When I last posted our progress, I said that painting had started. Moving from building, to covering, and then to painting was a series of major milestones. As usual, I was nervous to start a new process but the primer proved to be a very forgiving process. In fact I discovered on just about the last day of primer that I was using the wrong ratio to catalize the primer, using 3:1:1 instead of 4:1:1. Despite the fact that primer shows EVERY mistake that you made, and even the ones that you didn’t, I found it to be pretty easy.

Because Spork is eternally working on school and has barely been available to help, the schedule has been to wake, kiss the wife good bye, trudge to the shop, turn on the kerosene heater, build a fire in the wood stove, nurse the fire in the wood stove, turn off the kerosene heater, turn on the fans that move the warm air into the airplane shop, and then finally go to work. Sanding, cleaning, washing, wiping, cleaning, then finally move the pieces back into the paint booth and spray some primer. Once that is complete, walk away and have the rest of my day. All in, I was probably spending about 2 hours on each day that I worked, with only 2-3 days per week spent on the airplane. It has been a slow process.

But on March 6th, a magical thing happened.

Champ orange paint in the can
The first look at our color

The paint starts to go bad after it is opened, so I didn’t open any of the paint cans till it was time to start painting. That means they’ve been sitting on my shelf for six months, unopened and unseen. I didn’t realize how white everything in the shop was with all the primer everywhere. It is like I’d gotten used to living in Minnesota in winter. Then suddenly this orange appeared and was blinding.

But before we could do much painting, I had to get the fuselage prepped for paint. That meant taping and papering everything that wasn’t going to be orange.

Bottom of the fuselage taped off so it stays white
Bottom of the fuselage taped off so it stays white
Close up of the orange paint
Close up of the orange paint

The orange paint was, um, blinding. I couldn’t decide if it was because everything else was stark white, or because it was really that bright. Fortunately I’d done a test panel prior so Spork and I took it outside on a sunny day. The color definitely toned down in the sun. We are good to go!

Fuselage after the orange paint has been applied
Fuselage after the orange paint has been applied

With the paint on we pulled off the bottom paper and tape. This was our first opportunity to see the two color fuselage. It was, um, stark. In fact, it was more like this than I’d care to admit.

But we only had 1/2 of the paint on the plane. The bottom isn’t actually white like the primer because we picked our colors from here.

By “from here, we mean Hobbes himself.

So with more color to add, we taped up the orange part of the fuselage and exposed the white underbelly. Then it was time for paint.

Painting the bottom
Painting the bottom

When I first started painting, I scared myself because I just misted the paint onto the piece. A thousand little dots of paint appeared, all independent and all definitely not smooth. I thought maybe my gun was not going to work. Wrong tip? Wrong pressure? Then I sprayed some more and found that the paint, once there is enough, blends together into one smooth surface. Ahh, relief.

So with the orange behind me, and white the only thing between me and beginning some assembly, I decided that I had this painting thing down pat. Just put plenty on so it blends and runs aren’t really that big of a deal, and lets hurry up and get this done. That is when I decided that I didn’t want to move my lights and I’d paint by using the Force, in the dark. I shot the bottom color as a final coat, nice and thick so it would all blend well. When I looked the next morning, I had runs. Not just a couple. I had runs EVERYWHERE!

I’m now on version 5.0 of painting the final coat of white paint. Each version consists of sanding out runs till they are gone. Then cleaning up all the sanding dust. Then wiping down the fuselage multiple times to get every last spec. Then inspecting again to make sure I didn’t miss anything. The finally applying that last coat of paint. Then looking in the wet paint and realizing the runs are still there. Then cursing. Wait one day. Wash rinse repeat.

Oh, and I also tried painting in flip flops on one warm winter day. I now have orange feet. Not a good look.

Since I’m at the final coat, again. I figured I’d get to work on assembling the main gear so once the fuselage rolls out of the paint booth, I can install the gear and get this airplane on the ground for the first time in its life.

There was some question as to how to orient the brakes on the wheel hub. You have to drill out the backing plate to align it with the axle flange. The instructions say to “mount the brake caliper at the front of the wheel.” That’s great, but I have two calipers on my setup. And they aren’t 180 degrees apart so I can’t just align one front and one back. So do they cheat towards the top of the axle, or the bottom. After much reading and looking at pictures, I gave up and called Robby. After two hours of not hearing back from him, I lost my patience and decided that I wanted them on the top of the axle. 15 minutes after I drilled the plate, Robby called and verified that I was installing them correctly. Phew!

Today we’ll do another round of sanding and painting. Hopefully this time those darn runs will disappear. If that is the case, there is one more main gear to assemble with Spork, then we’ll install the gear and the tail wheel and the fuselage will come of the stands for the last time!

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