pressure was down to 9"hg. and
outside air temp was -38C (-36F). I played around for about a minute trying to nurse some
more altitude, but the wing wouldn't lift anymore. I was only 60nm away from the field, so
the descent was accomplished with a couple of 360's approved by Toronto Centre. Total
elapsed flight time was 01:02:00. Final readings from the data logger indicate an absolute
altitude reached at 26,137' and level flight was maintained at 25,900'. Between the two
cabin heaters and the solar heating I stayed warm for the entire flight. I did pick up a
layer on frost on the right side of the canopy, which wasn't in direct sunlight.
I now can complete another section in my operating handbook and record an interesting
entry in the Journey Log. So much fun, so little time.
Terry Jantzi (March, 1999)
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