Haste makes waste

Messing up, especially for a type A, pilot type, is devastating. All you can hope is that no one noticed. Unfortunately (actually fortunately) I have Spork (and in this case Cody) alongside to see me mess up. But at least they are family so we’ll keep it quiet.

Except trying to be an example to Spork in my blog post timeliness, I’ve also blogged pretty much every day on the build. Yes I’m supposed to blog every day, but I don’t always do it the same day or the next day. There is some time between the action and the post so I have time to learn a bit and maybe edit out the worst of my mistakes. But in this case, I blogged the same day, documenting for to the world my mess up. Yesterday it all came to light.

I’d blogged previously about trying to install the butt ribs, and what a pain in the butt that turned out to be. The root cause of that failure was that I thought we were simply taping the slats in place, not actually installing the slats. So we’d pulled the airplane outside, on a day forecast to reach 100 degrees, with the idea that we’d tape the slats in place, knock out the butt ribs, and be back inside before it got hot.

When I found out that we actually had to install the slats, not just tape them in place, I didn’t want to take the time to go find the section of the manual that explained how to install the slats. I figured it was just temporary anyway, I can get them in quickly. Plus the slat section was buried in the wing build section. Since I didn’t build the wing, I really don’t know my way around that section as well. Time was a wasting and I had two boys standing there ready to work. I didn’t want to spent the next 30 minutes reading. So we went straight to work.

Then the bolts didn’t easily fit into the bearings that hold the control arms on the slats. Hmm, odd. But having to press a bolt/pin into a bearing is normal. You want the bearing to spin, not the bearing on the bolt itself, that causes wear and eventually failure. So we pressed in the bolts which was a pain and later caused me to use a slide hammer to remove one. Finding out the slats were labeled wrong was simply the icing on the cake the caused the entire day to go sideways.

So yesterday I sit down before work begins and open the manual. Lets see what it says about installing slats….

Slat installation instructions
The paragraph that could have saved an entire day

I’ll save you the squinting. Sentence two says, “The AN 3-20 bolts will have to have the cad plating removed to fit into the bearings properly, the head of the bolt should bottom out on the bearing without putting any pressure on it.”


It never occurred to me to remove the protective cad plating, since its, um, protective. I took a small set of bolts, pressed the bearings back off with the hydraulic press, and took them to the belt grinder where I Scotch brited off the cad plating. They fit better. I worked them a bit more, the bearing slid on smoothly but didn’t seat on the head as described in the instructions. I moved to the small belt sander and a fine belt, touching up the area around the head. Butter.

Now I could install the slats with relative ease, inserting and removing the bolts as needed. With now proper hardware, I installed the slat I’d relabeled the day before and prepared to move forward. Except it was the wrong side! How could that be?!

I didn’t have the slats labeled wrong, I had the sets wrong. I thought we had inboard and outboard as sets, No, we had left, and right as sets. Which meant that the label I’d so carefully checked to make sure was wrong, was actually correct. Those were the left wing slats, inboard and outboard. I’d just installed one on the right wing.


All of this had been for nothing, because I was in a hurry to beat the heat.

So, after much swapping around and grousing, I installed, along with the help of Spork, both inboard slat sections, and taped them in place. I then made sure to label the outboard slats and put them away. What has taken two days should take about an hour next time. Lesson learned, it’s better to stop and understand what you are doing rather than press on (pun intended).

Wings spread as best we can in the shop
Wings spread as best we can in the shop

Had we beaten the heat that day, we’d have pulled the wings off and put them back on their rotating stands. Now we have to work around the wings in place. Spork came up with the idea to spread them partially like in the picture. We bubble wrapped the wing tips and tied off the wings to each side so we have access to the fuselage. It is much better than working around the wings in their stowed position. Good call Spork!

The ELT antennae mounted in it's final postion
The ELT antennae mounted in its final position

After checking with Scott to verify that this antennae does indeed ned to be grounded, I switched up my plan and went back to the method suggested in the manual for this antennae. My concern was the tip of the antennae is going to rub the fabric or bang against the fuselage members, but with some careful planning I was able to get it to fit very well and not bother anything. I hope.

Spork mocking up the battery box
Spork mocking up the battery box

Spork spent the day, and I mean the entire day, working on a battery box. I’d forgotten to order one, so no problem. We’ll just make it!

Making a template and then transferring it to metal is a new skill for him. He worked very diligently and very hard. He also was not accepting of any errors or mistakes. The end result is after nearly a full days work, he is still making the template and hasn’t cut the first piece of metal yet. He’s getting close, but by about 3:30pm (we started at 6am) I could see he was wearing out on this one job.

We took some time yesterday to run some errands and do non-building stuff. We went to Angie’s for lunch, stopped by Loop Road Auto Parts and Lowes to get some supplies and even stopped and picked up some salt for the pool. By the afternoon we were both wearing out a bit. I sent Spork home to unload the 600 lbs of salt from the truck and then to work on his blog post in the A/C. I went upstairs and turned on the A/C myself in order to work on the ELT plug wiring. I spent about 2 hours going over the schematic, getting my work area ready, and then soldering. The end result?

Wired D Sub connector
My very first D-sub connector, perhaps even wired correctly

This was tedious work. The connectors are VERY small, so small I have trouble seeing them. But I think I was able to get them wired correctly and the heat shrink all looks good. A little finish work and this connector will be closed up and plugged into the ELT so we can run the wire to the cockpit. Another task to complete before covering. 

So despite the setbacks the past few days, we are actually making good progress. Many of the items on this list revolve around getting the battery box made and the battery wiring installed. You can see Cody written by a number of the items on the list. Those are things we are waiting for Cody to come back for, although if we make enough progress we may coerce Miguel to help us and then we’ll tackle the butt ribs ourselves on one of these cooler days coming up. We have about 5-6 work days before Cody shows back up, so yeah, we’ll need to get the butt ribs installed before he gets here, and then remove the wings and get them prepped for covering.

I also want to look at what it would take to make a bike mount for the wings.

Bikes mounted to wings
It isn’t as crazy as it looks

A bush plane, that lands pretty much anywhere, with a couple of mountain bikes slung underneath, makes for a pretty useful critter. Even if all you are doing is going to a fly in. Word is it only costs a couple MPH and they ride under there deceptively well. We’ll see. Up to this point, I’ve not wanted to make any changes to the kit. And I probably won’t now, but I’d at least like to investigate what it would take to do the work before I cover the wings. That will go on today’s list.

Butt ribs are a pain in the…

Today was butt ribs day. It is suggested in the manual that once you attach the wings, you take that opportunity to attach the butt ribs to the fuselage. These ribs basically trim out the transition from the wing to the fuselage. They aren’t structural so it is really just a matter of lining things up and putting them in place permanently.

The instructions were, “Install inboard slats and tape them in place. Open wing slightly, mark where butt ribs go, cut, drill, rivet. Done. Since it was supposed to be 100 degrees (in June?!) we got to work about 6:30am. That was fine for me because I’d already been up several hours. For the boys, there was some pain associated but they never uttered a complaint.

We rolled the airplane outside, then decided to take the rear stand off so the plane could roll on the newly installed tailwheel. It rolls really nicely, as in I can imagine myself taxing this thing and I’m excited. The locking pin isn’t unlocking as I’d like but I’ll see if I can tweak that. We unfolded the wings and then rolled the plane under a large willow oak tree in the yard.

Plane outside under a shade tree, ready to be worked on
Plane outside under a shade tree, ready to be worked on

The boys took all the previously removed tail feathers and swapped them for the slats that had been tucked away since coming back from Robby’s. Once we figured out which slats were inboard and which were outboard, we went outside to tape them to the wings.

As soon as I got to the wing, my stupidity was obvious. I’d read the instructions to tape the slats to the wings as in, hold them in place, put some tape on them, install the butt ribs. When what it meant was, fully install the slats on their dual bearing, hard to install, needs a hydraulic press to press the bolts in, hardware. The pressure was on to get the slats installed before it got too hot. That way we could get the butt ribs installed, then remove the wings and carry the entire project back inside where it would stay for the next month or two.

The slats are specific to where they go, so there is a left and a right, and an inboard and an outboard. We set about fitting out all the hardware and then installed the right slat. The slats were already helpfully labeled by somebody left and right and we’d already figured out the outboard and inboard. With the first slat installed, I tightened down the hardware, fully seating the bearings in place. Then I tried to fold the slat into its stowed position. Nope. What?! I looked at the backside of the slat to see what was hitting. What was labeled as the right slat was actually, and now obviously, the left. I looked down at the one labeled left and saw it only fit the right side. Argh! They had been mislabeled!

The hardware was next to impossible to get in place and now we had to remove it. What ensued was a break for the boys while I went as far as driving to the machine shop to get ideas. Fire, ice, welding, all the normal things were suggested. I had to keep telling them that this wasn’t a tractor, we couldn’t do stuff like that. Eventually we circled around to slide hammers (I own one) and using vice grips to grab the head of the bolt and using the slide hammer to grab the vice grips and pull the whole thing out. I drove back home, setup as suggested, and with Spork’s help and some banging, we removed the offending bolt so we could get the hardware all back in one complete set (they are matched to each side). We ruined the AN4 20A bolt in the process but that was a small price to pay.

With the slat now removed, and the temperature around 95 degrees, we folded the wings and rolled the whole project back inside, defeated, to await another day.

So what do you do with two boys on a 100 degree day when they are supposed to be doing airplane stuff?

Boys washing the Citabria
Boys washing the Citabria

You take them to the airport to wash an airplane, that’s what. We pulled the Citabria out of the hanger and wheeled it over to a patch of grass where we could kick off our shoes and have some fun. It isn’t a big airplane and it doesn’t take that long to clean. Plus it was covered in bugs from the last few flights that I had taken (one with Cody on his first flight!) so I had some ownership of its condition. There was a bit of spraying each other and general horseplay. The plane looked shiny new when we got done in about 30 minutes. Everyone was pleasantly damp and we hopped back in the truck to take Cody to meet his dad for a trip they have this week.

Wednesday will be a no airplane day and then Spork and I will be back on it on Thursday. We have a lot to do, ELT installation including mounting the antennae, making a battery box from scratch and then installing it. Installing the battery itself and it’s wiring, getting the slats mounted, correctly this time, installing the fuel lines, and finishing painting the spoilers. The idea is to have the airplane ready to install the butt ribs when Cody gets back, then start on the fabric covering. That way we’ll hopefully roll through the fabric covering over the next several weeks, getting the plane basically covered. Once that is done, it is onto painting. Somewhere in that process the avionics will show up, meaning it is time to install the instrument panel and do all the associated wiring.

I’ve also ordered the shocks and engine, meaning once the fuselage comes off the stands after covering and painting, it will go onto the tires and stay there. A covered, painted, roll around airplane is deceptively close to being a ready to fly airplane.

With both boys helping, things are moving quickly and I hope covering goes well. We could be painting in a few weeks at this pace.

When I first looked at this project, I was daunted by the amount of work needed to complete an airplane. Now I’m looking at the number of projects left, all of which are significant, and thinking yeah, we’ll be done ahead of schedule. Sun N Fun 2019 is April 2-7th next year and our goal is to be there with this airplane. That is completed and the 40 hours Phase 1 time period flown off. Since I normally fly about 150-200 hours per year, that is a large amount of time to fly. We’ll see.


The wings get attached for the first time

Target dimensions for head rack
Target dimensions for head rack

After finding out that we needed to hand fit the head rack to the wings, I set about getting it done. Step one was to measure everything, being extra careful to not mix up left and right, or front spar and rear spar. Once I had everything measured and written down carefully, I turned my paper over to hide the results and then asked Spork to do the exact same thing. He spent some time measuring and then we compared notes. On the front spars we were within a thousandth of one another, on the rear spars we were off.

So back to the snap gauges and calipers again to find that we had a bit of taper on the rear spar doublers. Depending on where you measured, you got a different result. Once we dialed in where our critical dimensions were, I went to each head rack and did what you see pictured above, writing down my target dimension. I think Spork thought I was being overly cautious but we talked about how easy it was to transpose a number, and how hard it would be to weld the metal back on what is arguably the most critical part of the airplane, the part that holds the wing in position.

The tools for adjusting the head rack to fitThe tools for adjusting the head rack to fit
The tools for adjusting the head rack to fit

This is all it took to dial in the dimensions. A big file for hogging out metal, a small file for breaking edges and fine work. And it took about 45 minutes and some elbow grease. No biggie. I put a bit of a wedge shape to the top part of the head rack, and a bit of a rounded edge on the bottom part. However I left the overall shape of the bottom relatively round, leaving us a bit of material to do the final fit up.

Cody hanging the spoilers for paint
Cody hanging the spoilers for paint

While I was working on the head rack, I had the boys start work on the spoilers. As best I can tell, once these spoilers are mounted in the wing, and the wing is covered and painted, we won’t be removing them without a lot of grief. Since these spoilers are going to be effectively permanent, and since they pop out of the top of the wing anytime you roll the aircraft, they are going to get a lot of wind abrasion. That means I don’t want the paint coming off anytime soon so the boys spent some extra time doing a good scotch brite etch. Then Cody shot about 4 coats of primer, followed by 3 coats of enamel.  Hopefully these will stay nice and black for the life of the airplane.

Spork hanging spoilers to be ready to paint
Spork hanging spoilers to be ready to paint
Cody finishes the tunnel for the push tube
Cody finishes the tunnel for the push tube

Cody had worked on the tunnel fit up for a couple of days and today was the day to finally get it screwed in and installed. The servos for the autopilot should be in the tail and this push tube should stay covered until it is time for the annual inspection. I hope. It is always hugely satisfying to install something for the last time.

Fitting the wings to the fuselage, the last attempt
Fitting the wings to the fuselage, the last attempt

Now this was a job for using your head. We rolled the airplane outside on its stands again, and then walked the first wing over to the airplane to see how the fit was. For both wings, the fit was just a touch too tight. They would start to go on, but the holes wouldn’t line up. That was exactly what I’d hoped for. With the small file I gave them a quick touch up and the wings slid right on. We attached the lift struts and boom, our little wire frame project was suddenly an airplane.

Now it is starting to look like something
Now it is starting to look like something

The board was the closest thing we could find to brace the wing up. Sitting on stands, with one wing attached, the whole thing tries to flop over and lay on the ground. That would obviously be a bad thing so an impromptu brace solved the problem.

We rolled the airplane back in the shop and then my friend Rick stopped by. I was beginning my wiring of the airplane, starting with the ELT data cable. I wanted someone to look over my setup and help me get started on the right foot. Rick has wired his RV panel, twice, so he has a wealth of experience that I don’t have in aviation wiring. We spent about an hour at the bench going over wiring. With some suggestions to ask our A&P friend, and some suggestions on tooling and a place to order electrical supplies, he pronounced me ready to go to work.

Supplies picked up from HRJ
Supplies picked up from HRJ

With the wings on, folded, and the airplane safely tucked back inside the barn and Rick about to leave, I told the boys to head back to the house while I drove down to Harnett County Airport to meet my A&P buddy, Scott, who’d ordered in some supplies for me. A battery, wingtip lights, battery cable, starting solenoid, fuel hose, and even some fluting pliers to straightening the butt ribs we’d be working on next. Those I borrowed.

We had made really good progress, and tomorrow looked like a busy day, even if it was going to be 100 degrees!

To do list from 6-18-18
To do list from 6-18-18

Missing instructions stop progress for the day, but Robby bails us out

We started off with a pretty simple plan for today. Get the wings ready to install and get the tail wheel finished. I started on the tailwheel by pulling it back off the plane and removing the stinger. I then set it up to polish with the barrel spinner and the belt sander running a Scotch Brite belt. With a quick shine established, I tried some of our new etching primer which worked very well.

Stinger primered and ready to paint
Stinger primered and ready to paint

Once the primer dried, I put three coats of flat black automotive enamel on the stinger and the reinstalled it. The part of the stinger that fit into the yoke slid in and lined up perfectly. The part that slid into the tailwheel itself was uber tight. I worked it back and forth to get it on and watched the fresh paint peel right off, along with the primer down to the shiny metal . It was that tight, but with a bit of L Bow grease I was able to get it on and bolted into place.

With the tail wheel back in place and finished (Yeah!) the boys and I wheeled the airplane outside into the sunshine. This was a rather momentous occasion, the first time the plan had been outside since arriving here in March. And it was going to spread its wings!

We bolted a lift strut onto the left wing and walked the entire assembly outside to mate it up to the airplane. This was simply a test fit, but the factory test fits everything at the factory and according to the instructions we simply slid the wing in place and put the bolts in. We’d already reamed everything and had all the hardware on hand so it should be easy peasy. With all three of us working, we lined up the first spar.





Argh! What the heck? We pushed, we pulled, we maybe even cursed a bit. No way was this thing going to fit.

Trying to get the spar onto the head rack of the fuselage, to no avail
Trying to get the spar onto the head rack of the fuselage, to no avail

It looked like the wing would have fit had we not added the doublers from a previous work day. Did I do something wrong? Were the doublers supposed to be on the outside? No, they weren’t on the other planes I looked at. We hauled everything back inside and I started pouring over the manual and my pics of various airplanes. Nope, we’d done it correctly. I admitted defeat and told the boys we’d work on something else instead, but not before I took some measurements.

Measuring the head rack on the fuselage
Measuring the head rack on the fuselage

The head rack was about .075 bigger than the space in the spar. There was no way this thing was going to fit. I shot Robby a text and we went to work on the push rod tunnel that protects the push rod in the baggage compartment, while also beginning the process of killing the 75 flies that had flown in the open door during the 15 minutes it had been open.

Eventually Robby called back and I explained our dilemma.

“Oh yeah, there is no way the wing will fit. You have to trim it to fit after you install the wing doublers. Only take the metal off the bottom, leave the top alone, other than to put a slight bevel to it.”

This was great news, because it meant we hadn’t done anything wrong. It was also very frustrating because there was NO MENTION of this step in the instructions, not any of the detail Robby shared about only removing metal from the bottom, putting a slight incline from outboard to inboard on the top, things like that. At least, if it is in there I couldn’t find it in three different readings of the manual. Oh well, we had to call it an early stop anyway because it was fathers day so no harm, no foul. Tomorrow we’ll trim the header rack and then redo trying to attach the wings. If that goes ok, we’ll then pull them back off and get them ready to cover in the stands. My friend Rick is coming by to teach me about wiring our ELT and then we’ll get that installed fully.

Today's to do list, with measurements of our header rack and ID on the spars.
Today’s to do list, with measurements of our header rack and ID on the spars.

First day of all hands on deck

Today we had our full work crew for the summer on their first day at work. Spork is back from camp and Cody is here to visit. Just for a few days this week, then a few days off, then we’ll be onto our full summer work schedule of building nearly every day, all day.

Spork had a kid hangover from camp, sleepy and tired, with aches and pains all over. Cody was bright eyed and bushy tailed having been home for a few days with little to do but relax. I was somewhere in between, having not gotten a lot of sleep the night before. I was actually stressed about keeping the work moving and not being the hold up for these guys. They are giving up their summer to work on this plane with me, and I don’t want us standing around because I’m stuck and don’t know what to do.

The boys working on the window frame template
The boys working on the window frame template

After some organizing and quick work on the shop for things like taking out the trash and putting together our new fan we had a sit down briefing on the plans for the day, the week, and the month. With everyone on the same page, we got to work on our to do list.

The boys started on the window template that Crystal had already roughed out. I think they were ready to bash things with hammers and do some real building but arts and crafts came first.

While they were working on the template, I set about removing the tail wheel assembly to finally get it drilled and installed permanently. I’d been warned that it could be tricky to get it all drilled straight so rather than do it when we were at Robby’s with hand drills, I said I’d do it when I got home with my Bridgeport mill. That is about as straight as I can do something.

Truing up the stinger for the tailwheel assembly in a lathe
Truing up the stinger for the tailwheel assembly

When I took the tailwheel apart, I noted that the stinger, the piece that goes from the yoke to the actual tail wheel, was pretty rough. It worked fine but the ends were rough cut and they had a little flare to them which meant they wouldn’t seat properly. Normally it would be a five minute job to true these up on the lathe, but we’ve had a huge painting project ongoing in the shop the past month and there is paint dust and overspray EVERYWHERE. Including all over my lathe. So before I could do anything, I had to set about cleaning up my lathe. It only took about 30 minutes to get the ways clean enough to use the thing. This wasn’t an actual cleaning, just clean enough to use (real machinists are cringing).

With the lathe clean, I chucked up the stinger and quickly trued up the ends and center drilled the ends to hold my barrel spinner so I could polish the stinger as well. However I promptly forgot to polish the stinger when it was time to move over to the mill. Oh well, something for tomorrow.

Boys removing the tail feathers in preparation for covering
Boys removing the tail feathers in preparation for covering

The boys finished the window template and it looked pretty good. Good enough we decided that we are going to make window frames out of aluminum to try to make the lexan less prone to cracking. I don’t think we’ll give up very much visibility and they will look good to boot. Need to add that to do to the list.

Drilling the first holes in the milling machine
Drilling the first holes in the milling machine

With the stinger placed back in the tail wheel yoke I moved over to the mill, which also needed to be cleaned. However the mill was much quicker work, maybe 10 minutes to clean. I setup with a simple V block setup to hold the yoke. I left everything loose and then used the drill bit itself as a guide. With the yoke riding on the drill bit, I clamped everything in place with the vise. Voila! We now have perfect alignment with the existing holes already drilled in the yoke. This was handy because if you look at the picture closely, you’ll see that they are nowhere close to drilled straight, showing a significant angle vs. the vise. Fortunately it was easy to replicate the angle and it won’t matter anyway once everything is bolted up.

Drilling the tailwheel assembly onto the stinger
Drilling the tailwheel assembly onto the stinger

With the stinger temporarily bolted to the yoke, it was time to drill the tailwheel assembly onto the other end of the stinger. No problem, I already had a good setup so it was just a matter of wash, rinse, repeat. Or so I thought.

I mounted the tail wheel in using the same V block, and locked the tailwheel via it’s locking pin. Then I set about finding a way to mark it as straight and level. Then all I’d need to do it level the yoke off of the shock attachment bushing, or better yet, plumb off of the bushing at the swivel point (left most of picture closest to you). After 15 minutes of looking and head scratching, I determined that there was not a single flat plane anywhere on the entire assembly that I could work with.

Eventually, I gave up and went with the tried and true TLAR method (That Looks About Right). I had the Princess and Spork both come and look over my setup, trying to sight down and see if it was straight. After much time and several conversations, everyone concluded that:

  • You can’t see past the vise to see if it is straight or not
  • If you take it out of the vise so you can see, it won’t matter because everything will move while you are putting it back in the vise
  • You indeed cannot find a flat surface to level anything from
  • And sure dad, that looks about right. I guess.

I closed my eyes and drilled the holes. I consoled myself with the fact that I was drilling a $5 piece of aluminum bar that I could probably pick up at the metal store easily. The expensive bits already had their holes drilled.

Once all the chips had flown, I pulled the whole assembly off the mill and sighted down the now visible sightline. Perfect! Whew!

Cody and I reinstalled the tail wheel and the locking cable onto the fuselage while Spork was giving a tour to some customers.

To do list, day one
To do list, day one

With the tail wheel reinstalled on the airplane, we then made up a stiff knee to go in place of the shock that would normally be on the plane. This holds the wheel in place and should we actually get it covered soon, will allow us to sit the plane on its gear.

With the tail wheel done, we set about getting the plan for the next day. Crossed off the list today was:

  • Take out the trash
  • Pick the final paint colors for the airplane and communicate them to Robby
  • Screw in the floor panels and rear bulkhead
  • Finish template for window and make sure it fits the window on the other side (it does)
  • Remove the tail feathers in prep for covering
  • Install ELT antennae
  • Tail wheel, drilled and mounted
  • Drip guard for baggage door drilled and cut for final assembly
  • Read through build manual and make sure there is no more prep needed for the wings prior to covering
  • We also made a supply run to Lowes picking up some needed items

Tomorrow, should things go well, should be a big day. We are going test fit the wings to the airplane. We won’t be running any controls or doing anything like that, just putting the wings in place to make sure that everything fits prior to taking them back off and starting on covering. But it should make for some nice pictures should we succeed. While the wings are in place, we’ll also install the butt ribs, aligning them with the slats which will be taped in place.

We also need to polish the stinger and add making the window frames to the to do list.

Also Rick is hopefully going to stop by to give me a quick lesson on wiring so I can get the ELT cable terminated and then installed. That is all after we feed and take care of the farm work and before knocking off early to go to Grandmas. Should be fun.



Progress without the boy

The kids are all away at camp this week. That has significantly slowed the progress on the airplane since technically I don’t want to do any work to the airplane without the boy here. This is a father and son project.

But there are some things that I can do. For one, I can spend time learning how to do things I don’t have any experience with. Like doing aircraft wiring. I can also read manuals, organize the shop, watch instructional videos, figure out tools that I should be buying, make trips to the supply stores to get needed materials for next week, etc. All of those things have been in process.

ELT, installed and ready to setup
ELT, installed and ready to setup

One of the first things I knocked out was to register the ELT that we installed last work session. It may seem premature, but since I fly with Civil Air Patrol, my worst case scenario is that CAP shows up at my door asking me, a CAP pilot, to please turn off my ELT. I’d never hear the end of it. And since most ELT missions involve someone who removes and ELT from an airplane and has it on the bench, accidentally triggered, I figured I better get mine registered ASAP. That way, I get a phone call first from the Air Force before anyone is dispatched. I can then just reply that yes I’m fine and I’ll go turn it off instead of meeting my CAP brethren on a SAR mission. It took longer to get the picture taken than it did to register.

Panel mockup temporarily in the plane
Panel mockup temporarily in the plane

Then I noted that Crystal was here working. She is staying with her dad and coming to work each day. Since he was busy working, I thought he might enjoy me entertaining her for a bit so I asked her if she’d like to do arts and crafts? Sure!

We set about making a panel mockup out of some cardboard I had on hand for just such a project, and some cutouts I already had printed. I added a few more things for items such as the transponder and the COM radio, the cigarette lighter plug and the ELT. After a bit of playing Tetris with the cutouts, and looking over the restrictions of existing cross members, we came up with what you see above. Some of this is drawn on and didn’t show up very well, and we need to order in some circuit breakers and switches to get actual sizes of those, but this is our rough approximation and it works fairly well. On the left will be the master switch, avionics master, ignition one and two, lights, and starter button. On the right blank space will be the circuit breakers.

The gap on the left, where there is no actual panel and just the exposed cross brace truss, will be a MyGoFlight mount holding an XNaut iPad holder. This will be right in front of the pilot which is fine because my iPad is primary for me anyway. If I need the visibility that the reduced panel size gives me, then I can easily remove or move the iPad in seconds. I wouldn’t need the iPad if I’m putting down in a small field (when I need the extra visibility) anyway so it is the best of both worlds. I hope.

With the panel mocked up, it was time to place the order for my avionics package. After looking at all the choices, I chose the Grand Rapids Technology Sport EX EFIS. When I started on this project, I was convinced that I’d get the Dynon because I’d heard so much about it. But each time I stopped by their booth I couldn’t get anyone to help me. This is over about 4-5 attempts. Sometimes they were simply busy, but once even when I did talk to someone his answer was basically “go read our manual and you’ll figure it out.”

My friend Scott had recommended I look at GRT so I stopped by their booth. They were swamped as well but once I got to a rep, he answered all my questions and wrote up a system that he recommended for me, including suggested products from other manufacturers to fill in the gaps. I did a few months of off and on again research trying to see if I liked a system better than what he suggested, and I did not. So now the avionics are ordered. I have the EX coming, with the remote magnometer and the autopilot package. They have a WAAS GPS/ADS B all in one solution that I ordered as well. My friend Ron at Sparkchasers has some take off Garmin 327s I am going to look at next week for a transponder. Then all I will need is a COM radio and intercom and my avionics purchases are done. I’m seeing Garmin SL40s on ebay but I’m holding out hope, foolishly, for a SL30. I don’t know why because why would I ever shoot an ILS in a SuperSTOL?

Marking out the template for the window
Marking out the template for the window

The next day, Crystal and I spent a few hours working on the template for the rear windows. These are where the turtle deck would have been, but I cut the turtle deck up to make a door.

Drip guard on baggage door
Drip guard on baggage door

But that is ok, I wanted glass instead of weight anyway. Plus I don’t plan on folding the wings on this airplane very often so I’d rather have visibility rather than ease of removal of the turtle deck.

Crystal and I set about making the templates for the window, using the box that the metal that I ordered came in. Waste not, want not.

Crystal trimming up the template
Crystal trimming up the template

The idea for this template is to have a ring or frame around the lexan to help keep it from cracking. Lexan still cracks eventually but maybe I’ll get a few years out of it instead of a year. We finished the outside dimensions of the template. Now we need to test fit to the other side and see if we need two templates or if one will fit both sides. Then we’ll mark the inside dimensions and cut this out into a frame. Once that is done and we are satisfied it is perfect, we’ll use the template to mark the .020 aluminum and then cut out the final piece.

But those steps will involve the boys, who will be home tomorrow. Both Spork and Cody will be here and it will be full speed ahead on building the airplane. If Crystal is here, maybe she can help too. But with the girls back, I think they’ll be playing instead.

ELT goes in and Cody works his first day

Saturday wasn’t really an airplane work day. Spork had his friends over to play airsoft and I was the person who made the teams even so I ended up playing as well. It was 90 degrees, buggy, and I was dead tired by the end of the game. But Cody had come over to play and I wasn’t going to miss a chance to introduce him to airplane building. Plus all the kids leave on Sunday for a week of camp so no airplane work will get done while they are gone. Better to get something done now.

The wings, finally on the stands and ready to go to be worked on
The wings, finally on the stands and ready to go to be worked on

Last work session we had one wing, the one on the left above, already in the stand. The other wing was sitting on the table waiting for the Hysol in the wing doublers to setup. Cody and I moved the wings to the stands and after I taped them incorrectly so they couldn’t rotate, we finally got them safely mounted and ready to be worked on. They’ll likely spend a good amount of time in these stands and should exit covered, primered, and painted and ready to go onto the airplane. That will be a big day!

Spork demonstrating how to break an edge on the grinder
Spork demonstrating how to break an edge on the grinder

A big part of our work session was for Cody to begin learning his way around the shop and around an airplane build. Since Spork has as much education as I do on this airplane build, I put him in charge of showing Cody what to do.

The project for the day was to get our new ELT mounted in its tray. My friend Rick Gracely had installed the ELT tray back when we were at Robby’s place and it had sat quietly clecoed in place ever since. Cody and Spork pulled the tray and step one was to clean up the edges so they’d be smooth. They then took some acetone and cleaned the sticker off and cleaned the tray overall.

Then there was quite a bit of studying the online installation manual making sure they understood the process. I noted that they did this careful studying in front of the fan that was keeping them cool while I sweated over filing and sanding Hysol filler on the door.

After they finally had their plan together, they marked and drilled the ELT tray and began installing the tray.

After a few test fits, they broke out the rivet gun and did the final riveting to install the ELT. One, two, three rivets while maneuvering the gun in the small confines of the tail and they were done!

ELT tray with ELT mounted
ELT tray with ELT mounted

They are hamming it up a bit in this pic, but the reality is a 14 year old with a few weeks experience, and a 15 year old with zero experience opened the boxes, read the instructions, and successfully installed a life saving device correctly in an airplane. And in Cody’s words, “it was kinda fun.” I truly barely helped them. Only giving a gentle nudge a couple of times.

All that needs to be done now is to hook up the antennae and run the wiring to the front of the airplane. I’ve never pinned out a plug like is required for this install so that will be a slow process the first time. But I have a really nice soldering setup and hopefully I’ll be picking up the wire today after feeding animals. Maybe I’ll go ahead and put this part together so I’m better able to help Spork when he gets back.

Fridays progress, and what is next

Friday morning I work Spork up and changed plans on him. I’d told him that he could sleep in because I had to run to the DMV. But it turned out I would be better off to run there in the afternoon so I drug him out of his restful sleep at 7:30 (I’d been up since 4am, so no sympathy was offered).

We only had a few hours to work on the airplane but we still had the other wing to prep and install for spar doublers. Plus we could now place the first wing in the rotating stands we’d built. With the wings swapped we went to work.

The spar end, prior to any work by us
The spar end, prior to any work by us

There is nothing really optional or “doesn’t matter” on the tasks for this airplane. Sure, the fuselage stringers don’t HAVE to be perfect, but they will look weird once the airplane is covered if they aren’t shaped just so. However the bits that attach the wings to the fuselage? Those are important for looks and for not dying. We took our time on these. Although, as usual, we were able to more than halve the time doing things the second time compared to the first.

Spork drilling the holes in the spar
Step one, drill and ream the existing holes, then step two, use the doubler as a guide for the next three holes
Spork prepping the doublers for wing number two
Spork prepping the doublers for wing number two

Once we had the second set of doublers covered in HySol, we put them in place inside the spar and riveted them in place. We then cleaned up the squeezed out HySol and left the wing in place for the HySol to set up for the next 24 hours. Once the wing has set up, we then will place it in the second set of rotating stands, ready for its next bit of work.

New stands for holding the wings
New stands for holding the wings

With the wing finished, and our time dwindling, I thought I’d take a few minutes to document what was next. We have a few weeks of not really working on the airplane, then we will be full bore for three full weeks. Cousin Cody is coming to stay with us and he is going to help as well so we’ll have three people full time working on the airplane. I hope to make some measurable progress, with the airplane mainly or completely covered by the end. I’m also planning on ordering the avionics in that time period and also ordering the firewall forward from Just. Basically all the parts should be arriving over the next couple of months. Money spent, then it will be up to us to get all the work done as soon as possible.

Until then, here is what is next.

ELT tray, waiting on an ELT installation
ELT tray, waiting on an ELT installation

I ordered my new ELT and it came in Friday. Next step on the airplane, after putting the second wing on its stand, is to install the ELT onto the tray and run the wiring. This is MUCH easier without the fabric covering in the way so best to get it done now.

Once the wires are run for the ELT, then I need to tighten up the wiring and cables, properly securing them to the standoffs running along the bottom of the airplane. These will be MUCH easier to access now rather than later when the airplane is covered.

I also want to pull the tailwheel assembly and mount it in the mill. I ordered an optional tail wheel and it comes with its own non-drilled stinger. I need to drill these holes very accurately so into the mill it goes. Of course, I’ll need about an hour just to get the mill cleaned up, the entire shop is covered in sanding dust from the refinishing project ongoing in there.

Floor panels in the baggage area
Floor panels in the baggage area

I’m checking with Robby, but it appears it is time to pull the clecoes and install the final rivets in all the floor panels. They are all cut to fit and ready to go. I also need to drill the push tube cover and cleco it in place. We may need to remove the push tube again at some point as we remove and reinstall the tail during covering. Having this still removable may prove handy.

Cardboard for the avionics panel template
Cardboard for the avionics panel template

After riveting all the panels in the cockpit, We’ll take the cardboard and begin mocking up the panel, drawing or taping up places where avionics, switches, iPads, etc. will go. Once we have a good mockup, we’ll switch to lexan for the final mockups which will include cutouts. This allows us to see through the panel to see any conflicts of where the back side of a switch or instrument may hit a cross member or something else on the airplane.

Once the lexan mockup is correct and perfect, we will use it as a template for cutting out the avionics panel. With an accurate template, the cutout itself shouldn’t be a big deal.

Cockpit panels still needing to be riveted in place
Cockpit panels, beside the seats, still needing to be riveted in place

Once the airplane is covered, it will be time to get paint on it. The covering is a material that breaks down in sunlight and the paint is what protects it. So once the covering is on, we need to get primer and then paint on it as quickly as possible to reduce any sun damage to the fabric.

Part of spraying this paint is learning a new system and a new gun. Since I’m not a painter, I’m going to call Superflite and see if they can recommend a paint with a similar formula/flow rate that I could purchase for much less. It wouldn’t work for painting the airplane, but I could practice with it and get used to my new paint gun. Then a thorough cleanup and it will be time to paint for real.

Truck bed liner rattle can spray
Can it really be that simple?

Speaking of paint, Robby shared with me his secret sauce for painting interior parts. Truck bed liner, from a rattle can. It gives a nice matt black finish, is tough, and is easy to apply. Since Experimental airplanes are never really done, especially when it comes to avionics, it is great to be able to just touch up paint or even make a new piece and shoot it really quickly with some rattle can paint. I’ll be picking some of this stuff up at Lowes.

So order an engine, order avionics, get painting process dialed in, build a paint booth, oh and finish the airplane from firewall back. Piece of cake! I’m almost done.

This weeks progress on the airplane

I haven’t had time to do any daily updates on the airplane this week. Mainly for two reasons.

One – We’ve only worked in small 2-3 hour blocks of time each day.
Two – We’ve been so busy day and night that I haven’t been able to do any blog posts.

So here is our progress from Thursday of last week through Thursday of this week, with some personal stuff (Carter made Chief in the Civil Air Patrol!) thrown in.

This week marked the first real week of work on the airplane since we returned from Robby’s place in Grantsboro. Oh we’ve worked a few hours here or there, but this was a week of wake up, do whatever HAD to be done, wake Spork up, then go work on the airplane. Even though we’ve only averaged 3-4 hours per day of actual hands on work, we’ve had a lot of other time spent on other airplane tasks such as deciding which avionics to install and even determining our paint scheme. We’ve also been picking up needed supplies and tools that we’ll need shortly.

Fuel line routing on Robby's plane
Fuel line routing on Robby’s plane. Robby recommended both lines be routed down the passengers side for better in flight visibility.

We started off our week with a trip (finally!) to Manteo to see Robby, Jenny, and their SuperSTOL. We also found that a Just Aircraft Highlander was also still there in the back of the hanger so we crawled all over it as well. We spent most of the day there and took nearly 400 pictures of the two airplanes. These are pictures that we’ll use to supplement the build manual. There is nothing quite as good as having a good picture of the thing you are trying to do.

Measurement of drill location in firewall
How far over do I drill the hole in the firewall?

As they say, one pic is worth a thousand “place AN5-27 bolts into 5/16″ holes as per diagram A…”

Armed with our new pics, we came home in time to get Spork ready for the 2018 Freedom Balloon Festival in Fuquay-Varina starting Friday. Spork had finally landed his first Civil Air Patrol event staff position, Admin. None of us knew what Admin was but it was staff so we didn’t really care. We’d learned that when CAP is interviewing for staff positions they look first and foremost at your experience. Much like in the real world, it is hard to get experience when you can’t land that first job.

I dropped Spork off with camping gear and money around 11am on Friday after some last minute supply runs and bid him farewell. Sunday morning we popped in to attend ourselves (a first for us), and to of course see how he was doing.

Tired, blistered (feet), unbathed, overworked, and happy. That is how we found him.

He really liked staff and had lots of funny stories to tell, including how he convinced a cadet that he had a prosthetic leg. Like I said, funny.

SWMBO and Myla going for a balloon ride
SWMBO and Myla going for a balloon ride

Since we were there so early we were able to get in the front part of the line for balloon rides. We were maybe 15-20 people back from first. SWMBO was excited to ride a balloon. I signed the forms and paid the money. It is a tethered balloon ride, yawn, whatever. At least I can check it off my bucket list.

After the girls got out, The Princess and I climbed in. The pilot started his ascent and I started asking a few questions to make conversation. As we got up about 50-75 feet I noticed a bit of a breeze picking up. The balloon started heading back down and I heard the pilot say “Flex you knees, flex your knees.” I looked at our descent rate which was slightly above “sedate”, checked The Princess to make sure she’d flexed her knees, and in just 30 seconds total flight time from takeoff to landing we were back on the ground having crash landed.

Crashed hot air balloon. Check.

Drip guard on baggage door
Drip guard on baggage door

Once we retrieved Spork from the Balloon Festival at the end of it on Saturday night, we went to work on the airplane on Sunday. There was some adjusting and fitting to be done on the drip guard for the door.

Spork drilling out for the drip guard
Spork drilling out for the drip guard

Just getting the height correct and drilling the holes and it was in place. At least temporarily. It has to come back off for covering of the airplane.

Fuselage on new saw horses
Fuselage on new saw horses

The guys have a multi-week project ongoing in the shop that requires, apparently, every flat surface in the shop plus all of the saw horses. So a trip to Lowes was in order to acquire new saw horses. Spork and I spent a good bit of time getting these saw horses setup, lined up, etc so that we could remove the front stand and cut and install the firewall. With the saw horses in place we had full access and I made it as far as drilling the first hole when I realized there were six holes in the frame, and I only need four. Which four? After some queries (Hello, Robby?) it was determined that I needed the engine in hand to assure I was drilling the correct holes. Sigh. So we took the saw horses back out and reinstalled the stand.

While we were getting the sawhorses figured out, I started looking for the boot cowl. There are three pieces of fiberglass on the plane. The upper cowling around the engine, the lower cowling which is its mate, and then the boot cowl, which ties the upper cowling into the windshield. I needed the boot cowl to shape the firewall. Except I didn’t see a boot cowl. We looked high. We looked low. We grumbled and cursed, but no boot cowl. Finally I figured I must have never received it from the factory, but let me look through my pics to see if I see it anywhere.

Robby's paint booth, with the boot cowl leaning against the wall
Robby’s paint booth, with the boot cowl leaning against the wall

The grey thing leaning against the wall. Yep, that is it. In a pic taken just before this one, the other two pieces of cowling were sitting just beside the boot cowl. In this pic, the boot cowl is sitting there lonely, like some idiot left it behind. Thankfully Rick is my personal sherpa for getting all the things I left at Robby’s. I think this will be the third or fourth trip to pick up items left behind. Mystery solved, we moved onto our next project.

New stands for holding the wings
New stands for holding the wings

The factory built my wings. They loaded them on mounts made of square tube steel for shipment. The plan was to cut up the mounts and turn them into rotating stands so we could flip and flop the wings around while covering them. We had to run out to the metal store to get a few bits of steel I didn’t have on hand but after a sold hour of cutting and welding we had four stands like you see. But first, while the wings were off the stands we needed to add the doublers. We just needed to find them.

We looked high. We looked low (noting a trend, are we?). We called Robby. They were nowhere to be found! Again! Just as I was trying to figure out how we were going to make them from scratch, I found them taped to one of the wings on the inside. Oh yeah, I remember Robby saying he was taping something to the wing since we’d need them later. Sigh.

The bag of doublers, found at last
The bag of doublers, found at last

With doublers in hand, we started prepping them and the wings. These seemed like a simple project. Eight doublers, etched with scotch brite, drilled and reamed, then bolt in place and rivet with some HySol to make them permanent. No bid deal. Well a couple of hours later we had four of the eight done. Little jobs can certainly take a while. Yikes! Tomorrow we’ll work on the other four.

Spork being promoted to Chief Master Sargeant
Spork being promoted to Chief Master Sergeant

In the middle of all this weeks work, we had a celebration at our CAP squadron because we had some cadets who were getting the Billy Mitchell award. This is the big one, where a cadet passes from commissioned officer to officer, from Chief to Lieutenant. I though at this promotion Spork still had another promotion to go before testing for his Mitchell award. Not so I was informed, the pressure is on to get this next test done. Colleges look very favorably on cadets who achieve at least their Mitchell award. Plus being a Chief is a big deal in its own right. It is the senior NCO position and carries some responsibility of its own. So Spork is a chief, and is now officially studying for his Mitchell award, while building an airplane.

With Chief rank hanging heavy on his collar, airplane parts hither and yon, avionics nearly ordered, paint equipment purchased, stands in place to begin covering the fuselage and the wings, there was only one thing left to do. Pick the colors for the airplane.

I pulled out the color sheet and invited the girls to weigh in on colors. There were a lot of zebra stripe and flames suggestions, all of which were shot down by the boys as not possible. Finally we settled on colors that would match our theme and our mascot (Hobbes from Calvin and Hobbes). Cessna orange and an off white color were chosen.

The colors of our airplane, just not the design
The colors of our airplane, just not the design

When I was in the maintenance hanger this week I noticed this airplane sitting there. The orange stripe looks a lot like the orange we picked. Our plane will be mostly orange with white accents and a white belly. It will also have some decaling that Spork will tell about in his post. I’m pretty happy with what we came up with so far and I’m excited to see it become reality.

Finally Building at the Farm

If you are smart, the first step of building any long project, say, an airplane, is to organize your workspace so that you know where everything is. Fortunately, my dad and I are not smart people. Therefore, our workspace mostly consists of amazingly useful tools haphazardly shoved into safe places that won’t be opened until 2021. On top of that, numerous doors are being painted next door. However, we always seem to have an abundance of music, rivets and cursing.

After my dad and I set up, we had to wait for school to end. Scool is pontlees! Then, at long last, we were finally able to work on the the plane again. Now, you might be asking your self, “what is it like to build a plane? Should I build one?” The first week of building a plane without Mr. Rob consisted of walking across our yard and into (through the door of) the workshop, working for fifteen minutes, not knowing how to do something, looking at the manual, entering deep thought, looking at the airplane we are building, quiet muttering, looking at pictures of other airplanes, talking to one’s self, looking at the airplane, talking to the ceiling, looking at Google searches, babbling, asking Siri if she knows anything about airplanes, incoherent ravings, asking the ceiling if it knows anything about airplanes, hallucination, finally calling Mr. Rob and asking if he knows any thing about airplanes, inwardly smacking yourself for not asking Mr. Rob sooner, thanking Mr. Rob for the help, thinking about how knowledgable Mr. Rob is, working fifteen more minutes on the part, feeling proud about how much you accomplished and lastly going home. In other words, building an airplane is a fun activity that I would highly suggest.

In all seriousness, Mr. Rob has been a huge help even after we left his place. he has let my dad and I crawl all over his airplane so we could gather photographs of various airplane parts and encouraged phone calls if my dad and I have any questions.

Recently, a major airplane question was solved. As many of you know, the airplane is going to be called the Transmograflyer. However, the family was having trouble coming up with a paint scheme that stayed true to Calvin and Hobbes. The current plan is to paint roughly the bottom of the airplane off white and the top of the airplane the same color as the lighter orange that this airplane below is sporting.

This, of course, symbolizes Hobbes’ personal style without making a slow airplane look like a tiger. To add to the name of the airplane, we are going to include a little red arrow that is pointing towards the words STOL. Next to the words STOL, are going to be other cool airplanes (i.e. UFO).

As seen above, the transmogrifier has an arrow that can be turned to transmogrify something into different things. The arrow on the airplane symbolizes the arrow on the box. Therefor, the airplane will have the ability to transmogrify into different things but is currently a SuperSTOL. If all goes according to plan, the Transmogriflyer should look fantastic.