Epic build week, day 1

The plan for building the SuperSTOL was to get a big head start by hiring an expert to assist with the build in the beginning. After much wrangling of schedules, we finally happened upon March 5th for our build beginning.

Spork and I travelled to Grantsboro Sunday afternoon so that we’d get in around dinner time. Even though I’d been there before, I wanted to get in before dark.

Hobbes loaded up and ready to go in the back seat of the truck with lots of gear
Hobbes loaded up and ready to go

Besides taking everything we could think of, we also brought along Hobbes, as in Calvin and Hobbes. Hobbes is the mascot of our build and once the plane is done, will have a place of honor in the airplane.

I’d asked Robbie before we came down if we needed to bring anything. A bunch of acetone and a few odds and ends were it. By the time day one was over, I had a laundry list of things I wish I’d brought. Robbie’s shop has everything you need to build an airplane. Custom stands, custom tools, a paint booth, everything. But it doesn’t have my belt sander with a scotch brite belt for cleaning up edges on cut aluminum. Nor my TIG welder, or my set of dial calipers, or my entire machinist toolbox for that matter, or any of the other things I have around that I missed. Had I started the build in my own shop, I’d have been in trouble for all the missing tools that Robbie had like cleco pliers, custom stands to hold the fuselage and wings and allow them rotate, etc. Overall it was an excellent idea to work at Robbie’s first, but about once per hour I wished for some tool I’d known to bring with me.

Day one started with unpacking.

Spork cutting boxes out of the now unwrapped fuselage
Spork cutting boxes out of the now unwrapped fuselage

This was like Christmas, but on a scale beyond what even adult Christmas would be like. There are literally thousands of items (if you count hardware). It’s like two of the biggest Lego sets in the world got together and had a baby.

Spork cutting more boxes loose and packing materials off the fuselage
Spork cutting more boxes loose and packing materials off the fuselage

The big pieces are easy enough. Wings? Check. Fuselage? Check. Wheels and tires? Check. But all the other little bits went everywhere.

Every single article I’d ever read about building your own plane says, “Take the time to slow down and do a proper inventory. You don’t want to be on year 2.5, reach for part ABC123X, and find it missing. Calling the factory to tell them they forgot to send something later won’t go well.”

So I pulled out the inventory sheet and started ticking off items. Robbie cautioned me that taking inventory would eat up a lot of build time. He shuffled through all the items with an experienced eye, and immediately noted things that were missing. Items like the slats, the aileron ribs, and a handful of other items as well.

Boxes were crushed during shipment, but the items inside were fine
Boxes were crushed during shipment, but the items inside were fine

Also missing was the upgraded tail wheel I’d ordered but hadn’t shipped as promised. After we sorted and shuffled for a while, Robbie declared everything else of substance was here and we could start.

More pics of damaged boxes in the fuselage
More pics of damaged boxes in the fuselage

The whole process took from 8am till noon. Had we pulled a proper inventory, I’m confident it would have taken till Wednesday with all three of us working. Later Spork decided to organize the remaining hardware, already seriously dwindled at that point. That alone took him 8 hours.

So three days of build time was saved simply by having someone experienced on hand who knew the kit inside and out. Then when we started, I looked at page one of the manual and was immediately confused. Robbie just grabbed some parts off the pile, handed them to me, and gave me instructions to get me to work. We hopped into action and started the build with a quick reference of the manual by Robbie, and barely a glance by myself.

I know I’d have agonized over the manual for hours, and made multiple calls to the factory. I’m not saying the manual is no good or impossible to read, but it is in a language I didn’t yet speak, asking for specific parts that were laying in jumbled pile on a bench, with one picture to reference and often instructions that were incomplete or in some instances missing entirely. I quickly reverted to just asking Robbie and continuing to work. The hours saved by having someone on hand are immeasurable. But I’d estimate that after the buyer’s remorse, the confusion of trying to figure out the manual, and the angst over doing something wrong because I didn’t understand, I’d have wasted the first month of build time and barely have gotten anything done that we had done by the end of day one.

Once we had the plane unwrapped, we mounted the fuselage on Robbie’s modified stands. That only took a few minutes.

Modified engine mount stands from Harbor Freight hold the fuselage fore and aft
Modified engine mount stands from Harbor Freight hold the fuselage fore and aft

Then I went to work on the floor pans while Spork went to work drilling holes.

Spork drilling holes in the fuselage
Drill, drill, drill

Actually redrilling, as the holes existed but they were now covered in powder coat. This isn’t an RV with its thousands of holes, but there are still a lot of holes. Carter spend many hours drilling while I cut, filed, drilled, and deburred corners and edges on floor pans till they fit perfectly.

Rick helping on the build
Rick helping on the build

My friend Rick stopped by and worked on day 1 as well. He took some of the initial projects and knocked them out, sharing hard won tips along the way. Rick is 22 years into an RV build. Actually it is two builds. He and his partner built it to 99.9% done, then things stopped and it never flew. He finally got back to it after his partner died and he decided it needed to be redone to bring it to modern standards. He is nearing completion again. He has a wealth of knowledge in working with metal, avionics, etc. and we were blessed to have him there helping, especially at the beginning.

Spork and Banner, the puppy
Spork and Banner

Work was often interrupted for Robbie and Jenny’s new puppy, Banner. He was motion and playfulness all the time and I’d often see Spork take a break to do what you see above. Banner was into everything, and even took a bag of rivets out of the kit at one point and started eating them. He was a hoot and didn’t cause any real trouble. The picture above was the first good picture I had of him. The rest looked like this. Banner the puppy playing

All motion and blur.

Day one came to and end about 6pm. We’d worked on the floor panels, drilling the holes, and getting everything sorted. Rick had made the ELT pan and had it clecoed in place. Robbie had worked on the rudder pedal assembly and had gone through a bunch of the parts and combined them into subgroups so everything needed was together and ready to go to work. All in all, a good start.


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