I’m a published writer!

Not published on the blog, that’s not exactly an accomplishment since I pay for the hosting, am my own editor, and write all the content. No I was published on Air Facts Journal, which has been in publication since 1938!

Now in all honesty they produce their content these days by having folks like me submit content to go along with their mainstay writers. But a story from my flying days past made the cut and I’m internet famous!

Well, sorta.

Here is my article.

The Second Week

The second week was different right from the start. The first thing Mr. Rob had us doing was covering, which is a simple process. First, apply many coats of glue to wherever the fabric is going to touch on your piece, second, lay your piece on a large rectangle of fabric then trace and cut. The last step, ironing is both the worst step and the best step. Let me explain, when you iron this special fabric, it shrinks. Now, believe me, I love it when a plan comes  together. Shrinking the top and bottom of the elevator/aileron/tail feather/wing is immensely rewarding and one of the funniest things to do while building an airplane. However, shrinking the sides of the fabric, the part touching the tube and glue, might be the worst step of building the airplane. you have to fix all the mistakes you made while applying the fabric. All in all, covering is an enjoyable rung in the ladder that makes up building an airplane. As long as you have a nice breeze to let out the noxious fumes the glue pervades.

After covering a few plane parts, me and Mr. Rob built the flaps and the ailerons. This was very enjoyable because I was able to listen to Mr. Rob, who had done everything under the sun and stares, singing along to James Taylor’s songs. Like I stated in my previous post, Mr. Rob was a great host and always kept us entertained.  But I digress, the flaps, which are eight feet long, have two hundred ninety four rivets each. The only crummy part about the flaps and ailerons was deburring . The process is as follows, put the pieces together( a little less than twenty pieces for the flaps and around fifteen for the ailerons). Cleco half of the predrilled holes with small clecos. Then, drill the other half of the holes. Afterwards, put the big clecos in the holes you just drilled. Next, unclico the small clicos and drill their holes. Then, take everything apart and debur all two hundred ninety four rivet holes. You can then put every thing back together for the last time, yay, because, the next step is to put a few clecos in and rivet the flap pieces into one piece. For those of you who don’t know, a cleco is a small cylinderesk tool that is used as a non permanent way to put soothing in a hole to keep two or more pieces together. To say the least, my clecoing and unclecoing speed drastically improved from the first day to the last. Even though I was faster than before, Mr. Rob, who was building his sixth Just SuperSTOL, smoked me every time there was a contest.

 

Week 2, the last day of the build!

At least the last day in Grantsboro. There are plenty more work days to come.

Trailer with airplane parts wrapped and waiting to be loaded
Moving day begins

Friday was moving day for me. I got up and started immediately on packing and wrapping parts for the ride home. My intention all along was to take everything home with me today but pretty much everybody who came by implored me to either:

  1. Leave the plane in Grantsboro and work on it there.
  2. Leave the wings in Grantsboro and come back and work on them there
  3. Leave the wings in Grantsboro and make a return trip to get just them.

I wasn’t going to do option 1. Two and 1/2 hours back forth each time would mean that I’d never get to work on the plane. I don’t have blocks of time that big. I get a few hours here, a couple there.

Option 2 was the same issue.

Option 3 was an option, but only if I couldn’t safely get everything in the trailer. According to my tape measure, everything would fit. Unfortunately we wouldn’t know till it was time to leave and everything was getting packed.

While I was bubble wrapping, taping, going out and buying more tape, and doing more wrapping, Robby and Spork were knocking out the ailerons. The thought was that I wouldn’t need to buy a rivet gun if they could get them built before I left using Robby’s awesome air rivet gun. 

Covering an aileron
Covering an aileron

We also needed to cover an aileron because they are just like the wing and we were not going to be covering the wings before I left. This made for a mini project I could use for reference. 

Unlike the tail feathers, the ailerons and the wings use special rivets to hold the fabric in place. Part of getting the fabric ready is to take a butane powered soldering iron and burn the holes for the rivets. Then you apply the anti-chafe tape, burn a hold in it to match the existing holes, then you install the rivets, then apply fabric tape over that. This aileron was done quickly by Spork and Robby  while I was packing the airplane away so I didn’t get as much hands on as I would have liked. Fortunately Spork was all over this one and he absorbed the process fairly well.

As we were working in the hanger, we heard a plane approaching. It was Jenny on her way to work in Manteo. Instead of the horrible turbulence and headwinds she had the evening before, she had severe clear and a smooth ride on the way back.

Our EAA technical advisor at one of his day jobs, running a restaurant near the waterfront.
Our EAA technical advisor at one of his day jobs, running a restaurant near the waterfront.

We had two visits from our technical advisor while we were in Granstboro. One when we first started, and one on our last day. Since he also owns a restaurant that was only minutes away, we had our lunch on Friday at his place. We received the full behind the scenes tour, including the ribs that were in the smoker for dinner that night. I was ready to get home, but I wish I’d stayed to have some of his ribs.

With lunch over and the ailerons done, it was time to get serious about moving out. We hauled the wings out into the trailer and fortunately they did indeed fit. With the wings and fuselage loaded, it was time to start fitting all the bits and bobs in the trailer. This was the scary part as nothing could contact anything else. Parts are very delicate and one minor ding could mean days of work.

Airplane inside a 24' stock trailer
Everything loaded and packed for the trip

We had a mile of rope, straps, ratchets, and bungie cords securing everything in place. It couldn’t be tied too tightly because that would damage the part. It couldn’t be loose or things would wobble around and rub on each other or the trailer. The answer was a web of straps and lines securing in all directions for each part, plus a couple of miles of packing tape.

Getting everything done required Spork and I both, with me inside snaking my way up, over, under and around trying to route all the lines. A huge thank you to Miguel who cleaned this cattle trailer out extra well. Otherwise I’d have been crawling through poop.

Spork tying off the last of the straps
Spork tying off the last of the straps
Robby's shopping list for me
Robby’s shopping list for me

Robby came up with a tool list for me of things that I needed to order when I got home. It was surprisingly short. Unfortunately some items are not listed on Aircraft Spruce’s website. Dog bone?

Robby's paint booth
Robby’s paint booth

We’ll need to build our own paint booth at some point in this build. Painting is apparently about 30% of the build, not counting building the paint booth. Who knew paint was so involved?

Inside of the paint booth
Inside of the paint booth

When we stopped working about 4pm, I asked Robby where we were in the build. I’d been told it took 1000 hours to build this airplane. We’d now spent about 100 hours on the plane, which is 10%. But it was actually 100 hours x 3 so we’d be 30% done. Robby said that the wings, which I’d ordered pre-built, along with the work that we’d done, accounted for about 60% of the total build. I was very pleased to hear we’d gotten that much done over our two weeks. There isn’t a lot of mechanical work left to do on the airplane. There aren’t that many parts left in raw form. We will be moving onto covering not too long after Sun N Fun 2018. And Spork and I have the summer carved out to work on the plane as much as possible. There is a 5 month lead time on the engine, so I’ll be looking at engines at Sun N Fun as well. Then we need to start installing avionics, painting, etc. Once those things start happening, we have an airplane! But first, we had to get home.

After starting full time on packing at 4pm, we were finally loaded (I’d already been loading off and on during the day) at 7:15pm. Spork and I took off just before dark and headed West to Garner. I was pretty concerned that I would have an issue on the way home and stopped a couple of times to check on things,  but when I arrived I only had one piece that had moved and the packing material had kept it from getting any damage. We were home safe. Success!!

We parked at the front door and called it a night. N41RW was home. Tomorrow we’d put it in the barn.

Week 2, day 4

Day four saw us start with a renewed vigor. There was no longer time to start new projects. And some of the items we’d started were not going to be able to be finished in the time we had left.

Engine stand, ready to hold our airplane
Engine stand, ready to hold our airplane

The first thing I wanted to do was to get the airplane onto my stands. It was really easy to do and nothing went wrong, but I was concerned that we might try to mount them last minute only to find something was amiss and there was no time to fix it before we left. That would be a serious problem since the plane had to ride home on these stands. As I said, it ended up being no problem and everything fit up perfectly.

Baggage door custom made
Baggage door custom made

It is hard to see in this pic, so I’ve drawn in some arrows. Normally this side of the airplane is enclosed in fabric and inaccessible. However Robby had been putting baggage doors in because it saved you from having to crawl over the seats to access the rear baggage area. Despite the planes small size, the baggage area is pretty generous. Reaching the back of it from the cockpit would be a challenge. With this baggage door, it is simply.

This door however is the first piece of custom work I was doing to the plane. Luckily Robby had a mockup of a door he’d done previously so between his mockup and my existing frame, I was able to make up a frame fairly easily. Well, after I designed it wrong and Robby stopped me so I did it correctly.

The door frame was made by welding up 90 degree unions from 4130 steel from our door kit. I’d done those over the weekend. Then I cut aluminum tubing into sections and mocked it up. Once it looked like a good fit, I mixed up some Hysol and went to work.

Hysol mixed and ready to use
Hysol mixed and ready to use

I was unfamiliar with Hysol prior to starting this build. I’d used plenty of 5 minute epoxy, JB weld, and Acraglas before. Mainly Acraglas because I use it when I’m gunsmithing. Hysol is another epoxy and it looks and works similar to JB Weld, but is has the work time of Acraglas. And it is an interesting work time too. At first it is a thick paste, pretty gooey. But as it starts to set over the first 30 minutes, it becomes more like clay or fondant. Once that starts happening, you can wet your fingers with alcohol and start working it with your hands, shaping it and smoothing it. Once you get a feel for it, it makes for pretty easy and good looking work.

The door is Hysoled in place, aligning with the existing frame.

Door with Hysol holding it in place
Door with Hysol holding it in place

Here you can see the inside view. The gray goopy stuff is the Hysol holding the door frame in place. Once it sets up, it is like concrete.

Once we finished up for the day, Spork and I once again headed out for dinner. But this time Jenny and Robby were meeting us at their favorite place in New Bern, Persimmons Waterfront Restaurant. Spork and I got there early as Jenny was flying back from Manteo and Robby was driving to New Bern to pick her up at the airport.

There was some concern because Jenny was bucking major headwinds and turbulence that was “the worst she’d ever seen.” Considering she is an aerobatic instructor pilot, when she said she was scared my heart rate went right up. Fortunately she made it safely and we worked to have a drink waiting on her.

Science and chemistry, at the bar
Science and chemistry, at the bar

No not this one. Spork and I sat at the bar where we ran into a waiter from 247 Craven we’d met he night before. Now I really was starting to feel like a local. There was a very nice young bartender behind the bar and again nobody in the place. The bartender was using her time to concoct new drinks. What you see above is version 3.2 of a poison apple. I don’t remember what was in it and I didn’t try it (it has caramel on the rim, no sugar for me). But Spork and I had a large time being part of the creative process. We talked to the other staff, compared notes and flavor profiles, talked about what this drink we pair well with, and worked on specific gravities of the different ingredients trying to get the correct look.

There was a lot of science ongoing at the bar, and Spork and I were able to bring a lot of school topics into the discussion. All while not actually drinking a drop.

Jenny and Robby eventually arrived and we had a stellar meal and a great time with Jenny and Robby at Persimmons. It may be my new favorite place and definitely somewhere I’ll take SWMBO if she comes down with me.

Week 2, day 3

Day three was a busy day. Spork and Robby worked hard to get the flaps finished while I worked on seat belts, the lockable tail wheel and its cable, and finishing the dorsal stringer.

Robby and Spork working on the flaps
Robby and Spork working on the flaps

They had to redo one of the flaps because a part was installed upside down. This meant they actually built three flaps instead of just two. When Spork and I took our EAA workshop to try all four build methods, wood, fabric, composite, and metal, his least favorite method of construction was metal. Oops. I kept reminding him that at least here he was only building a couple of flaps vs the entire airplane.

Needless to say, he was glad the flaps were finished.

I asked him later if he still didn’t like metal building as much. His answer was interesting. When we were in Oshkosh at the workshop, he really didn’t like the cleco pliers. They were hard to manipulate in his smaller hands and that was the main driver of him not liking metal work. He didn’t share that detail before, so all I knew was he didn’t like metal.

But he’s literally grown a foot since Oshkosh. He has a man’s hands now, and the grip strength to go along with it. After working on the flaps, he said that he didn’t love metal, but it was surprisingly easy for him now. So note to self, if you kid or wife isn’t in love with helping on the airplane, it could simply be that the pliers are too big for him/her.

Putting the tail wheel in palce
Putting the tail wheel in place

One of the things I changed on my build was I substituted the standard tail wheel for this beefy one that was lockable. The machining on it was a thing a beauty and now I can lock the tail wheel for cross wind landings. According to Robby, I’ll use it a couple of time and then never use it again. He’s probably right (he usually is) but as a low time tail wheel pilot I just felt better knowing I could lock the tail wheel. It should help with cross wind parking and taxing too and it didn’t add much weight. Plus it looks sexy, so there is that.

Tail wheel lock, the underside view in the cockput
Tail wheel lock, the underside view in the cockpit

After getting the tail wheel mocked up, I mounted the lock handle in the cockpit. This took more time than it should because the factory sent me the tail wheel kit for the SuperSTOL XL, not my regular SuperSTOL. This meant I has several extra feet of cable. That would mean I could move the handle pretty much anywhere I wanted to, necessitating a lot of fit up, discussion, pondering, etc. After all that, I ended up putting it exactly where the factory said to anyway.

Tail wheel lock handle installed in Just SuperSTOL
Tail wheel lock handle

The black writing on below the red tail wheel handle is a mockup of where the fuel shutoff will be.

John Stanley giving Spork his wings from his flight suit.
John Stanley giving Spork his wings from his flight suit.

We were Robby’s seventh Just Aircraft build. However his first build was performed with the help of an aviation legend, John Stanley. John was kind enough to come by several times while we were in Grantsboro and even went to lunch with us and bought us pizza one day. He was a humble and generous soul and a prince of a man.

John soloed his first airplane in September of 1966 and graduated the Air Force flight academy in May of 67. He served in Vietnam, and then later left the military to become a contractor. He flew with Aero Services based out of JNX, who was my neighbor at JNX for 20 years. John spent a considerable amount of time overseas flying on missions he still cannot talk about. He flew these dangerous and secret missions until he was 72 years old! He then decided to retire and while a bit lost from all the sudden free time, he decided to help a young guy build a kit plane. That was Robby and his first airplane build.

On this day, John stopped by and asked me if he could give Spork something. He pulled out his wings from his military flight suit. I was shocked and honored. John wanted to pass his wings along to another aviator, which Spork intends to be. I assured John that when Spork earned his private pilot certificate, that I’d pin the wings on myself. What an honor!

Trying to get something done with Banner chewing my ears
Trying to get something done with Banner chewing my ears

We gave our thanks to John and said goodbye, then it was back to work. I needed to cut and remake the cable for the tail wheel, which basically involved taking the entire cable apart, measuring it, marking it, measuring it again, and then cutting it hopefully not too short! I managed to get it together with barely enough length. With that, the tail wheel was installed! At least for now.

Spork entertaining Banner
Spork entertaining Banner

I needed Banner occupied while I was on my back. And Spork needed a break. Both puppy and boy were glad to play with each other for a while so it was a win-win.

Seat belt attach points installed
Seat belt attach points installed

With the tail wheel done, I moved onto the seat belt attach points. There are cables that are made up from provided hardware and wrapped around a cross member in the cockpit. Robby offered that I could do a single attach point and basically just use the cross member itself but I thought I’d go with the factory recommendation since seat belts are about safety and all.

All four seat belt attach points installed
All four seat belt attach points installed

It took a while to make up all the cables, assemble the hardware, etc. It also took a bit of trimming of the floor pan, removing the seats, etc. Between the seat belts and the tailwheel, I pretty much used up my day.

Tie wraps recommended by Robby
Tie wraps recommended by Robby

When running the cable for the tail wheel, Robby showed me a trick using tie wraps to make standoffs for the cable. It was simple, efficient, light, and cheap. It was also safe because it keeps the cable from rubbing and maybe wearing through.

These tie wraps come from Lowes and have steel reinforcement making them very strong and safe.

Robby's home made hanger door
Robby’s home made hanger door

At some point I need to build a hanger door for when we finish the airplane. I wasn’t sure if I liked Robby’s design or not. I mean, I like it. I’m not sure if it’s what I want for my door though. I think I may build a bifold door instead. Regardless, I needed pics of the design.

Rollers in C channel at bottom of door
Rollers in C channel at bottom of door
How to build an airplane, the FAA version
How to build an airplane, the FAA version

Robby recommended this book to me. It is a condensed version of the FAA’s rules on how to do pretty much everything to an airplane. How much overlap does the leading edge of a fabric panel need to have? There is a rule for that and a requirement. Safety wire required? Find out here. How to cut a hole in the panel? Yep, all the things you need to know, and the proper and improper way to do it are contained. I have a copy on order.

Banner asleep on his back

We called it a day, cleaned up, and Spork and I headed out to dinner.

I made a point to take Spork out to dinner each night that I could. We used to travel to New Bern quite a bit because my buddy had a boat there. Spork and I have  few favorite hangouts we wanted to hit again and we were making our rounds hitting them all over the course of our two weeks in town.

On night three or four out on the town our bartender said hello to us, again. Turns out she’d worked at the previous night’s stop, MJ’s Raw Bar. This night she was at 247 Craven, another one of our favorite places. At this point, I was starting to feel like a local. We were half way through week two and now we were starting to know people and be a tiny part of the community.

Spork, Kristen, and Dillon at 247 Craven
Spork, Kristen, and Dillon at 247 Craven

This night at 247 Craven was uncharacteristically slow so we had a good opportunity to talk to both Kristen our new favorite bar tender, and Dillon pictured above.

Kristen, besides being a fantastic bartender, it turns out is related to a famous aviator. Dillon was on standby for OCS school with the Navy. He was waiting on a pilots slot and was waiting tables to make ends meet. Dillon also cannot swim, something that I was incredulous about since he was talking about joining the Navy!

So between Kristen and Dillon, we had lots of aviation talk and some awesome food. Spending time with these fine folks was an perfect cap to our great day.

Week 2, day 2

 

Snow on the bridge in front of the cabin
Snow? In March!?

Day 3 dawned cold and snowy. I traded snow pics back and forth with The Princess at home. She was highly disappointed there was no snow for sledding. I was glad we had sleeping bags, and LP heat in the cabin.

Spork and Robby working on the flaps
Spork and Robby working on the flaps

Day three was flap day. There was a big effort to put the flaps together and get all that riveting done. This was done by Robby and Spork, with me only taking pictures. In fact, looking back now I’m not sure what I did on day three. Thank goodness I took notes!

Day three saw me installing the tail wheel and it’s locking cable. I’d originally ordered the non-locking standard tail wheel but when I was at the factory I saw the upgraded tailwheel and decided I had to have one. It is a beefy, shiny, awesome looking tailwheel and it was totally worth the upgrade price. Unfortunately the cable they sent was for the SuperSTOL XL instead of the regular SuperSTOL. Oh well, I guess I can add cable splicing to my list of things I know how to do.

Spork with a small cut on his thumb
Airplane injury, with blood and everything

Not to be outdone with my sailing injury I brought home from the Bahamas, Spork managed to cut himself while working on the flaps. I gave him all the sympathy you’d expect out of a bunch of guys, which is less than none. There was some mockery or his life threatening injury, of which he was the instigator. Then work resumed.

Apparently I also worked on the stingers more on day three. Specifically the one that is on the bottom of the airplane. The ventral stringer, maybe? This one was a piece of cake. It only attached at the front end. The back end was basically free and terminated behind the baggage compartment. No crazy shaping. No need to match top to bottom. All I needed to do was to do exactly what I’d done on the other stringers, drilling, shaping, etc. But in addition I had to put a small bend at the free end of the stringer. Easy.

Banner asleep on his back
The sleep of the guilty but clueless. Ahh puppies.
Banner asleep on his back
The only time he stopped moving

“So Robby, how do you bend this tube?”

“I just bent it on the bench by hand.”

Sounds easy enough. I’d rather use a vise so I can put the bend just where it needs to be and have some control but Robby did it, I can too. That should have been a clue I was doomed.

I got everything ready, holes drilled, spacing correct, etc. Even as easy as it was, we are talking about several hours of work at this point. Then I took the stringer over to the bench and carefully put a bend in it, at exactly the wrong angle!! I didn’t realize it had rolled on me slightly while I was holding it. Of course, in the vise I wouldn’t have done that but I was trying to be one of the cool kids and do it by hand.

Maybe I can bend it back and get the angle correct? After a bit of futzing around, I broke the piece. Argh!!

Robby calmed me down and showed me how to splice the pieces back together. That involved making a splice from some scrap tube, then using Hysol and rivets to put the pieces together, which meant leaving the whole thing to dry overnight.

With the flaps basically done (except Robby’s was upside down. Oops! Score one for Spork), and my spliced stringer glued up and drying, it was time to call it a night.

Week 2, day 1 and day 2

We thought we’d leave Sunday afternoon to return to Grantsboro, but in the end, with all that we had to do before we could leave, we ended up leaving early Monday morning. Driving straight through, we arrived just before 8am, and within 20 seconds of Robby. Pretty good timing.

I didn’t mention that the previous week we had a bit of excitement. I had to run to the hardware store to grab some supplies. When I went to leave, I met a volunteer fireman who had the road blocked. He told me that I had to turn around and go the other way. Complying, I turned around and headed back down the two lane road, past the hanger, and then into another road block. I asked if I left, would I be allowed to come back through the road block to get back home. There was much confusion over this question, but eventually, after much debate I received the official verdict.

“Um, maybe.”

I went to the hardware store but told Robby via text that I may not make it back. Driving through the back country to circle around, I found every road blocked and volunteer fireman and even younger kids blocking roads. Whatever it was, they were serious. Eventually I made my way back in through the road block and work resumed.

We really didn’t know what happened till the next day when a neighbor stopped by and told us there had been a murder. This was maybe 1/4 mile from where the hanger was. When we had lunch this week, I saw this in the local paper.

Murder, just down the street from our build
Murder, just down the street from our build

Apparently she’d had enough of the old guy. Word was she was a bit different anyway, but who knows. It is not like we haven’t dealt with dead bodies before. Anyway, mystery solved, we went to work.

Elevator push rod, slightly bent
Elevator push rod, slightly bent

One of my first tasks was to bend the elevator push rod. That is the black rod you see in the above picture. It is what controls the up and down  of the airplane, as in pull back = houses get smaller. Push forward = houses get bigger. It is a major control. Bending a control rod may seem like a bad idea, but all we are doing is introducing a few degrees of custom bend into the push rod so it doesn’t rub and runs true. It is actually difficult to see the bend in the pictures.

Another bend in the push rod
Another bend in the push rod

If these bends aren’t put in there, the push rod still works just fine. The problem is it rubs ever so slightly on the baggage floor. No sense rubbing the paint off or introducing extra friction into what you hope is a smooth control surface run.

With the controls running free, and some clean up of tools, rivets, trash, etc completed, it was time to start learning how to cover.

Spork taking the fabric out of the box from the factory
Step one, break out the fabric

All the fabric for the entire airplane comes in one roll. It really isn’t that heavy, but once all the glue is applied, then the primer, paint, another coat of paint, decals, etc, this ends up being a significant portion of the overall weight of the airplane. It is also a large part of the structure, very similar to how the skin is our largest and most important organ. The fabric is very important to the airplane.

Beginning the process of covering the rudder
Beginning the process of covering the rudder

The glue that is used is pretty amazing. You mix it with acetone to thin it to the desired consistency. Then you brush it on in relatively thin coats. Above you see a grey part and on the tube closest to the camera you see it barely tinted green. This is after a couple of coats.

Covering the tail feathers
Further along in the process

Now you see the glue applied at a correct consistency. It is technical, tedious, and demanding. It is also color coded and basically arts and crafts. Glue till it is green enough, then move on. And the materials, while important, are not individually that expensive. If you mess up, get some more and do it again.

But as I was saying, the glue. You paint on a bit of this glue and work around the part in a circle. When you get back to where you started, the glue has already dried so you can keep right on going. Once it is thick enough, you trim some fabric material as you see here. This part is exacting not because you’ll crash if it is wrong, but because you want it to look good. Straight lines, clean cuts, etc. You put a bit of glue on the fabric, then start folding it over the glued up parts. Now remember, the glue has already dried, it actually dries in seconds. So how does it stick?

When you fold over the fabric, you apply a bit more thinned glue that soaks through the fabric. This is where the magic happens. The glue is thinned so much it is basically just acetone. Acetone reactivates the glue, through the fabric. It immediately becomes sticky again and then you adhere the fabric to the now sticky glue. Give it 15 seconds, and it is dry again. Don’t like it? Peel it off, reapply and do it again.

What is your work time for this glue? How long will the glue reactivate with acetone? Robby was at the stage in the picture above one time, stopped working on the plane and went to Alaska for the summer, came home, and went straight back to work. The glue sat patiently waiting and only needed a bit of acetone to reactivate.

The best part of covering!
The best part of covering!

So you use the cool glue to basically wrap your part like a Christmas present. Trim the corners, make the folds, get the lines straight, etc. With everything wrapped, and glued you end up with a part that looks sorta decent, but has floppy fabric sorta hanging loose. That is when you introduce the best part, the iron.

You see, the fabric material shrinks with heat. You have three settings on your iron for three different passes you make shrinking the material, but no pass is as fun as the first one. At this point, you’ve been working for half of a day on one part, like what is pictured above. When you pass that iron over the big sections, the fabric draws drumhead tight almost instantly, and you can finally see what all the work was for. You also iron out wrinkles, bubbles, etc so there is some fussiness at this point too. The amazing glue also reactivates with heat so if you have an area giving you trouble, you give it a bit of extra heat and work it out to look perfect.

It takes about one full day to cover a part like one of the ones you see us working on. That is one person, one day, after you know what you are doing. At the stage above, we are only about 1/2 done with covering. We still need to put on the tapes that protect wear areas, the edges, etc. Then later we’ll have to cut access holes for inspections, but mostly they are in the wing and the fuselage. You start with the tail feathers, the pieces that we were working on. Eventually you move to the fuselage, the main body of the airplane. I’m told the tail feathers take longer than the fuselage. If that is the case, we’ll go from naked metal frame to covered airplane in a day. That will be an epic day. But we’ll hold off on that for some time because once the fabric is applied, it gets much harder to get access to all the parts we are working on.

Highlander from the back
Highlander from the back

The pieces we are covering here are the blue surfaces on the back of this airplane.

Baggage area of the Highlander, exactly like our airplane
Baggage area of the Highlander, exactly like our airplane

And here you can see the fabric and how it covers the fuselage. The airplane is basically a big steel 4130 box frame, wrapped in a tight covering and painted. It is fragile to being poked, but very strong in the air.

In case you are wondering if this flimsy construction style is strong enough, or safe enough. The control surfaces of World War II aircraft were built the same way. They seemed to be strong enough to do the job.

The weekend, an interlude

The way our two week event worked was we worked from 7:30am on Monday till 5ish pm on Friday. Then we rushed home, got in after dark, showered and went to bed, and then tried to get a weeks worth of stuff done during the time between Saturday morning when we awoke till we were scheduled to leave Sunday afternoon. This included our farm chores, Spork’s school work, my taxes, and homework Robby sent home with me. I didn’t have time to take pics of most of what I did, but the one thing I remembered to do was take pics of our new airplane holders.

Engine stand from Harbor Freight
Engine stand from Harbor Freight

During the week, Jenny had gone to Greenville and picked up two engine stands for us from Harbor Freight. Robby was using the exact same ones so copying the design and changes was easy enough.

High tech measurements of the engine stand standoffs
High tech measurements of the engine stand standoffs

Of course, I didn’t actually measure anything. That would be too easy. This is the tail stand off. It is 92% of a Dan Hand long, a critical dimension.

Beginning to weld up the stand for the nose of the aircraft
Beginning to weld up the stand for the nose of the aircraft

The engine stands have to be modified to work with the airplane. Nothing dramatic, just cut off the riser and add in some steel to make the nose stand higher. This allows the plane to sit level.

Reattaching the upper portion
Reattaching the upper portion

There was no intention of ever using these stands to hold heavy weights again so no enginerding was needed. Just grab some scrap pieces and weld them in well enough to hold a couple hundred pounds. No problem.

Finished conversion to airplane stand
The finished product

Except I hadn’t welded up the standoffs at this point. The brackets you see attached to the face plate are the ones that came with the stand. I cut 26″ lengths of 1″ box tube and attached them to the existing standoffs with a good bit of welding.

Modifying the tail stand
Modifying the tail stand

The tail stand was much easier to weld up. Just cut 99% of the steel so that the box section is bendable to stand plumb instead of leaning backwards as it does out of the box. Then weld up the cut to the new plumb position. This one just took a few minutes, which was awesome because I still had a ton to do and not enough time to do it.

Besides packing, taxes, etc, I also had to weld 90 degree brackets for the door I would be making for the cargo area on the airplane. The four brackets were made of 4130 steel like the rest of the fuselage. I had about 15 minutes for the entire project, including cutting the steel, jigging it up, and figuring out how to weld thin wall 4130. The welds were pretty ugly but they worked for the application. Thank God they were buried under epoxy when the door frame was assembled. I couldn’t have lived with those welds showing on the finished airplane. They would hold fine, but they were ugly.

With entire seconds to spare, we got everything loaded and were ready to leave. Ready to start week number 2.

The First Week

So, building a airplane actually isn’t that hard. It’s strikingly similar to building a lego set, except with power tools, five times the amount of pieces , and, in our case, a professional telling what and how to do it. Also, your life depends on how well you fit the legos together. This sounds like a lot of hard work but it isn’t. The hardest part of building an airplane is the amount of time it takes. For instance, building and painting the rudder pedals took a day and a half. this usually stops pilots from finishing their build.

Having Mr. Rob there to help us saved tons of time. On top of not having to inventory the entire airplane’s parts, he helped us figure out the manual. I can not stress enough how much help this was. The inventory alone would have taken several days, and the manual skipped over some interesting parts, like how to install the rudder pedals. Mr. Rob also gave us advice on what to do with our airplane. For example, he gave suggestions on which avionics, aka flight instruments, to put in our plane.

Mr. Rob also kept us entertained.  Apparently, like my dad, Mr. Rob knows everybody in his home town. We had constant visitors, ranging from his dad, who bought us lunch and had tons of interesting stories, to the owner of the largest trucking company on the east coast. They were all cool in one way or another.  On top of all the guests, Mr. Rob had three dogs. Rudder, a old, brown bird dog who could barely hear, Birdie (I’m not sure how you spell it), a middle aged gray dog who looked like a good runner, and Banner, a cute puppy with one brilliantly blue eye and one blue and dark brown eye. Banner’s blue and brown eye gave him the appearance of winking at you. Both Rudder and Birdie were amazingly trained. Banner was as well trained as could be expected from a puppy. All in all, both the friends and the dogs provided an interesting and enjoyable break from work.

The dogs weren’t the only animals. Almost every night, one or two birds managed to penetrate the walls of the cabin we were staying in. Without fail, these birds provided comic relief as me or my dad tried to shoo them out of the house. These birds were fearless warriors and I had to dodge an attack more than once. However, it is normally whoever has the biggest stick who wins the wars. Since birds don’t have hands and me and my dad had a broom, we always won the frequent skirmishes.

The trip was loads of fun and I can’t wait to continue tomorrow.